Unshackled Camerawork

Just made up that term. Wonder if it will stick.

As a 30 year career cameraman, I thought I’d share a few thoughts on camerawork for the one-man-band videographers and small video production companies out there.

It’s a many-faceted subject, but like any subject, it has fundamental rules. And while this isn’t meant to be a dissertation on the rules, I thought I mention one that probably isn’t written anywhere anyway as a foundation for my comments, and that is: the purpose of camerawork is to forward the message of the script or production (and that goes for every other department–sets, props, costumes, make-up, lighting, sound, music, editing, etc.).

The corollary might be: The purpose of camerawork isn’t to call attention to the camera or cameraman.

That said, there are probably few camera support systems I haven’t extensively used in both film and video production–from geared heads, the most expensive fluid heads and tripods, dollies, cranes, camera cars and steadicam. But I used them toward contributing to the overall message of the scene.

In the mid-90s I changed over to video, traveling the world in small teams of 2 or 3, self included, with an 18 pound Sony Betacam. The work was fast and often “ninja style”. Little preps, lots of thinking on one’s feet.  My biggest impediment annoyance? Tripods.

So early on I ditched that $7,000 carbon fiber tripod with the Sachler head for everything except sit-down interviews and I learned to do everything hand-held. Not “shakey-cam”, just a nice, steady hand-held. I’d prop that big Sony on my foot, on the ground, on a ledge, on my knee, hip or shoulder, lean against a pole or fence or building or sit it on a small bean bag I carried and shot stuff that few ever realized was hand-held.

But the main point was, I was able to shoot un-impeded. I didn’t miss those fleeting shots on location because I was setting up a tripod and introverted into my equipment.

Then came the digital revolution.

And now most of the cameras we used have built-in stabilization and most of the editing programs we use have camera stabilizer programs to boot.

Better still, the cameras themselves are light-weight with rotatable flip-out monitor screens. What more can you ask for?!

Ok, so now let’s re-visit that fundamental above about the purpose of camerawork.

Camerawork (or lighting or editing or any of those other departments mentioned) is good when it involves the audience in the story; when it helps to impart mood or emotion or direct attention.

And, (corollary), these things are bad when they call attention to themselves, or worse when they call attention to the operator showing off his technical prowess.

In fact my view regarding camerawork had always been that it’s best when it’s “invisible”–when it seamlessly becomes the eye of the audience.

That doesn’t necessarily mean perfect camerawork. It just means appropriate to and not distracting from the message.

It’s quite alright if someone after the show remarks that the cinematography was excellent, but by that they generally mean that everything contributed to the message or story and they were wowed by it all, not distracted or knocked out of the show by it.

Don’t be fooled into the notion that to appear “professional” you’ve got to have all these cool rigs and techniques. You don’t even need it to impart a “cinematic” look.

Think about all the lost opportunities to catch snippets of life and reaction at a wedding or great B roll of people working at their jobs in the office or on an industrial site while you were busy setting up that fancy shot. Instead keep your attention outward. Be invisible. Catch the stuff that only happens when no one thinks you’re watching.

Get your technical expertise up as high as you can get it without losing site of why you’re there.

I’m not saying get rid of all your cool stuff and I’m not saying don’t buy it. Just don’t get the notion that you need it to be professional. Far more important is obtaining total command over your camera so that it becomes an extension of your eye which is always outward looking, and then with it you capture what you came for better than your client ever expected.

Message is senior to technical rendition. In fact it trumps it.

If you capture something in a way that screams the message or mood or emotion, it will resonate with the audience even if faulty.  They didn’t come there to watch and critique your camerawork or technique (unless that’s what your video message is about!).

My two cents.

UPDATE:  While this was the subject of my last post, it occurred to me that it’s, at least, a current sample of an 11 minute video that’s entirely hand-held except for the sit-down interview (as all my videos are , to be honest). I link to it here as, unlike most of the corporate and wedding videos I do, I think it would be of interest to anyone. It’s a mini-doc on the making of a bronze statue by my wife, international sculptor Laury Dizengremel:

Beware Yell.com Video Pitch

I generally don’t seek to put down competition, but this is more a matter of warning consumers and alerting video producers.

A local marketing director recently invited me in to discuss a video for her business. Afterwards she sent me an email received from a Yell.com salesman trying to sell her their video production service for listing on their site. Two videos links were provided as samples along with a list of the benefits of having video content. The information was accurate and up-to-date –the very sort of things I tell business owners.

Yell.com is a UK on-line business directory and is a way to find local businesses as it is organized by business category rather than alphabetically. There are similar services in most countries around the world and they are all, of course, on-line versions of phone books, yellow pages traditionally being for business listings, white pages for non-business listings.

But buyer, beware the video pitch. Following is my response and critique of the Yell.com video service to the Marketing Director. I’ve updated it after some more research:

I looked at the video samples–and they are not bad, but not worth the price. Small print: “from £3750…” yet the brochure lists out added costs including “additional locations”. Both those videos had multiple locations.

But more importantly, (and my internet connection is pretty good), they take a while to load before they play, which is off-putting.

They say they upload them to YouTube, BUT they don’t put any info in the YouTube listing, nor any key words or key word titles. And they don’t link back to your site. They link back to Yell. And people don’t like going in circles trying to get to a site they’re looking for!

Worse yet, those two videos had 2 and 22 views respectively in the last year. And the only way I found them was typing in the company name in YouTube. (If you know the company name, you just go to their site, don’t you).

If you scan down the feed on their YouTube site (yell.com youtube) you will see dozens and dozens of videos that have been uploaded in the last two weeks alone. Most have had no views or one view in that time. One could say it’s too soon to tell, but couple that with the cherry-picked videos sent by the salesman to the marketing director (which got 24 views between them in one year) and I find it a bit heart-breaking.

Further, their YouTube site shows 885,000 views (rounded up) in just over 8 years. That would be about 2100/weeek, 300/day. Yet the salesman told the Marketing Director they’ve done over 10,000 videos. You can do the math.

For a comparison, 3 videos I did for an industrial client in a niche market (industrial conveyors) have gotten 6500 views in the last year on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/user/CILogistics?feature=watch) without any particular marketing effort (no pay-per-click ads, etc.). And the cost of the videos to the client for each video was far less than the “starting at £3750” Yell videos.

If you then google some questions like “how many people use Yell?” (400,000/day vs google’s 700,000/minute) and then look at reviews of Yell…Well, it’s not very pretty.

I think it’s an old business model trying its best to survive and frankly hard-selling people on expensive video as a way of staying afloat–video that helps them more than it does their clients.

Web Video–Site Tours

I recently had the opportunity to do a complete series of short, simple web videos for two different companies; one Telecom company and one Furniture-making company. Coincidentally, both companies required 18 different videos. One took a day to shoot, the other (slightly more involved) took two. And since I charge by a day rate, neither were expensive.

In both cases, each company set themselves apart from the competition by introducing a friendly, helpful, personal presence to their respective sites.

Beyond that, the videos, placed on various pages throughout the sites, helped customers understand the various specific unique products and services, and also (in both cases) helped the customers through the shopping cart. Now that last may not be something that everyone needs (and there’s an option to play the video or not), but in certain cases where customers, particularly older generations, may feel skittish about “identity theft” and are not really familiar with how safe purchasing can be on bonafide websites, the support was right there explaining each step and what was going to happen next.

The telecoms company took it a step further. They sent out an email promoting one of their most popular services (“Call Whisper”) with an HTML link in the email that said “Watch Video”. That link took you to the video right on the site page on that particular service.

Result? 40% sales increase in the first 30 days of the email campaign for that service.

The Video SEO Prediction

Several months ago it came to my attention that the top web SEO (search engine optimization) experts in the world were talking about the growing importance of video content in websites. So much so that it is postulated that in 2 or 3 years, if your website does not have video content it will NOT rank on page one of a Google search.

The reason is simple.

You have probably noticed for some years now that most Google searches will turn up relevant PHOTOGRAPHS on page one of most searches. You may also notice there are now usually relevant VIDEOS coming up on page one, usually about halfway down, if not near the top.

The reason is that Google found that there is a high degree of INTERACTION with both picture and video content by searchers. Bruce Clay of Bruce Clay, Inc., one of the top SEO companies in the world has coined a term for photographs and video that may soon enter the lexicon of the world wide web–“ENGAGEMENT OBJECTS”.

Amongst the links below you will find that Google is apparently working on technology to actually search VIDEO CONTENT for all the videos on the web as part of the process of delivering up your search results in the split second their search engines scour the billions of pages of content across the web for you. The first step is to read actual GRAPHIC CONTENT of videos, but it won’t end there….

Meanwhile just know that Google gives high relevancy to video in search results. So it is important that you correctly TAG your videos (title, keywords). And, if you didn’t know, YouTube automatically creates a transcript of the narrative content of the video. Why? So search engines can “read” what the content of the video is. Related article: YouTube Drops a Bomb

Well, it makes sense. This is an audio/visual age. Most of us would rather watch a video that shows us how to do something or what the features of a product or service are rather than read pages of text.

Meanwhile, it is obvious that it would be a benefit to ANY site to have video content.
Interestingly, on a search of sites in my local area, I found very few sites to have any video content whatsoever. I have no idea what the world-wide percentages are, but I think it’s safe to assume that the percentage of sites with video content are relatively few.

One might assume that the “big guys” can afford video because video is expensive to produce, right?


Well, it can be–if you hire a marketing company who then goes out and hires a crew complete with producer, director, cameramen, lighting crews, script supervisors, grips, sets, props, makeup, transport, editors, CGI personnel….or any portion thereof or additions beyond that. Not to mention renting studios, location fees….well, you get the idea.

Then there are enthusiasts who go out and buy a video camera and some editing software and, voila, schooled in MTV, start selling services as professional videographers. I’ve seen a few of those on websites too. Even so, it’s better than nothing with this one proviso: Your videos (just as each and every one of your photographs) have to be properly tagged with key words to effectively affect your web presence and ranking.

On the other hand, why would you want a video in the first place? (I could just as well ask, “why do you want a website in the first place?”)

You want to SELL your product or service. That’s why.

So if you have a properly tagged video that is interesting and compelling enough to SELL your product or service, you’re at an automatic distinct advantage. And, as mentioned earlier, in the near future it will be VITAL to have video content to be found at all on the web.


Given that your local videographer is a trained professional; someone who knows how to compose, light and edit (and WHY he is composing, lighting and editing, amongst the myriad of other associated skills in producing an effective video), he can probably produce most types of web videos required by almost any client ALL BY HIMSELF. Now you’re just paying one guy, not an entire troupe.

Now what type of web video are we talking about?

Let’s break that down:

1) “Welcome to my site”. Here’s a simple video that ANY site can benefit from and which would be the least expensive, while immediately giving you video content on your site, YouTube, FaceBook–or any other place you want to put it. The more places cross-referenced back to your site, the merrier. So what does such a video consist of? Hey, it’s just YOU saying “hi, welcome to my site….” and giving a short bit of what it’s about, what you have to offer, how the customer might benefit, etc.
Short, to the point and friendly. And what do you get? –You immediately PERSONALIZE your site. Remember, we’re not talking about hiring some Hollywood actor with a cool voice and slick hand gestures (=HYPE), no, we’re showing your potential customers the real deal. A real person. You. Don’t you think that will positively affect most people compared with related sites that have no such friendly intro, but just the usual text and photos, website gimmickry or whatever?

2) Product or Service Demonstration video. This would be the second type. Let’s say you have a unique product or invention that is not widely known or understood, yet is something many people would find beneficial. Well then you need to show it off in a video and you will certainly increase your sales potential many-fold. Of course this also applies to any product or service, new or not. In this case, you put your best foot forward and show and tell people why they should buy your product or service. Again, compared with similar sites or competition who have no video, who do you think will have a better chance of securing a sale?

3) “How to” videos.  This is a type of video that specifically demonstrates a procedure (such as how to install a wall-mounted TV, how to prune roses, how to bake a brownie, how to…you get the idea. No matter what you sell, such a video makes your site user-friendly as it offers the service of know-how and help. Search engines will find you and people will then find your site–and that’s what you want.

None of these videos have to be expensive. I would say from 150 dollars for the first type from as little as a few hundred dollars for the second two types.

So no, video doesn’t have to be expensive.

And right now, before it’s all the rage, it will be the best investment you will have made in a long time.

This is the video I saw years ago which predicted the trend: http://www.reelseo.com/engagement-objects-seo/

Now if you Google “Video SEO” or related terms, you will find a torrent of information that indicates the realisation of that prediction–even if a few years later than he predicted.


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