Skill Level Intermediate
- We are naturally drawn to movement. All of our senses are highly tuned to detect changes in our environment, sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. When something is moving, it's changing, and we can't help it. It's interesting. It's different. It's something we need to pay attention to. So this week on Training Tips Weekly, we're going to focus on using movement to draw our learner's attention. Now movement simply for the sake of movement is not what we're talking about.
If the camera that's filming me was constantly shaking in random patterns, you probably wouldn't keep watching. There would be no purpose behind it. The movement would be a distraction. Likewise, if this movie was one long static slide of text that you had to read, it also wouldn't be very appealing. So what's the balance? Well, first of all, for normal talking-head shots like this, make sure that your camera is on a good, sturdy tripod.
This will remove the random camera shakes and allow your learner to focus on the instruction. Then, for demonstrations, it may be advantageous to move the camera to better follow the story and the action on screen. Let's look at a few options for moving the camera to help you tell your instructional story. The first and simplest is to handhold the camera. You simply have a firm grip on the camera and keep your arms tucked in close to your body to stabilize the camera as much as possible.
Now this certainly works but no matter how steady you are, you're going to introduce shaking to the camera, which can be difficult for some users to watch. Now one way to reduce camera shake when handholding your camera is to use a tripod as a counterweight. Shorten the legs, and pull them in close together. Then hold the weight of the camera and the tripod near the center balance point for the whole system. By extending the center of gravity, you'll reduce the influence of slight movements on the shot.
Next, let's look at a few other filmmaking tools designed specifically to move the camera that you may find helpful in creating instructional media, and the first is a slider. Sliders are essentially a tripod head that moves along a set of rails. They're extremely flexible and they're great for creating a controlled camera movement in a straight line that follows the action. In this example, the instructor is showing the proper brush technique for applying varnish.
The camera can easily follow the action as the instructor moves along the boat. Now this lets the learner focus on what's important, the brush technique being demonstrated. To get more fluid camera movements that are not tied to a track, you can step up to a gimbal. These generally come in one of two forms, either a motorized gimbal or a balanced gimbal. Now motorized gimbals like this unit by Lanparte are designed for mobile phones and action cameras like the GoPro.
They have tiny motors that are controlled by a small onboard computer that stabilizes your movements. It tracks the movement of your hand using a system of gyroscopes and accelerometers. These small handheld gimbals are great for following the action in your shot, and are really nice because they're relatively compact and easy for anyone to pick up and start using right away. You can hold them with one hand, which is great for when you don't have any crew with you to help out.
You can really get the camera into tight spaces and get stabilized shots from many angles that will show your learner exactly what you want them to see. But there are a few challenges that you need to be aware of with these motorized gimbals. First, they all require power, so you need to make sure that your gimbal's battery is fully charged. Second, they are a high-tech solution with a lot of complicated components that can and sometimes do fail, and when a motorized gimbal fails, it fails completely, and it needs a moment to be reset.
When they work, they're simply brilliant. I really like the small size and weight of this unit for using with my iPhone. I was really impressed with the type of shots I could get with the unit with relatively little practice or skill at filming instructional content outside of my studio. Now the other type of stabilizer is a balanced gimbal, like this Glidecam. Now the Glidecam works like a perfectly balanced seesaw where the camera's on one side and there's a counterweight on the other side.
A relatively friction-free, non-motorized gimbal is in the center balance point or fulcrum of the device where you hold it. The weight of the camera and the counterweight then act to dynamically cancel each other out and thus reduce any minor movements. There are no batteries to charge, motors to fail, or sensors that need to be calibrated and controlled. Instead, the Glidecam works solely on the power of gravity and basic physics. Units like this lets you use your DSLR, mirrorless, or small camcorder which can really allow you to get great-looking shots using your existing camera equipment.
With a balanced gimbal like this, you can easily follow the action of the instructor and get nice, stabilized wide shots and close-ups. The camera really seems to float through the air as it follows the action. If you find yourself and your team creating a lot of instructional video, then having someone on your team invest the time in learning to master one of these units can really set your materials apart. Now the disadvantage of these balance stabilizers is that they do require quite a bit of practice to get proficient at using them.
It's pretty unlikely that you'll pick one of these up for the first time and instantly get great-looking, smooth camera movements. You'll need to invest some time in learning to use this tool. All that said, once you've practiced using a balanced gimbal these are great because they're much less likely to fail than a motorized computer-controlled unit. I spent about 15 minutes a day, two to three times a week for about three to four weeks setting this unit up and learning to walk with it and just getting used to it before recording this movie for you.
I still consider myself a complete novice but I seem to have managed to capture some fairly respectable shots with it. Now a nice compromise is to add a gimballed head like this Tru-Horizon unit to the top of a Glidecam. As I was preparing to record this movie for you, I found adding the Tru-Horizon to the Glidecam was a lot like adding training wheels when learning to ride a bike. The motor keeps the camera always level with the horizon which is a real challenge when you're first learning to use a stabilizer like this.
As I explored the combined capabilities of a motorized stabilizer and a balance stabilizer, I found that it was possible to get shots in perspective that I was not able to easily obtain in any other way. Now the biggest disadvantage I found in using this last rig was weight and setup time. This thing is heavy, no doubt about it. With each addition to the rig, the weight keeps going up, and you can quickly see why professional camera operators use an entire system that consists of a body harness and spring-loaded arm to carry the weight of the unit.
As for setup time, having an accessory that allows you to rest the unit on the stand as you balance it is pretty much essential as you're learning. So the question you may be asking yourself is, "Do I really need all this stuff?" And the simple answer is of course no. You don't need all of this stuff to make instructional media or instructional films but I hope this gives you a good idea of what's possible so when you're planning your next instructional lesson and you think, "Hey, I'd really like to show the learners "this thing in this other way," you now have a good starting point to know what kind of equipment you may need to accomplish that shot.
Now as teachers, we're constantly on the lookout for new tools and techniques that we may be able to use to help deliver a lesson more effectively so our students can truly learn that content. Therefore, I'd strongly suggest you grab your camera or a smartphone and a tripod. You can do a lot with just that. And try making your own short instructional film for an upcoming lesson. Stabilize your camera on a tripod for the explanation portion and then try moving your camera to capture some detailed shots.
If you have a media or AV group at your institution or business, give them a call or ask for help capturing some materials. You now have a better idea of what's possible and can articulate the kind of shots that you know would help tell your story. All right, that's all for this week's episode. If you have a topic that you'd like me to cover, then reach out to me on Twitter, @csmattia, or here on LinkedIn. If you found this episode helpful, then give it a Like on LinkedIn Learning and share it with your social media channels.
When you create your next instructional short film, post a link to it on social media and tag it with #TrainingTipsWeekly so we can all see it. I'll see you again in the next episode.
Q: Why can't I earn a Certificate of Completion for this course?
A: We publish a new tutorial or tutorials for this course on a regular basis. We are unable to offer a Certificate of Completion because it is an ever-evolving course that is not designed to be completed. Check back often for new movies.