These days, anyone can shoot and share video instantly. But how do you make your videos watchable and not simply stuff that fills up your phone or your memory card? Producer/Director Cathy Bartrop, shares tips she’s learnt over 20+ years of travel video production.
15 minutes – that's all it takes to get between Heathrow and central London on our high speed train services. It got us thinking… what else can you do in 15 minutes? This issue: shoot better video.
Tell your story
Take a photo and you capture a single, frozen moment in time. Video on the other hand demands action – it needs to be a ‘story’. That story can take many different forms:
- a single clip that highlights a performance or scene
- a montage set to music that gives an overview of a place or event
- a more complicated narrative that needs context and explanation
The length is not important – it’s the strength of the story that will engage your audience. For that you’ll have to shoot good video, and then know how to edit those scenes to make your story more watchable. It helps to have an idea of the story you plan to tell in your head before you start shooting. So, a little planning and preparation is essential.
What kit do I need?
Generally the more you spend, the better the quality of the video and – crucially – audio recording. Any HD camcorder or DSLR camera with an attached directional microphone can produce professional quality results, but do take the time to get to grips with its technical subtleties. Sure, you can shoot in ‘Auto’ – but it’s a bit like having a Ferrari and never getting out of first gear.
Tons of footage we see now on TV and online has been shot on a smartphone or GoPro. Their massive advantage is size – so small and discreet, often people don’t even notice you are recording. That means spontaneous, natural and often remarkably good quality results. They’re great for capturing events or montage collections – though sound will be harder to capture. So before you spend your cash on an expensive camera, start with the phone in your pocket and see how you get on.
Shoot to edit
To make your clips more watchable, editing will be required. You don’t have to shoot hours of footage, but variety of shots is key. At the very least, take an opening ‘title’ shot, then a mix of:
- mid shots
- wide angles
Together, these will help you tell your story. Be patient too, keep the camera rolling (count to 20 at least) to capture the perfect sequence. This is especially true of scenic shots or crowd scenes – when you come to edit, just select the very best few seconds.
No matter which camera you are using, when you press record, keep it as steady as possible. A tripod is best – failing that, make sure you are in a stable enough position to take the edge off the wobble.
Avoid zooming while recording – it rarely works. Zoom in or out first to frame your shot, then hit record. Likewise, avoid hand-held panning shots (sweeping the camera left or right to capture a wide scene). Instead, step back; a big wide shot is better than a jittery pan.
Finally, don’t forget audio. Unless you have a separate, directional mic, make sure you are as close as possible to the sound source and avoid recording where there is lots of background noise (think: traffic, music, chatter). If necessary, record audio separately and edit video and sound together later.
How to edit
The good news is, alongside camera tech, editing has come a long way recently. There are many free, very intuitive editing tools both for PC and Mac users – as well as simple editing apps like Cameo for iOS.
Less is always more in editing. Be ruthless. Whittle down your shots and audio to keep your story concise and impactful. For montages – which are a great thing to try your hand at first - the visuals need to work in time with music. Listen to the beat and use it to dictate the flow of cuts (where one scene ends sharply, and another begins) and other transitions (where the scene dissolves or fades). Recorded audio and the choice of background music can make or break an edit.
Experiment with splitting the audio and video tracks and layering them in the editing tool’s timeline. Remember that people talking directly to the camera are dull. Establish who is speaking with a quick shot of them, then cut to other shots to illustrate the point that they are talking about while keeping their voice over the top. This is where your mix of shots will prove invaluable.
Ready to share your masterpiece?
YouTube is the biggest video sharing platform – some 300 hours are uploaded every single minute. Facebook is catching up fast though, boasting over 4 billion daily views after only a year (as many as YouTube after 10 years). For more serious filmmakers, Vimeo would be my choice. If you do nothing else though, don’t leave your footage clogging up memory – follow the film making mantra; ‘back up, back up then back up again’. Copy and store your raw footage as well as your finished edits on at least one, preferably two, portable hard drives – even wobblycam is history in the making.
Cathy Bartrop is the founder of travel video production company Travelguru.
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