“Why doesn’t my video look as exciting and fun on film as when I’m doing it?” Believe us. We’ve asked ourselves this question a few times.
The truth is that creating an action video is all about controlling the perception of movement in your film. Although it may seem contradictory, one main mechanism for increasing tension and intensity is about mixing “slowness” into your action film. The basic rule of thumb is: the more varied your footage is, the more dynamic your end product will be.
Create Dynamic Content
Vary your scenes’ subject matter
First, let’s talk about subject matter. The length of your film should reflect the subject matter. In short, as soon as you make cuts or have multiple scenes and cameras, you can create more action. One camera and one angle is OK for one run, or a few action sequences cut together, but not suitable for a long video. The more angles, perpectives, activities, and subjects you show during a video, the more interesting it will become.
Consider mixing together different activities in your action videos (such as in this video). Seeing a little bit of the lunch break can make the next run look more exciting… Or at least make the characters in your video more interesting.
Vary your shots
Most people think that if you slap an action cam on your helmet (or skis, chest-holster, or… insert overused camera placement here) the video is going to be intense. Unfortunately, it isn’t that simple.
Within a shot, the audience develops a feeling of distance, speed, and intensity – their perspective. Sometimes a close-up will seem faster, other times a wide-angle shot will work better. Not surprisingly, your angle will also effect the intensity of the images which you’ve filmed.
Let’s have a look at the different angles which are commonly used and situations when it could be possible to employ them in your own videos.
A quick overview of shots & angles
Rear angles or POV shots
This “first-person” method of shooting is a great way to give the viewer a look from the subject’s eyes. By either mounting a camera on a helmet or chest, or having a camera operator following a short distance behind, the viewer has an intimate perspective into the action.
To use the POV angle effectively, the subject needs to be moving forward and experiencing intense action (i.e., simply pedaling hard is not too convincing). I call this the “tunnel effect” because this angle creates the most tension when you have a tunnel-like setting with objects on either side of the frame while your subject moves between them.
This other side of the coin from the “first-person” perspective. A front angle shot is not particularly useful in action cam filming. The subject here will be the subject’s face or front. Thus, it’s best use is for expression and reaction shots, like when you take that first fall while bungee-jumping or when a roller coaster goes through a loop-the-loop. Use this angle sparingly for extreme facial expressions or long falls and some jumps.
Overhead shots can be quite interesting if you have a good lookout from a nearby rooftop or window. They allow long, cinematic pans which follow the action, but may lose some of the detail that you can get with a close-up. Thus, they are well-suited for establishing shots and scenes where a close-up cannot follow the action.
The side-shot can be either a medium or wide-angle shot 90° perpendicular to the middle of the frame. This angle will offer an excellent perspective which will help show the scale and environment of the action. In particular, this technique is useful for gap jumps while shooting skateboarding, snowboarding, and parkour. However, this angle is less useful for non-stationary filming than the diagonal shot due how much is seen in the frame and ease of filming.
Diagonal (or 3/4) shots
The diagonal shot places the camera circa halfway between a side angle and a front (or rear) angle. Subjects can move towards or away from the camera, offering perspective and depth to their setting and movement. This is perhaps the most useful shot for action cam videos, because so much of the activity and surrounding is captured in each take. For filming activities such as cycling, this is a little suboptimal, since it is more difficult to focus on what is ahead. With a little practice, a good eye, and a steady hand, the angle is possible to capture in most action videos.
The Dutch angle
This is any one of many twisted angles, in which the camera is tilted. These can be useful to create a false sense of orientation when the subject is actually standing or moving at an angle. By using this technique, the viewer has a new sense of which direction right-side up is. A tilted camera is often employed for action moments such as guitar solos (the guitar is at an angle) and skateboarding (when the ledge is at an angle or the skater is at an angle to the ground).
Here’s an interesting study on YouTube of the Dutch angle.
A quick wrap up to shot style
Vary all of these elements while shooting. The easiest way is to do this is with multiple cameras. If you only have one action cam, then manipulate your filming so that you can vary all of these elements. Take more runs on a shorter course. Each run should be with different camera placement. Alternatively, cut together long footage of different runs with one camera placement. The variety of material will add intensity to your final cut. This is not a natural idea that will come to while you’re on the slopes or out on the river. Try to think about this every time you take a break, before you start a new run, or tackle a large obstacle (e.g., taking a big jump). Use that movement to change the position of your camera, or film another person taking the same jump.
Get creative in post-production
Control your playback speed
One very important tool to any action film is playback speed. However, be sure to always use a high frame rate while filming, otherwise you won’t be able to use playback speed functions without compromising the quality of your video.
When shooting action sports like skateboarding or free running, it can be helpful to slow down playback when a complicated or quick-moving trick takes place. Likewise, if there is a long stretch of footage without much action or dynamic, the footage can be sped up to make it a useable change of pace to the other material which is the main subject of your film. (One more tip: if you do change the playback speed, make sure that your changes fit the music and actions.)
When in MAGIX Fastcut, you’ll find this option in the “speed” tab, where you’ll find a “slow motion/fast motion” slider and a checkbox to “play video backwards.” In MAGIX Movie Edit Pro, you’ll see this option under Effects > Speed. Here’s you’ll see a slider with a multiplier for playback speed.
Keep an eye for detail on your audio
Don’t forget to also spend some time on your audio.
First, you should assess whether the film’s raw audio is usable. Then, you’ll need to make a few considerations before your film’s audio can be signed off for the final cut:
- Volume control
- Background music
- Audio restoration for clipping and noise
- Audio design (in case you need to replace bad audio)
We have an helpful article, which goes into more detail about audio restoration and design here.
The Final Wrap
Experiment with these different tools and techniques to manipulate the tempo, intensity, and story of your film. With good footage and these tools you will be able to create varied emotional arcs to your video. Try to incorporate them while developing your personal style.