See Through News GRIT bootcamp for shooting pictures, recording sound for interviews, sequences and talking to camera
- This article is part of a series of linked articles See Through News used to train its volunteer citizen journalists in how to create high quality video reports on zero budget.
- Our Global Reporter Intensive Training (GRIT) programme is designed for complete novices of all ages. Trainees require no more than a smartphone and internet access.
- GRIT is suitable for self-study or for use in groups, and like all See Through News resources are open source and free to use (but please acknowledge See Through News if you do).
Here’ our suggested sequence to read these GRIT articles:
- GRIT User’s Guide: an overview of the course and how you can use it
- How To Tell Video Stories: visual storytelling basics
- Free Carbon Drawdown Activisation Resources: some ideas to stimulate your ideas
- How To Plan A Video: for video, as for life, good preparation saves time and frustration
- How To Shoot A Video: 3 Rules: (this article) basics for acquiring good images and sound
- How To Edit A Video: 5 Steps: basics for clear visual storytelling
Shooting for Video
See Through News focuses on fun, friendly factful reports, and are designed to create engaging, professional-standard videos with no more than a smartphone and free video editing software, but these guidelines apply to any kind of filmmaking, with any kind of equipment.
Video reports require two basic types of shooting:
Interviews are more straightforward, because you generally have more control, so can take your time to get them right.
Sequences can be more demanding, as you often just have to film what you see on the fly, and have less control over the situation. This requires more complicated decisions that need to be made faster.
Whether you’re shooting an interview, a reporter’s ‘piece to camera’, ‘general views’ to set the scene, or ‘B-roll’ sequence to illustrate something specific, all video shooting require the same basic techniques. Let’s start with Interviews.
Interviews – a news staple
Whether a casual ‘person-on-the-street’ vox pop interview with an ordinary person, or a set-piece sit-down grilling of a political leader, interviews form the basic raw material of all visual journalism. No TV news report, documentary, or factual online content can be truly compelling without one or more ‘talking heads’.
The storytelling begins once you start editing your raw materials into a narrative, but interviews, in one form or other, form the foundations of your story. So it’s important to get them right.
This article describes some basic top tips, shared by expert See Through News volunteers. Veteran professional TV news journalists and documentary filmmakers use these 3 rules whenever they shoot an interview. While rules are made to be broken, if you consistnetly follow these basics, you’ll give yourself the best ingredients with which to start forming your story when you edit them.
These basic rules apply whether you’re part of a large professional TV news crew, or a solo novice who wants to have a go at making your own video for See Through News projects like:
- See Through News Global Reporter Intensive Training (GRIT): volunteers training volunteer citizen journalists
- How To Live Without Plastic: learning from old people how to re-learn sustainable living
- The Vox Pox Project: the manipulative storytelling power of editing
- The See Through News social media network: fun, friendly, factful news to nudge the Unwilling Inactivists towards measurably reducing carbon
- The See Through News Newspaper Review Project: exposing the dangerous stealth corporatisation of local newspapers
- 1 Sunday Morning, 4 Films: a unique experiment in zero-budget community filmmaking
These days most of us carry a remarkably sophisticated camcorder around with us at all times, in the form of the modern smartphone. You’ll find plenty of online advice and how-to videos on smartphone video techniques, but these are our tips, which we use in our various training programmes. These basics are written with smartphone filming in mind, but apply equally if you have heaps of expensive specialist kit.
However big your crew, however fancy their gear, filming interviews involves three key elements:
- Shooting Video
- Recording Audio
- Interview technique
You can make a perfectly good video using interviews only. In fact, this is a good exercise to do at this point, as the sooner you started editing footage you’ve shot, the sooner you’ll start understanding the importance of all the tips we’ve been giving you.
Here are a couple of practical applications for interview-only videos.
Start with How To Live Without Plastic. All the details, guidelines, and examples, are in this article. How To Live Without Plastic always delivers different results, but provides a rigid format means you can focus on the filmmaking basics without also having to think too much about story at the same time.
Next try The Vox Pox Project. Again, all details, procedures and examples are in this article. Like How To Live Without Plastic, The Vox Pox Project provides a fixed format that will deliver different results, but is a bit more demanding in terms of:
- production (persuading strangers to be interviewed)
- interview technique (talking to strangers rather than friends and family)
- editing (telling multiple stories from the same material)
Once you’ve tried How To Live Without Plastic and the Vox Pox Project, you’ll have a good grasp of the fundamentals of Interviews for video. You’re now equipped to tackle the next shooting staple, Sequences.
Sequences are a series of shots, shot as the same time and location, that give different perspectives on the same thing.
Combining this range of shots in the edit, is part of visual storytelling’s magic trick of compressing meaning and time. Something that in real life took an hour can be edited down to its essential elements in one apparently seamless 15 second sequence.
When you’re shooting, you’re gathering a range of ingredients that will enable your chef (editor) to perform this storytelling magic trick.
Different sequences demand different types of skills. If you’re shooting a repetitive action that takes place all day – for example a factory production line, a dance class, or a rehearsal for a military parade, you have plenty of time to plan each shot meticulously. You can take as much time as you like over getting each shot’s composition and framing just right.
If, however, you’re filming a dynamic, one-off, situation, like a warzone skirmish or a wedding, you can’t ask the participants to repeat something because the framing wasn’t quite to your satisfaction. You have to take more dynamic, good-enough, seat-of-the-pants decisions in real time. Experience of course helps enormously in these situations.
Still, whether you have all day to film a machine filling a tin can with beans, or two minutes to capture the moment bomb disposal specialists deal with a ticking WW2 mine on a crowded beach, camera operators should be ticking off the same mental checklist (when you start, it may help to have a physical checklist, and tick off the shots as you go).
There are many online guides to shooting a sequence, and of course no end to the depth of detail you can aspire to master, but fundamentally you want to present your editor with 5 types of shots for each sequence. (Note: we list them here in the sequence they’e usually appear on screen, but you don’t necessarily have to shoot them in this order)
As the name suggests, a shot to establish for the viewer where we are. A big wide shot, from as high a position as you can find – a hilltop, or rooftop. The more options you provide your editor, they happier they will be. Some suggestions:
- Take a big static shot, counting to at least ten to allow interesting things to happen in frame (like birds swooping into frame, traffic moving, people walking).
- Pan left to right, as steadily as you can. Count to ten at the head of the pan, time the pan to last around 5-8 seconds, then hold the shot at the end for another count of ten seconds (this give the editor 3 options: the head of the move, the move, and the end of the move).
- Now do the same, but right to left.
- If you have a zoom option, do the same zooming from a wide shot to a medium shot (10″ at the start, 5-8″ zoom in, 10″ at the end).
- Then do the same in reverse, starting with the medium and ending on the wide.
This is the action/sequence that your director/producer has decided will help tell their story. Let’s say it’s a farmer harvesting beans. The wide shot should have the farmer in frame, big enough to be recognisable, but show as much of the broader context as possible – the size of the field, the geography, location, and other people or object around.
In our example, the farmer now fills the frame, head to foot, or maybe from the waist up. We see their face and hands, and allow the action to happen.
- If they move, follow them.
- If you have time, take another shot with the same framing, but let them exit the frame.
- If you still have time, let them enter the frame.
For a close-up, move in close or use a zoom to frame the most important features of the action. This is usually someone’s face, hands and feet. Again, if you have time, take different versions that follow the action, let them exit frame, and enter frame.
Cutaways are shots from nearby the scene that are not directly involved in it. Cutaways have three key functions:
- they smooth over any ‘jump’ cuts, when the actions in your wide, medium and close-up shots don’t quite match up
- they enable you to ‘compress time’ by missing our extraneous action that doesn’t serve your story
- they give additional information about the particular action, location or character
Cutaways are easily forgotten in the heat of the moment, especially if you’re tired or on a deadline, but are always worth remembering. You’ll understand why as soon as you try to edit a sequence without any cutaways.
- Some cutaway examples: an onlooking dog, chickens strutting by, a crowd watching, a clock ticking, an ornament or photograph in someone’s house.
- No editor has ever complained about having too many cutaways.
- Most editors complain about not having enough.
You now know about shooting Interviews and Sequences. Before you pick up your camera and head out, it’s time to introduce you to BALES, HEP and RON.
Video Shooting Basics
Think BALES: Battery, Aspect, Light, Eyes, Steady
- Battery: Actually Battery and Space. Do you have plenty of power and storage space? Having to stop in mid flow is really annoying for you and your interviewee…
- ASPECT: If filming on a mobile, shoot in landscape, not portrait (i.e. hold your phone horizontally, not vertically).
- LIGHT: Keep the strongest light source (e.g. the Sun outdoors, or main light indoors) behind you, and shining on your interviewee
- EYES: Frame the interviewee’s eyes about 1/3 of the way from the top of the screen, be level with their eyeline. Study The Rule of Thirds, and always frame your image with this is mind.
- STEADY: If you can, use a tripod, or improvise something to keep the shot steady, or the shot will go wobbly as your arms tire
Audio Recording Basics
Get HEP: Hush, Elbow room, Proximity
- HUSH: find somewhere with as little background noise as possible
- ELBOW ROOM: bumping the microphone is really noisy. Avoid this by using a tripod, touching the phone a little as possible, and leaving plenty of space around your phone/camera so it’s not accidentally touched.
- PROXIMITY: if you don’t have a remote microphone, get as close as the framing allows (mobile microphones are best around a hand’s span from the bottom of your phone)
Remember RON: Relax, Open, Nod
- RELAX: If you’re tense, your interviewees will get tense too. If you’re relaxed, friendly and chatty, your interviewees are likely to be too. There’s a lot to think about, but try not to show it.
- OPEN: An open question allows your interviewee freedom in how they answer. A closed question requires a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ answer. Unless you’re trying to pin someone down on a specific point, try to avoid closed questions. We want to hear the interviewees long answers, not your long questions. For interesting, unexpected answers, make your questions open and short – e.g. ask ‘What do you remember about life before plastic?’, not ‘Do you remember life before plastic?‘
- NOD: ‘clean’ audio is easiest to edit. Only speaking when you want your question or comment to be used means staying as quiet as possible when the interviewee is speaking. Resist the urge to say ‘Uhuh’, ‘Really?’, ”How interesting!’, etc. and use body language instead. Get in the habit of nodding, not opening your mouth to encourage your interviewee. They won’t notice the difference, but whoever edits your footage certainly will.
How to talk to a camera
When you do a piece to camera (PTC), AKA stand-upper, or appear in front of the camera in the role of presenter or reporter, ‘Act Naturally‘ is solid general advice.
Many people start to act differently when placed in front of a camera. In many ways, good presenters/reporters simply shed all the self-conscious inhibitions we place on ourselves when we know a lot of strangers are looking at us.
This is also true of public speaking to a live audience. Everything we explain in this article on how to improve your public speaking applies to speaking to camera too.
There are, however, some additional tips that are specific to on-screen presentation, and these are more to do with ‘Acting’ than ‘Naturally’. It’s not that they’re ‘unnatural’ things to do, more like conscious amplifications of our natural communication instincts, that can make a big difference to the ease with which you audience follows your story.
Here are some examples of PTCs from the reporting career of See Through News Founder Robert Stern. Like the examples we give in How To Tell Video Stories, these are not presented as models of perfection – you can learn as much by analysing what’s wrong with them as what’s right.
We can instinctively judge whether PTCs ‘work’ or not, but these tips will help you analyse exactly why, and hence help your own PTCs.
These basics are true whether you’re telling a fairy tale, like this metaphorical explanation of The Magic See-Through Mirror, or presenting a documentary on the world’s biggest engineering project – pay particular attention the PTCs, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here and here.
You can view this PTC clips in isolation, but if you have time, watch the entire 25-minute documentary, and see how they succeed (or fail) in telling the overall story. Ask questions like:
- Why use a PTC instead of narration?
- Does the PTC make the story easier to understand?
- Does the PTC help bridge an otherwise tricky narrative gap?
- Did the timing and duration of this PTC feel intrusive, or timely?
- How many of the top tips listed below can you spot?
As with public speaking, most are logical deductions from the general advice ‘Consider Your Audience’. Always put yourself in the position of a viewer, and you’ll quickly understand what works and what doesn’t.
Self-study will help you diagnose the problems – here are some top tips to help your analyse specific solutions.
When we talk to each other, we speak at around 150 words per minute. Good voiceovers are about 75 words a minute (WPM). This article explains why.
As always, consider the audience, and how to make yourself as clear as posible. Even those who speak your language may not be familiar with your accent or vocabulary. Subtitles are a big help, but here are some other tips to maximise the impact of your words.
The power of silence
As well as speaking slower, sometimes say nothing. Pauses create space for your words to sink in, or for images to have impact without the distraction of words.
Pauses are powerful storytelling tools. By leaving a space, you can direct your audience into asking themselves a certain question, which you can then answer, just as it forms in their heads.
This engages your audience, makes them pay more attention, makes them feel smart, and generally engages them.
This old storytelling trick makes your audience to beg you to tell them What Happens Next. Induce your audience to ask you the very thing you intend to tell them all along. It’s much more effective than bombarding viewers with an avalanche of dense information.
Choosing your words carefully is important, but so is how you deliver them. Unlike written text, your video audience only gets one chance to hear your words, so make them count.
Always memorise your PTCs, never read from a script, but make it look like you’re speaking spontaneously. If you recite your script in a monotonous drone, and sound like you’re bored, why should your audience be interested in what you say?
- Pay attention to your diction.
- Consciously articulate every word.
- Use intonation and emphasis and different pacing.
- Imagine you’re making the script up as you go along, and act like you’re speaking the thoughts as they come to you.
Look at the lens
Eyeline is really important when communicating. Imagine two reporters:
- speaks to you with eyes lowered, keeps looking away, or holds their arms behind their back
- looks you steadily in the eye while speaking to you.
Record yourself delivering the same words as 1 and 2, and see the difference on camera.
Imagine the camera lens is your best friend, and maintain eye contact with it. You need to convince your audience you speak with sincerity and authority – eye contact makes a big difference..
Use your hands and face
Using appropriate gestures and facial expressions saves you a lot of words.
We instinctively use our hands and face to enhance our speech – make the most of this unspoken language.
Observe people engaged in animated conversations from a distance, and see how much you can deduce from body language.
Study their gesticulation, analyse what gestures and expressions help you guess what they’re saying, and consciously use them in your PTCs. For example:
- Use your hands to indicate size, speed, numbers.
- Tick lists of things off on your fingers.
- When contrasting two things, place imaginary objects either side of the frame.
- Point to different locations.
- Raise your eyebrows when delivering novel information, frown when describing a problem, tilt your head when reporting a controversy, smile when you outline a solution etc.
Like all See Through News resources, this article is open source, free of charge, and meant to be shared widely. Please feel free to do so!
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