Read an Excerpt
50 Fast Digital Video Techniques
By Bonnie Blake Doug Sahlin
John Wiley & Sons
Copyright © 2003
Bonnie Blake, Doug Sahlin
All right reserved.
LIKE A PRO
Armed with a digital camcorder, an
interesting subject, and beautiful
scenery, you have all the necessary elements
to create some wonderful
footage. By default, most digital camcorders
do a credible job of capturing what you point
them at. However, any piece of equipment has limitations.
Your digital movies will be less than what they
can be if you don't master a few skills to overcome the
limitations of your equipment. In this chapter, we
present techniques that help you get the most from
yourself, your subjects, and your equipment.
Technique 1 shows you how to cope with adverse
lighting conditions. You learn to film subjects with
their backs to the rising or setting sun and still capture
detail. Technique 2 shows you how to set up an
indoor studio with three-point lighting. Three-point
lighting makes your footage more dramatic by
bathing the subject with a key light, erasing deep
shadows with a fill light, and revealing subtle details
with a back light. In Technique 3, we show you how
to create a makeshift dolly to smoothly track a person
in motion. Finally, Technique 4 shows you howto
capture a sporting event like a pro and overcome the
mundane nature of most home movies of sporting
COPING WITH ADVERSE LIGHTNING
Windows Movie Maker and iMovie have video effects
that are similar to the filters you find in more sophisticated
applications, such as Adobe Premiere and
Sonic Foundry Vegas Video. You can use these effects
to compensate for footage that is too dark or too
light, but when you try to compensate for footage that is very dark or very
bright, you end up washing out the detail of the clip. When faced with
adverse lighting conditions, you end up with better results if you manually
adjust your camcorder's exposure. As you can see in Figure 1.1, the camcorder's
default setting compensated for the bright ambient light behind
the subject, which washes out the subtle details in the subject's face as well
as the violin he is playing. Figure 1.2 shows this technique applied, which
brings back some detail in the subject's face.
SHOOT A BACKLIT SUBJECT
When your subject is between the camcorder and a
strong light source, such as the rising or setting sun,
your subject is backlit. If you don't compensate for
this situation, your camcorder will meter the average
brightness of the scene and expose the scene accordingly.
The scenery surrounding your subject will be
properly exposed, but your subject will be in the dark
with details obscured in shadow.
* Aim your camcorder at the subject.
* View the scene with the camcorder's LCD viewer.
* Press your camcorder's Backlight button. The
background will be overexposed, but you'll be able
to make out the details of your subject matter (see
* Record your subject. If your camcorder is fairly
economical with battery usage, you can frame the
scene with your LCD viewer. As you're shooting
the scene, pay careful attention to your subject,
making sure that you're picking up the subtle
details. When you override a camcorder's auto-exposure
with a backlight setting, the scene background
will be overexposed, but the subtle details
of your subject will be faithfully recorded.
There are other factors involved while shooting in
bright sunlight. The UV rays from sunlight can alter
the color of your video. Consider investing in a skylight
filter for your digital camcorder. Most camcorders
have threads in the front of the lens that you
use to attach accessory filters. Not only does the UV
filter give you better-looking video, it's also cheap
insurance that protects the expensive camcorder lens
from scratches. Another accessory to consider is a
polarizing filter, which is used to reduce or eliminate
glare from reflective surfaces such as windows and
water. After attaching a polarizing filter to your digital
camcorder, you rotate the outer ring of the filter to
"dial out" glare and reflections. For example, if you're
filming goldfish in a pond, the polarizing filter will
cut through any glare on the surface and enable you
to faithfully record the fish swimming underwater.
SHOOT A SUBJECT IN HEAVY SHADE
You're bound to encounter the problem situation
where your subject is in heavy shade. Sometimes
you'll find the perfect subject for some footage sitting
on a park bench under tall towering oak trees. The
oak trees do a wonderful job of framing your subject
on the park bench, but your camcorder exposes the
scene for the average lighting, and the bright background
wins out every time.
* Zoom in on your subject. Zoom in as tight as
you can. If your subject is a person, zoom in on
the person's face.
* View your subject through your camcorder's
* Switch to manual exposure mode.
* Adjust the exposure until you have achieved the
desired level of lighting (see Figure 1.4).
* Zoom out and frame the scene using either the
LCD viewer or the camcorder eyepiece.
Camcorders have different methods for manually
adjusting exposure. On some camcorders you press
an exposure button after which you move a dial while
viewing the scene through the camcorder viewfinder
or LCD. After dialing in the proper exposure, you
shoot the scene. On many camcorders, pushing the
focus button again returns the camcorder to automatic
metering. Refer to your camcorder owner's
manual for the exact procedure for manually adjusting
the exposure of your model.
You should also consider manually adjusting the
focus of your camcorder when you're shooting a
scene in which you will be panning the subject. In a
situation like this, if you let the camcorder automatically
expose the scene, certain frames of your video
may flicker when the camcorder quickly readjusts the
exposure for brighter or darker objects in the scene.
Manually adjust the exposure so that your subject is
properly exposed and then record the scene.
SHOOT A NIGHT SCENE
Another tricky lighting situation is a night scene.
Most camcorders do a fair job of exposing a night
scene, but the camcorder's auto focus feature causes
the focus to go out of whack when brightly lit objects
move through the scene. For example, if you're
shooting a night scene of a busy street corner and
your center of interest is a street performer and his
audience, you want that part of the scene to be in
sharp focus at all times. However, the first time a car
passes near the corner, the camcorder focuses on its
bright lights, throwing your subject out of focus. To
prevent this occurrence, you must manually focus on
your center of interest.
* Zoom in on your subject.
* View the scene through your camcorder's LCD
* Switch your camcorder to manual focus and
then adjust your camcorder until your center of
interest is in sharp focus.
* Zoom out to frame your scene.
* Film your subject. Note that when you film a
stationary scene, you'll have better success if you
use a tripod.
After you've set up your night scene, do not zoom in
or out. If you manually adjust the focus as outlined in
this technique, your focus goes out the window as
soon as you start zooming. Take advantage of any
bright ambient lighting, such as streetlights or a spotlight
in front of a business. When you set up your
scene, position your subject in bright ambient
lighting to bring out the fine details in your subject.
Otherwise, your subject will be a muddy indistinguishable
blob of color.
CREATING A THREE-POINT
Light is one of the most important ingredients in a successful
video production, particularly for indoor sessions. Indoor
video lighting can be very tricky, especially if natural light
sources are combined with the artificial light from lamps and
overhead fluorescent fixtures.
In this technique, you learn a foolproof and inexpensive way to create nearperfect
indoor lighting by using clamp-on utility lamps from a hardware
store. This technique is based on the classic three-point lighting technique
that photographers and videographers use as a springboard for their lighting
setup. Figure 2.1 demonstrates a makeshift lighting setup positioned around
a subject. The light source comes from three inexpensive clamp-on light fixtures
with incandescent light bulbs. Figure 2.2 shows you the results of this
three point lighting exercise from the camcorder's perspective. The three
lights balance each other out resulting in a warm glow on the subject. As you
will learn in this chapter, identifying the proper position for the back and side
(fill) lights will result in near-perfect indoor illumination on a subject, as
good as if you were using a professional lighting system.
To prepare for this technique, grab some photoflood
lights (from photo supply stores) or any incandescent
lights from a hardware store (Figure 2.3). Experiment
with different lights and a variety of different watts to
see if they cast a color on your subject that's suitable for
the shoot. Find a room totally devoid of natural light,
because for this technique you will rely only on the artificial
light emitted from light bulbs. If blocking out natural
light is too difficult, shoot your video at night.
STEP 1: SET UP THE KEY LIGHT
In a nutshell, three-point lighting involves a key light,
a backlight, and a fill light. The key light is going to be
your primary light source, so positioning it in just the
right place is very important. In this step, you will
identify the proper position of the lights in relation to
* Find a dark room. Have a friend, child, or a significant
other act as your model and seat them in
a chair in a dark room. Placing the subject in
front of a solid-color background which always
works well. A solid-color sheet of construction
paper behind the subject does the trick. Stick with
neutral colors, like mid-tone blues, greens, or
grays, so the background won't detract from your
* Position your camcorder in front of the subject
on a tripod.
* Position one of your clamp-on lamps in front
of the subject, but up higher than the subject
and slightly on an angle. If you position the light
above the subject, improvise by clamping it onto
a hat stand, a tall lamp, a ladder, or a shelf.
Experiment with the light by positioning it at different
heights and angles, so that the light appears
slightly off-center on the subject. In Figure 2.4,
the key light is positioned so the key light source is
dominant on the left side of the subject's face. It
often takes a lot of experimenting to get the lighting
to your liking. In fact, it's a good idea to use an
inanimate object in place of the model to set up
the lighting, and then call your model in when the
lighting seems perfect. Otherwise, your model will
get hot and tired of waiting under the lights.
STEP 2: SET UP THE BACKLIGHT
A backlight sits behind the subject so that the subject
can be distinguished from the background. The
backlight also eliminates the sense of flatness that
limited lighting can create by balancing out the
intensity of the key light.
* Position a lamp behind the subject. You don't
want the light or the stand to which the light is
clamped to appear in the shot, so make sure that
the light is positioned higher than the field in your
viewfinder. Alternatively, you can position the light
below, left, or right of the camcorder's field of
vision. You may need some extension cords to reach
the wall outlet to give you the freedom to move the
lights around the space. In Figure 2.4, although the
light is clamped onto a stand, the backlight is not
visible in the camcorder viewfinder. Alternatively,
you can position the backlight below a subject.
Experiment with positioning the light closer and
farther away from the subject until the light balances
perfectly with the key light.
Setup STEP 3: SET UP THE FILL LIGHT
A fill light, angled to the side of the subject, casts a
subtle illumination on the subject. This soft light creates
a balance between the key light and the back
light. Otherwise the key light and backlights will cast
harsh highlights on the subject.
* Position a lamp to the side of the subject.
Experiment with bulbs that emit a softer light for
the fill light position. If your light is too harsh,
you can also experiment with holding up a white
board (foam core or illustration board) to allow
the fill light to bounce off the board (also known
as a "bounce card"), diffusing the light even more.
Because all scenes are different depending on the
light intensity, wattage of the bulbs, and the nature
of your environment, you need to experiment to
find the right light balance.
* Now, adjust all the lights until the scene looks
visually balanced. The placement of the three
lights, subject, and camcorder should resemble the
positioning of these elements in Figure 2.5. To
perfect the scene, try moving the lights farther
away from and closer to the subject and also try
different angles. You notice that moving the lights
even slightly casts a melange of hard shadows, soft
shadows, and light on the subject.
Now for the fun part you've been waiting for. You
are ready to shoot your video.
CREATING A MAKESHIFT DOLLY
Following a moving subject can be a difficult task using a handheld
camcorder. As you follow the person, the camcorder moves
in synch with you and does not remain level. Professional
moviemakers use expensive dollies to film people in motion.You
can create a makeshift dolly by improvising with items you may
have hanging around in your garage or attic. Financially challenged independent
filmmakers are renowned for coming up with makeshift devices to
use as dollies. In Figure 3.1, we've mounted a tripod with a camcorder on
top of a baby carriage. Tape was used to secure the tripod to the carriage as
well as the straps on the carriage used to secure the child. Figure 3.2 shows a
camcorder person following the motion of a subject with a tripod with a
camcorder, mounted on a baby carriage. Independent film makers and students
often invent variations of this "dolly" by using wheelchairs, skateboards,
rolling tables, shopping carts, virtually anything with wheels that can
turn smoothly to create fluid motion. Sure, you might look a little silly to the
outside world wheeling around a camcorder, but by strapping a camcorder
onto a makeshift dolly, you can achieve some very smooth motion shots.
STEP 1: LOCATE AN OBJECT
In our example for this technique, we use a baby carriage.
Excerpted from 50 Fast Digital Video Techniques
by Bonnie Blake Doug Sahlin
Copyright © 2003 by Bonnie Blake, Doug Sahlin.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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