Shooting Tips
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 Shooting Tips

Video in Educational Research


This page provide some helpful tips for improving your videography. If you have a tip to add,let us know!

The skillful videographer works with

  • Hands-on: Confidence with operating the equipment.
  • Eyes-on: Visual aesthetics given situational constraints.
  • Minds-on: Managing complexity, through disciplined logging.
  • Hearts-on: Manage complexity, through clarity of purpose.


Without top quality audio, your research videos will usually be useless. Investin good quality microphones and an audio mixer. In audio recording, as in realestate, the three most important rules are "location, location, and location."

  • invest in quality microphones
  • invest in closed ear headphones
  • get microphones as close as possible
  • do sound checks
  • wear your headphones
  • invest in an audio mixer
  • if using VHS, record onto HiFi audio tracks

How to lie with video

We have all watched hours of video on television prior to watching any researchfootage. To lie with video, you just have to play to viewer's existingexpectations about the medium. For example, experienced video watchers expectthat whatever is close and big in the image is most important. To lie withvideo, just put the important activity in the corners of the frame. Evenbetter, put inactive participants into the video frame. To make any teacherlook boring, just focus on the inactive students while the teacher istalking.

The truth is that research videos almost always "lie." For example, in order tocapture the most activity, a wide angle shot is recommended. But this makes theevent look boring compared to "natural looking" professional productions. Thereis no simple algorithm for capturing the "truth" on video: finding the truthwill always require creative interplay between data capture, construction, andanalysis techniques.

Audio Mixer use

  • With background noise, it is best to slightly under gain the microphones. This minimizes the pickup of the background noise.
  • control the volume (gain) of your signal by using the source gain control asmuch as possible,
  • use the master volume only as a back-up. (The master volumeboost both signal and more circuit noise, since it is further "downstream" inthe signal path than the source preamp.)
  • control ambient classroom noise with the mixer by always lowering the source gain ofall the mics not required for the current action. (With inexpensive mixer one can leave enough signal goingthrough to barely monitor what is happening with your other mics. Use thesereduced signals to help determine where to deploy your camera next. With mid-level mixers one can use the solo feature to monitor the action without feeding extra sound to the recorder. )
  • Learn your mixer so that you both can hear and can see when there enough gain, and when there is too much gain.
  • Speech should normally peak at -3VU or -2VU, with occasionaly peaks into the red.
  • Don't keep adjusting the gain. Once you select the average normal gain, just creap it up or creap it down if the person begins speaking softer or louder.
  • Mark the mixer gain sliders with tape at full up (-2VU for speech). Put a strip of tape across the slider so that you can fade right up full up for that mike without shooting past it.
  • Try to maintain your gain, by mike placement, i.e. move the mike closer.

Preferred shot

The preferred shot for research-use is usually (a) wide (not zoomed in), (b)stationary, (c) angled slightly down on participants. Ideally, your shot shouldbe wide enough to capture all the participants in a joint activity, and narrowenough to see important details of what they are doing. There are severalreasons to favor a stationary camera. First, a picture that moves quickly orfrequently is hard to watch. Second, a moving picture relies much more heavilyon the quick judgement of the camera operator. This is OK for highly patternedactivities (like a football game), but otherwise introduces a high degree ofarbitrary choice. Third, in quickly changing situations, camera operators tendto lag behind the action, and therefore move the camera in effectively. A slowwide shot is better than a narrow and moving shot.

Reduce ambient noise

  • close windows and doors
  • shut off noisy equipment, air conditioners, fans (if possible)
  • put computer CPU with noisy fans under the table
  • closing curtains can reduce sound reverberations
  • try positioning a directional mic above a small group pointing down.
  • minimize noise reflections into your mike -- try placing a directional mike so that it is aimed towards something sound absorbing. (e.g. boom from below and pointing up to the soft ceiling tiles).

Avoid glare and backlighting

  • close window shades, or turn off lights, or shoot from higher as necessary
  • beware sharp contrasts in front of overheads, computer screens
  • try to move existing lights, adjust angles of computer screens, etc. before participants arrive

Staff Requirements & Assignment"

Since staff power can be limited, the appropriate assignment will improve coordination and allow for greater skill improvement as the team works together. While the notion of a jack-of-all-trades sounds enticing, in fact, it is better to maintain continuous assignments in one component of the technical tasks

Traditional professional crews are assigned to the following tasks:

  • Sound Person, does the mixing of the audio, sets the level, places the mikes
  • Boom Person, physically moves the boom on the set
  • Camera Person, the shooter
  • Engineer, handles the techinical setup and matches the cameras

 When to "roll it!"

Begin taping BEFORE the activity starts, in case something interesting happensas participants sit down. Similarly stop the camera only after participantshave left and the activity is complete.

Tape management

Develop a labelling system and stick with it. Label should include date, place,and tape number. Try to keep a small notebook log with conditions of eachshoot. Or use the back of the tape lable to jot down major activities andoverall impressions.

  • Make "working copies" and keep your masters safely, use different colored dotsto distinguish working copies from masters
  • An old "card catalog" makes great storage for 8mm tapes
  • Set record-protect tab on your tapes to prevent erasure as soon as you take the tape from the camcorder

Airport x-ray machines

generally will not harm tapes. However, if you plan to go through many x-raymachines with the same tape, you might want to have it hand inspected

Camera composition for Split Screen with Computer

Frame the image of each camera so that there is room for the other picture inyour composite split-screen frame. Looking through the view finder, thiswill appear counter-intuitive, because you will want to place your subjectin the center of the frame. But in the split-screen's small insert, youwill only see objects in a quarter of the image through the viewfinder ofthat camera.

  • Adjust your A-V mixer window sizes to compose your split-screen frame.
  • Tape labels to your A-V mixer that identify what camera or mic is controlledby which control slider.
  • Don't watch the classroom directly, nor watch through the camera'sviewfinder. Instead, watch your "downstream monitor" to get feedback on theongoing composition of your split-screen video. Said again, watch the final mix, not the composites.
  • While you redeploy a camera, switch your mixer so that the other camera's picturetakes up the full screen. When you bring the second camera back online,resize your split-screen windows accordingly.

Analyzing multiple sources at once

If you have identical VCRs, you can sometimes set the remote so it controlsboth at once. Then you can play and pause both VCRs synchronously.But in general you will want to mix the video into a single tape, for easierviewing. No existing and inexpensive analysis software and hardware controls 2 decks in synchrony.
If you can gain access to an editing suite, editors can play multiple deck synchronously.

In the future, desktop video systems will allow multiple pictures in sych. At present this feature is only found on $100,000 sytems, but within the year it will be available on under $10,000 units.

 Live vs. Studio mix

If you can combine images as you shoot, you avoid synchronization problems andavoid the time it takes to edit tapes. Mixing live also lets you view the finalresult as you work. This can help you set the cameras and mix successfully.Often when you get to the studio you find you wish you had shot differently.

If you mix in the studio, you can choose to combine images anyway you like.Make sure you have a high resolution source tape, because you will be loosingone generation in the mix.

The synchronization problem

If you combine images in the studio, you need to synchronize the tapes.Generally a professional will do this using SMPTE timecode.

The most difficult problem is synchronizing audio, because time lags in audioare very annoying to listen to. It is best to the audio from one source tapeonly. Mix your audio onto this one tape in the field, and ignore the audio onthe other source tape.

Options for combining 2 pictures into 1 picture

Picture in picture (PIP)Gives you all of one image, at 1/4 size, and 3/4 of the other image. The1/4 size PIP images are "grainy" and often have insufficent resolution to pickotu details. If you are going to use PIP, try to arrange your shot so thatnothing important is happening in the 1/4 frame you will not be able to see.Put the more detailed shot in the 3/4 view.

Split screenGives you half of each images at full resolution, either splithorizontally or vertically. When filming, make sure nothing interesting ishappening in the part of the image you will be throwing away.

A-B cutsGives you all of either image, in alternation. This is typically whatyou see in a sporting event. Generally requires an edit suite to do well. Ifyou try to do it live, you will typically be "behind the action."

Top Ten To Do's

  • Wear your headphones at all times
  • When you finish with a tape, the very moment you take it from the deck, before you do anything else throw the write protect tab to on and label your tapes.
  • Use first quality tape like the Fuji M221E tape
  • Use a good external microphone
  • Set the camera in a good place for your needs, and leave it alone.
  • Avoid panning and zooming consumer level cameras.
  • Place the camera to Avoid a high backlite situation.
  • Use a radio mike for moving subjects
  • Using gaffer's tape or in some other way strain relieve all the mini-plug connections on your camcorder.
  • Check out all your equipment the day before you go out. Connect it all together, make sure you have all the parts, that all the batteries are fresh and charged.

Top Ten Dont's

  • If you are not listening on headphones, either stop shooting or close your eyes too.
  • Never use the camera's built in microphone in the classroom.
  • Don't use cheap tapes.
  • Don't play with the camera like you are a fancy cinematographer, set the camera down on a tripod with a well positioned frame.
  • Don't expect to be able to get the sound from moving subjects like the classroom teacher with just an external microphone, use a radio mike.
  • Don't allow the cables and connectors going into the camera to be pulled or stressed. Tape down the incoming cables so that if there is a pull it pulls on you or on some gaffers tape. Do not allow cables to be pulled by their weak mini connectors. For example, if the camera is near a desk, you can loop the mike cable around a desk leg, so if there is a pull, it only pulls on the nearby desk not on the connector at the camera.
  • Don't leave cable lying on the floor, they are a safety hazard. Use gaffers tape to tape down the whole length of cables where they cross human traffic patterns.
  • Don't forget to label the batteries with every use, so you know level of discharge.
  • To maximize battery life, use the batteries until the camera yells at you, and then change them.
  • Don't go out without checking all your equipment in advance.

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