Improving Videos – Don’t Zoom Pt. 2

It occurred to me recently that I never finished up this series on improving your video production. If you're a new reader, you can pick up part 1 here, and then pick up part 2a and part 2b. All caught up? Good. As I said in Part 1, incessant zooming is one of the hallmarks of amateur video. That's not a good thing.

It was even the subject of satire some years back when "Wayne's World" popularized the "unnecessary zoom" on Saturday Night Live. I'm not sure what drives people to zoom in and out of a shot, back and forth, all the time during the shot.

Perhaps it's because Sony conveniently located the zoom control right under your thumb. Whatever. Once you hit record, don't touch that zoom button.Again, the goal is to produce really high quality video. Even if we don't have great equipment, we can still utilize production techniques that are well accepted and produce excellent results. That's where "zoom discipline" comes in.

Take a look at a well-shot film or TV show. You will not see very many zooms. You may see times when the camera gets closer to the subject (called a truck), but more than likely it is not a zoom. That's because filmmakers use prime (non-zooming) lenses almost exclusively. They use prime lenses because they are sharper and produce a better image, but it also ensures there will be no "unnecessary zooms." They also take great care in framing their shots in a aesthetically pleasing manner. Too many amateur videographers simply zoom in and out instead of taking the time to set up a great shot.

So here's what I recommend: Whenever you press record, don't touch the zoom control. After the shot is finished (and the recorder is paused), then you can zoom if you want to to get a different shot. Work on framing your shot in such a way that it works, looks good and draws the attention of your viewer where you want it to.

Another tip is to take a cue from filmmakers: Start the scene with a wide shot, then cut to a close up. Then you can cut to a medium shot. You can use the zoom to get all these shots from one vantage point, just stop the action while you zoom and cut (just a cut, not a dissolve, or effect) from one shot to the next.

Try this out on your next video project. Start to think of it in terms of a series of shots that will piece together. As I write this, it occurs to me that some visuals would be helpful. I'll work on coming up with some sample pieces to illustrate my point. And perhaps from there, we'll go onto some basic editing techniques. In the meantime, go make a video—just don't zoom!

Peace.