JEM Associate Professor and documentarian Bob Legg discusses 5 things to keep in mind the next time you break out the camera to produce a piece of video footage. Legg teaches both introductory and advanced video production classes. He also leads a study abroad class to Cyprus every summer.
First and foremost, know your purpose
Know what you’re trying to do with the video. Decide who the audience is and what you’re trying to say - get a point across, inform them, or convince them to do something. You have to always come back to the ultimate goal: what is this piece of video trying to accomplish? This must inform everything you do. The first day of the production classes I teach, I tell students we are playing with time and space. We have the power to augment them. We use three things – audience, purpose, and venue - to do this.
Remember rules for good photos, especially when it comes to what is in the center of the frame
Things that you don’t do with photos, you shouldn’t do with video. In terms of visual appeal and aesthetic value, these things are much the same. The single biggest mistake people make is to place the most important thing right in the center of the picture. That seems like it should be fine, and in some cases it is. However, when you have a person as a subject and you put their face right in the center of the frame, you get a tiny body that’s cut off and a lot of headroom.
Pay attention to the subject and the size of the frame
In today’s world we often view videos in smaller spaces like smart phones, tablets, and popup windows on the internet. Things that may look great on a movie screen may not translate well to smaller screens. The important thing is to be proportionate with the screen and to think about where the video is going to show (i.e., venue). Take advantage of the space you have.
Be aware of the space in terms of the environment you’re shooting in, and know your camera equipment’s limitations
This is the point at which most people have trouble. Cameras are sophisticated, but they’re not perfect. I’ve never understood exactly how a camera can automatically focus – it can be fooled by the proximity, by the size, and/or by movement.
Be aware of the sound of the space. Cameras today are dramatically better at recording sound than they used to be. The sound quality will probably be fine for what you’re doing if you’re close to your subject in a very controlled environment with no ambient noise. However, if you’re in any other environment, if you’re using a microphone with more than one person, or if you’re going to take what you’re shooting and bump it up to a big screen, you need to utilize additional microphones and noise reduction equipment.
I also find that people struggle with lighting. If you’re video recording someone in a room, the last place you want to put them is in front of a window. When shooting outside, the worst time to shoot is in the middle of the day with the brightest sun. Cloudy days are perfect because they act as a diffuser. Once you understand lighting, there are lots of things you can do to maximize the look of a shot such as finding a tree that offers some shade.
Make the job of editing video easier by giving yourself natural editing points when you’re video recording
There are a number of tricks you can employ while shooting to make it easier to edit your production into a finished video. Learning how to give yourself natural editing points during recording is something that comes with practice. You can eventually learn to plan them, and they are different with every setting. One piece of advice in this area is do not turn on the camera and let it sit in one place recording. If you think through what you’re trying to accomplish, you will be able to turn the camera off and say ”that’s it” in this location and move the camera to another location for your next shot. This allows you to play with time, truncating the piece so that it is smaller. Audiences have become conditioned to watching a much more sophisticated video product. As a result, you have to think about your shot selection and the length of your shots upfront so that you can take your individual shots and edit them into a unified whole.
My final piece of advice is to go to Vimeo, YouTube, and similar video sites to review the tips they provide for producing better quality on-line videos.