Hey, you! Yeah, you with the camcorder stuck way back in the closet, somewhere between the dusty suitcases and the pile of old hats! Time to get up off your lazy duff and dig out that video gear! That’s right! Get up and get shootin’!

"Nothing to shoot," do I hear you whine? "Nothing’s going on," did you say?

Oh, don’t think I haven’t heard all your lame excuses. They go something like this, right? "It’s nobody’s birthday… It’s months ’til Christmas… I’m not even taking a trip until next August." Sound familiar?

Well, sorry, pal, but you’ve just run out of dodges. And you know why? ‘Cuz there’s no need to wait for a special occasion to make great videos, that’s why! So listen up. All kinds of terrific subjects are sitting right there in front of your nose, just begging you to turn the lens on them.

You don’t believe me? OK, here’s a full dozen ideas that are ready to shoot–no special equipment or prep required. Just your camcorder and some imagination.

  1. The Great Handyman Challenge

    If your place is anything like most, hardly a weekend goes by that doesn’t involve some kind of fix-it or make-it activity–painting a room, building a bird house, putting up new drapes, whatever. So how about documenting the handyman/handywoman jobs that go on in your own abode?

    Of course, the setbacks that seem to bedevil these household projects can be infuriating to the do-it-yourselfer, but on the plus side, they present you, the videographer, with some fine opportunities for comedy. Think "Keystone Cops."

    Tip: for some extra fun, try speeding up some of the action in the editing process, if you can, or shoot the whole thing in time-lapse on a tripod, if your camcorder has this feature.

  2. What’s Happening in the Garden?

    How about creating a video postcard of your garden or local park? Focus on the highlights of each season–the blossoms and flowers of spring, the summer fruits and vegetables, the changing colors of autumn, and the bare branches of winter. Add action to your video postcard by including the gardener at work, hoeing, mowing, digging and trimming. Even the weather can play a part. A garden takes on a whole different character during a rainstorm or on a windy day.

    Try a time-lapse shot showing the transformation of a flower from bud to mature bloom, or a tree losing its leaves in the fall.

    Tip: use the macro setting on your camcorder to take vivid close-ups of the blossoms and flowers.

  3. Backyard Wildlife

    Why sit indoors watching wildlife documentaries on TV when you can shoot your own? So you don’t have lions and tigers roaming your backyard; you’re sure to have birds and squirrels and interesting creepy-crawlies.

    Ever had a squirrel swipe a piece of fruit from one of your trees and gobble it down right in front of you? And if you’re looking for a bloodthirsty predator, look no further than the nearest spider, one of the most voracious killers in your yard.

    Tip: Birds make great wildlife subjects, but can be hard to shoot. To encourage them to come within camera range, consider setting out a bird feeder or a bird bath. Your telephoto lens will come in handy, but be sure to use a tripod to keep the image steady–even if your camcorder has image stabilization.

  4. Pet Tricks

    While we’re on the subject of animals, let’s not forget our faithful domestic companions.

    For action shots, have your pet show off some of his or her best tricks. The tricks don’t need to be elaborate, human-taught skills. Even a cat trying to "catch" a piece of string can be entertaining. To get your pet to perform, you may require assistance from a human member of your household.

    Tip: Animal photography requires a certain amount of patience.

  5. Childhood’s Precious Moments

    If four-legged subjects are good, small two-legged subjects are even better. Kids can be among the most appealing subjects you can shoot. Not only are they cute, but by nature they are energetic and adventurous, providing ample opportunities for good action shots. Think of the possibilities offered by children at play: a little boy trying to build a tower of blocks, a little girl serving tea to her dolls.

    Another approach with kids is to capture significant "firsts" in their lives. These can include the first day of kindergarten, the first pony pride, the first tooth lost (and the subsequent visit of the tooth fairy), the first time behind the driver’s wheel, and the first date.

    Tip: try shooting children without posing them, and when they are not aware of the video camera. These natural, unrehearsed moments can yield the best shots.

  6. The Sporting Life

    When you’re looking for fast-paced action to shoot, there’s nothing that beats a sporting event, especially if you have athletic kids, or parents. Bring your camcorder with you when any of your youngsters participates in a game or meet. You’re sure to get plenty of exciting shots, and you’ll flatter your boy or girl by making him or her the star of the video.

    Tip: as a one-person camera crew, you’ll have to do a little thinking about the optimum place to position yourself. At a track meet, for instance, you can’t be at both the starting line and the finish line simultaneously. Thus, you’ll want to develop a shooting strategy before anyone yells: "On your mark; get set; go."

  7. Cook at Work!

    Every family cook earns acclaim for a few special dishes, ones that are always big hits whenever they’re served. Sometimes the recipes get jotted down on index cards, but if your family is like most, the chef never gets around to it. Here’s a better idea: record the kitchen wizard at work, preparing a prized dish right in front of the camera. Barbecue chefs can get into the act, too.

    Producing a video recipe is a great way to preserve heirloom dishes that have been passed down from previous generations. They’re even better than written recipes because the cook can actually demonstrate the trickiest techniques, showing the secrets of making that amazing, flaky pie crust or sealing jelly jars. For a unique holiday gift, package the video along with a sample of the dish featured on the tape.

    Your video recipe should include a list of all the needed ingredients and a written review of the directions. You can print this information on poster board and show it at the end.

    Tip: have the cook get out all the ingredients before beginning to shoot. You should also ready measuring cups and spoons and other cooking tools in advance.

  8. "My Neighborhood" Video Tour

    Why not turn your camcorder on your own neighborhood and turn it into a "star for a day?" Show off your neighborhood’s most noteworthy features: the tallest tree; the prettiest garden; the cleverest mailbox; the most notorious eyesore. Pretend you’re taking a visitor around for the first time: what would you point out? Your video can concentrate just on your block, or you can expand it to include local shops and restaurants.

    To add human interest, take in some of the neighborhood activities: the dog walkers; the skate-boarders; the moms pushing strollers; the newspaper boy making his rounds. You might even include some mini-interviews with your neighbors.

    Tip: a running commentary of what is being seen can make this type of video spring to life. For example, when you shoot the house next door to yours, talk about who lives there, how long they’ve been your neighbors, and what they do for a living.

  9. On the Job

    How about taking your camcorder to work with you one day and making a video record of the place where you spend most of your waking hours? Your video can show both your physical work world (the company building, your work space, and the facilities you use on a regular basis) and your human work world (your co-workers and team members). Videotape the tools that are most important to you, too. Your tools tell a lot about the work you do, and can include everything from a telephone to surgical equipment.

    Tip: Make sure you get your boss’s blessing first, and any other necessary approvals. Also, it is unwise to make a video like this when co-workers are under severe deadline pressure.

  10. It’s Party Time!

    Parties are upbeat occasions and a great chance to capture friends at their liveliest. Party videos become even more fun to play back if you’ve done little interviews with the guests. Standard questions are fine ("How do you happen to know the host and hostess?") but questions that are more off-the-wall will get a more amusing response ("Who at this party would you most like to be marooned with on a desert island, and why?").

    Try to get a complete picture of the whole event, from the arrival of the first guests to the departure of the last. Get pre-guest and post-guest shots of the buffet table, too, showing it in its perfect splendor at the beginning and in its decimated state at the end.

    Tip: Don’t forget the behind-the-scenes action taking place in the kitchen.

  11. A Special Day in the Community

    Every community has its special events, and they take many forms. Block parties, bake sales, carnivals, car washes, parades, pancake breakfasts, and county fairs are just a few possibilities. Some events even happen on a weekly basis, such as farmers’ markets. These local events are generally quite colorful, and good will is abundant, making them a pleasure to shoot.

    The event need not be a large one; in fact, non-commercial gatherings put on by a school or local club can offer numerous human-interest opportunities. If possible, include the organizers on camera. Their pride in what they’ve achieved will give your video some heart-warming moments.

    Tip: check the calendar in your local newspaper for a list of events.

  12. Family Video Diary

    The everyday activities that take place around the clock in your very own house are undoubtedly so familiar to you that you take them for granted. But when they become part of a "day in the life of our family" video, they take on a special charm.

    Think of each period of the day and all that happens in it. For example, in the early morning, the alarm rings, various family members stumble out of bed, and each person follows his or her routine: doing exercises; fetching the paper; feeding the cat; reading a favorite comic strip; starting the coffee. Each person has his or her own "story" and way of greeting the morning.

    "A day in the life of…" video diary has a natural beginning, middle and end (morning, noon and night) and a finite cast of characters (don’t forget yourself!) making this an extremely easy project to assemble. And if it’s done on an annual basis, it can reflect the "growing up" of your family, much like measurements on a wall chart the growth of a child.

    Tip: capture "mini-themes" in your video. For example, you can show each family member putting on his or her shoes (or, in the case of the littlest ones, being helped on with their shoes). In the night-time portion of your video, you can reverse the process, and show all your family members removing their shoes.

Carolyn Miller is a freelance journalist and scriptwriter specializing in interactive multimedia.

SIDEBAR

General Tips for Quick-and-Easy Videos

Store your camcorder in a handy spot where it is readily available, though out of harm’s way from children or pets. Have a "gear bag" stashed right next to it, packed with items useful for on-the-fly videos. The bag should include extra tape and batteries, and might also include filters, lights and external mikes, plus poster boards you can use as reflectors/white-balance cards and cue cards. You might also slip colored paper and marker pens into the bag to make titles on the fly.

  • Don’t self-censor too much. Give yourself permission to experiment and take chances. Remember, videotape is cheap, and the best way to learn is to try out new things.

  • Seize video opportunities whenever they arise. By making off-the-cuff videos on a regular basis, ideas for new topics will occur to you with increasing frequency.

  • Develop a good system for labeling, organizing and storing the videos you make; avoid the frustration of not being able to lay your hands on your masterpieces later!

–CM

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