Video for the Web
a more limited set of techniques than shooting for tape.
The key is knowing what techniques to limit.
By Logan Kelsey and Jim Feeley
shoot good Web video, just do the exact opposite of what
the Blair Witch
Project filmmakers did. All that hand-held Hi8 shaky-cam
shot in extremely
low light may have generated millions of dollars,
but it won't generate good
Web video. Those hapless film students chose both
the wrong equipment and
the wrong techniques. If you have experience shooting
professional video, then
you already have the skills needed to shoot good
Web video. The trick is
knowing what not to do.
Hard light is bad; soft light is good. That's the
key concept. You don't want
complex shadows, contrast, or hotspots All those
glints and dark corners are
details that increase image complexity and burden
the compression algorithm.
You want nice, smooth, even light. The more even
the light, the better it will
compress. Think "Doris Day" rather than "Godfather."
Your goal is to diffuse
your light sources as much as possible. Outdoors,
use bounce cards to
minimize hard shadows. Indoors, use a soft light
such as those from Chimera,
Cool-Lux, and others. Avoid on-camera lights. They
tend to create hotspots.
If you must use an on-camera light, use some diffusion
fabric on the light to
help soften it. A typical three-point lighting kit
with a soft light will be able to
handle many situations. Web video lighting concepts
are simple, but mastering
them is complex.
video is small. It isn't a Cinemascope viewing experience.
sweeping panoramas-a la Laurence of Arabia-aren't
going to work. Web video is
viewed on at small size, so you'll want to shoot
as many close-ups as possible.
Tight shots let viewers recognize the faces and
objects they are being shown.
So, in most of your shots, keep the camera tight
on your subject. Because a
Web video frame is so small, lower-third titles
require a greater percentage of
the screen's real estate. During shoots, make sure
to frame your shot in such
a way that there's room for big lower-thirds below
your head shots. This
requirement can make it hard to frame a shot the
way you want to. But the
alternative can potentially lead to a lower-third
intrud-ing on your subject's face.
The best solution is to establish which shots need
lower-thirds-and if these titles
will run outside the Web video frame-during preproduction.
Along with framing
your shots, you need to consider your background.
Again, detail is the enemy.
You want to avoid fancy lighting and extraneous
detail on the background.
Sorry-no leafy trees blowing in the wind. But avoiding
extra detail doesn't mean
every background needs to be dull and plain. You
can keep your backgrounds
easy to compress but still interesting in other
ways. The most useful is by
throwing your background out of focus. A short depth
of field and plenty of space
between your subject and the background will result
in smooth enough imagery
to allow for both a little style and good compression.
motion is a main enemy to successful Web video shooting.
well-crafted camera motion can be a hallmark of
good video production, it's the
enemy of good Web video. With Web video, elaborate
camera work will detract
from, not enhance, the message being delivered.
For the Web, you must
eliminate all unnec-essary motion, both within
your field of view and from the
High-motion action, such as in sports or even while
your subject is walking,
causes each new frame of your video to hold significantly
than previous frames. Your Web codec will waste
valuable bits on keyframes
describing all that motion, rather than spending
them on improving details your
care about. Try to keep your subject, whether human
or inanimate, as stationary
as possible. Keep your camera stationary, too. Don't
zoom, pan, and tilt when a
static shot can work as well. When Logan Kelsey
shot an interview with mountain
bike pioneer Joe Breeze, he taped a particular scene
once with a slow zoom and
again with a locked-down camera. When compressed
for the Web, the
locked-down shot yielded much higher image quality.
that case, Logan decided the zoom was extraneous motion.
You can see both
the static and the moving shots of Joe Breeze on
www.dv.com. But don't make
every shot locked off. You need to find a balance
between acceptable motion
and decreased image quality. While too much hand-held,
video will result in poor content, endless, stationary,
talking heads will result
in dull content.
A stable camera solves one-third of the problems
associated with shooting Web
video. Keep your camera mounted on a tripod for
as many shots as possible.
A locked-down camera helps make each frame as similar
as possible to those
before and after, thus minimizing the image degradation
of these days, we'll all have broadband Web access and
Web video will be
superior to NTSC and PAL. Then we'll be able to
shoot for the Web with the same
flexibility and creativity we can use when shooting
for broadcast, film, or tape.
For now, the Web is a more limited video beast.
But despite Web video's
limitations and potholes, if your content's compelling
enough, your audience will
forgive a few technical flaws.
Kelsey runs Vertical Online (www.verticalonline.com),
a San Francisco-based
production and postproduction studio focusing on
Internet, CD-ROM, and broadcast
work. You can reach him at email@example.com