Our school has a YouTube channel where students and teachers alike can share video content. None of us are professionals, but we enjoy learning video creation basics and improving our efforts as much as we can.
From amateur home movies to professionally produced films, filmmaking can be as simple or as complex as you want. No matter how amateur you may be, beginning videographers can easily have their videos looking good by following these five easy tips:
Tip #1: Film Horizontally
You need to hold your camera so that it is longer from side to side (i.e. horizontal). Never, ever hold it so that it is longer from top to bottom (i.e. vertical).
This is a mistake often made by those filming with cell phones or tablets. We’re all used to taking photos, which can be equally pleasing when vertical as when horizontal. This is because photos can easily be displayed vertically as well as horizontally. But think for a moment about the things that typically display videos – TVs, computer monitors, projection screens – these things are all oriented horizontally. Videos filmed horizontally will make the best use of the available screen space, while vertical videos have giant black bars on both sides.
Tip #2: Hold the Camera Still While Filming
If possible, use a tripod to keep the camera as steady as possible. With or without a tripod, you should avoid moving the camera while filming.
A shaky camera is annoying for viewers. It is natural for our eyes to want to keep “jumping” around any scene we encounter and beginning videographers often move the camera around a lot in a similar way; however, it is better to keep the camera absolutely still. Your audience will be able to look around the scene as they like but in a more natural way than if the videographer moved the camera.
Just because your camera is still doesn’t mean your actors have to be. You may need to rehearse with your actors to be sure they “hit their mark”. Try putting a small piece of masking tape on the floor to help actors remember where to start or stop. If your actors need to drastically change location, it is usually best to cut, reset the camera in the new location, and then begin again.
And yes, many professional videos do have a moving camera – crane shots, tracking shots, panning – but these can be hard to do effectively without specialized equipment, so beginners are better off to begin by mastering still shots first. If you absolutely do need to move the camera during a scene, do so as smoothly and slowly as you can.
Tip #3: Plan Your Shot
What is the main focus of what you are filming? What is the purpose of the shot? What do you want your audience to pay attention to? Whatever it is – you need to chose a shot that best helps you tell the story you want to tell.
If you are filming someone talking, you probably want people to pay attention to them (and not the background) – so film a close-up. If you are trying to establish setting, a wide angle could help you show off the scenery.
Try different angles (high, mid, low) and different shots (long, full shots, mid, close up) to see what works best for your scene. One scene often includes a variety of shots. Pay attention to the shots your favourite TV or movie scenes use the next time you watch. How often does the shot change? How many different angles are in one scene?
Tip #4: Use the Rule of Thirds
This tip closely relates to tip #3. Once you’ve decided the type of shot you’d like to use, you have to frame your subject in a way that is visually pleasing. The “rule of thirds” is a simple way to get a pleasing shot – and it applies to art, photography and videography. It is named that because you want to imagine your frame as divided into three equal parts, both vertically and horizontally. To create a pleasing shot, place your subject on one of those lines (or better yet, where those lines intersect) – instead of putting them dead centre. Here’s a video to better illustrate what I mean:
Tip #5: Use Lots of Light
Cameras are usually pretty good at filming even in challenging conditions, but they will always perform better when they have lots of light to work with. If you have light available – use it! Open up the blinds, turn on all the lights, and if you want to get fancy, invest in a simple lighting kit.
Have fun filming!