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Recording video for your story

Before you set out with your video camera, think about the story you want to tell.

  • What's your story? How do you want to get your message across?
  • What pictures and sounds do you need to help tell your story?
  • Do you need a shot of a specific location or building?
  • Of one person or a group of people?
  • Of specific things mentioned in your story?


Before you begin recording

  1. Review your proposed story, what video you need. If other people are doing the story with you, make sure they are aware of shots that are needed.

  2. Equipment. Do you have it all? is it working? Check the tape/s you will be using. Check the camera. Do a test recording and play it back to make sure the camera is working. Check the battery. Remember to bring your tripod, and to check that it works.

  3. Check the audio -when you do your test recording, test the mics you plan to use. The locking parts should lock in place (and also release from being locked). The tilt and pan should operate smoothly.

  4. If you'll be recording narration over the video while you shoot, you may want to practice what you'll say before the shoot. If you'll be conducting an interview, make a list of the questions and order them in a way that makes sense to you.

  5. When you first arrive at the site, check for background noise and electrical outlets (where you can plug the camera in). Listen carefully to the sound around you because that is what your mics will hear. If you hear loud fans or traffic noise or voices, you may want to find a new location.

Setting up

  1. Set the camera up on the tripod (if you are using a tripod).

  2. Check the White balance: use "auto" for most situations. Use the "indoor" setting when the source of light is entirely artificial. The outdoor setting should be used when shooting outdoors under natural sunlight. Re-white balance if your lighting conditions change - that is, if you start video taping outside and then go inside.

  3. Check camera focus: Use auto focus for most situations. Use manual setting when there are objects in the foreground or background of your frame that will cause the camera to change focus. On auto focus remember that the camera will focus on whatever is dominant in the viewfinder.

  4. Run a test record. Check the sound and video again.

  5. Be sure there's a tape in the camera.

  6. Fast forward 30 seconds into the tape, and then start recording.

  7. Before you press record, make sure you are using the viewfinder to compose the image you want.

  8. Watch out for distracting backgrounds. Learn to use auto-focus and manual focus for different situations, play with camera angles, vary your dept of field.

  9. When you are doing an interview, try to frame the person's head and shoulders in the shot so you can see his or her face clearly.

  10. Do not stand back six feet and have her whole body in the shot if it means you can't see her face. This is also important if your microphone is in the camera (instead of a separate microphone attached with a cord) because you need to be close to the person in order to record his voice clearly.


  1. Consider whether or not you will need a release form - this form is written authorization signed by the person you video tape that says you can use the video tape of them, their business, their school project, etc. If you are video taping for any reason other than personal use (for example, showing a tape to your class, putting material on the internet) you will probably need one.

  2. For each scene you are shooting, you may want to create and use a shot list. This will list all or most of the shots you need to tell your story.

  3. Allow the camera to record for five seconds before and after your shots (if you plan to edit later). This will give you areas to edit. Also, when you stop the camera, it may rewind a few seconds and tape over what you have just recorded.

  4. Start with an establishing shot, then vary your shots. If it is appropriate, use some wide shots, some medium shots, some close ups.

  5. Visualize your shots before your shoot them. Think about your compostion and purpose. (Where is my main subject in the frame? What am I trying to show? If I pan, do I have a reason?)

  6. Periodically put on the headphones (if you don't wear them all the time) to check to make sure the audio is good.

  7. Keep the length of the shot appropriate to the scene and your goal. The average visual attention span for a shot is about 3-5 seconds. However, if you're interviewing someone, your shot may last as long as the interview does.

  8. Think about the angle you are shooting from. Most shots are recorded at eye level, however low and high angles may be right for your situation.

  9. Think about the backgrounds in your shots. Does the background add to the picture? Is it distracting?

  10. Observe the lighting in your shots. Generally you want the light to be coming from behind you, so that it shines on the person's face or on the action. Do not shoot directly into the sun - it may damage the camera.

  11. Keep in mind that you are gathering shots to tell a story.

After the shoot

  1. Be sure to label all your tapes as soon as you take them out of the camera.

  2. Remove the record tabs if you want to make sure no one accidentally records over this tape.

  3. Put the equipment away. If you ran down the batteries, charge them for the next shoot. You want to do as much as you can to make sure the equipment is ready for the next crew to check out - it might be you.

  4. If you'll edit the tape, the next step is to log your tape. See Editing Your Video


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