Taking Pictures is like Life

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That’s right, it is a long slow path to wisdom and knowledge. When you are right at the beginning of your journey, just about everything you see is exciting. Good documentaries, movies, magazine programs can all amaze you, touch you and inspire you. You look at them and say wow that is what I want to be able to do with my video camera.

The internet has made it possible for an enormous number to people to share their stories with the world. It seems our desire to do that is tremendous, as you can see when you search through Youtube or Vimeo or any number of other video hosting sites. Many, many people want to use their cameras to share a part of their world, with their stories. However as you will also know, the skill level to be able to do this in an inspiring or riveting or beautiful way is sadly lacking in most cases. The beautiful stories are few and far apart. However, when you see the great ones it makes you want to be able to use your camera to shoot stories like that.

The Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins With One Step.

Ancient wisdom, but still true with any great or difficult endeavor. I say difficult because what you are all trying to do with this wonderful pursuit is difficult. There is so much for you to learn so that you can shoot those really wonderful looking stories, those beautiful stories that inspire you to be better. I know because I have been using a professional video camera for over three decades and every now and then I will still see something new that excites me and I immediately want to work out how it was done. Thanks James Cameron, thanks Steven Spielberg, thanks George Lucas and thanks to all the many other well known and yet to be well known great story tellers out there. You do inspire us. Moreover, I say inspire because even when you do come across one of the really lovely pieces of video on somewhere like Vimeo you also become aware, in the Comments, of the legions of other people who want to do the same thing with their cameras, be it a video camera or DSLR. They also want to shoot stories that people love. We all want to shoot stories that people love.

In the comments section, the questions flow, “which camera did you use”, “what camera settings did you use”, “what lenses did you use”, “which DOF adapter is the best for my camera”, “which edit system do you use”, “did you do any color correction”, “should I buy a DSLR or a video camera”, and on and on and on it goes. There are many, many steps for us to take on our journeys of becoming better visual storytellers. However, the interesting thing is, the more steps you take, the more of these questions you can answer for yourself.

Every Camera is Good

“Whoa, hang on that can’t be true”, you say, but let me explain. In my career as a Professional Cameraman, that has spanned way too many years [34 years at the moment], I have had to learn to shoot with many, many different video cameras. I first started in the days of 16mm film. To this day, I still feel very fortunate for that time. But not as you might think, for being lucky enough to have had the ‘look of film’, but for what I had to learn, for what it taught me, and I will talk about that in a moment.

Then, along came the very first video camera and I knew I had to start to learn how to use that, because that was going to be the way of the future of Television. I feel very fortunate for having that opportunity as well, for what it taught me, for what I had to learn. It would take too much effort for me to remember all the video cameras I have had to learn to use since then but it is many. Each one of them was different with changed characteristics, features, formats, and functions.

I hope you are getting the message; every video camera I have learned to use has been part of my learning experience, my journey. They were all good for me.

Knowledge is King

Every camera, be it a video camera or DSLR, has its strengths and its weaknesses. With the 16mm cameras I learned how to shoot without wasting a moment of footage. Film was very expensive, so a news story of 40 seconds was quite often shot on around 1 minute of film, [sometimes 40 seconds of film]. We had to learn to capture every shot we needed to be able to cut a good news story without wasting any film. Some days we would cover three news stories on a 100 foot roll of film [that is around 2 and a half minutes of film]. Interviews were shot on maybe three or four minutes of film. Beyond comprehension for most young people today. We learned how to think about everything we needed to shoot to tell our stories, and then we tried to be creative on top of that.

When the first video cameras came out the Journalists loved it, because suddenly they could do great, long waffling interviews. That is the way it remains today, in fact it has gotten even worse, but that is for another article..

For the cameramen though we had to start carting around a great heavy tape deck which was connected to the camera, and had to learn a whole new set of skills. Just another section of the path of my journey. My path of gaining knowledge and wisdom. I believe it is the wisdom and knowledge you are learning and not which camera you are using at any point in time, that is important. The cameras will always change but our knowledge or skills will only increase if we take every opportunity to improve and grow with whatever camera we are using.

When we all started working at TV stations, we had to go from knowing nothing, to knowing enough to be able to shoot acceptable stories, very quickly. For me it was 1 week, before I was out on my own shooting news stories. A very steep learning curve, but it came quickly when I was shooting every day, and learning to edit my own stories.

Who’s Washing Up Tonight

“What the heck is he talking about now” you might say [trying to keep the language clean]. When I help people to learn how to shoot stories properly, it’s important that they then go and practice. However, many people think, well, I will have to wait until something interesting happens to give me a reason to go out and shoot. Wrong. That is a poor excuse for not picking up your camera and not shooting something, and over a period of time you will not improve your skill set with that attitude. As an exercise, think about shooting something boring, it will make you have to think, to turn on your brain.

Try this, shoot a sequence of shots of your wife, or husband, or a friend, washing the dishes. Make sure you vary your shot sizes so they can be edited together. If you don’t have any idea about how to start, check out Why You Don't Know What Shots to Take, that should help you to start on your path to knowledge. You really can shoot anything for practice. Funny thing is, you will look back at these pieces in years to come, and have a laugh and have good memories.

Please don’t blame your camera, or lens or anything else, increase your knowledge and improve your skill set. Whether you are a Videographer, or want to shoot Documentaries, Short Films, Commercials, Video Clips or want get into Video Production you need to learn your camera skills and practice them frequently.

If you would like to fast track your learning check out The Online Video Camera Course.

Remember Learn it, Shoot it, Love it.

Geoff Stock

How to Shoot Great Video

Why You Don't Know What Shots to Take

You May be Destroying the Story with Your Camera

The Curse of the Handycam

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