The first time you shoot a video of an event, don’t let ignorance of the video camera or basic techniques undermine your production. As a novice videographer, managing video camcorders and other gear while navigating a lively event and still succeeding at capturing decent footage can be overwhelming. Prepare for your novice shoot by reviewing these videography tips.

1. Plan ahead

Every event has major moments and iconic shots. You don’t want to miss those. Plan ahead for the most important things you know you have to capture so you know where to be to get the best shot and when you should be there. Get to the site of the event early to review these plans and finalize the details.

You still have to find ways to capture the action that happens spontaneously, but the key moments everyone expects will anchor your video.

2. Make every shot smooth and consistent

Camera shake, repeated zoom, and quick pans can all kill a shot. Wasting footage is bad, but ruining the only footage of an essential moment like the cake cutting at a wedding is worse. So either use a tripod or get a video camera rig that includes a stabilization device for the shoulder mount to eliminate camera shake.

Avoiding beginner mistakes is just a matter of experience and confidence. Zooming almost never makes sense unless you forgot to frame your shot well before the action started. But if you must zoom in this case, do it slowly and subtly. Or try to get the zooming done before a point where you could easily cut so you don’t have to show the zoom after editing. Panning is the same way. In each case, it’s better to stop the camera and use your feet to get a better shot than it is to move the camera during the shot.

3. Pay attention to head room and composition

Every shot has a purpose, whether it’s to show the birthday girl blowing out the candles, give you some b-roll to spice up a boring interview, or lead the viewer to a certain conclusion. You can’t do that unless you frame the subject correctly with enough headroom. Think of giving everyone just a bit of space above their heads and leaving some empty room in the frame ahead of where the main subject is moving.

Keep the rule of thirds in mind, and trust your eye. Modern cameras’ viewfinders are much closer to what the final footage will show, so you can make the call based on your viewfinder.

4. Exposure matters

Light is the most important element for reliable footage. Find the natural light, establish your white balance, and keep an eye on exposure while you frame up every shot. You can fix a slightly underexposed shot in post production, but overexposure leads to lost information. Better yet, if you have the chance to set up lighting, do so. A well-lit set with a bounce card to soften shadows produces a much more watchable shot.

5. Mind your surroundings

Your surroundings matter when you shoot an event, whether you’re walking around carrying a camera, setting up in a corner, or grabbing lots of quick interviews. This includes not getting in people’s way, not missing something fun that happens out of nowhere, and not tripping on power cables and chair legs. Move slowly and deliberately, and think about what’s happening ahead of time and you should be calm and composed so you can get the best shot possible.

Using a video camera optimally to capture a memorable video of an event takes years of experience and skill. However, if you follow these tips you can find success with your first event no matter how novice you are.