Stef Michalak crouching on a path with a Canon EOS M50 to film his son's first ride on a balance bike.

VIDEO TECHNIQUES

Moments to treasure: filming the family

Stef and Hannah Michalak describe themselves as 'a family from Bath that make videos'. The couple record intimate moments of their journey through parenting in a series of cinematic videos that have clearly struck a chord – since joining YouTube in 2012, The Michalaks' weekly vlogs have attracted 276,000 subscribers, and amassed more than 43 million views.

While the videos give an authentic, spontaneous impression of their life, they are the result of careful planning, shooting and editing – a process that Stef has perfected through trial and error, and years of practice.

For Stef and Hannah, the hard work has been worth it. Not just because they've found success as YouTubers, but because they have a library of beautiful videos that they'll be able to look back on in years to come. As Stef says, "It really is worth putting a little bit of effort into it, because you won't be able to put a price on that video's value to your family. You're never going to look back 20 years later and think, I really regret that day when we took all that footage and made that beautiful video. And the reason we use videos for capturing memories, rather than photos, is that nothing can bring you back to the moment like video can".

The Michalaks started out with a simple compact camera, and while they have since added professional cameras to their kitbag, their main vlogging camera for capturing life's little moments is the Canon EOS M50, a great all-round mirrorless camera that packs 24.1 megapixel photo capabilities and 4K Ultra High Definition video technology into a compact body.

"You need a camera like the Canon EOS M50 to be your little go-to workhorse, and it's so simple to use: turn it on, set it to movie mode, maybe spend a couple of seconds making adjustments in the menus, and that's it, you're ready to go," reveals Stef.

Find out how Stef got on as he shoots a film about his youngest son learning to ride a bike – and offers some tips for how to take your first steps in video.

1. Find an interesting angle

Stef Michalak holding a Canon EOS M50 camera at floor level to film his son's first ride on a balance bike.
Experimenting with different angles is a great way to add variety to your filmmaking. Stef suggests moving the camera around to improve the composition, making the final video exciting to watch.

If you're more comfortable shooting photos than video, don't be afraid to make the switch. You can put all of your photography composition skills to good use when shooting video. "I think it's important to approach a shot as if it could be a photograph," says Stef. "Essentially you've got this tiny window looking out onto this huge view and it's all about where you place that window to perfectly capture that scene. Sometimes it's a case of taking a step to the left or right, or moving the camera down or up to improve the composition and draw the viewer towards the subject."

"People tend to hold the camera at eye level, but it's important to try different angles," he adds. "When you're filming children, for example, it's important to get the camera down to their level. The majority of the time, I'm either squatting, sitting or lying down. The handy thing about the Canon EOS M50 is that it has a Vari-Angle touchscreen, so you can hold the camera at a low level and simply tilt up the screen to monitor what you're recording. I'd also recommend activating the grid lines display to help frame your shot."

The Canon Camera Connect app, which connects your camera to your iOS or Android device, is also useful for capturing footage from unusual angles, because it enables you to adjust focus while you're filming without touching the camera.

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2. Stable images

Stef Michalak helping his son hold onto the handles of his balance bike. Stef's EOS M50 is resting on the arm of a bench.
No one wants blurred images and there are a number of ways to combat camera shake, such as resting your kit on something stable, investing in a tripod or using a lens equipped with IS.

To avoid shaky footage and ensure your films look professional, it's important to support the camera and lens in the same way as if you were taking a photo. "Make sure you're holding the camera with both hands and tuck in your elbows," says Stef. "And definitely invest in a tripod. It doesn't have to be anything big and heavy if you're using a lightweight camera such as the Canon EOS M50.

"Look around for anything you can leverage to provide support, such as putting the camera against a door and slowly opening it to introduce smooth movement. In the past, I've even put the camera on a slowly rotating egg timer, and sped up the footage later."

A Canon Image Stabilizer (IS) lens such as the Canon EF-M 15-45mm f/3.5-6.3 IS STM makes it much easier to make shake-free images. But it's also possible to correct camera shake digitally, even when you're using a lens that doesn't have IS.

3. Focus on faces

A portrait of Stef Michalak's youngest son Rufus.
The Canon EOS M50 has Face + Tracking AF, which means it's easier than ever to keep moving subjects in focus – ideal for filming family fun.

Stef recommends using the Canon EOS M50's Face + Tracking AF to automatically keep moving subjects in focus. "All my Canon cameras are basically glued to this setting. It does an amazing job of tracking the action, especially with active kids. It's so reliable, and means one less thing to worry about when you're shooting."

Many Canon cameras feature Dual Pixel CMOS AF technology, where the pixels on the camera sensor double up as discrete AF points for even faster and more accurate tracking. This feature becomes active on the Canon EOS M50 when recording in Full HD, which is a good resolution to use when you want to edit quickly or when you have less space to store files. Dual Pixel CMOS AF offers up to 143 AF points (depending on the lens in use) with face and object tracking. Manually selectable focus across the frame means that when you're shooting action shots you can drag your finger on the touchscreen to move the AF point or create a professional pull-focus effect.

4. Use a higher frame rate for action

Stef Michalak's eldest son, Grayson, riding a scooter over a bridge in a park.
Stef usually shoots at the highest frame rate possible so he can capture more detail and create slow-motion videos.

Before you start shooting, you need to select a frame rate for the Movie Recording Size. This is the number of frames that are recorded per second. Shooting at a higher frame rate enables you to capture more detail in action sequences, and it also allows you to create slow-motion video when you play the clip back at normal speed.

"Ninety percent of the time, I shoot at the highest frame rate possible, because it gives the flexibility for slowing down footage later," says Stef. "So I would choose 50 frames per second (fps) rather than 25fps if that option is available. I would never share the video online at the higher frame rate though, because it tends to look hyperrealistic. Instead, I would convert the video to 25fps before uploading it, as that looks more cinematic. The rare time that I would shoot at 25fps would be a talking head video that I'm sure I won't need to slow down."

You get a wider choice of frame rates when recording at a lower video resolution, so it may be worth recording clips in Full HD rather than 4K if you want to create smooth slow-motion clips.

5. Record clearer audio

The Canon EOS M50 with the Canon DM-E100 mic attached, positioned on the arm of a bench behind Stef Michalak and his son.
Audio quality is vital when capturing video. Stef recommends keeping the process simple and setting the recording level to Auto, and maybe using a small stereo mic.

The quality of the sound is just as important as the picture, but Stef advises keeping things as simple as possible. "I recommend leaving the recording level set to Auto so that you can focus on capturing the moment."

A Canon STM lens such as the Canon EF-M 15-45mm f/3.5-6.3 IS STM uses near-silent stepping motor autofocus technology, making it a great choice when you're recording audio on the camera. You can further improve the sound quality by using a microphone that attaches to the camera's hot shoe. "Even a small stereo mic such as the Canon DM-E100 can make a big difference," says Stef.

If you're shooting with a long lens, Stef suggests that you use your phone to record the audio. "If you want to film yourself from a distance, set your phone to its sound recording mode and place it nearby. Clap three times for the camera, as that will make it easier to synchronise the sound and picture in software."

6. Be an objective storyteller

Stef Michalak filming his young son as he makes a peace sign at the camera.
You can't capture every moment, so set yourself a time limit. When it comes to the edit, pick your favourite bits and cut the rest to make a film to be proud of.

It's easy to overshoot when you're recording family events, but Stef recommends that you remain objective and set yourself a goal. "There are so many beautiful shots out there, but they have to contribute to the story rather than being just another nice shot. There is an obsession when you first start to capture as much as you can, but you'll just burn out. You need to just find a nice rhythm with the camera and not worry about capturing every nuance of the day.

"If you end up with hours of footage when you come to the edit, set yourself a time limit of just a few minutes for your final film – otherwise you'll end up making a 45-minute montage. Keep cutting clips until you're left with the best bits."

Written by Marcus Hawkins

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