Blog, Guides & Tutorials
Equipment and software are all good and fine, but you’ll also need some skills yourself. We’ll try and cover some of the basics for you here with both some general tips and tricks on photography and some tutorials for Video Improve. Enjoy!
The answer is surprisingly simple: A good video is a video enjoyed by its audience. No more and no less.
Now, the audience may be you, your followers on social media or a client who hired you for a job. Making a “good” video therefore implies that you know your audience and what they like to watch. But beyond this there are many guidelines and best practices to follow when producing video. We’ll guide you through a few of the most important ones.
Keep it short!
Whether it’s your audience on the web or your friends in real life, people don’t have the patience to watch a video the length of a Hollywood movie. In practice, it’s best to keep your final clip somewhere between 1 and 2 minutes. If you’re doing a tutorial or a presentation, longer videos are okay as long as the content and story justify it. But if you’re just showing off your holidays or that adventure trip you did last month, it’s best to keep it short and stick to the essential moments.
Ironically, producing a short video can be more time-consuming than producing a long one. You may have to watch your raw material several times until you have a good overview of what you actually filmed and then decide which bits are really worth watching. If you turned on your GoPro at the beginning of that hiking trip and turned it off at the end, you probably ended up with hours of material. Selecting the best 2 minutes from it can be a tedious task, but if you want to create a good video you’ll have to wade through all the boring parts so your audience doesn’t have to.
Obviously, deciding to simply not show a certain part of your raw material is the easiest way to shorten things down. But in some cases, this may the wrong approach: Say you were hiking and crossing a long bridge with a spectacular view, or canoeing through a really impressive ravine. These beautiful bits may last for several minutes in real time but no matter how great the view, most people won’t have the patience to watch the full segment. But rather than removing these parts, consider speeding them up. Have such sections be played back at 5x or 10x or even 30x the real speed and you’ll share a larger part of your trip with your audience while not boring them to death.
Although shortness is vital don’t be afraid to also slow down parts of your video if they are particularly cool. A jump with your bike, going down a waterfall in a kayak or a shot of a serene mountain river – some moments come across a lot better when played in slow motion. Keep these sections below 5 seconds, though.
If you’ve ever heard about “composition” before – being for video, photography, or even painting – the “rule of thirds” should sound at least somewhat familiar. It’s probably the most important composition technique and also pretty easy to do: Imagine your screen being divided into thirds by four lines (two horizonal and two vertical). Your main focus (which could be a person or maybe another foreground object like a tree or building in a landscape shot) should be situated at the intersection of two of these lines.
Many amateur photo- and videographers tend to place their main subject in the center of frame. While this is not per se bad or wrong, moving the main subject to the left or right of the center will give your image a sense of depth and your main focus will be embedded within a larger context and tell a better story. One thing to remember is that your audience did not share the experience with you, they did join you on that trip or in that moment. This means they lack the context, knowledge and many of the other impressions (temperature, sound, the third dimension, etc.) you had when you recorded the footage. You may not be able to transport all of that with a video clip, but every bit helps and proper composition can be what makes or breaks your final video.
Also, it’s advisable to shoot at your camera’s maximum resolution (4K if available) even if you don’t need this many pixels. By doing so, you’ll have the freedom to crop away a part of your frame in post-production and still have enough detail to export your final video in, say, HD. So even if your initial shot did not respect the rule of thirds, and maybe even had a slanted horizon, you can easily fix that later by rotating and cropping as you desire, without losing out on quality.
Quite obviously we’re all used to seeing the world from eye level. If you want to make your clips more interesting, be different! If you’re filming with a drone, you already got this one covered. But for all other situations, try to be creative with where you put your camera.
If you use an action camera for sports, mounting it to your helmet or chest are the obvious choices. Not saying that you shouldn’t do this, but probably there are plenty of other options – for example near the rear wheel of your bike or the back part of your board or skis (this way we’ll see more of you in the shot).
If you’re shooting with a handheld camera, get down on your knees and try a low angle view. Or look around to see if there’s anything to stand on (a rock, a bench) and get a higher angle. Be creative and explore your surroundings!
Colors and Exposure
Just like with a “good” video, exposure and colors are “good” when people like the result. Many people suffer from the misconception that “good” exposure equals a “neutral” exposure (not too dark and not too bright) and that “good” colors equal “natural” colors. This may be true in some cases and it’s almost never good to over- or underexpose to the point where large parts of the frame are solid black or white.
You should keep in mind that your video’s brightness, saturation and color balance heavily influence the way it’s being perceived and the emotions an audience associates with it. To get a “good” video, exposure and colors should be chosen so that they support the mood and story you’re trying to get across.
There’s no general rule here and it’s also a matter of your personal style and taste, but here are a few suggestions to get you started:
- If you’re shooting a sunset or sunrise scene, you generally want a serene and warm feeling. Adjust the white balance to make the scene look warmer. Your camera’s auto white balance may try to achieve “neutral” colors which is exactly not what you want – what makes sunsets so beautiful is exactly the fact that they are NOT neutral like the rest of the day.
- If you’re shooting in the snow, you’ll probably need to adjust exposure to make the whole picture brighter than your camera will choose to on auto exposure. You know that the snow in the scene is supposed to be very bright, but the camera doesn’t! Thus, it will probably decide to go for a darker exposure, making your snow look rather grey than white. Also, going for a slightly colder white balance can help in bringing some of that wintery feeling across.
- If you’re shooting an action-rich scene you should try a high contrast and either over- or undersaturated colors. Adding a bit of a vignette (dark corners) can also create a great effect. Don’t overdo it though.
Also, you may want to go easy on stabilization in this case: If you want to give your audience the impression of being right in the middle of the action, a bit of camera shake is actually a good thing.
- If you’re shooting a family or indoors scene, use white balance to make things look a bit warmer (nobody enjoys being cold while indoors) and add a little vignetting to give your shots a bit of a frame.
- Colorizing shadows and highlights is a great way to add atmosphere to your shots. Try giving shadows a blue or purple touch and see how your shots will look a lot more interesting. Also, making highlights yellow or orange can sometimes be a great improvement to some landscape shots.
There are many more subjects to shoot and getting colors and exposure “right” will take some experimenting. Especially in the beginning, juggling with 10 adjustment sliders while not knowing exactly what result you’re looking for can be frustrating and confusing so applying a predefined filter or effect can offer you more instant satisfaction. However, we strongly suggest you play with manual adjustments as well. With a bit of practice, you’ll get really good at it.
It’s good if your audience likes it!
Keep videos short (1-2 minutes).
Tune colors to make them pop.
Get creative with perspectives.
Use composition techniques (e.g. rule of thirds).
Exposure is one of the central concepts of photography and is influenced by 3 different (and independent) factors in your camera:
- Shutter speed
- ISO sensitivity
If any of those terms are unknown to you, please be sure to check our article on terminology for a quick recap. What makes things tricky is that each of these factors influence exposure and one more thing:
- Aperture: a large aperture (which means a low aperture number like f2.8) means a greater exposure, but a more shallow depth of field.
- Shutter speed: a longer shutter speed means greater exposure, but increases the chance (or risk) of motion blur.
- ISO sensitivity: high ISO means greater exposure, but more image noise.
Here are a few sample images to make it more clear how DOF (depth of field), motion blur and image noise affect your images:
DOF (influenced by aperture)
Motion blur (influenced by shutter speed)
Image noise (influenced by ISO setting)
Your camera can choose exposure automatically by analyzing the scene you’re looking at and generally aiming for a neutral exposure, making your image neither too dark nor too bright. This will work well in many cases, but an automatic system will quickly reach its limits in certain more extreme circumstances like the following:
- Shooting in very dark situations, e.g. at night,
- Shooting in very bright situations, e.g. during daylight in snow.
- Shooting back-lit subjects, i.e. shooting a portrait of a person with the sun behind them.
Adjusted +1 1/3 steps
Adjusted -1 1/3 steps
Besides, using auto exposure will often result in images being exposed in a slightly different way even when taken in the same place and only seconds apart: If you change your perspective only a little bit, you’ll get a bit more of that bright sunny spot or that dark wall in your image, and your camera will decide to adjust for it to achieve a neutral exposure. If you’re taking series of images, having such inconsistencies can be a huge nuisance.
If you’re a more advanced shooter, most of the time you will want to shoot in manual mode and control all exposure settings yourself. As an intermediate step, you will want to use automatic exposure metering, but add adjust the value chosen by your camera.
Changes to exposure (or EV) are usually measured in f-stops (or just stops): Increasing EV by one stop means allowing twice as much light to reach the sensor, decreasing by one stop means allowing half as much light. This goes on exponentially – “two stops” equal four times (or a quarter) the light, “three stops” represent eight times (or an eighth), etc. In most cases, cameras will allow you to adjust exposure in thirds of steps, e.g. +1/3 EV or -2/3 EV, etc.
If you find your resulting image is too dark, you’ll have to increase exposure by, say, one step. You can do this through only one of the 3 factors, e.g. by doubling the exposure time or by doubling the ISO sensitivity. In some cases though, you’ll want to avoid cranking up a single one of those values to avoid its drawbacks: instead of doubling your ISO and getting a lot of noise or doubling exposure time and getting a lot of motion blur, you could go for a compromise and use +1/3 stop ISO, +1/3 stop aperture and +1/3 stop shutter speed. This will give you a total of +1 stop at the cost of only a little more noise, a little more blur and a little less DOF.
Similarly, halving your ISO (-1 EV stops) while incresing exposure time (+2/3 stop) and opening the aperture by +1/3 stop will give you an identically exposed image (-1 + 2/3 + 1/3 = 0 EV stops) with less noise, more motion blur and less DOF. This can be confusing in the beginning, but getting a good grip on how to balance these three values is a central part of mastering photography and getting your shot look the way you want it.
Having the gear, but not getting the results? Spent hundreds on that new camera or drone and then found yourself unhappy with your photos and videos? In this case, the good and the bad news are identical: It’s probably you, not your camera (sorry).
Cameras are only tools and just like having a good hammer won’t make you a carpenter and having a sharp scalpel won’t make you a surgeon, well, having a good camera won’t magically turn you into a good photographer (sorry again). Unlike hammers and scalpels cameras do have some “auto” features (which definitely help) but those will help you in avoiding some errors (like strong over- or underexposure) but won’t help much in creating something actually good.
Producing better photos or videos is up to your own skills – and while you (probably) won’t become a Hollywood-grade master with our little blog, we’ll try to show you some little tricks which will make a huge difference already.
Here are some of the most important ingredients you’ll need to become better at taking photos and videos:
Unfortunately there is no magic button, no fantastic pill and no revolutionary secret that will make you better in a heartbeat (yes, hundreds of articles on the web claim otherwise). There are plenty of quick & easy tricks you can do which can make a big difference, but first you’ll have to understand those tricks, then put in a bit of practice and then apply them regularly – this all takes time.
Also, spending more time on thinking and deciding what you actually want to shoot, from which angle and in which order will give you a much better yield of usable video material. If you’re thinking “I’m just going to get a quick shot of this here…” you’ll end up with exactly that: a quick shot of… something. Not that this is bad, but it probably could be better.
Know your gear and the basics
Your video equipment is only as good as you are. Take the time to read through the manual and understand how that piece of gear actually works. And even more important: Get at least a little grip on the basics of videography and photography. Not to say you won’t take any good videos until you know how aperture and shutter speed relate to white balance (they don’t) but understanding the basics can make a huge difference in the long run.
If your video is completely secondary to your main activity, you can probably do without this: If you’re there for your bike trip and film along just because you can but don’t care for the result, that’s fine.
But if you want to tell a story and create a video that people will actually enjoy watching, planning is an absolute must. You don’t have to spend hours doing sketches and studying maps, but take a few minutes to think about these: What’s your video about and which are the vital scenes? What is located where, when do things happen? Which scenes are particularly exciting? Are there any scenes you can easily shoot multiple times, e.g. to try out different perspectives? Would having an assistant open up new shooting possibilities and can a friend help? If your recording time is limited (e.g. because your drone’s batteries only last that long), which shots are most important (do these first) and which are still unclear or will require some trial and error on location (do these last)?
It’s often impossible to answer all of these beforehand but having at least a rough idea of what you’re planning to shoot when and where will make you a LOT more effective during your time on location.
Try new things! This includes the subject matter you’re shooting but it also refers to photographic techniques and particularly the choice of perspective. Shooting from eye level can be boring because that’s how we see the world all the time. Get down on your knees or stomach and shoot from a low angle or climb onto something to get a higher angle or even look straight down. Experiment with slow motion. In your final video, try mixing different subjects: If you’re shooting a sports video, mix in some landscape shots from the scene to give your video’s audience a better idea of the location.
This is something many people shun but which has a huge impact on the quality of your final video. Basically all videos you’ll see on the web are edited in some way and more often than not, more time went into post processing than into planning and recording taken together.
Now we know you’re not Hollywood so you don’t have to overdo it, but the one main thing you’ll really want to do in post is cutting your video: Clip out all the boring parts, keep only the essential moments and merge them into one nice and short clip that people will enjoy watching.
You’ve probably stumbled upon some of these and we’re going to use them in our guides and tutorials as well. Just to make sure you’re always able to follow, here are some of the most important photography terms explained:
- Aperture – the opening in your lens which lets light pass from the outside world to the camera’s sensor. The aperture is defined by an “f-number” like f2.8 or f16. The smaller the number, the larger the opening and the larger the number, the smaller the opening (counter intuitive at times). The larger the opening, the more light is getting through to the sensor. Besides getting you more light, a larger opening also gives you a more shallow depth of field (see below). Many action and drone cameras have a fixed aperture and control exposure only through shutter speed and ISO (see below).
- Blur – a blurry or “non-sharp” image can have two main causes: either a wrong focus (see below) or motion (of the camera and/or the subject)
- Depth of field – also called focus range, is the distance between the nearest and farthest objects in a scene that appear acceptably sharp in an image.
- ISO sensitivity – how sensitive your sensor reacts to light, normally given in numbers like ISO100, ISO200, … With higher ISO, your image gets brighter but you also get more image noise (see below)
- Exposure – the amount of light reaching the camera’s sensor, as determined by shutter speed, aperture and scene luminance. The higher the exposure, the brighter the image.
- Focus – the distance between the camera and the objects in the scene which appear sharpest. Many action and drone cameras have a fixed focus and a very large depth of field, meaning that – except for very close objects – everything you capture is in focus.
- Flickering – can occur in video, when adjacent frames are exposed differently. Usually happens with timelapses and in certain lighting conditions.
- FPS (frames per second) – the number of individual frames in one second of video material. For playback, the most common FPS values are 24, 25, 29.97 and 30. The human eye can resolve up to 24 individual frames per second, meaning that a video with less than 24 FPS will appear like a slideshow whereas a video with more than 24 FPS will look, well, like an actual video where you can’t make out the individual frames. Many cameras allow you to record video with more FPS (like 60 or 120) which gives you the freedom to slow video down later on, creating a slow-motion effect while still having the 24 or 25 frames necessary for a fluent motion picture. Example: If you record at 120 FPS, you can slow down your video by x4.8 and still get a fluent 25 FPS clip.
- Noise (image noise, that is) – also known as grain, image noise are small dots of varying brightness and color scattered through your image. Noise is caused by high ISO settings mainly used in low light conditions. If you’re normally shooting in broad daylight, you probably haven’t noticed noise in your images – but if you’re sometimes shooting at night or indoors, noise can become quite obvious.
- Quality – this is a very subjective and broad term. When it comes to photos and videos, it normally refers to the amount of compression which is applied when a file is stored to disk. Higher quality means less compression and results in a larger file. In the same way, lower quality means more compression. Compression (in photo, video and audio) is normally “lossy” – meaning that some of the original image data is discarded in order to achieve a smaller file size. Low compression settings are often near-lossless, meaning that although some of the original image data is lost, the perceived decrease in image quality is non-existent. With increasing compression, the decrease in quality becomes more and more notable, eventually creating visible artifacts like a lack of detail, pixelated edges or square blocks of solid color instead of smooth gradients.
It’s important to note that it’s impossible to bring back any lost detail: Once you’ve saved a file at a low quality setting, opening and re-saving it at a higher quality setting won’t bring you any improvement (though it can lead to a bigger file size). If your image/video editing workflow involves several steps, we recommend you to stick with a high quality setting for all intermediate steps (you can delete these intermediate files later on).
- Resolution – the number of pixels in your photo or video. For photos it is normally given in a megapixel count (e.g. 18MP), for video usually in one of the standard video resolutions like VGA (640x480), HD (1920x1080) or 4K (3840x2160).
Resolution, quality and FPS are completely independent – this means that for example a HD video with only little compression can look a lot better and show more details than a 4K video with a lot of compression.
- Saturation – the intensity of colors in an image. A black and white image has a saturation of zero.
- Shutter speed – the time span for which light is allowed to reach the sensor until the shutter closes and a frame (either a video frame or a single photo) is saved. It is given in fractions of a second like 1/4, 1/100, 1/400, 1/2000 or in full seconds (1, 4, 10, …). The slower the shutter speed (= longer time span), the more light reaches the sensor, but the higher the risk of getting motion blur.
- Stabilization – the process of avoiding or reducing camera shake and vibration. The most effective one is just using a tripod – obviously not always an option. Other methods are stabilized lenses and camera sensors, external gimbals (external devices with typically 2 or 3 axes and motors and inertial sensors which detect and counteract motion) and software-based stabilization (performed either in post-production or during recording).
- White balance – the global adjustment of the intensities of colors (typically red, green, and blue). An important goal of this adjustment is to render specific colors – particularly neutral colors like white, grey and black – correctly. For more details, you may want to read this.