1. Use a tripod or a solid camera support. This is especially important in closeups. The use of a tripod is the mark of a professional. The exception is where you want to show a subjective camera effect, communicate a fluid or unstable situation, or in a news situation where you will miss the shot if you try to use a tripod.
2. Television is a closeup medium. Rely on medium closeups and closeups for your basic visual material. Wide shots should only be used for establishing (and reestablishing) shots. HDTV doesn't require this same closeup emphasis, but for some time we'll have to shoot with both formats in mind.
3. Eliminate shots that don't contribute to the project's goals or your basic story idea. "If in doubt, leave it out!"
4. Cut away from a shot as soon as the basic information is conveyed, especially if the shot is a static one. Almost all of the student videos I see could be judiciously cut by at least 50%—and be much improved in the process.
5. Resist the temptation to keep the camera rolling and pan, zoom and tilt the camera to get from one shot to another. Zooms and pans are generally just lazy and time-consuming ways of changing shots. A cut is almost always stronger, and of course, faster. Use pans and tilts when you need to reveal something or when you need to follow subject movement. We see a lot of zooms, pans and tilts in video, but take a look at a feature-length film—especially one that has won an award for cinematography—and see how often you see these.
6. Make sure your key subject matter (the talent) is not wearing white, or is against a white (or very light) background. The sky, windows, bright walls and lights in the picture are the biggest problem. The result is gray scale compression or white clipping. If you can't avoid this, you can manually open the camera's iris or engage the camera's "backlight" switch.
7. Unless you are "editing in the camera," make sure you observe a five-second roll cue at the beginning of each take. Otherwise, especially considering the pre-roll requirements for linear editors, you may find it impossible to use the segment during editing.
8. Cue up your piece to the very beginning of a ten-second countdown leader before submitting your work.
9. Use a auxiliary mic for interviews, never the built-in camera mic. Use the mic as close to the subject as possible. If you don't want the mic to be conspicuous, use a lav (clip-on mic), hide the handheld mic close to the subject, or use an off-camera directional mic.
10. Select instrumental music as background for narration, not vocal or hip-hop music. You can't have two voice tracks going at the same time and expect the audience to follow both.
11. Use B-roll footage with interviews whenever possible. Don't just hold a shot of a talking head unless something quite unusual is being shown. See that points are short, clear and concrete. If necessary, go with a voice-over to get information across.
12. Completely and thoroughly think through and plan your piece before you start. Remember: The most important phase of production is preproduction. Plan for visual and audio variety and only include shots that are essential to getting your point across. Keep in mind the emotional element in production content.
(Related reading: The Quintessential Element in video production.)
© 2002, Ron Whittaker