What Makes A Good Video?
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).