First Steps in Video Production – Where to Start
If you’re thinking about dipping your toe in this video and film production world: Cool! There’s never been a better time to do so. Cameras are relatively cheap, there’s a ton of free information out there, and showcasing your work to the entire world is just one click away. But don’t forget, there’s also never been a time with so much fierce competition out there.
There is absolutely no definitive film or video production list out there that will tell you everything you need to know about shooting films or more professional videos (“3 best…”, “10 steps to…”, “5 tips…”). Sound familiar? Just look at the title of this article :)
I get asked for advice all the time by friends who want to start making professional or semi-professional video content online, and it’s always the same question: “Which camera should I buy”? Don’t get me wrong, cameras can be very important depending on your production needs. However, using the most expensive camera in the market will never instantly make your videos professional, just like owning the most expensive guitar in the world won’t instantly make you play better music.
The purpose of this blog post is not to go into detail about the specific points mentioned, but to encourage those who are just starting out to go out and dig deeper into these subjects and learn as much as they can about what makes videos “look/feel more professional”. When I started my video production journey, I scoured the Internet researching for cool gadgets and cameras thinking this would help me be a better filmmaker. I was wrong!
Let me start out with the most important thing of all:
1 – AUDIO
Yes, audio is more important than video! Take my word for it. If I had to choose between having:
-Good audio with bad footage
-Bad audio with good footage
I would choose good audio with bad footage 100% of the time! Remember, if you ever capture “bad footage”, there might be a chance you can somehow fix things in post-production such as “noise, shaky footage, under/overexposed images etc.”. However if you record bad audio, forget it, there’s not much you can do about that!
Sound Person with Boompole
My advice: If you have the budget, use it to hire a sound person to record your audio. If you don’t, there are plenty of affordable audio recording device solutions out there (for example the Zoom H1, H5, H4n. Or a Rode Video Mic Pro). Basically 99% of cameras out there capture absolutely horrible internal audio! Our video crew and camera teams here in Austria mostly use the Rodelink Filmmaker Kit for our corporate video shoots.
A beautifully shot dialogue scene or corporate interview with impeccable lighting and framing is great and all, but if the audio sounds like it’s coming from a scratchy A.M. radio frequency, that's a sure-fire way of telling the world you’re an amateur. Believe me, no one will be able to sit through your video very long. Once again: If you can afford it, have a sound recordist on set! If not, teach yourself how to record good quality audio.
2 – LIGHTING
As with cameras, you don’t need to have an expensive lighting kit in order to make your videos look more pleasing and professional. My first lighting kit was a “softbox light set” I made out of cardboard, aluminum foil, duct tape, baking sheet and household lightbulbs (as you can imagine I was a very, very broke videographer). But it was a start, and it helped me learn when/how/why/where or when not to use lights. There are plenty of DIY tutorials online on how you can build light kits to get started, if you must, do it!
LED Production Lights During an Interview for a TV Production
If you’re only starting your video and film production journey now, it’s not important to have the latest LED lights or softboxes. It is however important to know some basics and understand how light can help you tell your story. Once again, I’m not going into specific details about lighting since there is an abundance of free information online regarding this. Here’s a good starting point on a few things to research and learn about:
-Three-Point Lighting (key-light, fill-light, back-light)
-Hard vs. Soft Lighting
-High Key vs Low Key Lighting
High Key Lighting
3 – COMPOSITION
As with the previous two points (Audio & Lighting) numerous filmmakers, cinematographers, directors, camera operators, audio technicians etc. have already written hundreds of books and published even more articles about the subject, so even if I tried to go into detail, I wouldn't even be scratching the surface here.
If you’re goal as a filmmaker, cameraman or director is to film things and make them look “pretty” on the screen, then make sure to take some time and understand the basics of composition. For all filmmakers, cinematographers, directors, camera operators and videographers alike, understanding composition and its’ “rules” is an essential and crucial tool to have in your arsenal.
Rule of Thirds
Knowing and comprehending these “rules” can help you determine when and why you should follow them to better tell your story, and also when and why you can (and should) break them to better tell your story. As with the previous point, here is a good place to start when it comes to research:
-Rule of Thirds
4 – USE A TRIPOD
Ok, so there’s not much research you have to do regarding this last point. However I feel like I need to point out the importance of using a tripod for a few reasons, especially if you’re just starting out with video and film.
For starters, like the bad audio example from before, unwanted shaky footage is a red flag when it comes to spotting amateur videos. Shaky handheld footage is a pet peeve of mine when it comes to video production. Cameras such as DSLRs and mirrorless cameras are notoriously “unstable/shaky” when used handheld without the help of some stabilization device (gimbal or steadycam for example). Sure, every now and then there might be times for having shaky footage, but I assume if you’re just starting out, you’re not filming the sequel to “Saving Private Ryan” just yet. So for now, use your tripod.
Shooting Promo Videos on a Tripod
Another reason: Forcing yourself to lock your camera down on a tripod is a nice way to help you get creative during your video productions. As an exercise, come up with a dynamic story you want to tell and have all your shots be locked down. You’ll be surprised at how a restriction like this can get your creative juices flowing and force you to come up with different solutions to telling a dynamic, visually-compelling story without any of those fancy gimbals and gadgets.
Posted by Vitor Goncalves
Vitor is a filmmaker, cameraman and editor based in Vienna, Austria. He is the owner of Reel Arts Media.