Most of us think of home video as a chore. We’re obliged to do it, it’ll be rubbish anyway, and our energy reflects this expectation. But we love a good film!

So here are a few ideas to help you capture better material, which can become an amazing little film…

The Rookie

If you’re just starting off, your biggest hurdle is probably the actual camera. Until we can get you to ‘Fledgling Film-maker’ status, the smartphone will do. Here’s a few basics to help you until then:

No more vertical video – turn the phone sideways, like your television.

Film at the eye level of your subject; so with kids, hold the camera near your waist or, if you’re really keen, bend your knees (gasp).

Don’t start speaking the moment you hit record – the audio is not instantaneous.

Try to film in themes. So film the same day or event every year, or instead of randomly shooting throughout the vacation, pick a single day and film it really well (and read some of the tips below).

Interact with your kids, don’t just observe – kids make for entertaining subjects; ask them questions or get them tell a story. You’ll get gold.

Fledgling Filmmaker

So you’re trying – woo hoo!! You’ll be surprised at how far a little effort can go. A big hindrance to filming is the anxiety one will either miss their holiday because they’re seeing it through a lens, or one has to haul the camera everywhere. Rubbish! Each year, I choose to film my kids about 4/5 days, and for the other 360ish days, relax. But on those few days, have fun and embrace it.

Creative tips

  • Choose events to film. Whether that be a sports day, or a day at the beach, choose fun.
  • Filmmaking is about story-telling, and an old adage is “show, don’t tell”. So a big secret to filming is getting better linking shots, which help the story unfold.
  • So on your adventure, think like Sherlock Holmes, looking for clues. If you are visiting somewhere, get a wide, medium and close shot; this often just means to film outside for 3 secs, film a person walking in (like your kids), and a close up of the door opening (and closing, for when you leave). Boom – it’s easy.
  • Continue your Sherlock thinking throughout the day, getting a variety of shots. Think: landmarks, hotel signs, atmosphere, cutaways, extreme close ups, street signs.
  • Once you’re settled into your core subject, release your inner Morgan Freeman and narrate. Speak softly – the camera microphone is inches from your face. Make wisecracks – often others won’t hear you, but your editor will, which permits a whole layer of comedy to your film. So describe where you are and contextualize events, “this is Freya’s first time on a beach… let’s hope she doesn’t drown.”

Technical tips

  • Check out our camera suggestions page, but I use and love the Sony NEX compact system. It comes with a basic set up, and you can upgrade if you start enjoying this. Whichever you get, ditch the smartphone as the lens cavity and weight are so teeny the image will be flat and a bit shaky.
  • In the settings menu, select the widescreen (16:9) recording option. If possible, choose smile/face detect, as it’ll autofocus on people. With some (mostly older) cameras, you should also set it to REC RUN.
  • When zooming, it’s very difficult for anyone to keep the frame steady. Lean against a tree, use both hands or a banister, but steady that frame!
  • Avoid long pans around the room, unless it’s to juxtapose dad napping while everyone else is making supper. Otherwise, let the editor bring the clips together.

Mr Hollywood

So you’ve discovered how much fun this can be. Welcome to the club. You’re probably getting good enough where you’re past the generic tips we can list on a page. So if you’d like more help, contact us, and get us to advise on your next idea. But here’s a few little morsels to stir into the broth.

Creative tips

  • Like property, the three keys of film-making are story, story and story. A story should have a beginning, middle and end. In home video, this often translates to the variety of shots previously mentioned.
  • It helps to add a bit of suspense where you can. Pose some questions that the footage will answer – “who will win the pool splash wars”, “how many outfits can my infant soil in one day”, or “will my spouse be asleep when I open this door?” (for the R-rated version try, “will my spouse be asleep when I turn on this light and open this curtain?”)
  • There are a host of great ideas on youtube and FB that can be fun to mimic as a family. Add a little Rockstar or Where’s Matt into your next vacation.
  • Let the kids do a Video Diary. Sometimes a challenge gets them going: “go and film ten High-5s” or “get a bunch of people to say ‘you’re maaaarvelous’ to camera” for the younger ones. For older kids, get them to do fake news reports, reenact their favourite movie scenes (like in Dirty Dancing, where they run up to the swan hold, not where they…), or send them off to make a stop motion from Lego.
  • Just tell the story, and have fun with it. The biggest secret is awareness, a simple plan can help.

Technical tips

  • If you took my advice and got the Sony NEX system, now go buy this lens. It doesn’t zoom, but it creates the same depth of field as the human eye, and has great auto capabilities.
  • As for filming, you want to start thinking of the camera like your eye. You don’t scan across a panorama slowly – your eye darts from focal point to focal point, and then holds very steadily for a few moments. So change camera angles quickly and confidently, like eye movement. That’s how you should film.
  • As for zooming, pick your frame and feel free to focus in on it with bravura, and focus with the time and duration your eye would, then relax it slowly – don’t zoom out quickly.
  • Try using this spinning shot, where you circle the subject while keeping your camera on them. It edits really well.
  • Your camera probably has a time lapse setting on it, which is probably fairly easy to use. Download the manual, take 3 minutes to read it and while you’re having dinner, film the sun set out your window.
  • Sound is now the biggest limitation on a home video camera. Everything else on the NEX caliber of home video (including it’s Canon, Nikon, etc, competitors) is stunning. So make allowances:
  • Don’t expect much/anything when filming on the beach, other than wind.
  • Don’t have a conversation with someone 12 ft+ away from you – we’ll only hear half of it.
  • Considering getting an external microphone (the clip-on things aren’t much better in most situations).
  • If you’d like to film a chat between two people, go in a quiet room, with no background noise at all, and place an external microphone between the subjects. Consider using two cameras, too. It’s really best to chat to us about these shoots, so we can find that balance between how much effort/expense you’re willing to endure, versus what piece you’re trying to produce.