Camera techniques for academic film making


This is a resource that I made a few years ago. It is designed for the complete novice, to show how they can use simple techniques to great effect. There’s also video with examples, and a PDF version of the same (just with stills).

The techniques are:

Wide angle landscape used as an establishing shot. Don’t have the budget to film on location? Why not use a still image with Ken Burns drift, maybe with sound effects.

Hand-held shots can get the audience into the action. Use smart looking overlay titles to give a sense of context and expertise. For this sequence I followed Christos around the lab as he introduced people and projects, using the Rode Video Mic Pro shotgun mic.

Point of view shots – could be close up, could include the hands, head, body of the person from whose POV we look. Could use a still image with Ken Burns drift to make it easier – no camera drone required!

Reverse point of view shots (showing the presenter’s face looking at something interesting) – intrigue!

Over the shoulder facing an expert – Michael Scott explains all, Alexander Armstrong looks inquisitive, slightly baffled, amazed – watch those eyebrows!

Mid-angle, mid-width shots put an expert into their habitat and let them tell us the story.

Close-up on the detail with the expert explaining what they are doing, or could use voiceover. In a pedagogical movie don’t be afraid of freezing the action, adding captions, arrows, diagrams etc.

Screen capture is another kind of close up on the detail. Software like Screenflow captures the screen and allows for zooming in, highlighting, adding annotations and voiceovers.

Seated interview shots – this one uses a computer with a big screen showing the web site as a prop. Screen captures of the web site in action are mixed in, along with close-up shots of each interviewee.

Mid-shot interview – use the natural environment!

Seated interview long shot – use a radio mic or an MP3 recorder to capture the sound, then you can be as far away as you like. Classic BBC technique – reporter walking through crowded street talking through radio mic to camera some distance away.

Long shot with Ken Burns drift, then with picture in picture – this was done with a single static camera on a tripod, radio mic, and then cropped in iMovie with Picture in Picture added.

Low angle interview shots make it more engaging and sympathetic.

Group interviews don’t have to be boring! Elke used the opportunity to reverse the hierarchy between students and the teacher, for reporting on this student engagement project. We used the RODE Video Mic Pro shotgun mic, and just enough noise elimination in iMovie.

Lecturer shots don’t have to be boring! In this movie Ray Land paced backwards and forwards animatedly, very expressive body language, with his slides in the background. I then remixed this with the slides added to the movie as images exported from PowerPoint (edited on Screenflow).

Classic academic in front of department shot

Close up shot of interviewees hands taken after an interview and edited in.

Walk in and present – BBC history style!

Head and shoulders – personal intro, with context setting background.

Examples compiled into a video:


Dr Robert O'Toole NTF

Senior Teaching Fellow, Arts Faculty, University of Warwick. Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, National Teaching Fellow, Warwick Award for Teaching Excellence.

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