To be a true video producer, you need to carry more than just your camera. Although they are wonderful devices that can do amazing things, you can't make great video with just a camera – you should still have a few tools at your disposal when you need them, so we've compiled this list of five reasons you need more than just your camera. On every shoot you should always have:
1. A Plan: Because your camera can't create great production without a plan
Random shots aren't easy to edit into a project unless you always use a calendar-type of compilation: "Sunday we went to the park, Monday we played with the dog, Thursday we got a few shots of the fresh fruits at the morning Farmer's Market…" Now tell me, how are you going to string all of those random 3 to 20 second shots into something usable? Shooting video isn't like shooting still photos. Every still photo should be able to stand on its own. Video is a string of frames, and 90 frames (3 seconds) doesn't tell a story well. So always have a plan.
Even if it's a quick shot of the family dog catching a ball, I have a habit of always shooting at least 20 seconds of three angles or shot types for editing later. I usually get a wide shot, medium shot and a close up, but if possible I try to get a shot of the subject moving into or out of the frame for clean edits. I also always get a cutaway – just in case. Old habits die hard!
2. A Stabling Tool: Because your camera can't get a clean stable shot by itself
I keep a cheap inexpensive tripod in the trunk of my car. Always. But I use a good tripod when it matters. I also keep a very tiny table-top device in the trunk or a backpack to attach to my camera or mobile phone – just in case.
Handheld shooting is fine in many cases, but no serious shooter is going to make a stellar cinematic scene or inspire awe in their productions if the video is shaky, and small cameras and DSLRs are hard to hold so will cause shake. If I'm trekking into the hills, I'll take the small tripod, or if I want to really be portable, I'll take a small table-top device, just in case. It won't help me make stellar pans or dolly shots, but for that one long distant shot where I'm zoomed all the way in to climbers on El Capitan in Yosemite, the stabilizer does the trick. Keep a tripod handy – always – and remember, the best tripod isn't any good if you don't use it.
3. An Audio Recorder or Mic: Because your camera can't record good audio from its own mic
Let's face it – camera mics have been maligned a lot over the years and, for the most part, they're not bad mics – they're just in the wrong place. Mics sit next to the camera lens, not to your subject, so unless your subject is 10 inches from the camera, your sound will be muddy, weak, and other noise around it will also get picked up. For my hike in the forest example above, a small portable recorder can't be beat – you can place it on the forest floor, walk away 10 feet, and wait for the sounds of nature to resume around you after all creatures have acclimated to your presence. No camera mechanism noise, no videographer shuffling or breathing noise – just the world around you.
I also always keep a small inexpensive hard-wire lavaliere mic in my bag, just in case. The wire is long enough to get the mic away from the camera, and being wired it gives me a backup in case my wireless mic or recorder battery goes bad.
4. A Bounce Card, Reflector or Light: Because your camera can't control the light on its own
Nowadays many cameras cam do many things: they have GPS tracking, can fix color imbalance, have editing abilities and make digital effects on your just-shot clips. Heck, some cameras we shoot with can even make phone calls. But one thing a camera can't do is control the light going into it well enough in every situation. You might not always need to set up a 3-point lighting scene, and you might not want a formal fussy shot or to lug along a lot of gear – but a small portable light can bail you out of an over-shadowed scene and a small bounce card can do wonders outdoors. A small collapsible reflector/diffusion disc is cheap, or you can take a piece of sturdy card stock, fold it two times to make it compact, and keep it in your pocket.
5. Some Cleaning Tools: Because your camera can't see through greasy fingerprints!
Your camera might have some self-cleaning mechanism inside its innards, but it's up to its human handler to keep the outside of the camera clean. There are many good lens cleaning kits, but remember the most important cleaning tip is to not use anything that has alcohol as an ingredient. Whereas alcohol might not hurt the glass of your lens, it will help corrode the rubber linings and some plastic parts of the camera body. Keep a small lens cleaning cloth handy in the pocket of your gear bag, and clean it, too, once in a while. Many camera places give these away for free, and you can get them from an eye-glasses retailer, too. At the very least, keep a clean T-shirt on hand, if you have nothing, but do not EVER use a paper towel [ouch! Scratchy!] or cotton puff or facial tissue. These puffs and tissues have particles on them that can work into your gear mechanism. Some baby wipes are good for wiping down the outside of your camera, but check the ingredients lists, first. And remember this: If you take nothing away from this story, learn this from me – I paid $500 getting my camera serviced because of some sort of debris that got into it – lesson learned!
These are just a few minimum tools to keep with you at all times if you want to be a serious shooter and be ready at a moment's notice. And all together, they don't weigh you down too much. You'll be happy you had these with you, and you'll be on your way to making great video using good tools.
– Jennifer O'Rourke, Videomaker's managing editor