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Exploring the possibilities of video production with smartphones

#47 Videomakers please stop doing this! — 30. July 2021

#47 Videomakers please stop doing this!

Photo: SHVETS production / Pexels

Ok, today I have something a little different from the usual blog fare around here: a quick and dirty rant, maybe just a little bit tongue-in-cheek. I beg your pardon. I will only shame the deed, not name any perpetrators. You will probably have come across it and either noticed it consciously or subconsciously. Most likely on YouTube. There’s also a good chance you might disagree with what I am about to say. So be it. Now what am I talking about? 

The act of vlogging has risen to big stardom in the wake of moderately fast internet and affordable cameras. It often involves a person directly addressing the camera to tell us something – a casual piece-to-camera so to speak. Addressing the camera basically means addressing us as an audience. Maybe they’re talking about a political topic, about lip-gloss, their ongoing travels to exotic places – or why you should/shouldn’t buy this new exciting smartphone that just came out etc. etc. This is all fine. Here’s looking at you kid, I can take it all day long if need be – well if you have something interesting to say anyway …

What really annoys me though is the fact that an increasing number of creators (oh that’s a fancy word these days!) feel the absolute need to cross-cut their into-the-camera shot with one from the side where they most obviously do not look directly into the lens of the camera but way off. I can’t help it, I always find this extremely irritating, it makes me lose my focus on what’s being said. For me it feels like someone is talking to me, telling me something, looking me in the eye and then at some point he or she just starts looking somewhere else while still talking to me. Like if they see someone they know walking by, following them with their eyes but keep talking to you. Don’t get me wrong, this technique can be used to great effect the other way round in movies when a character breaks the so-called “fourth wall” and directly looks into the camera at some point. Marc Vernet has written an interesting article about it called “The Look at the Camera”. Some of the most memorable cases that come to mind for me personally would probably include “A Clockwork Orange”, “The Silence of the Lambs” and “American Beauty”. And no, your name doesn’t have to be Stanley Kubrick, Jonathan Demme or Sam Mendes to be allowed to do that.

But your reason for the switch between having someone look directly into the camera and then past in the subsequent shot should have purposeful artistic value, it shouldn’t just be used out of a imagined need to have a different shot from a different angle because the main one is perceived as too boring to work all the way through. Something that sort of works for me if the videomaker absolutely wants to have a little bit of change in the visual composition is to use the main camera shot but crop in – very easy if you shoot in 4K but deliver in 1080p. By doing this, you still keep the continuity of looking directly into the camera. It’s also possible to cut in b-roll where the talking person is not seen at all. It’s also a different story if there are other persons involved. But if it’s a single person going back and forth between shots having the presenter look into the camera and then not without good reason is a nuisance – at least for me, at least at this point in time.

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