Videojournalist Etiquette: Cover Shots

Everyone has personal space – the space around you in which you feel comfortable, even in a crowd. This may vary from a few inches with close friends and family to several feet or more with strangers.

Videojournalists (VJ’s) are constantly invading personal space – whether to get in close and get a shot or to put on a mike or to ask a question. Forewarning is the key to good etiquette.

In the future I’ll get into mike etiquette, talking with strangers, saying no politely. Today I’ll begin with shooting cover shots. As a videojournalist your job is to get candid visuals – not staged shots. Generally once a subject knows why you’re shooting they tend to act up for the camera. Let’s say I’m trying to get shots of someone in their front yard raking leaves….I might be half a block away when I first spot them. My first shot might be a tele shot. As I work my way down the street (camera AND tripod in hand) I’ll get a variety of shots, occassionally getting more of my subject. If the subject keeps working, I keep working my way towards them.

Stangely enough I try not to make direct eye contact when shooting my cover shots. If I can pretend I’m not there as I approach my subject, often they don’t know what to do and try to pretend I’m not there either. It might be people skating, dancing, working in the yard – whatever. Sometimes brief eye contact and a curt nod, then I go back to work, moving around and getting my shots. The purpose here is to not disrupt the mood of the subject…if I tell them I’m shooting a story then they might begin acting or even walk away. The brief acknowledgment lets them know I see them. Once I turn my direct attention away from a subject, they are curious but don’t know what else to do, so they continue with what they were doing. When I am through shooting I walk over and explain my intentions.

This method works well in many situations. If a subject walks over and asks me what I’m up to, then I explain the story in general terms and that I might be getting some shots of them as I get in their vicinity. When the subject leaves (or not) I’ll get other shots I need until they wander off or go back to what they were doing. As long as they think I am not focusing on them alone, most people are comfortable with a camera in the area.

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