Taking videos or pictures of anything with any camera is simple. Making sure that it is gorgeous is another story.
Just as when 8mm film and cameras became affordable to most households in the 1930s, there was a surge of home movies and films being shot for the next 40 years, the ubiquity of camera technology today has also created a new wave of home videos being created in what can be considered the most documented generation in history.
As a video guy, I have often been asked about how to take better videos or photos. So below are 6 tips I usually provide on how to get the best videos and images from your camera.
Good camera - Good video or photo.
But what exactly is a good camera? My answer to that is that the best camera is the one you can get your hands on when you need to take a picture.
Mobile phones are usually very handy for quick snaps. And the quality of the cameras of the mid to high end phones are generally as good as the point and shoot cameras available out there. However, most phones will compress the data of the videos and photos so that it can be stored onto your storage card without taking up too much space; and if you have automatically sync set up on your phone to cloud storage, it doesn’t take up too much data or time. The phone also optimizes the videos and photos for its own screen. So it will look gorgeous on your phone, but when you view it on the computer, the quality suffers. It becomes even worst when you want to edit them. Many video and photo editors on phones give you a generous amount of filters and effects. These paints over the lack of data by overlaying with colours like sepia or Clarendon or Juno filters.
So while the best camera is the one you can reach. The best quality video and photos comes from the dedicated camera that is designed to not just make your videos look good, but also allow you to enhance them after it is taken.
So, get a dedicated camera that is easy to carry around, and has a quick start function; so that when the need arises, you can quickly whip it out, turn it on and record the moment.
Natural is the best. For me, videos and photos are about catching moments, that would otherwise be lost forever. While posing your baby in a flower pot, dressing them up as animals, are cute and will be a talking point for a while, videos of you baby’s first steps, first few words, first time they roll around, and of course smashing a cake on their first birthday will remain talking points for years to come.
Videos of these events become a documentary of your child’s life. They complement the posed photos in a highly tangible way. It is all about creating nostalgia; seeing the event happen again and again in perfect clarity. So be generous with capturing videos of your child, and all that they do. Keep them natural, unposed, candid.
Just as the home videos that your parents or grandparents may have made with the humble 8mm film, these digital videos will be seen by future generations or guests at your child’s wedding to embarrass them.
Tip 3 and 4
If you have a decent camera and the mindset to be ready to capture videos and photos at a moments notice; here is the key to how to make your videos shine.
As it turns out, the key ingredient to better videos and photos is….
Whether you have a really good digital camera, or your phone camera, it needs light to see what is happening, same as you. If you are wondering why many of the videos and photos you have taken at home look muddy, or dull, it is usually because of the lack of lights. Cameras try to compensate for the lack of light by guessing what is in the darker areas and filling in the blanks. They do it in a few ways that I won’t go into, but what happens in the end is usually not great.
How much light do you need? If you think about how much more vibrant your videos and photos are when you take them on a nice sunny day, that’s basically how much light you need for a great image.
But you can’t always have the sun, and most of your videos and photos will be taken at home. So there are, actually, 2 tips here to help you get the best from your camera.
The first is to open windows and curtains to let as much natural light in. If it is overcast, or not too bright, turn on as many lights of the same colour as you can.
What does “same colour” lights mean?
Well, tungsten light is warm yellow, whereas fluorescent lights tend to be white. The idea is to not mix the colours of lights because it will confuse the camera, and the colours of your videos and photos will be affected.
Sunlight in the morning and evening tend to be closer to tungsten, and in the afternoon, closer to the white lights. Matching the environment lights will not only enhance the quality of the image, but also preserve the colours of the clothes, and other things (including the colour of skin) accurately.
Good phone camera software, and digital cameras may give you an option to choose which colour of light you want to favour if you have mixed lights in a setting called White Balance. But at a moments notice, you have to trust that your camera will automatically correct for the correct colour.
But the golden rule is, more lights is better than no lights, so if you can’t match colours, just turn on the lights anyway, and let the camera adjust the best it can.
The second tip to make sure you are using the natural lights properly: Don’t point your camera towards the window or door when taking a shot. (unless you know what you are doing with backlighting)
When you have your child against the window, and the camera thinks that you are trying to capture the outside. And because it is bright, it darkens the image and what you will see is a silhouette of your child.
You can’t fight the sun, as the professionals will say. So move your child away from the window. Use the light from the outside to light your child, and don’t fight the sun’s brightness.
Sometimes, all you need to do is to point your camera at a slightly different angle so that the window behind is not the most prominent thing, and the camera will then adjust for the inside.
If you can move your child, try to have more light coming from one side than the other, when recording video or taking a picture.
This creates shadows which your eyes will use to give you the sense of space in your video and photo.
Believe it or not, shadows actually make images look better if done properly.
This tip is really for more advanced parent photographers because it requires more thought in creating the photos and videos.
So if getting the lights in a good position is not second nature or proves to be too difficult, just have more lights.
Even the poorest cameras will give you good results if you have enough light.
Tip 5 and 6
Focus and snap.
All modern cameras have autofocus, and pretty much, all mobile phone cameras have such small sensors, that everything is generally in focus (That is why the iPhone7Plus uses 2 cameras when taking photos in portrait mode).
But even then, cameras need at least a second to focus on what it thinks you are trying to take before taking the shot.
Anyone with a baby knows that the 1 second it takes to focus means that the baby’s smile has changed to a cry, a toddler would have made it right across a room, and the moment you are trying to capture is lost.
So how do we get around the curse of the blurred photo?
Well, there are 2 things that can be done. Again, most modern cameras have face detection focus. It focuses on faces which is really helpful since most of the time, you are trying to take a photo or video of a fast moving young child (FMYC). Having the face detection focus on, will get the camera to constantly keep your FMYC in focus – well at least 90% of the time.
I usually suggest switching the camera to Sports mode as well if it is available (most decent cameras have it). The truth is, once your child starts to crawl and walk, taking photos of them is like trying to take photos of a sports person in motion.
What this mode does while keeping focus on faces, will take a succession of photos very quickly (usually anything between 6 to 10 photos if you hold down the shutter button). You can then pick the best of the bunch. And if they are all nice, then you can make a really cool flipbook. The other thing the camera does is to increase the speed of the shutter so that it reduces the streaky blurs of moving objects in photos.
The second tip is something my 7-year-old daughter discovered for herself.
She told me that when she is trying to take photos of her younger sister, she just takes videos instead because her sister moves too fast, and the video is a lot easier to focus on all of her sister’s action.
So the tip is to take videos.
In video mode, the camera constantly seeks focus on the centre of the camera, so if you keep your FMYC as centred as possible, he/she will be in focus – 95% of the time. Face detection focus works on video mode as well for most cameras.
These 6 tips are just a starting point to improve the quality of your videos or photos. Ultimately, the more videos or photos you take following these tips, the better you will get, and things like lighting, will become second nature. Changing settings on your camera will also become easier and faster the more you practice.
About Francis Yim:
Francis is the owner of Proud Daddy Moments, a dedicated family videography service. He goes beyond baby or family photography by creating beautiful art documentary video keepsakes that parents can remember and share special moments of their children or family with perfect clarity for years to come.