A question from Suzanne Menard Thoms via Facebook:
“Hi, I am shooting with a tripod just like you advised but it is still jerky. What could the problem be?”
Oops, the type of tripod you need is a fluid head. Especially if you’re shooting sports, if you’re a traveler, or you’re kids are running around and you can’t capture their wonders hand-held; mandatory for video bloggers, (vloggers). A still camera tripod will NOT work when shooting video. As the name connotes, there’s some viscous fluid in the tripod head that causes resistance when panning or tilting. Make sure there are separate controls for the pan and tilt “drag.” Again, just like it sounds, as you pan or tilt you can adjust how much resistance or drag you encounter as you make the move. In different situations you’ll want more drag others less. In a previous post you said you’re using it to video your son Ethan’s lacrosse games. Since you want to move the camera quickly to follow the action, less drag will serve you better than more in that situation. (I’m glad you found the chapter in the book on shooting sports so helpful.) If you’re panning across a family photo – zoomed in tight – you’ll want more drag, more resistance. Test out a few different settings and you’ll find the one right for that shoot. I change my drag settings all the time; it all depends on the shot.
Set the tripod to a height that’s comfortable for you to shoot standing, so you don’t get back ache. The secret to the smoothest move is to hold one hand on the pan handle and the other on the tripod head (see photo). Apply pressure to both hands simultaneously and your pan will be even smoother. This is especially helpful in those very tight, zoomed-in shots like on photos. When zoomed in real tight, any bump will become more apparent, risking ruining the shot. Slowly apply gradual pressure to the hand holding the tripod head. As you feel the head begin to move, apply pressure on the handle. You’ll avoid a bump at the beginning of the shot. When you come to the end of the pan reduce pressure with the pan handle hand first, then the head hand and you’ll make a smooth stop.
Be sure to get a fluid head with bubble leveling, just like a carpenter’s level, so the horizon will always be straight. Check it each time you place the tripod down. A little extra money is worth spending on one that levels with a simple twist (see photo below); you don’t have to adjust one leg and then another, then go back to the first; it can drive you crazy, especially if the shot is not waiting for you to get level.
Buying a tripod is one of the best filmmaking investments you can make. The more you’re willing to spend, the smoother it will pan. Match the weight of the tripod to the size camera you’re shooting with. The one pictured is made by Manfrotto. It’s much bigger/heavier than needed for the palmcorder. Since I often use heavier, pro-sumer cameras, that’s the one I rely on. They make very good tripods, small very light ones, bigger ones too.
If you’re traveling, a small tripod can be carried over your shoulder on a strap and almost forgotten as you make your way to new adventures. It will come in VERY handy. Promise! Better tripod heads are sold separately from tripod legs. Buy the one that best suits your needs.
Keep asking. I’ll be here to help you shot better videos.