How can I improve my videography skills?
Want to create a polished, professional video that impresses your audience? It’s easier than you might think.
Achieving a professional look is more about your technique than your tools, so you don’t need to drop a fortune on expensive equipment – chances are good that you can make great videos with whatever you’ve got right now, just by paying attention to a few key details.
Tips to Make Your Videos Look More Professional
Find your Fellini.
Someone on your staff has shot and edited video. One great tip in spotting these folks is to seek out the glowing Apple logo on devices, then ask the owner about video editing. As soon as you identify your subject, tell him or her that they now specialize in Video Production. It’s important enough, now and in the future, to have a full-time expert.
Invest in gear.
Like anything, the difference between pro and amateur is noticeable. The good news is that for under $2k you can get a (deductible) DSLR camera and external mic/lav mic that will open up new frontiers of production value.
Figure out what you’re trying to say and to whom.
There are two questions to ask when beginning to plan for video production: What’s the message and who is the audience?
Plan your shoot
Whether you’re making a feature film, shooting a music video, or documenting a family documentary, the idea is the same: plan it out and stick to the plan.
- Consider the following:
- Work with a script.
- Calculate your shots.
- Budget the necessary time.
- Prearrange cast and crew.
Shoot to edit
Remember to shoot your movies with variations of the scenes you plan to use. There’s a misnomer that suggests shooting as much footage as possible, so you have a lot to put together later. Not the best plan. It will take you a long time to make sense of it.
Instead, try to capture the necessary shots with the appropriate variations of camera angle, focal length, and camera-to-subject distance.
For each scene, consider the following variations:
- Vary the width of shot. Wide shots give context.
- Medium width adds perspective.
- Tight shots add emotion.
- Hold each shot. Whether you need two seconds in your movie or two minutes, always shoot the scene much longer than you anticipate on using it.
- Vary your angles. Break up shots by placing the camera up high or down low.
- Establishing shot. Be sure to shoot a strong opening shot for the film and for each key scene.
- Limit each take. This is when rehearsing comes in handy.
Use Plenty of Light.
Lighting makes a huge difference in the quality of a finished professional video, so make it one of your top priorities during filming. If you don’t use enough properly-placed light, your video will probably look amateurish, even if it’s great in every other way.
The sun is one of the best light sources for video. If you’re filming in natural light, do your best to get your footage in the morning or evening, when the light is softer. Midday light coming from straight overhead can cast harsh shadows on your subjects, while morning and evening light is more flattering. If you do have to film in the middle of the day, try to do so on a cloudy day, or find a shady area for softer light.
Use a Clean Background.
Be deliberate about the background you use for filming. Nothing looks less professional than a messy or distracting background. One easy way to get a professional look for your video is to use a solid-colored background. A wall, a bedsheet, or a large sheet of backdrop paper are all good options. Make sure your subject stands several feet away from the backdrop to avoid casting shadows on it.
Keep Your Editing Simple.
Trying out different effects can be fun during the video editing process, but don’t go too crazy. A simple, clean editing style generally looks most professional.
A few things you should be sure to do during the editing stage include:
- Using noise cancelling to clean up any background noise.
- Adjusting the lighting a little if you need to.
- Cutting out awkward pauses and silences.
- Adding background music and transitions.
Learn to Color Grade
As film crews are continuing to shrink and roles continuing to merge, a good cinematographer in today’s multifaceted environment needs a good understanding of color grading — if not how to double in that role altogether. If you think about it, it really makes sense for a DP to know how an image is going to color in post and how to shoot intentionally to prepare for those results.
Use Different Aspect Ratios
Another way to get a cinematographer out of his or her comfort zone (which is important for growth), is to practice shooting in different aspect ratios. A good cinematographer should have a comprehensive understanding of what it takes to shoot in everything from a 1:1 box to 2.35:1 cinemascope. A DP will have a major say in what aspect ratio is right for a project and will make their selections and recommendations based on what the story dictates.
Be cognizant of sound quality.
Don’t come off as an amateur with poor sound recording quality. Use lapel or lavaliere microphones — both of which are hands-free — when shooting sit-down interviews, or use microphone and boom setups for bigger shots. If you’re filming a video with a smartphone, you can purchase microphones that fit into the phone’s headphone input to quickly and easily improve sound quality.
Obey the rule of thirds.
The rule of thirds involves splitting up your shot into thirds, horizontally and vertically, and framing your subject off-center. It creates movement and life in your shot the way a straight-on, centered shot wouldn’t.
Use background soundtracks.
Light background music can cover any ambient sound and provide tone and emotion to your video that words and images otherwise can’t. You can find royalty-free stock soundtracks that you’re allowed to use on sites like AudioMicro — make sure you’re not using songs that are licensed, or else it could result in your video getting taken down.