The Whole Enchillada…


Seems to me I’ve gone over an awful lot over the years about the knowledge and techniques required to be a decent VJ (or news cameraman). But one essential that has not been separated out and should have been is shooting.

Now I’m not talking about the aesthetics, the art of shooting. Or the techno-geek side of knowing the exposure triangle and the doo-dads and gizmos that make your gear work.


What I’m talking about is the actual task of using your camera in a logical way, incorporating the steps necessary to make it one with your body so you can “see” your story rather than worry about the essentials.

So – the first step is to get to know the beast. Like – which is the front end, which is the rear end and what comes in between. Seriously, you need to be able to reach for your controls without having to look. And everything from here on is not gonna happen overnight – every step you take from here on requires so much practice that you should be doing it in your dreams.

Top o the list are shutter speed, ISO, aperture, white balance.  All of these contribute to good exposure – exposure YOU control.  Generally these days I’d say go with the auto WB unless you’re shooting under unusual light conditions or using two or more cameras that you need to match up in post.

Shutter speed (and angle) determine how long the shutter is open/how much light can  get through the lens to your light sensitive chip that converts the light into digital format.  This also affects the look of your images – a slow shutter speed can give a dreamy blurred look while a fast shutter speed can make your video look crisp and at times a bit surreal.

ISO (the International Organization for Standardization) determines how sensitive your camera/chip is to light.  A low ISO results in better image quality but may force you to set your shutter speed lower or open up your aperture.  A higher ISO will let you shoot with a faster shutter speed but may result in a grainy/pixelated image (if you go too high).

Aperture is another means to control the amount of light getting through the lens. If you have an old mechanical camera lens sitting around, pick it up and play with the f-stops aka aperture or iris ring.  You’ll see it go from completely open to a tiny pinpoint of an opening.  The wider the opening, the more light gets in.  The smaller, the less.  And trust me on this one (there’s math to back this up)…the larger the opening, the smaller the f-stop or aperture, the reverse being true that the smaller the opening the larger the number.  So f2.8 lets in more light than f22.

This online app will help you understand the relationship of those manual controls:


So let’s assume you’ve finally got all of the switches and dials down pretty well. Now we move on to shooting in the field. Pick an event…something visual that’s gonna be there for at least half an hour or more so you can start practicing your moves.  It can be a picnic, your kid riding their bike, a farmers’ market.

Haul out the tripod. Make sure your tripod plate is firmly attached to the camera. Now mate them up, making sure that the plate is securely attached.  Hint:  I always keep my tripod plate on the camera so I can shoot steady or run and gun.

Today your assignment is to shoot a little nats-pack (natural sound) with at least ten shots. Go wide (once) and medium (three or four) and then close-up and extreme close-up for the rest.  If you’re not sure what these terms mean, check out this video.

Keep each shot at least ten seconds long…longer if you think the shot warrants it.  Remember, you are telling a story, so make sure you get an establishing shot (usually a wide shot) that shows where you are.  This could also be a sign or anything that clues the audience into what is going on.  Remember the close-ups that draw your audience in and show them details they may not immediately be aware of.

Here’s an example from a recent trip to the zoo.  Keep in mind each of these is unedited and a few have some pretty shakey spots.  But that’s typical of raw video.

Wide shot

Medium shots


And now the edited video.

In editing we went from just over two minutes of video down to forty-seven seconds.  And yes, clips were cut down…but more than that as I watched each clip I looked for movements and moments as well as listening for any useable audio.

There’s a match cut from picking up the snake to the handler showing it to the man.  The close-up of the owl is taken just as it turns its head.  The owl wideshot begins as one lady laughs and turns to her friend and the friend leans forward…and the camera pans left to the handler holding the owl.  The next shot has the owl turning its head, apparently loooking at the passer-by in the background.  Flamengos was taken as birds moved heads. Otter shot shows snuggling.  The lion looks and blinks.  The overhead shot of the snake shows it flicking its tongue out twice and then we cut to the snake (another match cut) crawling.  Fade to black.

Take a moment and look through the clips to see where you might have edited.  When shooting always look for movement, moments, and audio. And remember your raw video is just the beginning.

ADDENDUM 10.25.17:  Got to thinking some of you might want to try editing this yourself.  If so, give me a hollar and I’ll make the raw files open for downloading.  They’re not HD quality but at least you’ll have some quality shots to play/practice with.


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