Andrew Lih of American University gave an incredibly helpful Fast-Track Video Shooting session last fall at the Online News Association’s ONA14 convention in Atlanta. Lih great advice on when video is a suitable storytelling form and showed outstanding examples of long and short documentary-style video storytelling.

When is video appropriate for a given story? Video tells great stories about people. If you have a great character who is representative of a particular issue, it works really well. One example: A New York Times video about a calculus teacher titled “Wright’s Law: A Unique Teacher Imparts Real Life Lessons.”

The kind of form we emphasize in Multimedia Journalism, the documentary-style video, works well if you have someone who is good on camera, is well-spoken, and has the knowledge to speak confidently about their subject.

Lih showed an excellent longer documentary video by Vice on the controversy surrounding the use of 3-D printers to make guns. Its title: “Click. Print. Gun.”

Another example: “Secrets from the Potato Chip Factory,” by NPR’s Planet Money team.

Lih’s advice on shooting technique was also pretty great. Highlights:

Things you DO NOT want to do:

  • Zooming a lot.
  • Talking a lot during the shoot.

Things you WANT to do:

  • Shoot 10-second clips when doing B-roll.
  • Don’t move. Use a tripod.
  • Zoom with your feet, not with the camera.
  • Listen to the audio while you shoot. This helps you recognize when something goes wrong (battery in mic dies, cable disconnects, etc.) or when you need to shoot again due to distracting background noise.
  • Remember to shoot an establishing shot before you go in for your interview. Otherwise, you are likely to forget to do it.
  • Lens position for interview shoots: At eye level. Low angle looking up makes your subject look heroic. High angle looking down diminishes your subject.
  • Position of the camera in relation to the interviewer: Two feet to your shoulder. Encourage your subject to look at you, not the camera.
  • As you interview, take notes and watch the time monitor and note the time in each of the pieces. Use these notes as a guide to where the story is going. Use them also as a “scavenger hunt” list. You can use this list to remind you to ask your subject, “Do you have any photographs of such-and-such that you mentioned in the interview?” You might be able to use them in editing the videostory.
  • If your subject looks all over the place, point at your eyes, and make eye contact. Coaching your subject how to sit is completely natural in the TV world; so it goes in online video.
  • To get your subject comfortable talking with them, a lot of TV people will start with nonsense questions like “What did you have for breakfast?” Don’t make your first question, “So, did you KILL that guy or what?”