The production phase of the video-making process may be the most exciting part — it’s when you film and gather the footage you need to bring your creative vision to life.
But if you’re new to video production, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with all of the tools and techniques involved in shooting.
One approach is to use a fancy camera to make your video look good. But just as composing your memoir on a $4,000 laptop won’t make you a better writer, filming your video with a high-end camera probably won’t turn you into Sophia Coppola.
You’ve heard it before: The type of equipment you use doesn’t matter as much as how you use it. Case in point: An increasing number feature films and documentaries are being filmed on phones.
The good news is that our top tips for shooting professional-looking video can be applied to whatever equipment you’re using. Read on for three basic-but-important video production tips:
#1: Use a tripod
Same shot, different camera. Guess which one uses a tripod?
Yep—this one’s easy to spot.
Using a tripod is the easiest way of transforming amateurish video into something more professional.
When I first started making videos, despite knowing deep down that I really should be using a tripod, I often didn’t. It was just easier to handhold my camera. I thought I could get away with it, that my hands were steady enough to hold a camera without introducing distracting camera shake.
In the above video, the left-hand shot is the one with the tripod (obviously!) while the right-hand shot is me holding my camera as steady as I could. It seemed OK at the time, but you can see the handheld shakes are distracting and immediately lower the quality of the video.
Tripods can be expensive, but there are many budget-friendly options. You can also get creative and stabilize your phone or camera simply by resting it on another surface like a chair, desk, or stack of books… or even a trusted friend or colleague’s shoulders (just ask permission first).
#2: Film from a variety of angles and distances
Washing dishes may not be the most interesting visual, but think of how boring it would be if this were one shot only. No closeups, no overhead shots, no movement.
Using a variety of angles and distances isn’t just more interesting—it’s more modern. Research from James Cutting, a psychologist at Cornell University who studies the evolution of cinema, shows that the average shot length of English language films has declined steadily over the years, from about 12 seconds in 1930 to about 2.5 seconds present day.
Cutting also argues that the dynamic patterns of shots shown in modern movies fit better with the natural fluctuations in human attention.
The key here is balance. Change it up too frequently and you’ll lose people. Rely on long takes and your audience won’t stay engaged.
When filming, challenge yourself to shoot from as many different angles and distances as you can—even more than you think you’ll use.
#3: Record high-quality audio
Most filmmakers agree that high-quality audio is actually more important than using a higher-quality camera. Capturing good audio will make more of a difference to your final video than using a 4K camera.
There are two parts to this:
First, if possible, carefully select the environment in which you are recording audio, whether it’s an interview or voiceover narration. Don’t film interviews in noisy places, such as a coffee shop or outside on a windy day. Background or mic noise distracts from what the interviewee is saying.
But it’s not just loud places you want to avoid. You’ll learn that subtle noises aren’t so subtle when your audio recorder picks them up. Clinking glasses, a car driving past you, even quiet talking in the background can disrupt your audio.
Second, record audio separately. This could be as simple as setting an iPhone close to your subject or a shotgun mic just out of frame (see video). The most important thing here is to avoid using your camera’s internal mic.
If you can get access to higher quality audio recording devices, use them. But if not, make it your priority to record interviews or voiceover narrations in a quiet place.
The bottom line
If you’ve taken a video production class or made a few videos on your own, these rules probably aren’t new to you. But if you’re in uncharted territory, these tips should help you easily take your production value up a few notches.
Open Eye Creative is a small video production company with a huge vision: to use the power of story to strengthen and propel organizations that are changing the world. Read more.