Last century I yearned to have my own video camera. Now I have several – on my phone, my laptop, my SLR camera, my snap shot camera, my video camera and my underwater camera. Video has become everyday, accessible and cheap to play with.
With this in my mind, I have penned this blog, where I skim over my accumulated video knowledge acquired from the school of hard knocks. It’s a general guide for beginners, with tips about the many things to consider when making a video.
I share video tips, insights and knowledge that I have picked up since 1995 in my career as an independent video maker. I have included information to get you started, to help improve your skills, prepare your expectations, learn how to make watchable videos and think about how else you can use your footage.
The best way to learn is by doing
Shoot some footage, edit it and watch it back. Shoot some more, edit, watch and repeat. Don’t be precious. Go through the whole process several times (before you invest time and money), to familiarise yourself with what it takes to make videos.
Estimating the time to make a video
Be prepared to spend at least double the time video editing compared to the amount of footage you have. A one day video shoot is a two day video edit. Two hours of footage will take at least 4 hours to edit and that’s only if you are cutting chronologically. Note that making a one minute video edit can take longer than a 10 minute edit (depending on the subject and how many effects you use).
You’ve all got some kind of technology to hand that you can use to shoot videos with. I’d rather see what you make than hear about the video kit not being perfect. Video technology takes a leap every decade or so. A software update may not work on an old operating system. A new video format may make old video editing software crash. Work within the limitations of the video equipment you have. Note that the audiences do tend to update their devices – when they view standard resolution on a modern high resolution device, the results are not as sharp. With film it’s a different story. Practice with what you have.
Understand that there will always be technical issues at some point or another until you become totally familiar with all your video equipment – prepare for unforeseen circumstances. Work through each issue and be persistent, give yourself more than enough time. Read your user manuals and learn to type the descriptive phrases into Google to find solutions. Keep all your batteries charged and your memory cards backed up and empty!
It takes discipline and effort to get the camera out and start shooting. Carrying a large camera around does not go well with spontaneous shooting or hard to reach locations. However, those big lenses on those big cameras do give the best results – plus they look good when you’re on a job. The camera bodies will go out of date but the lenses will fit the old and the new cameras. The lenses can easily cost more than the camera bodies. I like to use a high end phone camera for my everyday shooting, because I have it on me all the time and it’s easy to whip out. I can also effortlessly hike with it and I use a little grip tripod. Think about how you want to use your camera – do you want to clip it on like a Go Pro for action shots or fly over scenery using a drone? Use your laptop camera, your phone or any video device you can lay your hands on – it’s the content that counts!
Work out your budget for the video shoot and for the video edit – write down every tiny expense you can think of. Buying, updating and maintaining video equipment and video editing software can be an expensive habit. As you practice your craft, take on video editing jobs for other people or think about selling your video clips on an image bank to help finance keeping your kit up to date. (You will need to explore what type of footage is in demand on image banks.)
So you’ve got some stunning video footage, did you shoot it all yourself? If not, do you have written permission to use it? If you are working in a team, it’s important for the people doing the shooting and the video editing to know each others craft because they flow into each other. I edit in camera as much as possible – meaning I think about how I’m going to use each clip, so I only shoot what I need (20 seconds clips rather than 5 minute ones). When you get the right shots, in the right duration and quantity, it makes the video editing so much easier. Use your tripod as much as possible as the results are easier on the eye. Edit your videos as you go along, so you avoid an overwhelming backlog of footage and it will teach you what you need from your shoots.
Lighting a shoot
The more light you have the better quality the video. The brighter the better. Sunlight is the best light source and works well if you keep it behind you or to one side, always consider where your shadow is cast. When shooting in an interior, consider where your light is coming from and shoot tests to see if you need to add more. The camera (on auto) will pick up the brightest or darkest parts of what’s dominating the frame. If you want details in the dark areas, then you need to make sure that most of the frame is dark or vice-versa for seeing details in the light areas. If you want more control over this, then it’s time to explore your camera’s manual settings. To frame your shots well, look around through your lens to see what looks good and you will create the best out of any scene.
Shoot an extra few close-ups and from different angles at varying distances to help avoid any repetition later on in the video editing process. They’re called cut-aways and they are very useful for linking video clips together when you don’t have any more footage.
Panning and slow motion
Do as little of both as possible.
Instead, describe the scene with 3 or 4 different angles and cut between them rather than panning. Even professionals videographers don’t pan much because it’s so hard to achieve a smooth result. If you must, panning up and down is smoother than left to right, even on a fluid head tripod.
The slow-mo function is good to use now and then, when placed well. Use for only a second or two, just for impact, otherwise the video will be slow for no apparent reason. Plus it can be a bit jumpy, especially when combined with a pan. Use slow-mo when you want to bring some momentary attention to a detail of a fast piece of video action.
Ultimately (when the camera is stationary), each video clip will work best if there is some kind of movement happening in the frame. When there is nothing moving in a scene, I make something move somehow – I wait for a breeze to move something in the foreground or choose to shoot when a bird flies over. Try focus pulling, that adds movement where there is none.
Presenting and acting styles
You can use a remote control and a tripod to film yourself. Decide if you want to be observed or to be a presenter.
You can pretend to be unaware of the camera, let the viewer into your world to watch you without looking back at them through the lens. Speak your thoughts out loud – the audience will be familiar with the experience of being a “fly on the wall” to your life.
Perhaps you want to engage with the viewer directly presenting a subject. Make direct eye contact with them through the lens and talk to them. Speak from experience about what you know, it will be more natural than reading. Make bullet points of the topics you want to cover.
The production team
Work with people you feel comfortable with. There is only room for one director and then everyone else who brings their expertise – people who have written the script, storyboarded it, are shooting it or have paid for the production can have opinions but must respect the decisions of the director. You must also expect the initial idea to be fluid, to change as it is interpreted by each of the people who are planning, designing, shooting, acting and editing it. Make sure the team is happy by taking care of their needs – alway have refreshments to hand.
Get the audio levels consistent throughout the video for the music, atmospheric sounds and the spoken word – use headphones to check or make an export to playback on a different device. You should be able to see the audio levels moving from green up to red in the audio part of the editing software – if your audio stays in the red it will create clipping, where it literally clips off some of the sound. Compare your sound level with other videos on Youtube, so the audience doesn’t have to adjust the sound on their devices to hear yours.
Recording video audio
Use an external microphone or move your voice (or the sound you want to capture) close to the camera mic – do tests at various distances to achieve the best level. It’s good practice to record a few minutes of ambient sound in each location to use as background noise. This handy to have when you’ve recorded the narration in a studio and you want to tie it into a scene. Be aware of background sounds when recording, make sure everyone knows to be quiet when you are shooting. Say something like, “Action” before you start recording.
Original audio is a must in these days of copyright infringement. If you can pick a few chords out on a guitar or a piano (or ask a friend to) it’s better than using material that will later give you copyright problems when your video is made public. When you hear a good audio track when you’re out recording, always grab a good few extra minutes of it to use under other footage. The sound carries the video when it is done right. I try out lots different soundtracks to get the right feel for the video.
Log your footage as you record it or as you import it. Label it with notes to remind yourself which time-codes are important. Your software might be able to do this. Things like whose in frame, location, what’s happening – you’ll thank yourself later when locating specific clips.
Invisible video edits
When a video editors work is done well it should be invisible. When a video is working well, every single edit is invisible. In fact, a video editors job is to make the viewing experience friction free, so the story is delivered fluidly. To create invisible edits, shuffle the trimmer along each way on both clips until each edit flows smoothly, sometimes you may need to swap a clip to make the magic happen.
Cutting room floor
Sometimes, for whatever reason, you are not going to be able to use your best video clips. Be prepared to let go of them for the sake of the overall feel of the video. When some of the clips are not that great quality (shot in low light or with a lower resolution camera) – I would leave those out unless completely necessary to the story. Be ruthless.
Use as few video transitions as possible, straight cuts make for timeless classical editing results. Fancy effects like mirroring and transitions that slide in and out using several shapes can pin a video to a certain moment in time and age the video prematurely. You can link clips together by actions, themes, colour and shapes (like a close-up of smoke flowing into the misty lake scene).
Repetition is easy to spot and makes the viewer think that you think they are stupid. Use your cut-aways, they are useful for linking shots together when you don’t have anything else.
Titles and subtitles
These take time to transcribe, translate, proof read. Decide upon a font with the right feel (the font can be made to match a brand) and layout the text in a balanced way. The laying out of text is graphic design and requires a designers eye to be done well. Make sure the font is in a readable size, matches what is being said on screen, has enough space around it from the edges. Also check it has a high enough contrast ratio of text colour to the background colour, so people with partial site can read it as well. For the background use either a blank slide or a band with around an 80% transparency. Remember to add a website or contact on the last slide, so the video can be traced back to you.
You need to think about the end result before you start – at least a little bit, no? Who is your audience and how and where do you imagine them to be when viewing your video – laying in a chair in a gallery or walking past a shop window? What do you want them to feel? Can you deliver your information in a story? Are you giving them the content they seek in a timely manner, no long intros, are you getting to the point succinctly? For example, commuters may want bite sized pieces or short regular series, shoppers may want short bright loops that describe what they can buy and art lovers may want dramatic yet dreamy elongated single long shots coming out of the gallery walls. When uploading your video content online, use titles and keywords that you think your audience will type in the search field to find your content. The more videos you make the more you will realise what you are good at delivering and what type of content your audience enjoys from you.
Make content that is the right duration for each viewing platform – commuters using their phone screen (10–15 minutes), in a cinema (10 mins–1 hour), in a night club or restaurant on a LED screen (20 minutes to 1 hour looped), sat at home on a TV (15–30 minutes), scrolling on social media (20–240 seconds), in a gallery (it’s up to you)! You could make short versions for social media that link to the long version on Youtube to advertise your video.
Video export settings
Look up the technical specifications on the different platforms where you want to host your videos. Once I have completed a video edit in full resolution, I then create a new timeline for the different platforms, with the correct aspect ratio and resolution and copy the project in and then adjust each clip to fit. For example, for Instagram I use aspect ratio 1:1, resolution: 1080 x 1080 pixels, file size: 15MB, duration: 60 seconds, codec: h.264, MP4, frame rate 25, data rate under 2000. I use the software Compressor for Macs to export videos with these low file sizes, while retaining excellent quality. Keeping the video file sizes low helps them to load better and doesn’t eat up the audiences data. This is a whole subject that you will need to investigate – become familiar with the export interface by doing tests. The settings can vary wildly depending on what video editing software you are using and where the video is intended to be hosted.
Archive your work in full quality, on a hard drive that you own, as well as uploading it to the cloud, for example Youtube or Vimeo. Youtube is the main go to free video platform for sharing videos, you need to sign into Google and make yourself a channel. You could also cut a version that is a collection of the best eye candy clips. This would be great for visuals on an LED or projection screen or for a screen saver. Learn from other broadcasters who are doing a similar thing and find out what else they do with their footage. You can break your longer videos into shorter episodes, say into 5–10 minute watchable bite size pieces and each one with a descriptive title, so that your audience knows what to expect.
Well done for reading all these video tips – I know there’s plenty more I could cover! I hope what I’ve written down here comes in handy at some point. Anyone can make videos these days and everyone has to start somewhere. If you’d ever like a consultation, training or for me to review your video and give you constructive feedback, contact me for an appointment and to discuss my payment details.
You can check my credentials as an independent video maker on the video tab on my CV.