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Have you ever set out to film a video, but just didn’t know where to start? Maybe you’ve wanted to make a simple video of your kids at home or on vacation, but were just never quite ready for the moments when they actually happened.
You missed the spontaneous laughs that simply can’t be reproduced. You always felt one step behind and just couldn’t seem to catch up.
Or maybe you’re getting the moments, but they just seem to fall flat once you put them together. Maybe you’re not sure how to put them together.
How do we capture all the right moments in just the right way? How do we take our videos from simple home videos to cinematic lifestyle films that feature real people?
In this lesson I will walk you through a few go-to methods that I use to make sure I get exactly what I need to in the important moments. I’ll show you how to capture shots in interesting ways and use them to tell an effective story that people will understand and be drawn to.
If you learn nothing else, this is my most important tip: capture a variety of camera angles, at least three for every scene. To illustrate the power of camera angles, I want to show you a few examples in action. Watch the following clip first:
This is part of our evening routine each and every night. Nothing too exciting in itself, but it’s one of those things that can actually be pretty cute if you capture it the right way. And it’s exactly the type of thing that a mom might want to remember down the road.
As you just saw, using only one camera angle makes the video boring and one dimensional. You may have noticed the surroundings, the two girls in the tub, the action taking place. But was it anything special?
This is typically what we do when we want to film something. We grab our camera and we just start following the action. But there’s no plan there. There’s no story.
Now watch this example:
Did you see how much more dynamic and interesting that was? Same setting, characters, and plot as before. We simply added a variety of camera angles to make things way more compelling.
This may seem like one of those things that just feels too easy. But let me remind you of just how easy it is to forget to grab all these angles when you are in the moment. You have to get in the habit of doing it every time.
That’s why I always set a rule for myself : grab at least 3 angles of the same scene every single time. Obviously you can’t pose real life, so you have to do the best you can in some situations, but as a rule of thumb, I try toadhere to this rule as much as possible.
There will be times when you can't and that’s ok. If you do it even 50% of the time, you’ll immediately notice a huge difference in the quality of your videos.
In the bathtub example, we had one main scene: the girls in the tub. I made sure to capture at least three angles of this scene: an establishing shot, a few wide shots, medium shots, and close up shots.
It took me a total of maybe 10 minutes to film and I didn’t have to write anything down. I just remembered that I needed to capture at least 3 different camera angles. Different actions took place in each of those angles, and that’s just fine. See how well they still came together?
The great thing is, you could absolutely shoot a scene like this on your iphone. It’s so easy!
When I was ready to edit my film, I had so many options to work with. Of course, you won’t use all the shots that you took, but that’s exactly the position that you want to be in when you sit down to edit. Not every shot will end up working out or coming together in a natural way, so you want to give yourself plenty of flexibility when you get to the editing phase.
It can also be jarring to cut between two shots of the same angle, so you need to ensure that you have several options to make your editing feel natural.
Let’s briefly look at some of the most common camera angles that you can use for your films.
Establishing Shot: This will be the first shot that your viewer sees either at the beginning of the film or at a change of scene. This redefines for the viewer where we are and what is about to happen. Without a clear establishing shot, your scene transitions will feel jarring and confusing. It can be as simple as a hand turning on the faucet and then water coming out, as you saw in our example before.
Wide Shot: As the name suggests, this is a shot that is taken from far away and includes a lot of information in the frame, typically the length of an entire person from head to toe or wider. It’s important to grab a few of these as they are often great to use either for establishing shots or ending frames.
Medium Shot: This is typically the length of a person’s waist to head. It’s the most common camera angle and captures most of the interesting action happening within our shots.
Close Up Shot: Again, as the name tells you, this is the tightest camera angle. It is used to specifically highlight any interesting actions, like the baby’s hands splashing in the water or the sisters holding hands. It often creates a feeling of connection with the action or character in the scene. This shot can be particularly powerful if you use it the right way. You can subtly share something very specific about a character’s personality without using any words.
(Note: there are many more camera angles out there, and you can get as creative as you want with them. These are a just starting point.)
Now that we have the most basic framework for setting up our story, let’s move on to something a bit more complex.
With the four P’s, we will answer the most important questions for our audience, which will build the storyline for any video.
Who is in our story, where is it taking place, what journey is about to happen, and who cares? These are the most basic building blocks to forming a full and cohesive story.
Let’s say you’re going on a family vacation to the mountains. Your opening scene may involve you packing some bags (remember to get 3 shots: close up, wide shot, overhead shot) and throwing them into the back of your car.
Maybe your family is super neat and regimented. Your bags are like perfectly packed puzzle pieces in the trunk. Or maybe your family flies by the seat of your pants. Your bags are stuffed to the brim haphazardly. These are the details you need to include with your shots.
With this little series of shots, you have not only developed the personality of your characters a bit, but you have also built some anticipation. This begins to answer thepurpose part of our question for the audience: we are going on a trip.
Once you’re on the road, grab a few shots looking out the window of the car (your viewer will feel like they are there with you), a few shots of the driver - maybe they love to drink coffee (include that little piece of valuable detail), if you have kids make sure you grab some of them doing whatever it is that they do (chatting, laughing, sleeping).
All of these shots continue to establish our purpose and also have begun to define the people portion of our story. Including all these details about the people in our video is what we refer to as character development. It will draw your viewer in and make them feel connected, as if they know the characters.
For family films, it’s the most important component. After all, these are the little defining details you want to remember.
You will then move on to the main body of your film. This will include whatever details you want from your trip. You’ll use the same exact framework to film each and every scene: establishing shot, medium shot, wide shot, etc.
Be observant and make sure you include the little details about your main characters within the shots. Then move on to the next scene, rinse and repeat.
One more example. Here’s a family video I shot last year recapping our family vacation to Yellowstone. Take a look and see if you can spot some of the things we’ve discussed in action. I’m not perfect and I didn’t adhere to my own rules all the time, but notice when I did what a difference it makes in telling a good story.
When all is said and done and you get back home, you will have collected all you need to get ready for the next step: the editing process.
Honestly, it’s my favorite part of filmmaking and we’ll get into it in thorough detail in the coming lessons. For now, just know that it’s where you get to make your story truly come to life.
You’ll learn how to weave together a cohesive and dynamic final edit of your scenes that sparks emotion and speaks to your audience.
You’ll learn to pick just the right music to set the tone, how to make smooth transitions between scenes, use natural sounds to add another dimension for your viewer, etc.
When all of these elements come together, your audience will be fully connected and in the moment once again.
Now that we’ve established a framework for the type of shots we’ll need to capture, it’s time to start talking about what equipment you will be using to shoot your videos.
You need to become familiar and comfortable enough with your gear that you aren’t fumbling around with settings or equipment when it comes time to grab the action.
These will be the main topics in our next few lessons:
Your homework for this week is to shoot a scene using at least three angles, but you can of course shoot more than that.
Pick something easy like bath time, dinner time, kids reading with dad, etc. Once you’re done hold on to your videos. I’ll show you how to piece them together in the next few lessons.
As always, I am here for your questions. What type of stories are you ready to tell? Comment below and let me know what you’re working on. I’d love to hear from you!
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