Based on my years as an editor, I've encountered three types of raw footage:
- Short little spurts. (8-59 seconds)
Somebody hangs out with their camera. They're waiting for something to happen. Then, they record for an arbitrary number of seconds: usually twenty or so. So what you're left with is many little clips, covering various scenes and angles.
- Medium spurts w/ alternate takes. (1-5 minutes)
The cinematographer is still shooting small bits of footage. These small bits are longer, and contain multiple in-camera attempts to get the shot looking just right. So in a piece of footage there's the shot - swooping in on a rabbit, for example - and then multiple attempts at getting the shot - another take of swooping in on the rabbit, and another, and another. Usually there's a take deemed "the one," and then a few superfluous "safety" takes.
- Long immersive shots. (5+ minutes)
The cinematographer is filming continuously. The duration of a shot is usually the maximum allowed on a media card. They're capturing everything they can at every moment, and making their transition from one composition to the other as smooth and as cinematic as possible. This is pro-level documentary videography.
There's a time & place for the first two types of shots.
If you're running around in a dangerous area and see something beautiful... then the first method may be best: crouch, record, count to eight, run (been there).
And if you're trying to capture a nice little moment but you're on the go, or not officially supposed to be filming, then swooping in with your camera - doing multiple takes till you get it right - always works.
The point is to bring awareness on how people shoot documentary footage.
Other blogs, other filmmakers, don't talk about this stuff because it seems obvious.
This subtle improvement of your shooting technique, however, will drastically increase the quality of footage you capture as a documentarian.
As a director, you want options.
Shooting long immersive shots (especially when coupled with professional audio coverage) will get you the most bang-for-your-buck, as well as give you the highest amount of editing options.
Think about it: If you're shooting an event for a limited time, your probability of capturing something amazing exponentially increases if you're filming everything constantly.
And if you master transitioning compositions seamlessly, NOW you're cooking with gas.