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When it comes to videography there are few things that are more important than getting the hang of the fundamental skills required to produce great footage! There’s a lot to master but because each skill fits in with and builds on the ones you already have this means that you will quickly begin to experience a fast growing exponential learning curve!
Video production requires excellent attention to detail, both technical and artistic, as well as the patience to painstakingly turn your visions into a reality. Good story telling skills and a deep sense of narrative arcs go hand in hand with engaging communication and creativity; all working to strict deadlines.
What Are The Important Video Production Skills?
The following are a few important things to keep in mind:
Camera Settings – A Quick Guide To The Basics That You Need To Know To Get Started Today.
Getting to know your camera and the way it works is the first step you need to take before you start recording footage, for any type of project. A great deal of video production is done using DSLR cameras however, the same principles apply to a more specialized video camera as well. You’ll need to dedicate the time to properly practise using your camera and other equipment but once you have the basics you can start to be more creative moving forward.
- Frame Rate: The size of the image and the frame rate is vital to get right. To get the highest quality of image you want to set your picture image to the largest size, which will usually be either 1280×720 or 1920×1080 and use a frame rate of at least 24 frames per second (fps). For even crisper footage you can raise the frame rate to 60 fps. You can experiment with your settings but to get a cinematic final look you need to use a high frame rate to avoid laggy pictures.
- Shutter Speed: You also need to be using the correct shutter speed to get good quality video. When you’re shooting still photos the shutter speed refers to how long the actual shutter of the camera opens for and allows light to enter; measured in fractions of a second or seconds. However, when you’re shooting video, the shutter does not open and close but instead stays open the whole time and registers the incoming information (light) in segments. There is a simple rule you can remember though when you’re setting the shutter speed : the shutter speed should be double the frame rate. So, for example, if you’re shooting with a 24fps rate then you should be using a shutter speed of 48, which you can round up to 1/50 on your DSLR since there is no 1/48. Equally, if you were shooting with a frame rate of 60fps then you would double that and use a shutter speed of 1/120.
- ISO: The ISO on your camera determines how sensitive the image sensor is to the light. If you’re shooting indoors or in poorly lit conditions you’ll need to use a higher ISO, such as 640 for example, whereas if you are outside in the sun or in a well lit studio then you can use a much lower ISO, such as 100 or 200. Keep in mind that as you raise the ISO to make up for low lighting you will also get more grain and noise within the picture. As a general rule you’ll maintain a higher picture quality if you stay within the lower ISO numbers.
- Aperture: The aperture on your camera controls the depth of field in the image; so if you want to keep the background in focus then you’ll want to use a lower aperture, such as f/1.8 whereas for a very narrow depth of focus you need to use a higher aperture such f/16. A lower aperture is best for a landscape or a group scene whereas a higher aperture is more suited to close up face shots or dialogues when you want the audience to focus on the character’s speech and keep the background blurred.
- Auto Mode: If you’re relatively new to shooting video you can also set your camera to Auto mode which will take care of the frame rate, shutter speed and ISO for you; this can be very useful and allow you to focus on the filming. Eventually though, you should learn how to operate your camera manually as well.
Shooting the Footage.
Making you sure you can operate your camera effectively is essential but there is more to shooting professional looking footage than the mechanisms and technical details of your camera. It’s a real art to be able to capture the essence of your subjects in motion pictures while keeping it feeling natural, authentic and engaging.
General Skills To Develop While You’re Shooting Footage.
- Frame Your Subjects. Learning to incorporate your subjects within their environment is a powerful narrative device and will give your work a real sense of authenticity. You can use features of the scenery to frame your subjects; such as a doorway, a tree or the side of a building. This can help to give your footage more context and is vital to produce artistically potent shots.
- The Rule Of Thirds. When you’re filming your scenes you should be trying to make use of tried and tested compositional tools such as the Rule of Thirds throughout. When you use this tool you have to imagine that the screen is divided into 9 sectors, split into three rows and three columns which form a grid. When you shoot you want to try to keep your subjects either in the intersections of the gridlines or else framed in one of the boxes. You can do this using your imagination to picture the grid in your mind’s eye or with many digital cameras you can actually superimpose a grid onto your viewing screen. Using this technique will make the footage feel ‘balanced’ and well composed.
- Symmetry. This is an ancient compositional technique which speaks to the subconscious of your viewers. When we see scenes that have elements of symmetry in them it creates a sense of harmony and grace. You can do this with objects in the scenery, by incorporating features into your footage that have repeating patterns and even by using reflections in bodies of water.
- Avoid filming at eye level. As a general rule you shouldn’t usually be filming your subjects directly at eye level. This will flatten out the visuals and can create unflattering distortions of their features. When you’re shooting, try to film at angles that add to the drama or action of the scene and give the viewer an interesting perspective on the events in your project. There are however certain occasions when you want to create a neutral presentation of a subject, such as in an educational piece, in which case shooting at eye level is more appropriate. Just be aware of the impression that the angle you are shooting on has on your audience and consciously work with it.
- Maintain a theme. Using a theme or visual motifs throughout the footage ties the narrative together in an effective way that helps your audience to stay engaged and gives you clear signposts around which you can work. If, for example, you were filming a piece about two people who were lonely, you could use a theme of empty spaces and bleak background sceneries throughout. Alternatively, if you were filming a promotional project for a corporate event then you might want to use the company’s logo, products, members of staff and so on as your theme throughout, interspersed with aspirational cuts of the venue where it is to be held.
Camera – Movements and Filming.
One of the most important skills to master in video production is learning how to move and position your camera to portray the type of emotional and informational content that you envision for the project. You can use different angles, pans, tilts and zooms to draw the audience into the action and keep them engaged between scene changes. Practicing these camera movements and keeping them fluid and free of shakes will ensure that your work looks polished and professional.
- Sideways Tracking. Many of the top film directors use this to great effect, including, famously, Steven Spielberg. To achieve this you need to be able to smoothly move the camera ‘sideways’ while maintaining a clear focus on your subject. This is a great technique to use if your subject is in motion and you want to move with them to draw the audience into the action and make them feel as though they are moving with the subject too.
- Crane Shooting. Also known as a ‘jib arm’, you can use a specially made crane like device to shoot using vertical movements from above your subject. This is a fantastic way to create a sense of place, for instance shooting a scene around a campfire from above and then pulling into the hushed conversation. This will immediately give your audience a sense of place and the impression that they are part of the dialogue.
- Dolly shots. This is similar to and often used to create sideways tracking shots and is achieved by using a small ‘dolly’ that can be moved along a set of tracks. The camera person stands on the dolly and is moved by another person. This allows you to shoot smooth shots in motion over relatively large distances. You can use a dolly or, with a little imagination, even improvise your own!
- Tracking Shots. You can use a tripod and your camera to ‘track’ or follow your subject as they move about the scene. This is a fairly easy technique to master and is commonly used in a wide range of productions.
- Make use of your zoom. You can use the zoom to move into your subject or away from them. You can create a nice ‘vertigo’ type effect by quickly zooming out from your subject to reveal the background, and visa versa, you can zoom into your subject’s face to pull the audience into the emotional content of their character in the scene.
- Smooth Out the Shakes. A useful tool for shooting professional looking and smooth footage is known as a ‘Steadicam’. This is a stabilizer which mechanically isolates the actual camera from the movements of the camera person. This gives you a nice shake free shoot even if your own movements are a little bit jolty or you’re working on an uneven surface.
General Camera Angle Skills.
Making use of different camera angles has a huge impact on the overall look of a film. Shooting from below can make subjects appear more imposing and stronger than they are and conversely, a scene shot from above can make the subjects appear fragile, overwhelmed and even weak! Use the angles that you shoot from wisely and always be careful that they fit in with the plot or the message that you are seeking to portray.
Since the invention of drones their prices have significantly dropped which means that you can very affordably make use of them in your work. They give you the ability to get amazing bird’s eye view shots which would have taken a helicopter before! You can also film superb scene setting sweeping shots, landscape scenes and other beautiful footage with their help.
When you’re shooting with a drone try to avoid sharp or jerky movements and keep the flight path as smooth as you can. Many drones can be programmed to fly out a route which is extremely useful for filmmakers. You want a steady shot with smooth movements when you use a drone because otherwise you’ll be likely to make your audience feel sea sick or dizzy!
Drone footage should be a little longer than other types of scenes; at least 3 seconds as a rough guide. You need to give the audience time to take in the details and get a clear idea of the scenery otherwise its inclusion will just be confusing.
Although drone footage is spectacular and visually stunning try to avoid the temptation of over using it in your work because if you over do it the footage will quickly start to lose its impact on the viewer.
It’s absolutely essential to get your lighting right in any footage because although you can make changes in the post production stages of your work it’s always better to get it done on set.
Natural lighting is often more flattering for your subjects and you can use reflectors to direct it where you want on set. The best time of day to get warm footage is during the Golden hour, after dawn and before dusk, but you can use direct overhead sunlight to create a bright glaring scene, as in the Spaghetti Western movies.
If you’re working indoors then you are going to need to use studio lights. When you do so avoid casting heavy shadows on your subjects by lighting them from both sides with a separate lighting setup for the background. This will make them stand out clearly without creating overly heavy contrasts in the footage.
Video Editing and Video Editing Styles.
Once you’ve got your footage in the can you are going to need to do some editing to fit the scenes together in a consistent and effective way. There are many different methods of cutting scenes together to create the impact you want.
Top Editing Styles To Use In Your Work.
- Standard Cut. This is the most basic type of cut, also referred to as a hard cut, which simply connects one scene onto the next. It’s useful and easy to pull off and is common in adverts, online informational footage and in documentaries.
- Jump Cut. Normally done to indicate that time has passed it jumps to a future moment in a way that fits naturally, or surprisingly, into the narrative of the footage.
- Montage Cuts. This is a great technique to give the audience a deeper context to the action on screen. For example, in Rocky, before a big fight, there are several montage cut scenes which show him training before the event. Montages usually cut back into the past to give context but you can also use them more creatively and jump into the future as well. Montages are an easy way to quickly show the development of a character or narrative in a short and concise scene which might otherwise take much longer.
- Cross Dissolve Cut. By overlapping different scenes in layers you can ‘dissolve’ one piece of footage into another. This is often used to indicate that someone is dreaming or thinking of a past event, and their face ‘dissolves’ into the scene that they are imaging or remembering. It is also used to cut between events that are occurring simultaneously.
- Wipe Cut. This is literally what it sounds like; one scene ‘wipes’ away the previous one and is used in animations, adverts, comedy and other short form online content. It is effective but be careful not to overuse it because it can be a little tiring and cliché for your audience.
- Fade Cuts. You can either fade in or fade out, but either way one scene fades into the next one. It’s a good way of showing the passage of time, for example, as day changes to night or the dawn rises.
- J Cuts and L Cuts. These refer to situations when the audio from the first clip continues into the next visual clip. You’ll see this all the time in documentaries where the footage changes between scenes but the narration continues smoothly, without break, between the two.
- Action Cuts. This is a classic technique that is used in action movies where you cut from one perspective to another in the middle of intense action. For example, if somebody kicked a door in you could instantly cut to the perspective behind the door. This creates a strong sense of atmosphere and keeps the action moving along without awkward breaks.
- Cut Away. These shots are used to increase tension and build foreshadowing. A cutaway shot pulls the viewers away from the subject or action to give the audience more context, background information or other relevant details that are not occurring on screen. Quintin Tarrantino is a master of the cutaway shot and uses it frequently in his films, cutting from one object to another and another before returning to the main character again.
- Cross Cuts. This is a good technique to cut between multiple scenes that are occurring at the same time but in different locations. Cross cuts are used to build up tension and explain the overall narrative of seemingly unconnected events.
Perfecting Your Video Production Skills Will Set You Apart from the Competition.
Producing top quality videos requires practise, the correct equipment and a good creative vision. You need to be highly adaptable, able to think on your feet and have a serious attention to detail!
Once you do learn the basic skills and become comfortable working in a variety of environments the camera will become an extension of your imagination and incredible things are possible, even on a tight budget!
Is there a specific video editing style that you like?