Fantastic film, vibrant video

Lockdown has spurred many changes in the way we work, many of which are improvements in what used to be our ‘normal’. Using video meetings in place of travel to different cities, reducing our carbon footprints and spending more time with our families.

Before Covid-19 the use of film as a communications tool was often seen as a mammoth and expensive task, but again the changes we have been forced to adopt have broken down those barriers. While there will always be a place for professional studio based or on-location filming, we’ve seen a massive increase in people looking for advice around how to turn self-filmed material into something more professional to share with their audiences. This guide goes hand in hand with our Perfect Podcasting guide, so if you haven't already had a peek, you can find it here. In the meantime, below are the most commonly asked questions when it comes to filming yourself (or colleagues filming themselves) at home.

For the apprehensive videographer

CAN I PRODUCE GOOD QUALITY VIDEOS AT HOME?

The short answer is yes. The longer answer is yes - but taking into account some variables that require time, commitment and practice. Don’t expect to get an Oscar on your first attempt and try not to underestimate how much time it may take. If asked to create 10 minutes of content, expect to lose quite a few hours of your day.

WHAT SHOULD I USE TO CREATE MY REMOTE VIDEO CONTENT?

Even though your laptop or tablet may have a webcam, your mobile phone will almost certainly have a better camera. It will likely have more than one: a rear facing camera that you use to take photos and videos and one front facing camera that you would use to FaceTime or Skype. Even though the rear facing camera will be better quality, if you’re a novice and working solo it’s much easier to use the front facing camera.

WHERE SHOULD I MAKE MY RECORDING?

The two most important things to consider are noise and light. Shooting outside delivers lots of daylight, but it also comes with plenty of sound challenges: even a gentle breeze can impair the quality of your recording. If you’re filming indoors find a nice quiet room with no distractions and lots of natural daylight. Bigger rooms work better as there’s likely to be some distance between the window, you and the background, which can be visually more appealing. Use this opportunity to provide a subtle indication of your personality and interests. Photos, trophies, books, posters, art, records are great to show. All these items say more about you than magnolia emulsion. It’s really important that the window is behind the camera and not behind you. Light should fall on your face and not your back. Avoid relying on electric light if possible, it’s not as bright as sunlight. But if you have to record when the daylight is subdued, by all means bring in a table lamp and experiment where placing it works best. Probably behind, a little to the side and a few inches higher than the camera. Ideally it should have a neutral shade, making soft light. Nothing too harsh or which will cast shadows on your face.

WHAT SHOULD I WEAR?

Dress code aside, try to avoid patterns. Particularly tight repetitive patterns like high contrast pinstripes, herringbone, houndstooth and fine checks. They can create a strange moiré effect on the camera where they appear to strobe. We see a lot of this with ties in particular. Play safe, wear a solid neutral colour.

HOW SHOULD I HOLD MY CAMERA?

It’s best not to hold your camera at all. Wobblycam is not going to give your video a professional look. Stabilise your device in some way. You could use a tripod and phone mount if you have one. If not prop your camera between some books, or make a mount from card, you can even use bulldog clips or clothes pegs.

Always rotate your camera onto its side so you’re filming in landscape, not portrait. The height of the camera is important too. Very important. The lens should be at eye level or just a little higher. Low angles can be very unflattering.

HOW FAR AWAY FROM THE CAMERA SHOULD I BE?

There are three things to consider here. Being able to reach the device, how you look in the frame and sound quality. Using the front facing camera you can see your framing, use the touch controls and be certain the device is recording. It also has the benefit of a microphone pointing in your direction. Sit about a metre or so away. Frame yourself with a little clear space above your head, and make sure your chin is somewhere in the middle of the frame. Try and imagine a graphic of your name superimposed at the bottom of the screen. If you’re too close to the camera and too big in the frame the graphic may obscure your face.

WHAT ISSUES DO I NEED TO CONSIDER WHILE RECORDING?

Firstly, get comfortable and happy with your shot. Take your time. When you’re ready, touch the record button and wait a few seconds before speaking. This will make sure you’re not moving back into position when you start speaking. It also helps in the editing process if there are time “handles” or quiet spaces at the beginning and end of each shot. Most importantly it will give you time to find the camera lens and speak directly into it. Don’t underestimate how difficult that is. Practice beforehand so it’s not a shock when you need to do it for real. Talking to an inanimate object convincingly while expressing some personality is hard. In addition, you’ll be able to see yourself on the screen and that can be distracting. The impulse is to talk to yourself on the screen, not to the lens, but try to resist. Practice will help. Mastering this will make for better engagement with your audience. You have three other tools to enhance your presentation; your hands, voice and facial expression. Hand movements are great for visual punctuation or emphasis, but only if you’re comfortably doing that. You can change intonation, speed and volume of your voice to compliment the tone of your content and facial expression.

SHOULD I USE A SCRIPT?

Think very carefully about using a script. There’s a good reason why TV presenters are well paid; reading a script convincingly is hard. Reading poorly destroys any personality coming through to your audience and will make for dull viewing. It’s much better to make a simple structure of the subject you’d like to convey and talk around each point as if in conversation.

If you fluff something, don’t sweat it. Take a breath and do it again - you don't need to stop and re-start the recording to do this. That’s what editing is for. A common rookie mistake is to have notes held close to the camera, but just as with your image on screen, it’s a distraction and you’ll keep changing your eyeline ­­- that just looks shifty! Even if you need to break your presentation into smaller pieces and have them cut together later, a delivery that’s connected and engaging for your audience is well worth the effort.

I'VE MADE MY RECORDING IN SEVERAL PIECES, WHAT NEXT?

There are lots of apps for editing on your phone, in fact you may already have one. But in a professional editing environment, such as here at Epigram, there are many things we can do to enhance the watchability of your video.

HOW DO I GET THE CLIPS FROM MY PHONE TO YOU? EMAIL?

Video files are large, especially good quality ones, so unfortunately email isn’t suitable. Don’t be tempted to use WhatsApp either. It and similar platforms, compress the video file which significantly impacts on the quality. We recommend using a file transfer or cloud storage service. Be aware that this isn’t always as straightforward as it should be. Some businesses have security protocols that restrict your ability to use some services, plus big uploads require good internet speeds and robust connections. We recommend doing a test before you want to deliver your final material.

DO I GET THE CHANCE TO SEE A PREVIEW OF MY EDITED VIDEO?

Once your program has been edited and assembled, we’ll upload it with a visible time code burnt into the picture for you to review. This time stamp will help you communicate exactly where any changes you wish to make should be made. When your program has been signed off, we’ll either put it online with your chosen hosting service or send you a video file in the format of your choice.

WHAT IF I WANT TO COME BACK MUCH LATER AND CHANGE IT?

We archive everything that we receive in any given project. If there was extra material that you sent through, which didn’t make it into the finished cut, - don't worry it won't be lost. Shortening, rearranging or adding new material is always possible. We’re often asked to amend and repurpose a program long after it was originally created.

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO HAVE A PIECE EDITED AND HOW QUICKLY CAN IT BE DONE?

It very much depends on the scope of work. We offer a date rate (£750) and a half day rate (£350) and after we’ve scoped your material, we can give you a fixed cost for the piece and a schedule for its completion.

For the adventurous videographer

WILL THE SOUND RECORDING BE GOOD ENOUGH?

Although microphones in most smartphones are good, they’re designed to be used much closer than at a metre's distance. You can improve the quality by adding an external microphone. Even an inexpensive one will make a significant step up in sound quality. An entry level lapel mic can cost as little as £15. You can also find inexpensive "shotgun" mics, meaning you’re not tethered to your camera by a wire. There are even phone compatible wireless radio mics.

But “Why would you want a radio mic when you’re sat one metre away from a phone?” Well that’s just the point. You wouldn’t have to be, suddenly your shot options have increased significantly. You could have a full-length body shot 20 feet away if you wanted to. You could walk through the frame and suddenly your film is starting to look a lot more interesting than most.

OTHER THAN STOP AND START, WHAT OTHER CONTROLS DO I NEED TO USE?

By default, most smartphone cameras are completely automatic. They’re auto focusing, auto exposing, they set the colour temperature and audio level. Generally, that’s fine. But for really awesome video you ought to take some control. Most camera apps that come with your phone will have crude controls, perhaps the ability to change the exposure manually, certainly most have a zoom feature. Be aware, never be tempted to use the electronic zoom feature. This software will enlarge every pixel and at each step of magnification picture quality degrades. If you need to get a closer shot, move closer. There are better camera apps that give you much more control and are easier to use. We like to use FiLMic Pro 6, it costs £15 from both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.

IS THERE ANY OTHER "MUST HAVE" EQUIPMENT TO MAKE A GREAT LOOKING VIDEO?

A least a table tripod, or better still an expandable tripod. As you get more comfortable with filming, you may want to move away from your desk and try new locations, in which case, a proper tripod will be essential.

VIDEO LIGHTING

Lighting in all types of photography isn’t just about making your subject bright enough to see, it actually plays a part in how crisp the focus of an image is and the tint of the colours. Many professional vloggers use a ring light. A ring light is about the simplest way to make sure you’re well lit. Some even come with a holder for your smart phone and mic accessories and others are already on a tripod.

I'VE ALREADY GOT A GOOD CAMCORDER/DSLR/MIRRORLESS STILLS CAMERA. CAN I USE THAT?

Now you’re talking. They are going to outperform your phone by miles. Even if your phone records in 4k and your alternative camera only HD. Just look at the size of the lens. All that glass, all that light that can get in. You’ll still have sound issues to consider and how you’re going to frame yourself as not all alternative cameras will have a screen you can flip into view, but the pictures will almost certainly be better. There are other benefits of using a second camera too. You could shoot two shots simultaneously making the visual more interesting while making editing easier too. For example, if you’ve made a mistake and restarted a part, during the edit the view can cut from one shot seamlessly to the other.

HOW DO I MAKE MY FILM REALLY ZING?

Have more in it than just a talking head. We can add branding, animation, other well designed content that illustrates specific points, library material (either video or stills), music, sound effects, subtitles and captions. Even in lock down, you can create bespoke images that will bring even more oomph to your film.

Imagine in your piece to camera you’re telling the story of a recent, very challenging piece of work. Instead of you speaking into the lens for the entire piece, using your tripod, you could take shots of yourself working. We call these cutaways. A wide shot of you answering the landline, a close up of you scribbling notes, a medium shot of you reading some research, a close up of your fingers frantically typing, a wide shot from behind you hunched over the keyboard, a reverse medium shot of your furrowed brow, a close up of the printer light changing from red to green, close up mouse clicks, medium shot of printed documents emerging from the printer, a long shot of you standing reading your finished work. Cutaways do many things.

The pace of the cuts can really help highlight the time pressure you were under. They also give some visual rhythm to your video and make it feel shorter. And best of all they miraculously hide the joins. Not just for retakes, but also the cuts made to remove any “um”s and “arrh”s. Immediately raising your performance from the pack. You could invite someone else to make a contribution to make your story richer.

I'VE SEEN A GREAT PIECE OF YouTube THAT ILLUSTRATES MY POINT EXACTLY. CAN YOU PUT THAT IN?

Please don’t ask us to use someone else’s intellectual property without their permission. If you are able to secure permission to use it, then of course we can add this to the piece.

WHY CAN'T I HAND HOLD MY CAMERA, OR GET SOMEONE ELSE TO?

There are times when handheld shots work really well. They can look dynamic and full of action. But they need to be done with purpose, ideally by a professional camera operator. In a corporate space they have the potential to seem really amateurish. Not only will it be wobbly and sag if you speak for more than a minute or so, but your fingers are on the body of the camera that incorporates the onboard mics. Every time you readjust your hold or move your fingers, it will impact the audio recording. This also applies if someone else is holding the phone. And there’s a very good chance someone else would be further away from you than if you held the phone yourself. You’ll be even further from the mic. So, as a rule, avoid holding the camera at all costs.

IS THERE ANY HELP YOU CAN GIVE ME WHEN I'M SETTING UP MY SHOT?

Yes. Call us. Better still let’s FaceTime, Skype, Hangout or Zoom on the device you’re going to be using to record your piece. That way we can see the environment you’re working with and help you frame the shot.

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