If you’re a parent with a video camera, you know the frustrations of trying to shoot good footage of your children. Your adorable three-year old decides to put on a show, so you get out your video camera out and start shooting, hoping to save this moment forever. But when you look back at the video, it’s lacking the beauty you remember. Maybe your child keeps running out of the shot, or it’s too shaky, or every time your child says something, all you hear is your own voice. Despite your most noble efforts, the memory has been lost.
While video cameras are a common site at playgrounds and ballet recitals, few people know how to use them properly to capture the joy and craziness of family life. When I worked as a broadcast television producer, one of the cardinal rules was never to shoot children or pets, because they are usually unpredictable. Now that I am a parent myself, and run a business that edits and produces family videos, I know how to use that unpredictability to my advantage!
After producing hundreds of family videos over the past four years, I have developed some surefire tips that will help you maximize your videotaping opportunities, whether you’re shooting for an audience of one or one million.
1) Get down to their level. When you shoot kids, try to get eye-level with them, whether on your knees, the floor, or a low chair. This proximity is less intimidating, and it allows you to get closer and to have greater interaction with the children.
2) Let the camera roll As we always said in television, “Tape is cheap,” so don’t be in a rush to turn off the video camera. When you feel you have captured the dance or giggle, let the camera roll for another minute or two. Some of the best moments happen unexpectedly, so if you have the camera on and focused on the subject, you’re more likely to get them on tape.
3) Don’t use a lot of movement Feel free to adjust your shot according to the action, but don’t zoom in out, or pan around too much. The subject should be providing the movement, not the camera. Try this: when you see something you want to videotape, pick up the camera and get a nice long shot of whatever is happening without any camera movement whatsoever. Then move in to adjust the shot and then let it roll for a while. This way you will have both a wideshot of the activity (something that shows all the action) and a close up.
4) Fill the frame This is a great tip for videotaping small babies. Some of the best video is where you can see the expressiveness in a baby’s face when she is playing peek-a-boo, or her determination in trying to get the spoon from the cereal to her mouth. Don’t be afraid to get really close and fill the frame with your baby’s face. It’s wonderful to be able to see every detail.
5) Use your LCD screen One foolproof trick for getting some nice shots of children ages 12 months to four years is to flip around the LCD screen on the camera so the kids can see themselves in action (most consumer cameras have a screen that can swivel). Kids are egocentric beings--they just love watching Numero Uno. There are two advantages to this technique: a)you’ll get a nice extended close up shot because most children can focus on themselves for a while, and b) you’ll get some hysterical footage as kids figure out who’s on the screen and start making faces at themselves!
6) Keep the same shot for a while When shooting, make sure that you keep the same shot for at least 10-20 seconds if you want to be able to edit it later. This may not sound like a long time, but kids are high energy, so getting a clear shot of 10-20 seconds of an activity can seem like an eternity. You’d be surprised how much video I see where parents have turned off the camera after only five seconds! To make sure you shoot for longer periods of time, try counting silently to yourself or watching the counter on the screen.
7) Interaction is as important as action This applies to all ages but can be particularly helpful when videotaping infants. Some of the most poignant moments on tape are when a child is interacting with a parent, sibling, relative, or special friend. Any little exchange will look great on film, whether it’s holding hands, hugging, reading a story, or putting socks on a newborn’s tiny feet. Not only do these make lovely visuals, but they tell a story by putting these relationships in the context of your life and nothing is more powerful.8) Try not to talk over the action while you’re taping Most microphones on consumer cameras favor ambient noise; they pick up all the noise in the environment instead of focusing on the person being filmed. In fact, microphones usually pick up the sound closest to the camera, which is usually the person shooting. As a result, the person videotaping is heard often above anyone else. Try to stay quiet when shooting and the camera just might get the sound of your baby cooing and gurgling.
9) Interview like the pros! When interviewing older children on tape, try not to ask “yes” or “no” questions. For example, instead of asking “Is this your new baby sister?” try asking, “When did your baby sister arrive? Tell me about her.” Children have wonderful imaginations and this is a beautiful way to let them roam free. Invite children to tell their stories and all too often they are happy to share!
10) Have fun! When all else fails, have a good time with it! Your attitude will be contagious and it will shine all over the tape!
Check out See Mom Work : What Does Your Mommy Do At Work, a hilarious from the mouths of babes segment Time Capsule Films did for Mommy Track'd.
|||Elisabeth Roberts is the founder of Time Capsule Films  and Itty Bitty Videos. Prior to starting her own home video production company, Elisabeth spent over 10 years producing for several national networks including ABC, Vh1, MSNBC, and The Discovery Channel. Recently featured in the New York Times and the San Francisco Chronicle, Time Capsule Films takes raw home movies and turns them into entertaining stories for keepsakes or to show at special events. Elisabeth can be reached at email@example.com .|