Updated: Dec 19, 2018
Have you ever shot something and thought it was one of the best things you've ever done only to realize that the footage is too shaky to use? I have. I do my best to be as smooth as I can in my movements, but I know that there will be something that I can't use at some point. Don't get me wrong, some of the stuff actually looks good sometimes, but there are limits to shaky footage being considered "artistic". Let's take a look at some classic Hollywood shaky footage.
Shaky footage can play an important role in a scene, but only specific scenes. In this example from a Jason Bourne movie, the shakey footage adds excitement and a sense of urgency to the speed and wrecking of random cars. Had it been steady footage, it wouldn't have had the same impact.
There's only one problem with this scene, it's dancing on the fine line to being too shaky. Luckily, it works for the movie, but it's all a matter of preference.
Now if you look at your footage and have footage that is this shaky and all your filming is a vlog or some type of interview video, it wouldn't be a good idea to use that footage. There are tons of times that I've looked at my footage while I was filming and thought it looked great only to find out that my movement wasn't as smooth as I thought I was. It's possible to fix the footage in post with some footage stabilization, but sometimes it isn't worth it. Here's a good example of that.
This is a video I made for a local tattoo artist back in 2012. If you skip to 1:51, you'll see the clip that I took the time to stabilize. You'll notice that the image kind of warps in certain spots and that's usually a dead give away that there was some major post editing done to that clip. When I shot it, I didn't have the equipment I have now. I literally was just holding the camera in my hand, rested my arm on my leg while I was crouching down and I leaned myself forward. I thought I was stable and smooth when I shot the clip, but as soon as I saw it on the computer, I knew right away that I'd have a lot of work to do if I planned on using that clip. It took a while, but I was able to get it to the point that you see now and I thought that the clip worked good for the video as a whole. If I could go back and re-shoot it I would, but this video just goes to show you how far someone can go. Granted, I still have some shaky footage here and there, but I only use it if I think it adds to the project as a whole.
Shaky footage is especially dangerous when it comes to wedding videos. When you do wedding videos, you need to make sure that the footage is the best that it can possibly be. There's not much room for error, especially if the couple is going to be spending money on you. They don't want to pay $2000 for shaky footage and sub par shots. If I did a wedding video and I had to stabilize the footage the way I did in the video above, they would immediately tell me that they won't pay me the full amount since I messed the video up. Of course, this is worse case scenario, but would you want to take the chance of having that happen in real life?
That's where your judgement comes in. Look at your footage and see if it adds to the project. If it doesn't, toss it. One main thing you can do to prevent this is to take the time to look over the footage while you're shooting. You're the director so make sure you have everything you need during the shoot. No one is perfect when it comes to getting stable footage, even Hollywood does multiple takes of the same scene. Don't be so hard on yourself if you end up doing something like this, but don't be too proud to say that this clip isn't going to work. That's what get's you in trouble in the future and how you end up failing after a year or two.
If you learn from my mistakes (and possibly yours) and take the time to do the job right instead of doing it fast, you'll be better off in the future and you'll make things a lot easier for yourself in the editing process. Step out of the trends of EVERYONE using some kind of shaky footage and find your own style. If your style revolves 100% around shaky footage, then do what you gotta do. Just remember to keep an open mind and look at your finished project and see if it's the best it can be. Trust me, you won't regret it.