How to Shoot a Television News Story

By Paul M. J. Suchecki
The Writer with Munchkin Jerry Maren.

Television news pieces might look spontaneous, but they follow a formula. Whenever you shoot a story, keep the editing process in mind. As a cameraman you're part of a team that includes the editor, reporter, and anchor.

The actuality is the portion of the story that shows what is happening. If you're covering an event like a fire, you'll need to show it with a variety of camera angles, long shots to establish the context, medium close ups to show people, and close ups for details. It's okay to rehearse a move before committing it to tape. You'll save time in editing that way. You want to give an editor maximum flexibility. Construct your shots so that they can be used three ways. Begin by holding on your opening for 5-10 seconds. Make your move such as a pan, tilt or zoom smoothly. Finish on your closing shot for the same 5-10 seconds. That way your editor can choose the beginning, end. or the transitions with a bit of both.

Make sure that you shoot plenty of detail in cutaways. If you see anything that is remotely interesting, shoot it in close up Don't be afraid to linger on a shot so that the voice over that will ultimately accompany your story has plenty of time.

Even though you are shooting and not writing, keep in mind the universal questions that each journalist will ask: Who, What, Why, When, Where and How. Answer these questions visually and you'll make life easier for your news writer or reporter.

It's a good idea to use auto iris to get a starting point for exposure, but then adjust your f stop accordingly. If you leave your camera on auto iris, you could have some unintended anomalies in your video. Last week, I was shooting a gang summit in Los Angeles in a warm school gymnasium. I wanted to use auto iris because the light varied throughout the room and I had to move the camera on one very long shot, however a couple of the participants picked up some white hand fans supplied by the sponsors. Every time one of them picked up one to cool herself, the image would darken.

Frequently as a cameraman you'll be called upon to do the interviews. Whenever possible, put the camera on a tripod. Tell your subject to stand still, focus, and lock the camera down. Stand right next to your camera and ask your questions. Make sure that your interview subject looks at you and not the camera. Get into the habit of always asking your interview subject to identify themselves, give their affiliation and spell their names.

In contrast to the interview, reporters will deliver their information directly to the camera. I like to frame stand ups so that we have a clear sense as to the environment in which the story occurs, framing a reporter waist up in a medium shot. Pay special attention to the lighting on the reporter. If you make him or her look good, you'll be asked back to repeat your work. Most news crews don't carry one, but I find that a flex fill reflector is worth carrying for stand ups in bright sun. If positioned right it can fill in the shadows and show a reporter to his best.

About the Author

Paul M. J. Suchecki has 30 years of experience as an award winning writer, producer and cameraman. He writes, produces and shoots for LA CityView Channel 35. His feature length documentary "Reverse Aging Now," has won a 2007 Telly Award for "outstanding achievment in a health and fitness television program." A Harvard Graduate, he has a Master's of Professional Writing from USC. For more go to his website, www.CheckmatePictures.com.