Teaching basic camera operation is one of the first lessons in a level one video production class

and starting out using the camera’s AUTO settings is perfectly fine but, once students master the basics, it is time to get out of AUTO! My first camera lesson includes an introduction to the camera parts, operation, and care. Next, we discus camera composition, clarity, and continuity: which is also known as “The Three C’s”. Finally, before the first video project, we define different shot types, camera moves, and camera angles. Students begin their first project with the instructions to leave the camera in AUTO. By the end of the first project, most student videos look pretty good. A small percentage however, are not so great, either with soft focus or color imbalance because someone pressed buttons they shouldn’t have and they didn’t know how to fix it. So, before my next project, I teach them how to fix these problems by introducing “MANUAL MODE”.

To start this lesson, ask the students to think about their first video project. Then ask them, “How many of you noticed your camera go in and out of focus while shooting? How many of you had a yellowish or bluish tint to your video? Would you like to know how to fix that for your next project?” Then take some time defining the terms below, while demonstrating with a camera and allow time for students to pass the cameras around to discover on their own. (Refer to your camera’s manual for specific instructions, unique to your camera.)

The terms for this lesson are listed below. Define, discuss, and demonstrate with a camera, then pass the camera around for the students to see and feel on their own.


1. Auto vs. Manual – The Auto mode is your ‘reset’ or ‘fall back’ setting in case of emergency or lack of time. It is acceptable most of the time but widely meant for amateurs.

Manual is the mode professional’s use. Manual mode, also indicated by a ‘P’ in the view-finder for ‘Program’, allows complete control over the look of the image…focus, color, and amount of light.

2. Iris & Aperture – Just like an eye’s iris and pupil…the camera iris contracts and re-tracts to control the amount of light going through the aperture (opening).

3. White Balance – Natural looking colors in the shot. (measured by true white)

4. Focus – (soft & sharp) In focus = a sharp image. Out of focus = soft image.

5. Depth of Field (shallow & deep) – How much of the shot is in focus.

6. Shallow focus = a short distance (depth) of the shot is in focus…part of the shot is out of focus.

7. Deep focus = most of the shot appears to be in focus.

8. Rack or Pull Focus – When the focus changes during the shot from one subject to another. (example: foreground subject is in focus, then changes to soft while the subject in background becomes sharp)

9. Hitchcock Dolly Zoom – This move is created by a ‘dolly’ move and ‘zoom’ in opposite directions. Example: Dolly In while Zooming Out or Vise-a-versa.

10. Don’t forget to include additional terms specific to your camera specs.

I have had success with chunking auto, manual, iris, aperture, and white balance terms and demonstration together while saving all of the focus terms for a separate class period.

After going over all the terms, the steps for how to adjust white balance and how to manually focus the camera, it is time to practice in the field. Give the students the activity sheet (below), much like a scavenger hunt, instruct each student to get each of the shots on their own. If they are sharing cameras, they must each set up their ‘own’ individual shot. The final project will be to edit the shots together, in the order of the shot list, with titles and music.

The first time I did this lesson, I was surprised how many students were still struggling to understand the difference between some of the terms. Defining the terms is just a warm up; ‘camera practice’ allows students to further understand the terms along with ‘camera function’. Editing the camera shots with proper ‘Titles’, re-enforces the learned lessons and provides an assessment tool for you – the teacher.

In addition to the Manual Functions, I find students need to review shot types and moves learned earlier. So, at the bottom of the worksheet, I added a few specific shots, angles and moves. You can change these to fit your students’ needs. I find my students need to review POV, High and Low angle, pan, tilt, and dolly.

Finally, I grade their project (on their computer/ looking at their timeline). They start with 100 points. I take off one point for any error listed on the worksheet. This could be an incorrect shot, wrong title, the shot is in the wrong place or any missing items. The value of the extra credit is up to you but, I gave 5 points the last time I did it and that almost seemed like too much. 

LAST TIP: When students are outside, getting their shots, I suggest staying in the same location, as a class and make yourself available to help them. This is when students discover they don’t really know how to do something after all. So, don’t get mad at them…just be happy they want help. I took 2 days for this part of the activity and really enjoyed it! It is especially rewarding, when you witness the ‘ah-ha’ moment students have. This was a turning point for many of my struggling students. They found great pride in controlling the focus of the camera. The students who were able to capture the ‘Hitchcock Dolly-Zoom’ felt especially accomplished and extremely successful. By the end of this project, students couldn’t wait to try these techniques in their own videos.

Misty_CUMisty Gentle started with long format television programs for Nickelodeon Studios in Orlando, Florida. She worked her way up from a Production Assistant to Producer. Along the way, she worked in a variety of positions from pre-production through post. After that, she worked on shows for the Fox Health Network, Animal Planet, ABC, Disney, The Learning Channel, Discovery Channel and More. Misty has been a writer / director / producer for on-air promotions and corporate productions as well as 2nd assistant stage manager, Script Supervisor, Segment Producer, Associate Producer, and Post Production Producer. In the summer of 2008, she was Associate Producer for Nickelodeon's "My Family's Got GUTS". These positions have given her a broad understanding of production from show concept and development through post and delivery.

She began teaching in 2004 with a full television production program at the middle school level. After 5 years, Ms. Gentle moved up to high school where she currently teaches digital video production to 9th through 12th graders.

Ms. Gentle holds a BA degree in Communications - Television and Radio Production and is certified as 'Technical Vocational Education - Television Production'. 


Instructions:  Get the following 15 shots with the camera in manual mode.  Then edit the shots in the same order as this sheet, using the titles indicated. To get 100% you must have all the shots correct, with the correct titles, in the correct order. The ‘Hitchcock Dolly Zoom’ shot is extra credit. (If you share a computer – you must shoot your own scene and it must look different than your partner’s scene.) 100 possible points. One point will be deducted for each error.

SHOOT THE FOLLOWING SHOTS : (with the camera out of AUTO mode)

A. White Balance:

1.       Shoot a scene that is not white balanced. (it has a bluish or yellowish tint)

*When editing - title it “Not White Balanced”

2.       Shoot the same scene with the correct white balance

*When editing - title it “White Balanced”

NOTES: steps to manually WB camera

(1) zoom in on something white

(2) press & hold set button until it stops flashing

(3) zoom out to frame your shot

For incorrect WB - zoom in on something red, orange, or purple instead of white.

B. Focus Techniques:

3.       Shoot a scene with “Sharp Focus”

          *When editing - title it “Sharp Focus”

4.       Shoot a scene with “Soft Focus”

          *When editing - title it “Soft Focus”

5.       Shoot a scene with “Great Depth of Field”

*When editing - title it “Deep Focus”

6.       Shoot a scene with “Shallow Depth of Field”

*When editing - title it  “Shallow Focus”

7.       Shoot a scene with ‘Rack Focus’

*When editing - title it “Rack Focus”

C. Shot Types combined with Camera Moves:

combined with the camera move noted below. (This is for review - you should already know this.)

8.       EWS (extreme wide shot) with a Tilt Down

          *When editing - title it “EWS Tilt Down”

9.       CU (close up) with a Pan Right

          *When editing - title it “CU Pan Right”

10.     POV (point of view) with a Dolly In (forward)

          *When editing - title it “POV Dolly In”

11.     MS (mid shot) – Tilt Up

          *When editing - title it “MS Tilt Up”

D. Camera Angles

12.     Shot type of your choice – Slanted (no move)

          *When editing - title it “Slanted”

12.     Shot type of your choice – High Angle (no move)

          *When editing - title it “High Angle”

13.     Shot type of your choice – Low Angle (no move)

*When editing - title it “Low Angle”

14.     Shot type of your choice – Eye Level (no move)

*When editing - title it “Eye Level”

15.     Shot type of your choice – Worms Eye View (no move)

*When editing - title it “Worms Eye”

EXTRA CREDIT SHOT - “Hitchcock Style ‘dolly-zoom’”

*When editing - title it “Hitchcock Dolly-Zoom”


1.       Create a new project, put the above shots on the timeline in the order listed above.

2.       Title each shot as noted above and add MUSIC to entire video.

3.       Add title at the beginning with this info: Camera: Manual Mode, your name, TRT



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