In today’s digital era, video has become a powerful tool for storytelling, marketing, and communication. Whether you’re a small business owner, marketeer, or a YouTube content creator, producing high-quality videos can greatly enhance your message and engage your audience. While hiring a professional video production company is always the best option, we understand budget is a factor, especially if you’re starting out. See our previous blog post on cost factors involved in your video. You may want to dip your toe in the water to see if it could work for you, or how far you can get. In fact, it might even be a bit of fun.
Now there are several tips and techniques you can employ to create great-looking videos yourself, your company or for YouTube. In this blog post, we will provide you with ten valuable tips to help you produce visually appealing videos that captivate your viewers. A few rock-solid, cornerstone ideas on which to build your video production catalogue follow…
1. Make sure the shot is well lit!
Lighting is key, it’s what makes a good video good, or really good, it’s part of the secret sauce. But on a budget, where do you start with lights, and is there any point just getting cheap lights?
Well, good LED lighting can come remarkably cheap these days, and one well placed light should be enough to start. For a flat, neutral effect, a ‘ring light’ can be attached to your phone. Maybe you’re shooting in an office, shop or factory where you have to add a bit of light, and what you get with this is an inoffensive technique that elevates shots really nicely. The ring light is also great if someone’s moving around. There are loads on Amazon, and spending only about £20 should get you up and running.
With a slightly bigger budget, get one what’s called a key light, priced around £50-£100. Dimmable is ideal, and if you can control the colour temperature, all the better, then it can be matched to the interior lights or the day light.
Or – an ultimate tip here is use the sunlight. Lights are generally replicating the sun anyway, they’re angled to do so, and so shadows look natural. So without the luxury of a light, set yourself up near a window – don’t point the camera towards the window, rather cast the light from the window onto the subject. If you’re outside, use the sun in the same way. Not with it behind the subject, but also not directly in front.
Another alternative if there’s a small budget, is to get hold of a silver or white reflector to help fill in the shadows.
And if you’re using a phone, fill the frame with as much light as possible. Think about it this way, smartphone sensors are necessarily tiny, and so each tiny pixel needs lots of light to make things look their best. So try to avoid lots of shadows in the background.
2. ‘Is my smartphone OK to use as a camera?’
While professional camera gear can be (is!) expensive, well surely there’s a 4k camera sitting right there… on my… phone?? Well, a modern smartphone with a high-resolution camera can indeed produce excellent results. There are limitations controlling the image, but the video on phones is crisp and often 4k.
A top tip is to try and use the iPhone back camera rather than the selfie front one. Not only is it generally far higher quality, but the image will not be flipped. For example, on my iPhone X the front camera will only shoot in HD, while the rear can be set to 4k.
Top tip here is to ensure you have switched to the 4k mode, and you might have to do enable that in the phone settings themself, then just make sure you’re using that format when you shoot rather than HD. 4k gives you the option to zoom into /crop the shot in post production, and stabilising shots is easier.
Another point to note is that the focal length or angle of view on a phone camera is approx equivalent to what see at 24mm on a full-frame camera. The physics there is a whole topic in itself that I’m not about to unpack, it’s obviously not got a 24mm long lens, so we’re balancing this small sensor with a really short lens. But anyway… the upshot is 24mm is not flattering for a portrait! We need to get to around 50-80mm for a good portrait, and you’ll find cameras that can provide that on the iPhone 12 Pro and 13 Pro Max, for example.
But the phone will keep you in focus, exposed properly (which you can lock, but to be fair shouldn’t have to worry about), and they produce sharp images.
Weirdly, iPad or tablet cameras are generally worse than the ‘phones. So stick to the phone!
3. Get a tripod, even a tiny one
Don’t try and shoot either your colleague (don’t shoot your colleagues) handheld, or selfie yourself handheld, half the shot will be an arm of course. The price of a cheap tripod vastly elevates the whole thing, incomparable to the price factor. You shouldn’t have to pay much for something that holds the phone on Amazon, maybe £10. Search for Smartphone mini tripod.
4. How to frame your interview or ‘piece to camera’
Composition is another key to creating visually pleasing videos. Don’t clutter the frame, and meticulously tidy the room room you are in. What the eye forgives in real life it will be drawn to and grow to hate on YouTube!
Either use the rule of thirds to place your subject off-centre, creating a more balanced and aesthetically pleasing shot. Or if you’re talking to camera, it’s best to just place yourself in the middle of the frame.
Whilst keeping the background clear, it’s an idea to place maybe one thing on the opposite side of frame to the subject, usually behind them, so it’s either out of focus or at least less prominent.
And remember to keep any camera moves steady, and avoid unnecessary camera movements unless they serve a purpose.
5. How to capture audio
Good audio is often overlooked but is essential for producing a great video. You’ll hear that one again and again too, but for good reason. If it sounds good, we just accept it, it’s how it should be. If it sounds bad, then it cheapens the video and the brand, and will do more harm than good.
So can I use the phone? Well, the smartphone isn’t ideal at all and I would really try and avoid using this directly. Certain editing apps can clean up and isolate voice to a very large degree, but it’s best to invest in some audio equipment (mics). What’s up with phone mics and audio? Smartphone mic’s are omnidirectional (sensitive to sound in all directions) and so they’re going to pick up sound from everywhere, whilst sound from any distance at all dramatically loses quality, I suppose they’re designed as phone mic’s so next to the mouth is best, so you could use it for voice-over if at all.
So, a half decent mic is probably ket here. You might be looking at £50 or so, minimum. Either use a lapel (aka lavalier) mic, which are either directional so point them towards the sound source (your mouth!) or sensitive only to sounds in the immediate vicinity and so reduce echo, reverb and noise. Or a vlogging directional / shotgun (wired) mic from the likes of Rode, that plugs directly into the smartphone. This will really, really help your cause.
And minimise background noise naturally by choosing a quiet location for filming, or ask for a 10 minute recess in the office whilst you deliver your masterpiece.
Music is pretty essential to help keep the viewer viewing.
But can you do it for free? Yes, there are free and royalty-free music or sound effects to be had, such as found on YouTube music. But the free stuff is limited in numberand somewhat in finesse. If you are prepared to spend a little, then sites such as Audio Jungle offer a track by track download for as a little as $14.
7. ‘How do I edit it?’
They say the magic of video production happens during the editing process. And if you’re unlucky, they say ‘fix it in post’! Either way… roll on the magic.
It is possible to actually edit a simple film directly from your phone, using iMovie, and other capable app’s are out there! You can even add a soundtrack, and ‘b-roll’ to the edit. For best results, and anything complicated, needless to say it’s worth employing the services of a computer. Plus it’ll give you loads more export format options.
Use editing software like Adobe Premiere Pro, iMovie, or Final Cut Pro X (for Mac users) to trim unnecessary footage, adjust colours, and incorporate text overlays. They’re all pretty user friendly these days. FCPX tried to make it mega simple for the budding editor, and cut out all the ‘chaff’. As Apple sees it, but for the professional there are actually a lot of things you then have to find workarounds for as they really do want and need 360 control of the footage. DaVince Resolve has long been a really top notch (free) colour grading suite, which offered regular editing tools that again were pretty hamstrung by the perspective of the creators and suffering from a non intuitive and non-streamlined operating environment. In my humble opinion! I hear Resolve is now a far friendlier place to be, though I have yet to reinvestigate. iMovie is a very intuitive (and free!) place to start if you’re on a Mac. There are a few alternatives for the PC, I took a quick look at OpenShot which is cross platform, free, and seems intuitive for beginners.
A top tip is to capture more than what you need. That’s the shooting ratio, don’t go all Kubrick and go 100:1, but give yourself options when shooting! Try another angle, or do another take, just in case. It’s quicker to do that than have to set everything up again and do what’s called ‘pickups’.
8. Plan what you will say
Define the points to cover in your piece, beforehand. I’m not saying don’t go all the way and script it, in fact don’t, but bullet point it. You can even place a cheat sheet list of the bullet points next to the camera.
Then it’s important make sure you have a definite in, and a definite out. Think about how you will start it, “Hi guys”; “Hi”, “How’s it going?”, “Thanks for joining me”, and how you sign off, “OK, thanks for watching”; “and that’s all for this one, I hope it’s been helpful, and I’ll see you next time” etc.
Then check your points don’t come in at 5 minutes in duration. Make them quickly, and move on. Cover 3 to 5 points in a film, and that should do it. You’re probably heading for a duration of about 30 seconds to 1.5 mins max. The longer the duration, the more editing tricks you’re going to have to pull out to keep up the engagement, such as use of next next point…
9. Incorporate B-Roll Footage
B-roll footage refers to ‘supplementary shots that support and enrich the main content’. Your A-roll is your interview, the B-roll is what helps cover and illustrate the points. In my days editing TV (in the UK) it was always GVs (general views) and cutaways. I’d always looked at B-roll as an Americanism, but it might more likely just be from the film world, as a reference to film reels. I’d love to know if anyone can shed any light on it. But whatever you call it… it’s what brings the film or video to life. It’s footage to showcase a product, the details, to provide context.
You’re simply aiming to create a visually engaging sequence, keep the viewer viewing and spoon feed your point. Think logically and in a sequence. You don’t usually want lots of disparate shots, that’s a montage, which can have it’s place. If you’re talking about cup of coffee for example, it’s unlikely you want 30 shots of it. Nor do you want just 1. But then a quick cut montage might give the energy and variety your brand needs to show.
Think about getting a wide shot of someone drinking the coffee to establish the scene, and couple of close ups to show the texture of the coffee pouring, or the beans, a spoon stirring it to help transfer the experience. The rule of 3 is good, and 2 shots is fine. You could start tight, and then show the wide as a reveal. 1 shot is usually too few. And then, for me anyway, if you’re seeing 4 shots on one thing there’d better be a jolly good reason! But these additional shots add the depth and interest to your videos, gives them your personality, and demonstrates your quality, attention to detail, or artistry.
10. The polish – Colour grading
Colour grading is the process of adjusting and enhancing the colours in your video to create a specific mood or tone. It can be done in all the editing software mentioned above, and is an essential little bit of time to spend to bring your film to the next level.
What you might find is your shadows are too dark, or your highlights blown out or too light. And that’s where you need to step in, and it makes all the difference even for phone footage, making it far more viewer friendly. But for this step, we’re talking computer based apps rather than on the phones.
It’s all about getting the most range in your whites and blacks. Most professional video production companies will shoot in what is called a ‘log gamma curve’. It gives the footage (or rushes) a grey, washed-out look at first glance. But what it is doing is preserving and providing more data for these extreme blacks and whites. And you get a visibly higher and more impressive what is called ‘dynamic range’.
Most phones do suffer with the shadows and highlights, and so some like the iPhone 14 actually shoot in HDR – which takes some considerable money to afford in the first place and then costs on file size and post production time. Most professionals find cameras shooting in the ‘log’ luminance curve give them an acceptable dynamic or luminance range, or you’ll also hear of something called RAW which I’ve decided not to go into here for fear of starting to bore some people to death. And is very, very storage hungry.
A tip here though is that you’ll find the dynamic range issue is most pronounced outdoors, on a sunny day. Inside – you are far, far more likely to be fine.
Colours-wise, like the audio, don’t just make everything louder than everything else. A more muted palette can be beautiful, or think about accentuating certain colours like teal and orange, for example, is a classic and on-trend combo.
In conclusion, creating a great looking video yourself is entirely achievable with the right planning, some affordable equipment, and practice on the technique. By following these ten tips, you can enhance your video production skills and produce visually appealing content that captivates your audience. Remember – utilise that natural light, take time to frame your shots, and work on capturing that noise-free audio.
If you find yourself in need of professional assistance or would like a quote for your next video project, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our video production company, we’re near Winchester in Hampshire.
We’re here to help you create exceptional videos that leave a lasting impression.