11/13/2006

Shooting Web video: How to put your readers at the scene

Round up of how to shoot quality video

As anyone who’s ever watched a great documentary knows, stories told in video can be amazingly powerful. And as anyone who has sat through home movies knows, they can be mind-numbingly boring as well. If you’re a freelance writer, a blogger or an independent journalist with a story to tell in video, there are steps you can take to make sure your story tilts more toward the powerful than the sleep-inducing. (See Sonya Doctorian's video essays for RockyMountainNews.com.)
The story

First, it’s about content. One of the great things about the Web is that there are so many tools at our fingertips. We can use text, animated graphics, photos, audio or video to tell a story. But that means we need to be thoughtful about which we choose. Video is experiential, immersive, emotional – it puts you at the scene, gives flavor and personality, and of course, shows motion.

Video isn’t cheap in terms of time or equipment. Shooting, editing and posting video all demand more effort and gear than text. So first you need to decide why you want to tell a video story, and then you can gather what you will need to get video on the Web.

If you’re just interested in posting video from your Webcam, this article is not for you. Check out audioblog.com or Vlog it! from seriousmagic.com. Here, we’re going to talk about taking your camera out into the world and shooting video.

A common storytelling exercise is to state your story in one sentence, using an active verb. Who is doing what? “Neighborhood garbage burner” is not a story. On the other hand, “Neighbors hate the smelly garbage burner” has real potential.

Refining your story into a sentence helps focus your idea and keeps you from shooting everything that might have only a tangential relationship to the main idea. If it’s your first time out, start small. Really small. Simple, interesting stories deserve to be told, and they won’t make you insane while you deal with the steep video learning curve.

The gear

You’ve decided video is important to your story. The next issue is the gear you need. The basic tools are a digital video (DV) camera, a microphone, a tripod, a computer with a firewire input and enough processing power to capture and edit video, and video editing software.

Cameras should be DV with firewire. If not, you’ll need additional hardware to capture video to your computer. There are plenty of good microphones available for under $100. A tripod is important because keeping shots steady is critical for Web encoded video. Every change in pixels makes the encoder work harder and makes your picture fuzzier.

A list of audio and video equipment options at several price points is available here on Visual Edge's site. I wrote it about six months ago, so some items may be outdated, but it will give you an idea about equipment costs.

Get comfortable with your gear before you shoot anything you care about. Practice on friends and family. It’s amazing how many things can go wrong in the field. Be sure you’ve got plenty of tapes and batteries, and know how to change them quickly. More...

Learn how to tie a tie with easy to follow video instruction.

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