Thursday, October 18, 2012

12 Tips for Creating Classroom Videos

I'm working with a class of 6th grade students on shooting campaign commercials. For many, this will be their first attempt at making videos, so I've been cobbling together some advice as they go about the work. Ahead of shooting, they've already been storyboarding their video so that they will know exactly what they want to shoot. Our next step is to actually shoot the raw footage that will be edited into their final product. We're meeting today to talk about that process and to preview the editing process. This is the advice I'm going to start with:

Advice for the "Shot"

1. Remember the Rule of Thirds

Photographers and videographers refer to the "rule of thirds" to describe the points in an image that are the most vital and where one should place the action or subject of the shot. Imagine the grid to the right superimposed over an image. The red intersections of the lines are the points at which the important parts of the image should reside. You can see this in action when you look at professional photos in a magazine or when you watch television or movies.

Here is an example:

2. Think About Light

This is an easy mistake to make, but also an easy problem to avoid. Where the light sources are coming from will affect the quality of the shot. The most important thing for young people to avoid is backlighting a shot. A backlit shot is one in which the primary light in the shot is behind the subject of the shot. This creates a situation in which the subject is in shadow and cannot be seen clearly. The way to avoid this is to make sure that you have more light on the subject from behind the camera, and to avoid shooting directly toward a powerful light source like a window, the sun, or a bank of bright lights. To be fair, back lighting can be used to create positive effects as well. Here is a photo I took this year:

3. Think About the Background

It's easy to get so focused on the subject of the picture or video, that you forget about what is going on in the background. This is important to consider. In a video, if there is action in the background, it can distract the audience from what is happening in the foreground. Also, a better shot can often be created by just taking the time to think about what the "whole picture" includes. Are there items in the shot that could be avoided or removed? Is there a better background nearby that could enhance the shot. Think about what appears (or doesn't appear) in the background of a political ad.

Or think about the photo creepers that appear in the background of your vacation photos. It's better to think ahead to create a great shot, than to try to fix the distraction in editing later.

I have a great photo of my daughter playing in the ocean, but in the background behind her is another person whom I don't know and whom I wish wasn't there. I can Photoshop that person out, but it would have been better to have been conscious of the other person from the beginning.

4. Hold Still!

Nothing ruins a photo or makes a video look amateurish faster than unnecessary camera movement. The best thing to do when you want to have a really professional result is to use something like a tripod or monopod to stabilize the camera. Even when taking "on the fly" shots, you want to find a way to stabilize your shot, either by using a stationary object to lean against or by using your body to hold the camera as still as possible. When it is necessary to move the camera to follow some action, move as fluidly as possible, so that you can avoid the Blair Witch effect which can make some viewers nauseous.

5. Get the Shot You Want

There is a reason you see directors calling "cut" and then having the clicker slam down for a "Take 2." The first shot wasn't what the director wanted. By shooting until you get a perfect take, you end up with the product you want. Someone once told me that the difference between an amateur photographer and a professional photographer is about 300 photos. I believe it. And now that digital photo and video capture is as cheap and easy as it is, you can afford to take the time to get it right. I recommend that you start with an idea of what you want, take the time to get everything set up correctly, and then shoot the clip over again until you have what you imagined in the first place or something even better.

6. Be Kind to the Editors

If you are shooting video that will need to be edited together, build in some room for editing with each clip. Begin recording, then say something cool like "And Action..." Then, have everyone take a long pause before starting (imagine counting down from 3). Then film the clip. If it is a keeper, wait for another long pause before speaking, so that the camera person has time to stop recording. by putting a buffer at each end of the recording, you give video editors the room they need to make sure nothing is interfering with the content they want to use.

7. Consider B Roll

Have you ever seen one of those videos that begins with someone speaking on camera, but as they are speaking, the image changes from them to other images or video that illustrate their words? Those images and videos are called B Roll. Cutting to B Roll is effective for a couple of reasons. First of all, B Roll brings the person's words to life which helps the speaker to convey a message. Also, talking heads don't have the ability to hold an audience's attention for very long. By utilizing B Roll, the editor helps the audience stay engaged with what the speaker is saying. It's worth studying commercials to see how often the imagery changes. Typically, visual image changes will outnumber changes in audio content.

Here are a couple of ads that make good use of B Roll:

Advice for the Audio

8. Test the Audio Before Shooting

One of the fastest ways to spoil an otherwise great video is to burden it with bad audio. If the microphone doesn't pick up the subject's voice, if the sound is too loud or too fuzzy, or if the audio includes feedback, then your audience will quickly tune out. The best way to avoid these problems is to test your audio before you record. When using a microphone, the videographer can listen to the audio through headphones. If you are using built-in audio, do a test recording and listen to the results. In addition, if you notice audio conditions changing while recording, stop (when possible) and fix the problem before moving on.

9. Consider Your Audio Backdrop

Just as you should consider the visual background of a shot, you need to consider the audio background as well. When shooting in public, there are many audio variables. If you are filming next to a street, you can encounter traffic noise, for example. Good videographers work hard to anticipate and manage variables that might distract from the subject. Being conscious of these issues will make your video more professional. Also be aware that when your setting changes, the quality of the audio will change as well. This can be distracting particularly if there are a lot of changes or if those changes are dramatic. Some of this can be fixed in editing, but it is better to avoid the problem in the first place.

10. Enhance the Mood

The mood of your video can definitely be enhanced with the right music and sound effects. When editing video, you can drop in royalty-free music to help the audience know what to feel while watching. The tone of voice of your subject matters as well. Think about the effect someone's voice has on an audience when they are excited, happy or angry.

Overall Advice 

11. Keep It Simple

As with cosmetics and PowerPoint slides, less is more. Even basic video editing tools today allow for a wide array of transitions, effects, and media options. But, just because you can use 40 different video transitions in a single 3-minute film, doesn't mean you should. I encourage you to say what you have to say as simply as possible. Save the fancy tricks for when they are really needed.

12. Be Reflective
Learning to create good videos takes practice. Each time you set out to make a video, you will learn something new because you will have a new message, purpose and audience. You can speed up the learning process by taking the time to collect feedback and think about how you would improve the work next time. Also, watch TV and movies with a critical eye for learning. How do professionals do what you want to do?

What is Your Advice?

I'd love to know what advice you would give these amazing kids as they embark on their first videos. Please feel free to comment and add to this list. Thanks!

To see a related post on iMovie Basics go here.

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