Secrets To Great Home Movies: Shooting Strategies

In part 1 of this article, we looked at how finding the right equipment can make all the difference to your home movies. But that’s only half the battle. Today, we’ll look at techniques for capturing those precious family moments.

Everything is not as it seems

At the time of your recording, you might think you mastered a certain shot, but when you play it back, the lighting and camera angle tell you otherwise. Don’t be discouraged by filming mistakes–like anything else you’ll learn from them. Don’t forget, you always have that built-in eraser called editing. Avoid mistakes like filming into direct sunlight.

Camera mistakes can also be edited out in various programs. I recommend Windows Movie Maker for simple projects and Adobe Premiere for more detailed projects.


Put yourself in your audience’s position and imagine what will hold their interest. If you have a large audience, concentrate on general interests that include all the characters. Most cameras have automatic focus features, but use care with multiple backgrounds and characters in your shot.

I’m ready for my close up

The three basic shots you should know are the long shot, medium shot and close-up. Use long shots for great views of your location and close-ups for character reactions. Regularly use medium shots to record the location and characters. The medium shot allows enough space so many characters can move through the location and the camera operator doesn’t have to move, or pan (a horizontal movement of the area going left to right or vice versa).



Pans are ideally used when you want a scene to be discovered gradually. Short shots, or cuts, from different angles can be used when characters aren’t moving. Hold each shot for at least 8 seconds so the short shots won’t be cut off too soon. Keep the characters involved and don’t allow your setting to become the dominant feature. Stay low-key and keep quiet while filming because people can be at their funniest when they think nobody is watching.

 Shooting strategies

You can plan your shots, but don’t plan too much. At the minimum, plan and opening and closing shot. Visualize what you want the shot to look like before you film and remember you don’t always have to keep the main character(s) in the center of the frame.  Always start with an establishing shot (long shot) that shows the geography of the given location then go to detailed shots that gives your audience the necessary information.

Let’s use a baseball game for an example. First you could film a long shot of the baseball field then film your characters warming up before the game, characters in the stands attending the game, and signs and scoreboards representing location of the game. For sporting events, focus on your main characters. For weddings, be sure to film as many important events as possible, before, during, and after the ceremony.


For museums, galleries and exhibitions, use montage shots (a series of short shots) of the subjects of your choice. Whatever the event, make sure to keep your frame full of characters and action and don’t feel you have to move the camera all the time.


Soon you’ll be a filming pro like me…a.k.a. “Documentary Dad”.

~ Mike Siebenaler

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