Getting Started: How to Avoid Common Camcorder Mistakes

Wouldnt it be great if you never made a mistake with your camcorder? If you were the perfect videographer, then you wouldnt need to read this magazine (heaven forbid!). The simple truth, however, is that you will make mistakes no matter how good a videographer you become. Some mistakes, however, are more common than others. With a little practice you can avoid those common mistakes and take your videos to a higher level.

Dont Waste Juice

Why is a "common" mistake so common? More than likely because its an easy mistake to make. That said, lets start with one of the easiest and most annoying mistakes: the sin of wasting your battery power.

Youd think, given the cutting-edge technology that gets packed into todays camcorders, a camcorder battery could easily provide reliable power for countless hours. The fact of the matter is the battery that came with your camcorder will most likely last for less than an hour of continuous use. That means its important to conserve energy every chance you get, or youll wind up with a battery that isnt ready for action when you are.

Fortunately, conservation is easy. The most basic level of battery conservation is simply turning the camcorder off when you arent using it. It may seem like common sense advice, but its easy to put the unit away with the power still on.

Also, avoid over-using those camcorder features that consume extra juice. The power zoom, autofocus, fast forward/rewind controls and the flip-out LCD monitor are the most notorious of these. By limiting the amount of time spent using these functions, you can greatly increase the amount of shooting time on your battery.

Shooting the Pavement

Forgetting to turn your camcorder off can lead to more mistakes than just a dead battery.

Imagine that youve just spent several minutes shooting your grandson on the teacups at Disneyworld. You confidently swing the camcorder strap over your shoulder as you head for Tomorrowland. Mistake number one: youve forgotten to turn the power off.

And did you think to pause the camcorder? Uh-oh. Mistake number two.

How many times have you gotten a roll of film developed only to find those few embarrassing photos when you accidentally took a picture that you didnt intend to? The same thing can happen with your camcorder. If you dont remember to turn the power off when you are done using your camcorder, you might find yourself at home looking at fifteen minutes of excellent pavement footage, or even worse, a documentary about the inside of your camera bag.

The fact that the microphone continues to record audio as long as the tape is rolling can lead to even more embarrassing moments. If you forget to pause your camcorder, you might accidentally reveal on tape what you really think about your father-in-laws driving or your wifes perfume. These bloopers can really make you blush if you dont know theyre there, and your audience isnt expecting them.

Read Your Viewfinder

The viewfinder isnt just for aiming the camcorder anymore. Your viewfinder provides ongoing status reports regarding your camcorders activity. For example, you can easily tell whether or not you are recording just by looking in the viewfinder. Most units will display either a "PAUSE" or "RECORD" indication in one of the upper corners of the viewfinder, as appropriate. Most viewfinders also tell you the length of your focal setting, whether you are using manual or automatic settings, if you have applied a digital effect and alert you when you near the end of your tape.

Most viewfinders will tell you when your battery is dying and estimate the time of death. My camcorder, for example, has a battery icon with a bar in it that gradually diminishes as I use up my batterys charge. This is the functional equivalent of a cars fuel gauge. When you see youre running low on juice, it might be best to plug in somewhere or replace the battery with a fresh one.

Moving Violations

Todays camcorders are so small and portable that it is easy to shoot footage while youre walking, running, driving, etc. This freedom of movement might tempt you to press the record button and carelessly whip your camcorder around from shot to shot, never thinking about what effect all that motion can have on your viewer.

Let me sum up this kind of mistake in two words: motion sickness.

Dont believe me? Why not see for yourself. Find a busy street downtown. Zoom in really tight and try to follow something as it moves. Do this for about five or ten minutes, then go home and watch your video. Before youve finished watching the reel, you will either have a splitting headache or will have tossed your cookies.

Frequent zooms and unnecessary movements are unsettling to the viewer. Your intentions may be good – to draw attention to something you feel is interesting – but the frequent-zoom-and-follow technique actually gives your audience too little to look at for too short a time. The result is motion sickness.

Keeping your shots as wide as is reasonable for as long as possible minimizes these jitters and produces better video. Avoid the urge to zoom while you record. Instead, pause while you change your shot, to reduce the amount of movement your audience has to endure.

The Humpty-Dumpty Syndrome

You can avoid the jitters altogether by investing in a tripod to keep your shots rock-steady. Tripods offer additional benefits, as well. For example, they give you the opportunity to jump in front of the camera and become a part of the action.

Some videographers make the mistake of getting lulled into a false sense of security when they prop their expensive video toys atop their tripods. Dont make the mistake of believing your camcorder is safe because it is on a tripod. Suffice it to say that tripods are only as sturdy as you make them. In many situations, they can and will fall, and all the kings horses… well, call it the "Humpty Dumpty Syndrome," you get the picture. As such, it behooves you to make sure your tripod is secure before attaching your camcorder to it.

A tripods strength is in its legs. The legs of most tripods are telescoping, and must be locked down when they are extended. If they are not secured properly, the weight of even the most lightweight camcorder may be enough to cause structural collapse.

Video tripods often come equipped with a pan/tilt head. Typically, a knob controls the amount of tension applied to the head, limiting how easily the camcorder can be panned from side to side or tilted up and down. In actual use, you will probably keep the head loose so that you can follow the action around you. However, if you move away from your camcorder without securely locking the tripod head, there is a good chance that your camcorder will tilt helplessly skyward. Not only will you ruin the shot, the force of this tilting motion may be enough to upset your tripod and send your camcorder tumbling to the ground.

Practice Makes Perfect

Mistakes like these may make you want to give up. The important thing to remember, though, is that we all make mistakes, and the best we can do is practice to minimize the bulk of those mistakes. Remember to reduce battery use by turning off the power when youre not using your camcorder. Edit unnecessary pavement shots by remembering to press pause. Avoid the jitters by minimizing how many times you zoom in and out and by securing your camera to a tripod. If you do these things, you will find videography much more enjoyable. You wont become as frustrated in the shooting, and your audience will be happier in the watching.

The Videomaker Editors are dedicated to bringing you the information you need to produce and share better video.

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