Once upon a time, you were pretty special if you shot and edited video as a hobby. The gear was expensive. The technology was limited. And it was hard to do a good job. It was truly a labor of love.
(I can only imagine how difficult it was during my father’s generation, shooting home movies with Super 8 film.)
Today, all that’s changed.
Shooting a video is as easy as turning on the kitchen faucet.
Every camera and smartphone you buy has HD video capability.
And who needs to edit anymore?
If your device has web connectivity, just upload a clip instantly to your favorite social media site.
So it’s no surprise that home-generated content is gushing like a geyser into YouTube every day.
Technology has democratized the video medium.
Even my toddler knows how to shoot a video.
(Just push the red button.)
The Red Button
It’s amazing that pressing the record button is now really all you need to know.
But maybe you’d like to create a video that doesn’t look like my toddler shot it. Sure, there are tried-and-true production tips to follow, but today, most everyone has thrown the rulebook out the window.
‘Experts’ say today it’s all about the content.
Nobody cares if the shot’s a tad shaky and out of focus.
A little cinema vérité is good for the soul.
If it’s funny… or compelling… or goes viral, who cares what it looks like?!
There are still people who have this crazy notion to create a more professional-looking product.
I’m one of the few, because of my background in video production.
I can’t not try for the perfect shot.
Last night at dinner, I watched my toddler help himself to two huge servings of greens out of our big salad bowl, using oversized wooden spoons.
I whipped out my pocket camera and started shooting, but missed a good portion of the moment.
I stood there in anticipation of round two.
He usually likes to repeat new accomplishments.
(What toddler wouldn’t want to keep piling it on?)
He grinned at me as I pointed the camera at him.
I said, “Would you like to give yourself more salad?”
His smile broadened, because he knew what I was doing.
“No!!” He chirped with glee.
I would have to be satisfied with the ‘one-take’ moment.
..but I digress.
The Eight Steps To Improving Your Home Video Production
In what appears like a natural backlash to the ‘anything goes’ video mindset,
some of my friends are suddenly more serious about creating better videos.
(for both personal and professional use)
Here are a few production tips and shortcuts, as well as some home-grown suggested purchases to amp up the quality of your little cinematic masterpieces.
1. Pocket camera or DSLR?
Either will get the job done from a visual standpoint, unless for artistic reasons you need the better lens on a DSLR.
The question is which camera gives you the best audio?
If you plug in an external microphone, that choice will easily give you cleaner sound.
But unless you’re using a newer DSLR, you probably don’t have an audio input on your camera to connect your microphone.
So in that case, just go with the better onboard camera mic.
As I just said, using an external microphone will get you the best audio.
But don’t worry if you can’t do it.
Just keep your camera close to your subject and make sure there’s not a lot of extraneous noise about.
(example: toddler singing “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” in the hallway)
Unless your video is an action-oriented vignette with lots of movement,
please use a tripod.
I know many people don’t, but trust me… your video will look better if your camera isn’t bouncing about in your hand.
You can pick up a little desk tripod for less than twenty bucks.
(I’m partial to Joby Gorillapods.)
This is a really big issue to keep in mind…
Always keep the main light in front of you.
If you’re inside and there’s a window behind your subject, that will create a giant bright spot.
((Move your shot away from the window.))
Beware of shadows.
If you’re just using an overhead light, that scenario will create deep shadows under your subject’s eyes.
(That’s also bad.)
((Remember, keep the light in front of your subject!))
If you want to get fancy, move your front-facing light source off to the side a bit.
This will create a soft shadow on one side of the face.
(That’s usually a good thing.)
Totally even lighting can look flat.
The good news is your lighting source doesn’t have to be high-end professional gear.
All consumer cameras today do much better in low light than their analog ancestors. That said, you’ve got to give your camera some light to work with. Otherwise, your image will look noisy as your camera struggles to compensate.
A garden-variety bright light bulb with decent white diffusion is a good place to start. But remember to keep your lighting ‘soft.’ No spot lights, please.
(I picked up a simple $14.99 lamp from Bed Bath & Beyond.)
Another option is to use the natural light from that window I just told you to keep out of your shot.
(which means flipping your set-up, so the window is in front of your subject)
Finally, don’t combine both indoor and outside light.
It’s like ‘crossing the streams’ in the movie “Ghostbusters”
Without going into a much longer discussion, just know that using both light sources will confuse your camera and mess up the colors in your shot.
If you’re shooting a talking head, you’ve got to choose something for your background that’s appropriate to the topic.
While inside your home, you should select a neutral space that’s not overly busy.
A messy bookcase is not a good example.
(unless you’re talking about messy bookcases)
An easy solution around this problem is to buy a large roll of paper for your background.
(Think of it as the ultimate in neutral!)
I bought a five-foot roll of white paper for $22.50 to obscure an otherwise unattractive home office shot.
For most people, talking naturally, clearly and concisely to the camera is not an easy task.
Instead of struggling through multiple takes till you get it right, I suggest writing down what you want to say and then using a tool used by both TV pros and politicians alike… a teleprompter!
Now, I know professional teleprompter systems cost thousands of dollars, but don’t despair.
If you’ve got an iPad, you’re only a few dollars away from owning your very first teleprompter.
There are numerous software choices available in Apple’s App Store.
I invested $2.99 on Quick Teleprompter.
There are more expensive options out there as well as a few free ones.
But shouldn’t you always have to spend a few bucks on good utility or business app?
(‘Free’ makes me wonder what the catch is.)
‘Quick Teleprompter’ gets the job done just fine!
There is one caveat to this particular production shortcut…
The way $2.99 and an iPad get you a working teleprompter is by placing your iPad just underneath your camera and then reading your script near the top of the iPad screen.
(This technique reduces the distance between the words and the camera lens.)
It’s a critical issue, because the further your eyes are from the camera’s lens, the more obvious it is you’re reading a script.
(It’s also annoying to watch someone when they’re not talking directly to the camera.)
Professional teleprompters use glass and mirror systems that place the script directly in front of the camera’s lens. So viewers always feels you’re looking right at them, and most don’t even realize you’re reading.
All this said, the iPad teleprompter solution works reasonably well, as long as you don’t forget to keep your eyes as close to the camera lens as possible.
This is easy.
Just keep your video short.
Assume the entire world has a very short attention span.
(So you’re likely going to need to do some editing.)
If you’re the star of your show, you’ll need to demonstrate some interest in your topic… and don’t overdo it. Just be yourself.
And if you can enjoy yourself a bit, all the better.
I guarantee your audience will pick up on your good vibes.
Practice Makes Perfect
Like most anything else, you’ll learn by doing.
And a $44 production budget shouldn’t burst your bank account!
Now get to work…
Lights, Camera, Action!