First of all, just to get that out of the way, there’s a rough truth here. Filming and taking pictures in high pressure situations isn’t something that will come naturally or have great results the first time you try it. So don’t be too disappointed if you’re not getting wartime correspondent-quality right off the bat. We’ve got some good tips for you here, and if you stick to them, then getting that shot (with your camera, mind you) will be easier than ever.
Also, maybe you won’t motion sickness from watching it later. So there’s that as well.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Filming
Look, without special gear and thousands of bucks in equipment, you’re not going to be shooting professional grade video any time soon, that’s just a true fact of this hard life. But, the good news is that YouTube loves you. So does Facebook. And if you manage to get some decent quality with the stuff you have at hand, then news outlets will love you as well. So whether you’re filming stuff to further a cause or get rich and famous, or just to make people laugh or cry, this stuff’s for you.
- Don’t talk unless you have to. If you’re a spectator, be a spectator, but no one wants your commentary unless you’re the protagonist in this story as well.
- Don’t get distracted. You wanted to video tape it, then video tape it! Multitasking isn’t for camera operators.
- Don’t film in portrait mode. Landscape is the way to go, all the way, all the time.
- Don’t switch between landscape/portrait. If you’ve been stupid and started in portrait, then maybe switch. But not 5 minutes in.
- Don’t get too close. This applies especially if you’re filming police interactions. Unless you’re in the thick of it, stay just within hearing distance – you want the dialogue as well, buddy.
The Right Way:
When it comes to shooting video, there’s a million ways to do it right, and about the same amount of things that could go wrong and ruining your shot. If you want the best odds of getting good, usable footage, there’s a couple of things you should think about.
- Be ready.
Practice getting your camera out and running. Do it at home, do it on the street, in your car – if you’re using your phone, get familiar with how you can open your camera the fastest. The iPhone, for example, gives you access to your camera while the phone’s locked – touch the right hand, lower corner of the screen, and swipe up. Select video, and go. Takes 3 seconds. Others have much the same ability, and you should learn to use it.
- If you need commentary, put it in later. For now, just video the damn thing.
No one wants to hear your hurried, disjointed commentary. Whether you’re selling the footage to CNN or just putting it up on YouTube, you should STFU unless you’re forced to interact with someone, such as filming your own encounter. Putting commentary in later, either with text or voice-over is easy these days, and you can be sure that any news stations will want to do their own commentary, not listen to yours.
- Stay on target.
Just like Luke Skywalker, you’ve got a tiny target to work with – your ideal shot, as it were. Watch your screen, not the scene in front of you. You don’t see professional videographers taking their eye away from their eyepiece, do you? No. So neither should you. Watch the screen or your eyepiece if you’re using a DSLR or something, and keep the scene you want to capture in focus. All day, every day.
- Learn to focus your camera
Out of focus images and video is hard on the eyes and on the brain. So you should learn to do something about it. If you’re using your smartphone, find out how you can focus the camera where you want. For example, the iPhone lets you set focus and aperture (look it up) by tapping your screen where you see the thing you want to focus on. The aperture adjustment makes sure you can see what’s there, instead of just that patch of sunlit car door to the left. You get the idea. Focus!
- Reduce vibrations to a minimum
In high pressure situations, we’ve all got a nice feature in ourselves called adrenaline. It’s good stuff, but unfortunately, it makes us shake. That muscle response is good if you’re running away from something, but that shaking is murder on good videoshots. Take a page from the professional photographer’s handbook, and find something to set your camera on. If that doesn’t work, lean up against a wall or a post, or even a car, and steady one side of you camera against it. If you do nothing else today, go out and try it for yourself – you’re going to be amazed at how effective this is.
Last, but not least – be careful. If you’re not in the situation yourself, then keeping your distance is always the best option with police officers. They kill more people than anyone else.