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Document your life on video -- without annoying your friends

Documenting life on video is easy but fraught with potential missteps, our Netiquette columnists say.
Documenting life on video is easy but fraught with potential missteps, our Netiquette columnists say.
  • Thanks to smartphones and Flip cameras, shooting (and posting) video is easier than ever
  • Be thoughtful and give everyone the heads-up before you start filming
  • Nothing screams amateurish like a camera whipping from subject to subject

Editor's note: Brenna Ehrlich and Andrea Bartz are the sarcastic brains behind humor blog and book Stuff Hipsters Hate. When they're not trolling Brooklyn for new material, Ehrlich works as an associate editor at and Bartz is news editor at Psychology Today. Got a question about etiquette in the digital world? Contact them at

(CNN) -- Behold the power of the teeny, tiny camcorder.

With the push of a button, we've got real-time recordings of clashes with riot police in Egypt, chaotic protest scenes in Libya, totally adorable kitties and rambling, real-life mumblecore scenes of everybody sipping Tecate and listening to that new YACHT album on Spencer's porch.

That's right, documenting life on video is easier than ever, and rolling cameras are preserving moments that otherwise would have been lost. Recently, a young acquaintance passed away, and her friends scoured their hard drives, sending her parents iPhone and Flip cam clips of her goofing around or vacationing or just hanging with friends.

Those vids captured moments snapshots never could -- movement, gestures, body language, voice. Would her clique have had so many clips to choose from 20 years ago, when personal video recording involved bulky cameras and tapes? Certainly not. Thank you, Digital Age.

YouTube, the original platform for anyone with Internet service and a penchant for hitting the record button, recently hit 3 billion daily views, proof positive of our need to film and screen.

"Watching the Watchers," an awesome article in the current issue (that's print, not online) of Wired, notes the ubiquity of cameras. It said roving cameras have turned citizens -- the ones whom ol' Orwell worried would be constantly in Big Brother's view -- into watchdogs who capture and bring to light shadowy instances of police brutality, for example. But the writer, Clive Thompson, also admits that when he wore an ear-mounted camera for a day, he unnerved the crap out of everyone he encountered.

So, two takeaways here: One, become that wannabe videographer who uses the video function on her phone/tablet/etc. because videos shared over social networks have power, either for nostalgic or citizen journalism purposes.

And two, when filming your friends in particular, don't be a complete jerk about it. Here are a few things to keep in mind before pressing the big red record button.

Be transparent

Raise your hand if this has ever happened to you: You're mugging in front of what you assume is a still camera for something like 30 seconds, wondering why the cameraman hasn't pressed the shutter, only to learn the device is on video and you've been captured posing like a fool and intermittently hissing "Did you take it?" through your teeth.

Don't be sneaky. Announce you're taking a video, let everyone get their awkward hand waves out of the way, and then keep rolling as the gang relaxes and the action unfolds.

Announce your intentions for the vid -- and stick with them

Are you going to post this to Facebook unedited? E-mail it to the present parties only? Capture a few hours and then edit it into a five-minute review of the trip to be shared with friends and family?

Whatever you decide, give everyone the heads-up from the get-go so that people can muzzle their potty mouths, hide the booze or toss cover-ups over their two-pieces accordingly.

Or, you know, rearrange the magazines on their coffee table so they're heavier on the so-hip 'zines and lighter on the embarrassing weight-loss glossies. Remember, anything posted online can (and probably will) come back to haunt you.

Stand still and let people come into the frame

This is a technical tip as well as a social one. Nothing screams amateurish (not to mention nauseating) like a camera whipping around from subject to subject at breakneck speed.

Pointing your camera one way and letting subjects step into the spotlight gives them a bit more control and prevents the results from looking like they were shot by a caffeinated monkey with spontaneous arm spasms.

After all, popping some Dramamine shouldn't be a prerequisite to watching your posted masterpiece.


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