Ten Tips to Better Video
by Robin Liss
So, you want to make your videos better, but you don’t want to read every article on the camcorderinfo.com website. Well, improving your videos really isn’t that hard, and if you follow just some of the advice in this article, you’ll be well on your way to making them better. Here are ten tips for making your videos better:
1. Get a good Tripod, and Use It – The first step in improving your videos is stabilizing them. Your camcorder may have built-in image stabilization, but it can only compensate for so much motion. One of the best ways to improve the appearance of your videos is to get a quality tripod. While some camcorders come with tripods, very cheap or give-away tripods tend not to provide a very good shooting base. $100-200 is the starting range for tripods that will be sturdy and offer smooth movements. Be sure to get a tripod with a head specifically designed for video.
2. Learn When to Pan, Zoom and Use Other Moves – One of the most common video mistakes is making constant movements and adjustments. Be deliberate when making adjustments, don’t make changes without a reason. Take a shot of something and leave it there for 10-20 seconds, stop the recording and take another shot. Don’t quickly pan the camera from one subject to another. When panning and zooming, use slow, smooth, and deliberate motions. This will make your videos much more watchable.
3. Do a Little Shot Composition – The purpose of taping something is so you will be able to remember and enjoy it later. Before you hit the red button, look at your shot and see if you have everything in it that you want and that it is framed nicely. Do this as you would if you were taking a still picture; prior to pressing “record,” not after. Good shot composition uses the “Rule of Thirds.” This is where you treat the screen as being divided into a tic-tac-toe pattern. When framing a person, you want their eyes on the top line and the center of their head on the left or the right line (i.e., facing inward). Although this may cut off the top of the subject’s head, it will provide the proper balance and really make your shot look professional.
4. Learn Your Camcorder Like the Back of Your Hand – The best videographers know every function of their camcorder and could operate it with their eyes shut. Having good knowledge of your camcorder’s features and functions is a necessary element of making better videos. The most obvious need for this knowledge is to allow you to always have your eye in the viewfinder or on the LCD screen, not looking away at the controls to zoom, focus, or make other corrections. More than just knowing where each control is, you should learn all the how image settings like white balance, exposure, and backlight affect the image.
5. Tell a Story – If you don’t have the time to formally edit your videos, use in camera editing (i.e., the fancy name for pressing record and pause at just the right times) to neatly follow some chronological path and tell a story. People will more likely feel compelled to watch your videos if they tell a story. It matters less what the story is about than how well it’s told. You don’t have to narrate your videos to tell a story; the pictures can do that. Take a wedding for example. First, we get a shot of the outside of the church. Then, we get some good interior shots of the church to show what it looks like. During the ceremony, get shots of the bride and groom as well as family members’ reactions. You’ve now told a story about the wedding that will be interesting to watch.
6. Put a Tiny Amount of Money into a Lavaliere Microphone – The best audio purchase that you can make if you’re mostly doing home videos is a lavaliere (lav) microphone. It’s designed to clip onto the clothing of the subject (e.g., lapel, tie, or collar), near their mouth, and plug into the camcorder to pick up the best possible speech audio. Lavs are also small enough that you can hide one somewhere in a scene to pick up better sound than a camera mounted mic. If you really don’t think you would put a lav to any use, then consider some other external mic, such as a shotgun or handheld. The reason for doing this is simple; your on-camera microphone cannot be placed any closer to the audio source than where the camera is. Even the best on-camera microphones will not do an adequate job of picking up soft sounds at a distance. Additionally, the unwanted sounds between you and your subject will be picked up, and with many on-camera mics, this can include sounds to the side and behind the camera as well. External mics start at around $30. It’s great to have one in your bag if a situation that calls for a mic comes up.
7. Look Into Lighting – A lot of image quality problems can be solved by employing some simple lighting techniques. You may not want to invest in or have the desire to carry an entire lighting kit with you where ever you go, but you can make the best of the natural or available lighting situations that you face. Whenever possible, shoot in a well-lit area. Make sure there is not bright light like the sun behind a subject. If your subject is standing in a bad lighting situation, have them move into better light if possible and the video will look much better.
8. Interviews – A great way to improve your videos is to interview subjects. Interviews can provide good insights through the actual words of the people involved. No matter what the event is, a baseball game, picnic, wedding, or party, interviews can add a nice touch. When doing an interview, frame the shot with the head and upper chest showing and with the subject off-center to one side or the other. As the interviewer, you do not need to be in the shot, but rather stand next to the camera. Stand on the side of the camera that will be the open side of the shot, and have the interviewee face you. Tell the interviewee NOT to look at the camera, but just carry on a normal conversation with you and keep eye contact. This may seem awkward but it works really well and it is how almost all professional interviews are done (see figure 4). Remember to leave plenty of space in the shot to allow for the interviewee to move naturally and nod. This way they won’t slip out of the shot.
9. Pack Well – Every videographer has their favorite video goodies that they keep in their bag, but there are some basic things that every camcorder owner should carry with them. One thing is a special lens cleaning cloth that does not scratch the lens, commonly used for glasses these cloths are great for wiping down the camera lens or LCD screen. Another is an extra battery (put the money into buying an extra long life battery so you “never” run out). A pen, pad of paper, and extra labels are also essentials. Bring as much extra videotape as you can comfortably carry. It’s also good to carry a set of RCA cables (video cables) because you never know when you’ll need them. A roll of tape to secure cords and other things is a good bring-along, as well as anythin
g else that you think will make shooting videos easier.
10. Have Fun! – They key to making good videos is enjoying yourself. Always find new and interesting things to do and to shoot to make your camera experiences fun and exciting. Experiment with your camera and see what you enjoy and what works well for you. Remember that if you’re having fun, so will your viewers!