As someone who has made working in the electronic media a lifelong adventure, I not only enjoy everything about producing video myself, I’m also an avid viewer of the moving images created by others. Watching their work, regardless of the source or the topic, is a great way to learn new techniques and styles, from the script to the final edit. A television commercial might give you new ideas for camera angles or composing a more interesting scene. A documentary can introduce you to a new lighting technique or editing approach.
As a teacher, I always remind my students to become more active participants in the videos they watch. Not only do I encourage them to learn from what they like, I remind them of what they can learn from what they dislike. A poorly produced video can be as good a learning tool as a top-notch production. Avoiding and learning from the errors of others can make your own work better and there’s nothing wrong with using that to your advantage. Surprisingly, these errors often occur at the very basic level.
The same basic errors seem to pop up in video productions again and again. And we are all prone to making these mistakes. If you become a more active viewer of the video around you, then you’ll start to notice these errors, too. The beauty is that all of these basic errors are also the easiest mistakes to overcome.
So what about this TWIF business? Simply remember TWIF whenever you begin a video shoot.
Unless there’s a creative reason to record video hand-held, you should always shoot with your camcorder mounted securely to a tripod. Purchasing a tripod and then hauling it around wherever you shoot seems like a hassle, and yes, sometimes it is. The problem is that it can take years to get truly good at shooting a hand-held video camera. Too often, video shot this way is so shaky that it distracts from the message and that can negate the hard work you’ve done on the rest of the production. The small investment in cost and time getting the tripod in an out of the trunk are well worth it for a better video in the end.
Because video cameras see light sources at different color temperatures, the camera must be white balanced to record colors accurately. If this is only an automatic function on your camera, you just have to cross your fingers and hope for the best. But if you have a manual white balance function on your camcorder, be sure to use it each time you set up your camera in a new lighting situation. Even if you shut down your camera for lunch and then start shooting again in the same location, do another white balance.
Be sure to fill your viewfinder with a white object. If you white balance the camcorder on an off-white colored wall, for example, it will believe you’re pointing at white, and balance all the colors to that. Although better color correction is possible these days during editing, you can avoid having to fix color later by remembering to white balance your camera often.
Just like the human eye, the iris in your video camera will open wide in the dark to let in more light and close down in bright light situations. Most camcorders provide the option to manually control the iris of the lens and you should practice to become comfortable with that manual control. Allowing the camera to automatically adjust the iris can give you those herky-jerky bright-to-dark shifts as you zoom in and out or pan your camera. Taking control of your iris will give your productions a more professional look.
The perfect shot may only last a moment and there’s nothing more frustrating than recording it out of focus. If you’re shooting a subject where the distance to your camera doesn’t change, zoom in tight, set the focus, zoom out and you should be OK throughout the whole shot. But, if the distance between your camera and subject does change, you’ll need to follow focus, adjusting it as things move. This can be a real challenge that takes a fair amount of practice.
Just like working with your camera’s iris, focus your camera manually and avoid using automatic settings. If you’re shooting sporting events or other scenes where things are moving around a lot, you may want to stay on a wider shot and avoid closeups. This can make staying in focus easier and, again, give your video a more professional look.
It’s often not the complex things that mess up video productions; it’s these basics. Don’t get so wrapped up in the big-picture issues that you forget the fundamentals of good video along the way. TWIF – Tripod, White balance, Iris, Focus – is a good reminder of those fundamentals. You might get strange looks at your next shoot saying aloud to yourself, "TWIF, TWIF, gotta remember TWIF", but it might just be worth it for a better video.