Video Production

Video Production Tips for do-it-yourself (DIY) video.


Whether you’re working with a video company or doing things yourself, here are a few helpful guidelines. Frequently, some DIY people get started and find they get struck making things work as they want.


When that happens, DIY-ers may be reluctant to ask for help since they tried “doing it themselves” and failed. We don’t judge anyone. We try to do stuff ourselves all the time. Sometimes we succeed. More often, we fail. Whatever you try will be a valuable learning experience.


To ensure your DIY success – or to better direct or supervise others helping you, below are some helpful points to know and apply.


Besides the tips below, another source for easy-to-read & to understand directions about complete digital video information is the Dummies book called, “Digital Video For Dummies”.  Find it on Amazon.


Obviously, there’s a ton of information available online.  When you begin searching for specific topics, you’ll find there are plenty of articles available to read.  Read these with an understanding that many articles are written with a built in bias – the article is often written with the intent of selling you something specific – like a particular brand of product. Often, what’s not included in the articles is as important as what is.  

Audio  – Audio usually includes voice, sound effects & music.


Rule #1. Don’t rely on the microphone that comes with a video camera. If you’re still shopping for a camera, be sure to get one with a microphone jack and a headphone jack. Also, be sure to get a decent pair of earphones to monitor your audio.


When setting up to shoot video, be aware of “ambient” noise – dogs barking, planes are flying overhead, people shifting around in their chairs.  Personal computers have fans running, air conditioning can sometimes be unnoticed to the human ear, but is very noticeable in video recordings.  Sometimes, air conditioners running on other nearby buildings can get picked up in audio.  Select your location with ambient noise factors in mind.


Most video experts agree that great audio is much more important that great video. Better audio can make a huge difference. You can get good microphones, including lavaliere microphones – the kind that clip to clothing – at a Best Buy, a Radio Shack or online.  Make sure your wireless microphone – and everything else that requires batteries – has extra batteries on hand.


Don’t use copyrighted music for your program without paying for a license to use it. Purchasing a music CD doesn’t come with the rights to use the music commercially. Royalty free music can be purchased for one time use or be used indefinitely.  Searching online for “royalty free music” should show you lots of options to choose from — and to purchase and download.


Another option is if you know someone who plays the piano, the guitar or the violin.  If they play something, make sure it’s not a piece of copyrighted music. Ask them to record an improvised piece – just a series of notes that sound good.


Video – Digital Video Cameras
These obviously come in all shapes and sizes.  There are three major categories: 1. Professional 2. Consumer  3. Prosumer.  The third one – Prosumer – is a middle ground camera that’s not completely professional but also not consumer.  Another category is High Definition (HD) versus Standard Definition (SD).


Better video cameras are not often sold as “consumer” camera or camcorders in places like Wal-Mart. You can check with better pawn shops since they might have some good higher end cameras at good prices. Sometimes, Craigslist or eBay may be good sources for used video equipment. Items for sale were maybe gifts that never got used much or were used, but not used much at all.


Most cameras sold today are HD.
Don’t confuse HD with an aspect ratio of 16:9. Only Blu-Ray discs can display HD video, so HD video has end user audience limitations. More discs in the marketplace play standard definition than high definition. More DVD players are not Blue Ray players. SD cameras typically cost less than HD. The picture quality is slightly better with HD.


Camera size doesn’t necessarily translate into quality or value.  Some large cameras – like those carried around on the sidelines of football games – are no better than their smaller counterparts in studios.  Bigger cameras may have bigger, longer lasting batteries or more enabled lens packages, but the primary picture quality capabilities are often equal.


Use a tripod for every shot. Hand held video filming will never be steady enough. If you have to hold a camera by hand, don’t zoom in. Just bring the camera closer to the subject.  Try to steady the camera whenever possible.  Remember the slings used by people with a broken arm?  You can get those at any pharmacy and adapt it to use as an affordable way to steady a handheld camera.


If you use digital tape cameras, be sure to let the tape roll 5 or 10 seconds before the actual “action” begins.  


Try to buy a miniDV tape winder. Search online.  A tape winder will preserve the lifetime of your camcorder motor by not having to rewind tapes as much using the DV camera’s motor.


Lighting comes in two primary categories – studio and non studio.  A video studio provides more control over many video factors.  Non-studio – also referred to as “remote” or “field production” lighting means not in a studio environment.  Studio lighting depends on the source of the light.  


Different lighting sources have different effects. These effects are often not visible to the human eye, but can be very noticeable when it’s time to view the resulting film.  Outdoor daytime lighting typically needs no extra lighting at all.  Of course there can always be unwanted shadows, which can be illuminated with special lighting tools.


A big problem
… with lighting is having too much in the shot that’s not on the subject or area of attention. This happens for example when there’s too much light in the background, like a lamp or a window in the background. Camcorders typically have built in light meters that measure the light coming into the lens. If an object near the camera has less light on it than an object behind the subject, the subject will appear darker almost like a shadow.


Always keep in mind the light meter is setting the camera to the brightest part of the picture being taken. Either get background lighting away from the shot, or provide more lighting in front of the subject.  Also keep in mind that light “bounces”. To fill in shadows, bright white paper can often help fill in those darker spots.


Go to Wal-Mart or somewhere similar.
Go to the hardware department and get some shop lights.  Also get some 100 watt fluorescent bulbs – the new curly shaped ones. Shop lights typically come with a clamp-like grip attachment so you can place the lighting wherever you can attach it to something. If you have more than one camera tripod, use tripods to hold the shop lights.  Or use a step ladder. Always use lighting to cover all sides – top, bottom, left and right.  Use of shadows can add a 3D effect.  Try it out. Let the camera run while focused on a trial view. Then, adjust the lighting from different angles. Then watch to see which looks best.


Video – Video Editing Programs
Great videos are not edited – they are re-edited… and then edited again.


Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere Pro, and Avid are three leading professional editing software programs considered to be top-of-the-line.  Each of these has a “home movies” version that often contains many of the features and capabilities as the top-of-the-line editing programs. The home versions are usually priced around $100 to $200.  There are also “cloud computing” versions of various editing software that can be used on a monthly subscription basis.  Camtasia, by TechSmith, is also more affordable.


Be aware
Some of these editing programs require PCs and camcorders with the latest technology specifications required. While desk top video production prices have dropped dramatically in the past few decades, you can still find video editing software and hardware costing in the thousands of dollars. Again, that’s where Craigslist, eBay and other online shopping resources can be very helpful. 


Checkout the Links page to see several video magazines listed there. Many have their own classified ads sections.  Or, search on phrases like “used video equipment”.


A very good source of learning is watching YouTube videos online. You’ll immediately see the differences between better videos and poor ones.  Bookmark the better ones and watch them repeatedly to determine what makes them good.  Notice the lighting, the audio, how the location is set up – decide what, if anything, they could do better.


Without an audience, a great video is a waste of money.  Who will see your video? How often will they see it? Where will they see it?  At trade shows?  On your company website? On small sample DVDs or flash drives?  On YouTube? Attached to emails?  Is the majority of your potential audience PC-based or Mac-based? MP4 video formats are often recommended as the most watchable by the greatest number of online viewers.


Video editing allows a multitude of options for “re-purposing” – or using different versions of the same video for different end users or different media channels.  


DVD Authoring & DVD Disc Burning & Labeling
Outputting video to DVD will soon become obsolete. Online distribution on YouTube and other video streaming sites, is faster and cheaper than DVD distribution. There’s even talk of removing DVD drives as standard equipment in personal computers sold in the next 10 years or so.


As Technology advances
Some things that were predominant slowly die off. DVD authoring and disc creation is very complex and involved.  This is one area where doing-it-yourself may not be worth the time it takes to learn how, the equipment purchases needed and the amount of attention required.  Labeling requires special graphics software, printers that print DVDs and even special DVDs required for best disc printing results.


At the hardware store, get a dozen or so clamps of various sizes. You’ll be surprised how handy these are.  Use duck tape sparingly.  Office supplies stores will often have inexpensive, large presentation pads with multiple large size pieces of paper.


Special Effects – special effects are often too complex to consider for most non professional videos, but some are less “high tech” than others.  Using a green or blue screen behind the subject can allow display of other motion or still pictures behind the subject.  


This is the “weather man” effect – as you seen on the evening news where the weather map is super-imposed behind the weather man.  This effect is typically created in post production editing.  Blowing wind using a fan is a low tech special effect. Depending what you want to appear drives what you need in terms of special effects.


A special effect that may not seem so “special” is to have the camera play when the room is completely quiet.  Believe it or not, there’s no such thing as a totally quiet room. Each room has “ambient noise”. Capturing this can be very helpful for editing audio especially when there are audio editing gaps that need to be filled in.


Make a shot list.
A written description of your whole project will drive the amount of shots you need. Next, sort the list by location, by time of day, by number of people required.  If your shot list runs from #1 to #50, for example, don’t think you need to shoot all shots in shot list numerical sequence.  It makes sense to shoot all shots in one location regardless of their shot list numerical order.  If shooting outdoors, shoot all morning shots together and all evening shots together.


Broadcast Video
Broadcast video has some different requirements in terms of getting the video into a broadcast system.  It also needs color bars at the beginning.  If you plan on having your video prepped for broadcast video, just contact us using the Contact page. Otherwise, let’s not spend lots of time on this one.


As with many things, the better results usually come from more preparation and planning.  It’s truly one of those things where it’s 90% perspiration and 10% creation.  The importance of rehearsal can’t be stressed.  Much as what we see on TV looks very natural and unrehearsed – don’t be fooled.  There’s often days, if not weeks, of preparation and rehearsal that goes into what we see in TV shows or movies.


This advisory is already way too long,
Hopefully, it provides some basic points to consider when doing your own video.  The most important thing is that you will learn best from mistakes – and you will many, many mistakes.  So don’t be afraid to test things out, to screw up, to try different things, take chances and see what happens.


Questions?  Again, use the Contact page to let us know. We either have the answer or we should be able to direct you to sources to get your questions answered.