Videography tips for your video success

One of the best things I’ve done recently was to take a working holiday as a volunteer videographer with a local charity where I live. The video would be for a 30-minute documentary about the work of a children’s charity. We traveled as a group to several rehabilitation hospitals in various cities in Vietnam.

As a speaker, I am always trying to improve my storytelling skills. But as a videographer, my role now is to be outside looking in; first to recognize a story, then to capture it immediately on video. I’ve already started using an arsenal of video making video blogs for my website. Some videography skills I already knew and practiced. But several events took me by surprise and helped me to increase my experience.

Here was my scenario. I was traveling with our team of over 11 interpreters to hospitals giving full-day workshops for parents and young children with cerebral palsy. The rooms were tight. It was hot and humid. Towards the end of the day, the children were tired and crying. Sometimes I had to jump from room to room capturing scenes of children ranging in age from 9 months to 17 years. I was looking to capture the excitement in the faces of the mothers and their children. I also wanted to profile each of our health professionals who volunteered to work with these children.

We left our hotel at 7am and would not be back until 5pm on most days. Apart from wanting to visit and dine with our team at night, I usually had no less than 2 hours of work in my room backing up, reviewing and indexing every day of video I collected. But I was in my element as there was a lot going on around me. I felt I had a story to capture and tell. What follows are tips that I learned and that I’d like to share.

Don’t assume you’re just holding the camera and capturing video. You may also have to jump in and be the producer, choreographer and editor – all from start to finish producing the video. Plus, you being the editor will enable you to capture the video the way you want and save your valuable editing time later.

Make sure you have enough battery – enough to power a full day’s work with the camera. Buy as much battery as possible. I had 2; 1 for the morning and 1 for the afternoon. We were away for 12 hours for a few days. Also make sure to buy an external battery charger. The charger built into the camera charger is a poor standby. Do not trust it when you are shooting every day on a car trip. You wouldn’t want to risk blowing the camera electronics while charging the battery. One reality was that I didn’t have a backup camera. If it broke, I’d be sitting idle.

Have a travel backpack that you can easily carry and access during your daily video jump. I had 2. The main one was my carry-on luggage with all my video equipment contained. When traveling you do not want to check in your delicate video equipment. For your day trips, have a smaller backpack with many pockets that you can comfortably stretch over your shoulder or back so you can easily access while shooting.

Have a long extension chord to your hotel room when you back up your video and recharge your batteries every night. I took this tip from a co-worker who travels internationally and it saved me a lot of time. The hotels we stayed in usually had only 1 plug that was easily accessible, although on the other side of the room from where all my laptop and video equipment was installed. If I didn’t have this long power cord with me, I’d be on terrible straights.

Back up your videos every night to an external drive, if not two. Review them to ensure that they have been copied correctly before deleting them from the camera. I made 2 backups; one on my laptop drive and one on an external USB drive.

Have a laptop with video viewer so you can review your videos to ensure that you have the photos you want that are not uneven or out of focus. I had my video viewer installed on my laptop so I could quickly watch my video of the day, i.e. lighting, panning or maybe too much nervous movement. Mistakes made today can be corrected for tomorrow’s shooting.

Make sure you have enough spare SD memory cards. Sometimes they can go wrong or get lost due to their small size. You may also have found good content and decided to shoot longer to capture it all.

Have a bracelet attached to your camera. If your camera slips from your hand, you have 1 more chance to save your camera from jumping on concrete. This saved me several times, especially in a hot climate when the working days were 10 hours or more and I was tired.

The bracelet must have some mark on it as your country flag. Mine was a red TEDx cord and actually started several conversations with other tourists and eventual exchange of biz cards.

Wear walking shorts with MANY pockets. I had SD cards, batteries, notebook, pen, water bottle and everything else in every pocket.

The tripods are large and bulky. I had a telescopic carbon monopod that was great to put me in tight spots quickly. It also adjusts on time. It was so comfortable to hold and adjust the telescopic legs. It was also great to get over people’s heads when a crowd developed around my subject. The over-the-head shots also add a dramatic effect. There’s nothing like getting into the subject of the story.

You may have a story in mind, but be prepared to follow a segway or 2 story that can unfold right before your eyes. You should always be on the lookout for scenes and stories that develop around you. Have your camera on and microphone running to capture that video clip with good sound. These can be blessings in disguise to give your story a twist or backbone. Remember, you can also collect enough good footage for 2 or 3 additional stories to be edited and released at a later date.

Always have your camcorder handy during your day’s shooting – even at night, when you go out to dinner with your crew. You never know when a video story might arise in front of you. You want to be able to capture it. During a taxi ride, I received a very insightful opinion from one of our Vietnamese interpreters about the history of PC in Vietnam. Genuine episodes like this cannot be repeated.

Always have your camera visible around your team or subject. Your subjects will become so used to you that they will eventually not know whether you are filming them or not. This is great for capturing these candid photos. My purpose was to capture them in working with parents and children as sincerely as possible. We all know that as soon as a camera shows up, people get stoned, watched and rehearsed. You want to capture them as relaxed, candid and natural as possible.

Make sure you have a variety of energy bars and snacks, including water in your backpack or pockets. I didn’t do it and there were days when we weren’t eating for a while. You want to keep your energy up. Nothing worse than a pain of hunger or thirst to distract you from your filming.

More importantly, make a daily index of all your video clips while the day is still fresh in your mind. I started sliding after the first few days and started forgetting which clips were from where. I quickly fixed this by making an Excel sheet on my laptop, indexing by clip number and briefly describing the scene, location and meaning. I did this every night in my hotel room, while charging the batteries and making backups. If you know what story line you want to follow, you can start marking specific clips for use in your documentary. This saves time when you come home. I also found it very useful to review all the clips every night to get them embedded in my mind; what I had enough of and what was still needed.