Getting Started with Home Video

Although I’ve shot tens of thousands of still camera shots over the years, I only just now got around to trying my hand at home video. To that end, I picked up a Canon HF100 (a stunningly small camera with a great picture) and started shooting some footage. I’ll admit right now that I have no idea what I’m doing when it comes to shooting home video, but I’m pretty sure most of us are doing it all completely wrong.

Specifically, most folks I know get out the camera for those big “important events” — graduation events, school plays, and the like. We know these are the Big Moments in our loved one’s lives, and it’s natural for every parent in the audience to make like a paparazzo and record Junior’s Big Event for posterity. The problem is, nobody—especially neither ourselves nor Junior—wants to sit through the film of their Big Game, school concert, dance routine, piano recital, etc. later on. If we’re honest with ourselves, it wasn’t that much fun watching the whole thing the first time. We go willingly because they’re our loved ones and we’re interested in being with them for the Big Event. But that doesn’t mean we really want to relive every missed note, awkward movement, or bored expression in its badly shot glory on DVD years from now.

I used to think the problem with home video was the lack of editing, and to a lesser degree the monotonous camera work (and if you’ve been forced to sit through somebody else’s home videos, there’s certainly plenty of blame to go around on both counts). But no amount of snappy editing, bold camera moves, or even Hollywood-level cinematography is going to make Junior’s walk-on performance in the school play into something that the family will lovingly gather round in years to come in preference to the latest Spielberg offering…or for that matter a re-run of Mythbusters. So why shoot the video in the first place?

I think the answer is that video lets you capture an absolutely visceral sense of a moment, or a person, and lock it away in time so it can be relived later.  No other media comes close. Snapshots summon up memories of moments in a person’s life, but in a much more thoughtful, nuanced form; sound recordings can be brilliant, but who follows around their loved ones with a portable DAT recorder hoping they’ll say something cool? But video… shoot fifteen seconds of a person just being themselves and those few moments are captured forever and experienced later, much as if that person were right in front of you.

So far, some of the best footage I’ve shot is of my kids just sitting around talking. Six years from now, when my 10-year old son Neil has been replaced by 16-year-old Neil, I’ll be able to visit with 10-year-old Neil for a few precious moments thanks to the miracle of video. And when that time comes, the Neil I want to reminisce with isn’t the one who was fumbling his way through some performance…it’s the one I know and love from everyday life.

So here’s what I’m thinking (and those of you with much more experience with home video can confirm or correct me on this): put away those video cameras when it comes to the various Big Events in your kid’s lives; the misty, non-high-definition memories you have of those Big Events will age far better over time. But take out the camera and record as much as you can of your kids just being themselves. That’s what’s going to put a smile on your face, or a sentimental tear in your eye years from now.


One response to “Getting Started with Home Video

  1. Hi Pete

    I read your comments on home video with interest, as I have been a keen video fan for many years (even before video when we used to use cine).

    I think you’re absolutely right when you say that some of the best video comes from simply filming your kids behaving “normally”. It can be a bit tricky, especially if they get self-conscious when the camera is around, but if you do it a lot then people tend to stop noticing the camera (it’s surprising how quickly that happens).

    I note you have the Adobe software which is brilliant at helping you create videos that people do like to watch if you spend enough time on it. One of the secrets is to keep each part of the video short by cutting out tons of footage, even for your own use. The way I handle this is to always film far more than I need and make sure I really do cut out probably three quarters of it. You can always keep the footage on your hard drive but virtually never show it to anyone.

    One final comment — I’d still film the Big Events as well because often you get good video of lots of family and other people who were present which you wouldn’t normally film. You can then edit out a lot of the unnecessary footage for general consumption, but you’ve still got stuff in case you ever need it.

    The real problem with all this is time (or rather lack of it). I find video tapes tend to lie around for weeks waiting to be edited and then I get a pang of guilt and produce my masterpiece over the next week or so. But it really does take time.

    Adobe Premier Pro is one of the best software packages around for editing video, but it does take a little while to learn how to use it properly.

    I hope some of these comments encourage you as I think producing videos that other people like to watch is one of the most satisfying hobbies around.


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