If you follow me on social media, you’re likely to know that I’m a massive film fan. Although I love the word, I could hardly call myself a cineaste – my knowledge is still growing, and I’m working on watching as many films as possible and backing it up with the right context. Maybe you even read my post about film learning resources that I put together a couple of weeks ago. Although the time I can dedicate to learning is limited, and it’s hard to organise a little film school on your own, I’ve noticed some progress while experimenting with the footage I’ve captured earlier (even if I can do only so much to fix it!) – and I thought it might be useful to share some super basic video tips for beginning vloggers that helped me to improve how I think about the footage.
Read on to find a few things I’d tell myself when I was shooting the footage for the travel vlog below.
Shoot with editing in mind
I used to think that editing and post-production can fix any potential problems. But they won’t help if you don’t have solid footage as a base for your experiments. I’ve noticed that many of the video bits I’ve recorded were unplanned – it’s difficult to storyboard a travel video, for example – but you can put as much effort as possible into making sure that your footage benefits from the daylight and interesting angles. Also, it’s good to have a broad selection of B-roll shots: the more you shoot, the better your options get.
That also means asking people who appear in your video to do a second or third take – I used to be very doubtful about this, as I wanted my subjects to feel relaxed and confident, especially when they’re stressed out by camera appearances! You can do it differently: as a director of your video, create the atmosphere that allows you to reassure the people that they’ve done very well, but gently point them to what you want them to do. It works just as well!
Whenever possible, make sure your set is properly lit, and the shots well-exposed. Lighting can contribute so much to adding production value – and you can get LED lights that aren’t wildly expensive. In an ideal world, you’d know about the concept of three-point lighting: you’ve got your key light for the subject, your fill to soften the harshness of the shadows, and the back light to help separate your subject from the background. But the cheapest light is by far daylight (don’t we all love free, organic stuff?). With a bit of creativity, you can even soften that light if the sun is blazing full-on through the window – a soft white curtain might help. You can add an extra light to it, to make sure your subject is evenly lit. Or you can grab a bit of alu-foil or a white bedsheet to reflect light. Or you can use something dark to block the light out if there’s too much of it from all directions. That’s all fine and dandy for controlled shots… but what if you’re outside and you’re not carrying bedsheets with you? This is where exposure comes in. Start slow and learn about how your camera uses light – ISO, aperture and shutter speed will come in handy here.
In order to get the interesting shots you want, you need to make an effort and apply the techniques you’ve learnt. It doesn’t really matter if you’re shooting with a DSLR, a compact camera or your phone (mine was shot with my trusty Xperia); you need to have the mindset of giving yourself enough time, searching for good shots, checking your footage, comparing what you’ve got already and thinking how it helps you to tell a story, repeating until you get the look you want. If you’re just snapping away without paying attention to the composition of the frame and moving on, you can only do so much in post-production.
Get a tripod and a selfie stick, really
Although you won’t always be able to set it up, the stable image helps your video to look a little more professional – although you can stabilise the shaky footage, some strange moves on camera will still be noticeable. There’s nothing more frustrating to record something and discover that the shaky movements rendered it unusable afterwards (well, we’re not Dogma 95 filmmakers here…)
As for the selfie stick – you don’t have to use it solely for selfies (some people don’t like selfies, as we’ve established). When you can’t use a tripod, fix your camera on the top of it and place it on the ground – even if the camera is still in your hands, the stick you’ve attached it to acts as a decent enough stabiliser. There are even selfie sticks that double as tripods, so if you want one for travel suitable for GoPro/phone recording, you’re set!
Save your footage as RAW, find a flat profile for your camera and colour-grade
Before you start shooting, make sure that your video is recorded in RAW format – you can always change it in your camera settings. Because RAW doesn’t discard information that other video formats do in compression, you can prep it for colour grading and bring out the details you need. If you want to understand it better, read this article from HDVideoPro Magazine. This format was once available only on cinema cameras (and their prices are usually from £5k upwards…) but many modern mirrorless cameras enable you to shoot in RAW – all of them are likely to do so for photos, and some better ones let you do it for video as well. It will take a minute to get used to, cause the initial shot may seem “grayed out” on the preview, but with proper exposure, you’ll be able to creatively manipulate your footage later. There’s something to note, though: if you’re short on time, keep in mind that colouring the footage will likely take you some time!
Don’t have RAW? If you’ve got a camera that allows you to use manual settings, you can boost your editing opportunities even further by using a flat camera profile. One of the most praised profiles you can install in a DSLR is Cinestyle by Technicolor, that helps you to preserve more details, even when the light isn’t perfect, and add a broader colour range while editing. And it’s available for free!
For an instant touch of a cinematic look, become friendly with Colour tab of Premiere Pro or the equivalent in the video editor you’re using. Even iMovie has a basic colour correction tab, and the free version of professional software DaVinci Resolve allows you to work wonders. Even basic attempts at colour grading can help you brighten the video up a little or give it that sophisticated look you want. Also, if you happened to shoot on two different cameras (i.e. interviews!), or in slightly different lighting conditions, it’ll help you to match colours between the clips so that the look of the video stays consistent.