Friday, September 18, 2009

Assignment: You Are a Video Camera

One of the most difficult concepts for videojournalists to learn and master is the use of shots and sequences to tell a visual story.

When you watch some of the best video stories on KobreGuide, you'll notice that, just like a good Hollywood movie, the narrative is composed of individual scenes (e.g. mom and baby playing in the living room; mom and baby at the pediatrician's office). So step one is to find a variety of appropriate locations and situations where you're likely to catch the interactions that will enliven your tale.

Each of those sequences is composed of individual shots. And that is often where videojournalists run into trouble, judging from the overwhelming number of stagnant scenes we see on newspaper Websites. A good sequence should be shot from a variety of positions and angles -- long, medium, close up. Zooming and panning should generally be avoided. Instead, short individual shots should be stitched together during the editing process.

Our video tutorials on how to shoot and edit sequences are a good place to start understanding these concepts and techniques. Notice how important it is for you and your camera to move around between shots, and not just stand in one spot and aim at one thing.

Essentially, the camera acts as a substitute for the human eyeball, enabling viewers to see what you are seeing -- and, by extension, what they would have seen if they had been standing in your shoes. The closer the shooter gets to re-creating that, the more successful he will be in re-creating the overall sensory and emotional experience of "being there."

To that end, we've devised an "invisible camera exercise" that should help videojournalists at all levels of experience and expertise.

The next time you go out to shoot a self-assigned video story, leave your camera at home. Instead take a pen and notebook... and your eyeballs. Instead of recording the event through a lens, observe the scene with your naked eyes, and write down specifically what you see. Make a "shot" list that includes not just the big picture (or long shot), but also each detail that your eyes naturally focus on, near and far -- a hand fiddling with a lock of hair, the framed family portraits on the piano.

As you walk around, be conscious of each angle and point of view your eyes are capturing. Write them all down.

In short, imagine what your finished video would look like if your eyeballs were cameras. And detail it, shot by shot.

At an outdoor rally, you see a big crowd of people, many carrying signs. Your eyes take in big chunks of audience, and soon focus on individuals. The speaker standing up front is wearing a jacket and tie, though his mostly seated audience is dressed for a picnic. A man in the crowd stands up. He shakes his fist. He starts chanting a slogan, trying to get those around him to join in. Another crowd member turns toward him and starts to clap in rhythmic accompaniment. The annoyed speaker at the microphone reacts in exasperation to the disruption. He crosses his arms. A little baby starts to cry. Its mother rocks it in her arms... And so on...

Notice that your eyes aren't panning and zooming, but rather capturing and registering a series of details that collectively follow a story line -- a frustrated speaker gradually being drowned out and overwhelmed by an antagonistic crowd. When you read your list of details, you should get a better idea of what each individual shot should look like.

Try this assignment, even if it's just the next time you're walking around a mall or sitting in a restaurant waiting for your order to arrive. Look around. Pretend you're a camera. Make a shot list of what you see. We think you'll find that the experience will be literally and figuratively an eye opener! As always, please let us know what you discover.

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