Five Tips for Better Video

Video is a tricky subject that some spend their entire lives studying and never truly master. The technology behind compression and editing is constantly evolving and there are new things to learn every day. Fortunately for most budding video enthusiasts, there are plenty of easy-to-use video editing programs out there to make the job of mastering and publishing your work without a lot of knowledge in the technical aspects of video much easier. Here are five tips for better video:

White Balance
If there is one thing that any photographer or videographer can tell you, it’s that cameras aren’t nearly as good at adjusting to different lighting situations as the human eye is. Lighting is a constant hassle for photographers and a nightmare for anyone taking video in a constantly changing environment.

By white balancing your image either on the camera or in post (or both), you can create a more true representation of what it is you captured. This is especially important in cases where your image appears washed in a color such as yellow, blue, or green.

Use an Intermediate Codec when Editing
Without going into the technical aspects of codecs, the use of an intermediate codec your editing program works with natively can make a world of difference in the process. For example, Final Cut Pro requires you to render video each time you make an adjustment through editing if it doesn’t recognize the intermediate codec of the source. By encoding it in a lossless codec such as Apple Intermediate Codec, you can utilize all the features and functions of Final Cut Pro without having to wait for a render each time you make even the slightest change.

It’s recommended that the codec you use for editing be lossless rather than lossy so your final product does have two, or even three levels of encoding over it resulting in a degraded and potentially pixelated image.

Lighting is key to good video. Without the right lighting, your source material can appear dark and unwieldy to the editor. If an image is captured too dark, you may not always be able to lighten it in post as the darkest darks will crunch together and become one big black pixelated mass upon brightening. The same goes for video that’s too bright. The digital camera will see objects lit too brightly as being the same as the white light behind it and create a giant white mass that can’t always be corrected in post. Someone’s alabaster skin (like me) will easily blend in to a white wall if lit too brightly.

In some cases, good lighting can actually improve a system’s ability to maintain a desired frame rate. This is what I discovered with the MacBook Pro as it dropped my frame rate down to 15 when the room wasn’t properly lit.

Frame your subject properly. Having a space above your head that’s larger than your head is never really a good thing, unless what you’re talking about is above you. Ideally, you want the top of your head to end with only a small sliver of space between it and the top of the frame. Should your video become newsworthy, news programs will often put a lower-third over your video to give you credit and describe what their audience is seeing. Making sure the lower-third of the screen doesn’t have anything necessary to the shot can be a big help in this case.

Focus the camera on your subject and lock the focus in place unless you have a cameraman. If you’re using a camcorder without a focus adjustment option, make sure that you’re the object in the shot making the most movement and taking up the most space. Some cameras focus on the center point of the frame, so you may want to test out various different ways of positioning yourself to make sure the autofocus is on you as much as possible.

Blurry video, especially during unboxings or other macro-specific shots can ruin the viewer’s experience. Make sure the camcorder you’re using is capable of handling an extremely close shot before depending on it to. The same goes for subjects far in the distance. Filming a runner going around the field can make a great establishment or action shot, but make sure you have the ability to maintain the focus on them all the way around the track.

Video is a tough subject to master, though by keeping a few key points in mind, you can achieve stunning results without all the technical know-how or high-end software. Some of the most popular video on the web is shot with $140 pocket camcorders and edited on free video editing software (such as iMovie and Windows Movie Maker).