Early June is the time when families nationwide are gathering for graduation ceremonies, backyard picnics, and various land-and-sea adventures. So why not make this the year you actually record those gatherings in a video worth handing down through the ages?

To help you shoot the best family videos, Consumer Reports asked a few pro shooters for pointers on how to get the best results, regardless of your device of choice (smartphone, action cam, or digital camera). Here’s what they had to say:


The video primers below will help you shoot better video with a smartphone, action cam, and camera.
 

Stay at eye level with your subjects. When you’re capturing video of adults, that’s easy to do. But as any parent will tell you, it takes effort to remain eye to eye with your children when they’re playing. And yet squatting, sitting, or lying down with your subjects produces much richer footage, says Scott DeFillippo, a senior video producer at Consumer Reports. “Get down on the ground with them,” he advises. “Shoot those moments from the same perspective they are experiencing them. Who cares if you look goofy? Your home videos will look better!”

Avoid moving the camera. It’s natural to want to run around with the kids, capturing their play from every angle, but the resulting footage makes everyone seasick. You’re much better off recording one well-framed shot. “Pick a target subject and commit to it,” says New Jersey photographer David Patino. “Think ahead, be patient, and let the action unfold in front of you.” If you have to move your camera, DeFillippo adds, “do it slowly and try not to make a sudden move. It will be easier to follow along when you watch the video.”

Resist the digital zoom. At a school concert, soccer match, or dance recital—events where your child is not close at hand—it’s very tempting to use the zoom feature built into your smartphone or action cam. Don’t do it! “Sure, it brings your subject closer,” Patino says. “But it comes with a substantial loss in video quality.” If you’ve ever watched muted, grainy footage of a friend’s child playing the violin, you know what Patino is talking about. What do you do instead? Zoom with your feet. Get up from your seat and move closer to the stage. The footage you get will be much crisper.

Capture the Action
Make your homemade highlight reel much more fun to watch.

Keep the camera running. The big moments in life—a loved one accepting a diploma or a bride and groom making their grand entrance at the reception hall—deserve to be captured in full. So Los Angeles-based photographer Jeff Berlin suggests that you begin shooting before the action takes place and keep the camera rolling for a few seconds after the action is complete, “so you can capture authentic and spontaneous moments.” People watching the video will appreciate seeing the crowd’s response and that unexpected jig from the new grad. If need be, you can always shorten the clip with editing software. Making it longer? That’s impossible when you don’t have the footage.

Don’t narrate. That approach might work great for Tom Hanks in “Forrest Gump” or Morgan Freeman in “The Shawshank Redemption.” But it’s really difficult to pull off when you’re the guy recording the scene, DeFillippo says. You’re better off waiting and layering narration onto the video in post-production with editing software.

Know your rig. Action cams are relatively simple to use. Most require just a few controls for recording. But that makes it easy to overlook the more sophisticated features buried in the menus. The GoPro Hero5 Black, for example, lets you start and stop recording with voice commands, which comes in handy when you want to be the director and the star of the show. So take some time to read the owner’s manual and learn how to shoot in slow motion or time-lapse mode. When the opportunity for a cool special effect presents itself, you’ll be prepared to make it happen.

For more advice, check out the videos below, each tailored to a specific device.

Shoot Better Video With a Smartphone, Action Cam, and Camera