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Stabilizing the Shot

Stabilizing the Shot

One of the most important things you can do to give your video an air of profes- sionalism is to stabilize your shot. Nothing says amateur video like extremely shaky handheld video. We’ve all watched home videos that induce motion sick- ness as the camera whips around. Many tools can help you lock down your shot:


» Tripod: The most useful stabilizing tool is the simple tripod. It has three legs; you attach your camera to the top, and your shot is as stable as stable can be.

Tripods are readily available online, at camera stores, and at electronics stores, and they have a wide variety of price points. We recommend investing at least $50 here. It can be helpful to get one that has a built-in level to keep your shots from being crooked.

When you’re shopping for a tripod, choose a model that has a fl id panning head, meaning you can turn it smoothly from side-to-side (known as panning) and that it’s built to resist bumps and vibrations. At some point, you’ll want to add a few camera moves to your repertoire, and you’ll need that fl   head when that time comes. A basic still photography tripod may be cheaper, but you’ll regret it when you need to move the camera during a shot. Tripods with nonfl       heads cannot replicate the smooth motion that a fl                                                              head can provide.

» Monopod: This is the one-legged cousin of the aforementioned stabilizer. No, this one doesn’t give you a perfectly stable shot, but it’s a great tool for

reducing a majority of unwanted shake and movement. It’s also much more portable and compact, because you’re working with only one leg versus three!

» Dolly: A dolly is simply a set of wheels for the camera. The simplest dollies

attach to the bottom of the tripod, and — voila! — your camera is now on the

move, allowing you to create interesting motion and following shots.

» Stabilizer: A number of handheld stabilizer rigs are available these days,

but they can be a little expensive. They also require a great deal of skill to use

eff            That means practice. If you want to get good handheld shots using a stabilizer rig, you have to practice, practice, practice to get the hang of using the thing. If you do put in the time and get good at it, you can create some cool shots with these devices.

» Sliders/cranes/jibs: A wide variety of devices are also on the market to create moving shots. Sliders allow the camera to move on rails, providing a sense of

smooth motion in the shot. Cranes/jibs allow the camera to move from side to side and up and down in space, creating a smooth sensation of fl                                     Many of



these are available as add-ons to tripods. Though they aren’t absolutely necessary, a few nice moving shots do provide a feeling of high production value to almost any project. Sliders start at around $200; if you’re ready to build something in order to save money, search YouTube for some DIY slider videos.




Seeing Your Way with Light

Another important aspect of creating a video with some level of professionalism is lighting. You don’t need to win any lighting awards, but decent lighting goes a long way toward making a watchable video. You can approach lighting in a couple of ways: You can buy specialized lights, which will probably produce the best results, or work with the lights you already have. Just using lamps from around the house isn’t ideal, but it can get you started, and there are ways to improve your video’s look just by putting some thought into light placement.


Setting up 3-point lighting

The simplest, and generally most useful, lighting setup for shooting a person inside is 3-point lighting. As its name implies, this lighting setup involves three lights, and it illuminates a subject in what is considered a traditionally pleas- ing way.


We describe the three lights that are involved (see Figure 6-1) in the following list:


» Key light: The key light is the main (and brightest) light in a 3-point lighting

setup. It’s usually placed to the right or left of the camera, and it points directly

at the subject from a 30- to 60-degree angle. The height of the light should be set, ideally, so that it points slightly downward on the subject’s face, but not so high that it creates shadows on the face. It should point down from slightly above the subject’s eye level.

» Fill light: The fi light is a generally a softer light that should be pointed at

the subject from the opposite side of the camera. The fi light shouldn’t be as

bright as the key light. It’s there mainly to create a more even light on the subject. Using only a key light would usually result in creating dramatic shadows on the subject’s face, and unless you’re shooting a horror movie  or a serious drama, you probably should stick with somewhat even lighting.


» Back light: The back light (sometimes called a hair light) shines from behind

the subject and casts a thin outline of light around the subject’s head, almost

like a halo. This is intended not to give the subject an angelic look — but rather to create depth and separate the subject from the background. The back light can be directly behind the subject, but it can also be placed at an angle to the subject. Be sure not to get the light in the shot if you’re going to place it directly behind the person.

» Background light: We know, it’s confusing to add a fourth light to a section about 3-point lighting, but the reality is that most 3-point lighting setups also

use a background light. This light does what its name implies — it lights the background. This is sometimes used to call attention to the background, but it’s most often used to light the background separately from the subject. This can help create a sense of distance between the subject and the background, and can help enhance the separation between the two.