How to Shoot Better Home Movies

Camcorder Basics

If you're using a video camera instead of your smartphone to shoot video, you're probably looking for more professional results.

We have the tips that will make your video impress all the other amateur filmmakers, who will be stunned at how professional your video looks.

The first secret to shooting great video is to practice. Carry your camera around the house and shoot what catches your eye. Ditch your camera's auto settings and experiment with manual settings, including focus and white balance.

Focus

Practice using manual focus to determine what's most important in the frame, rather than letting the camera second-guess your intentions. Cameras tend to automatically focus on the objects closest to the lens, but there may be times when you want to focus attention on distant objects or scenes.

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Don't change the focus during the shot. However, there are several cases in which autofocus is appropriate — for instance, at a sporting event with fast action. With autofocus enabled, the camera will do a better job of focusing on your child as she runs down the field; on manual, that winning goal may be just a blur.

Lighting

Always keep the sun to your back. Cameras adjust to the brightest object in the frame, and if that's the sun, everything else in your video will appear dark. Further, because your eyes adjust to the sun's glare, it's hard to see through the viewfinder — everything will appear darker, and the action may be tough to follow. Most professional videographers prefer shooting on overcast days, when the light is softer and their eyes don't have to struggle with glare.

If you're shooting indoors, setting the white balance lets your camera know what white looks like in the light conditions where you're shooting, and will help avoid footage with a blue or yellow cast. Find a spot in the room where white is truly white, such as on a white wall without shadows, and set your camera's white balance. Alternately, if you're filming an interview, keep a blank piece of white paper handy, and have your subject hold it next to her head to set the white balance. (Not sure how to do that? Check your camera's manual or online help site.)

Video zoom

How many times have you watched a home video in which the person filming it was so far back, it was impossible to find the subject? Zoom in. Don't be afraid to use your entire frame to capture the subject.

Here's a tip from the Berkeley School of Journalism: Start with static, wide-angle shot, and hold it for 15 seconds. Then, make your move to zoom in, and hold the next static shot for an additional 15 seconds. You should wind up with three usable shots: the wide-angle, the close-up and the zoom in between.

If you're not using a tripod, don't zoom in all the way, because every little jiggle you make will be magnified to the same degree as the zoom itself — a 10X zoom makes your subject 10 times larger and your slightest hand movements that much more apparent.

Zoom comes in two types: optical zoom, which is based on the position of the glass in your camera's lens, and digital zoom, which is simply the camera enlarging what it sees. Digital zoom can result in grainy video, so don't use it.