Tips for shooting better video for the web

The number of news organizations producing video exclusively for the web is increasing. Here are some things to keep in mind when shooting video for the web:

Picking a camera

Most major news outlets by now have a stash of video cameras (okay maybe just one) available to multimedia/ video shooters. But if your newsroom is just catching up and/or is reluctant to spend a gajillion dollars on a video camera, know that a web quality camera can be bought on the cheap. Purchasing a video camera that can also shoot photos and capture audio is ideal for the backpack journalist who plans to create a total multimedia experience. There are some other technical factors to consider, including external mic and headphone jacks and a firewire terminal. This previous post lists some inexpensive cameras that will get the job done.

Once you have the right camera, play around with the settings and become familiar with them, but don’t mess them up before you get out to the field. You don’t want to have shot an exclusive interview and later found out you messed up the white balance settings — which is to say check your white balance settings. You can’t always fix it in post.

In the field


One of the top causes for headaches in the editing process is not having enough footage to produce the best quality story. The trick is to shoot more footage than you think you will need, including B-roll and ambient sound. However, if the video will be produced on a tight deadline, don’t shoot too much or you will end up with a mess of video clips that must be sifted through and uploaded.

Video should be shot outdoors whenever possible to take advantage of the great lighting the sun provides, but sometimes this isn’t an available option. Make sure to turn on overhead lights, lamps or whatever will help to brighten up the room (unless you’re going for the scary, shadowed, whistleblower look. Some cameras will produce a grainy effect in low light situations that should be avoided whenever possible.

The importance of a tripod cannot be stressed enough. Not using one will cause visible shaking that is incredibly distracting, especially on relatively small computer screens. If the boss was too stingy to cough up the money for a tripod, you can still steady the camera by leaning against a wall with your upper back and both legs spread in a ‘V’ in front of you for leverage. For low angle shots, kneel on one knee placing your elbow on the raised knee and holding the camera to your eye. If this sounds too complicated, use a steady flat surface such as a table and increase the height of the camera using thick books. Avoid using the camera’s zoom function as any shaking becomes more apparent the more the camera is zoomed.

Interviewing

Be sure to use a good pair of headphones (not earbuds) to be sure of audio quality before you begin to roll. In an interview situation, have the speaker talk naturally before you the actual interview begins to make sure there is no audio interference and you can in fact hear them. If you are a one person show, keep one headphone on and keep an eye on the camera, but remain engaged with the interviewee. You can also keep both headphones on but slide the arc of the headphones to the nape of the neck to lessen the distraction.

If you are blessed with a tripod or monopod, avoid panning and tilting during an interview because it is also distracting and you will hate yourself come editing time.

Editing time!

Final Cut Pro is the industry standard for editing video for good reason: it has more features than one will probably every need. But when it comes to the web, iMovie or any of these alternatives will suffice. Editing on the cheap isn’t a bad thing. A video is only as bad as its editor (and shooter).

As internet connection speeds get faster and faster and more internet users have taken to the idea of watching video pieces on the web, the temptation increases to put even longer video clips on the web. But it is important to remember that many web surfers have the attention span of a walnut and rarely sit through long video.

Again the importance of using headphones, especially when editing, is paramount. You may have shot Peabody Award-worthy video but if the audio sounds like crap, then the whole clip is a wash.

For more tips on shooting video for the web, visit Creative Pro, Ourmedia, the Online Journalism Review, or andydickinson.net.