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9 Tips to Capturing Great Video

January 6, 2010
at 12:00 pm PST

Creating compelling video is part art and part science (and, yes, a bit of luck). I’ve learned, mostly through trial and error — lots of errors! — that following these 9 tips will go a long way toward capturing great, usable video footage. Hopefully this will help spare you the pain of making the same mistakes I have.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, just a few tips and tricks I’ve picked up. And why 9 and not 10? Well, I’m hoping those of you who’ve done some video work can offer up a tenth tip.

Read on for 9 tips to capturing great video…

1. The most important piece of equipment, besides your video camera, is a tripod! Trust me, unless you’re filming “The Blair Witch Project” your video will turn out much better with a steady shot.

2. The microphone on most consumer-level cameras isn’t very powerful and the lens will fare far better in brightly lit areas — so film in a quiet, well-lit space — making sure that any bright lights are positioned on the subject.

3. Don’t film into lights, into a window, or against mini blinds. Have a look at a couple of examples from my footage where I made both of these mistakes. (And you only make them once!)

Here’s one example of a very backlit shot because I thought it would be a nice idea to film at the window with the pretty ocean in the background. The end result looks more like a spy video than a conference in Miami:

film into window

And here’s a video with the mini blinds behind the subject — notice that the blinds have a strange pattern:

4. Ask your subject to wear a solid color (preferably not white or pink) — just as with mini blinds, tight patterns patterns and stripes tend to moire on camera making it appear as though the shirt is moving. Definitely don’t want to add your own special effects.

5. Make sure the background isn’t distracting, but not too boring either. It’s fine to have regular office supplies, artwork, people walking by, etc. Just make sure your subject doesn’t fade into the background.

6. If your subject requires a “prompter” or notes, put bullet points only — not verbatim text — on a poster or piece of paper (watch out for rustling) and hold it at eye level next to the camera. (That’s where the tripod comes in handy so you’re not holding the camera and the notes). Or try one of these mini teleprompters or iPhone apps.

7. Limit panning — zooming in and zoom out while filming. Don’t zoom in too close, crop the chin (cropping the top of the head is acceptable). For best results, get head and shoulders in the shot.

8. For a more interesting shot, try framing the subject so that he or she is on the slight right or left of the shot. It provides a bit more interesting shot than someone who is dead center.

9. Rather than asking the subject look directly into the camera, place an interviewer next to the camera and ask the subject to talk to that person. It looks less like a deer in the headlights and the subject feels more at ease.

What should the tenth tip be? Or what questions do you have about video? Ask a question here and I may answer it in an upcoming blog post (or just right here in the comments). And head over to the Channels Buzz partner community for tutorials, videos, and other video tips.

And, now, thanks to a couple of Channels blog reader contributions, we’ve added two more tips:

10. From Gregor: Make sure that you shoot at head height! Shooting up at someone or down at someone is never a great look for a website video except in very few instances!

11. From Tina Shakour: Be “over the top” with your voice and gestures. The guys on TechWiseTV have pushed me to do this and while you feel like a dork doing it, it looks better on camera. The more energy you put into it, the better it will look on the small screen later.

Please keep sharing those tips in the comments. Thank you for your comments and contributions.

Got an idea for a story on this blog? Interesting people for us to interview? Topics you’d like to see? Pitch us: channelsblog at cisco.com.

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32 Comments.


  1. What would you spend on a digital camera to get some good quality results? Do you use any specialist software for editing purposes or can it all be done with something like windows movie maker?Thanks for the post and the great tips.

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  2. In this ‘broudcast yourself’ world we live in today with YouTube and such, these are great tips. Thank you for sharing your experiences. We have been posting videos on YouTube recently using a free product called Jing (the free version of Camtasia). Do you know of a way to spruce up videos that go onto YouTube? Here is an example of a video we shot of our financial dashboard for small businesses – Corelytics (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NdEQqNsRTkQ). Your feedback would be appreciated.

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  3. Sir,it’s a very informative post. From my childhood I’m a fan of video shooting. Started with mobiles till I own my handycam. I’m not an expert though. Can you advice me how to compress the video files (for sending/uploading purposes) maintaining the clarity? Or is it a stupid query?Thanks Flek

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  4. Alexandra Krasne

    Hi everyone, thanks for reading — and thanks for your questions. I’ll answer as best I can, but these questions may also lead to follow-up blog posts, so stay tuned for those by following @Cisco_Channels.Flek M, in terms of compression, there are a host of tools out there. Quicktime Pro is a good bet, lets you compress your video into a variety of sizes without too much loss of quality, it’s easy to use, and it’s available for Mac and PC. Perhaps it’s time to do a blog post on compression itself and how to best do it. Treasure Coach, thanks for your questions. I like a site called CamcorderInfo.com — they give great reviews of cameras. Flips are great for capturing quick interviews, but if you want to plug in a microphone, step up to a consumer level camera that will run you about $500-1000(USD). In addition to my Flip, have a Canon Vixia that captures great footage. I get a lot of questions about editing software. I am a Mac user and find that iMovie can get me through the basic editing. I’m learning to use Final Cut Pro, which is quite advanced, but a lot more granular. MovieMaker is the iMovie equivalent for Windows and I’ve heard it’s easy to use. Tony, glad you like the tips. I checked out your video and think it’s a great introduction, but what about showing a person using the software or have a shot of the person talking, then cut over to the screen shot? People want to see themselves using the product. So while the software is the main focus, the people using the software is important, too. Hope that helps.And please post more questions and any topics you think I should cover in future blog posts.”

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  5. Hey, i am creating a video for my presentation and these tips are really going to help me to come up with a good one.

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  6. 10 – Make sure that you shoot at head height! Shooting up at someone or down at someone is never a great look for a website video except in very few instances!Thanks very much for the tip – I didn’t consider the stripey shirt issue!Gregor

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  7. Tina Shakour

    Be over the top”" with your voice and gestures. The guys on TechWiseTV have pushed me to do this and while you feel like a dork doing it, it looks better on camera. The more energy you put into it, the better it will look on the small screen later.”

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  8. Nice tips.I will try some of them to take good photos next time.

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  9. My video skill is bad. I think I am good enough, but other usually say not good enough. I hope your tip may improve my skill.

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  10. Regarding the compression topic I concurr that it does require a separate post but there are tow I use and found good enough. VideoLAN Client has some transcoding capabilities and there are loads of guides to use this feature on the web. Best option to preserve quality while decreasing size is to use the H.264 or MPEG4 codecs. QuickTime, DivX and Flash wrapped files will use a form of these codecs. Once the codec is selected you need to play with the size of the picture and the bitrate to achieve the results you want so begin with a short video file (1 or 2 mins), play with the settings and once you’ve found the ones that work for you transcode your larger video.Avidemux is a more powerful tool, a tad more complicated than VLC but there are also some good guides around that will take you step by step. Both VLC and Avidemux are free, opensource and available for a variety of platforms.

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  11. Great Tips…. I too often record video but mostly for my home events. But I really love to know how I can better capture it.

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  12. Great tips! I’ve never thought about wearing solid colors, and laying off of the patterns. It makes sense though.I’m currently in the market for a good video editing program. Are there any that you would recommend, that’s not going to break my wallet?

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  13. Based on my experience it all depends on your needs but for basic video triming, adding transitions and some subtitles you can download for free Windows Movie Maker or use iMovie if you own a Mac. Both are easy to use and support a limited set of codecs but do a decent job for short, web based videos. If you need something more advanced in terms of formats, effects, codecs or even handling multiple video and voice streams then Adobe Premiere Elements is a good choice for windows or Final Cut Express for Mac. Neither of these will break the bank and you can download and try the former before deciding. I have even used Picasa (free Google photo manager with some video capabilities, available for both Windows and Mac) to do some quick videos out of photos and short videos. Hope this helps.

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  14. Alexandra Krasne

    Thanks, everyone. Glad these tips were helpful.Oscar, great recommendations! In my experiences, iMovie can do quite a bit for a basic program and, until recently, I’ve been able to get by with just that for movies. It didn’t work with true HD so that’s why I had to upgrade to Final Cut Pro. Ed, if you’re looking for a side-by-side comparison, here’s a review of some basic software packages that cost less than $100.”

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  15. Nice tips. i think it’s work, i will try it next time.

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  16. Both are easy to use and support a limited set of codecs but do a decent job for short, web based videos. If you need something more advanced in terms of formats, effects, codecs or even handling multiple video and voice streams then Adobe Premiere Elements is a good choice for windows or Final Cut Express for Mac. Neither of these will break the bank and you can download and try the former before deciding. I have even used Picasa (free Google photo manager with some video capabilities, available for both

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  17. Pretty much everything you need to know to shoot quality video. Make some notes of this article to have when you shoot.

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  18. Wow ! I think i will be a good videographer using these tips LOL

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  19. oh. I think it’s amazing information. I can approve my video skill with your advice

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  20. These are great tips. Thanks. The use of video or film is increasing dramatically online. Plus its easier to show someone how to do something on a quick video rather than writing pages of text that people don’t want to read.

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  21. compelling video is part art and part science (and, yes, a bit of luck)”" You’re not kidding! some really great tip s here though, should really help aspiring videographers over a few hurdles.”

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  22. Yeah blinds definately mess up shots, it took me a while to learn that.

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  23. I think it’s amazing information

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  24. Tina Shakour

    Psst…TechWiseTV has a show airing this Thursday on JUST this topic! If you can’t watch it this Thursday, it’ll be on demand starting this Friday. Here’s the link – pass it on!http://www.cisco.com/offer/business_video/193760_26

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  25. Good information. I am researching creating a video for my website so I can talk to my potential clients online and this helped. Very competitive industry and hoping a video will put me over the top. Thanks.

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  26. thx @Alexandra Krasne for great Info to make a Great Video Don’t film into lights, into a window, or against mini blinds. regards from germany

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  27. Kalpana Ettenson

    Thanks, everyone. Glad these tips have proven useful. Would love to see links to videos you’re making. Please feel free to post them here in the comments.

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  28. Thanks for the interesting and useful information, do you have experience or recommendations for imaging of micro objects – mostly insects – ants, bees and others. The topic interests me a lot.

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  29. i will using this tips to create a video for my blog. well, i will get back with the url.You have a great tips here. thanks for providing it.

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  30. great video, i will use it to create a video for my website, thank´s for your information

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  31. I think it’s amazing information. I can approve my video skill with your advice

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  32. Thank you so much….I found it really helpful

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