Home / Book Reviews: Three for DV – 500 Digital Video Hints, Tips and Techniques, Setting Up Your Shots, and Placing Shadows

Book Reviews: Three for DV – 500 Digital Video Hints, Tips and Techniques, Setting Up Your Shots, and Placing Shadows

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With YouTube and Google Video receiving millions and millions of vistors, and websites like England's 18 Doughty Street blurring the line between television and the web, Internet video went from zero to 100 MPH in little more than a year. And a lot of people still on the sidelines are wondering how to get into the game.

When dealing with Internet video, the video aspect needs to come first — or as we used to say in school when coding our Altair 8080: garbage in = garbage out. Three recent books provide a good introduction to that half of the medium: 500 Digital Video Hints, Tips And Techniques by Rob Hull and Jamie Ewbank, Setting Up Your Shots, by Jeremy Vinyard and illustrated by Jose Cruz, and Placing Shadows by Chuck Gloman and Tom Letourneau.

And that's a good order to read them in. 500 Digital Video Hints, Tips And Techniques is a fine introduction to the very basics of digital video. If you've purchased a camcorder to shoot Christmas and birthday parties and then want to create something more, or just improve the basic appearance of your videos, this is the book for you. Heavily illustrated, it will walk you through the various camera types available (even capturing video on a cell phone) all the way to editing your video with a program like Adobe Premiere (or its little brother, Premiere Elements).

Not Just For Video Makers

The subhead of Setting Up Your Shots is "Great Camera Moves Every Filmmaker Should Know". It's 123 pages of storyboard-style illustrations that demonstrate a number of camera moves as well as listing the films that best show them off. The book is designed to appeal to newbie independent fictional movie makers, but there's a still a wealth of tips for the documentarian. (Or tyro rock video maker, for that matter.) And while some of the shots may be impractical on a low budget (obvious examples being helicopter and crane shots), there are lots of tips here to get your creative juices flowing. And not just compositions and camera moves: novel editing and scene transitions are listed as well.

Of the three books listed here, Setting Up Your Shots is also recommended to someone who has absolutely no interest in DIY video, but wants to learn more about how film and TV shows are put together. While there will always be an innovative filmmaker who pushes the creative envelope, many, many projects use nothing but very tried and true cinematic techniques to tell their stories, and you'll see the majority of them discussed here.

The Shadows Know

Placing Shadows: Light Techniques For Video Productions is by far the most advanced of the books here, and assumes a little bit of technical knowledge on the reader's part. But if you've already shot a certain amount of digital video and are eager to improve the quality of your projects' lighting, this is a great place to start.

The title echoes a technique of great architects, whose goal isn't merely to create buildings, but to create space. In video lighting, the goal isn't just to generate sufficient light for noise-free video, but the careful placement of shadows to create — or at a minimum not destroy — the mood of the shot.

The authors bring a tremendous amount of experience, particularly in the television commercial and industrial video world. This is the perfect book for someone who's just purchased his first Lowell lighting kit, and wants to move beyond the basics of three-point lighting, or needs to light a full set, not just a one or two person close-up.

There are numerous examples of lighting hardware and filters, basic (and complex) lighting set-ups, and also lighting for indoor and outdoor shots. Indexed and at 287 pages, it's a terrific read for the right person.

As Gloman and Letourneau write in their introduction to Placing Shadows, it's now possible, even with consumer grade software, to somewhat "fix it in the mix" and improve the quality of what was shot on location using PC-based post-production software. But this can be laborious, time consuming stuff, and has its limitations (insert crude old Hollywood cliché about burnishing fecal-based matter). Ultimately, the goal has to be to get it right before and while the camera is rolling, not afterwards. Then you're adding the final sheen to quality source material in post-production, and not performing a nigh-impossible salvage job.

These books can help a beginner get close to that point, and help a serious amateur with the right tools to achieve it.

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About Ed Driscoll