How to get better video in 10 minutes

30 June 2019|EQUIPMENT, SOUND, VIDEO PRODUCTION, MICROPHONES

By Ramsey Pietro Nasser in London, United Kingdom

The trick to getting better video in 10 minutes is to think like a pro and not like a consumer

Pros don’t rely on what copywriters tell them in marketing releases. Instead, they look at cold, hard technical specifications. Understanding these, they use established norms to take care of sound first, photography second, and editorial third

Sound is critical. If it’s not present or is of poor quality, the video loses its message. Sound professionals often brag it’s 75% of the viewing experience, often with a smirk on their face. Next time you watch a film, listen to the sound. There’s an awful lot in there, and it’s all designed to keep you watching

Image is highly immersive but without continuous change, viewers look away. As a rule of thumb, each shot shouldn’t last longer than 5 seconds before a cut, and the viewer should be engaging with a new idea every 15 seconds: — especially in the age of glittering rectangles or smartphones

Good editorial is key to credibility. Damaged credibility could result in unsubscriptions or unlikes — and, ultimately, lost business

If you get sound, image, and editorial right, then you’re rocking it

Now, let’s get down to technicals

1) The closer the microphone is to your talent, the better your recording will be. In the world of sound recording, the name of the game is to get as close as possible to the sound source without being in shot. This is known as microphone placement. Good microphone placement is what it’s all about

Don’t get too close to the mic, though, as your breath will be noisy, and your plosives will momentarily clip the diaphragm

If you use a clip-on clothes mic, make sure the capsule doesn’t rustle against your clothes. It doesn’t sound serious, but a lav rustling against clothing can ruin your day

Microphone placement is always achieved with what’s known as: “grip.” This could be your hand; a microphone holder; a gorilla pod, or a boom pole. All grip must be silent as careless microphone handling or unscripted movements can come through in recordings — in a big way

If you’re using a handheld reporter’s mic, always tilt the capsule to point toward the mouth, and then tilt back to ask the question. Accuracy is important. Imagine there’s a red laser shooting vertically up. Now point it at the mouth

2) Listen to the sound environment with your ears and then your headphones before you start recording. Normally, you would want a quiet place, but it’s not a good idea to record a video in a room liable to echo and reverberate as soon as you open your mouth

You can do a test by saying something loudly and then listening to replies of your own voice. If you play back test footage, and the place turns out to be too lively, you can either relocate or change the de facto environment by deadening the echo waves. But how?

Well, if you’re serious about sound, you can kill echos by using sound treatment foam — this will greatly improve your recording environment, and your ears will thank you for it in post

You can attach sound treatment foam to walls with masking tape, or you can create ad hocsound treatment surfaces that can screw on to C stands. They can make a great big difference

Room corners can be dreadful for sound as trapped sound waves create reverberations. These gremlins attack the base end of the sound wave you wish to capture. The human voice is higher frequency, but it’s still within range of this kind of distortion. Why not, then, treat the corners with square shaped foam? They’ll get rid of the problem, and you can create a recording good enough for Barbara Streisand

If you’re into voice-overs, you can create a voice box or you can buy one ready-made inexpensively on the web

3) Whilst filming, monitor the sound with your earphones on, unless you’re in the video — but even then, some people do it anyway. This way, if there’s a problem you can correct it on-the-fly. Closed back over-the-head earphones without noise cancellation are best practice. Short point to make, but most important

4) In smartphones, microphones are built-in. Whilst designs have improved radically in recent years, the fundamentals still apply. In-built mics can only be omni-directional, and therefore you will always get more ambient than is necessary. This is not a good thing, unless you’re longing to record that beautiful ornamental water fountain you spent £1999.95 on for your meditation video

Here’s the problem: in order to get yourself in the picture, you have to film yourself from a distance. For this purpose, manufacturers made lenses in smartphones wide angles. This way, you could fit your face in, at less than arm’s length

The trouble is, if you film yourself up-close, this will result in distortions of the face: — specifically, the nose will appear bigger than it does with your own eyes. This seems to bother some people (myself included!), and there are even reports of some who have sought advice from plastic surgeons for rhinoplasty: — all from the distortion their lens creates when held up-close

Perhaps unconsciously, people tend to film themselves from a distance, as this creates a more familiar image to the eye. The problem here is that the microphone suddenly will become more distant from your mouth, and this brings in the noise-to-signal ratio problem. The in-built microphone on your smartphone is omni-directional, remember?

In a nutshell, in order to create a more flattering picture, you would need to compromise with audio by holding the phone at a greater distance in order to avoid the distortion; and it’s the other way around if you want better sound than image

Ah, the vanity! These things matter, however. I’ve noticed some of the more savvy vloggers sometimes use a pro portrait of themselves and a decent up-close and personal audio recording — thus, achieving the best of both worlds

To solve this specific problem, manufacturers have brought out specialised audio equipment for smartphones. You can now get bolt-on directional microphones which are designed to reject sound from the peripheries, thus reducing ambient noise. You can also now get lav mics that work by clipping on clothes — a solution which solves the signal-to-noise ratio problem by listening to your chest. Both Sennheiser and RØDE have responded to the market and have created solutions which are well-worth investigating and investing in

I personally found RØDE’s VideoMic Me to be an exceptional product for your smartphone, but make sure it has the correct port. Tut, tut, Apple

5) Always protect your microphone from wind noise when filming outdoors. You can do this by using the manufacturer’s foam that comes with your microphone, or by sliding on a furry “dead cat,” depending on conditions. A furry windshield can handle a somewhat windy day. Blimps are for windy beaches, but that’s what pros think about — you will not usually find yourself in such a situation. Again, specialist manufacturers have devised solutions for all contingencies. My favourite mic wind shield company is Rycote. They’re worth checking out, even for budget microphones and lavs

1) Like sound, the most important factor when recording an image is the signal-to-noise ratio, except this time we’re talking encoded pixels. How accurately can your camera sample a pixel from nature?

There are two ways to lower noise interference, and they both involve getting more light to the sensor. The easiest way is to switch on all available light. Another way is to buy a lens with an aperture that lets in more light to the sensor. The lower the f number on the side of the lens, the more light it can let in. Anything below f2.8 is great

A good lens makes a huge, huge difference. I would stick to prime lenses and not zooms as zoom image quality isn’t as good. The classic focal length for a prime lens is a 50mm; but some say 35mm

f1.8 is good, f1.4 is great, and f1.2 is fantastic but expensive. If you’re shooting at these stops, it’s worth thinking about getting a neutral density filter to keep the sought after shallow depth-of-field, especially if you’re shooting outdoors

If you’re shooting outdoors, it’s worth thinking about filming during the: “golden hour,” of photography rather than high noon, but the time-window for shooting at the: “golden hour,” is tighter than any other time of day. The: “golden hour,” is when the light is at its best, because it’s soft, it’s evenly spread, it’s diffused and it’s golden! To complement the light, photographers and videographers use a reflector to fill in the shadows, if necessary. If you’re shooting at the “golden hour,” you can use the gold side of the reflector

With lenses that have low f numbers (f1.2, f1.4, f1.8), pin point focus becomes critical, so be sure to have somebody pull focus for you as you stand on your mark, ready for that speech of a lifetime

Unfortunately, Autofocus doesn’t work with video, unless you’re on a smartphone. Traditionally, focus is pulled manually with focus assist punch-in, even in the highest budget films. Recently, Canon DAF has made incredible advancements in Autofocus for video, but I would still recommend doing it manually until it becomes second nature. The first rule here is, “If the eyes are in focus, the image is in focus”

Here’s a quick tip. If you’re being interviewed by somebody off-camera, stop the lens at f2.8 or higher, because you would want both eyes to be in focus. Using a higher f stop like f5.6 will need more evenly spread light or luminosity in order to avoid noise in your final image

2) Quality of light is also key to creating a pleasing image. The first question I ask is: “How even is light distributed in the room?” This includes foreground and background. If it’s not very even, then that will challenge your exposure as all cameras have an exposure limit (or dynamic range)

Dynamic range is the ability of a camera to capture highlights, mid-tones and shadows, as well as blacks. Less expensive cameras, including the best smartphones available today, cannot do this without exposure cost

An exposed bulb will create unpleasant harsh shadows, similar to shooting at high noon. That doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it is. If you’re indoors, a quick solution is to bounce the light against a white surface, like a wall. If the wall isn’t white, you will get a colour cast which isn’t usually very sought after; this is because it interferes with skin tones. Soft light is always better than hard light. This is why softboxes are used all of the time

In terms of softboxes, tungsten filaments are the business and have been for a hundred years. Don’t use a fluorescent bulb, as the flicker rate doesn’t mix well will with the progressive scan used to create the digital image. Playback will cause a headache

I personally don’t use LED lights because of the sickly green skin cast they produce, and they don’t give out very much light anyway. LEDs have improved, but tungsten are still my go-to lights. Top end ARRI Skypanels are a different story altogether — but do you want to spend £Ks on an ultra luxurious light?

3) Always position yourself at an angle from the light source and make sure the light isn’t behind the camera or behind you shooting into the lens. The reason it’s best practice to position the light from an angle is because there is just as much information in the shadows as in the light

Let me explain. In a 2D image, where shadows fall tell you about the dimensions of the face — and that’s important. A light source that’s not behind the camera but to one side at an angle creates a much better image than a headlight, which flattens the image. This is the primary reason people used to hate being photographed — headlight flash should be made illegal. What degree angle you should use should depend on how long shadows fall

4) Monitoring audio and video, as well as playback will teach you a great deal. The famous photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson once said: “Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst”. The same kind of thinking applies to video. Your first X minutes of video will be your worst, but you’ll improve every time, especially if you stick to the fundamentals. So, get out there and give it a go. Don’t forget to set the correct colour balance, though. Tungsten setting for tungsten light, fluorescent setting for fluorescent light, and day light setting for day light. Easy!

If you learnt something new, don’t forget to like and share and comment. If you have any questions on how to improve your video, I’ll be glad to answer below

Stay tuned for the next article, how to edit faster

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Ramsey Pietro Nasser

UK filmmaker and founder of thesearchformagik — my media production house