VIDEO SURVEILLANCE FOR PRIVATE INVESTIGATORS

Watch some great tutorials at the end of this article! Grab a drink and get comfortable because whether new to the game or a seasoned veteran, you’re bound to learn something useful by the end of this page!

Video surveillance is an important activity for the private investigator and it is one of the tools of the trade. In order for a surveillance to be successful, the best equipment, proper technique, good location, work ethic, preparation and planning all play vital keys. Many things can go wrong during the course of an investigation and planning must be done to account for different situations. Video footage of a certain incident can make or break a case. In order to obtain great surveillance footage, private investigators must have the proper equipment and they also need to fully understand video surveillance techniques.

Surveillance is usually conducted from a distance and concealed in a vehicle, although sometimes an investigator can shoot from a house or building opposite the subject’s residence/workplace.  Video surveillance footage must be time-stamped for use as evidence in court. In order to maintain satisfied clients it is ideal to shoot the video in high definition (HD) format. Private investigators must get as much video footage as possible and it’s not just the quantity or bulk of footage that matters but also the quality. Professional private investigators should not submit video footage that is amateurish, shaky, blurry and of low quality. A surveillance video should be stable and have clear image quality, high resolution preferred. In order to obtain proper video the subject should always be in focus (not the tree branches in front of them or the building behind them).  The lighting conditions should be accounted for, for example don’t shoot into the sun, and use a proper camera with night-shot/night vision at night time.  Sony cameras seem to have the best night-shot when using a hand held camcorder.  Other brands tend to slow down the frame rate to compensate for the low light and end up recording blurry, light-streaked videos.

Read this next line very carefully as it can teach you a lot;  Recording a surveillance is different from shooting a film, nevertheless the exact same principles apply in order to obtain high quality video.

 Nowadays video cameras and their related accessories are cheap and affordable however in order to get the highest quality pictures private investigators should always invest in professional video equipment. Hint; Private Investigation Agencies/Employers tend to pay more (read ‘give raises’) to investigators who consistently submit high quality video.

There is also the recent emergence of devices such as the Apple iPhone and the Samsung Galaxy, technologically advanced smartphones that a private investigator can use. These days almost everyone has their iPhones, Galaxy, Blackberry, LG or HTC phone with them and somebody using a smartphone is not an activity that would raise suspicion if done casually. These devices can be used when a private investigator needs to shoot a video to document an important event that cannot be shot from a secure location. An example that would warrant the use of a portable camera is surveillance on a spouse cheating, and where they may be at a restaurant having dinner with another partner.  Another example is when a subject is anywhere on foot.  The use of a keychain camera is well suited for those situations and easily available for low prices.  Beware; always purchase from reputable companies and order the highest resolution and highest frame rate per second that you can get, otherwise the quality will suffer.

 

No matter what the situation, here are most important factors in obtaining quality video:

  1. When filming with a camcorder, always use a tripod or a monopod …… ALWAYS!

The difference between handheld vs supported video is like night and day.  Handheld appears extremely amateurish, undetailed and sloppy.  Clients expect more, especially if you are claiming to be a professional.  They do not want to watch something that looks like they could do it themselves. 

Test yourself:  Shoot a short handheld video of a distant subject with the camera zoomed in.  Hold it as still as you think you can.  Then, shoot the same video on a tripod or even just a monopod.  These are very easy to use in a car and keep in your lap.  Then compare the videos.  The first will usually be shaky, you won’t be able to make out details as well or recognize people, etc.  Think of a client watching that video for a long time, getting a headache/sore eyes, etc.  Not very professional.  The second video will more resemble a movie, TV program, or professionally shot video.  Which would you rather watch if you were a customer paying a lot of money for high quality, professional services?  It’s also much easier on an investigator’s body/arms to shoot video when it is supported.  You can shoot for hours with no problem. 

  2.      Always buy/use a camera that has the following features: 

  • High definition.  HD recorded video is much sharper, brighter, clearer and just all around better quality than a cheap low res camera.  You can instantly see the difference in quality.
  • Highest possible optical zoom.  Ignore the digital zoom ratings; optical zoom is what really determines the quality.
  • Large, high quality lens.  The same as in photography, the bigger the glass/lens, the clearer the image.
  • Anti-shake/stead-shot technology.  Combine this with using a monopod and you can shoot smooth, crystal clear video from anywhere, anytime.
  • Night vision/night shot (low lux).  Very important if you every work early morning, evenings and especially night time files.  You may have noticed that even when you can see a little detail in your camera screen, by the time it is transferred to a computer, it looks like a screen of black video.  Clients hate this.  Even though your word holds value, they want to see what you saw.
  • Audio Off feature.  Either buy a camera that can turn off the audio recording while still recording video, or, you can simply put a plug in the Microphone In socket.  This will prevent unwanted sound being recorded while you are videotaping.  If the original ever get viewed, it will have all of the background noises, talking, radio, etc, that should not be there.  Simply cut off the plug from an old pair of earphones, or buy an adaptor plug at an electronics store for cheap.
  • Large LCD screen.  Whenever you need to review video on site for specific details you will be glad you went with a bigger LCD screen.
  • Lots of memory.  A flash drive video camera is probably the safest for anyone collecting important evidence since this type of memory does not have any movable parts and very, very rarely fails.  Just remember to always keep enough backup memory cards ….. more than you think you will ever need!

Note:  If you use a hard-drive camera, make sure to upload your video every day as soon as possible after it has been recorded.  Hard drives have a life span and will inevitably fail.  When they do, you will be paying a lot of money to retrieve the video data if you have not made a backup.  You also don’t want to run out of video space because you haven’t uploaded other videos yet!

 LINKS TO SOME SURVEILLANCE VIDEO TUTORIALS!

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How to shoot steady video

Zooming out

How to shoot surveillance video like a pro Part 1

Auto focus vehicles Manual focus

Common mistakes made by PI’s

Mobile Surveillance 101 Part 1

Setting up your surveillance vehicle Part 1

Video Surveillance equipment review: Maxpedition Versipack bag

Tricks of the Trade: SANDBAGS

Covert Ops Part I “How to conduct a covert surveillance” on your mobile surveillance”

Covert Ops Part 2 “How to conduct a covert surveillance” on your mobile surveillance”

Covert Ops Part 3 “How to conduct a covert surveillance” on your mobile surveillance”

Covert Ops Part IV “How to conduct a covert surveillance” on your mobile surveillance”

The Ultimate Surveillance Vehicle pt.1 of 2

The Ultimate Surveillance Vehicle pt.2 of 2