There is little excuse for not producing good,
interesting, and entertaining videos that people enjoy watching.
But it will take some effort on your part to pull it off. Here
are a few production tips you can use to improve your video skills.
Today, for just a few
hundred bucks, anybody can go buy a camera that shoots
some sort of decent video images. But if you want to do
it right, plan on spending about $500 minimum for a
decent camera. Today, cameras that record to video
tape have all but disappeared. Cameras recording
data to hard drives are quickly going away as well.
But cameras that record directly to memory chips (built
in or removable) are the growing trend.
However, just having a
decent camera is only part of the solution. You
also need to have a computer and a basic editing program
to turn your jumble of random video clips into something
cohesive and intelligent.
String these two elements
together and you have the basic components for making
awesome home videos.
CAMERA BELLS AND WHISTLES
jerky camera movements, the one thing that
screws up any home video production is lousy
I own a small,
high definition camera from Sony called the
HDV CX700V. While this is few steps
above the traditional consumer's video
camera, there are a few features on this
unit that are also available on lower
The two most important camera
features you should be on the look out for
are (1) an auxiliary microphone input
and (2) a headphone jack. The
mic input allows you to connect an external
microphone so as to get clearer and crisper
sound recording when shooting on location.
jack allows you to plug in a set of stereo
headphones (ear buds work fine) so that you
can monitor all the sounds when you are
recording anything. For example, you
may be outside shooting a scene when you
hear (through the headphones) someone
revving the engine on a car or worse, strong
winds distorting the audio. By
monitoring the audio as it is being
recorded, you can either wait for the engine
to stop revving, move to a different
location or change your angle so as to block
IMPROVING YOUR SOUND WITH AN EXTERNAL MIC
Microphone quality on newer
cameras are getting better with
each generation but nothing is
better than having a good
microphone inches away from the
source of the sound. You
see it all the time on TV with
the use hand held microphones or
wireless mics clipped onto a
persons shirt or lapel.
The good news is consumer
videographers, like yourself,
can finally go out and purchase
wireless equipment, almost as
good as the pros use for less
than $160. Here is a two
mic kit, the Azden WMS-PRO
VHF Wireless Lavaliere Handheld
Mic System. It can be
B&H Photo for only $159.
That's the microphone I am using
on the Charlie Benson video # 7.
Quality is very good, and as you
can hear, picks up both Charlie
and his wife perfectly while my
camera was mounted 10 feet away.
This mic can be used indoors or
out and has an effective range
of 250 feet. Now you see
why you want a camera that has
an external mic input.
PLANNING YOUR SHOOT
Almost as much planning
goes into the video preparation as does the actual
itinerary planning. In fact the two can go hand in
hand. As I planned our trip to Ecuador, I was also
thinking about what sort of video I needed in order to
tell our story. I knew WHY we were doing this
trip. I knew WHERE we were going. So as I
was finalizing our itinerary, I was also make notes that
lead to the creation of my video shot list. My
initial shot list looked something like this:
Video 1 - Liberia To
Establishing shot LIR
Interview in terminal
(AB-FB). Discuss purpose of trip
Record take off - looking outside - shoot wing
commentary - random shots - flight attendant serving
Arrival in Quito -
Welcome to Ecuador sign - Quito terminal - FB
Quito B&B - gather
exterior shots of building & gardens for cutaways
Fran interview at B&B
It also provides a high
level game plan of what shots I need and as an outline
when I begin the editing process. I approached our
entire itinerary using this "deconstruction"
methodology. When I started out on this trip, I
knew in advance that I was going to be creating multiple
videos, telling my story in 5-8 minute chapters.
TELLING A STORY
When you decide to make a
video of an event, you are telling a story. All
stories have (at least) three components, a beginning, a
middle and an end). Our Ecuador video is no
different. The beginning takes us from Liberia to
Ecuador. The middle consisted of a series of
interim trips within the country and ended with a
summation. In my case, it went a bit deeper than that.
For most of my 11 videos were actually stand alone
segments in their own right and each had its own
beginning, middle and end.
Most people with a video
camera simply point and shoot, collecting very limited
detail of the action. From a viewers perspective,
it's like watching a football game from the last row in
the end zone. You see everything, yet really see
nothing. Shooting video is the same way.
Every scene is made up of multiple shots, that when
strung together tell the story. And here is the
good part, you don't need to record them in order.
That's why you edit.
Here is a good example of
telling the story. Let's say you and your wife
were in a gelato store in Naples Italy eating an ice
cream cone. You whip out your camera and take some
video of you and your wife eating your cones. You
record her then she records you. You then add some
commentary describing how good the gelato is.
as to how good the ice
cream is. But wait... where are you. What is
the area like. What other flavors are available.
What about that goo looking Italian guy preparing the
cones. Before leaving, you now go back and shoot
some close-up and medium shots of the guy scooping out
gelato and making cones, shoot the array of various
flavors in the display cooler, capture the sign on the
shop and than finally a long/wide shot of the street and
your approach to the actual gelato shop. Now when you
get back home, all you need do is to assemble these
various clips in the right order, trip their length to
an appropriate duration. You have created a
sequence that tells a story.
While a picture is worth a
thousand words, voice and picture are worth a million.
I like to use the "self-interview" as a way of
describing an event or a place by putting myself right
into the action. This is done by flipping the
viewfinder around so that it faces you. You will
be able to "frame" yourself in the viewfinder.
Hold the camera at arm's length, turn on REC and start
talking. Speak clearly and don't worry if you
screw up. Just do it again. With practice,
you can use this technique while walking. It makes
the viewer feel like they are right ion the middle of
A voice over is commentary
that is added to a video production that describes what
is going to happen or is happening. As you
will see in my Ecuador video series, I make extensive
use of voice-overs to move my video story along.
use very expensive microphones and specialized recording
studios to create these voice-overs but I have a
solution for you that will allow to add high quality
commentary to your videos.
Step #1: Decide what
you are going to say BEFORE you say it. That
means, write it out. I use a word processor,
and tweak every single word to say exactly what I
want to convey. When that's done, print it
out. Practice saying it by reading it aloud
until it feels natural and sounds natural.
Step #2: Using your
camcorder, take your script into a clothes closet.
Record your voice over a couple of times. If
you screw up, just say "REPEAT" and do it again.
Step #3: Transfer your
voice-over clip(s) back to your computer.
Since your voice over was recorded as a video, the
clip contains two tracks, one video track and one
audio. Take the clip and add it to your video
editing software's timeline. Discard the video
portion and use only the audio portion.
Step #4: Add
whatever visual content you feel is appropriate to
support the audible commentary you just added.
FIVE SECOND RULE
How long should a shot be?
Well that depends on what is happening. If you
recording a performance or doing an interview, you
record as much as you need in order to capture the
event. But let's say you are at the beach
recording the kids or the dog playing, plan on shooting
any one scene for no more than 5 seconds. Let's
face it, while you may love your kids or you dog, other
people watching a scene will grow horribly board
watching your kid dig the same hole in the sand for 2
1/2 minutes. Here is the good news, let's say you
do shoot way more than 5 seconds, when you edit, only
use the best 5 seconds (or less) you need to visually
describe the event.
Another thing to avoid is
shooting long duration shots from a moving car, either
through the windshield or out a side window. It
might be fine for an approaching shot but excessive use
of this tends to really grate on the nerves of the
A cutaway shot is the
interruption of a continuously filmed action by
inserting a view of something else. Here is a good
example. You in a bistro back in Naples recording
some dancers performing on a nearby stage. You are
recording them for more than a minute (breaking the five
second rule). Now begin shooting video of other
people in the audience watching who may be watching the
dancers. Look for smiling faces, tapping feet,
clapping hands etc., anything that shows crowd emotion
of the event. Now when you edit that sequence,
insert the various cutaway clips so as to appear that
the dance action sequence is visually interrupted with
shots of the audience. The important thing top
remember is, the audio of the original dance sequence
must remain continuous and uninterrupted.
While we are on this
topic, make sure to include all orts of signage that
describes where you are. These are invaluable in
setting up WHERE you are.
I like to conduct
interviews with people because it adds dimension and
other perspectives to what I shoot. In the Ecuador
series I had two expat interviews, one was planned
(Benson #7) and the other completely unplanned (Masters
#10). Because I forgot my wireless mic on the day
of the Masters interview, I needed to find a quiet area
with no wind noise the ability to place the camera close
to the subject for best possible sound quality.
EDITING YOUR VIDEOS
The key to all
successful video productions is editing.
Again, more good news. A good laptop
and some decent software and you are
producing professional looking videos.
If you are a
Mac user, you can use the free application
that ships with the Mac's operating system.
Its called iMovie. Its OK but if you
are the least bit serious about making
quality videos, you should look into getting
Apple Final Cut.
have a veritable cornucopia of products from
which to choose. The Windows operating
system ships with its own free product
called Windows Movie Maker. However,
take it from me, this product completely
BLOWS! I am using a product called
Pinnacle Studio 16 Ultimate from Corel.
It's a $110 bucks on Amazon. It's
easy to use and very powerful
Once you have
the right computer and the right editing
tools the fun is just beginning. You
are only limited by your imagination as to
what you can produce. Start with some
basics. Here are my recommendations:
unwanted or redundant scenes.
Shooting out the car window as you drive
through the Tuscan hillside is the same
as shooting out the window driving
through Umbria. I know I've been
bad shots. The ones where you were
jerking the camera around as if you were
on a bucking bronco.
the length of the clips.
order of clips to better tell the story
background music. If adding music
to a video clip with its own audio
track, don't forget to either eliminate
or lower the sound levels of video track
so as to let the music sound more
As I said at
the beginning, there is little to no excuse
for producing crappy, boring, redundant home
videos, unless of course that is what you
want to do. With just a little bit of
time, energy and some imagination, you can
be producing videos that will have people
coming back and asking for more.
If you still
have questions, please feel free to write.