How to Become and Expert Video “Shooter”

By: Kevin Byrnes

It is hard to imagine that 2018 is in the final stretch. Where has the year gone. Speaking of 12 months, I recently celebrated my one- year anniversary as the Communications Director for the City of Birmingham (MI). Talk about a year that flew by! In looking back at the year that was for me in my role, one of the achievements I am most proud of is how we have raised the engagement numbers to the City Facebook page by incorporating more video content. Which leads me to the central theme of this blog, sharing some tips on how to shoot videos that look good and are effective tools for messaging as well as visual communication.

iPhone equals an opportunity to be a video “shooter”

My move into public relations was preceded by a 25- plus year career in broadcast news as a producer/writer and editor. During my time at CBS as well as in local newsrooms and stations, I had the good fortune of working with a bevy of skilled videographers and photographers.

Prior to the iPhone, us producers were the planners and the paper pushers, create the concept and then turn it over to the videographers to shoot the video and record the audio. As you know, that era has passed. With technology of today (particularly the iPhone) for better and yes, sometimes worse, everyone, professional or citizen, is now able to be a “shooter”, to use a term from my TV news days. After all, as I have said in prior blogs, as PR practitioners, we are now in a position of being one- person content generating professionals for our companies or clients, whether we are writing it, designing it, speaking it and as I contend, being able to shoot it.

Using the iPhone as the camera template, my first tip is, hold the camera horizontally. On this surface, this seems like a well, dah, tip. And it is. Here’s why. I have witnessed many instances where pros and non-pros shoot video and take pictures holding the camera vertically. A former shooter colleague of mine from my CBS days said to me once, the TV screen is not vertical, it’s horizontal. So, therefore, shoot your video as if it’s going to be on TV, which means turn the camera horizontally. For me, I also take most of my still pictures that way as well.

Lighting is Essential

Another tip, make the sun, room lights and any natural light your friend. How so? By positioning the subject of your shoot in front of those light elements, not behind your subject. I imagine most of us have taken a picture or shot a video with significant amount of light behind the target, only to find the target darkened or “washed out” by the background light. One of the videos I shot for the City last spring involved our fire chief discussing emergency siren testing that goes on from the spring to the fall across the region. I positioned him next to one of the sirens and used the sun to light his face. The shot was fabulous. Imagine if I had had the sun behind him? We would have heard the chief, however, we likely would not have seen much of the chief-not good for visual communication to say the least.

Maintain Audio Integrity

My next tip deals with the audio. I admit, there’s been times on my City videos where I’ve tried to be overly artsy. Last winter, I was shooting a video of the shopping district executive director talking about the upcoming winter festival. Well, my artsyness got the better of me.

While I moved the camera off of her to show the lit-up holiday trees as she spoke, I also KO’d the audio! Unlike a TV camera where microphones get plugged into the unit to centralize the sound, our iPhone microphones don’t have that capability. If the background is important to communicating the message (like my siren shoot with the chief), work the background into the shot. But record your video and audio near the speaker, so, the sound gets recorded cleanly. While the tiny microphones on the iPhone will pick up the natural sounds near your speaker, more often than not the audio quality is understandable and sufficient to use.

While there are other points, I’ll close with this tip. Plan your shoot, particularly when it comes to distributing and/or transferring the video to other sources. Will your video be moved via a file transfer like say, Dropbox? Or, are you planning on emailing it?

Remember, if it’s email, email can only take a certain size of video until it becomes too large to send. I did a shoot recently where I had our museum director answer three different questions about an upcoming event. Knowing that my Dropbox has only so much space, I decided to have her do the takes on the questions separately, rather one long read through. By doing this, the takes were shorter (the longest was about a minute and half) and they were easily transferrable to the video editor through my Dropbox account.

I hope these few tips help you should part of your work for your company, organization or client, necessitate you to be a “shooter”, like it does for me in my role. Good luck.

Kevin Byrnes is the Communications Director for the City of Birmingham (MI). He previously was a Communications Consultant at ByrnesPR & Media Services as well as the Senior Communications Manager for Wayne County (MI).  He is a member of the Detroit PRSA chapter (national as well) and serves on the blog committee. He is also a member of the Individual Communicators Network (ICN Detroit Chapter) and Detroit Press Club. 

Feature image from Pexels