Your Event on RFD-TV
by Bill Edmunds

Several draft clubs and individuals have asked how to submit videotapes for possible inclusion on Rural Heritage on RFD-TV. To bring viewers a variety of programming from around the country, we encourage you to arm yourself with a camcorder, microphone, and tripod and make some television magic. Observing the following guidelines will help ensure your production is broadcast quality. Many of these same guidelines apply to videotaping draft events solely for the enjoyment of your friends and family.

Keep it simple. Always bear in mind that the teams are the stars of the program, not you and your camera. If you find yourself overusing your camera by panning (moving the camera horizontally while recording) or zooming (moving the lens from wide angle to telephoto, or vice-versa), it's time to stop. Watch virtually any movie on DVD or in the theater, and you rarely see an on-camera zoom. And unless it's following a subject in motion, you rarely see an on-camera pan. Why? Because camera movement is distracting. When you zoom or pan, you draw attention to your camera operation and away from your subject. We've all seen dreaded home movies that cause seasickness because the camera operator was having too much fun pressing the zoom button or whipping the camera back and forth across the scenery. Don't make those mistakes.

When I taught videography I didn't allow my students to zoom or pan until several weeks into the course. The only time I suggest zooming is when you cannot get closer to the subject, such as when you are videotaping a public event. The only time I recommend panning is when you need to follow action, such as a team pulling a load from left to right. This kind of camera movement isn't distracting because you are not creating movement; you are following it.

By the same token, turn off your camera's digital zoom. Most cameras can do this by either entering the electronic menu system or by merely pushing a switch on the camera (check your manual). Digital zooming degrades the picture significantly enough to render the images unacceptable for broadcast.

Think of your video work in terms of still photography. When you move your camera while taking a shot, what happens? The shot turns out blurry. Video, too, works better when the camera stays still. Overusing camera movement intrudes on the subject. So remember: Your camera is not the star—your subject is.

Keep it steady. A tripod is an essential tool for any video shoot. The small palmcorder cameras most people use are difficult to hold steady for long periods of time. A tripod takes the strain off your back and keeps your audience from reaching for the Dramamine. If you saw The Blair Witch Project, you know that film was shot entirely without tripods; the shaky camerawork caused thousands of film goers across the country to suffer from motion sickness.

The best tripods are of the fluid head variety. These tripods make any movement smoother because they have thick gel in the tripod head. The other kind, friction head tripods, are less expensive but poor for video work, due to their inability to pan and tilt smoothly.

Sometimes a tripod is not practical, such as when you shoot in cramped quarters (workshops and stalls are notoriously cramped for videography). Your options then are to use a monopod, to brace your camera against an object, or to brace the camera against yourself.

A monopod is a stick that attaches to the bottom of your camera. While it is not as stable as a tripod, it offers more stability than merely holding the camera by hand. A monopod does not, however, allow camera movement such as panning or tilting (pointing the camera from up to down, or reverse), as smoothly as does a fluid head tripod.

If your subject is stationary, you can brace or rest your camera on something like a fencepost, a table, or a wagon wheel. Try to find something approximately on the same level as your subject's head, so the camera is not pointing up or down. If the subject is not a person but, for instance, a horse's hoof, rest the camera on something at the level of the hoof, such as a toolbox placed on the ground.

If you need the freedom of movement offered by hand-held camerawork, learn to brace yourself as firmly as possible. Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees slightly. Press the camera's viewfinder up to your eye; do not use the flip-out view screen, which will offer you no stability. Lock your elbows against your rib cage. Cradle the camera with both hands. Breathe gently. Now you're in business.

Keep your mouth shut. Not to be rude, but many people tend to speak while they're videotaping. We've all seen the vacation video where you can hear Uncle Charlie's muffled voice throughout the entire video ("Here's a palm tree, there's a bird, and over there you can just make out a car."). The key thing to remember is to let your subject do the talking, whether it's purely the sound of jingling trace chains or involves on-camera talent. If you're shooting a horse getting harnessed up, there's no need to say "They're harnessing the horse now." Trust your audience to make that assumption. Besides, any time the videographer speaks, those portions will always be cut out—and they may be some of your best shots.

Pay attention to backlighting. Unless you deliberately want your subject to be a silhouette, keep the sun or your primary light source at your back. Make sure the light falls on your subject's face, not on yours.

Quality counts. The picture quality of modern consumer cameras marks a quantum leap over cameras of only a few years ago. With new digital formats such as mini-DV and Digital-8, broadcast quality images are within your grasp. Cameras that shoot on analog formats are
generally not acceptable for airing on TV. VHS, 8mm, and VHS-C cannot be used on air. Hi8 and S-VHS are also unacceptable unless the camerawork is outstanding. We will accept mini-DV, Digital-8, DVCAM, and DVC-Pro videotapes, as long as the camerawork and sound quality are up to standard.


Bill Edmunds of Conway, New Hampshire, produces the Rural Heritage Video Series as well as Rural Heritage on RFD-TV, available weekly through satellite and many cable providers. If you have questions about submitting videotape for possible inclusion on the program, please contact . This article appeared in The Evener 2005 issue of Rural Heritage.

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26 October 2011 last revision