Family Video Help

Some tips to help you enjoy the fun that you usually only experience after viewing the tapes.

It’s June; you know what that means: weddings, graduation, barbeques and family fun. If you’re the designated Family Videographer, you can miss a lot of the fun because you’re too busy shooting it. Here are some tips to having fun AND recording the day.

Step 1: Don’t Sweat the Little Stuff!

You’ve been reading Videomaker magazine for years, and in it we suggest you use light kits, external mics, tripods and possibly an extra camcorder or two. Now I’m telling you: Don’t! When you want to capture the spontaneity of the fun, you need to be more of a point-and-shoot producer. Bring extra batteries and videotape, but leave the other stuff behind (or if you’re uncomfortable, stash it in a back room “just in case”). Then immerse yourself in the fun, shooting on the go, knowing shaky shots happen, but it’s all going to be OK.

Step 2: Shut Up and Listen

What appears to be a contradiction to Step 1 isn’t: Sound matters when capturing family events. DON’T NARRATE while shooting and DO use a good shotgun mic, but don’t let yourself be encumbered by it. A good shotgun can capture baby’s first laugh and grandma’s low chuckle, as well as the sizzle of the burgers on the grill and the panting of the wet family dog – important parts of precious family moments. The mic that most camcorders come with might not be as versatile.

Step 3: Hand the Camcorder to a Child

My three-year old granddaughter loves being the picture taker. And her point-of-view shots have some very interesting angles. I watched her point a camera just a few inches from a chair and hold the shot for quite some time. “What are you shooting?” I asked. “An ant,” she replied. Giving the kids your toss-off cameras gets them interested in the hobby you love, and also helps you share the responsibility of Family Historian.

Step 4: Shoot Tight!

Although you don’t want to appear intrusive, try to get close to the action as much as possible. Grandma might not like you thrusting a camcorder into her face for the 68th time in one day, but if you balance the camera on a fence post and zoom in, you can still get a good close up of her beautiful face that tells the story of her many years on this earth. Get as many close-up as you can, but don’t forget the wide establishing shots. And wide doesn’t mean as wide as your camera will go, just wide enough to show where the event takes place, not so wide that you need binoculars to see the family gathered around the picnic table.


Step 5: Remember Continuity

If you plan to edit this event later, either for an annual family album, or as an event on its own, think about your composition and continuity, and you’ll have an easier time editing. I try to shoot every scene three ways: with three angles, heights or focal points. Then if Take 1 is too long between beginning and end of the action, Take 2 or 3 act as cutaways to break up the scene and make the action more interesting. If I follow a child into the house, I’ll let the door close behind him, so I have a natural point to cut to an inside event later.

Managing Editor Jennifer O’Rourke has been videotaping her family events for more than 30 years… and they’ve finally stopped asking her to turn off the camera.

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