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Top tips for shooting successful video

You'd think that getting your shiny new Nokia N93 would be all you need for shooting great video clips, wouldn't you? But you'd be wrong. Now, forgive me if you're an experienced camcorder buff and the tips below are old hat to you - but for everyone else then hopefully you can take some of these points and use them to improve your own output.

N93 animation

  • Stay still!
    The number one giveaway for amateur video is jerky, wobbly camerawork. Now, you're not going to be able to mount your N93 on a tripod (as far as I know), but holding it in two hands while bracing your feet is usually good enough. One-handed shooting usually results in too much wobble, and certainly don't try shooting while walking or running, unless you're after that particular "Blair Witch Project" special effect!
  • Light, light, light
    Again, unless you're after a special effect (and you know what you're doing), be aware that light is everything. The more photons hitting the CMOS array inside the N93's camera, the more detail and the more vivid the colours. The lower the light levels, the more 'noise' you'll have on the picture, the dimmer and more boring the colours and the harder the MP4 compression routines will have to work, resulting in more 'artefacts' in your footage.
  • Know where the light source IS
    Conventional photographic wisdom used to be that you had to have the sun behind you. This isn't strictly true, as full-on sun can lead to washed out colours and overexposed faces etc. On the other hand, it's not a good idea to shoot into bright light, unless you're after a specific silhouette effect. The main thing is to be aware of where the light's coming from at all times. As you move around a scene and shoot clips your subconscious will then watch for shadows and subject contrast and you'll automatically start shooting better lit video clips.
  • Don't pan
    Maybe this is a little too strong - perhaps 'Try not to over-do panning' would be more apt. It's so tempting just to pan around a scene, but the end result can be tiring to watch for the viewer and you're likely to have jerky artefacts in any DVD footage you create, resulting from the transposition down from the N93's 30 frames per second to PAL's 25. In addition, the N93's capture software, good though it is, isn't perfect, and to full encode every frame of a fast pan at the full frame rate often isn't possible, again resulting in jerky videos. So - be restrained and use panning sparingly.
  • Don't zoom
    Again, not a hard and fast rule, but think about TV programmes - how often do you see the camera viewpoint zooming in or out? Only for specific special effects shots, which is the same balance you should strike. On the N93 there's the additional factor that the noise of the zoom mechanism can be captured on the video soundtrack if your overall ambient sound level is quite low anyway. Only zoom if you absolutely have to - if you need a close up of a subject, it's often best to pause capture, zoom in and frame, and then resume, if this is practical.
  • Avoid loud music
    Capturing loud music is a perennial problem with digital amateur video recording equipment, as the high sound levels cause the audio waveforms to saturate and distort (old analog video equipment is usually far better). This is a shame, as the N93 would otherwise be perfect for taking to gigs and open air concerts. If you're determined to use it to film a music event, make sure you record the soundtrack separately on Minidisc or similar, so that you can splice the higher quality audio with your N93 video when back at your PC.
  • The faster the better
    Your N93 is going to be saving video to expansion the card at a sustained 30MB per minute. Make sure your card is up to this, if you want to avoid dropped frames and jerkiness. Don't get a cheap copy of a brand card from eBay (see my separate article on card fraud), buy from a good local vendor and stick to just the very top brands.
  • Up is up!
    Only use 'up'/normal orientation, don't get arty and try to do portrait mode shots or candid 'phone upside down by your side' shots, however tempting - this footage is a right pain to process later in software. Stick to traditional 4:3 pictures, right way up.
  • Take stills as well
    This might seem superfluous, but still photos from the same events as your video are useful for menus, title screens or just for use in different media (web, print, etc.)
  • Just the camera
    It's worth stopping any background programs on your N93 that might slow the camera down (third party screensavers, web browsers, games, [unnecessary] security software) - any of these may have serious impact on capturing and encoding video in real time, one of the most demanding tasks you can ask of your smartphone.
  • Edit as you go
    Edit your movie clips on the fly if you can. By this I mean pause/stop filming if you're aware that your moment is about to end, don't leave it to the last minute and then have to worry about chopping out unwanted subjects. And if you know you've just filmed a dud, delete it as you go along, it'll save time and confusion later, as well as freeing up memory card space.
  • Up to date
    Keep your N93's firmware bang up to date, as Nokia will be improving its performance with each update.
  • Take along a paper and pen
    Yes, yes, I know the N93's a smartphone, with a keypad, but it's a good idea to take notes of what you filmed and when, with people's names, places - all stuff that's hard to do using predictive text, especially when your N93 is in 'camera' mode.
  • Leave comments til later
    Don't try and comment as you go, you'll be too close to the N93's mike and your voice will drown out ambient noise. Better, if it's practical, to film naturally and add a voice track later, with much more control, along with other subtleties like music!

See also my in depth article on what do to with your video files once you've successfully captured them!

All text (C) Steve Litchfield, 2006