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Video '101' and Beyond

Lindy Lindemann is a former V.P. of Alamo PC Organization, a professional, award-winning videographer who produces videos in the U.S. and Mexico.


Well, you just couldn’t resist any longer and finally bought that digital camcorder. You’ve been busy shooting Sarah’s dance recital, John’s birthday and your own foot if you forgot to turn the camera off after that last shot. This is known as “extra footage." But do the family and friends groan or does that glaze come over their eyes when you are showing your video? If so, perhaps a few tips on shooting better video and how to edit it are in order — Video 101!

Let’s start with shooting the video. Because after all, if you shoot good video you obviously have less editing to do. Most beginners shoot all their video with the camera up to their eye, but did you know that there are four other positions that when used will add variety to the video. Most cameras today have swing-out LCD screens that can be turned for viewing as you shoot. Let’s start with the overhead position. Stretch your arms as high as you can and point the camera down. Great for when you are in a crowd or want to get a different perspective. Next is the familiar eye level shot. Under arm allows you to get closer to the subject and be less conspicuous with the camera. The same is for the waist lever shot. Again twist the LCD up so you can monitor what you are shooting. The fifth position is on the ground. Yes, put your camera on the ground and angle it slightly up, if necessary. Usually you can just kneel to do this shot. It is great for shooting young children and pets. Don’t overuse the zoom button unless you want to make your viewers seasick. Also the length of each shot should be about 12 seconds long. Obviously, if you are shooting some type of presentation it will be longer. The “rule of thirds” is an important one. When you are looking through the viewfinder or at the LCD screen, imagine it divided into thirds vertically and horizontally.

Most beginners, when filming a “talking head”, will put the head in the center of the screen – wrong! Our eyes are the most important part of our face and should be placed on the upper 1/3rd line. When you are following a person moving left or right, leave more space in front of them than behind. When shooting outdoors with a noticeable horizon, do not split the screen by placing the horizon in the middle. Use the upper or lower 1/3rd line for your horizon.

So much for shooting tips. If you follow them you will find there is not a lot of editing to be done.

Most high-speed computers today are very adequate for editing video. The important things from a hardware point of view are as follows: 

  1. A large hard drive. 40 Gigs or larger that spins at 7200RPM. Some computer hard drives only spin at 5400RPM and this will result in jerky video.
  2. At least 512 MB of RAM memory and
  3. An IEEE1394 (Firewire) port. Sony calls it iLink. This allows you to connect your digital camcorder directly to the computer and control its operation through the editing software that you select.

If you are using a non-digital camcorder you will have to install a conversion card in the computer to connect the camera and to convert the analog signal to digital.

Today, there are numerous software programs available for editing video. The prices range from $50 to $24,000. Some are a waste of money and others would be overkill for the beginner. Here are some that you might want to consider:

Sony has a new product out called Movie Studio ($69.99) that is better than the program that comes with the Sony Vaio computers.

Pinnacle Studio ($99.99) is a very good product for the price and offers quite a bit of flexibility.

The next two products are a little pricier, but well worth the money for the serious beginner: Adobe Premiere 6.5 ($500) has many features that much more expensive products contain. It has a moderate learning curve, but comes with good documentation and a tutorial on the CD. The CD also contains a light copy of Smart Sound, which is a software program that permits you to create custom music for your videos.

Sonic Foundry produces Vegas 4.0 ($499.97 download or $599.96 in a box). It too is an excellent product with many professional effects and powerful audio editing capabilities.

Regardless of the one you select, they all will follow the general process of: 

  1. Inputting the video clips
  2. Creating the movie
  3. Adding transitions
  4. Adding music and/or narration
  5. Rendering the movie and finally
  6. Output to tape, CD, DVD or the Web

There are basically two ways to input clips. One is to copy all your raw footage to the hard drive and then designate individual clips. The other is to designate the clips as you view your raw footage and only copy to the hard drive the “good stuff”. I prefer the latter since it saves disk space and gives me more control. Some editing software will automatically divide your raw footage into clips as it copies it to the hard drive. I have never found this too satisfactory as I don’t always agree with the designation of the clips and then have to sub-divide or join clips to the way I want the clips to look

Assuming we have our camera connected to the computer with a firewire, the software should control the tape movement in the camcorder, e.g. play, pause, reverse, stop, fast forward, etc. As you view the video you will designate the “in” and “out” points of the clip. This is done by recording the time code for these points. Time code is expressed in Hours/Minutes/Seconds/Frames. There are basically 30 frames per second. You probably were not aware, but as you shot your video the camera was recording the time code. Once you have designated all the clips, now you are ready to record them to the hard drive and they will end up in a “bin” or “gallery”. In addition to designating the in and out points, you will also give each clip a distinctive name so you can identify it and know what is in it.

Now we are ready to create our movie. It is simply a matter of dragging and dropping the clips from the bin to the timeline. As you can see in the example above, using Adobe Premiere 6.5, we alternate dropping clips in track 1A and 1B. Anything we put in track 2 will be superimposed over track 1. Since we are working with digital media, we can select clips from the bin in any order we choose. Most editing software will give you a choice of using the “timeline” or “storyboard” method of creating your movie. In the timeline method each clip is represented on the timeline by the actual length of the clip and the clips are alternated between tracks. In the storyboard method, all clips are the same length and all clips are put on one track.

Once all the clips are placed on the timeline, or as you go along, you can add the transitions . There is a tendency for the beginner to want to use all the transitions that the software offers. This can actually detract from your video. Remember that the two most used transitions are the “cut” and the “dissolve”. In the cut you are simply cutting from one clip to another. In the dissolve, one clip dissolves out while the new clip dissolves in. A fade to black usually represents a change in time or introduces a new subject. To give our video a more professional appearance, we can add music and/or narration. Most editing software will permit you to import files of music or graphics. The music clips are placed on a separate audio track and graphic clips can be placed on the same video tracks as the other clips or added to higher numbered tracks which will cause them to be superimposed over lower tracks.

Until you get into the multi-thousand-dollar software and even sometimes even in them, you will run into what is called “rendering”. When you placed your video clips on the timeline and then the transitions, you designated two or more files to occupy the same space on the timeline. The process of rendering actually melds these files together so the computer can execute them as if they were one file. Areas in your movie that need to be rendered are usually identified by some color-coded stripe over that area. In Adobe it is red until rendered and then it changes to green.

We are down to the final lap. The last thing we need to do is output our masterpiece to some media so other people can see it. The simplest thing is to just create a file of the movie on the hard drive and then it can be played back on the same computer. We can export the timeline after it has been rendered by putting a blank tape in our camcorder and recording the timeline to another mini dv tape. We can also create an Mpeg1 or Mpeg2 file that can be burned to a CD or DVD or used on the Web. Most software editing programs will give you a choice as to the type of out put you desire. Different type files are required for different outputs. If you need the old fashion VHS tape, just hook up your camcorder with your new production in it and put a blank VHS tape in your VCR and copy the movie from the camcorder to the VCR. Of course you can also connect your camcorder to the TV and play back your movie that way.

Just remember, don’t violate copyright laws with the music you use in your video if you plan to sell your production.

Well, we have a covered a lot of ground, but I hope this takes some of the mystic out of video editing and encourages you to dig out those unedited videos and get to work so the next time family and/or friends view them, instead of groaning they will say – wow!


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Alamo PC Organization, Inc.
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