6 Ways to Improve the Production Value of Your Videos
Whether you are using an iPhone, a DSLR/mirrorless camera, or even an inexpensive home camcorder, there are some easy-to-learn techniques that can be used to give your footage a more "filmic" look. Some are as simple as changing a camera menu setting, and others are techniques to add during the editing process. If you want to level up your videos and give them more of a wow factor, check out the tips below.
Capture different angles
Have you ever watched someone's family vacation video online where it is a bunch of wide shots back to back to back? While it may look pretty and be an unforgettable life memory for them, I'll bet that it wasn't very interesting or engaging to anyone watching beside the person that made it. To keep a viewer hooked, you need to get a variety of shots to be able to go back and forth between close and wide angles.
Let's set up a quick scenario: pretend that you're at the beach with your family and want to get a few clips for a little video edit later. Start grabbing a variety of shots. Set the scene with a wide shot of the beach, but then try thinking about ideas that will make the viewer feel more like they are there with you. Get some shots of other beachgoers. Try looking up and capturing some seagulls flying above. Maybe then grab some close up shots of your family hanging out, smiling, laughing, drinking out of a coconut, etc. Finish it off with a close-up shot of cupped hands letting bright white sand fall through between the fingers, then wrap up with a low angle shot looking up at your sandcastle you built with the sun peeking through the top. Editing those clips together will make for a much better video! You want to be able to cut back and forth between close and wide. Otherwise, your viewer's attention span won't last long.
Shoot in 24fps
Recording video in 24fps creates a cinematic motion blur that our eyes are used to when watching movies and tv shows. It’s how all movies and most shows are recorded.
fps=frames per second, so 24 still frame images stitched together to create 1 second of motion video.
Without getting too deep into frame rates, the exception to recording in 24fps is either 30fps (the look of soap operas and late 80's/early 90's sitcoms like Full House and Home Improvement) or 60fps (which sports are recorded in because of the fast movement and razor-sharp video image). Also, some cameras come default set to 30 or 60fps, which won’t give you that cinematic feel when watching back your video, so make sure you are in the correct recording format (unless you are shooting for slow motion, which I’ll explain below).
A HUGE side note to keep in mind is that if you are shooting in 24fps, you NEED to have your shutter speed locked in at 1/48, which is double the frame rate. If your shutter speed is not double your frame rate, then your footage will look much sharper and not have the natural motion blur that we all love and are used to. So the math is 24fps = 1/48 shutter speed, 30fps = 1/60 shutter speeds, 60fps = 1/120 shutter speed, and so on.
Include camera movement
Motivating your shots with movement can be a very powerful thing. Shooting alongside a walking subject can portray a much different feeling compare to having a subject only walking in and out of the sides of the frames on a locked tripod. If you are shooting while walking along with someone, then the viewer will feel like they are with them and experiencing exactly what they are experiencing. On the contrary, having a subject walk in and out of the frame can make the viewer feel more like someone looking from the distance and disconnected from the action or dialog that is taking place.
Another example is during action scenes. When a camera is moving with the action happening on screen, whether by someone running with the camera behind a person during an alleyway chase, or by a camera shooting alongside a car, it is a much more visceral watching experience than if the camera was stationary. So adding movement while recording, even if just by panning left to right or tilting up and down, will help motivate your shots whenever the scene calls for it.
Use slow motion
Slow-motion can make anything look more awesome than it really is, whether walking down the street, jumping into a pool, or tossing up a pile of leaves. Imagine someone jumping off of a park bench while throwing a water balloon at the ground. At normal speed, it looks pretty underwhelming, but in slow motion, it looks way more spectacular.
To record slow-motion properly, you need to capture the clip in 60fps (or 120fps and up if applicable), which can be changed in the settings depending on your camera. After doing that, make sure your shutter speed is set to double your frame rate, as I explained above (shutter speed at 1/120 if shooting at 60fps). This makes it so more frames are captured each second, 60 instead of 24, giving more frames for the video editor to stretch out, creating smoother slo-mo. If you record in 24fps and try to slow down the footage, it creates the stuttering slowed down effect, which is cheesy and rarely ever desired unless for comedic purposes.
I only have one major note when using slow motion in your videos: DON'T OVERDO IT. Slow-motion can create some pretty stellar shots and works really well in a lot of edits, but don't strictly rely on it for every single shot for every single video you create. Slowed down shots are meant for action with fast motion like a bat being swung, a car doing a burnout, or a bunch of people walking on the sidewalk, but not on a wide shot of an empty field. Always be conscious about the motivation of using a slo-mo clip, and don't just start editing and instantly speed down every clip to 40% in Premiere!
Bring your edit to life with sound effects
Using sound design to place SFX throughout your edit will truly take your videos to the next level. It helps your viewer feel like they are at the same location as the subjects on screen and creates a believable audiovisual experience. It even advances narrative in some cases, or drops subtle reoccurring clues that you may not even notice and pick up on until later.
Some examples: Does the scene take place outside? Add in some ambient SFX of wind and birds chirping in the background. Are you in the forest? Add some crickets and the flow of water from a creek, even if there is no creek in the shot. What if your scene involves driving? Make your viewer believe that they are inside the car by adding road-noise, whooshes when cars pass by, and maybe even the radio playing quietly in the background. Those are just a few examples that come to mind, but the difference of having zero-added SFX compared to layering in SFX is a night-and-day difference.
Make your image pop with a color grade
Do you ever notice that certain movies you watch have a very extreme look to them? Like a horror or action movie having a very green tint to it, or a drama looking overly blue with pale skin tones? What about an animated movie having very vibrant colors, or a comedy being overly bright with minimal shadows? These are all done on purpose by manipulating the colors and other parameters of the footage, and adding it to your footage will give you that cinematic quality you're looking for, along with adding to the overall tone. To make it easiest to understand, it's the equivalent of adding a filter over a photo, but doing it intentionally to get a specific feeling across to your viewers. It makes everything instantly look better and registers certain subconscious feelings in our brain since you cannot achieve a movie look with footage straight off of a memory card.
When editing your video, use your color correction and grading tools to modify things like adding contrast, lowering highlights and saturation, and tinkering with the exposure and shadows. Making these adjustments can give you a big-screen look and feel. To do this easily, you want to add a LUT on to your footage, which stands for Look Up Table. It's essentially a saved color template that you can easily access, like an Instagram filter. A quick Google search can help you find free LUTs to import into your editing program and experiment with.
Adding a color grade to your footage is a sure-fire way to make your video stand out, but as I always say, a little can go a long way, so don't overdo it. Don't push the colors so much to where they create unnatural skin tones or they just straight-up look off to the human eye. Your viewer can pick up on the fact that something doesn't look quite right.
Creating that cinematic look
Using these steps in your video production will make your edits start to stand out above the rest, along with starting making you think more about the way you go about shooting and editing. And once you start using and applying these techniques, a whole new world of possibilities opens up for creating!
Reach out and let me know if you want any advice or critiques on your videos at firstname.lastname@example.org !
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