It's all in the eyes
We’ve all set through scenes, or entire videos where there is not much visual interest and it’s not long before our attention fades and we zone out.
Before you realise 5 minutes has passed and your once little doodle on the notepad is now an A4 size Picasso style masterpiece.
Having completely lost track of the video you click off to go and do something more engaging.
Why is that?
The answer lies in the eyes.
The human eye evolved to be really good at detecting motion. They are designed to always be on the look out for dangers, threats and food. This was essential when we were hunters as it allowed us to detect our prey and also to avoid predators.
This visual stimulus will keep the eyes focused and engaged until the hazard has passed or the prey is caught (or escapes).
Which is great if you are a hunter gather but in the modern age it is a little bit different.
The modern human eye is still programmed in the same way. To be on the lookout for dangers and needs constant stimulation to keep it engaged. No visual stimulation means there is no danger, it is therefore safe for the mind and body to go into standby.
So how is this useful when you are making your next video?
How to keep your audience engaged.
Now we know why the audience’s eyes require stimulation we can look at ways to keep the eyes stimulated.
1. Keep the shots short
A shot is one of the smaller units within a video. Simply put it’s continuous section of the film that starts and ends with a cut or a transition. A scene can be made up of many shots, typically with a change of camera angle taking place between shots.
Below is an example of 8 shots taken from some work we did for Dave Heffernan.
The first two shots are taken from one video clip. We chose few seconds from the middle of the clip and a few seconds of him walking on to the stage to set the scene. The remaining shots are to show the size of the room and Dave’s experience talking to a large room.
The frequent change in camera angle and location keep the video visually interesting as the eyes only have a few seconds to process the shot before the next one is presented.
This wasn’t possible to do in a single shot due to the location and time constraints. One shot videos are possible but have to be carefully choreographed to make it visually engaging. This takes a lot of time and effort which isn’t always possible but when done right, the results are amazing.
2. Camera movement
A static camera on tripod at a distance can be great as an establishing shot (to show context, location) but it get boring quick.
A great way to make it more interesting is to introduce some camera movement. Pans, tilts, zoom, dolly, dolly zoom, pedestal are all camera movements that add interest to a shot.
Don’t use this as an excuse to wave your camera all over the place though. Pick one, a pan shot for example and use that to show a landscape. Use a tripod with a fluid head or a gimbal to smooth the motion.
Zoom shots should be used with caution as it far too easy to get them wrong and end up invoking motions sickness on your audience.
3. Zoom with your feet
People love to see the detail, so get close to the action but try not to zoom.
There’s two types of zoom, digital and optical.
– Optical zoom is where the camera uses a different lenses (or changes the magnification properties lens) to change the image falling onto the sensor. Optical zoom is the only type of zoom you should use but it does have a few draw backs.
As you zoom in the field of view becomes narrower and any movement of the camera body becomes more noticeable. Most wide shots can, with a steady hand, be recorded handheld without a tripod. As you zoom in you are going to need to use a tripod to get a steady shot. It’s far better to zoom with your feet and position yourself as close as you can to the action.
– Digital zoom is to be avoided at all costs. This is where the image falling on the sensor remains the same but the camera uses software to enlarge the image. If your sensor is recording at 1080p (HD format video) and you apply a 2x digital zoom you are only recording at 540p which expanded to fill a 1080 screen. The detail that falls outside the 540 pixels on the sensor is lost and the image quality is reduced. Do not use digital zoom ever. your only option is to get the camera closer to the action.
4. Subject Movement -Don't shoot until you can see the whites of their eyes
Static shots where the camera doesn’t move can be used to great effect when other movement is introduced.
Again, get close to the action. If you are filming a person do not start recording until you can see the whites of the eyes. The eyes convey a lot of emotion and so does the face, if you cannot see the eyes (or they are way to small, that emotional connection is lost.
People are easy to move, simply ask them, inanimate objects require a bit more creativity. This apple for example is on a lazy Susan, turned by hand to to introduce motion to what would otherwise be a static shot of a static object.
Things to remember:
Keep the shots short. The shorter the shot the faster the pace and the higher the energy. Longer short have lower energy. Use a shot length that suits the pace and style of video you are making but do not exceed 10 seconds for a single shot.
Move the camera. Use smooth pan and tilt movements to reveal the location or track subjects as tehy move. Use a tripod to support the camera to produce smooth movements.
The devil is in the detail. Get as close to the action as possible and record lots of shots of it. Cover the action from as many angles as possible
Move the subject. If you can’t or don’t want to move the camera move the subject. Get creative with simple tech such as a lazy Susan, electric train sets and anything else that has regular and controllable movement.