Steady as she goes

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March 4, 2009 by falcon7204

How many of you actually own a tripod? Show of hands?

A tripod is a necessity if you’re going to shoot steady video. It doesn’t matter if your camera has some sort of image stabilization, nothing can compare to a nice, steady, clear picture. Most amateur videographers believe that, since it’s called "motion" pictures, that the camera has to move to simulate motion. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Watch your favorite TV show or movie sometime. (And no, I’m not talking about a show like "Battlestar Galactica" or "24.") Notice how, when there is motion in the frame, the camera is usually still or following the action? That’s how a story gets told. Let’s say you’re following your dog running around the back yard. Would you actually follow him physically with the camera? What would that accomplish, besides possibly stepping in dog poop or tripping and shoving your camera into your eye socket?

The best way to show action is to keep the camera still. Again, the example of the dog – if your tripod is steady and you’re panning to follow the dog running, the action is more dynamic. It really looks like he’s running. And if you simply hold the camera still, zoom out and let him run through the frame a few times – this gives you great material to use in editing, as cutaways or transitions between shots.

The only time you would want to actually take the camera off the tripod and follow the dog around is if you’re looking for a point-of-view perspective – the "dog’s-eye view," so to speak. That’s another great storytelling technique, but you have to plan ahead.

And very few people want to watch video of you chasing your dog around the yard. For the same reason, they don’t necessarily want to watch video of you shooting your camera out the window on a road trip, unless you’re driving by some absolutely gorgeous scenery.

Good tripods can be found fairly inexpensively at camera shops. Tripods for still cameras typically don’t include fluid heads, which allows for smoother pans and tilts (up/down and left/right moves). Fluid heads can be found on more expensive tripods, but even those shouldn’t set you back more than a couple of hundred bucks.

It seems counter-intuitive, but a motionless camera can make for better motion shots. Try it sometime.

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