If there's one thing we've learned from our ability to instantly share the pictures and videos we record with our fancy-schmancy camera phones, it's that most of us aren't any better at photography than we were when the Instamatic camera and Super 8 film were considered cutting edge. The good news is creating the kinds of slide shows and movies other people want to look at is a skill anyone can master. For advice, we turned to animators Mike and Tim Rauch. The Rauch Brothers work with StoryCorps, the nonprofit that collects interviews with fascinating people from all over the country, to turn some of their already lovely NPR segments into hilarious and heartbreaking animated shorts (please watch all of them; they are amazing). Whether you have to create a montage for your parents' anniversary party or just want help handling a camera, these guidelines help you capture and assemble images like a pro.
Focus on the Story You Want to Tell
"With home movies, you are looking for a point of interest," Mike says. "Think of a small child opening presents on Christmas morning. What you really want to see is this kid's reaction. Make sure that you are shooting from a point where you can see his face front and center." Even if Aunt Sally's reindeer sweater and the perfectly decorated tree really complete the experience for you, keep the camera trained on the expression of joy and delight. The video will inspire the same feelings in you down the line.
Eye Level Is Only One Way to Look at the World
The biggest mistake rookies make, Tim says, is not thinking enough about where they are shooting from. "A lot of times, when beginning photographers and videographers pick up a camera, they stand and shoot from the height of their head because that is where their eyeball is located. That is sort of an arbitrary decision. It can be the right one, but maybe challenge yourself. Say, 'Hey, would this be more interesting to see if I was holding it low to the ground?' Or, say you are having a surprise party for somebody: what about putting the camera up on top of the balcony looking down at the scene? Adding another angle can often make the video more interesting."
Think Beyond Faces
We all know we're more than our appearances, so bust out of the portrait box when you're creating the photomontage for your sister's rehearsal dinner. Ask yourself, What are the things that make you think of her and how can you celebrate them? Mike and Tim suggest starting with clothing and accessories. In Miss Devine, the video above, James Ransom and Cherie Johnson describe their Sunday school teacher as a woman who wore summer dresses, big hats and a bandana. "It would have been really terrific to have a nice close-up of the bandana that she wore," Mike says, "to actually see the types of patterns, to see the things that were unique to her." Go into your sister's drawer, dig out the band T-shirt she sleeps in and snap a photo. Or consider cropping a picture of the hiking boots she invested in on her first trip out west. Those images will mean just as much to her—and to your future brother-in-law—as another smiling headshot.