Teaching Video, Part 4 -- Nat Sounds and Action Shots

The Importance of Nat Sounds

Nat sounds, i.e. real sounds from real life, and action shots, i.e. real people doing real things, really add life to your video story. These can be done off tripod. Sometimes you can get a shot just for the sound, pointing your camera right in the middle of it, or as close as you can, and if the shot doesn't work, you can always keep the audio, and lay it underneath a shot which is better composed and from further away.

Nat sounds keep your audience engaged. There can be only so much narration and quotes in a video story. Images without good audio can be lifeless and seem extremely flat. Anytime your story might be getting boring, think of including a shot with a strong nat sound to break it up, and get the viewer reengaged. Opening and closing shots also work well when they are accompanied by strong nat sounds. Think of a boxing story, for example, which obviously would start out well with someone punching a bag distinctly, or a fighter skipping rope, with the sounds of these actions extremely distinct.

I've used this video below for audio tutorials as it does such a great job in showing you how to really get life through sound. Many broadcast pieces should start with a strong nat sound, especially if it's more about storytelling than a breaking news type story.

For this lesson, I'll highlight the work of Darren Durlach who was both a master of nat sounds and action shots when he worked as a news photographer in Baltimore in the late aughts. Here he explains and shows the importance of audio variety in video work.

The Importance of Action Shots

You need your subject's to be doing something, not just sitting at a desk, even if that's what they do all day. You don't have to be filming a Red Bull skateboarding commercial, but you want to try to have them do something on camera. On tripod, sequence the action. Off tripod, move your camera steadily and with purpose to follow the action.

To get action shots, you sometimes have to anticipate, you want to film your subject from the front or side, rather than the back. Stay in front of the action. If you are off tripod, you can easily give your story a sense of urgency with your action shot. On tripod, you can get a really clean, overall shot, or a detail off the action, like a horse kicking up some dust.

At the very least, have your subject walk in and out or around an interesting part of their office. Have them type at their computer if you really are pressed for time, and have no idea what to do with them and sequence that shot for all it's worth. If you do have more than just a few seconds, have them do a show and tell of their office, and favorite mementos, or of their surrounding. More importantly, if they do something interesting visually, film them while they are doing that, especially if it relates to your story. This applies to features, and profiles, obviously, but also to breaking stories. Check out some Durlach's award-winning work below.

The Photographer of the Year- Darren Durlach, WBFF, Baltimore from Poynter Institute on Vimeo.

Here below, Durlach explains some of his thought process when he arrives at the scene of breaking news, what he prioritizes, and how he is able to consistently return from an event with excellent material.

"Nat Packs"

When you become better, you can also start trying so called "Nat Packs", video stories which have no reporter track. These are much harder to do, and obviously to work, rely on really well edited soundbites, great nat sounds, and lots of action shots. You want your subject to be on wireless mic, and to speak through the action. You want to ask them "leading questions", so they explain who they are and what they are doing themselves. This is a really good tutorial on how to create high-quality nat packs. And below, some examples.

If you enjoyed this tutorial, make sure to check out the other chapters in my video series.

Teaching Video, Part 1 -- Your Equipment and How to Use It

Teaching Video, Part 2 -- A Lexicon of Shots

Teaching Video, Part 3 -- Shot Composition and Sequencing

Teaching Video, Part 4 -- Nat Sounds and Action Shots

Teaching Video, Part 5 -- Interviews

Teaching Video, Part 6 -- Standups

Teaching Video, Part 7 -- Choosing Your Video Stories and Shooting Them Wisely

Teaching Video, Part 8 -- Ingesting Into Premiere

Teaching Video, Part 9 -- Writing Your Script

Teaching Video, Part 10 -- Editing

Teaching Video, Part 11 -- Raising Your Game

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