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Shooting paragliding video footage - 4th December 2005 - View the entire paragliding news archive

Shooting Paragliding Footage
Hints and tips

Until recently, video cameras were devices that appeared only at weddings and parties. The footage was pretty boring and never got edited.

Today`s equipment is very different and with the arrival of digital formats (notably mini DV) it is possible to create interesting films that are both watchable and entertaining. It is in the editing stage that a film really takes form and it is this ability to edit home video that has lead to the explosion of amateur film making. This is evident by a visit to Google Video - a site that allows people from all parts of the globe to share their videos. Paraglider pilots are no exception.

This article aims to help improve the quality of footage you shoot. There are a few simple guidelines that will quickly boost your camera skills.

If you plan to edit your footage, take some time to think about what the final film might look like. What will the story be? Who is the audience? How long do you want it to be? Taking a moment to think about what you are filming makes a difference.

Think about your film as a slide show. If you were creating a slideshow to tell the same story, what shots would you use? The important point to remember (so important that I am about to repeat myself!) is that you are telling a story. A good video stands alone. If you find yourself explaining your film as others watch it, you know what I mean...

`oh, this is where we went XC on the third day, right after Simon busted his ankle. It took us an hour to hike to the launch site.`

...then you have missed an opportunity to tell the same story through your filming.

Sometimes people send me their films to put up on my site. I have received a couple of films from other pilots that have been terrible! They fixated so much on filming their flying that they did not film anything else! One video remained unedited for 17 minutes (not one single cut!) and consisted of what the pilot could see played alongside a collection of Barry Manilow classics. You know who you are!!

Flying footage is great, but you need more. Without some kind additional footage your story is too simple:

This is me flying...

Just a few shots of getting there, setting up, talking with other pilots etc will really make a difference. Check out this example of good amateur film making by Damien Beresford. In particular you will see that just a few seconds at the start of the film show you WHO is flying. The intro and `outro` sequences are short, but they really wrap up the film into a nice little package.

Camera shots
Watch some TV. Try to pay attention to the shots they are using. You will notice that most of the time the camera is stationary. There is a good reason for this. Moving cameras wobble. When you are filming try to keep the camera still. Use a tripod if necessary. You can form a steady base by kneeling down when you film or pressing your elbows into your body. However you do it you need to aim for the steadiest camera shots you can get. If you can eliminate camera shake completely your film will look far more professional.

Run around!
Shots from different angles really liven up a film. If someone is setting up their equipment and taking their time you could film a close up of hands untangling lines; a long shot showing where they are; the expression on their face while they set up; a medium shot of their equipment. These can be quickly edited together to make something that will keep a viewer`s attention. Compare this to the footage many people shoot (me included sometimes!) Bob setting out his glider. The edited sequence really contains the same stuff but we find it far more interesting. Why? Because we are getting stimulated with new images to figure out. Two seconds of watching Bob untangle his lines is all my brain needs to get bored, but give it Bob untangling his lines from five different angles with different zooms and concentrating on different parts of the process and my brain is fascinated! This is one of the reasons TVs in pubs are so bloody annoying. You could be sat opposite the world`s sexiest woman and I guarantee you would look away when the adverts come on, simply because our attention is drawn to visual stimulii that are constantly changing. Anyway I digress...

Another popular error is to track objects as they move. Naturallly you want to move your camera to follow your mate as he soars past you at the local club site. The trouble is you will end up with little sense of motion in the footage, for what you have just captured appears as a stationary glider against a blue sky on your TV and you may well introduce lots of camera shake.

This one is a hard habit to break because you feel like you are missing something if you allow a paraglider to fly in and out of the frame, but you gain much more than you lose. You will see have a steady frame and you will get a sense of motion that was previously removed.

If you do have to resort to tracking an object try to save it for times when a background of fluffy clouds allows the viewer to see the motion. It is also a good idea to have some space in front of the object that is moving. The viewer likes to see where it is going not where it has been.

Length of clips
Always film more than you need. This means start the camera before the action you want to capture (not always possible since you don`t know when something interesting might occur). Keep filming until 5 seconds or more after what you are filming has ended. Why? When you are editing you will often need to mix the sound from two different shots so that an abrupt change over is not heard. By filming extra footage you will have more to play with when it comes to getting that audio sounding good.

Your camcorder records sound too!
Don`t forget that as well as capturing video your camcorder captures audio. These are two separate entities in the editing stage and you might just want some `ambient noise` to fill in those scenes where the wind was mucking up the sound. Sometimes you will want the audio to run uniterupted while the video is switching between edits. Other times you will just want something to indicate it is morning. It is a good idea to keep your ears open and record thos interesting sounds that you might need later on.

Don`t expect to use your zoom shots
Something else that stands out from a mile away is footage that includes zooming in and out. Yuk!! This is stuff that should never make it into the final cut. Zooming smoothly on a subject is pretty hit and miss with a consumer camcorder and is best left alone. A similar effect is better achieved by two shots taken at different zooms, edited together. For instance a long shot of pilots drinking at the bar followed by a close up.

Turn off DIGITAL zoom
It`s rubbish. Digital zoom is a cynical marketing gimmick. If you really want to use it apply it at the editing stage, but really it`s just plain rubbish so don`t bother.

Don`t just helmet mount that bullet camera
This was the first thing that I did when I started filming two years ago.I bought the kit set it up and stuck it to my helmet. At first I was excited, simply because of the novelty of filming what I was able to see. Later I realised that my head was constantly moving when I turned or checked the sky for other paragliders. It has some limited value but really it is an overused technique. It is possible to mount the bullet cam on your foot; in your lines; behind you; to the side. You just need some imagination and a lot of sticky tape!

Don`t be tempted to view what you have just filmed
This is a painful lesson to learn! What always happens is that you end up with the tape queued up at the point where you were watching something really cool that you filmed. Later you end up picking up the camera in a hurry, rushing to film something hilarious/amazing/bizarre ooops you forgot to fast forward and all your previous footage is lost. Save your battery life for filming and always write protect tapes when they are finished with.

Log all your tapes
This won`t really improve what you shoot but it will ensure that you keep track of the hours of video you accumulate. Simply number each tape and keep a notebook of what is on each. For every hour you shoot spend a couple of hours logging what you have. It is boring work BUT it is a fast way to locate the shot you are looking for in the final edit and will save you lots of time later on. There is no point having 100 hours of tape that is not logged, you`ll never be able to use it.

Watch TV and try to ignore the content. See what works and try to emulate the professionals. There is plenty of study material out there. Maybe even sit down and make notes on your favourite DVD (Never Ending Thermal would be my choice).

Next time I will be looking at the editing stage.

If you feel inspired to go out and film your flying, I would love to host your video on my site.

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