Filming Your Playing
If you’re making a Technique Critique for feedback on your playing, it’s important to film yourself in a way that lets instructors and community members see what you’re doing.
What to play
This part is really simple!
- Platform TC videos are limited to 1 minute long. This is plenty of time for a couple phrases with a few repetitions of each, which is enough to highlight any technical issue you may be experiencing.
- Please don’t narrate your videos. This just makes it more difficult to find the playing examples. But you definitely can and should include relevant comments in your Technique Critique post. The more specific you can be about the feedback you’re looking for, the better.
Cameras need light! No matter what kind of camera you have, it will produce its best image when you give it a bright, evenly lit subject. But the level of interior lighting that most people find comfortable, especially at night, is usually too dark for this.
- The cheapest and best light source for guitar filming is a window. Indirect window lighting provides very bright, even illumination with minimal shadows.
- If window light is not available, you can use lamps – just make sure to achieve lighting that is as even as possible. Two lamps positioned a few feet apart are great for this.
- Do not let sunlight or narrow-beam light sources hit your hand or guitar directly. This will cause very bright “hot spots” in the video image, and the camera will compensate by making everything else in your video too dark to see.
- Avoid placing bright lights such as lamps or windows in the background of your video. These will also produce hot spots, making you, the subject, too dark.
- Orient your headstock toward the light source, and make small adjustments until there are no shadows blocking the view of the pick contacting the string.
Choosing Camera Angles
There are two camera angles we like to use for filming playing technique. The first is the familiar orientation where the guitar’s body faces the camera. This is the view you typically see when you watch someone perform, so we sometimes call this audience perspective:
When you film in audience perspective, just remember to get far enough away from the camera so you can capture some of your arm in the shot. That provides helpful information about which joints are moving, whether that’s wrist, forearm, elbow, and so on.
The second and more specifically Cracking the Code-style perspective is when you capture a down the strings view of the picking hand, like this:
The key here is that we can look down the strings and see what the pick is doing. One important consideration is to make sure you place the camera close enough to clearly see the pick and which string it is playing. If you put the camera too far back, the pick and string will just be a small fuzzy blur. At the same time, you still want to see some amount of the arm in the shot, so we can see which joints are moving. So those are the requirements: close enough to see the pick, far enough to see the arm. To find that sweet spot, take a few test shots if you need to.
Ideally, you should film clips from both perspectives. This is easier than it sounds. Just play the example once in audience perspective, and then turn headstock toward the camera lens, and play it again.
If you can’t do both views, then use the “down the strings” angle. This is the most Code-friendly view since it tells us what kind of picking motion you’re making, which strings you’re playing on, and how you’re moving from one string to another.
Some other tips to follow:
- A traditional tripod works fine, even for “down the strings” views. Just pick up an inexpensive phone holder that you can attach to your tripod, and you’re all set.
- When you’re filming down the strings, just make sure your fretting fingers don’t block the view of your picking hand. You can change this just by pointing the headstock a little more or a little less toward the camera lens. With a little experimentation you’ll find an angle that’s flat enough to see the pick hitting the strings, but not so flat that the fretting fingers get in the way.
- If you have a Magnet, you can use that. When you mount it, try set it far enough away from the picking hand to film both the hand and some of the forearm.
Filming With A Phone
If you have a decent smartphone, you have a great tool for filming your picking technique!
Be sure and set your phone to slow motion video mode if you have that option. If you have multiple choices for this, choose 120fps. 60fps is not fast enough to provide smooth slow motion, and the image quality will probably have significant “jello” artifacts. 240fps requires tons of light, and is usually a more pixelated “lo-res” image on top of that. So 120 is the sweet spot. If you’re not sure which frame rate your phone uses for slow motion, you can usually find that somewhere in the settings.
Don’t use the front-facing camera – it’s lower quality and usually not capable of slow motion.
If you’re using a Magnet, please film in vertical video. This will allow you to rotate the video later and fill the entire screen, for a very detailed view.
Once you’ve got your settings and your choice of camera angle / framing, make sure to lock focus and exposure, if you can, to keep the look of the shot consistent while filming. On the iPhone you can do this by touching and holding the screen on the spot you want to focus, before hitting record.
Finally, test to make sure the image is bright enough. Slow-motion video needs much more light to look as bright as regular video, and again this is most noticeable when you’re filming in a spot where the only light is coming from light fixtures. If the video is too dark to see which string the pick is playing, get another lamp, brighter bulbs, or try using indirect window lighting during the day.