With all the recent innovations in computers and camcorders, parents feel more pressured than ever to capture every moment on film and to make home movies that rival Hollywood productions. These days, though, you don’t have to be Steven Spielberg to create home movies that earn two thumbs up. 

There are a number of websites and magazines that will help you select the right equipment for your family. In addition to the camera itself, you’ll want to stock up on extra batteries and tapes. Consider a tripod if you plan to film school plays and soccer games; otherwise, the image will wobble (and your hands will get awfully stiff!). Once you have the camcorder, take time to read the instructions and practice using the zoom, pause button, and backlight; it’s tempting to learn as you go but disappointing to get home and realize your film is unwatchable. Once you’ve mastered the basics, it’s on to style: 

  • Think about what you want the finished movie to look like before you start. No, you can’t choreograph your child’s every move, but make a mental list of shots you want to include. Tape is cheap and often reusable; shoot more than you think you’ll need and edit it later. If you’re filming a party, try to get footage of everyone there, as well as shots of the piñata, birthday cake, presents, and other iconic images. 

  • Let people be themselves. Yes, you wish your kids will sit still, but footage of them poking each other may bring back more memories than a stilted shot of them on best behavior. Candid footage is often more interesting and poignant than generic staged shots. 

  • Consider what makes your family and your experience unique, and include it. Think of home movies as time capsules, and include the hobbies and habits that define your children.

  • Most camcorders don’t come with great microphones, and it’s difficult to get kids to cooperate anyway. If your audio is less than perfect, consider muting it and putting a musical soundtrack on the finished movie instead.

  • Instead of asking friends to watch hours of footage of your trip to Maine, create a short “highlight” version and a longer version just for family. Also, learn to trim your video clips and include only the truly memorable moments in each movie. Your audience will thank you. 

  • If you start to feel that you’re too busy memorializing family events to actually enjoy them, put the camera away. Life is meant to be lived.