Improving Videos – Don’t Zoom Pt. 2

16 08 2007

It occurred to me recently that I never finished up this series on improving your video production. If you’re a new reader, you can pick up part 1 here, and then pick up part 2a and part 2b. All caught up? Good.

As I said in Part 1, incessant zooming is one of the hallmarks of amateur video. That’s not a good thing. It was even the subject of satire some years back when “Wayne’s World” popularized the “unnecessary zoom” on Saturday Night Live. I’m not sure what drives people to zoom in and out of a shot, back and forth, all the time during the shot. Perhaps it’s because Sony conveniently located the zoom control right under your thumb. Whatever. Once you hit record, don’t touch that zoom button.

Again, the goal is to produce really high quality video. Even if we don’t have great equipment, we can still utilize production techniques that are well accepted and produce excellent results. That’s where “zoom discipline” comes in.

Take a look at a well-shot film or TV show. You will not see very many zooms. You may see times when the camera gets closer to the subject (called a truck), but more than likely it is not a zoom. That’s because filmmakers use prime (non-zooming) lenses almost exclusively. They use prime lenses because they are sharper and produce a better image, but it also ensures there will be no “unnecessary zooms.” They also take great care in framing their shots in a aesthetically pleasing manner. Too many amateur videographers simply zoom in and out instead of taking the time to set up a great shot.

So here’s what I recommend: Whenever you press record, don’t touch the zoom control. After the shot is finished (and the recorder is paused), then you can zoom if you want to to get a different shot. Work on framing your shot in such a way that it works, looks good and draws the attention of your viewer where you want it to.

Another tip is to take a cue from filmmakers: Start the scene with a wide shot, then cut to a close up. Then you can cut to a medium shot. You can use the zoom to get all these shots from one vantage point, just stop the action while you zoom and cut (just a cut, not a dissolve, or effect) from one shot to the next.

Try this out on your next video project. Start to think of it in terms of a series of shots that will piece together. As I write this, it occurs to me that some visuals would be helpful. I’ll work on coming up with some sample pieces to illustrate my point. And perhaps from there, we’ll go onto some basic editing techniques. In the meantime, go make a video–just don’t zoom!





2 responses

21 08 2011
ken wojnar

I disagree with the no zoom policy – I am an IMAG director for a 1200 seat worship center and one very effective method of bringing people into a worship set is to zoom into a shot. If you look at anything from music videoes to network newscasts, one method used to draw people into a story is to literally pull them in by zooming into the subject. Yes there is a limit. You can’t just do the same move all day and not have your viewers get bored. However, constant movement (pushes pulls and pans) is the norm and zoom (in or out) is just one type of movement. If you want to reach people where they ‘live’ , motion is what they are used to. Try watching the evening network news. There is always movement on the screen. One area I agree with the no zoom is the message/sermon. Zooming during a message is usually distracting but during a worship song its a great way of getting people focused on the act of worship. We produce messages using 3 cameras – mainly using a head to beltline shot and going head to elbows for important points and then head to knees for when they move across the stage. Zoom can be your friend, just make sure there is more than a single subject that needs your attention.

28 08 2011
Mike Sessler

I agree that in IMAG production, zooms can be useful. However, if you read the post, I’m talking about produced and edited video. In that case, I maintain that zooming is generally best avoided.

Even in IMAG, zooming is often a crutch relied on by directors who either can’t direct their camera people, or who have to work with camera people who don’t get proper framing. Yes, an occasional push in or pull out can be nice, but I’ve got camera people who think every time their camera is live they need to be zooming (we’re trying to break them of that habit). I personally find it annoying and unnecessary. I’ve shot hundreds of live concerts and rarely zoomed; a well-framed creative shot is almost always a better choice.

Also, in case you didn’t notice, this blog has been moved to it’s very own URL; there’s a lot more content at the new address. Thanks for reading!

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