Record at least 30 seconds of blank video (preferably with lens cap on or fade button (if available) activated) before recording the “good stuff.”
Whenever possible, use a fluid-head tripod. It is very difficult to hand hold a camcorder steadily enough so that false motion does not call attention to itself. Before shooting, adjust the tilt drag so that the camcorder will stay in one place with your hand free of the tilt-pan handle but easily move when needed. If you must hand-hold the camcorder, get close to the subject and keep the zoom control at medium to wide settings, and use whatever you can to brace yourself and the camcorder.
Do not rely on automatic focus as it is easily fooled by glass, water surfaces, brightly lit background walls, and objects that are momentarily closer to the camcorder. Instead use the manual focus setting and whenever possible before recording each shot, zoom all the way in (extreme close-up), adjust the focus, then zoom back out. By performing this “hyper-focus”, the subject will remain in focus at both tight and wide zoom settings. Automatic focus may be appropriate however on occasions when the action is so fast and furious that you cannot focus manually quickly enough.
Get in close to the subject, keep the zoom control on medium to wide, and fill the frame with your subject. This makes the scene more interesting, gives greater depth of field allowing you to be a bit “sloppy” on focus, and minimizes any camera unsteadiness particularly when it is hand-held. It also gets the on-camera microphone close to the subject for better audio.
Keep live zooms, pans, and tilts to a minimum especially if you are not practiced enough to do them smoothly. Never let the camera call attention to itself. No “zip” motions - let any motion whether a pan, zoom, or tilt be at least 3 seconds in length following which the camera is steady again for at least 3 seconds. Avoid, especially, “broken” zooms where you zoom in or out, stop, zoom some more, stop, zoom some more, etc.
Compose your video frame by mentally dividing the frame into thirds both horizontally and vertically. Don’t bore your audience by keeping the subjects head centered in the middle one-ninth block. Watch that you have enough, but not too much head room. A good rule of thumb is to place the subject’s eyes one-third of the way down from the top of the screen. If the subject is facing left or right, give him/her some extra nose or lead room in the same direction by placing his/her back one-third of the way horizontally. Keep in mind that many televisions overscan and may not show as much of the scene as you see in your viewfinder or monitor. Leave about a 20% safe area around your subject. Avoid cutting off the subject at the ankles, knees, waist, chin, etc.
If you will be later editing the tape, shoot some extra footage of the overall scene (establishing shots) and of people, animals, objects, etc. that can later be video insert edited to cover errors, poor pans/zooms, and to use as bridges from one scene to the next if a “jump cut” would otherwise result.
If you must start and pause the recording as in an interview situation, you can avoid later “jump cuts” of the talent by placing the camcorder on pause, zooming in or out or changing the camera angle, then resuming recording. Such changes in focal length or angle should be quite significant rather than subtle.
Have the scene well lighted and avoid situations where there would be windows or other bright light sources behind or just to one side of your subject. If this is unavoidable or for special effects, you will have to utilize the camcorder’s backlight control or if manual iris adjustment is available open up the iris one or two f-stops.
When shooting from a stable location with the camcorder on a tripod, connect a video monitor to the video out jack of the camcorder or power supply and use the monitor rather than the small on-camcorder viewfinder for framing and focus.