Let's Get Technical: Equip Yourself to Make Good Videos Instead of Bad Ones

  •    Freelance writer focused on web development, email marketing and baseball. He lives in Los Angeles, but wishes he lived in Tokyo.

The internet is overflowing with videos, and most of them aren't very good. As we discussed in part one of this series, you can do better than that. Much better.

Determining what kind of video you're going to make is only the first step in the process though, because even the most amazing concept still has to be filmed and edited. This may sound daunting, especially if you don't have much experience with photography or video, but it really doesn't have to be all that complicated. You're not making a Hollywood movie. It's mostly a matter of getting the proper equipment and pointing all that equipment in the right direction.

How do you get that equipment without a Hollywood studio backing you?

Getting Equipment

Not all that long ago you had two choices when embarking on a video project:

  1. Shoot it on tape, which was relatively inexpensive but looked terrible.
  2. Shoot it on film, which looked great but was very expensive.

This meant that every small business (and even most large businesses) filmed their videos on tape, leaving us all watching local used car commercials that were definitely not known for the high quality of their work.

You don't have to worry about this problem, since nearly everything is digital now (it's extremely rare even for Hollywood movies to be shot on film these days) and there are lots of relatively inexpensive cameras that provide high quality visuals. This inexpensive equipment is made all the more so by easy-to-use rental services like Borrowlenses and LensRentals that provide everything you might need for a shoot.

What equipment should you get?

Camera

It goes without saying that having a camera is key to shooting your video, since pointing a blender at someone and yelling “action" isn't nearly as effective.

A lot of very technical people have a lot of very technical opinions on the camera you should be using, but you really don't need to worry about every little technical detail. You should instead consider which camera can capture your video at your budget and experience level.

Very Low Budget / No Experience Needed - iPhone

This isn't a joke. Some recent indie movies have been shot on the iPhone. It may have been a bit of a gimmick, but they still looked good.

If you decide to shoot with your phone, it's all the more important to get lighting, sound and location right since the camera itself isn't going to do anything fancy for you. You should also be sure to turn the phone so it's horizontal (shooting video in portrait mode is very amateurish) and place it on something stable (like a tripod) so the picture doesn't shake.

Low Budget / Very Little Experience - Canon Rebel T6i

A DSLR camera provides high quality visuals with an easy-to-use interface at a low price. If you're reading this article, and you quite obviously are, this is most likely the right choice. The biggest key here is getting the right lens(es) to use for the shoot.

Moderate Budget / Experienced - Blackmagic Cinema Camera or Canon C100

These are powerful cameras with fewer bells and whistles than their significantly more expensive counterparts. But if you're at a point where you'd be able to use one of them, you likely don't need to read this article.

Money to Burn / You're a Cinematographer - Red or Arri

Don't rent these cameras. If you have this much of a budget, hire someone to make your video.

Lenses

A good camera without a good lens is a bad camera; the lens is of equal importance to image quality as the camera itself.

You could spend all year considering the plusses and minuses of various lenses, but there are a couple of important things to consider regardless of anything else: The lens should have a fixed focal length, meaning the lens doesn't zoom. Fixed focal length lenses record higher quality images at a lower price than zoom lenses do. A 35 or 50 mm lens will probably do the trick.

The lens should be fast. A lens's speed is based on its aperture, which is represented by f-stops. An f/2.8 lens, for example, is faster than an f/3.5 lens. Faster lenses work better with less light and make it easier to control the image's depth-of-field, allowing you to blur out the background (something both professional photography and movies have taught us to associate with higher quality). Your lens should be f/2.8 or better.

Sound Recording

No matter how good your video looks, if the sound is low quality then the video will seem unprofessional. Never rely on a camera's built in microphone because it will absolutely sound terrible and wreck everything you've worked on.

Instead you'll want to do one of two things:

Get an external microphone and plug it into the camera. This is the easiest approach and is fairly high quality.

Get an external sound recorder and plug a separate microphone into that. This is even higher quality, but it does mean you'll need to later combine the sound with the video on a computer. This isn't very hard to do, but will be more work. On a movie or TV set, all audio is recorded externally. You know the “clapper" that is used in Hollywood movies right before a director yells “action!"? The sound of that “clapper" (known as a slate) is matched to the video of the clapping to properly line up the audio with the visuals in a scene. You can match the purpose of a slate by walking in front of the camera and clapping.

Lighting

A video recorded on nice equipment with nice sound can still be ruined if it's too dark for anyone to see what's going on. Making lighting of equal importance to everything we've already discussed.

There are three ways to ensure you have good lighting:

Shoot outside. The sun is the very best light of all, but even it isn't perfect. To make sure the light isn't too harsh, film early in the morning right after dawn, late in the afternoon before dusk, or on a cloudy day.

Shoot indoors in front of large windows. Position your subjects so that they're facing the windows, that way the light streaming in hits them.

Rent lights. Even if you do this, you should use the lights to accent already existing lights (like the light from a window or lamp) since it takes a large budget to manufacture perfect lighting from a kit.

With the right combination of camera, lens, lighting and sound you can produce your own high-quality video for only a few hundred dollars and see marketing results that are worth many, many times more.