- Published Sep 24, 2013 in The Biz
- Read time: about 6 minutes
Whether you're shooting an interview or a personal YouTube video, Dave Courvoisier discusses 5 common factors in successful, visually engaging, and practical on-camera shots.
Very little escapes the view of a camera these days. News organizations find this to be a bonus...YouTube a business...and the unsuspecting, an embarrassment.
But if ubiquitous cameras are the inevitable reality of the future, then why not make them work to your best advantage?
Take charge of your video shots. Savvy marketers, Social Media gurus, and wacky teens all find the webcam to be their workhorse, but not many actually know how to saddle-up and ride their cam to get the most horsepower out of it.
As a TV news anchorman with 30 years of on-camera experience in almost every possible circumstance, I've come to recognize some common factors in successful, visually engaging, and practical on-cam shots; factors that professionals embrace everyday; factors that are neither costly nor complicated. I've even devised an easy-to-remember mnemonic for checklisting your shots.
Think about the most engaging interview of the most respected person on the planet. Now imagine a chimpanzee walking through the shot behind the interview subject. Where did your attention go?
On a smaller scale thousands of times a day, people conduct home videos of themselves, hoping for your undying attention, but they're doomed from the start by busy, distracting, and sloppy backdrops.
This is not hard. Make it plain. A wall. A blanket. One color. No movement, no plaids, no complex designs, lines, or signs. It should be flat, not angled. Pastels are preferred...but with proper lighting (see "L") almost any dark or light color can work.
This may sound mundane, but it will take all of one second for the viewer to realize there's nothing else in your video to watch but you. Of course, that puts an extra onus on you to make it good. (see "N" and "K" below).
No one single thing will more effect your video than lighting. Ask any professional videographer, and they'll tell you lighting is the first thing they consider when setting up a shot.
For the purposes of today's web-cam-driven world, I recommend simply one good light in front, and one good backlight. Even better would be two soft lights in front, one each at an angle on your face(and a backlight). A reflected light (shining a bright light on a white sheet or board, and then directing the board at your face) is even better than THAT, but I said I'd keep this simple.
A backlight can be positioned to light the back of your head, but more likely, it should point at your background to accent the flat, single color you've chose there (see "B"), and that will offset your head.
Play with lighting to get the best effect for your color. At the very least, it should show your eyes, so if you have deep-set eyes, position the cam at face-level. Any light below face level doesn't look that natural (think: Halloween).
If your video features you looking right at the camera, and not being interviewed off-cam, then I highly recommend putting yourself squarely in the center of your shot. This is how we've been conditioned all our lives by TV...and besides, the human eye wants to center the object we're looking at. So park yourself in the center of the shot, and don't move.
You want to be personal with the camera, so keep yourself an an intimate distance, but don't get so close as to invade the viewer's "space".
If someone is actually operating the camera for you, they can continually adjust this, especially if you're moving or motioning in some way...just remind them: keep it centered.
One more thing...turning your body slightly at an angle (to get your best side) is also acceptable, as long as your whole body is centered in the shot.
Nothing makes a viewer more uncomfortable than seeing someone else be uncomfortable. Mental devices that will make you comfortable on camera are many and varied. Some people naturally have it, others have to learn it. Mostly it comes through confidence and repetition. Practice your on-cam content till you have it down cold, then you'll exude that confident expression when you deliver it.
If your video should be spontaneous and not practiced, then go for it! You're putting yourself out there, and it's uniquely "you", so have fun, and don't worry about how you look. After you've recorded, and you're reviewing your takes, you'll know whether you appear nervous and uncomfortable or not.
Know your audience, know what they like; then do and say the things that will appeal to them. Having said that...there are STILL some common words and behaviors that will make people uncomfortable, even if you do them naturally. Most of you are trying to appeal to the widest audience possible, so don't pick your nose on camera, or repeatedly use the sort of crutch words and phrases that put people off (examples: Uh, like, you know, saying "Uh, like, you know" and um, like....you know...all the time. I know!...Right?)
Viewers' attention span is short, and getting shorter all the time. You'd better either:
- have incredibly worthwhile content
- be extremely engaging (talented), or
- an incredible public speaker ...to be able to hold most viewer's attention on any one topic for more than a few minutes.
People can see through the chaff. Give them all wheat. Be succinct. Get to the point. Don't talk about yourself a lot. Plan your schpiel and deliver it. DONE!
Especially if you're moving the viewer through a point-by-point presentation, or content that has set thought-groups (like B-L-I-N-K), it doesn't hurt to check with them at the end of certain sentences with a word like: "OK?" or "Right?". This is an ingratiating device many speakers use to bring in the audience, and lets them know you're thinking about them.
Within the 10-15 seconds, a viewer can usually pick up whether you know your stuff or not...once you've grabbed 'em, you're good to go. Remember "N"...be natural.
Finally: The mnemonic BLINK itself is a reminder NOT to blink. Blinking is what someone does when they're nervous. Being on cam is a nervous- inducing thing, so even professionals - when they get rattled - will begin blinking more than normal. You must be aware of this. It's extremely distracting to the viewer, especially if you're the only thing holding their attention. Blinking is a dead-giveaway that you're nervous and uncomfortable. And we know from "N", that when, as the object of the video, you are uncomfortable, your viewer is uncomfortable.
That's it. Use BLINK when you're setting up your home videos, your instructional videos, your webcam shots, your SKYPE shots, your webinar shots...anything that combines you on camera, and you can be confident of your production.
An Example of the Usefulness of B.L.I.N.K.
Here's a video that attempts to explain some of the points of BLINK using my own webcam, lighting, background, and positioning.
See Dave using his own principles of B.L.I.N.K. for making a better webcam video. Some good and some bad elements included to explain his points.
You can find these concepts fleshed-out a bit on a website I've authored: http://www.oncamtips.com.
On that site, I've also included some suggestions for webcams I like. In addition, you'll find links to other sites that reference tips in videography.