Sports Kick-off: Your Guide To Shooting Sports

Learn how to turn ho-hum sports videos into high-impact productions. It's not whether you win or lose - it's how you shoot the game.

Sports video is more popular than ever. And why not? Today's easy-to-use camcorders make sports video a breeze for many parents. But sports video goes far beyond the proud parent syndrome. Football, hockey, basketball, tennis or swimming...today's technology gives sports enthusiasts of all kinds the chance to record the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.

Most sports videomakers fall into one of three categories: spectators, instructors and the athletes themselves. Spectators typically roll tape for entertainment and documentation purposes. For instructors and athletes, training, education and feedback are the videomaking goals.

In this article, we'll explore the art of sports video from these three points of view, and discuss the challenges each presents.

Spectator Sport
Video is becoming the history recorder of choice for many people. Anyone can use a camcorder to chronicle their children's athletic achievements. Unfortunately, that's what happens.

For example: Johnny Jr. is the quarterback on his high school's football team. His proud parents purchase a camcorder to catch Johnny racking up those touchdowns on tape. His passing skill on the field is a miracle they'll want to savor for years to come. At the next game, Johnny Jr.'s dad Johnny Sr. positions himself at the 50-yard line. Firing up his handheld unit, good old Dad proceeds to follow his son's every move. From one end of the field to the other, Pops faithfully documents each step.

After the game, Big and Little Johnny are somewhat disappointed with the videotape. For starters, Dad shot on autofocus all night. He didn't consider the inevitible focus shift each time someone walked past his camera. Or the enthusiastic fan seated directly in front of him. When the picture was in focus, Junior was hard to spot among all those other players. Dad spent a large amount of time swish panning the field--with the lens in extreme closeup. The result: a mass of swirling colors and moving objects. Sort of like video art. Too bad that wasn't the desired outcome. Finally, the audio sounded like someone screaming in the bottom of a trash can.

At the next game, Big John's back to his trusty Instamatic.

This is an extreme but not altogether uncommon scenario. But it doesn't have to be the norm.

Let's take a second look at Big John and Son. It's clear Junior is a good quarterback with a great arm. With that in mind, Dad should position himself downfield where his son will be passing the ball. This will eliminate much of the annoying pan and scan of Dad's earlier effort.

Next, Johnny Sr. could manually set the focus. Decide on the limits of the shooting area and focus accordingly. Don't touch it after that. Now, when people walk by the camera, the lens won't try to catch their movements, but rather remain fixed on the action of the game.

What to do about the lousy sound? There are two strategies here:

1) Big John can eliminate the announcer's voice completely. Plugging in a hands-free headset will allow for his own narration. Big John can give a play-by-play account, focusing his comments on his star quarterback.

2) The second option: Dad can plug in off the announcer's board. Not everyone will get away with this; there are only so many outputs available on a given mixer. So Dad will have to sweet talk the powers that be, then position himself near the announcer's booth.

Either way, you'll get a clean audio track. This proves important as the years go by, and Johnny's games fade from memory. An on-the-spot audio account will help freshen the memory and liven up the video proceedings.

On-the-Video Training
Back in my own glory days, I went to my football coach for help with my punting technique. He showed me how to hold my foot, and then let me go at it. I practiced and practiced, but I always seemed to forget the coach's technique. The coach got pretty tired of me asking him over and over to set my foot right.

Thanks to video, today's coaches don't require such patience. Instructional videotapes provide accurate and professional sport instruction. Even better, they allow athletes to progress at their own pace.

Last year a client asked to me to produce a golf instructional tape. Not one to hit the links myself, I decided to do a little research. The obvious move: watch a couple of other golf videos. I did just that. I watched a full range of productions--from the Arnold Palmer series to a locally produced tape sold at my neighborhood golf course. I paid particular attention to how the tapes presented information.

The expensively produced tapes featured special slow motion effects that really made an impact. But the shoestring-budget video presented its information more effectively; the repeated images revealing proper grip and stance help viewers master the techniques. While it didn't cover as much material as Palmer's series, the locally produced tape taught viewers two important methods of improving their game. The course owner says it outsold every other video in stock.

Remember this when you begin to prepare your own instructional video; concentrate on one or two aspects of the sport. It's better to thoroughly cover one technique than to give many short shrift. Viewers will have a rough time absorbing any knowledge from overly ambitious productions.

Another tip: know what you're talking about. When I made the golf video, I did not rely on my own inadequate knowledge of the sport; nor did I rely upon my cameraman--even though he plays golf every weekend. Having him around on the course during the shoot was helpful--but he's no expert. If you're going to make how-to sports videos, then you better know your stuff. Not being familiar with golf, I kept a course pro with me at all times to avoid mistakes.

When demonstrating a technique, utilize close-ups and long shots. In golf, hand placement and body movements are vitally important to a successful game. I shot a series of close-ups from several angles illustrating the instructor's proper hand placement. One shot came from above his head, showing viewers how the grip should look from their own point of view (POV). Try to include this POVs whenever it can facilitate the viewers' understanding of procedures. Note: shooting this POV can get a little tricky. Imagine trying a point of view from the receiving end of a tackle!

The long shots in the golf video illustrate proper body alignment to the viewer. While the golfer swings the club, a full image appears on screen, with a synced close-up shot compressed in the corner. This type of coverage provides the "big picture." Shoot as many takes as you must to get one that is absolutely correct.

Occasionally it helps to point out mistakes and improper technique before illustrating the new methods. For example: at the beginning of our golf tape, we ask viewers to have a golf club handy. After the intro, the instructor tells the student (and viewer) to hold the club ready for a putt. Immediately, the screen cuts to a series of images demonstrating improper technique. Viewers can compare their grips with all of those flashing on the screen. The instructor demonstrates how each wrong grip affects the game.

We use this method in several places throughout the tape. In each instance, viewers learn about the problem, then learn how to solve it. If you don't show viewers the mistakes they're making, they'll feel no need to pay attention to the advice on the instructional tape. Our little "eye opener" makes the golf tape all the more effective.

Audio counts, too. When you're making an instructional sports video, you need to pay as much as attention to audio as you do video. Sure, showing the proper way to do something works well. But telling the viewers while showing works even better. So mike your instructors. Tell them to carefully explain each movement they make.

As our golf pro sets up a shot, he tells the viewers where to set each finger. He discusses foot placement and body movements. The instructor even advises viewers how to concentrate their minds for maximum success.

Suppose your teacher sounds like PeeWee Herman? Don't fret. That's why voiceovers were invented. Even if the instructor has a good speaking voice, you may find it impossible to work with the live sound. Wind, traffic, other athletes and other noise can jumble your soundtrack. If this is the case, have the instructor explain technique in the comfort of a soundproofed room. Just be sure to match the right audio instruction with the right video instruction when you dub the resulting voice-over onto your tape.

Video Feedback
Sports professionals have used video for years to provide feedback on their style and form. For example: we've all seen that scene where the coach watches last week's game with the team. This video critique session is an objective exercise, in which both the athletes and the trainers get a clear picture of what happened.

As the saying goes, pictures don't lie. And that's exactly why visual feedback is such an important training tool. With the onslaught of the video age, feedback of this sort is available to anyone with access to a camcorder. Video feedback is now helping improve athletes at all levels.

The most common manner of feedback taping: simply shoot the athletes while they participate in their sport. Depending upon what needs evaluation, you may want to concentrate on a single move or motion. Usually it is wise to keep the shot wide. Most sports entail participants using all of their bodies. By cropping the shot too close you may lose visual data crucial to identifying and correcting problems.

Play for Pay
Making sports videos can be lucrative. Instructional sports tapes line the shelves at the video rental stores; everyone from Zsa Zsa Gabor to Arnold Schwarzenegger has an exercise video on the market.

You may not be able to compete with the slick production values of such Hollywood products. But good information is free to everyone. Put enough of it into your video and watch the sales ring up. Hawk your own sports how-to videos in local video stores and associated sport venues.

Feedback taping can also pay off. Approach sport complexes in your area and offer video feedback services. In researching this article, I phoned several golf courses and talked to the golf pros about feedback videos. They'd heard of them, but that was about it. They all expressed an active interest in hiring a videomaker to come in a couple of days a week to provide this service during lessons. This is a market just waiting for you. Call on ball fields, coaches, golf courses, bowling alleys, skating rinks, ski areas and the like.

Spectator taping can be profitable as well. Sure, you'll see parents with camcorders at your local Little League games. But you'll see more parents without them. Why not function as the videomaker for this latter group? Make it known that you will professional record each game, providing copies to anyone interested for a price. Parents love the idea of being able to enjoy the game without the hassle of trying to take pictures or video.

You may want to join forces with one or several of the other camcorder owners. Providing a two- or three-camera shoot of the event will really boost your sales.

On Your Video Mark
Sports video combines the best qualities of videomaking--the chance to record an exciting event in a creative manner and make some money at the same time. Markets for your services in this field are everywhere. All you have to do is roll tape.

Remember, it's not whether you win or lose, it's how you shoot the game.


Want to know more about SPorts broadcasting?  Watch for our special issue coming mid-August.  Packed with informative articles from past issues of School Video News plus lots of new material for you and your students. 

This special issue is sponsored by High School Cube, a leader in high school sports broadcasting. 


(SIDEBAR #1)

Secrets of Spectator Shooting

Nice person that you are, you agree to document your neighbor's softball tournament. How can you make the usual boring home video into something more? Try the following pointers.
Behind the scenes action. Everyone sees the action on the field, right? But do viewers ever get a glimpse at the masterminds with the game plan? Probably not. Now it's up to you to show them. Before the big game starts, tape some of the pep talks and strategy sessions. It's interesting to see if the game goes "as planned." Consider positioning yourself during the event near home plate. Snippets of the coach's instructions to batters and runners add interest to an otherwise run-of-the-mill home video. If a confrontation develops between coaches and umpires, get it on tape. A couple of frowns may fly your way, but it's this kind of inventive videomaking that keeps spectator shooting watchable.

Talk to the stars. There's usually one very annoying problem with most sport videos: no human involvement. You see the people out on the field. But you never really see them. In other words, in most cases the video is one long medium shot; individual athletes take up only a small portion of the screen. That's why these things get so boring.

Try talking individually with the participants in between innings. Do mini interviews, inviting comment on anything the participant is willing to talk about; great plays, lousy calls and rowdy crowds are all topics worth exploring. Why not include fans as well? Talking to the fans gives you a chance to inject humor into the video as well. It's just a game, after all. The audience's lighthearted comments can help keep the video's low points at a minimum.

Be there for the action. What luck--you got a shot of your buddy as he slid head first into home. Trouble is, you were shooting from way out past first base when the run scored. His great slide looked like little more than a puff of dust from your vantage point.

Becoming familiar with any sporting event you cover allows you to anticipate potential hot play areas. When your friend conquers third base, you should immediately head towards home plate. The next hit most likely will involve his coming in for the run.

Look for the angle. Try to shoot from the most exciting angle possible. In the above example, a low ground angle shot will produce some great results. Look to capture reaction shots from the participants as well. After a smack from the bat, instinct may tell you to follow the ball. Keeping the camera on the batter gives you more engaging footage. A player's expression of triumph is certainly more interesting to the viewer than an extreme wide shot of a white speck flying through the air.

Effects help. If you can, toss in some video effects for fun. Usually you'd do this in post, but with spectator sport videos you might want to break that rule. Many new camcorders have special effects like strobe and fade right on board. Fading in and out between innings or quarters adds a professional touch to the presentation. If a character generator is available, add credits to finish the production. All players enjoy seeing their names "in lights."