Home Video Hints: Shoot Video With the Editor In Mind

Adjusting your shooting style to recording video for a program that you’ll create later may be a plan of attack that suits your videography goals. Instead of trying to generate a finished video production while shooting, recording footage with an edit in will mind will allow you to take advantage of today’s popular editing techniques.
Recently, we urged you to try simple digital editing to see if you liked it. If you found the experience valuable, you may want to modify your shooting style to suit it. If you decide to edit future programs, adopt these fundamental changes:

  • Capture every shot that you might possibly want to include in your finished production.
  • Tape your shots in any order that you find convenient.
  • Record every shot so that it is longer than its probable final length.

That’s called shooting to edit and it’s built on the Three C’s: Coverage, Continuity and Cutability. Even if you’re a very casual shooter, you can easily put these core principles to work for you.

Coverage

Remember that a video is not a still photo album. With photos, you can skip from one topic to another, taking a couple pictures of each. But watching a video with only a few short shots in each sequence feels jerky and irritating. If you’re going to bother with a subject, then take the trouble to cover it properly.
First, record establishing shots to let viewers know where they are. At a birthday party, show the whole back yard before zeroing in on the pin-the-tail-on-Bozo game. At a school play, shoot the auditorium and audience before the curtain goes up. In short, always provide viewers with a context in which to locate your other shots.
Next, go the opposite way and get close shots. Remember that most display monitors are 32 inches or smaller, so get in there and record the fine details. Once you’ve got a full shot of a historic church cathedral, for instance, go for closeups of windows, doors, steps, gargoyles, buttresses the telling details that reveal the soul of the building.
In other settings, people are often the most important details, so shoot lots of close angles, from medium shots (waist up) to big closeups (chin up).
Finally, record the small details, such as the knife cutting the birthday cake or a pigeon strutting on the cathedral steps. In addition to capturing added useful information, these inserts (so-called because you’ll insert them into the main footage) increase the "cutability" of your sequence. We’ll explain the concept of cutability in a moment.

Continuity

Let’s take a look at continuity, the craft of shooting action in separate parts that can be edited to look like a single, continuous flow of events. Many times, this means repeating part or even all of shot A’s content in shot B, so the editor can cut from A to B at exactly the same point in the flow.
If you’re a casual shooter, you may not want or be able to re-stage action, so here’s a sneaky alternative. Clear the frame instead. When you follow moving subjects, don’t stay with them throughout the shot. Instead, stop before they do and let them exit the frame. If they’re standing or sitting still, end the shot by panning away to make the frame, so to speak, exit them. When the editor picks them up again in the next shot, their action won’t have to match. When you know where subjects are going to wind up, frame their destination and let them move into the empty shot.
The second big part of continuity is screen direction, ensuring that subjects move (or just look) in more or less the same direction. Your edits will look smoother and more professional if screen direction is maintained.
To do this without heavy thought and planning, simply stay on the same side of a subject throughout the sequence. If your seated birthday cake cutter is facing left in medium shot and you want a closeup of the knife slicing the icing, place yourself behind the server’s left (rather than right) shoulder. That way, the arms and knife will extend from right to left in both shots.
If you doubt the worth of fussing with screen direction, try the insert over the right shoulder too and then see which shot cuts better.


Cutability

Most of the tips suggested above will improve the cutability of your footage. Cutability is the readiness of two shots to butt together so naturally that the edit is invisible to the audience. After competent video camera operation, cutability may be the biggest contributor to a professional looking show.
Its main principle seems like a paradox – the more different you make two shots, the more cuttable they will be, as long as the action continues smoothly between them. Why? The change in perspective distracts viewers’ attention from the edit.
There are many variables from shot to shot. The subject size (from extreme long shot to extreme closeup), the angle (from full front all the way around to the subject’s departing stern) and the height (from bird’s-eye to worm’s-eye perspective) all deserve exploring.
On a professional shoot, directors try to change at least two out of these three, often subject size and either angle or height. In a more casual project, it may be enough to change one, usually subject size, because zooming is so instinctive and easy. If you do this, however, make sure the zoom doesn’t include crucial content (like the cake candles blowing out) or you won’t be able to cut from zoom start to finish to change angle.
But don’t use the zoom as a crutch. Make the effort to move around your subject (as long as you stay on the same side). You can conceal an amazing amount of action mismatches if the second shot is 90-degrees different from the first shot.
Finally, if you do nothing else, stop shooting everything from the lazy, standing height perspective. With today’s rotatable outside view screens, you can grab shots over the heads of spectators. And while hamster-eye perspectives can look sort of hokey, you’ll find that low angles tend to dramatize action, especially in combination with wide-angle lens settings. If you use all of these shoot-to-edit techniques, you’ll find your work in the edit bay very rewarding.

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