10 Tips for Videography Beginners

Fact-checked by Layla Varela
Updated on: May 18, 2023

You have already made a mental list of what you need: you have a great script, set your camera, and are ready to go to the location to start recording. What might be missing? Some tips before recording.

Maybe this is the first time you’re going to this. As a result, you may have doubts about how to start and wonder what key things to remember when communicating your ideas to others, especially if you're new to the process. 

So, whether you're new at a video presentation or an experienced learner, this article offers eight helpful tips to avoid distractions and ensure your production will succeed. Hence, are you ready to start? Read on!

Tip #1: Take a breath before moving your camera

Although this tip may be obvious, it can ultimately make a huge difference in your video. Before pressing the recording button and reaching for that zoom control, take a moment to consider your intentions of what you will show by asking yourself the following questions:

  • What’s the feeling you wish to evoke in your audience?
  • Do you genuinely need to get a closer look at your subject, or are you simply experimenting with the zoom feature? 

If you can't find a good reason to zoom or pan, don't. 

Remember, even prominent directors like Spielberg and Hitchcock have shot entire feature films without zooming even once! Hence, instead of overusing that aids, angles, or camera features, try stopping the tape and moving closer to your subject, which you can always edit later. 

However, if you need to pan, move slower than your initial instincts tell you. Fast pans are a tell-tale sign of beginner videos, often eliciting laughter from more experienced audiences. 

Lastly, avoid using "filming" when working with a camcorder. You're not shooting on film but instead using video. So instead, refer to it as "shooting video" or "taping. Don’t worry. When you use the correct terms, you will look like a pro anyways.

Tip #2: Understand the lens’ characteristics

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When using a camera's zoom feature, remember that the visual characteristics of your shots will change depending on whether you're using a shorter (wide-angle) lens or a longer (telephoto) lens. 

But when can you use them? What is the difference between each type? Don’t worry, little padawan; here is a short explanation about that: 

On the one hand, shorter lenses offer a greater depth of field, meaning that foreground and background objects will be in focus. But despite that, they can also make things appear closer than they are, so the warning "objects are closer than they appear" is printed on rearview mirrors, which function like wide-angle lenses. 

To capture a scene with everything in focus, use a short lens. Additionally, when trying to keep the camera steady, it's easier to do so with a short lens because longer lenses can cause shakiness. 

In contrast, a longer lens will have less depth of field, allowing you to focus on your subject while intentionally blurring the background. 

To understand the differences in lenses and focal lengths, try this experiment: frame an object and walk toward it while zooming out to keep it the same size in your frame. As you get closer, the background will come into focus, while the subject will appear to gain depth, creating a fascinating effect called foreshortening.

Tip #3: Make a tripod your best friend

Don't make the common mistake of relying on a shaky cam when shooting video, especially if you're just starting. 

While some highly professional music videos and commercials have elevated shaky-cam to an art form, it's important to remember that most of the time, you won't want that shaky look in your videos. 

Shaky footage can be distracting and make your audience feel uneasy or nauseous. So, if you still need to invest in a good tripod with a fluid head, keep your shots rock-solid and your camera movements smooth.

A sturdy tripod is essential for any videographer who wants to produce professional-looking videos. A fluid head tripod, in particular, will allow you to pan and tilt your camera smoothly, resulting in more visually appealing shots. 

Consider that it will make your videos look better and make your life easier by freeing up your hands and allowing you to focus on framing your shots. So, do yourself and your viewers a favor, and invest in a good tripod. Your videos will thank you for it.

Tip #4: Measure the environment and the headroom

Usually, people do not measure the image's dimensions when making videos. That’s why it's crucial to avoid cutting off people's heads so your videos can look more professional.

But how do people not realize this issue? Consider this: consumer TV sets usually have overscan, which crops about 10% of the top, bottom, and sides of your shots. Therefore, new people in this creative activity can’t notice they are making a mistake. 

To avoid this, you should allow extra space around your subject while filming. You can experiment with the amount of headroom to find the perfect balance.

A good trick could be allowing the width of three fingers between the person's head and the top of the frame. However, this may be too much headroom for a DV camcorder, so be careful.

Finally, take a few shots and check the headroom on a TV set to get it right. Ensure you don't overdo it, as too much headroom can make your subject appear to be sitting in a hole. On the other hand, you can recognize a professional shooter's work by the amount of headroom allowed.

Tip #5: Fake some angles when interviewing someone

When shooting home videos, it's common to see the interviewee talking directly into the camera for a long time. However, this is not the most professional way to shoot interviews. Instead, try plugging it interview-style like pro news shooters. 

Maybe you’re wondering how to do that. Well, first, you can enlist the help of someone else as your interviewer or switch roles and be the interviewer while someone else shoots. 

Make sure to shoot your subject's face straight on, not in profile, so you can see both of their eyes in the shot. 

Note: If you want to get creative, shooting in the profile is okay, but remember to leave some breathing room in the direction your subject is looking. 

When shooting the straight-on interview, have your subject look at the interviewer, not the camera, and place your interviewer next to the camera lens. This way, you'll see your subject's face straight-on. And you can also frame up the subject's face and shoulders, but not too tight so that the scene will look comfortable.

After the interview, take shots called "cutaways" and "reversals." Cutaways are shots of the interviewer listening to the interviewee or short videos of what the subject is discussing. 

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Note: You can get various shots from different angles. You can also make an over-the-shoulder shot of the interviewer with the subject in the foreground to keep it interesting.

Of course, you can fake the interview with yourself in the shot as the interviewer. Place your camera on the other side of your subject, on its tripod, and frame it up on yourself, listening to the person talking in the foreground. Avoid showing the subject's lips in these shots so you can fake them in editing. 

Then try shooting some reversals where the interviewer re-asks the questions asked during the interview. You can cut these in later, making it look like you used two cameras. For example, if your interviewee was looking slightly left screen, have your interviewer in the reversals looking somewhat toward the right of the screen. When you edit all this together, you'll see the magic happening. It may be fake, but it will look terrific if done correctly. And then, after a few tries, you'll get good at it.

Tip #6: Think about the lightning

Remember that you're looking at reflected light when you view a camera shot. So, don’t underestimate the power of a good lightning set!

Thus, get a lighting kit with at least three lights to improve your video quality. Good lighting can make even mediocre camcorders look presentable. 

For a basic lighting setup, place a key light near the camera, a fill light on the other side aimed at the subject, and a backlight behind the issue to create separation from the background. 

Tip: You can also use natural indoor light as the principal light source during the day. Just put your subject looking at a nice window and your seat in front of the person turning your back to the window.

Just ensure the backlight's stand doesn't appear in your shot. Then, if you have additional lights, use a blue or amber gel on one of them and aim it at the background for a stunning effect. And lastly, when filming outdoors, try shooting in the shade and use a reflector to add some pop.

Note: You can use a simple white paper as a reflector, but you must check how your character looks on camera.

Tip #7: Record thinking about editing

Always think about how your shots will work in the editing process. For example, if your subject is discussing swimming, try to capture images of people swimming or, even better, clips of the subject swimming. Those clips can make a huge difference when presenting your video to your audience.

One of the most prominent issues the editors face when sifting through B-roll footage is that they always need more clips. Therefore, it's crucial to capture as much B-roll footage as possible. For example, hold the shot for about five seconds longer than you need when shooting a flower. This way, you'll have more options during the editing process. 

However, despite the above, think of what kind of clips help the narrative of your videos. It’s not worth it if you have dozens of short videos, if any, related to the topic you’re discussing in your video.

The key to shooting for editing is giving yourself as many options as possible within time constraints. Every editing session has moments of uncertainty, where new ideas that did not originally plan arise. However, those moments often turn out to be the best parts of the final product. So, be open to new ideas and give yourself plenty of options.

Tip #8: Don’t be afraid to Close-ups

Beginners often make the mistake of shooting wide in still photography and videography, which is not the way to go. To improve your shooting, get closer to your subject and eliminate any unnecessary items in the shot. 

While the video frame is limited, you can control what goes into that space. Instead of showing a vast expanse of something, use the area to communicate with your audience, for example, by focusing on a loved one's face. 

Shooting tighter shots often gives a higher perceived video quality, as more detail needs to be reproduced on a broader clip. Remember, you are communicating, so use the limited space wisely.

Tip #9: Choose your background wisely

A careful selection of a set is essential. Choose relatively quiet and in-motion locations because this may distract your audience. And that is what you don’t do.

Note: Less compression can improve video quality, even for lightly compressed DV footage. 

Avoid placing preoccupied elements in the background. While a picture, plant, or ornament may be beautiful, you must wonder what can attract attention. Think about it: it can appear like an absurd plant headdress if placed behind someone's head.

You can add some color to the background to make it visually appealing, but avoid making it too noisy. Even a little bit of paint can go a long way in enhancing the environment around the subject on camera.

Tip #10: Get fun

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Videos are such a great experience! You will create adventurous anecdotes you can tell one day. 

So don’t get stressed if something doesn’t work as you imagine. Instead, enjoy the process, and you will get a fantastic final product to show off!

Do you want to know more?

Creating videos is terrific, and practicing can make you a real expert. So why don’t you start by learning more about editing videos? Check out these programs you can use:

You can also get more creative courses on the Skillademia website and get a certification to improve your skills! That sounds amazing, right?

Lorena M. Rodas leverages her experience across film, writing, and production to make complex tech concepts accessible through storytelling. With a background spanning sci-fi, AI, and emerging tech, Lorena translates her depth of knowledge into engaging, educational content. She is an expert at decoding high-level topics to reach broad audiences.
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