How To Enhance Home Movies

Quick and easy tips for enhancing your home movie p and avoiding common pitfalls.

You have a home video camera, you know how to push RECORD, and you know how to point it in the right direction. Unfortunately, your home movies come out looking like the Blair Witch Project, and they are horribly dull to watch. What can you do to enhance your home movies? Here are some simple tips to help.

1. Don't Film Everything!

The biggest mistake any home moviemaker makes is filming every second of every event. Oftentimes they push RECORD at the beginning, and do not press STOP until the event is finished. What they do not realize until they watch it all back later is that most film-worthy events are often dominated by long stretches of inactivity or uneventfulness, punctuated by mere moments of interest or excitement. When you record everything, you will never, ever watch it all again.

Be selective in what you choose to film. Aim for the highlights, the important moments, or the interesting subjects. If you are filming a birthday party, for example, you do not need every opening of every gift on tape. If you are filming an awards ceremony, you do not need to film every participant getting every reward. Find the moments of the most interest to yourself and to your loved ones, and choose those as film subjects.

As a general rule, try to limit any one shot to no more than 30 seconds of film. If you are filming a recital or other performance, film continuously, but don't worry about getting the entire event on tape; film only the participants who are important to you.

2. Invest In a Tripod

A clear sign of an amateur home movie is a shaky, jittery image caused by hand-held filming. The simplest answer to stopping the home movie jitters is a tripod. A three-legged camera stand is a must for prolonged filming, such as at parties, recitals, or other events where you will be shooting more than a few shots, or shooting for more than 30 seconds. Tripods result in clearer, steadier pictures that better preserve the events you wish to film.

A general use tripod is portable, lightweight, and affordable (they can be had for fair prices at most stores where video cameras are sold). They are versatile enough to be set up almost anywhere, and since they easily adjust once mounted, a tripod will not unnecessarily limit your ability to point-and-shoot.

3. Leave the Zoom Button Alone

Another clear sign of an amateur home movie is excessive zooming while recording. Inevitably, when you zoom while recording, the camera does not zoom in directly where you want it to, or it zooms too quickly; that can mean several seconds of jiggling, refocusing, and re-zooming, all caught on tape.

The easiest way to avoid this pitfall is to set up your shot. If you want to get in closer, do it before you hit RECORD. It only takes a few seconds, and then you can film what you want to record, instead of wasting film of things you don't. If a live event demands zooming, so be it; but whenever possible, take a few seconds to set up your shot.

4. Reduce Background Noise

Unless you are working with professional equipment, chances are you are relying on a camera-mounted microphone for audio. These microphones are adequate, but they have a very short range and suffer easily from wind, traffic, televisions, and any other stray noise that happens to occur. Stray noises often come out louder on a recording than they sound as you are filming, and can even drown out the sounds you want to hear.

Obviously, you do not always have control over ambient sound, but whenever possible, reduce background noise. When filming indoors, you should shut off televisions, radios, and noisy electronics; even a fan or computer can reduce audio quality. When outdoors, try to choose locations that are shielded from the wind and are not close to busy streets. When filming in crowds, choose secluded spots for filming whenever possible.

5. Turn On the Lights

The image your camera records will inevitably be darker than the image you see. This is not usually a problem in typical outdoor, daylight recording conditions. But indoors and at night, what seems like sufficient light to the naked eye will result in muddy video with reduced clarity and color.

To fix this, always remember to turn on the lights. Never try to film in the dark, and never rely on the light of an open window in daytime. Turn every lamp or light source on in the recording area, even during the day. Try to have at least two sources of illumination, if possible, coming from two different angles, since this will reduce shadow and improve color. Outside, at night, rely on your camera's spotlight, if it has one; otherwise, favor areas with streetlights, porch lights, or other sources of illumination.

Light is especially important if you are using a digital tape or fully digital camera. Digital images, particularly in less expensive cameras, will come out much dimmer than life, and so proper lighting is essential.

6. Turn Off the Display

There's no need to have the date and time in the corner of every shot. Leave the display on for the first shot of the day, but then turn it off. Your video will immediately look more professional.

7. Invest In Post-Processing Software

If your camera has digital capability and computer connectivity, you should invest in some post-processing software and spend a few minutes learning how to use it. Post-processing software can be invaluable, especially if you want to share your video with others. Post-processing software allows you to selectively edit your raw footage, so you can remove extraneous filming, long patches of nothing, bouts of shaking, and other patches of poor quality. You can even add digital elements such as wipes, fades, and title cards, and if your computer has a DVD burner you can make easy copies of your edited film to share with family and friends.

© High Speed Ventures 2011