Diving into video can confound even experienced still shooters; here are 12 tips to help you make the transition with ease
In stills, your subject needs to be in focus only at the moment the shutter fires, but with motion you need to keep things sharp continually. While autofocus in video mode is improving, manual focus remains valuable. An LCD magnifier, such as Hoodman’s Hoodloupe, or an external monitor can help.
So can setting a small aperture, since greater depth of field helps keep your subject sharp as the camera distance changes. At a wide aperture, keep both camera and subject as still as possible.
Next, you can try advanced techniques such as rack focusing, in which an object starts out blurry, then shifts into sharp focus. To help “pull” focus accurately, some shooters rely on a device called a follow focus—a set of gears connected to a knob that allows you to turn the focus ring on the lens more smoothly than you could by hand.
Rigs like Red Rock Micro’s Micro FollowFocus Black ($795, street) puts hard stops at your focus’ start and end positions for maximum accuracy.
Invest in audio.
Your camera captures stunning images out of the box. But sound? Not so much. “If you have a beautiful video but garbage sound from your camera’s microphone, no one is going to want to watch it,” says Vu Bui. “Get the best audio recorder you can.”
Handheld recorders such as the Zoom H4N record stereo audio to memory cards and excel when you’re shooting events. Lavalier mics attach directly to a person for voice recording—ideal for interviews. And when you’re shooting on the fly, try a shotgun mic, which can mount to your camera’s hot-shoe to record directional audio.
“Place any microphone as close to the source of the sound as possible," says Lan Bui. “And don’t sacrifice audio quality just to get a slightly better-looking shot.”
Understand the Codec.
The term codec, a mashup of “compression” and “decompression,” refers to the way your camera saves video footage. Many DSLRs use the H.264/MPEG-4 AVC codec with an MOV container. With this combo, you should be able to use modern video editing software without converting to another file format. Sony and Panasonic use the AVCHD format, which is more efficient in terms of storage space and image quality, but it uses a less common structure, so it can be more difficult to play back and edit. Many editing programs come with presets to optimize your file for different venues—use them. And sites such as YouTube and Vimeo offer guides for getting the best results, so refer to those before you upload.
Learn the visual language of editing.
“Each shot needs to contribute to the story and be visually interesting,” says Reichman. “And if it’s not visually interesting, it needs to be short.” But not too short—don’t let intrusive cuts take the viewer out of the scene.
How? One way is to avoid jump cuts, showing the same subject from a slightly different angle. A rule of thumb: The camera should move at least 30 degrees between two adjacent shots of the same subject. You can also cut to B-roll to break up the shots. Another common rule is to cut while your subject is in motion, which helps make the cut less obvious.
Fortunately, the homework required for learning the rules can be fun. “Try to watch movies and television while paying attention,” says commercial photographer and cinematographer Cory Rich. You’ll soon discern the difference between a good cut and a bad one—and even come away inspired.
Master your software.
Chances are your computer already has a basic video editor, such as iMovie on a Mac or Windows Movie Maker on a PC. From there, step up to a consumer application such as Adobe’s Premiere Elements, or just jump straight to Premiere CC or Apple’s Final Cut Pro X. Download the free trials to see which one suits your workflow. Once you know the software inside and out, cutting together your movies will be much faster.