Your Camcorder: More Versatile Than You Realize

Whether youre a professional videographer or you just shoot video for birthday parties, holidays and vacations, your camcorder, regardless of its make, model or tape format, can be one most of the most useful items you own. Here are 10 ways to get more use from your camcorder.

One Video is Worth a 1000 Words
Everyone has bought something, only to find out later that the item was defective. When you call the store where you bought it, the person you talk to tells you to contact the factory. The factory sends you a form and tells you to explain the problem in 25 words or less. Sure, you do the best you can, but nobody at the factory is really going to understand your explanation. You can take pictures of the problem and send them in, but what if your merchandise has moving parts that arent correctly moving? Still pictures wont show that sort of problem. So what can you do? Make a video of the problem.

It works best if you have someone help you. Let him narrate the problem in detail while you shoot the appropriate angles and closeups. Then label the tape, and send in along with the forms that the factory gave you. For the price of a blank videotape and a couple of bucks postage, youll wind up saving a lot of time and aggravation.

House Hunting Anyone?
Have you ever looked for a house or apartment, only to discover at the end of the day that you had difficulty remembering the "who, what, when and where" of each property you saw? The agent gives you a brochure, and you scribble some notes down. However, when you get back home and review the notes later that night, all of the houses seem the same. Next time you go out looking, take along your camcorder and tape each of the properties shown.

If you are looking at a house, and the present owners wont allow you to videotape inside, you can still videotape the exterior of the house. In addition, you can videotape the neighborhood, including: other homes on the street, amenities, area shopping malls, restaurants, theaters and schools. You can do much of the taping while the agent drives you to the house, and spews out all the details about the property. If the agent forgets something, just ask and catch the answer on tape.

Its Time to Take Inventory
There are bound to be numerous valuables in your home that youve accumulated over the years like furniture, jewelry, silverware, china and electronics. If something catastrophic happens, such as a fire, flood or theft, and you have to make a claim to your insurance company, its up to you to prove you lost what you say you lost. The best way to prove your claim is a videotape. Many insurance companies recommend a video inventory. Get someone to narrate the tape, and dont be afraid to zoom in on important identifying details such as serial numbers, brand names and trademarks. If the property is unique, tell why it is unique on the video.

Video taping your valuables is the easy part. The hard part is the organization and preparation of the items that you want taped. Once the inventory is completed, place the tape in a banks safety deposit box. If you store it at home, make sure its in a fireproof safe. It may all seem like a bother, but if anything ever happens to your worldly possessions, the time and effort that you take to make that videotaped inventory will pay off.

Exhibit "A"
Ever gotten a speeding ticket that you thought was unjustified? A friend of mine was pulled over for doing 55mph in a 35mph zone. When the officer asked him if he knew what the posted speed limit was, he answered "no," because he didnt remember seeing a posted speed limit sign in that area.

"Oh, it was there alright. You were going so fast you just didnt see it," the officer said as he handed him the ticket.

Later my friend drove back to the place where he had gotten his ticket, and just as he had remembered, there was no speed limit sign. In court, he would have to prove it to the judge. We got into his car and went back to the scene of the alleged speeding offense, only this time armed with my camcorder. I sat next to him on the passengers side, and taped the same stretch of highway so the judge could see the exactly what my friend saw, a lot of road, but no speed limit sign.

The camcorder we used had a 4-inch viewing screen and is very compact, so he had no trouble bringing it into court and playing the video for the judge. Pictures may have worked, but playing the video added another dimension to his defense. The video was brief (about two or three minutes), but conclusive.

The next day I asked my friend how his day in court went. "The judge dismissed the ticket, thanks to the videotape," he said. As it turned out, the policeman was half right. There was supposed to be a speed limit sign, but due to some road construction in the area, a crew had pulled up the sign and laid it down along the side of the road in the grass. They forgot to put the sign back up before they left at the end of the day.

Got Ya!
Lorane, a factory worker I met, told me how she used a camcorder for a sting operation. She had received a promotion at work, and one of her so-called friends, who happened to be a co-worker, got jealous. He would sneak out into the parking lot where Lorane parked her brand new car, and write obscenities on its hood or windshield. She knew who was doing it, but when she went to the plants management, they said there wasnt anything they could do without proof. She decided to get them some.

She took her camcorder, put it into a small cardboard box and cut a small hole in the end of the box, just large enough for the camcorders lens to look through. Then she placed two or three innocent looking boxes on the front seat of her car, under her "hidden camcorder" box. This raised the level of "camcorder box" enough to see over the dashboard. If a person wasnt looking for it, they could never spot the camera. Then, she set the lens on wide-angle and ran a power cord from the cars cigarette lighter to the camcorder. This gave her more than enough power to record uninterrupted for two hours using a T120 tape. She knew the approximate time the person would strike, so she went out to the car about a hour before, and hit the record button on the camcorder.

At the end of her shift when she left work, the obscenities were sprawled across the windshield for everyone to see. When she got back home, she looked at the tape. There, in living color, was the culprit–caught on videotape. The next day she brought the tape to work, and played it for the authorities, who then took the appropriate action.

Location Shooting
Recently, a man hired me to shoot raw footage of some machinery for a promotional video. It was a rush job. Everything was behind schedule and this was the last footage he needed to complete the project. The rush jobs are always the worst, there is no storyboard, shot list or previous file footage. Nothing except the clients instructions. He wanted it shot in Betacam SP, and the client informed me that he would be out of the country the day of the scheduled shoot, so I would be on my own. He did agree to meet me at the location before the shoot, and show me exactly what he wanted.

The day I met with the client to look at the machinery, I got the bright idea to take along my 8mm home camcorder. Its a good thing I did: it turned out to be a lifesaver. The camcorder is the type with a 4" LCD monitor that lets you and anybody near you see what you are shooting. I just pressed record and showed him what it was going to look like. I would continually ask him if the shot was "OK" and he would acknowledge that it was. The camcorder recorded all of this conversation.

By taking along my home 8mm camera, I was able to quickly, easily and cheaply create my own shot list, which I extensively relied upon when I went back to shoot in Betacam. If there was any question about a particular shot, I had the clients approval on 8mm tape.

A Unique Gift
Next time you are invited to a wedding or special event, take along your camcorder. Yeah, I know what youre thinking, "whats the use since therell be a professional photographer, a videographer and thousands of friends and relatives shooting and snapping away all day. What use would the footage be to anyone, especially the bride and groom."

Well, probably more than you realize. True, there will be all those photos and videos available afterward, but I quarantee that if you shoot with your own camcorder, youre bound to get something that the rest of the crowd missed. Give the camcorder to someone in the crowd and let them tape you along with the happy couple. If you see that the photographer and the videographer are on a break, thats when you spring into action and start shooting. Remember, the professionals wont get everything, and the footage that you get could wind up being the newlyweds favorite.

Then, when they get back from the honeymoon, give them the tape, or find a frame of video that will make a great still photo. If you dont have a video capture device for your computer, there are various video places around town that will grab a frame of video you want, and print it out on a color printer. Granted the quality wont be a sharp as those taken by a professional photographer, but who cares? Its the thought and the uniqueness of the gift that counts here.

First on the Scene
The late model camcorders, especially the newer digital ones, are smaller and lighter than ever before. Consequently, they dont take up much room, so it is very easy to carry them in your automobile. Doing that might be profitable for you someday. If you are one of the first persons to arrive at an accident or disaster scene, or you are a witness to some unexpected event, and are fortunate to get it on tape before the TV news crews arrive, it might be valuable.

I dont mean to say that you should not help or aid the situation, and just start shooting as soon as you arrive on the scene. You must help if the situation calls for it. However, there might be an occasion when you happen upon the scene where all of the victims are being helped by rescue personnel or bystanders, and they really dont need any more help. If the news crews arent there yet, grab your camera and start shooting. If the footage is exclusive and good enough, TV stations or networks might want to buy it from you. Time will be of the essence because the station will be hustling to get the exclusive footage on the air before the competition.

If people were seriously injured and a lawsuit is likely to result, you may be able to sell your footage to the attorneys representing the injured parties. However, because its evidence, the court may compel you to turn over the tape. That doesnt mean that you cant make copies of your own tape for sale to interested parties later. Its worth a try. The point is, if you dont carry your camera around in the car with you, you may be passing up a golden opportunity.

Did I do That?
Now we all know how effective training via videotape can be, but have you ever thought about making your own personal training tape? You can use your good old home camcorder as a training tool. Im not talking about the traditional uses of the camcorder such as taping yourself in a mock job interview, or practicing a speech you have to deliver. Im talking about taping yourself in the situations that you do for fun and enjoyment.

My wife and I like to go dancing. Weve gotten to the point that we take lessons when we get the chance. After one three-hour lesson, we were no further along than when we started, so we left the session somewhat dejected. At the next dance, one of our friends videotaped my wife and I as we struggled our way through the steps we had tried to learn. When we actually saw ourselves on tape, we discovered what we were doing wrong. Anyone can apply the same technique, regardless of the hobby or activity. If you have never taped yourself before, you will be amazed at what you look like when you see yourself in action on video. Remember, it cuts both ways. Youll be seeing what you are doing wrong, as well as what you are doing right. One word of advice, when you play back the tape for the first time, you may want to make sure nobody else is around.

Sounds Good to Me
Have you ever been in a situation where you needed an audiotape recorder to record something important, but you couldnt find your tape recorder, or you ran out of audiotapes, or the batteries in your camcorder died? You can get by in a pinch using your camcorder.

A newspaper reporter friend of mind had to do an in-depth interview of a government official. He was in a panic, because he always made it a habit to audiotape his interviews. Shortly before he was about to start the interview, his tape recorder quit working. He called and asked to borrow any kind of tape recorder. "Have you got a camcorder?" I asked.

"Sure, I have one at home, but I dont need to videotape this guy, I need to interview him," he said.

"Hey, youve got two full hours of audio on the videotape. Just put the camcorder close to him, turn it on and let it roll," I told him. And thats exactly what he did. It worked out better than he had imagined. His small, portable tape recorder that he normally used only accepted 60 minute tapes (30 minutes per side), so he was constantly having to worry about turning the tape over. He ran the risk of missing something if the tape ran out. Using a videotape, the camera will run for a full, uninterrupted 120 minutes. Thats a long time to conduct an interview, but you sure wont have to worry about the tape running out in mid-sentence. The audio should be fine even using the on-board mike. Just remember to place the camera close enough if you dont use an external lavalier mike. It will work like a charm.

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