Unleash your inner Spielberg with Clay Shooting’s tips and tricks for improving the videos you take of your clay shoots
Successfully recording all the action from a clay shoot is often an uphill task, especially when relying on photography alone. How can you convey the dynamic movement, raw emotions and background blasts of gunfire? The simple answer is by switching to video. If one photo is worth a thousand words, then a video can be as good as an entire novel, even one found in the bargain bucket of a supermarket. It’s for this reason that we’ve taken a look at the different methods for capturing video and editing it into one watchable and uploadable entity – and here’s our handy guide.
Choose your kit wisely
Aiming for a big Hollywood blockbuster might be a step too far for most of us but it’s quite possible to produce something of good enough quality and resolution to be used on websites, social media and to watch at home.
Modern digital cameras include a video function as standard, as do most smart phones and tablets. Deciding which of these to use will largely depend on the intended quality of the final output. A shaky, single-shot video from an iPhone is perfect to use on social media for quick updates and news. But for anything more substantial, it is necessary to dig a little deeper under the surface and obtain a variety of shots and angles, as well as clean audio. That’s not to say that an iPhone isn’t capable of producing a professional-looking video in the right hands but it is somewhat limited by the control options, short battery life, storage and fixed lens.
One step up from this is a digital camera, which offers more control and a selection of interchangeable lenses. There are a lot to choose from – most people will make a decision based on photo capabilities, familiarity and cost ahead of video function. The differences in cameras are much of a muchness these days, and for a starting kit it is perhaps more important to spend more on a good set of lenses than a top-of-the-range camera body.
Much the same as photography, video benefits from a wide angle lens, a telephoto lens, a zoom lens, and a good portraiture lens. Don’t skimp on batteries and memory cards as there’s nothing more annoying than running out of either during the day.
In addition to choosing the right camera, there is an absolute smorgasbord of tantalising tech readily available to raise your game. The first and most important of these is a tripod to steady your camera and allow for smooth movement in the shot. Simply setting your camera up on a tripod and pressing record will immediately make your video more watchable and professional. Good video tripods should come with an adjustable head and pan bar/handle, which enables you to change the camera’s point of view during a shot. An affordable alternative to a tripod is a shoulder mount (cheaper than the full body rig), which gives freedom of movement and greater mobility but can prove tiring if using it all day, and it’s not suitable for extreme close ups where the slightest movement will cause a lot of camera shake.
Audio is in many respects just as important as the video itself – nobody wants to watch a film with a crackly, inaudible backing track. Shooting grounds prove to be a tricky environment for sound recording, with sporadic sharp spikes in volume followed by the quiet murmuring of nature. In-camera audio recording is much improved in modern times but for those willing to go that extra mile, a DLSR shotgun mic (appropriate name or what?) will focus on the sound and a zoom recorder will give more control, as well as allow multiple mic recording. The best way of dealing with spikes in sound is in post-processing by setting keyframes to dip the volume at those moments. It may be worth recording five or ten minutes of ‘wildtrack’ that runs in the background, blending in with any jarring drops in sound.
Other equipment to add to your Christmas list includes lighting – even a single LED light can add enough illumination to pick out a subject or fill in detail – as well as filters that can be used for anything from protecting lenses to improving image quality and some high-end video cameras will have them built in, and sliders, a modern trend for having the camera slide along a rail, adding constant movement.
Camera bought, a willing shooter ready for their big moment, what’s next?
HD or not HD?
There is almost no point recording anything lower than high definition (HD) anymore, the only benefit being smaller file size (an advantage when shooting slow-motion footage). Recording in HD is also known as 1080p, which relates to the 1920 x 1080 pixel resolution.
An increasing number of products able to record 4K makes this format a more and more attractive prospect, including the iPhone 7 and Samsung Galaxy S8+. However, 4K files are cripplingly large for many computers and editing systems, and it’s worth considering how many people actually have access to 4K playing capability.
It’s all about the settings
Remember all of those technical settings needed to take a photograph – shutter speed, aperture and ISO? Well, video uses many of the same basic concepts under different names, while adding more to the list. Aperture becomes Iris, ISO becomes Gain, and shutter speed… well, shutter speed remains the same but plays less of a role than in photography. In addition to these, you need to consider frame rate, aspect ratio and recording mode.
The first thing to do is set your camera up to the recording mode you wish to shoot in, as well as the colour encoding system (PAL/NTSC). Phones tend to have a fixed mode (NTSC/30fps), which is set up for the US. This is all very well when uploading a video to the internet but if the end goal is to produce a DVD or something for television, it can have problems down the line.
This is where the digital camera has an advantage. If you’re in Europe you can change your camera to shoot in PAL (rather than NTSC). Most films are shot in 24 frames per second (fps) but in PAL you are limited to 25, which is the accepted frame rate in Europe. The only reason for straying from this number is when experimenting with slow motion.
As a general rule, your shutter speed should be double that of your frame rate. For example, when shooting at 25fps, you should have your camera shutter speed set to 1/50 of a second. If the shutter speed is too slow, movement will be blurred, while a quicker speed will look jarred and stuttery. In certain circumstances, altering the shutter speed can provide a solution to the screen flickering, where artificial lights strobe at a different frequency to the camera.
Iris in video has the same function as aperture in photography – in fact, on many digital cameras it is still called aperture – and it is the size of the opening in the lens, measured in f-numbers, and determines the amount of light let in to the sensor.
Put simply, this controls the brightness of the shot as well as depth of field and is the pick of the settings to be experimenting with. A low f-number will produce a brighter shot with low depth of field, while a high f-number will be darker but with more of the image in focus. When using a low f-number, it is worth double-checking the shot as objects can easily slip in and out of focus as they are moving.
Gain works in a similar way to ISO, reducing the quality of an image as it brightens it. It comes in very useful when shooting in low-light conditions without the use of extra lighting but it is worth mentioning that it should be used sparingly.
Setting up shot and movement
And then let the fun begin. In principle, setting up a shot for video is the same as taking a photo, following the same rules – like the rule of thirds and symmetry – but with the added bonus of movement. Static shots can be easily set up and left alone, providing useful secondary shots, especially if shot in wide angle, so the subject doesn’t leave the frame. However, this can be boring for the viewer where movement might add much needed dynamism.
The basic movements of a camera are panning (left to right), tilting (up and down), tracking (moving the whole camera), zoom (changing focal length in or out), and focus pull (changing the point of focus). Most of these are done through the tripod, and having a good tripod head will make this
a much easier and smoother process.
Tracking is difficult to achieve without a slider or some kind of steady cam rig. If you’re really trying to impress people, you could try renting a dolly or jib for the day. When performing a focus pull, make sure you know what two subjects you want to switch between beforehand and then it’s just a simple case of focusing on one and refocusing to the other. This may take a few tries to get right, though. If you have time, it can help to stick a little dot on the two focus points on your lens, so you don’t end up going too far.
Top Tip: Finding it hard to get a smooth pan?
Try loosening your tripod head and using an elastic band to pull the bar across.
A range of editing software can be accessed online or on app stores for computers, phones and tablets. These can be used to stitch together multi-cam video as well as add titles, music and voiceovers. In addition to this, most programmes will provide basic tools for image manipulation like brightness, colour correction and volume. For the best results, you will need to upgrade to a professional programme like Adobe Premiere as this has the added bonus of working with After Effects for even more effect options.
When you’re happy with your video, you need to export it using the correct settings for its destination. For example, an HD video going to YouTube should be an mp4, H.264 codec, 1920px x 1080px. Then it’s a simple matter of uploading your video and watching that view counter rocket up – or more likely trickle up slowly. To really rack up views, you need to be uploading videos regularly or even daily – it’s a lot of work!