Shooting Tricks

[9/2/03] From: Joshua Rayner

I find that, when I need to do a low ground shot, my wallet comes in handy.  I have a tri-fold wallet that I can use one fold, two folds or the whole thickness to prop the front of the camera up to get the right angle.  Just don’t forget to take it with you when you’re done.

John Pellizzari

Just started at a new station and we cover a lot of crime. Ergo we need to shoot a lot of court documents and photos. Here are some ideas to help spice-up normally boring video. I know this posting is long, but I hope you get some ideas from it.

With tight deadlines and working in the field there isn't always time to have production make a nice photo graphic. Here's one trick I ripped-off PBS's Frontline. It worked great for the inevitable war family stories we covered. Take a background, like a map of Iraq, and place it on the floor. Then use a paper towel tube or tall drinking glass to "float" the photo above the map. Adjust the lighting to increase the depth of field and you have an in-focus photo with a slightly fuzzy background. This allows for racks and pans that really stretch a single photo. The possibilities are unlimited from phone books to bibles to street maps to half completed puzzles you'll never bother production again.

I've also tried to add NAT sound to simple document and photo shoots. As a crime station we often publicize wanted felons. To add a NAT pop to the PKG I throw a light on a bulletin board at an oblique angle to get that nice slash of light. With my lav mic taped to the board I put the wanted poster against the board and slam in a push pin. It only takes a few minutes and makes a great NAT pop.

To spice-up documents with NAT sound I use a desk lamp. Okay I went to Wal-Mart and bought a $9 banker's lamp—the one with the green glass shade and the pull chain switch. Starting in a dark office, I get a close-up of the lamp, mic the lamp, and then pull the chain. There are about eight frames of dark chain pulling NATs before the 25 watt bulb comes on and about 15 more frames after. Then with the documents spread under the lamp you can either just pan down to them or go for a high angle shot of the documents with the lamp.

Again a fast and dirty way to make deadline without bothering production is to use a simple yellow highlighter. I ripped this technique off a Minneapolis photog who gave an editing seminar in Salt Lake. Instead of having to wait for production to scan the document and then "pull" the line wanted out, just get a close-up of the line and highlight it. Find a highlighter that squeaks against the paper and you’ve got a NAT sound pop.

For a cool way to shoot documents, fan them out on a swivel office chair. Then with the chair in its lowest position and the camera right above, slowly turn the chair as you zoom into the papers. Great effect. You can also use an old record player or even a Lazy Susan for the same effect.

Beside the basic NAT pop of a heavy pile of documents being slammed down on a desk, think of what you can do to the paperwork. I ripped this off a reporter & photog at KRQE in Albuquerque. We were doing drunk-driving legislation and to spice-up the mandatory shot of the bill I placed the paper work on a table and slammed a bottle of beer down on it. The sound made for a nice NAT pop to introduce the legislation. You can use hand-cuffs or even rubber stamps (like "rejected" or "wanted") for the same effect.

Finally, I'm looking to buy several magnifying glasses called Bugz-Eyes. They are essentially 1 ½ - 2 inch 3x clear acrylic magnifier domes. Picture the rounded tip of a baseball bat cut-off an inch high. The Bugz-Eye can be placed directly on the paper that needs to be highlighted since it has a fixed focal length. Have you ever wanted to highlight just one student in a group yearbook picture? Place the Bugz-Eye on his/her face and shoot down. Instead of having production pop-out phrases from a criminal complaint, place multiple magnifiers on the document and pan from one to one. You can see what they look like at or

Mike Pellegatti, WildVisions, Inc., Phoenix, Arizona, 623-516-1975

Another tip for smoother pans when zoomed in or with long lens is to use a rubber band on the tripod handle. Place the rubber band on the end of the handle and hold the other end with your fingers. The rubber band will allow smooth starts and stops and provide tension while dampening. Different thicknesses of rubber bands will provide stiffer or looser tensioning of pans.

Mike Pellegatti, WildVisions, Inc., Phoenix, Arizona, 623-516-1975

Here's another tip for creating heat waves. Shoot over the hood of a vehicle after its been run and the heat from the engine will give you great heat waves for the shot. BTW, heat waves can be in any temperature. From minus 30 to plus 120. Heat waves are caused from a difference in the ground temp and the air temp and moisture in the air helps make the best heat waves. In the desert we typically have better mirages and heat waves in the winter than the summer or after a rain because of the moisture.

[2/23/03] Nigel "Nige" Fox

This one was taught to me many years ago by an old film news cameraman who had moved across to video.

You focus at your subject who may be at the long end of the lens... then move your camera to an item in the foreground. You focus on the item in the foreground using the Macro.

As you pan / tilt up / make your move you throw from macro to wide for that perfect in focus shot.

I used this technique to good effect when shooting a pool player, as the ball went down the hole (in perfect focus) I merely panned up to him while throwing the macro to start the interview. This gave a "pocket" P.O.V. and an interesting angle to start the interview. To get out of the shot I merely got him to sink another ball while I followed said ball in to the hole. Nice simple and very effective.

[12/20/02] Peter Drought aka Widescreen
A couple of things.... If you are shooting photos for a story and you want to do a slow zoom it can often be hard as any movement you create in the pan handle is generated through the lens. Try removing your remote zoom from your pan handle(if you use one) and then control your zoom. No movement will generate down the lens giving you a very smooth zoom. Also, I often get asked to shoot pics off the computer. This is okay if you have clear scan or want a particular look, but if not, right click on the image, save it to disk and get graphics to put it in the system. They also have the ability to play with the image, such as enlarging or croping or adding another graphic.

[8/8/02] SGT W Brian Watkins, Washington, D.C., US Army Visual Information Center (USAVIC), Television Division (Remote)

Here's a tip I picked up...that works really well for creating heat waves in your shot.

Set up a light on a stand about a foot in front of your lens. Tilt the light so it's perpendicular to the ground (so that your shooting over the light). We all know how hot lights get.

The waves generated by the light will distort the shot enough to make even the coolest day look like seem like a desert. Great for heat wave spots, or doc b-roll.

[7/28/02] Matt Walters, Photojournalist, KFSN-TV

I'm not sure if this has been submitted before, but I thought I would pass it along anyway. It's my favorite alternative use for traffic cones. If you're set up for a live shot and the sprinkers go off, just grap one (or more) of your orange friends, and drop them on top of the sprinkler head. It takes care of the immediate problem, and saves your butt if you don't have time (or the patience) to move. Obviously, this isn't the most high-tech tip, but it has saved me more than a few times.

[2/17/02] Jim Robinson News Reporter / Photographer WLUC TV 6 (NBC) Escanaba, MI

Want a creative way to make tall buildings really have personality? Get as close the building as you can, like 5 feet or less. Take your camera and point it straight up and down.

Place the camera, so the battery back is on your knee, then pivot your leg slowly from left to right or vice versa.

Makes the building look like it's effect!

Shootin' From the Hip
December 27, 2001 from: Kim Fatica

Most of us wear the familiar Porta-Brace "saddle bags" around our waists, which we use for all our little gadgets like microphone stands, spare tapes, spare batteries, small cables, a lens cloth, gum, snacks; you name it, we have it. Those hip packs are also useful for keeping your camera steady.

There are many instances where a tripod may not be practical in the day-to-day scramble of general news. Think about the number of times you've been in a locker room trying to get post-game sound and everyone around you is shooting over their shoulder while the athlete is sitting down. How about the hundreds of times you've tried shooting small children, but all you could see is the tops of their heads? And what about all the times you've had to do a bang-bang interview in tight quarters and the tripod was taking up valuable space?

Use those hip packs as a steady bag by resting the shoulder pad of your camera on your hip pack as you are wearing it. You will be able to flip your viewfinder upwards to your face and cradle the camera while it's resting on your saddle bag. Use your hips and torso to execute slight pan movements. Make sure, though, you have a good, shoulder-wide stance to keep you steady.

This technique is particularly helpful when you need cutaways on the fly, or when you need that creative shot at a press conference instead of the standard stuff.

Keep it Smooth
December 9, 2001 From: Stephen Press, Cameragod

How to do a smoother pan on a tripod on a long lens. Thinking back to my high school physics that secret to doing a smoother pan is all to do with levers. The panhandle sticking out at the back of the tripod head is a long lever. If you pan using it your hand has to travel a long distance to make the camera move a short way, good for moving quickly but giving you more chance of wobbling the camera. If instead you put your hands on the tripod head and push it around with your thumbs, (a shorter lever) you get a much smoother pan. And the teacher thought I was sleeping.

Pane in the Glass
August 12, 2001

I had to shoot a story in a strip club last year. (it's a tough job, but somebody's gotta do it) Got all the usual "pushing the limit" shots. But when it came to getting bites, no one wanted to have their face smeared across the screen. Instead of the usual "shoot the hands or back lit subjects" I actualluy smeared their faces. I found a glass block wall in the club, lit the subjects as usual, and shot thru the wall. It worked so well, that i went our and bought a glass block to carry around for just such occasions. Be careful though, this can be overdone. The effect has to fit in with the rest of the story.

Rick Portier photog WBRZ-TV

Don't Distract Me
From: Ric Edwards, Classroom Technology Specialist

This is a tip that veteran shooters will have learned long ago, but I hope it will help the newer photogs. I taught video production for several years and was always amazed at how many of my aspiring news photographers would come back with interview footage that had all kinds of distracting elements in the background.

One of the worst examples I can remember was an interview shot in someone's office. In the background they had an office window which looked out on a hallway. Every passer-by was a distraction, not to mention the occasional curious onlooker who would press their face up against the glass for a closer look at what was going on!

When setting up for an interview, make sure scan *all* the elements that will be visible in the background. Do this before you decide where to position the subject and then again -- through your viewfinder -- once you are set up. If you have the luxury of a monitor, that's an even better way to check the shot. Make sure that there are no distracting elements in the frame that will detract from the information coming from the subject. Of course, many times you *do* want to highlight an object in the foreground or background, providing it has relevance to what the person is talking about (it's okay to show an office painting depicting a fighter jet if the interview subject is talking about military budget cuts, for example).

Bottom line: The background can be just as important as the interview subject. A distracting background can keep your viewer from paying attention to what's important in your story.

One more thing.(again, veterans will have learned this long ago): ask if you can unplug the telephone before you roll tape. And if you or your reporter have cell phones or radios with you, turn 'em off. That phone always seems to ring in the middle of the exact response you needed for the sound bite!

From: JD DWORKIN photogrpaher/editor NEWS 12 CT
So, you are sent out to shout an anonymous interview. Your choices are some what limited to do so. You can shoot the reporter on a reversal, you can back light the subject into a shadow, you can shoot hands and feet, the lovable black dot or mosiac can be used, or even a reflection of his or her shadow on the ground. BORING! Here is a new way of shooting. You're in the subjects house. Find something interesting. A flower, a statue, a vase, anything will do. Put this on a table and make it your foreground. Then put your lens on macro. This will distort your background were the interview is taking place. The interview is safely hidden and your viewers have something interesting to look at. It is a little different looking but your reporters will love it and the most important thing is NO BLOCK DOTS!!!

Pyschodelic, Man!
From: Adam Tischler, New England Cable News:

When shooting stills click your 2x extender half way. This gives you a nice in camera 50/50 disolve. Furthermore, you can combine this with a pan, the two 'layers' will travel through the frame at different speeds.  Its a nice effect that takes little time or effort. This works best when shooting print.

Smoke and Mirrors
from Michael Orta:

Here is a shooting trick I developed using mirrors. Whenever you want the audience to feel the action coming at them(for example: a train, automobile, water, or whatever) you can purchase 5X8 mirrors and place them where the action is coming right at the mirror as you shoot in the mirror having the audience fooled as if the action is coming right at your lens. I used this trick during a train accident involving an automobile. Our station did a follow-up on railroad safety and I had the train drive right into the mirror,cool effect. You prop up the mirror with the same props you find in the back of picture frames...

home | what's new | product reviews | SPOTLIGHT | b-wear | message board | tips | job listings | market info
evil media | chat | photos | b-roll GIRLS | classified ads | links | resumes | privacy policy | about | contact us ©1996-2006 Kevin Johnson