How to Make Great Videos Using Consumer Gear!

Author: Peter Myers, Independent Producer

Many organizations have discovered the power of video to communicate their message. While it’s nice to have the budget to hire a professional crew, there are plenty of things you can do to achieve the desired results with just a few pieces of consumer-grade equipment. In the end, it all comes down to knowing how to use the gear that you already own or can easily acquire for the project.

On a recent trip to the Dominican Republic with Habitat for Humanity I used my Canon 70D and iPhone SE to document our trip in this short video. The 70D captures nice 1080p video, even just sticking with the 18-135mm kit lens it comes with. I used a shutter speed of 60 and frame rate of 30 fps. (While a frame rate of 24p provides a more film-like image, it’s harder to achieve a smooth shot when panning*).

Here are a few tips to help you out, whether you’re filming in the Dominican Republic, or your own backyard:

1. Vidguru’s #1 tip!!! Always use your smartphone in the horizontal position! If you don’t, you’ll create this #1 amateur effect and waste a lot of valuable screen space.

2. To stabilize hand-held shots I always look for a place to brace my arms -- it could be a door frame, table, post or chair back -- anything that helps keep my “arm tripod” steady. In situations when you’re using your smartphone, like I did when I was shooting out a car or train window, just hold your phone steady; phones shoot nice 1080p video, provided there’s enough light, and have very good built-in image stabilization.

3. Don’t pan too fast! What seems like a natural pan speed to the naked eye won’t look good on the screen. It will also help you get a more anchored shot and have more options in editing if you hold the beginning and the end of your panned shot for a count of five.

If your video involves interviews, there are a few things you can do improve the outcome, whether you’re using a DSLR or a smartphone. Here are a few tips:

1. Use a tripod! As long as it can safely hold your camera’s weight, even an inexpensive model designed for still photography will work to stabilize your image and keep it from achieving amateur effect #2 -- being distractingly jiggly. If you’re using your phone, buy an inexpensive smartphone tripod mount - like this one. There are numerous models available, but be sure to get one that has a swivel mount that opens wide enough to hold your particular phone.

2. Use a lavalier mic if possible, rather than the built-in camera mic. If your camera has a jack for an external microphone, buy an inexpensive lavalier mic with a standard mini plug (or a Lightning connector for iOS devices). Make sure the cord is long enough to go from the camera to wherever you want your subject to be.

3. Give some thought to where your subject will be located. Background, lighting and ambient noise levels all play a big role in the quality of your video. Find a quiet spot away from human or mechanical noise. Note that music playing in the background will be an editing nightmare. If you like the music (and have the rights to it), record it separately and add it in later!

4. If you’re shooting outdoors, avoid direct sunlight, which is too harsh. Tall, leafy trees can provide a softer, filtered light (though beware of the dappling shadows of leaves moving distractingly on your subject’s face); the shadow of a building may also work if it’s not too dark. If you place your subjects in a shadowed area, but there’s bright sun behind them, you’ll end up with an overexposed background, but that may be less important than getting proper lighting on the subject.

5. If you’re shooting indoors, look for a spot with indirect lighting. Avoid shooting under recessed ceiling (can) lights, unless you really like the raccoon-eye effect. Can lights shoot directly down on the subject’s head, leaving their eyes in deep shadows. A room lit with fluorescent ceiling fixtures won’t give your video an arty look but they generally provide a nice, even light on faces. If you can find a spot with a large north-facing window, have your subject face that window (with the camera operator’s back to the window). North light tends to be soft and even. Windows facing other directions might work if it’s overcast, but stay away from direct sunlight.

6. If you plan to do a lot of interviews, consider investing in a small, dimmable LED light panel. Some units come with an orange-tinted plastic lens to replicate tungsten lighting temperatures. Others offer continuous temperature adjustment (daylight to tungsten). Be sure that the temperature of the LED panel matches that of your ambient lighting (Here’s a video all about color temperature!). The LED panel can be mounted on the hot shoe of your DSLR camera, or you can put it on a light stand just off to the side of the camera. Another useful item to have in your kit is a simple round reflector, which is useful when you need to bounce some light onto your subject and reduce shadows.

Following these basic tips can help you get the most out of your consumer camera gear, so go out and give it a try!

*Panning means swivelling the camera horizontally from a fixed position, similar to the motion of turning your head from left to right.


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