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Suggestions for camera exercises for students?

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Mike Johnson
Suggestions for camera exercises for students?
on Sep 12, 2005 at 6:45:54 pm

I'm holding a course for beginners that are new to digital video,
we're going thru how the videocamera works: iris, shutter, gain, focus etc. and how to properly use them.

Then we have some exercises how to properly white balance in different conditions, camera angles, working outside/inside, shooting in low-light, too much light situations..

But I would like to get some more inspiration for more exercises they can practise on during their getting to know the camera training.

Anyone got any suggestions or can point me to some good website?


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Stan Timek
Re: Suggestions for camera exercises for students?
on Sep 12, 2005 at 9:32:42 pm


I teach at a community college and an exercise I sometimes do is place several objects on a table. The objects are at various distances from where the camera will be and arranged to allow two-shots, three-shots, etc.

I then have two cameras set at two distances from the table. The students go between the two cameras, practice focusing in on the items and seeing how distance from subject can affect depth-of-field.

Hope this helps.


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Charlie King
Re: Suggestions for camera exercises for students?
on Sep 12, 2005 at 9:37:08 pm

Something we always did when I was first learning camera in the 60's. Was to hand items from ceiling, or whatever you can hang it from and swing it and follow back and forth from every angle needing to follow focus, and maybe zoom, we also trucked between items holding a shot, but no one seems to truck or dolly anymore.


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Dave LaRonde
Re: Suggestions for camera exercises for students?
on Sep 13, 2005 at 3:41:51 pm

Yep, getting a smooth truck, arc and dolly while keeping the subject in focus seems to be a dying art. That's what happens when the only consistent local TV production is composed of newscasts, and such production values are substituted for robotic cameras.

Along with Charlie's exercise of following objects on strings (good for follow-focus skills and learning to lead shots properly), I would add the following.

Learn to use the focus ring on a zoom-in. The ususal procedure is to zoom in, focus up, zoom out, then do the zoom for real. But many times, you don't have the luxury of zooming in and focusing, so a good photographer needs to know how that focus ring works... and not just the principles.

I propose doing zoom-ins on objects at varying distances. Start with an object at a middle distance, and zoom in on the objects farther away, keeping them in focus with the focus ring. Repeat the procedure, but this time zoom in on the objects that are closer. Then go closer-farther away, closer-farther away, etc. After a fashion, the student will learn that rotating the focus ring clockwise and counterclockwise can keep objects at varying distances in focus when you zoom.

This is an invaluable skill, especially when you're shooting news in the field or shooting documentary-style.

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Samuel A. Martin
Re: Suggestions for camera exercises for students?
on Sep 13, 2005 at 6:28:22 pm

Teach them how to handle the equipment properly and not treat it like it is a bag of crips. How to put away a tripod etc, and the reasons why. I run a hire company and students are the most scary clients as they always, well not always but many times, give the kit back in a mess.

How to clean lenses, what to use and why, how to change them. where to grab them from...

You know where I'm talking about....

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Jake Abramson
Re: Suggestions for camera exercises for students?
on Sep 23, 2005 at 6:45:57 pm

One of the areas I see a lot of people have difficulty is tracking a subject and retaining focus.

As always, teach them about Depth of field (how lighting, zoom, filters affect DOF) and tricks on how to do it in the field (my favorite is to throw in my doubler, switch to filter 4 (1/64nd) and zoom in. It's quick, but it works!

Teach them how to use zebra, never to use "auto iris." I've fired an op because he always used auto, wouldn't use manual. His shots suffered dearly for it.

Teach them about what color temperature means on a white balance. Explain why getting a 4000k outdoors isn't good. Make them guess what the color temp of a room/outdoors is. See how close they are. After a few tries they should be pretty close at guessing the temp and should get a reading close to that number.

Natural Lighting situaions, why an overcast day is your best friend. Even though the talent will want to be in the shade, show them how a bright background screws up your shot.

In Field audio into the camera, dif between Mic, Mic +48, Line iputs. Auto/manual audio settings. where to set your audio level too.

Little more advanced.
One of the lessons that I valued the most was basic trouble shooting. Take the camera, flip a few switches, change the filter, put a dead battery in, protect the tape, and then give it to a student to use. Have them figure out what error messages and blinking lights mean, why it's doing that, and how to remedy. I hate it when I send a cam-op out and I get a phone call "I can't record, what does tape protect mean?"

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Mike Cohen
Re: Suggestions for camera exercises for students?
on Sep 26, 2005 at 2:00:07 pm

I agree that the kids I have encountered recently have never heard of color temperature or audio attenuation. It seems they are given VX2000 and PD150 cameras, which produce nice images, but have auto everything. They're not using textbooks anymore?
I keep my Zetl and Millerson books within arm's reach to this day.
Handling the gear as someone said is important also.
I have had people come back from a shoot with the AC adapter for the camera thrown in the tripod case - it came back broken, and still there is a shrug from the shooter "I was in a hurry..." etc.
Also, teach people how to shoot handheld. These small DV cameras have such poor balance that hand-holding anything but a wide shot can be dangerous.
A good exercise may be to have the kids come up with a shot list for say a 1 minute narrative - then put the shot lists in a hat and have people shoot one another's shots - then critique the shots as a group with no names mentioned.
How to read a waveform/vectorscope is probably a good idea as well - I know they don't teach that in schools these days. My cousin is a bout to graduate from a well known communications school. I love the guy, but when I talk about some of these concepts, he goes glassy eyed.
Good luck. Let us know what you do.

Mike Cohen

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