Content creation is no longer confined to the worlds of marketing and advertising. Today, everyone carries a near-production-quality camera in their pocket. And video platforms such as YouTube, Instagram and TikTok have become common household names.
Everyone has access to the tools needed to capture and record anything and everything at the mere touch of a button. There is also more access to learning material than ever before.
In the past, video production skills were either exclusive to professionals within the industry or only attainable through higher education. Now, anyone with a smartphone or a GoPro can learn these skills for a minimal investment, or even for free if you know where to look.
Keep in mind that everyone starts somewhere and some content is better than no content. Use what you have access to, and repurpose it creatively.
This article doesn’t assume that you have a full production crew and thousands of dollars of equipment at your disposal. Many famous influencers have done quite well for themselves, carving out their own slice of the internet using nothing but their phone. You, too, can do everything outlined here with nothing more than a phone and your imagination!
What follows are a series of tips to keep in mind when capturing your content and things to avoid while working toward a final product.
Lighting, Framing & Composition
One of the first things to consider is what kind of lighting you have access to. There are many different ways to get a good lighting setup. A lot of the process will be trial and error to get the results you are looking for. Here are a few tips to get you started.
- Key Lighting: You should place your strongest light source facing your subject and off to one side, creating a slight shadow on the side of their face.
- Fill Lighting: A fill light adds dimension and softens harsh shadows created by the key light. Place this light on the opposite side of the subject to offset and balance the lighting.
- Backlighting: Placing a light source behind and above the subject helps to separate the subject from the background and helps to define and highlight their outlined features.
- Diffusion: Consider diffusing your lights and softening them to eliminate high contrast and harsh shadows. If your lights aren’t designed with filters or dimming capabilities, you can use a softbox or bounce the light off of a wall, a white sheet, or a reflector.
- Temperature: Most cameras have an automatic white balance feature built-in. But it is often better to manually adjust the white balance on your camera to have more control over the color temperature within your scene.
- Glare: Subjects wearing glasses can often show glares or reflections. While it is easier to just have them remove the glasses, sometimes raising your key light higher or using a polarizing filter on your camera lens can reduce or remove the glare.
- Natural Lighting: You might believe that being outdoors wouldn’t require a lighting setup. However, relying on the sun as your main source of light can cause your lighting to be inconsistent. Direct sunlight will cast deep, featureless shadows without a strong fill light.
Another important part of setting up your scene is composing your subject within the frame. Here are a few composition tips to consider:
- The Rule of Thirds: This is a common technique used to position the subject within a scene. Imagine a tic-tac-toe board or a grid of two vertical and two horizontal lines intersecting with equally distributed space between them. Keeping the subject and important scene elements along those intersecting lines is more pleasing to the eye.
- Balance & Symmetry: Ignoring the Rule of Thirds and placing your subject within the center of the shot can cause tension in your scene. It directs the viewer’s eyes to a specific place. Also, adding an equal balance of space on the sides of the frame can shift the dynamics and cause the viewer to feel a different emotion.
- Leading Lines: Sometimes you want even more control over where the viewer’s eyes are focused on a scene. Use elements of the set to create clear visual lines and perspective to draw the eyes to a clear point within the frame. This can be a powerful tool for composing a scene.
- Eye Level: A good technique for making the viewer connect with the subject on a deeper level is to keep the subject’s eyes level with the viewer’s eyes. The viewer perceives the subject as being equal, which causes a feeling of empathy. You can enhance this effect by zooming in on the subject, bringing their eyes even closer to the viewer, reinforcing that feeling of connection and helping the viewer feel their emotions more effectively.
- Depth of Field: With traditional cameras, adjusting the aperture of the lens alters the depth of field (focus). Many smartphones allow you to simulate this by blurring the background. This can alter your frame and evoke even more complicated emotions. It puts more focus on your subject and can make them seem isolated from the world around them. It can also help to establish the subject as the focal point of the shot.
Keep in mind that these tips are not rules set in stone. They are merely suggestions for different concepts that can be used alone or in tandem to elicit a certain feel in your scenes.
Audio Quality, Syncing & Mixing
One of the most important aspects of a good video is the audio quality. Bad audio production can ruin the viewing experience for most people. You need to consider the voice of the subject, background noise, proper music selection, mixing, and even the addition of foley sounds to enhance the realism of a shot.
This all starts with good audio capturing gear. Your camera is not going to cut it on the audio front. It’s typically not sensitive enough to get a clear, crisp signal for the mix. It is good as a secondary microphone (mic) for creating an audio track to sync your main audio to, and it can capture background noise to mix in with your other audio tracks for better immersion.
The two main options for getting a good audio track are a boom mic and a lavalier (lav) mic. The boom mic will pick up a higher tonal quality. It is typically a shotgun microphone attached to an extendable arm that is pointed down toward the subject and lowered as close to the subject as possible without being inside the frame of the shot.
The lav mic is a smaller cardioid mic that is typically worn and hidden somewhere near the torso of the subject. It is designed to block out background noise and capture the pure vocal audio of the subject.
The best way to take advantage of these options is to record them as separate audio tracks using a portable audio interface such as a Zoom or a field mixer with XLR inputs like the Azden FMX-42a. These tracks are combined in production to achieve the best tonal quality and clarity.
When getting your project ready for editing, you will need to sync your external audio sources with the audio captured from the camera and embedded into the video files. Software such as Pluraleyes or Syncaila will allow you to import all of your audio and video into a project, use machine learning to align the transients in your audio, and synchronize all of the clips together.
Another tool to put in your audio belt is mixing. Mixing is the act of bringing all of your audio elements into a DAW (digital audio workstation) so that you can:
- Adjust the levels of various sources
- Manipulate the waveforms with EQ and compression
- Pan the audio left or right to position it within the mix
- Limit the overall mix to -6 decibels to avoid audio peaking
- Reduce the background noise in tracks with noise reduction effects
Adobe Creative Cloud provides integration between these functions, allowing you to right-click on an audio source within Adobe Premiere Pro and open that track directly inside Adobe Audition for audio editing.
One useful trick is to use a stereo widening effect on music tracks to push the stereo signal away from the mid-tones of the vocal track, keeping the middle audio range open for the subject’s voice to punch through the mix.
Jump Cuts, Match Frames & Transitions
Now that you have captured your audio and video, nailed the audio mix, and synced it all up, it’s time to edit! While editing video isn’t difficult, there are several things to keep in mind while splicing your scenes together. It takes some practice and forethought.
One of them is called the jump cut. Jump cuts are becoming increasingly common in YouTube video blogs. But it is something you want to avoid with traditional video production.
A jump cut is when you cut a clip and part of the action gets cut off. The cut timing makes it appear that the time has “jumped” ahead. This can be jarring and appears to disrupt the logical progression of time.
One way to avoid jump cuts is to use what we call B-roll (supplemental and secondary footage that compliments your main footage) to layer over your cut and act as a transitional piece between two clips. This allows the viewer to feel as if they are transitioning more seamlessly between two similar scenes.
Similar to a jump cut, a match frame is when you cut two clips that seem like they should be different camera angles but are similar enough that it‘s difficult to distinguish between the two. This type of transition gives the feeling that the cut was unintentional or unneeded.
The good news is that you can again use B-roll, adding a cutaway shot to remedy this problem, similar to fixing a jump cut.
Another thing to think about during your edits is the transition between scenes. These transitions are not so much a potential mistake but more of a caution. They can be overdone if not used conservatively. Poorly designed transitions won’t compliment the theme of your content and can be jarring to the viewer. They diminish the content’s effectiveness.
Color Matching, Correction & Grading
One of our goals as video editors is to keep the viewer immersed in the content. One of the easiest ways to break that immersion is improper or inconsistent color between scenes.
A common problem in video production is when lighting conditions change, or the white balance across multiple cameras shooting different angles of the same scene was not properly set. If the color of the scene shifts between cuts, a viewer will quickly lose the immersion we’re striving for.
Color matching is selecting shots with the color you desire and then correcting the color of the other scenes to match. Color correction is the process of altering the white balance, color balance, contrast, and exposure to match the way the human eye sees things naturally.
Use color correction to make the blacks look black and to make the whites look white. Your video editing software will have different effects or combinations of effects that stack together to achieve the desired result.
Color correction is often just the first pass in the coloring process and is typically followed by color grading. Grading takes color correction a step further, allowing you to enhance your story by manipulating the overall color of a shot to create a particular tone or mood. Color theory tells us that color can affect us emotionally, psychologically, and even physically in some instances.
Think of color correction as a soft, fluffy cake baked to perfection and color grading as the sweet buttercream frosting spread across the top of the cake.
Storytelling & Pacing
This may be the last section of this article, but it is by no means the final step. Everything you have read up to this point has been separate – complementary ingredients that need to be prepared and mixed properly to create a complete final dish.
All of these concepts need to be top of mind throughout the entire process. The end goal is to tell an interesting, engaging, and cohesive story through visual and audible emotional cues.
One of the most fundamental aspects of editing video content is understanding good pacing. Pacing is basically the rhythm of the scenes in your video. If your scene is action-heavy, you want the pacing to consist of quick shots and short cuts with lots of movement. Be sure to stick with that pacing until the tempo of your content changes.
If the pacing needs to be slower, you can use longer cuts in which the action is minimal and more subdued. As with most of the topics in this article, pacing can be used to establish an emotional response in the viewer and contributes to their overall immersion and engagement.
Storytelling is taking all the things you learned in this article and applying them with the intent of conveying a message to the viewer. How is the information organized and presented? Does it appeal to the sensory and perception of the viewer? Does it deliver the proper, balanced composition, pacing, color, and other elements that create an emotional response in the viewer?
In the world of marketing and advertising, storytelling is one of the most effective ways to hook a potential customer into wanting to learn more about your product or service. Storytelling can help them build an emotional attachment to the ideas presented in the video. It can show how your product or service can help them solve their problem or fulfill a need in their lives.
Roll the Credits…
Remember, video content can boost conversions and sales. It can build trust equity, appeals to most mobile users, and explains and informs. Video content encourages social sharing and can be one of the easiest ways for your buyers to engage and consume.
Google loves video content. Having more of it present on your website promotes longer visits and signals to search engines that your website hosts quality content, bringing you closer to that golden first-page search ranking.