Getting Started with Home Video

Although I’ve shot tens of thousands of still camera shots over the years, I only just now got around to trying my hand at home video. To that end, I picked up a Canon HF100 (a stunningly small camera with a great picture) and started shooting some footage. I’ll admit right now that I have no idea what I’m doing when it comes to shooting home video, but I’m pretty sure most of us are doing it all completely wrong.

Specifically, most folks I know get out the camera for those big “important events” — graduation events, school plays, and the like. We know these are the Big Moments in our loved one’s lives, and it’s natural for every parent in the audience to make like a paparazzo and record Junior’s Big Event for posterity. The problem is, nobody—especially neither ourselves nor Junior—wants to sit through the film of their Big Game, school concert, dance routine, piano recital, etc. later on. If we’re honest with ourselves, it wasn’t that much fun watching the whole thing the first time. We go willingly because they’re our loved ones and we’re interested in being with them for the Big Event. But that doesn’t mean we really want to relive every missed note, awkward movement, or bored expression in its badly shot glory on DVD years from now.

I used to think the problem with home video was the lack of editing, and to a lesser degree the monotonous camera work (and if you’ve been forced to sit through somebody else’s home videos, there’s certainly plenty of blame to go around on both counts). But no amount of snappy editing, bold camera moves, or even Hollywood-level cinematography is going to make Junior’s walk-on performance in the school play into something that the family will lovingly gather round in years to come in preference to the latest Spielberg offering…or for that matter a re-run of Mythbusters. So why shoot the video in the first place?

I think the answer is that video lets you capture an absolutely visceral sense of a moment, or a person, and lock it away in time so it can be relived later.  No other media comes close. Snapshots summon up memories of moments in a person’s life, but in a much more thoughtful, nuanced form; sound recordings can be brilliant, but who follows around their loved ones with a portable DAT recorder hoping they’ll say something cool? But video… shoot fifteen seconds of a person just being themselves and those few moments are captured forever and experienced later, much as if that person were right in front of you.

So far, some of the best footage I’ve shot is of my kids just sitting around talking. Six years from now, when my 10-year old son Neil has been replaced by 16-year-old Neil, I’ll be able to visit with 10-year-old Neil for a few precious moments thanks to the miracle of video. And when that time comes, the Neil I want to reminisce with isn’t the one who was fumbling his way through some performance…it’s the one I know and love from everyday life.

So here’s what I’m thinking (and those of you with much more experience with home video can confirm or correct me on this): put away those video cameras when it comes to the various Big Events in your kid’s lives; the misty, non-high-definition memories you have of those Big Events will age far better over time. But take out the camera and record as much as you can of your kids just being themselves. That’s what’s going to put a smile on your face, or a sentimental tear in your eye years from now.

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