When you’re filming a video on a budget, you don’t have a camera crew, fancy lighting, or Hollywood actors starring in your movie. But what you do have is the ability to create genuine, entertaining, and engaging videos on a small budget, granted you follow a few basic tips.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of tips and tricks to filming a video. You can even spend years in school studying cinematography. So rather than try to cram years of study into one blog post, I’m putting together the five tips that have helped me most.
Of course, I welcome any of your tips so please post those in the comments. Now, onto the tips…
Tip 1: Limit panning
One telltale sign of an amateur videographer is the heavy use of panning or zooming in and out very quickly. Not only is excessive panning distracting, it makes your video feel like a rollercoaster ride to your viewers. (Rollercoasters are fun, but not everyone watching your video wants to come along for the ride.)
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t pan at all. But the best way to pan is to do so slowly, hold the shot once you’ve zoomed in, and then slowly zoom out or cut away. Panning is a great tool to emphasize what a speaker is saying, especially if it’s something dramatic or important. If you’re brand new to video, your best option when first starting out is to keep a steady shot with little or no panning.
Tip 2: Steady your shot
Excessive panning is just one mark of an amateur videographer, but another more obvious sign of someone who is new to video is a jumpy, shaky, or uneven shot. Even those action movies with chase scenes mount cameras to dollies and the unsteady shots are deliberate. If you’re interviewing a customer about a solution and the camera is shaking, it will be difficult to watch.
A tripod is one obvious way to fix this. By mounting your camera on a tripod, the shot will remain steady – just make sure your shot is level. You can also use the “human tripod” detailed in this video.
Handheld video camera techniques
Tip 3: Camera angle
If you’ve ever watched the Orson Welles’ classic film “Citizen Kane,” you may remember the innovative camera angles he used — shooting upward to indicate power, shooting down to show someone being overpowered or insignificant. And, yes, he broke all the rules.
Unfortunately, we can’t all be Orson Wells. Rather than trying to be too artistic, put the camera at eye level, capturing the subject’s head and shoulders. If you want to provide some visual intrigue, you can create a set that’s interesting and frame your shot so that the subject is slightly to the right or left. (Granted you provide enough “look space,” that is, space in the direction where they’re looking. So if a subject is looking to the right, have them positioned in the left of the shot.)
Rather than shooting directly in front of the subject, turn them slightly to be at three-quarter view.There is certainly the time and place for a subject to look directly into the camera, but more often than not, a subject is at this three-quarter angle.
This screenshot demonstrates look space (he’s on the left, looking right) and a the subject facing three quarter view:
Tip 4: Framing your shot and the rule of thirds
When you’re framing a shot, think of dividing your shot into thirds. Grab a photo or get your camera and look through the viewfinder, then draw two lines — real or imaginary — across the horizontal axis and two on the vertical. This will split your shot into a tic-tac-toe array.
The rule of thirds can be thought of as the rule of what’s visually interesting and appealing to the viewer. According to Wikipedia, “The rule of thirds is applied by aligning a subject with the guide lines and their intersection points, placing the horizon on the top or bottom line, or allowing linear features in the image to flow from section to section. The main reason for observing the rule of thirds is to discourage placement of the subject at the center, or prevent a horizon from appearing to divide the picture in half.”
Here’s a video to further explain how it works:
Tip 5: Always capture extra footage
If you captured your video take in one take, congrats! But before you walk away patting yourself on the back, be sure to try it once more, perhaps from a different angle, in a different setting, or ask your subject rephrase. In many cases, what I thought was the perfect video was marred by background noise that I didn’t notice, a funny look from the subject, a wayward glance – it’s amazing how many small things you don’t notice. So capture extra footage and if you don’t need it, you can delete it. It’s always good to have extra video to work with, just in case.
While you’re at it, be sure to also get some “b-roll” which is secondary footage that you can use for the introduction or as voiceover footage that plays while a subject is explaining something.
Finally, the best way to get better is to make mistakes, make videos, and ask friends and colleagues for critiques. I invite you to share your video tips and tricks or ask questions below.
For extra credit: