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8 Video Skills to Practice

piano fingers
When I was in elementary school, I took piano lessons. I never got very good (and eventually quit playing in 6th grade), but I learned lessons from that experience that I still use today — even for shooting video.

For example…

Every day when I sat down to practice the piano, before I started practicing any actual songs, I began by doing “finger exercises”. This meant playing different scales in different ways. It helped loosen up my fingers and also strengthen them.

It was repetitious and boring, especially for a young child.

But of course – now as an adult – I see the benefit of doing those boring exercises. They helped me learn to move my fingers in a way that they might move when I played songs.

There’s a lot of value in practicing fundamentals. We hear it all the time with sports metaphors, but what about with art?

“Don’t only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets; art deserves that, for it and knowledge can raise man to the Divine.”
- Ludwig van Beethoven

That’s taking “practice” to a whole new level!

Well, when it comes to video, there are endless things to practice, but we have to start somewhere, so…

I’m going to suggest different exercises to practice with your video camera aside from an “actual” shoot, similar to how you might practice scales on a piano aside from playing an “actual” song.

1. Practice with the focus ring

Frame two objects at two different distances in the video frame, and then practice moving the focus from one object to another. Then shift the focus back again. This effect is called a “rack focus”, and it’s great way to create visual interest by adding movement to a static frame.

This helps you know the feel of your focus ring. You learn which way you have to turn it to move focus further or nearer to your camera. This should become instinctual with enough practice.

Mount the camera on a fluid-head tripod for these next couple items.

2. Practice panning

Find something moving horizontally: a car, a dog, a bird flying across the sky. Practice panning the camera to follow the subject.

Try this with objects moving at different speeds and see if you’re able to maintain a well-composed frame even with variable speeds.

Are you able to anticipate where the subject will be? If they leave the frame, are you able to catch up to them again and bring them back into the frame?

3. Practice tilting

Find something tall: a tree, a building, a light post. Practice tilting from the top of the object to the bottom of the object, and then back again. Practice this with different speeds.

This helps you become accustomed to the feel of your tripod. You learn how to ease in and ease out of the movement. You see the effects of different speeds.

4. Practice with the zoom lever or zoom ring (whichever your camera has)

I’m not a fan of using zoom shots in a final video, but sometimes it’s a necessity. So if you absolutely must do it, you might as well capture a high quality zoom shot. Practice with a focus on smooth starts and stops.

Are you able to smoothly zoom and come to a nice resting spot on a subject, without any overly-abrupt movements?

5. Practice storytelling

Practice shooting a beginning, middle, and end of some tiny story with three different shots.

Some examples…

For the “story” of heading to work, get three shots:

  1. Person getting in their car
  2. Person typing on their computer
  3. Person entering through their home’s front door as their dogs rush to greet them.

That’s three shots that could tell the story of their work day. You could easily choose very different shots to represent the beginning, middle, and end.

For the “story” of having a bowl of cereal, get these three shots:

  1. Pouring cereal from a box
  2. Spoonful of cereal going into mouth
  3. Rinsing an empty bowl in a sink

6. Practice getting different angles

Take one object or subject and shoot it from at least 10 different angles — just get a few seconds for each clip.

Some ideas for angles:

  • Low angle
  • High angle
  • Extreme close-up
  • Wide shot
  • Straight from the front
  • From the side
  • Straight down on the object
  • Extreme low angle
  • Extreme high angle
  • Long shot (telephoto)
  • Close-up with a telephoto lens setting
  • Close-up with a wide angle lens setting

7. Practice getting to each button on your camcorder (without looking)

Do you sometimes need to push the auto-iris button while shooting, but you have to look to see where it is? Practice touching the button without looking.

Practice turning zebras on and off without looking.

8. Practice smoothly changing the iris (aperture)

Sometimes you need to adjust exposure during a shot, and it’s best if you can hide the change.

Of course there are many other things you could practice with your camera (notice that I didn’t even bring up audio or lighting, but these are some good fundamentals to start with.

For Bonus Points…

If you really want to have some fun doing this, get together with other video shooters and go for a “video walk” where everyone practices these same types of skills along the way.

Go through a neighborhood looking for objects to capture from 10 different angles, animals to follow with your camera and tripod, etc.

This concept is the same as a “photo walk”, except you’re shooting video clips. And frankly, it’s enormous fun!

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13 Responses to “8 Video Skills to Practice”

  1. Kevin Murphy says on :

    Very important points, and useful suggestions.
    Thanks, Izzy.
    Kevin

  2. Izzy Hyman says on :

    My pleasure. :)

  3. Bob Curlee says on :

    Have you noticed that most of the time the guys running camera on talking heads for the news networks usually fail to focus on the subject in the foreground? Seems they focus on the background and leave it that way when the subject appears before the camera resulting in fuzzy head shots. Bugs me to no end!

  4. Izzy Hyman says on :

    I’ve noticed that a lot, too.

    It’s possibly because they’re using autofocus and the center of the frame is on the background. I see it especially when there are two people in a frame, one on either side of the frame. The center focuses on the background, so the people are out of focus.

    We can learn a lot by watching television. Watching television isn’t just my passion; it’s my job. Haha. :)

  5. Joe M says on :

    I always enjoy Izzy videos, very educative and i love his presentation, i have a one year membership and i have learned alot from his work. i highly recommend these videos to all.
    Enjoy

  6. Bob Mantell says on :

    Izzy, thanks for the reminders. It is easy to get busy “making” and forget to practice other things like the moves and finding the right button without looking.

    Here is a link to one of my video projects. It is short.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qEc-RVRuWFs

    Bob

  7. Sal says on :

    These practice exercisers will help both the beginner and advanced shooter.As my old coach use to say, “practice makes permanent” ( I think Mickey may have also said that in one of the Rocky movies lol).

    Thank You Izzy!!!

  8. Izzy Hyman says on :

    Sal – Well said!

  9. Stephan says on :

    I would add one more skill: practice taking cutaways. It seems so simple, and yet takes a great deal of effort to take your attention from the main subject and gather those little shots that truly are uninteresting but will prove life savers in post when you’re desperatly in need of a transition.

  10. Izzy Hyman says on :

    That’s a great addition! :)

  11. DebG. says on :

    Izzy,

    I hate to show my ignorance, but can you elaborate on what you mean by these shots that you list in #6, please?

    Long shot (telephoto)
    Close-up with a telephoto lens setting
    Close-up with a wide angle lens setting

    Thanks!
    Deb

  12. Dominador Reyes says on :

    Thanks loads Izzy! These tips are so basic but I sometimes forget that practice is the only way to get better. I will go back to basics!

    Dominador

  13. Francis says on :

    sorry izzy more elaboration on tip #6 i didn’t get it well…!!

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