More Advice for One Man Bands

This month we'll bring to a close our special focus on working as a “one-man-band” with a few tips about camera operation.

One of the advantages of mini-size video cameras is that they use small batteries, so it's always easy to carry a spare. So easy, in fact, that folks often just toss an extra battery pack or two into a pocket or carry-all without taking any precautions to prevent the terminals from coming into contact with metal. That spare change, nail-clipper, or key ring in your pocket or the metal end of the audio cable in your backpack can short out exposed terminals.

The results of such accidental contact – none of them good – can be anything from the disappointment of an unexpectedly dead battery to the pain and damage rendered by the intense flames from a conflagration of lithium cells. Prevent battery mishaps by packing them in plastic bags, segregating them in separate compartments, or taping over terminals with gaffers or electrical tape that will not leave any residue when removed.

Use another bit of tape to cover the red “tally” lights on the front and rear of your camera. Subjects who know when the camera is recording – and when it’s not – will unconsciously change their behavior each time you press the Record button. That might be helpful if you are working with professional actors but it's something that news shooters and event videographers should avoid.

Resist the temptation to stow or carry around recording tapes without first returning them to their plastic cases. Tapes without covers are excellent dust collectors; the lint in a pants pocket and grit that collects at the bottom of a gadget bag can all too easily hitch a ride in the crevices and recesses of a tape housing only to fall off when the tape is inserted in a camera, potentially fouling the heads or damaging the mechanism.

Two of the most obvious “tells” that the person behind the lens has taken up videography as a secondary skill are unwarranted focus shifts and mid-scene brightness changes. Avoid “iris bounce” – a momentary stopping-down of the lens diaphram in response to a transient flash of light such as a reflection off a passing car – by shooting with the exposure controls (iris, gain, and shutter) locked on manual. Shoot with the focus control set on manual as well. Slip into auto mode only long enough to let the camera find focus before you begin shooting a new scene.

Most mini-cams feature built-in image stabilization. Sony calls theirs Steadyshot and it does a remarkable job of taking the shake out of handheld video. Leave your camera’s stabilization function switched on unless you find it interferes with your ability to pan while following action.