Great visuals are all part of a plan…

Here’s a Baker’s Dozen ways to get and improve your visual content

By Robert G. Nulph


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Creative Commons: hunnnterr

A student sits in front of her editing set-up. On one side of her desk is a sandwich piled so high it would make Jared proud; at her feet sits a 44-ounce big drink guaranteed to quench her thirst; and on the other side, sits a rainbow of SD cards.

Now, this could be a great dream, or the true definition of hell. It all depends on the work she does before she enters the field as well as during a shoot.

When instructing students in a practicum or lab setting, it’s hard to convince them to plan. They just want to jump in and presume they will land well, the heck with planning ahead! And for the first assignment, it’s tempting to let them run out the classroom door without planning and seeing how they land in that editing bay later (“miserable!”), learning a hard lesson about not planning. Such a lesson is similar to teaching News Writing students who don’t do their research in advance of their interviews.

The following is a Baker’s Dozen of tasks to offer students while shooting to make any edit session a pleasant experience. Do the first three BEFORE leaving the house, school or office.

  • No. 1: Label Your Digital Media Cards. Create an acronym for your production as well as a number for each card used. The United Way would be UW 1, UW 2.
  • No. 2: Prepare a Shot Sheet. As SCUBA Divers say, “Plan your dive and dive your plan.” Make a list of all of the major shots you will need and reminders of the types of cutaways you will use to transition between pieces.
  • No. 3: Check Your Equipment. Check your cards, batteries, lights and lamps. Check to make sure you have everything. Make a list and put it on the inside of your camera case and check it before you leave.
  • No. 4: Check White Balance and Audio levels. Every time you change the location of your camera, check your white balance. Shoot a short 15-second shot at each location before shooting what you want to keep. This will allow the camera to settle in and give you the right reading. Also, check your audio levels to make sure you are not over or under modulating.
  • No. 5: Check your ISO, Shutter Speed and f-Stop. Always check to make sure you are shooting at the optimal ISO for the least amount of grain and set your f-stop to achieve the depth of field desired for each shot.
  • No. 6: Pad Your Shots. Always record ten seconds before you start the action and five seconds after the action stops. This gives you the “handles” you need to add transitions between shots.
  • No. 7: Slate and Log Your Shots as You Shoot. Write down every shot as it is taken, noting if it was good or bad. Using a clapper adds a visual and audio sync point when recording audio with a separate system.
  • No. 8: Shoot Lots of Cutaways. When you shoot cutaways, make sure you include location shots such as street signs, landmarks and time indicators like shadows and clocks.
  • No. 9: Shoot Lots of Coverage. For each scene, shoot multiple angles and sizes of shots. With lots of coverage, you will give yourself plenty of options when editing.
  • No. 10: If You Don’t Have to Move the Camera, Don’t! Good video means solid video. Even if you are sure you want movement in your shot, include a still version of it. You will thank yourself in the editing suite.
  • No. 11: If You Must Move, Do It Intelligently. Shoot all movement in a planned sequence at the same speed. Shoot movements in both directions to provide editing options. If you tilt up, tilt down.
  • No. 12: Record 30 Seconds of Room Tone. Record 30 seconds of room tone or natural sound while at each location to give you short sound clips that will fill in the audio holes between interviews.
  • No. 13: Have Fun!

RobertNulphRobert G. Nulph teaches convergent journalism at Missouri Western State University and specializes in anything with a lens. He is also an independent video/film producer/ director and photographer.

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