Spring has sprung. The grass has riz. I wonder where my camcorder
is? (Our apologies to Bullwinkle J. Moose.) For many videographers,
the onset of nice weather means breaking out the video gear and
shooting sports videos in the great outdoors.

Whether you want to be really creative or simply have fun shooting
Joanie scoring the winning run, this article will show you how
to best capture the fast-moving world of live sports on videotape.

First, we’ll explain what to do, and what not to do, to shoot
quality Little League baseball scenes. Then, for the fledgling
Fellini interested in doing some postgraduate work in sports video,
we’ll show you how to effectively use your camcorder at a popular,
yet challenging sports venue: NASCAR stock car races. Along the
way we’ll sprinkle in specific hints on how to employ camcorder
features to produce sports videos you’ll be proud of.

Be Prepared

As any chef knows, preparing a gourmet meal takes preparation.
The same is true of sports video. Preparation is the best way
to ensure good, professional-looking pictures. Keeping your subject
in the viewfinder is the first problem you’ll encounter; ballplayers
may be moving at different speeds, directions and distances in
relation to your camcorder. You won’t have time during the game
to practice following your moving subject, so go to the ball field
well before the game starts. As the players toss the ball around,
practice your shooting without actually recording, and rehearse
each sequence you expect to shoot.

Most of the action in Little League baseball is between the pitcher,
the catcher and the first baseman. From a position half way up
in the stands, you’ll be able to tape them all. Your second shooting
outpost might be behind the batting cage. You should set up early
to shoot your son or daughter taking batting practice.

Then begin practicing your shots. Zoom in to the pitcher as she
warms up. Focus on her face, and capture her concentration. Television,
as sports producers will tell you, is all about being "up
close and personal," so don’t be afraid to zoom in close
and fill the frame with your subject.

Try to anticipate the action. If your son reaches first base,
aim your camcorder at foul territory in the outfield so you can
capture him at first and still see the pitcher, catcher and batter.
During a stoppage in play–a discussion at the pitcher’s mound,
for example–take the opportunity to reshoot the overall scene
from another position. Vary your shots. Shoot from the dugout,
from the coaches’ box near first or third base and from the stands.
Later, with some basic editing equipment, you’ll be able to select
and compile the best shots and eliminate erratic camera movements
and poorly composed scenes.

The Interview

As your child’s team runs off the field at the end of an inning,
interview her about the last half inning (but do it quickly or
you may incur the wrath of the manager or umpire). The immediacy
of talking to the athlete during an event is what professional
network directors strive for, and you should, too.

Similarly, after the game, conduct post-game interviews with
players from the winning and losing teams. Since your camcorder
microphone will pick up extraneous sounds, clip a wireless mike
(if you have one) onto your subject’s uniform. You can even position
your camcorder on a tripod, and, using remote operation, provide
your own on-screen post-game summary.

In general, when taping team sports, all of the basic rules for
outdoor shooting apply. With a little bit of planning, some simple
editing and attention to detail on the entire project, your sports
videos could be the envy of the entire team.

NASCAR

Successful sports videotaping requires good organization and planning.
Selecting the best place to shoot and setting up in advance are
extremely important. In the excitement of a high-speed car race,
there is no time for system tweaking or belated efforts to obtain
special effects.

The first rule of thumb for producing first-class videos of championship
auto racing: don’t try to capture an entire lap on your camcorder.
Networks such as ABC and ESPN use numerous camera positions and
aerial shots from tall construction cranes, overhead airships
and in-car cameras to cover racing. But an attempt to duplicate
network coverage without similar resources will look amateurish,
so stick to what you can do, and do well, in your auto-racing
shots.

Location, Location, Location

NASCAR stands for National Stock Car Racing, although the only
thing stock about these 700-horsepower beasts is their slight
external resemblance to Chevy Monte Carlos or Ford T-Birds. From
a video purist’s perspective, the best place to shoot a NASCAR
race is probably at the entrance to a turn. At most tracks, the
turns provide not only your best opportunity to tape a car continuously
for a few seconds (rather than getting microsecond glimpses as
they flash by the straight-away), but you can get a good look
at the "lines" the individual drivers take–the paths
they carve around the track. What’s more, most of the passing–and,
unfortunately, most of the accidents–occur as the cars enter
or leave a turn.

Plan your shooting location well. Even at the so-called superspeedways,
such as Daytona, with its sharply banked turns and fast speeds,
each track offers preferred areas to get good video shots. At
the egg-shaped Darlington track (10 miles north of Florence, South
Carolina), for example, cars get very close to the outer wall
in turn four. If positioned well, you can tape cars picking up
"Darlington Stripes" as they get too close and rub their
fenders along the wall. Even Martinsville Speedway in Virginia–a
track often described as two drag strips with short turns–provides
crew pits on the back and front straights where cars slow down
for fuel and tire changes. This is a great place to capture the
choreography of the pit crews as they rush to get the cars back
in the race.

The Need for Speed

If you plan to view some of your racing video in slow motion,
your camcorder’s high-speed electronic shutter–operating at 1/1,000
of a second or faster–will allow you to record even the fastest
moving car without a problem. When you record these scenes in
the high-speed shutter mode and play them back on a four-head
VCR, you can enjoy exceptional slow-motion images. Such high-shutter-speed
settings are fast enough to clearly identify, without blurring,
the smaller Die Hard, STP and Western Auto sponsorship logos on
Michael Waltrip’s Citgo T-Bird as it roars through Turn Four at
Phoenix International Raceway. (Incidentally, the hillside above
turn four at Phoenix provides the best video shooting view on
the racecourse.)

Steady, Now

Most race tracks are huge. When shooting subjects with such large
distances involved, the temptation to use the telephoto end of
the zoom lens is great. Be careful, however; zoom magnifications
above a mere 5x or so drastically increase image shake. Vibration
and camcorder movement can be major obstacles to getting steady
pictures. If your camcorder has image stabilization, be sure to
turn it on before you try to capture that car way across the track.
Digital zoom adds the extra worry of reduced resolution–which
can become even worse if you also engage an electronic image stabilizer.
This is why many camcorder enthusiasts prefer optical correction
systems to electronic image-stabilization circuitry; optical systems
won’t degrade the resolution of your image.

While today’s camcorders have electronic reflexes that respond
to action faster than you can, even the best autofocus systems
may have difficulty with the breathtaking speed of Winston Cup
stock cars racing around the track. And the more complex the autofocus
system, the more trouble it may have keeping up. If your camcorder
has manual focus, practice using it, then use it.

Practice, Practice, Practice

In any case, it would help to practice your focusing and other
camera operations at the track while the drivers are doing their
practice laps. If you can, obtain a pass to the garage area. Hang
around the garage long enough during practice and you’ll have
a great chance of getting close-up shots of Dale Earnhardt, Rusty
Wallace, Jeff Gordon, Bill Elliott and all of the other notable
drivers who make their living by exceeding the highway speed limit
by some 100 miles per hour.

NASCAR also offers several preliminary races in the days preceding
a Winston Cup event, and you can use these races to practice your
technique and familiarize yourself with the workings of your camcorder.
The Busch Grand National Series (named for its sponsor, Anheuser-Busch)
uses cars that are similar in appearance to Winston Cup cars but
lighter and less powerful. Busch Grand National drivers and teams
use the series to prepare for Winston Cup competition. At many
venues (Daytona, Rockingham, Michigan, Atlanta and Darlington,
for instance), the Busch Series race is a day before the Winston
Cup race.

It’s Too Loud!

In NASCAR or any other automobile race, there is more than video
to consider. The sounds of the race, including mechanical, human
and amplified announcer sounds, go on uninterrupted, except for
yellow-flag (dangerous-track) conditions, for up to three hours.
And it’s loud enough to redline your brain’s internal VU meter.
Indeed, two dozen high-powered engines revving at 10,000 rpm each
produces a sound that is not just loud, it has a substantive bass
component that vibrates through your body. It can be quite uncomfortable,
actually, and makes adding voice-over commentary or talking to
your neighbor nearly impossible.

Most auto-racing veterans, realizing that conversation during
the race is difficult at best, come equipped with earplugs or
radio headsets, which serve also to help keep up with the action
beyond their line of sight. If you want to add "play by play"
narration to your race footage, you’ll have to do it through post-production
audio dubbing.

Keep It Simple

A final thought. Video can help you re-experience those moments
that make sports so enjoyable. But you won’t want to see your
sports videos over and over again if you overuse special effects.
There is nothing more annoying than constant, unnecessary zooms
or repeat fade-in/fade-outs. So keep the story moving, vary your
shots, and, above all, have fun.

For 20 years, Murray Slovick has been videotaping sports, including
three Olympic Games, an America’s Cup yacht race, the Indianapolis
500 and the Daytona 500.

SIDEBAR

The Camcorder as Coach

Today’s camcorder has electronic reflexes that respond to action
faster than you can. In less time than it takes to say "Smile,"
the camcorder automatically focuses, adjusts for changing light
and sets the sound level.

That leaves you free to think about content, and concentrate
on how best to use the videotape to instruct your athletic subject.

The most common mistake in using homemade video to help an athlete
improve his performance is shooting superfluous detail.

Your aim should be to include only the material that will help
the athlete study his or her technique. Focus your attention and
your camcorder on the individual and the mechanics of his performance,
rather than on crowd reaction or the scenic background. Remember,
in producing instructional tapes you don’t have to entertain,
just inform.

Chances are, your first problem will be in keeping the athlete
in the viewfinder as he passes you. Rotating the camera horizontally
to follow a moving subject is called panning (the word is derived
from panorama), and it takes some practice. Try first without
pressing the record button. Keep more space in front of your subject–in
the direction of movement–than behind. This space is called "lead
room."

Most of your tape should focus clearly on the important parts
of the athlete’s performance, such as a level bat swing in baseball,
and knee action or foot placement in running. Front angle shots
generally should capture your subject’s torso, head, arm and leg
position. Aim side shots to capture posture and stride–in particular,
knee lift height and leg extension. You can use rear shots to
examine foot-strike angles (knee and hip injuries are common because
the athlete’s foot is striking the ground at the wrong angle).

Don’t eliminate close-ups. Showing the expression on your athlete’s
face not only adds interest, but can reveal facial tension and
excessive head movements–both indicators that the athlete is
tiring.

Finally, don’t worry too much about the audio portion of your
tape in a training environment. It is easier to show someone what
he or she is doing wrong rather than to tell them. If you want
to add audio, mix in voice-over comments, music or sound effects
in post-production rather than trying to do it on the spot.

–M.S.

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