After shooting pictures for more than 50 years, I find I am just a rookie in one of the fastest-growing fields in photography - video cameras.
But, the basic rules of good pictures are just as valid with a videocam as with any other type of camera. The only trouble, I've discovered, is a whole new set of additional guidelines.To begin with, buying the video outfit is a major - and expensive - project. A good still camera costs around $200, but a good video outfit is at least $1,000. So, before you plunk down your money, consider carefully what you are going to do with your camera and consult with some reliable salesmen in the field.
The most important accessory is the instruction book. Even the simpler video units have a multitude of buttons and levers. They make sense if you study the instructions carefully, but if you try to wing it, you are almost certain to crash.
Once you get by the fundamentals - after plenty of practice with an empty camera - you can load and shoot. But, a word of advice: Buy a top-grade, name-brand video cartridge, even for practice. Cheaper brands too often produce an inferior picture that may make you think you are at fault. Remember, with your test tapes, you can record over the original picture, thus reducing your learning costs. All this practice shooting should take place before you begin filming for posterity.
A while back, a friend bought a new movie camera (remember them?) for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Hawaii. I urged her to shoot a roll or two before she left, but she didn't. The nine rolls she took in Hawaii all were blank due to a faulty shutter. The store replaced the camera, but, of course, could not replace the trip.
So, you've mastered the basics, checked the camera, and are all set to become a TV producer. Now is the time for some planning. First, remember that you will be taking moving pictures, not snapshots, and that will require motion.
Plan to have your subjects doing something, not just posing. Tell them what you want, and even have them rehearse a time or two before you press the button. This also will let them get all the mugging out of their systems before you actually shoot.
If you are shooting an event, such as a wedding, baptism, graduation or ballgame, even more planning is needed. You need not draw up an elaborate script, but make some notes on the scenes you will need to tell the story. Don't forget to include pictures of the audience and the families, as well as the bride and groom.
Make certain in advance that you will be allowed to shoot. Not every clergyman, for example, wants cameras, still or video, used during the ceremony. Use of video lights might arouse even stronger objections. If you get permission beforehand, you won't be asked to go sit in the corner, and your consideration will often yield extra cooperation.
A zoom lens and the ability to pan your camera are two of the big advantages you will have - and two of the big dangers, too. Use the zoom to set the frame for your picture before you shoot. Zooming while the camera is running usually is distracting and makes it hard for your audience to follow what's going on.
As for panning, remember that the camera is not a hose and you are not watering the garden. Too many beginners pan too much and too fast, leaving the viewers on the verge of seasickness.
Many video photographers can hold their cameras steady enough to get good pictures, but others weave and bob during shooting. A good tripod is most valuable, and if one isn't available, find something to rest the camera on or to brace your arms.
Learn the camera, plan your pictures, and use reasonable common sense in shooting, and you'll wind up looking like a network photographer - even if you're a rookie, like me.
(A good beginner's manual is "Using Your CamCorder" by Mandy Matson, Amphoto, $18.95.)