Whilst in the Army I learnt to shoot. More than that, I was trained in marksmanship and really enjoyed the middle distances, those between 800 and 1000 yards.
Why am I telling you this? Because I believe there is a direct correlation between middle to long distance shooting and working as a Private Investigator specialising in surveillance. Let me explain.
No client wants to receive video which makes them feel sea-sick whilst they are sitting in their office. Not only is is hard to watch but it also looks unprofessional when presented in court. I pride myself on the quality of my video and constantly aim to improve my techniques in order to provide a better product for my client.
As such, here is a list of basic principles I use every time whilst obtaining footage. I continually hark back to the basic marksmanship principles instilled in me by the Army and have re-worded them for you below.*
1 - The position and hold must be firm enough to support the camera.
This may be an obvious point however there is no point holding your camera so loosely it falls out of your hands, or becomes unbalanced on the support. The camera must become an extension of your body and sit naturally in your hands or on your tripod, monopod, or window mount etc.
2 - The camera must point naturally at the subject without any undue physical effort.
There is a tendency to pick up your camera and obtain that snap video in an awkward position whilst thinking "geez I'm clever, the client will love this". Invariably the "snap video" will turn into a prolonged opportunity and you will start experiencing problems. Before too long you will be forced to stop and reposition or risk inducing shake and ruining your video. Plan ahead, position yourself comfortably and let the camera do most of the work.
3 - Alignment and frame composition must be correct.
This may be another simple point however it is worth mentioning. Some lenses focus in the centre and become fuzzier as you approach the edge. This may not be apparent whilst obtaining the footage and viewing it through the eyepiece or on the LCD screen, however, especially with the increase in High Definition video, when viewed on an HD display you will notice the difference. This issue can be resolved by placing the subject in the centre of the frame, or aiming slightly ahead of the subject if they are moving.
A side point which relates to this is the use of zoom. Once identity is established position the subject within the frame and leave the zoom alone. When watching movies in the cinema you don't see the camera zooming in and out constantly, so why do it on on your video?
4 - The shutter must be released and footage obtained without any undue physical effort.
This point may not seem relevant to camera work however it may be easier to relate it to the "old" still film photographs. When learning to take photos most people I know induced shake and blurring into the shot when pushing the shutter release button. Believe it or not, the same applies to video, especially at long range. No client wants to see the tell-tale dip or sideways movement at the beginning and/or end of a video clip because you push the button too hard. Practice holding the camera still while consciously and softly activating the camera without disturbing your frame.
I hope you have found these hints and tips useful. If you have a question or are thinking about hiring a private investigator, you can always contact us first to discuss your issue. No obligation, no risk.
*These comments, hints, and tips remain the property of Covert Observations and cannot be copied, used or repurposed without our expressed permission and agreement.