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Tellling Better Stories with Video

July 12, 2010 - 3 Comments

Video CameraFor those of us wanting to use video as a presentation and communication tool…what are some simple things we can do better?

I have access to some great tools and people to help tell the stories I take part in…so I have to be careful how I answer these questions.  But here is my list – I really would like you to share yours in the comments below.  (we are featuring a full epiosde on new company-wide tools and abilities Cisco now offers to customers…watch ‘Business Video: Master the new Change Agent’ this Thursday).

Planning. Pre-planning specifically.

 ‘Plan the shoot…then shoot the plan’ they always say – even for the simplest of videos, too many people jump straight to simply pointing and shooting  – what happens?  A less than ideal video is produced that generally runs way too long and never makes a clean point to your audience.  I often feel I never spend enough time on this one…but deadlines come up and we need them or we would never get anything done…

Cisco is fortunate to have the ‘World’s Most Interesting Intern’ on staff…and although his now infamous video is primarily one long shot…you know he had to plan (write) that rap…he’s quite good…

One part of that pre-planning processes here for Tip Number Two – pick a good location to shoot.  


Yes, many videos are simply talking to a camera from your cube…but you want to stand out – think about the best location that supports your story.  Ever notice how news organizations always have a reporter standing in front of a building where something interesting happened at some other point in time?  Yet the visual is helping tell the story.  Other things to consider are of course the light source, how can you use natural light to your advantage and what noise or activity is happening around you?  This stuff can add to the story certainly, but make sure it is not distracting either. No matter how good your shot looks, if you can’t be heard you have failed here. 

Charlie Brooker provides the best expose’ of how the news is often reported…not that your goal is to always copy other styles….but there are reasons that certain methods have endured. This is very entertaining and educational!


Tip Number 3  – I sure wish more people would take this one extra step….use a tripod!  This is especially critical with these awesome little cameras we are all using these days…they are impossible to hold steady.   Since most of us are just using basic tripods or we are shooting ourselves in the video, avoid trying to do ‘moves’ – these are things like PANS or TILTS for instance…they are real hard to do smoothly on a cheap tripod…plan for CUTS.     Make a shot list of things you want to get more footage of that allow you some flexibiity in the edit phase…you will be glad you did this – get ‘REVERSE SHOTS’ of each speaker…don’t go overboard with the fake ‘head nods’…. And get establishing shots such as a name plate on a door, entrance to a building, your subject doing stuff.  Not only can this make your video more interesting – it will give you some bailout material in case you need to cover a sloppy edit point.

My favorite ‘tripod’ to keep in the bag with my FLIP is the Gorillapod!


TIP NUMBER 4 – LIGHTING   – if you want another way to really make your message stand out…spend some time on this one.  First, pay attention to your light source.  Have your subject, or a stand-in, stay in place so you can see, through your view finder, what the light is doing.  Some simple adjustments to make sure you don’t have awkward shadows can be huge here…this may mean moving some lamps around, adding a light source or two….OR, using a reflector to bounce light from a different location.  I have seen those silver sun guards for your car windshield work great here.  Standard industry lighting basics that you may want to become familiar with for lighting interviews and other common styles you might be working with use what is called Three Point Lighting.    This may involve a little light kit to make it easier for you – but a little knowledge on setting your KEY, your FILL and a HAIR light will help establish a much more flattering look as well as separate your subject from the background.  Lots of books and websites with tons of info on these tricks – check it out.  Videomaker magazine is a great resource for those of us who are not Pro but want to keep taking it up a notch.   One of my favorite single lights to keep in the bag…it can make a big difference very quickly…is the LitePanel micro

TIP 5 – Audio.  Bad audio will mess you up faster than bad video, believe it or not.  Start with a good location where distracting noises can be controlled. If you have to work in a noisy environment, call it out, get imagery and or establish your shots that clearly show why the noise exists. ‘Hang a Lantern on it” our Producer Steve always says – Make it part of your story.  Two really helpful things here if your camera supports it – a microphone input…even on consumer cameras can be HUGELY beneficial. The other handy thing to have is a way to MONITOR the audio being recorded with headphones if not some LED meters or something..this way you can make adustments, coach your ‘TALENT’ to speak differently and so forth.  At the very least, review your captured footage and check that you got what you need before you let anyone leave or before you lose your location.   One other trick is to use Voice Over so that your camera is used only for the imagery and you or someone else can record the narration in a more ideal manner using your computer perhaps and then just editing the imaages to match your narration.    *This is a GREAT trick to use in also speeding up a story….we have all had great interviews with people who will give you flashes of brilliance trapped within long boring narrative. Pull out the good stuff and string it together with a little voice over to speed it up and make your video more interesting.  This would involve not only your pre-writing but also more extensive review and logging of footage you captured so you can pull your ideal edits and write the VO to connect the dots.

TIP 6 – Framing – There is a concept in photography that many of you may do naturally …but make sure you are doing it…its called Rule of 3rds. Too much video is shot where everything is always centered.  Centered shots look horrible.   Think about framing your subject and leaving room for Lower 3rds (the titles you want to run as graphics).  Make sure there is plenty of room for the shot to breathe…don’t have people looking into the wrong edge of a frame…these things will make your audience uncomfortable believe it or not.  Don’t forget to check for things around your subject that may detract or reveal something you don’t want…a plant that looks to be growing out of someones head or maybe a reflection that shows you on camera and others standing around thinking your out of the shot  – if you don’t catch this when you shoot you will be stuck with it later…


Good pointers for doing what I call a ‘producer’ interview style…very handy for shy guests but actually good for the fact that many people may look for disturbing when they look right in the lens.

TIP 7 – EDITING –  This is what we call ‘POST’ or the POST PRODUCTION phase of a production.   Almost everything we talked about in these tips requre this – its one of the most critical – learn how to do basic editing.  The free programs on our computers these days work quite well and a few minutes spent cutting out parts of your video that don’t add to your story will be HUGE.  Most of the stuff we mention about shooting implies that you are going to edit your footage.  This is a required skill for even the most simple videos and it is key to being impactful.  Your video shooting will continue to get better if you are also the one editing it – you learn real quick what you wished you had shot when you had the chance and why shooting everything without a plan in place in first results in a TON of footage to look at as you try to whittle it down and make sense of it. 

One site that I LOVE for learning new editing programs, motion graphics or even basics on Microsoft Programs like Office, Apple iMovie, etc… I pay an annual membership to get unlimited access and exercise files but not only is it GREAT for doing video based training on stuff I own…but stuff I am considering.  Poke around their library. I know other sites exist…but this one is serving me really well.

Just remember why nobody likes to see your family vacation movies or pictures…its usually because we try to show ALL of it….get some basic editing skills under your belt take your story-telling up a few notches.   (If you get to work with a professional crew and you want a fun way to get under the producers skin…just holler out ‘don’t worry…we can fix that in post’ a few times and then stand back…they are going start heating up….)

These tips are guaranteed to make your next project stand out and make you a more effective communicator.

So what would you add?  What would argue with?   Bring it!


(Don’t forget to attend ‘Business Video: Master the new Change Agent’ this Thursday!)



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  1. Nice list of pointers that would help anyone with their camera work.

  2. Thanks for the note Sid! I did a related post over on the Platform blog if you missed it too:

  3. Nice Posting of Amazing Video.Keep Your Posting Regularly.