Sep 12, 2008

Ten Tips for Better Web Videos

The great thing about all the new camcorders out there is you don't have to be expert in the underlying tech to get a great result. Here are some simple tips to maximize the performance out of these small wonders.

First—Get Close - Television isn't quite the close-up medium it used to be, what with the popularity of big screens everywhere. But web video sure is. Get Close! Not chin to forehead close, but upper torso or head and shoulders close. People want to see you, not the junk in the background. If your camera has a zoom, backing the camera up and zooming in, is much more flattering to your features than placing the lens close to your face.

Second — Avoid Backlighting - Windows make horrible backgrounds. Daylight can be 800 times brighter than indoor light, and your camera can't cope. So your subject won't look like a silhouette set your camera so the daylight is coming from the side or behind the camera, but the window isn't visible in the picture.

Third — Minimize Noise - Good sound makes video look better! Web videos sound echo-ey and noisy, because the microphone is on the camera, and not close to the person's mouth. Check to see if your camcorder has an external microphone input. An inexpensive microphone from a Radio Shack or an electronics store that has a good camcorder dept. will work much better than the mike on the camera. A lapel mike like the one shown here is perfect.

Fourth—Use a Tripod - Steady does it! When using a camcorder, avoid hand-holding. Web compression software works better on a steady image, and a stable shot looks more professional all around. You can use a tripod, or even place the camera on a steady flat surface. On top of a box on a table works fine. The camera should be at the same height as your face. If cameras seem to make people look ten pounds heavier, shooting from below doubles that effect!

Fifth—Brighten Up! - The low light ability of modern cameras is astonishing. But if the picture looks grainy or blurry you may need more light. Or you may have plenty of light, say from overhead fluorescents, but everything looks flat. Indirect soft light coming in from a window to the side and to the front of the face, almost always gives a very pleasing look. (But not direct sunlight falling on the face -- and with care not to let the window itself show in the picture!)

Sixth—Move With Caution - The zoom lens is not a garden hose. Moving the camera around and zooming in and out will just give the audience motion sickness and be very hard to edit later. Hold -- roll tape -- pause tape, frame the next shot. If you’re not able to use a tripod, hand-held can work, thanks to cameras with anti-shake features. It's easier to handhold if you stick with a wide angle, brace against a wall or doorjamb.

Seventh—Lots of Variety - Insert shots! Close-ups and cut-aways are the meaty bites of the video stew. Get lots of detail shots of whatever you are describing verbally. Not only are they informative, insert shots break up the monotony of the single talking head shot. They’re invaluable as cut-aways when you need to shorten the video, and cover over the jarring jump in the edit. Hold each shot for ten seconds. It’s a lot easier to edit a shot shorter, than it is to make it longer.

Eighth—The Camera Sees Differently Than You Do - Don’t get the blues. Watch out for your scene looking overly red or too blue. It’s the result of mixing different kinds of light, such as sunlight with tungsten or fluorescent bulbs. Stick to one light source, so your camera's automatic function can balance to that. If you’re still having trouble, check your camera manual, looking for the section on how to set the white balance. Usually it’s a menu item, with Sun, cloudy, bulb or fluorescent tube icons representing different color casts.

Ninth—Not Everyone Can Be Woody Allen - If you're the one in front of the camera it's hard to do a good job behind the camera. Work with an associate who can both operate the camera, and give you feedback on your performance. Rehearse on tape, watch the result together, see what works, drop what doesn't.

Tenth—The Word Comes First - Write out what you plan to say, even if you're not going to read it word-for-word on camera. Writing it out organizes your thoughts, and helps maintain focus on the subject. Rehearse-out all those distracting "uhms" and "you-knows."

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