Shooting high-quality video has never been easier and cheaper than it is today. Most digital cameras offer at least high definition 1080p quality and considering the applications of video from a business standpoint, it seems foolish not to offer this service as part of your photography business.
While much of your photography knowledge will transition seamlessly into the world of video, there are some hard truths you need to be aware of in order to create a video that isn’t boring. As I make the shift into producing more video, I decided to pick up a book and spend some time researching considerations for creating interesting footage. The title of Steve Stockman’s book says it all: "How to Shoot Video that Doesn’t Suck." At 4.7 stars on Amazon, it has rave reviews and a lot of great advice. I had a chance to read it this past week and wanted to pass along some of the key takeaways.
Think in Shots
A video is simply a bunch of individual shots strung together. Each shot should have meaning and provide something of value to your viewer. If it doesn't, they will lose interest almost immediately. Therefore, you should always think is terms of shots. Shoot deliberately. Every time you point the camera, who are you pointing it at? What are they doing? Is it interesting? If not, cut and find something else. Simply running the camera nonstop will cost you enormous time later when you have to watch tons of useless footage.
Don’t Shoot Until You See the Whites of Their Eyes
People communicate half of everything they say with their mouths and the other half with their eyes. Miss the eyes, and you miss half the message. Skip more than a second or two of big, wide shots. Get in close to your subject and showcase their facial expressions. Your video will instantly improve if you always stay close enough to see your subject’s eyes.
Keep Your Shots Under 10 Seconds Long
Great films or television rarely use shots longer than 10 seconds. Shooting shorter gives your video more impact. Try creating more shots that are interesting than simply shooting longer shots of any given situation.
Zoom With Your Feet
Zooming in with your camera often times results in very shaky looking footage. This is incredibly hard to watch. You can obviously use a tripod but as a follow up to our previous tip, try getting in closer to the action. In fact, challenge yourself by zooming as wide as possible and seeing how much of your subject you can get in frame. The wider the shot, the less shaky it becomes.
Stand Still, Stop Fidgeting, and No Zooming During Shots
Pros get to move the camera and you will too one day. For now, treat your video camera like a still camera. Point the lens, look at the LCD screen to make sure your shot looks good, and press start. Point, shoot, stop, move. Then repeat. The result will be a series of well framed shots in which the motion of the subject catches our attention without the distraction of the frame careening all over the place.
Keep the Light Behind You
Keep the light at your back to ensure your subject is lit and the brightest thing in the frame. If the light is in front of your lens, it’s always brighter than person you’re shooting and they’ll be dark (unless you blow the background way out). If you’re outside and they’re squinting, try moving them so the sun hits them at an angle instead of straight on.
Turn Off the Camera’s Digital Effects
There is no digital effect that your camera can do that you should ever allow it to do. Ever. If you shoot nice clean video, you can always add effects later. But if you shoot it in camera, that effect is baked in forever with no room for manipulation.
Focus On What Really Interests You
Oftentimes you will find yourself shooting clips of things just to fill a void. Avoid this. Instead, stay focused on a common subject, theme, or organizing principle. Every video will instantly improve if you apply an organizing principle, regardless of what that principle is. For example, instead of focusing on the entire basketball team, find one player you think is interesting and shoot everything about him. His shoes, his hair, his facial expressions, his arm going for a shot. By giving your audience a focal point, they will remain more engaged.
Don’t Use Amateurish Titles
Unless you are a graphic designer, avoid titles unless absolutely necessary. When you do use titles, keep them both short and simple. Use an attractive plain font such as Helvetica. Keep the title small yet readable. Put it on the top or bottom third. No shadows, no glow, no outlines, etc. Keep them onscreen a beat longer than it takes to read them.
Keep Your Video Short
Here is an old show business expression: “Always leave them wanting more.” Anything worth saying in video is worth saying shorter. We don’t need to see and hear every detail, we just need to see and hear enough to form the story in our mind. The best way to do this is aim for short when you start. The second best way is another old adage: “When in doubt, cut it.”
Use an External Microphone
Most video cameras adjust their own sound levels. That means they take whatever sound they hear and boost it to a constant, listenable level. Unfortunately, if they hear noise around you such as traffic or sirens, they boost that too. If you’re close to your subject this is less of a problem. To make it no problem at all, buy a separate mic like this RODE Video Mic, plug it into your camera or an external recorder and control the sound on your own. Good (or bad) audio will make or break your film just as much as bad footage.
Take the Quality Pledge
Read these tips over and over. Make a point to follow them as you venture out and shoot your next short. If that next video stinks, make note of why and pledge to improve upon those aspects next time. Always strive for improvement by reviewing and modifying your approach. Quality footage and audio is key and should be sought over all other considerations.
The simple process of writing these tips down helped commit much of this information to memory and will be easier to recall during my next shoot. The first step however is getting out and actually shooting. Something as simple as cooking dinner or a local neighborhood basketball game can be an excellent opportunity to challenge yourself and put all of this advice to work. Will you nail a homerun out of the gate? Probably not, but I assure you that each consecutive attempt will be better than the last.
All images used with permission.