Monday, May 13, 2013

Shooting Testimonials - Part 2/3 - Visuals

Let's follow with the three-part post series on shooting testimonials. When we are sure of having control on the human factor discussed in the first part, it's time to think about getting great visuals and use the available tools to film a good video.

1. Which lenses are better 

As much as I can, I use Canon EF f/1.8 50 mm for testimonials. This lens is very popular for its very affordable price (around 100-120 €) and outstanding performance. Its aperture ensures very luminous images combined with a short deft of field that blurs the background, giving the testimony all the prominence.

- Canon EF f/1.8 50 mm
- Nikkor f/1.8D 50 mm (Nikon equivalent)

Shot taken with the Canon EF/1.8 50 mm 
Sometimes the environment is important and you want to see it as well. Don't hesitate to use other lenses if the story you're telling demands it. For instance, when I shoot tourism videos, I usually like to see the testimony in a wide shot while showcasing the location.

Shot taken the Canon EF/5.6 17-55 mm
2. Camera at the height of the eyes

Unless justified by storytelling, camera should always be at the height of the testimony eyes. If it's upper, we give the subject a connotation of inferiority. If it's lower, sometimes it can work to connote power, but we get to see the nostrils which can be very annoying, anti-aesthetic and definitely not fetching.

3. Looking at the camera or not? 

The feeling of someone looking directly into the camera is different than when the eye-line is slightly off. Therefore, it's not just an aesthetic decision, but also depends on the purpose of the video. I would let testimonies look into the camera when their speech is a call to action, as it's much more direct and seductive. If you decide to use both options in the same video, have in mind the power of looking into the camera: it can work as a good engaging conclusion. In the other hand, starting by looking into the camera and follow with the eyes off can lead viewers to disconnection.

Looking to the camera is more direct and seductive
4. Camera moving? 

Camera movement can give visual dynamism, but while doing it, filmmakers should think as editors to decide if that's interesting or not for the video they're shooting. I think soft and slow movements can work well in many cases. DSLR sliders are a good choice to perform discreet movement in your shot. You can find plenty of this gadgets at the "camera movement" product section of

Atlas FLT Camera Slider from
5. Lighting 

It's important to ensure a minimum of lighting on testimonial shootings. Sometimes you can be creative with the sources you get on set (when shooting in real locations). For instance, factories usually have halogen lights you can ask to use. Nonetheless traveling to locations with a minimum of lighting is a good idea. Led lighting for DSLR is a useful option: I highly recommend the HDV Z96 for three reasons: 1. It has a dimmer that allows you to control the quantity of light 2. The produced light looks very natural in comparison to others 3. (VERY IMPORTANT!) It doesn't produce flickering issues.

The HDV Z96 Light kit.
6. Using B-roll shots to enrich the testimonial 

Again, it's nice when thinking as editors. Shots of the hands or close-ups of the eyes can bring some freshness. I think it loses elegance when, for instance, we cut from a static shot to a handheld shaking image, or from a color shot to a black & white one. Yes, it can be "cool", but it distracts the viewer as form tramples on content.

A b-roll shot of hands.
 7. Make up 

If your budget affords it, make up can solve lots of visual headaches during the shooting, and will give security to some testimonies who, for example, tend to sweat (almost everyone when using lighting), have an injure on the face, etc. The shiny skin of someone sweating can ruin any other aesthetic effort.

8. Lower Thirds 

Back to pre-production, asking what's going to be the lower-third style (or creating it in advance, if you're going to design it) is mandatory. In another way we risk to be forced to use a lower-third style that ruins the shot. There are brands who align lower-thirds just in the left, so it's nice to set your testimony in the other side so that the composition stays balanced. You can't have a white background (or burned lights) behind the subject if the titling is going to be white and without any shadow or stroke effect.

I wish this notes have been useful. Again, don't hesitate to share additional ones. Stay tunned for the third and latest part of the series!

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