Oh my, how things have changed. Last century, if you can remember that far back, friends would come home from holidays and ask you round to see the videos they’d smugly recorded in Koh Samui or Goa. Jerky, ill-shot and epically unedited. It was an invitation to be dreaded.
Now, holiday videos can be managed with flair, special effects and (best of all) brevity. Smartphones are ideal for shooting footage, tablets are great for post-production. Actually, and I was sceptical about this at first, tablets like the iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 3 are surprisingly good for recording as well.
I discovered this last week in Paris. Admittedly, this is a highly photogenic place to shoot (clue: unlike those videos shot by well-intentioned friends, it’s not just sand) and also admittedly I had two skilled professionals to guide me, Jack Harries and Dan Rubin.
Rubin (instagram.com/danrubin) is a highly experienced Miami-born photographer/creative director and Harries a 21-year-old videographer responsible among other things for JacksGap, a YouTube channel set up originally to document his gap year.
They know their stuff and have plenty of tips on shooting, editing and finishing your videos. For instance, panning shots can work well, but image stabilisation can turn something from unusable to pristine. Always shoot in landscape, obviously, as the bits filmed in portrait orientation won’t cut together, and anyway it looks better that way.
Audio can be crucial, too, so it’s worth looking out for a street performer, say, whose song can be a soundtrack for the whole piece, or strong street sounds which can be used to effect. By the same token, it’s worth keeping an ear out for the kind of sound that can ruin a shot.
There’s no denying that a large, flat gadget like a tablet isn’t ergonomically the best for a camera. With the iPad Air 2 the superb lightness of the tablet can make it harder to hold steady if the wind picks up.
But there are great advantages, too. Framing a shot on a screen this size makes it a viewfinder that’s hard to beat – this is a Retina display, after all. And the camera app is exceptionally simple to use but has several sophistications. Tap on the part of the subject that you want in focus and it’s locked there. As you get more confident you can lock the exposure as well, by tapping and holding the screen.
On our walk through Paris, one thing above all became clear: make sure you shoot enough stuff. If in doubt, film more than you need, shoot longer takes and take it again if it’s not quite right. This isn’t to recapture those interminable Koh Samui evenings, you’re going to edit heavily.
Special effects should be used sparingly but they have a value, like a train pulling into a station that’s pepped up by using timelapse or the flying pigeon that steals a scene because you’ve filmed it in slo-mo. Both timelapse and slo-mo are settings in the iPad Air 2’s camera.
Apps like Hyperlapse are great for timelapse videos, too. Even better, they can be very useful for stabilising regular shots – the app gets rid of judder even when you’re running footage at its proper speed. You can then choose what speed to save it at, at which point it’s locked, you can’t change playback speed after that. If you’re unsure how you want to use the footage, save at 1x as you can speed it up later using other apps if you need to in the post-production stage. Or, as they say in Hollywood, “fix it in post”.
Varied shots are important, Jack and Dan reminded me, encouraging wide shots, close-ups, panning shots, slow motion and static images (there’s usually enough movement in the background to make clear it’s not actually a photograph). And it’s worth taking an establishing landscape with lots of sky in it where you can plop in titles later.
Composition benefits from, well, from thinking about it, whether you plump for the rule of thirds or as Dan Rubin suggested, “making everything perfectly symmetrical and centred, like a Wes Anderson movie”.
After walking the streets of Paris for a couple of hours, post-production took a little less than an hour. You can spend much more time on this, or you can spend no time at all and get apps to do the heavy lifting for you.
The indepth option, and very satisfying to use, is iMovie. This is an Apple app which costs £3.99 if you bought your iPad before September 2013 but free on newer generation models.
As you might expect, it’s a highly intuitive, capable app which lets you assemble your footage easily, swapping order, shortening shots, choosing between dissolving, sliding and wiping between shots and lots more.
You can add audio easily – several pieces are included, only one or two of which will annoy on repeated listening. Note that most of these are about a minute long, which is maybe a hint that your magnum opus should also be. You can speed up or slow down shots – though it’s still best to decide on this when shooting if you can as the results are smoother.
You can add titles, quell the natural audio, blast it with filters and more. Your original footage remains unchanged so you can go back to it at any time. This is a very satisfying process and highly enjoyable. When you’re done, use the arrow button to go “Back to projects” and choose Save Video (which, curiously, is hidden under Share) to export it in various resolutions.
Or take the easy route. Download an app like Replay and choose as many or as few shots as you fancy. Then choose a theme (Epic, Dandy, Raw and, er, Toss). Wait no more than a second or two and your shots will be assembled with special effects, soundtracks and considerable panache. The app is free, though charges apply if you want to save the montage without the Replay watermark. You can edit in Replay, too, to change shot lengths etc.
Then there are more particular apps like 8mm which is simple and creates videos with a Super 8 camera effect and Slo-Pro to shoot at high speed and play back in slo-mo if your iPad doesn’t support that. And one called Horizon which lets you record horizontal videos no matter how you hold your tablet. I could have done with this – I managed to hold the iPad at a gently drunken angle throughout.
Here’s the thing: I’m not a fan of people holding up tablets in front of them shooting videos in the street or, heaven forbid, at concerts. It feels that they’re not present, they’re just recording it as a piece of video they may never look at again and distancing themselves from the event as it happens.
But this experiment has won me over. If you shoot judiciously and with a conscious eye to how you’ll use it afterwards, everything changes. Instead of slavishly filming everything, it works better when you deliberately take on the role of careful filmmaker for a few moments every now and again. And then return to enjoying the moment – to, you know, actually being there.
In ergonomic terms, finding places to naturally hold the iPad steady so you can shoot timelapse is important: rest your elbows on your body to stabilise panning shots, make use of bright or dim lighting to create an effect. These are ways to have the raw footage which you can edit together to create something special.
You can check out what I recorded here. There’s a version done using iMovie, which took all of 55 minutes to edit, add music and titles, and one using Replay, which was done in 45 seconds, including choosing shots.
My first efforts weren’t exceptional, and the punning title I lighted on is already making me cringe, but iMovie turned them into something eye-catching and fun. With not a grain of sand in sight.
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