I recently made a short video about my latest book and, although I’m still learning, this is one of several short films that I’ve now made with DSLR kit, including for a classical musician and on a project in Africa. I thought that I would share some technical tips about video filming and editing here in case this is something that you’ve considered doing, such as for a club or voluntary organization.
These are in no particular order, although the first two in each section are perhaps most important.
- Use a tripod – the first tip is to use a tripod as shaky or abrupt movements are probably the single biggest reason that I’ve discarded footage when editing as even the slightest motion shows when viewed on a large screen. Most video makers therefore use a good quality tripod or mini-tripod, or at least rest the camera on a solid object such as a wall whilst it is recording. If your budget allows, more specialized types of camera supports are available.
- Use a good quality microphone – it’s been said many times before but the microphones on most still cameras simply aren’t good enough in many situations. The answer here is to invest in or rent a good quality microphone and possibly a digital recorder. The entry level equipment from top companies such as Rode and Sennheiser (for mics) and Tascam and Zoom (for recorders) is surprisingly good value considering the recording quality. Different types of mic (condenser, shotgun, lavalier etc.) are also better for different tasks so some online research helps here.
- Don’t forget cutaways and clips – if you watch a documentary, there will often be short clips lasting up to a few seconds to help add variety and tell the story. Examples might include close ups of fruit in a market, wide angle shots showing what’s around, and signs showing building and place names. When it comes to the edit, these are really important to have but easy to forget to take whilst filming. Having a plan before starting is a great help here (see under ‘editing’).
- Don’t forget the ISO setting – when filming, often you have to go ahead even if the weather isn’t cooperating, and with video there is much less scope to change the shutter speed and aperture than with still photography. The ISO setting is your friend here and the maximum value that can be used will depend on the quality of your camera and is best found by experimenting and some online research.
- Consider specialist filters – the flipside of not having enough light is to have too much and with video in good conditions it is easy to overexpose images, particularly if you’d like the movie effect of a blurred background. A good quality variable neutral-density filter is a fairly cheap and simple addition to your kit and, as the name suggests, allows the incoming light to be reduced whilst maintaining image quality.
- Panning isn’t as simple as it looks – scanning the camera around a scene whilst filming is known as panning and can be a great effect. However, it is difficult to do smoothly without a purpose-made support such as a video tripod head. Along with not using a tripod, this has been the single most common reason I’ve had for rejecting footage over the years and could equally well add tilting and zooming, which are also difficult to do well without specialist equipment.
- Have a plan – although you can get reasonable results by improvising on the spot, this isn’t at all guaranteed, so having a plan before heading out helps enormously. This should pay particular attention to places and events that you can’t easily go back to film again, if at all, and would regret not having filmed when it comes to the edit.
- Consider using stills – along with cutaways and clips, still images are widely used in factual films, such as historical pictures from the time before video was invented or images of old newspapers or magazines. More simply, this could just be a nice photograph that you’ve taken. Most editing tools will allow these to be animated such as with a digital zoom or pan, although it’s easy to get carried away by making the movements too extreme.
- Edit to the soundtrack – for a still photographer, combining the sound and images can be one of the biggest challenges, and it is sometimes said that the film should be edited to match the soundtrack. Simple techniques that you can read about on line can also help, such as J-cuts and L-cuts. The need to blend sound and vision together is therefore something to consider from the start and keep revisiting during the editing process.
- Learn from others – one of the best ways to learn is by analysing similar videos that other people have made. Some questions to consider include how long is each segment, which effects, graphics and transitions do they use (and how often), and how do the sound and images link together? Indeed, to help pass the time, sometimes on a long flight or train journey I’ll watch some documentaries for just that reason.
So, these are a few tips from my experience and for me the tripod, microphone and planning comments are perhaps the most important. However, I’m sure that more experienced video makers will have other views, including on the potential to use smartphones, and hiring a professional is worth serious consideration.
To find more advice there are many good websites and books available and you could also consider taking a short course, probably online in these days of social distancing. Another good way to learn is to make videos for friends and family to see what feedback you get.
I’ve also not considered the challenges in filming interviews and script writing, and which software to use, which are all huge topics too.