One of the best things I’ve done recently is working off as a volunteer videographer at the local charity where I live. The video is intended for a 30-minute documentary about the work of a charity for children. We traveled in groups to several rehabilitation hospitals in several cities in Vietnam.
As a speaker, I always strive to improve my storytelling abilities. But as a videographer, my role is now moving on to looking outside; first recognize the story, then immediately capture it in the video. I have already started using a video arsenal leading video blogs for my site. Some video shooting skills I already knew and practiced. But a few events took me by surprise and helped me increase my experience.
That was my script. I traveled with our team of more than 11 interpreters to hospitals, conducting workshops throughout the day for parents and young children with cerebral palsy. The rooms were crowded. 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 aged 9 months to 17 years. I wanted to capture the emotions on the faces of mothers and their children. I also wanted to formalize each of our health professionals who willingly worked with these children.
We left the hotel until 7 am and did not return until 5 pm most days. Along with the desire to visit and dine with our team in the evening, I usually had at least 2 hours of work in my room, backing up, viewing and indexing the videos I collected all day. But I was in my element, because a lot was happening around me. I felt like I had a story to capture and tell. The following are tips I learned and would like to share.
1) Don’t assume you’ll just hold the camera and shoot video. You may have to jump in and become a producer, choreographer and editor – everything – from the beginning to the end of video production. Plus, you’re an editor so you can shoot videos exactly the way you want, and save valuable time for editing later.
2) Make sure you have enough battery power – enough to keep the camera running all day. Buy the biggest battery you can. I had 2; 1 in the morning and 1 in the afternoon. A few days we left for 12 hours. Also make sure you buy an external charger. The camera’s built-in charger is badly awaited. Don’t expect this when shooting every day on the go. You don’t want to risk blowing up the camera electronics while charging the battery. One reality was that I didn’t have a backup camera. If it broke, I would be sitting idle.
3) Have a travel backpack that is easy to carry and access during your daily video jump. I had 2. The main one was my handmade outfit with all my video equipment. During the trip you do not want to register your fragile video equipment. For day walks, take a smaller backpack with lots of pockets that you can comfortably carry over your shoulder or back so you can easily access it while shooting.
4) Get a long chord for a hotel room when you back up your videos and recharge your batteries every night. I took this advice from a work colleague who travels internationally and it has saved a lot. The hotels we stayed in usually had only 1 outlet, which was easy to get to, albeit through the room from where my entire laptop and video editor were installed. If I didn’t have that long power cord, I would be in a difficult position.
5) Back up your videos every night to an external drive, if not two. Check them to make sure they are copied correctly before removing from the camera. I made 2 backups; 1 on the laptop drive and another on the external USB drive.
6) Set up your laptop with a video viewer so you can view the video to make sure you have the right shots that aren’t jerky or focused. I had a video preview set on my laptop so I could quickly watch my videos of the day, such as lighting, panning, or maybe too much nervous movement. Mistakes made today can be corrected in tomorrow’s picture.
7) Make sure you have enough backup SD memory cards. Sometimes they can spoil or get lost due to their small size. Maybe you also found good content and decided to shoot longer to capture everything.
8) Adjust the strap to the camera. If your camera slips out of your hand, you have 1 more chance to save the camera from bouncing about the concrete. This saved me several times, especially in hot climates when the workdays were over 10 hours and I was tired.
9) On the wrist should be a brand similar to the flag of your country. Mine was a red TEDx lace and actually started a few conversations with other tourists and maybe an exchange of business cards.
10) Wear hiking shorts with MANY pockets. I had SD cards, batteries, a notebook, a pen, a water bottle and everything in my pocket.
11) States are large and cumbersome. I had a telescopic carbon monopod that was able to quickly pull me into tough places. It is also adjustable on the fly. It was so convenient to hold and adjust the telescopic legs. It was also great to go through people’s heads when there was a crowd around my topic. Shots overhead also add a dramatic effect. There is nothing like getting right into the subject of a story.
12) You may have a story in mind, but be prepared to follow a Segway or 2 story that can be solved before your eyes. You should always keep an eye on the scenes and stories that unfold around you. Turn on the camera and start the microphone to make a video with good sound. These can be disguised blessings to give your story a twist or outcome. Remember, you can also put together enough good frames for 2 or 3 additional stories that can be edited and released later.
13) Always have a video camera on hand during the filming day – even in the evening when you go out to dinner with your team. You never know when a video story may break out in front of you. You want to be able to capture it. During a taxi ride I got one deep opinion from one of our Vietnamese translators about the history of CP in Vietnam. Real such episodes simply cannot be repeated.
14) Always let your camera be visible around your team or subject. Your subjects get so used to you that they eventually don’t find out if you’re shooting them or not. It’s great to take these candid shots. My goal was to capture them at work around parents and children as sincerely as possible. We all know that as soon as the camera appears, people walk on the rocks, guard and rehearse. You want to capture them as relaxed, open and natural as possible.
15) In your bag or pockets be sure to have plenty of energy bars and snacks including water. I didn’t, and there were days when we didn’t eat for a while. You want to maintain your energy. Nothing worse than the pain of hunger or thirst will distract you from filming.
16) Most importantly, do a daily index of all your video clips while you still have a fresh day. I started to slip after the first few days and started to forget where the clips came from. I quickly fixed this by making an Excel worksheet on my laptop, indexing it by clip number and briefly describing the scene, location and value. I did this every night in my hotel room, recharging the batteries and making backups. If you know which storyline you want to follow, you can start tagging certain clips for use in your documentary. This saves your time when you return home. I also found it very helpful to watch all the videos every night to get them into my imagination; what I lacked and what else I needed.
17) Store your video clips for no more than 2-3 minutes, even 1 minute. Back in Canada, I found that it was much faster to find a video clip looking for 5 one-minute clips than to look for 1 clip 5 minutes long. This discovery completely surprised me.
18) My key subject Laverne and I have agreed that whenever she feels the manifestation of emotional comments, she will give me a signal as soon as possible and withdraw her monologue. These comments will be scattered throughout the documentary to really reflect what happened during our 3-week mission. The videographer helps to get acquainted with the person quickly, spending time with him for coffee, a drink or food. In this case, it was easy, since Laverne and I have become good friends over the last few years.
Upon returning to our hotel at the end of the day we always conducted a 1 hour parsing in the dining room, giving each team member the opportunity to share whatever they wished, related to the workshop or true feelings in general. It was a time when I was getting ideas for other video clips that I could make the next day. It was also a great way to build a team and share your experiences as a band in a distant land.
Here you are; my tips for beginner videographers. I am already looking forward to my next video trip where I will further strengthen my skills mentioned above. Happy video magazines!