Sure, you can just wing it when you get to your location to shoot your video.
But when you do that, you’re missing the opportunity to do something great. You can luck into a great shot, but why take a chance? Take a few minutes to look beyond your location, beyond the action of the characters and ask yourself one question.
Who’s the person in your shot you want the audience to feel for?
Video is communication of emotion. If you don’t know what you want people to feel when they watch your story, then you’ve got to figure that out first.
Once you know that, then you can start to think deeper about your shot, your scene, your story.
If your main character commands the scene, shoot them in a power position. If they’re struggling, put the camera in a place that shows they have to work harder. If they have an epiphany, then see them cross the stage line. See the turn, see the change. It’s a visual medium right?
Stage line, you’re kidding right? Sounds so old school. Maybe, but the stories they call Videos used to be called Movies and they’ve been moving emotions for more than 100 years now. Best to learn the basics. And then practice them. Because they still work.
You may already know that if you shoot someone from below it makes them seem more powerful, right? Or shoot down to make them appear smaller and less powerful, etc.
But did you know that if you want your protagonist to struggle harder, make him move right to left across the screen. Since our eyes more easily move left to right (like for reading), then even facing against that natural movement automatically feels harder for the character. Since we put ourselves in the character’s shoes when we’re watching them in the story.
These theories of are called proxemics. A big word that means simply this: emotional space. We deal with proxemics every day in our lives, how close we are to each other, how we touch, if we touch, how we communicate with space and others around us. On screen, the effects are even more pronounced while proxemics are expertly manipulated by the most famous directors, cinematographers, and editors.
Think of your favorite scenes and watch them again. One. Shot. At. A. Time. You already know the emotional content, so for each shot ask yourself, ‘Why is the camera placed there?’
For example, in a recent favorite show of mine there’s this shot.
Camera low, centered, powerful strong position for the character. Which exactly matched what we felt about our character in the shot.
And then there’s this simple looking courtroom scene. In the beginning of the scene, the witness is in charge. Looking left. Attorney struggles against. Looking right. Background calm.
By the end of the scene, the witness breaks down. Struggling, now looking left, against our eyes, alone in frame. Background harsh, high contrast and dramatic.
Think this is accidental? I’m reading too much into these shots? Whether the professional director chooses these things consciously or instinctively, no matter. The language is there, and it adds to the emotional content of every shot.
How about this one: Looks simple enough.
Camera is low so the shouldn’t the guy on the right have the power? Actually, the woman is in charge as the guy struggles. Of course the actor’s body language conveys a lot, and the director amplifies it with the camera placement. It’s about the distance between characters, frame edges, angles and too much to go into detail here… but,
Try it yourself with your favorite scenes. You’ll be surprised what you can see when you study a sequence of shots. Then apply what you learn to your video. Really think. Like it or not, every shot is important. As a student in the craft and art of video, get used to planning your shots for the greatest emotional impact. All directors do it. And the best do more than just think about shots. They storyboard shots because they want their stories to be the best.
You want your video to be the best too, right?
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