How to Shoot Like a Pro with a Consumer Video Camera

A consumer video camera tries to make everything easier for the user by automatically controlling most of the functions. While most average people welcome this help, most professionals find it discouraging because it hinders their ability to create the best looking image possible. The only way to overcome this hindrance is to know how the cameras work.

Step 1: Make Autofocus Work for You

Professional video cameras allow you to manually control the focus through a ring on the lens so that the subject will be sharp while everything else is blurry. Consumer video cameras do not have this ring and instead employ a feature called autofocus. Autofocus determines the subject by figuring out what object is most dominant in the frame (by how it contrasts with everything else). 

There are two ways to make autofocus work for you so that your subject doesn't go soft in the middle of a take. One is to make sure that the frame is properly lit with everything evenly exposed. When a shot is under lit and dark, the camera has problems distinguishing between objects. The second way to make sure the subject contrasts with the rest of the frame is to be selective over the colors present. If you're shooting a in red room, then have the actor wear clothes that contrast with red instead of blend in with it. Also, have the actors wear clothes that are different colors so that they all stand out from each other.

Step 2: Avoid Movement

Smooth camera movement is one way to make your videos look more professional, but if you're working with a camera that only has autofocus, then you might as well scrap those movement shots. Remember, autofocus works by determining what is most dominant in the frame based on how it contrasts with everything else. You can control it in a static shot, but if the camera is moving, then the odds are pretty good that your subject might fall out of focus in the shot. And that doesn't look very professional.

Step 3: Light It Up

A poorly lit shot from a professional camera won't look as great as a dynamically lit shot on a consumer camera. Great lighting has the ability to add production value to anything. How you light the scene is up to your tastes and materials on hand, but there are a couple of general rules to follow. First of all, you want to make people look their best and this means that you should avoid having harsh shadows on their face, unless this is something you are going for.

The lighting should look natural. You need to develop a strategy that has all your shadows coming from one direction. Nothing looks worse than double shadows. You also want to avoid overexposed areas in your frame as these can make they lighting look poor, especially when it is the actors who are appearing too bright.