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Sunday, January 31, 2010
Digital Media Toolbox

Get better video from your DSLR

By Jeff Achen

Most major digital SLR cameras offer high-definition video capture. Popular among them are the Canon 5D Mark II/7D and the Nikon D300s/D3s.

Despite the technological leap this change represents for camera manufacturers, I have found many news photographers are still poised, knees quaking, on the side of the pool, afraid to jump right into news videography.

Video: Shooting Video with a DSLR
To accompany his column in the Jan/Feb 2010 issue of Quill magazine, SPJ digital media committee member and videographer Jeff Achen shares his tips on how photojournalists can become quick and talented videographers using a digital SLR camera.

Here are a few tips for cracking open the full potential of that video capture feature on your DSLR:

USE A TRIPOD

Think camera shake shows up on a handheld shot at f/5.6 1/30? Try f/5.6 at five minutes in video capture mode. Use a tripod whenever possible, especially when zooming in from far away.

SHOOT IN SEQUENCES

Just as in still photography, good video is a series of snapshots and details. When shooting video of a scene or event, frame up and shoot a 10- to 15-second clip, then re-frame and shoot another. Go for wide, medium and tight shoots of the same scene, then when editing the video footage together, place clips in the sequence of wide, medium and tight, each clip lasting three to five seconds. Bam! You’ve got your cover footage.

USE YOUR EARS

Photographers have never had to pay much attention to sound, but with video, it’s never been more important. Use the old adage and keep your eyes and ears open. When capturing video of the tranquil mountain stream, get close and let your microphone pick up the trickling water. Try not to move around much and be sure to set your focus and zoom, then leave it be so we don’t have to listen to the mechanics of your camera over the tranquility.

USE DEPTH OF FIELD

One of the reasons you’re seeing professional filmmakers and videographers pick up the new video-enabled DSLRs is the versatility that Canon, Nikon and other pro lenses allow in depth of field. As in photography, the manipulation of depth of field is a trademark of a true pro in the video realm. Use your fastest lenses to get stunningly shallow depth-of-field shots of details and close-ups. Don’t be afraid to test shallow depth of field on interviews, too. It will impress the pants off any pro videographer looking at your work.

LOCK EXPOSURE

DSLRs, especially Nikons, can be tricky when it comes to exposure. They may be set to automatically adjust, which results in distracting flickers in your video as the exposure adjusts in response to the slightest change in your field of view. Remedy this by setting up your shot, then pressing the AE lock button.

LET THE ACTION BE THE ACTION

Don’t overuse pans or zooms or camera motion. Simply set up your shot, use a tripod and let whatever action you’re taping speak for itself. Every so often, a pan or zoom works well, but it’s not necessary. Also, let action enter and leave the frame. These clips work great for opening and closing shot.

LEARN TO CONDUCT INTERVIEWS

Go ahead and interview someone on camera. Perhaps they could explain how something works and you could then use their commentary as a voice-over for the video. If it’s short and interesting/relevant enough, you could post the interview online. As photographers, we’re not used to interacting with subjects, but this is a valuable skill to add to your repertoire and will propel you into full-fledged videographer status.

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