The Single Most Important Thing You Need To Learn To Become A Better Cameraman


I admit, maybe I've been reading too much of Copyblogger's Magnetic Headlines articles, but there really is one thing you need to learn to separate your films from all the holiday videos with which you've been bored to death with.

Some people say that a cameraman learns everything in the editing room. There is nothing that frustrates an editor more than poorly shot footage. I like being in the editing room when my footage is edited, so I can see the reactions of the editor. Many times I've seen editors who cursed out loud when seeing mistakes in my footage, or when I just missed critical footage. It was an important (although frustrating) way for me to learn how to get good shots.

I'm going to tell you what you need to learn to create great footage. It doesn't matter what camera you have, you can use this information when you're going to use a Sony XDCAM camcorder, or a mobile phone.

Analysing the average holiday video

There are a couple of things that are present in most holiday videos. First of all, the video usually consists of a couple of unedited shots chronologically placed after each other. No one's ever thought about a story to tell, there's no beginning, no ending, no idea of what the 'producer' (probably your neighbour or relative) wants to get across to the audience.

Secondly, every shot starts with the cameraman 'searching' for a subject. He usually begins with a nice quick zoom in, starts moving around from left to right, finds something interesting and starts tracking it for a while. Then he starts looking for another subject, goes up a bit, zooms out and starts wondering why he began filming this shot.

Prepare every shot

The single most important thing you have to learn when you want to become a better cameraman is to plan and prepare every shot. Think about why you are going to film the shot before you press the record button. What does it add in the story? What is the context of the shot in the final video, what precedes it and what comes after it? Every shot should have a purpose.

Never ever press the recording button, then make a small correcting to your composition, recheck lighting and focus, and then continue running. Prepare every shot, check lighting, focus and composition, practise your A to B movements a couple of times, and then press the recording button.

Predict what will happen

Listen carefully what the microphone's picking up, what is your subject talking about? Look at people's body movements, predict where they'll be going and when. Do you hear them talking about an object to which you need to draw attention by moving the camera? Or is it time for a nice, slow zoom in when your subject starts to talk about something emotional?

Is your subject about to walk out of the shot? Quickly make a choice: are you going to track him by moving the camera? Or is it a better idea to let your subject walk out of the shot to create a great cutting point for the editor?

Know what your subject is

It may sound weird, but many amateur cameramen don't understand that they're filming subjects. They simply point the camera at cool looking stuff, but they don't think about what their subject is.

Every shot has a subject. Know what your subject is in every shot and base your composition on it. Attract attention to the subject in every shot by placing the subject sharply focused in an effective location in the composition.

Only film usable footage

The last tip I want to give here is to be economical when filming. When you are ready to deliver your footage to the editing room, make sure only usable footage is recorded. All your material has to be uploaded and reviewed. When the editor has a wider range of choices, editing time will increase, and he'll probably never get that time from the production side.

Related articles

The 7 Steps To Becoming A Professional Cameraman

About the author
Joseph de Meij

I am Joseph de Meij, 25 years old and I am a freelance cameraman who loves to travel. I'm currently trying to find different ways to overcome my toxic career syndrome and find out what my goals are in life.

This article was first published at www.askthecameraman.net.

Your Comments

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one month ago
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Geoff Stock
one year ago
Hi Joseph, Camera Skills and thought processes. Too many people think it is about the gear. All your info is great and people need to increase their knowledge and then practice using it. Don't pan and zoom, make each shot still and well composed. Change the size of each shot so it is different from the shot before it. Think about what each shot is telling you throught the viewfinder. Your shots must tell the story. If you don't shoot it then it didn't happen.
 
Joseph
one year ago
Thanks for your comment, Geoff. I agree that people should think more about telling a story effectively than about the gear they are using.

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