Some useful words for video newbies

Chuck Fadely’s post that I linked to yesterday reminded me of the vocabulary I learned back when I was an undergrad with a minor in film history and criticism. Ah, those long afternoons in the dark, watching the French New Wave and samurai movies by Akira Kurosawa …

For everyone who studied more sensible subjects, some of that vocabulary is bound to cause a bit of head-scratching. So here is a short word list.

See also the Good Shooting Guide from the BBC. It’s wonderful!

Types of Shots

Wide shot (WS): “Reveals where the scene is taking place. Also referred to as a long shot or master shot, a wide shot helps orient the audience. A wide shot also gives the actors room to move within a shot, without the camera having to follow them. Medium shots and close-ups are often cut into a wide shot for variation.” (source)

Establishing shot: “A type of wide shot that can [for example] establish a building before the camera cuts to an interior office.” (source)

Medium shot (MS): Basically people from waist to top of head — that’s the distance we’re looking at here.

Close-up: A person’s face fills the screen. While you’d use these less often than medium shots in a lot of TV video or other filmmaking, the intimacy of the computer screen (you are only 12 inches away) makes the close-up preferrable for most talking-people shots. You’ll also be getting in super-close for detail shots of objects, as well as hands and feet.

Always remember to vary your shots.

Don’t underestimate the difference between TV viewing (12 feet away) and computer use (12 inches away). Visually you should exploit the medium for which you are shooting.

Other Common Terms

B-roll: “Stock footage acquired for miscellaneous needs.” (source) You need to shoot lots of B-roll so that your video is not just some boring talking head for three minutes.

Logging: Before you edit — or hand off the tape to an editor — you should log your footage. There’s a good explanation here, as well as a log sheet you can copy.

Pan (verb): Moving the camera horizontally. Do not do this for Web video. Really. And if you ever do it, never do it fast. Slowly, slowly. It is far better never to move the camera.

Post-production, or “post”: “Any production activity that occurs after the production but before the completion of a project.” (source) That would include the video editing.

Production: “The actual activities in which an event is recorded and/or televised.” (source) If you’re shooting, you’re in production.

Time code: “Found on most digital video formats, it stores frame-accurate timing information on the tape.” (source) Your video capture program wants to have this.

Zoom: Don’t do it. Well, if you do it, know that you are going to cut it out in the editing. It will look like hell in Web video. And if you start a zoom, hold your steady shot for 10 full seconds before you zoom. Then after you finish zooming, hold that shot for an additional 10 seconds. Otherwise, you’ll have nothing you can use (spoken from experience, believe me).

Do you have any additions? Add a comment!

Technorati tags: | | |

4 Comments on “Some useful words for video newbies

  1. Mindy,

    I would add sequence to the list. Shooting a sequence rather than a collection of ‘snapshot’images can make for a more interesting piece.

    Sequence A sequence is a collection of shots that break down an action in to its key parts. The
    action can be re-constructed through editing, to give the impression of continuity but with more control over the timing.

  2. Cuts and Dissolves as transitions. Cuts are more immediate, up-tempo, dissolves more emotive, slow tempo. People can over-use one or the other and use one when the story calls for the other.

    Also, timing of transitions is bigger than people think. I used to think that 5 seconds was a good time for a clip, but I’m finding that less time actually makes for a better pace. That will require lots of extra footage to put in. And 10 seconds – even if someone is talking – seems like an eternity unless there’s something REALLY interesting going on.


  3. Nice addition, Andy — thanks. I remember a sequence Regina McCombs showed in a workshop — it was of a man sawing a big log. We saw the process is a series of varied shots, but he was preparing and sawing the log in all the shots.

    Bryan, you’re right that videographers should learn something about transitions. For various reasons, a straight cut is usually preferrable for Web video. Fancy transitions, including dissolves, eat bandwidth.

    As for timing — lots of things should be faster than they are!

  4. Something I just learned to do is edit using matched action. It’s when you cut from one shot to another, but allow a contiuous flow of action.

    For example, a girl runs on a treadmill. We see a wide shot of her running, as her left foot goes up. Cut to a medium shot of her legsn with the left foot up, then coming down in a smooth arch of motion. The right foot comes up; cut to close-up as right foot comes down.

Leave a Reply