The Curse of the Handycam

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Do you have the problem with your handycam that you just keep recording everything and you aren’t able to think of framing specific shots?

I call this the curse of the handycam.

It Always Looks Like Home Movies

The problem is that it is just too easy to walk around any event you are shooting with your video camera and just keep recording everything continuously. Yes, it is easy and you don’t have to think too much about anything.  And hey, that may be OK for your kid’s birthday party, but if you are trying to shoot something that looks better than just home movies, you need to kick your brain into gear.

If you want to start shooting professional looking videos or short films, you need to take a giant step forward.  You need to learn How to Stop Panning and Zooming and how to start seeing the individual shots that can tell your story. One of the huge frustrations for good editors is getting footage from people who have only ever used handycams and quite often there are just no editing shots.  With easy to use handycams, I think there is this thought that ‘I better not stop recording or change the shot too much because I might miss something’.  This is purely a lack of knowledge, of not knowing how to shoot properly. But don’t worry, you are normal, this is how most of us started, and it is easily fixed.

The Bad News

The bad news is, however, that if you don’t make any effort to improve then your footage will always be extremely difficult to edit into anything that looks good. There will never be any Close-ups, or Cutaways, or any other shots for editing and controlling how your story is told.

Is your footage continually moving, either walking around or panning and zooming? If so, it will always look like home movies.

The Good News

The good news is that this problem is fixable with exposure to the right knowledge. All you then have to do is to use it, start to practice it. You really can break the curse of the handycam and start shooting footage that you can be proud of, and can be edited together into great stories.

When you are getting ready to start doing a shoot think about finding a position where you can stand and get a good, well composed wide shot that establishes what is going on and where it is happening. Make it a static shot and let it roll for at least 10 seconds. Make sure you watch what is happening in the shot. Make sure it tells the viewer part of the story and is not just a boring wide shot. By watching the action in this shot, you can then make a decision when to cut and you will have an idea of what to go to in a closer shot. You will know what action you want to see in the closer shot so that it can be edited onto the wide shot.

If you want to make this exercise even more difficult, put the camera on a tripod so you can’t walk around during the shot. Then you really have to think about where to position your camera for the shot. Once you have done a shot move to a different position and frame a different size shot so that it can be edited to the previous shot.

When you start to become aware of what you are seeing in well made programs you will notice that the majority of the shots that professional cameramen or women take are shot from a tripod and are steady, well composed shots.  Many different shots that are framed so that they can be edited together seamlessly.

For information on how to work out what shots to take to make great stories check out the blog on Why You Don't Know What Shots to Take.

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

Remember Learn it, Shoot it, Love it.

How to Shoot Great Looking Video

The Four Biggest Mistakes of New Video Shooters

How to Stop Panning and Zooming with Your Camera

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  1. tory burch

    I seriously love your site.. Very nice colors & theme.
    Did you build this site yourself? Please reply back as I’m wanting to create my own blog and want to find out where you got this from or just what the theme is called. Cheers!

  2. Geoff Stock

    Hi Tory, the theme is called Illuminati by Vagrantradio and comes with the possibility of a still photo with each blog post with I got my web guy to remove to make it a bit easier for myself. All the best.

  3. Barney

    Geoff – do you have any particular tips regarding filming team dance routines? I’ll be taking a lot of video of my daughter’s dance team (18 members) and want to make the video as professional as possible.

  4. Geoff Stock

    Hi Barney, the main mistakes many people make with this type of shooting is they don’t use a tripod so it is shaky, and they never stop panning and zooming. So use a tripod, start on a wide shot of the group, after 10 to 20 seconds if you want, then do a slow steady zoom into a closer shot of a smaller group of the dancers, maybe 5 dancers. If you go in too close you lose the legs and feet which is kind of important to see. If you want after 10 to 20 seconds on that shot do a slow pan across to some of the other dancers and then settle on that shot for a while. Try to do the pan in the same direction as the movement of the dancers, so if possible let them motivate your movement. Sometimes it works when the dancers move across the stage and you can let the first group move out of your shot and the next group move into it. I try to let the camera movement feel a bit like it is in time with the dance. If you are going to be editing many shows together then you could also get mid shots, face shots and leg shots from different shows that could be edited into a montage of their dances.
    If you are just trying to do a full coverage of the dances with one camera then you just have to make sure you minimize zooming in and out. Once you decide to change your shot make the zoom steady, what we call “on air” so as if you are on live television, then let that shot be that size for a while. Definitely watch the Course Videos on Composition, Shot Sizes, Looking Room and Lead Room a couple of times as they are quite important for this kind of camerawork. Hope this helps. Regards, Geoff.

  5. Geoff Stock

    Hi Barney, just to clarify, you could then do gentle moves between those shots. Once you have seen a bit of the dance on the closer shot you could then gently zoom back out to see the whole group and let that shot settle for 10 to 20 seconds. Just do those simple moves but not too many or too often. Once you have moved in for the closer shot, try to pan with them as they move across the stage, as they move, you move with them and when they stop you stop as exactly the same moment. See how it goes. Regards, Geoff

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