One Shot–One Still: Getting it Right the First Time

Article 4 min
The pressure is on as you head into any mission. As a combat camera member not only are you responsible for documenting the scene and capturing all critical events, but you must also make sure your imagery is top quality. Optimize your storytelling and image quality using camera angles, continuity, culling, close-ups and composition techniques.

A critical part of combat camera's mission is telling a story in alignment with the commander's intent. No matter if the mission is to document training exercises for critique or capturing images of a humanitarian relief effort, your imagery must tell a complete story for the audience.

Although you might specialize in still photography or videography, at some point the mission may require you to capture both. Applying the 5 Cs of photography and videography can help you capture the best quality imagery for documentation and storytelling.

Learn and use the 5 Cs of capturing quality photographs and videos: camera angles, continuity, culling, close-ups and composition.

1. Camera Angles

Camera angles are more than just shooting higher or lower than the subject. They also encompass the subjects within the shot. Camera angles impose a psychological effect on the viewer that can alter how an event, action or person is perceived. On a COMCAM mission, you may be pressed for time, and you will likely only have one opportunity to get the shot you want, so know your angle options. These include:

  • extreme wide/long shot
  • wide/long shot
  • medium shot
  • close-up
  • extreme close-up
  • high angle
  • low angle
  • eye or subject level
  • objective (i.e., documenting the action, majority of shots)
  • subjective (i.e., subject looks into camera)
  • point of view (i.e., looking through the sites of a weapon)

Choose the appropriate camera angle to communicate the intended message.

2. Continuity

Continuity is the smooth and logical flow of visual images coherently depicting an event. This does not mean you set your camera to burst mode and get ten of the same image. Know what will get your audience's attention to get your message across, and tell the full story. Remember, applying continuity helps you provide a complete story for the audience when shooting a picture story or videotaping a sequential event.

This example of continuity depicts the logical steps of firing a weapon during a live-fire exercise.

3. Culling

Culling takes out unwanted images or scenes. It is accomplished by removing bad shots or takes, extra scenes or pictures, duplicated action, or any superfluous information. This is preferably done through shot selection during the acquisition phase. On a mission, it's important to take quality images of everything for documentation purposes. You never know what might be important later. However, after the mission or event is over, be critical of your work and only put the best products forward.

In this example of culling, images in the original sequence are being cut to remove bad shots and redundancy. The resulting sequence of images depicts a casualty transport during a U.S. Marines training exercise.

4. Close-ups

Close-ups are included as part of camera angles, but they stand alone as a tool to transport the viewer into the image or scene. Close-ups add feeling, show detail, clarify an event and isolate specific actions or ideas. A single close-up can tell the entire story, but close-ups should never be your only tool during documentation.

This close-up shot shows details, signaling something important. The close-up on the reflection of the sunglasses of the soldier focuses the viewer's attention on the equipment in his hands. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Rose Gudex) Original photo was modified for learning purposes.

5. Composition

Composition describes the arrangement of pictorial elements to form a unified, harmonious whole. The four Cs previously covered can be interchanged between photography and videography almost without exception. However, composition has unique attributes when independently applied to photography and videography. When documenting a mission, you most likely will have only one opportunity to capture the proper imagery. Using improper or poor composition techniques while capturing photographs or videos may cause the audience and stakeholders to be unmoved or unable to get the full story.

In this example, the photograph applies good composition techniques, such as the center of interest, framing, balance and the rule of thirds to evoke the audience's emotion and pique their interest. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Eric Coffer/Released) Original photo was modified for learning purposes.

Photography versus Videography Composition

A still image freezes a moment in space only, while a video is composed in space and time. In other words, a still image does not tell how long the event took or will take, but if it is composed correctly, it can suggest movement or change. A videographer can turn on a camera to record an event and hold the audience's attention by movement alone.

Without proper composition, a simple image can leave an audience unmoved. The audience wants to see a story. This does not mean a videographer shouldn't use good composition. Instead, a videographer is challenged to maintain good composition throughout the subject's movement. A photographer is challenged to initiate good composition that tells a story to hold the audience’s attention.