Three Mistakes of a Bad Videographer, and What We Can Learn From Them

I don’t know who was responsible for the bad videography decisions — the videographer or the client — but two weekends ago I watched my daughter compete in a dance contest where the videographer made several mistakes. Weird videographer

My goal isn’t to hurt anyone’s feelings, so of course I won’t name the company doing the videography. But I think we can learn from others’ mistakes, so let’s explore them and see what you and I might do differently.

Their first mistake was the biggest one…

Mistake #1: They Didn’t Use Enough Video Cameras to Cover the Event

They only used one camera.

Anyone who has ever tried to shoot video of a dance performance with one camera knows the dilemma here.

On the one hand, you want to capture the dance team’s formations. Formations are a big part of the overall art form, and it’s impossible to see formations if you’re zoomed in on one person. You need to use a wide shot to get the visual impact of the formations.

But as a parent, I don’t want to purchase a DVD of only the dance team’s formations. No, I want to see the face of my daughter too. I want to see her individual performance within the greater performance. And you can’t see her face, or any of the faces, within the wide shot.

So we need medium shots and close-ups too.

And that leads us to mistake #2, which is caused by the first mistake.

Mistake #2: Abruptly and Constantly Zooming In and Out

I realize that I’m a video shooter, so I’m more sensitive to constant zooming than what most people are.

The videographer only had one camera, so they really didn’t have a choice. They would be wide on the action for a moment, then someone would dance out to the center to do a solo, so the camera would quickly (too quickly and abruptly) zoom in and try to follow the solo performance.

Then the soloist would join the bigger group’s formation, and the camera would zoom out, but by then the formation was breaking into two parts, so the camera would try to go wider to capture it, and then a different soloist would break away, and the camera would zoom in…

Are you getting a feel for the camera chaos? It wasn’t like the camera person had a chance to practice timing their moves with the choreography. This was probably their first time seeing the performance. This meant the videographer was constantly behind the action, trying their hardest to catch up to what was happening now.

The constant zooming led to the next mistake…

Mistake #3: Too Many Miniature Pans and Tilts to Recompose the Frame

After each zoom the frame wouldn’t be just right, so the videographer would do a quick small pan to the left or right, or a slight tilt up or down, to get a nice composition. All of these little adjustments were visible, distracting, and frustrating.

All the camera movement added up to too much visual chaos: panning, tilting, zooming in, zooming out, always behind the action.

The Solution

Use the proper number of cameras.

This dance performance would require at least two cameras to cover it: One for the wide shot (locked down to cover the entire performance area), and one medium shot (to capture individual performances within each of the numbers).

It would be better to have three or four cameras.

One camera would be wide to cover the entire stage. Another camera would be semi-wide to cover smaller clustered formations. Another camera would be medium to capture individual performances. And finally another one would be close to capture the dancers’ faces as they perform.

My daughter is 11, and I’d love to have a DVD of her dance performance where I sometimes get to see her face as she performs. It would have been so much better if they used four cameras!

Of course, this would be much more expensive. It’s expensive to have four cameras. The cameras themselves are pricey, but then you also need a separate operator for each camera. And they’d need another person operating the video switcher for the live video feed that was projected on either side of the stage.

This is why I suspect the single-camera decision might have been the client’s fault. It’s possible that they chose to save money and go with only one camera.

If that’s the case, it’s unfortunate because it really hurt the final product.

Should the videographer have insisted on more than one camera? Maybe. I think they probably should have.

If I was in construction, I would be frustrated if someone asked me to build a house by myself without being allowed to hire other workers. I might refuse to do the job because it wouldn’t be done right.

By the way, I had a video camera with me but I wasn’t allowed to use it as an audience member. That’s okay because I would’ve had the same issues. I only had one camera, and I was the only operator, so I would’ve been zooming, panning, and tilting the same way the videographer was. I couldn’t have done any better by myself. In fact, it would’ve been worse because I only had a monopod, no fluid head tripod, and the camera was a consumer level video camera: Canon HF-S200.

But because video cameras were strictly prohibited, I was able to watch the videographer and think of how I might do things differently if I were the one shooting.

Of course, when my daughter was dancing, I watched her, and the videographer was the last thing on my mind.

49 thoughts on “Three Mistakes of a Bad Videographer, and What We Can Learn From Them

  1. I’ve been in this situation myself before, more than once. Back then however I thought it was because I didnt know what I didnt know. In reality I knew I should have convinced ‘the client’ (my church), that more cameras were needed, but lacked the experience to make a convincing argument, or just found it difficult to say ‘no’! Thanks for the article!

    1. I think in the perception for more cameras, you guys are thinking it all wrong.
      I have been shooting video for over 35 years and have shot over 1000 dance recital’s in my career. Multi-camera production is great but you must realize who is your audience. The answer is simple, parents and family and the dance school and the teachers. All the dance school wants to see is the full choreography they do not like panning and they do not like zooming in unless it is a solo dance routine. On the other hand the parents and family only concerned about seeing their child. So if you decide to pan or Zoom, chances are you’re going to miss their child within the dance routine. Unless you’re shooting the dance show for television panning and zooming is not an option. I shoot with one camera now it may be a 4K camera that shoots with a 2 ?” chip. My rig is about $56,000, but it is clear (the faces don’t look like snowballs. My advice is to crop your shots keep it in focus and never miss the action. Just remember you’re shooting in the dark and you need a good quality camera.

      1. I totally agree with you. Full stage means just that. The routine is what matters. And the dance studio owner is the one hiring you. I use a second camera for save shots. I do go in as close as possible. I do pan close ups of the little ones. They are always in one place anyway. I get dizzy when video folks are shooting from all angles. I really want to see the dance routine. And so do the choreographers and studio owners. One camera can suffice.

  2. Hi Izzy, thank you for this artcle. You´re 100percent right! If the client dont like have money for a second or third or fourth camera – what you can do? I do it for the money or I give the client a big present… I filmed sometime a musical from a dancing school and I would do this with three cameras (without more money, only for making a good production) – but they dont like to get close pictures, because they like to see all the time everbody, the whole formation (also the kiddies). And you are right, with one camera its mostly impossible to documentary a dancing show. Sometimes I filmed two or three presentation on the stage, so it was a small possibility to get good close ups for the FinalEdit. Best from Austria/Europe Hubert, Well TV Int.

  3. Jez, yea. If you had a cutaway camera (total two cameras) that would have made a BIG difference. I know what you mean. I think it would have been 80% better if you had two and 95% better with three and 100% with 4 the way I figure it. But that 2nd camera makes the biggest difference!

  4. Izzy, I agree with your article, however, as a former shooter of these types of events, many times the dance school is not paying the videographer. The videographer is taking the job on spec with the hopes of selling the videos to the parents. There were events that I shot with three cameras, switcher, etc….was on the hook to pay my guys and didn’t sell enough tapes to cover my cost’s. Once I put a “minimum” on the number of videos needed for me to take on the job, then I actually had a budget to work with, then a better production value. I’m curios what they charged for the single camera tape?

    1. Ah, there is a solution. Not great, but it works. 1 camera, 1 operator, software assistance. If you shoot hd, 1080, shoot your general group shot. using software such as fcp or others zoom in to highlight or use the zommed in as camera b. The end result will be sd resolution, but it will allow 1 person to create multiple isolations (from 1 camera, numerous closeups of specific actions.)

      1. I agree, but it’s too much work in the edit. Each production I did had it’s own challenges. The simplest and most cost effective for me with my small projects was to do a 2 camera shoot. Camera 1 was a cover shot and camera 2 was the close-up pan left and right camera. I used a videonics switcher ( that little toy made me more money than I can tell you ) and I would actually pan and mix at the same time. It was difficult being a 1 man band, two cameras and switcher, but, I mastered it and managed to avoid many of the issues Izzy spoke about. Each camera was recording its own footage and I used a seperate deck for the master mix. Once I imported the mix into FC, it was just a matter of removing black, dropping in some lower thirds, and I was done. Editing was quick and easy.

        1. Wow! That takes me back. I too used a Videonics switcher at one time (over 12 years ago). I had multiple cameras in the house that were connected to the switcher via s-video cables. The switcher was then connected to a SVHS deck. It really worked very well. It was great fun to operate the mixer, it was sort of like being on the production team for “Hockey Night in Canada”. Sorry, I’m a Canadian. 

      2. Definitely a great work around when you only have one camera and no other options, and when the final delivery is in standard definition.

        Thanks for the input!

    2. Totally agree… The client is to be faulted as much as the videographer. They were trying to do it on the cheap… Hence the saying, “You get what you pay for”/

    3. Thanks for the additional insights.

      On thing I should clarify, because this was a dance competition, it wasn’t the school paying for the video. It was the production company that puts on the competition. There were actually several different schools participating in the competition.

      Frankly I suspect the video was an afterthought. I think the company was mostly about snapping photos and selling them to the attendees.

      I really think that if they had shot better video, they would likely sell a lot more DVD’s — although I have no idea how many they sold, if any.

  5. Yep, live events are a sticky situation when the client won’t spring for better/needed quality. Dance studios are no exception – most of them are driven by how much they’ll sell the DVD for, and whether or not they pre-sell the DVD’s for you.

    I’ve had good luck with this – if they’re stuck on paying for your services via DVD sales, set a minimum buy – approximately what it would cost just to cover your time and the 2nd shooter. Then, make it easy for the client to pre-sell the DVD’s for you – provide a sample DVD jacket to wow the parents, and an easy way to remind the parents they won’t be allowed to film that day – make it easy for parents to pay via credit card (Square is great for this) – even offer a small kickback to the studio if you exceed a certain number of sales (if you’re comfy doing that), etc.

    Setting the minimum helps the studio be motivated to concentrate on selling the DVD’s for you – if the initial numbers work, they never have to come out-of-pocket.

    On to “gotta shoot with one camera”. I had a couple school contracts – it was a looooow per-shoot amount, but an annual account, so it was worth it to me in the long run. I won’t go into too much detail – Izzy’s the man when it comes to explaining technique – but some basics I developed through my first 2 years of ‘little-to-no-budget-school-event-shooting’…

    Fluid Head Tripod. It’s a must. EVERY move you make is going to be in the final product. I use a lanc with my camera to allow for slower zooms and immediate focus pulling, but my basic shooting philosophy was – for every scene/song start wide, slowly push to medium (frame left or right), and slowly pan to the other side of the stage, then slowly pull back to wide. The parents are happy because they can better make out their kid’s face, and only going to medium instead of close means you won’t have near as much movement if the action demands a move back to wide before you’re done with your “gotta-see-my-kid” pan. I’d push on solos if I was confident I could land on a shot for a decent amount of time, but if it was questionable, I’d stick with medium to be safe.

    Even with just one camera, I noticed less and less parents bringing their own (the schools of course allow parents to film). It allowed them to enjoy the show, and get a DVD later. :)

    I also sold DVD’s on-site – I used the Square dongle with my iPad, so the parents were able to pay via credit card, sign on the screen, and email a receipt to themselves. Worked pretty well.

    Wow… sorry Izzy!!! Didn’t mean for this to be a novel! Love your work – Chris

    1. Chris, no need to apologize for the length of this comment. It’s packed full of great tips. Very useful to everyone. :)

      And a great idea on using Square to take credit card payments via an iPad. I can imagine someone reading that and thinking, “Brilliant! I’m going to start doing that!”

  6. Double

    I work as a video editor and we have some camera mens who don’t give more than 5 seconds for the shot..
    that’s makes me crazy.!

    Ugh. again..

    and thanks for the post izzy

  7. Yep that must happen a lot. I know whenI was filming my son’s plays on stage I soon found out that one camera dosse’t do it. just like you story of your daughter this was when I was just a proud Dad. It did take me long to borrow three cameras for his next play setting them left, right of stage and I was in the middle. i must say I had great fun in the edit. Back to your story if i was to do a event and have done it dose double the cost for the school and may be they don’t want to pay or understand the finish product so it very much up to the videographer to inform them what is best, hey that guy I guess was doing his best. It sound like you could buy the DVD after so may be if it your daughter school offer your services. :)

  8. I can fully relate to this experience. However, more often than not, multiple cameras are not an option for me, and I’ve learned the fine art of following the action without shooting in a “reactionary” way. It’s more of a “go with the flow” approach that avoids extreme pans and zooms, even if it means I lose a bit of the action in the process of getting the shot. I strive instead to have a nicely composed shot at all times, even if that means I take a little longer to transition my framing to where the focus should be, and almost always avoiding an extreme zoom unless it’s a safe bet that the subject will stay relatively put for the moment. I hate jerky video too- it’s the mark of amateur shooting. I good tripod head is a must, but I try never to pan quickly to reframe a shot if I’m zoomed way in. I’d rather zoom out slowly, then gracefully pan over.

  9. You know Izzy, I’ve run into this no video cameras allowed at a lot of functions because the group putting on the function is trying to raise funds for whatever purpose. So, they figure they’ll make it up in DVD sales.
    But often people are disappointed because their child or whoever or whatever they came to the function to see isn’t featured as much as they would hop in the final DVD.

    Why don’t these organizations sell like a video pass where for the price of the DVD or maybe even a bit more you could get a tag that you could display that would allow you to shoot your own video.

    That way, you get the video of your daughter dancing and the function putting on the dance would get the money they want for their fundraising.

    They’d get their money and you’d have a much better video of your daughter so everyone comes away happy.

    1. how about letting the parents shoot their cu’s of their kids. take their details and tapes on the night (maybe a deposit) then do a “premium edit for them”.

    2. I shoot a lot of dance recitals, concerts and live theatre. One of the reasons they try to restrict parents or whoever from shooting personal video is not to protect my profit but to make the event more manageable. I don’t care if people shoot their own footage, but you got to be a bit annoyed by the glare of all the screens in the audience and the guys on the end of the row with crappy little tripods. I was a parent and I know that unless I shot it there wasn’t going to be anything (or anything worth watching). I wish there had been someone like me taking decent video so I could have enjoyed the show and watched my child though my eyes instead of a viewfinder.

  10. Well, a few weeks ago I was in just this situation, and had you seen me I’m sure you would have come to the same conclusion. Lots or zooming, panning, reframing. But the thing is, you would have been mistaken.

    I had my main DVX100 camera front and center, following the action, pushing when necessary, pulling out when needed. But I also had a second camera (only a small pocket cam but at 1080p it gives me enough options in post, as has been suggested by a commenter) discreetly placed elsewhere in the auditorium. Are you certain this guy did not have a camera placed somewhere you didnt see?

    Whenever I shoot, I always shoot to edit, so I know that when I reframe my main camera, I have b-roll for cutaway to keep the scene smooth and flowing. I was doing just this at my sons school recital as I was pushing and pulling the frame. Quite frankly, I dont know how to shoot video without editing, its such a crucial part of creating a show.

    I agree about needing more than just one camera to capture an event, but disagree about the number, and the necessity for more operators. At least in my situation. Then again, I was asked by the school to offer my services as a favor, but families were not locked out of shooting their own.

    General note, I dont think its fair to criticize a school for not having a budget for videography in these tough economic times. I’d prefer my kids school to be spending money on books, not on a second, third or fourth camera operator. That is way excessive in my opinion. For a Pink Floyd concert perhaps, but for little Jimmy’s school play no.

    1. Hi Influxx, thanks for the great comment and additional points.

      A couple things I suppose I should have clarified in the original article…

      I totally agree with you about a school not spending on additional cameras. I didn’t mention that this wasn’t my daughter’s school. It was a dance competition that was put on by a for profit company that does dance competitions around the country. My daughter’s dance studio was one of the studios attending.

      Also, they might have had a second camera somewhere, but I doubt it because they were projecting their video feed onto large screens and they weren’t cutting to any other cameras at all.

      Your method of shooting to edit is a very important one, in my opinion.

      Great comment. Thanks for the input! :)

    2. @influxx, I think it IS fair to criticize a school that prohibits parents from capturing memories of their kid’s childhood, instead forcing them to shell out MORE money (assuming they already have to pay for the class/competition/whatever) to purchase a video of poor quality.

  11. I reckon it’s rediculous that parents are not allowed to bring whatever cameras they want to a performance. I can understand if they want to ban them from setting tripods up all over the shop, but strict bans are rediculous. We live in a culture of overregulation. Anyway, nice article Izzy.

  12. Good observation Izzy, I shoot a lot of live concerts with my 2 EX1’s and most of the time don’t get the variety I want. Four would be much better.

    1. Hey, at least you’re using two great cameras. That’s a great pace to start. :)

      But yes, two cameras is a minimum. When you watch live television you realize they use a lot of cameras on a well produced show.

      Wide cameras, medium cameras, cameras on main players, a camera on a jib, camera on the audience. If you want, you can go crazy with cameras to make the coverage exciting!

  13. I love this post. It’s basically a really well qualified rant from a really hacked-off dad! How did your daughter fell about the whole thing?

    1. LOL! I suppose it would have been a stronger rant if I had written it the day of the event. Luckily it’s been about 10 days since the incident. :)

      Trinity didn’t even notice a difference. She’s just happy to be dancing!

  14. This is a great article, I was wondering what you were going to say when I saw the email. I am working on a project that this pertains to right now. I am in the editing stage. It’s for an awards ceremony where there are performances given. I have been doing this for our client that I produce TV ads for; 2 times a year for the past 3 years. I’ll tell you what I do, it is a challenge, but this works for me.

    I saw the DVD that someone else was producing before me, and this person was using 1 camera with no mic (you forgot to mention the audio), so this was internal mic which sounded hollow and just bad. 1 shot as you talked about and he couldn’t get a good exposure setting on what he was shooting, so the video looked bad as well. (this is because they wear red uniforms and they perform on an orange wooden stage which makes everything look reddish orange, which is horrible, I have many issues with this but can’t do anything about it)

    So I came up with this as a plan: I mic the announcer’s podium with a lav with fresh batteries (the show goes for 2 hours), this way I know the batteries won’t die. I have that camera off to the side of the stage and that’s more of a wide shot. I use a hand-held camera with a shotgun mic recording back-up audio. Then I have a third camera to the other end of the stage that is another wide shot.

    I follow the run-down as there is an audio guy, lighting guy and announcer, we all get the same run-down, it helps me follow along for timing, etc. when I need to change tapes (2 cameras are shooting mini DV) and change camera batteries if needed. 1 camera is plugged into a wall outlet with an extension chord.

    I realize this sounds like a big production, and it is. I do a lot of running around throughout. I just ignore the audience and run from camera to camera to make sure nothing is going wrong. I can’t afford to bring a 2nd operator with me and they are non for profit, so they don’t have the budget.

    We allow parents to video and take pictures, so i don’t get as many DVD sales as I would like, but they do give me something for a production fee. And it is a client and I know our sales department depends on every sale in these economic times. So I just go with it and every time try to think of new ways to make it easier on me for the next one that I do.

    Sorry this is so long, but I am looking for input. Being that the video is shot on 3 totally different cameras, I have to play a lot with the looks. I send to Color, wait for ever to render and sometimes blend the shots or use color tints to take the distractions of the different looking shots away (make them look like I intended to have these ‘looks’)

  15. Izzy,

    Can’t we see this dance video? I’m dying of curiosity now!

    This was a very helpful explanation of event filming though, even without seeing the video.

    1. Agree with above you could put on your HD shooting Kodak zi8 on legs as a master wide shot, then do as suggested above pick out  mid-shots and details with fluid movements from your main camera. Your wide shot will rescue you if you mess up with your move.

  16. Hey Izzy! Great post and I feel your pain because I’ve seen videos like that. The part where you briefly talked about your monopod and didn’t having a fluid head tripod interested me. I currently own a monopod and love it, and I am look at tripods. Since I only have a Canon, would purchasing a fluid head tripod be a benefit, or would it even work with my camera? My assumption would be that fluid head tripod would be used for more high end cameras and not DSLRs. What’s your take?

  17. Hi. Thanks for this topic thread everyone. I shoot concerts, theater, and all kinds of things. I use the locked down camera and a second camera, sometimes crossing the auditorium to check on the views of the lockshot one.
    I can edit two cameras in Final Cut that’s not a problem. The dance company performance I did was hard though.
    It was pitch dark in there when I was setting up because they had a last minute rehearsal. I always bring key chain flashlights, thank goodness.

    Now I am considering shooting one play with two different casts for a school, one matinee, one evening performance.
    I’d like to check my pricing fees: how much would you charge for shooting a two hour play, and how much would you charge for editing? Do you estimate one fee, ask them what their budget is and try to work with that, or do you find you short change yourself?
    I don’t know what the set up is with dvd production yet for this school. Any suggestions are welcome.

  18. Hi, I am wondering if anyone has a suggestion for me. I am an immature in video editing and creating videos, however I love it and find myself continually trying to teach myself new techniques. I know nothing about actual video shooting at events, and only use imovie and keynote to create my videos (yes, I know…I said I’m just starting).

    My question is, if I wanted to try to get serious about this passion of mine, where do I go next? How does one learn to shoot professionally, to edit professionally?

    It is quite an art and I love it, even if I AM only dabbling.

    Thanks for any suggestions.

  19. Adding to what is already on here, but with a twisted question…

    I, too, am a parent of a competition dancer and actress. I video her school’s performances and sporting events onto a live online platform at no cost to the District or the viewers. I’m a past semi-pro videographer in trade but gave it up as so many people record their ‘special moments’ nowadays and editing software has become cheap to nothing (Pinnacle Studio, Windows DVD maker, etc). Its all about content, quality, and what your willing to lose in the end to seal the deal.

    My beef, as it is, is when I can’t video. I spend hundreds, even a few thousand of dollars a year in my daughter’s competition routines and even regular recitals. Each event has its own “professional videographer” taping the event. These ‘pro-vids’ market and sell their work, and one such pro-vid company charges over $35 per routine!! (I have the link to their website if you’d like to take a look!) Needless to say, this particular company had a one camera job, on a mini-pod ported on top of school desk. The camera looked like it was connected the laptop (something i do too). The camera operator sat most of the time and the shots were mostly far 7 wide. You couldn’t see faces, and when he did zoom in it was late action capture over half the time. No one was permitted to tape on their own so we had no choice but to buy from this company. What disturbs the most was that it was all in NTSC format…!! My daughter was in three group routines but this company made a deal that if we could reach a minimum of X orders, we could get a reduced rate of the overall DvD of just our studio’s routines. The award ceremony wasn’t even covered!

    So back to my beef… I spend the money on classes, outfits, travel, lodging, meals… you get the idea… only to be told that if I want a video memory of my little girl (whether she won or lost)I would have to shell out even MORE money. Plus… these competitions are open to the public free of admission charge. The rules state that the entire routine could be disqualified if caught taping the competition! So who’s to say a “Joe off the street” comes in, sets up shop ‘side of house’ and goes to it… (I have a few competition sites links that state this in their policy).

    Why should ALL the proceeds go to the vid-company? Their providing a service, yes… but their also capturing a performance (can you say “Royalty Fee!) of these dancers. So why aren’t THEY getting compensated for their hard work on stage that is making the pro-vid money?? What if dance studios/companies decide to change their policies that the performance is THEIR copyright and any taping of their performances is considered a violation of copyright law.. (without consent) therefor no pro-vid can take advantage of the already financially stress parent that worked just as hard as their dancer(s) to get where they are. So, if the pro-vid can copyright their work… why can’t the dancers copyright their routines???

    What amazes me even more is the actual dance competition company that hire out for this service and tell the studios they can’t record or even take pictures.

    And with what I saw for the pro-vid production, and their fee… there was no excuse as to why they were shooting in NTSC mode. Their website contract also states no refunds!

    Anyways… sorry about the rant. I’m just disgusted that videographers would take advantage of an open market and punish the people that are the ones making THEM the money!

    Moving on… for your multi-camera shots… why does it all have to shoulder and/or pod mount cameras?? PTZs are becomming cheaper and in HD with wireless control. Obviously they do have a price above shoulder mounts, but if your using a switcher for a live production… it would cut out the cost of additional cam-Ops.

  20. I really enjoyed reading your article. This is so true. We have been filming dance recitals for years now and whenever we get the call to film for a new company it is always interesting to see the year before and see how they film. Normally it is awful to even watch.
    Have a great spring recital season!

  21. I liked that you pointed out that you want to get the proper amount of cameras for a shoot. That does seem like a very important thing to do when filming a dance or action sequence. After all, redoing complicated things like that over and over again to get different angles would be very annoying.

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