Home Video Tips! Smart Camera Advice from Director Damon Jamal!

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By: Damon Jamal

We should consider ourselves lucky as we enter into the age of Buck Rogers, because high technology is so ubiquitous that being able to record movies with your cell phone isn’t even considered a big deal anymore. Ten years ago, the masses just began to finally own cell phones, and 10 years before that video cameras recorded onto bulky VCR tapes.

So we are now truly blessed to be able to literally record every moment of our kids, nieces and nephews lives. This will be especially appreciated when your 15-year-old daughter’s first boyfriend comes over and you can show young Tiffany buck naked, splish-splashing in the water at 18 months old.

Here are some key tips to remember as you capture your family moments this month!

1. The shaky-cam syndrome

Depending on what type of camera you have, it’s important to have someone on it that has a steady hand. If the camera is big enough, you always want to hold it with two hands. This will improve stability. If not, don’t be afraid to put it on a tripod or even rest the camera on a table or top of a chair.

Don’t walk around with the camera – stay still when something interesting is happening! Nothing is worse than funny or poignant recorded moments ruined by one-handed Willie jumping around trying to be part of the action.

2. Lighting

For the amateur shooter, just find some type of ‘auto’ button on your camera. This will solve a lot of your lightning issues – when it’s too bright, it will automatically lower the gain/close iris, and when it’s too dark the opposite will take place. In some cases, usually because it’s too dark, auto isn’t enough so you have to make sure your room is lit properly.

Most houses use overhead lightning which normally results in shadows under people’s eyes – and if they’re wearing hats, their whole face. The solution is to setup a light that is targeted at people’s faces (adjustable lamps), or at a minimum make sure they take off their hats or turn around their baseball cap so the brim is to the back.

3. Know when to hold em, know when to fold em!

You don’t have to record everything. If nothing’s happening, turn off the camera. Stop wasting space on your card. Who wants to watch your grandma and grandpa talking about how the weather has changed in Louisiana over the last 10 years?

If you’re pressed for time and want to get some good footage, throw out a controversial topic to get the party started. Ask granny what she thinks of Condoleeza Rice. Ask your crazy uncle what would he do if little Tiffany came home pregnant. Did Michal Jackson do it? Is that Whoopi’s real hair? Who killed Tupac?, etc.

4. Audio

Clear audio is more important than clear video. I was trying to watch a rap battle on a professional DVD the other day that was well shot, but I couldn’t understand what anybody was saying so I turned it off. But if it was the other way around, and the audio was clear but the visuals were fuzzy, I still would have watched it, because it’s the audio that makes it interesting. Anyway, It’s unlikely your aunties are gonna start battling, but home movies are most interesting when people are telling funny stories or a child is saying her first few words.

These moments rely heavily on audio, so just make sure you have outside noise at a minimum unless you have a good shotgun mic (those fuzzy dildo-looking things). What this means if if your outside on the street, go to a quieter area like the backyard or inside the house. Also, make sure fans and air conditioners are turned off, or at least not pointed towards the camera.

5. Know your camcorder!

Doesn’t matter if you’re shooting on an iPhone 4 or a Canon XL H1 (really big camera), you need to know how to use it. So test it out a little when it’s not important. Go get some footage of the fishtank, the backyard, the street, etc. Try it out in a few different settings so you’re prepared. Don’t wait till everyone’s over for Christmas to use it for the first time, and then find out after you’ve been recording all day that you actually haven’t been recording all day.

6. Stop playing / Don’t sit on footage

Stop telling yourself you’re gonna create the ultimate-home-movie-of-all-movies-that’s-gonna-blow-away-the-whole-family-and-they’re-all-gonna-love-you… Stop playing!

Just create a YouTube.com account (it’s free), and after every family gathering, edit it up real quick and upload it! Every computer comes with free editing software. On Mac’s it’s ‘iMovie‘ and on PCs it’s ‘Windows Movie Maker‘. They’re both very simple, and it only takes a few hours to learn.

So plug your camera into your computer, dump the footage, edit it, throw some cool music in there, and upload that thang. If you don’t feel like doing it, make your little cousin do it for five bucks. That’s why kids are around.. cheap labor. Stop playing and take advantage!

7. Storage

There will be certain footage that you will instantly know you have to keep forever. Most people would tend to just put it all in a particular folder on their hard disk, but this is not a good idea. I can guarantee you that that disk will crash, and when it does, you will lose everything (unless you want to pay a data specialists a few thou-wow to recover everything), so I recommend burning your favorite footage to a DVD, or preferably Blu-ray disc.

DVDs hold a little over 4 gigabytes and Blu-rays hold 50, so clearly you know which one is better. Also, DVDs/Blu-ray discs last a minimum of 50 years, compared to hard disks that last only a few years – so if you store the disc in safe place it’ll basically last forever.

So that’s it. A few of my long winded tips. The more you shoot, the better you get. Have fun and create some eternal memories!

Damon Jamal is a professional video director based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Check out some of his work at InYoFaceFilm.com, and follow him on Twitter @DamonJamal

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