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If your children play sports, your weekends are filled with chauffeuring little athletes, providing healthy snacks, and of course, the Search for Missing Frogs. And that leaves only so much time for creative pursuits, such as, for example, capturing the drama of the season on video.
Try if you can capture the excitement of the Little League baseball or Pee Wee football, you always get home and find that the images is too boring or—worse—unwatchable.
What can you do to improve your game?
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Well, we have a real ESPN producer to find. His name is John Vassallo, and he has children of his own. He produces the network’s college lacrosse coverage, but he has also shot football, hockey, and wrestling at a variety of levels, including its own games for kids. In addition to the game coverage, he produces shorter pregame segments and online pieces that are actually better templates for a home video.
Although having the right equipment is important (more on that in a moment), Vassallo explains that the difference between the amateur efforts and the professional quality of the stories lies in smart planning and a creative outlook.
“If people just recalibrate their thinking,” he says, “the results would be exponentially better.”
Ready to try? Here are six pro tips from a big-league talent:
1. Come up With a Game Plan
Before Vassallo heads of a game for ESPN or a home video—he knows about what he’s shooting. You also need to. Take a moment and think: “What I want to accomplish?”
If you’re hoping to have a memory to share with family and team parents, to aspire to a video that plays more like a pregame function. A bit of action mixed with some casual sideline footage (a team huddle or a pitcher to play catch during warm-up) and a few interviews. “There is a reason why we do these segments,” Vassallo says. “People like them.”
If you are recording a video to help with coaching and development of player—or even college recruitment, you must record the action with a classic “cover shot.” (See below.)
It Is a really important match? Vassallo suggests—against the intuition—that you might want to skip the video completely and focus all your attention on watching the drama unfold. “You have left an indelible memory in place of a mediocre video,” he explains.
Pro tip: Vassallo’s bread-and-butter shot—and should be yours, also what sports producers call a “cover shot.” It is a medium-wide shot taken from an elevated position around the society—such as the 50-yard line in a football stadium. The aim is to follow the play as it develops. The cover shot is a great tool, but it is also the basis for a solid game footage.
2. Buy the Right Gear
The shooting of animals is demanding, so it pays to invest in a camera that has the capabilities of even the best smartphones lack. If you also want to capture still photos, consider a DSLR with a best-in-class video capabilities, such as the Nikon D7200. Instead of buying the package lens, pony up for a tele-zoom—say, the 70 – 200 mm f/2.8 or the 70 – 300 mm f/4.5—that will allow you to get closer to the action. (An SLR from a company like Nikon, it offers you the option to hire a specialist with a superlong telephoto lens—500 mm or more—such as the pro’s use.)
If you strictly video, try a simple high-definition camcorder such as the Sony HDR-PJ670. But you lose the versatility of an SLR with interchangeable lenses, the 30x optical lens, which is much more powerful than what you usually find on a smartphone, and the advanced autofocus allows you to keep pace with the fast-paced action. The camcorder form factor makes it much easier to keep the camera stable.
If you enjoy shooting action sports—cycling, skiing, etc.—or do you want to be more adventurous with camera placement, consider using a GoPro Hero4, which provides a wide range of options for mounting. What it lacks in features, it makes up for in robustness.
Pro Tip: How do you support your camera is just as important as the model you choose. That is the reason why Vassallo recommends the use of a tripod to minimize the camera shake associated with a longer zoom lenses. A single-leg monopod provides adequate support but gives you the ability to move from place to place.
3. Prepare a shot list
Once you have the gear in hand, take a few moments to think about how you are going to execute your game plan. Vassallo suggests the outline of a quick shot list. “You tell a story, so you want to be different from your perspective,” he explains.
If your daughter is pitching a softball game, for example, you could start with an extensive “cover shot” from the first or third base line. During the next inning, to the other sideline for a tight shot, focusing on her face or the details in her pitching motion. Then, try to shoot from behind the home plate.
Amateur filmmakers have a tendency to fall in love with the zoom function. Not to stumble into that trap, Vassallo warns. Do you want to be closer to the action, with your feet instead. Resist at all costs the temptation to keep zooming in and out during the action. “You’ll be the viewers seasick,” he says.
Pro Tip: You know that great moment when your child scores a goal or makes a game-saving play? Vassallo advice: Forget it. ESPN put a small army of camera operators record each event, and they still occasionally miss an important shot because they are not in the right place at the right time. As the only camera operator, you’re not going to capture every peak, no matter how hard you try. “You have hours of useless game footage,” Vassallo says. “And there is still a decent chance that you will miss the big play.”
4. Add Some Color
Once you have a few basic action photos out of the way, it is time to have some fun. Look for close-up photos on the bank. The stickers on your daughter’s batting helmet. Her well-worn glove. The stuffed animal she keeps in her travel bag. Not only hit record and stop. Linger on each shot for at least 5 seconds, mouthing the numbers to ensure that you get what you need. You will probably not have as much B-roll footage, but you’ll at least have the option to stretch out scenes when you’re editing. It is easy to cut clips down. Making them longer? That is not possible.
Pro Tip: If you select an action camcorder, take advantage of the versatility. Mount this on your statement or the back of a soccer goal. In practice, you might even get a player to strap on the camera for a few plays and get a picture that is unique and exciting.
5. Ask Questions
It is quite difficult to produce pro-level sports pictures, even if you are a real pro when Vassallo. But you have a big advantage compared to ESPN: You know the players, the coaches and the parents. After the game, channel your inner Bob Ley. Pull people aside, point the camera and ask them a few questions. Do not forget that the big play? You would not on film, but you can always ask someone to describe it for you, and layer the audio over artistic B-roll material of a baseball bat or a glove. “Many parents have hundreds of hours of video of their children to play, but they don’t have even 30 seconds of the coach talk,” Vassallo says. “That is something that will be priceless if you look at it in 10 years.”
Pro Tip: do not overthink the interviews. Just ask open-ended questions. Your goal is to get people talking and telling stories. Not too fancy with the follow-ups. “‘And what happened then?” is one of the most powerful questions you can ask,” Vassallo says.
6. Edit to Strengthen
“We have a saying in the business,” Vassallo says. “Edit to amplify.” A different way, less is more. A typical pregame segment that Vassallo produces perhaps only 2 minutes long. But that’s plenty of time to tell stories. There is no reason to come back with enough raw footage to the rival “Apocalypse Now.” “Concentrate on quality rather than quantity,” Vassallo suggests. Carry that philosophy into the post-production, where you can use simple editing software like Apple iMovie or Adobe Premiere Elements to a good final cut.
Pro Tip: Even if you have no picture of the whole game, make sure you have the whole movie play. It does not turn off the camera until there is a natural pause in the action: a tackle, a shot on goal or a line drive to the city center. “Nothing frustrates me more than action, that is not resolved,” Vassallo says.
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