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How to shoot a video is easier than you think. We explain the most important basics that matter.

22. September 2017 - Alexander Schmidt

How to Shoot a Video With Your Phone or Camera - The Basics


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Shooting good videos is very time-consuming and extremely complicated? You can say goodbye to this idea right now! With our basic instructions about how to shoot a video, you and your friends can get started right away and shoot good videos yourself.

Filming something with your smartphone is one of the most common leisure activities today: even children film themselves and others with their mobile phones as a matter of course. But simply holding the smartphone somewhere and taking a moving picture does not make a good film.

Making really good videos has to be learned! In order to make a good film that you can proudly show off, there are a few things you should know and keep in mind. But don’t worry, it’s not hard to learn how to shoot a video, because you can learn a few basics in no time.

The authors of this article have both worked in television and making short videos is one of our favourite things to do in our spare time. I’m sure that in some situations you take a shot with your smartphone and film something as a souvenir, for example on a friend’s birthday, on a special trip or on holiday. Most of the time, the main thing is to capture the moment.

Sometimes, however, you just want a video to look really good and make a difference, e.g. if you film a happy birthday video message, you want to upload it to YouTube and use it for a project or an application, or you just want to make a short film together with friends. I can assure you: making good videos is no trick and it’s a lot of fun!

Important tip: Whatever kind of video you want to make – look for reinforcement with friends who want to work on it. Not only for the big Hollywood productions, but also for a birthday or holiday video or your first short film: with a good team, almost nothing is unattainable!.

Before you and your friends start shooting videos, you should ask yourselves the following questions and clarify them together:

How to Shoot a Video – 13 Questions You Should Ask Yourself Before

  1. What kind of video do you want to make? (Birthday video, YouTube clip, explainer video, short film, project film for university, etc.)
  2. What budget do I / we have? No-budget ==> low-budget ==> blowing Aunt Erna’s inheritance…. ? 😉
  3. Who directs? Who runs the camera? Who will do the editing?
  4. Who should appear in front of the camera (as actors, extras, interview partners, birthday well-wishers, etc.)? Do these people agree?
  5. What props do we need?
  6. Where do we shoot at all? Are there several locations? Are we allowed to shoot there without permission?
  7. What should the look, the atmosphere, the effect of the video be like?
  8. When do we shoot the video and when do we edit it? (In what period of time? On which days specifically? What is the schedule? When should the film be ready at the latest?)
  9. Use? What should happen to the video when it is finished? (Private screening? Public screening? YouTube? Promotion? Keep open for commercial exploitation? etc.)
  10. What camera do we shoot with? Do we already have a camera?
  11. What other technical equipment do we need? (Microphone, light, tripod etc.)
  12. In which format do we record?
  13. On which computer and with which editing programme will we edit the video material afterwards?

Clarify all 13 points before you start shooting. You should also remember to clarify the distribution of tasks and the possible say of those involved, so that disagreements and misunderstandings can be avoided from the outset.

11 Common Beginner Mistakes and How to Shoot a Video and Avoid Them

1. You Only Shoot Each Scene Once

Do you know the horror movie The Shining? The scene where Jack Nicholson, as a demented family man, chops a hole in the door with an axe, grins through the crack and says, Here is Johnny!, director Stanley Kubrick supposedly shot 127 (!) times before he was satisfied with it!

Of course, you don’t have to shoot every scene of your first film quite that often. But more than one take of a scene is the minimum if you want to make good videos. Even if you think you’ve got the perfect scene right away, if you have the time, shoot it a second time just to be sure!

2. You Only Shoot Scenes From One Perspective

In professional film productions, a scene is never shot with only one camera. But you only have one camera? No problem! You simply shoot every scene of your film from several perspectives in order to be able to cut professionally afterwards! Without several pictures from different perspectives, you will miss good pictures and this will show in the final result. Minimum are 2 perspectives: one rather close (close-up e.g. of the face) and one rather total (whole body).

If you are shooting a dialogue scene in which two people are sitting or standing opposite each other, you can also use the classic shot-counter-shot. This means that you film 3 perspectives! The first perspective is the long shot, it shows the entire dialogue situation, e.g. a table where person A is sitting on the left and person B on the right. When A says something important or the facial expression counts, you film his face over B’s left shoulder and vice versa B’s face over A’s right shoulder. It is important in the classic shot-counter-shot that the camera does not suddenly jump to the other side of the axis between the two people.

3. You Just Start Shooting Without a Plan

Learning by doing – this also applies to shooting videos or making films. However, before you pick up a camera and just start shooting, it makes sense to write a screenplay. Sounds complicated and unsexy? Then write down at least a rough schedule or bullet points and note down what you want to film.

Even if you improvise dialogue in your film or if there is no spoken word in your film because, for example, you are making a film about your dog – a script or schedule always helps!

Writing it down makes it clearer what the basic idea is and where you want to go with your film. In addition, a script helps you to keep track of the shooting of your video and, above all, not to forget anything that you want to shoot. On a printed schedule or in a script, you can also check off what is already in the can and make notes for the edit, e.g. which take seemed to you to be the best spontaneously.

5. You Forget to Shoot Enough Cuts

How to shoot a video tip 5: Always remember to shoot enough frames.

When shooting videos, remember to shoot frames

A well-made video stands out from others because the editing looks fluid and not choppy.

You can achieve this by shooting each scene several times and from several perspectives, and also by shooting so-called cut images (inserts) for each scene!

These are called images for intercuts, which are mostly close-ups of objects from a scene or of the hands and feet of the characters: e.g. hand lifting a coffee cup, Nina’s feet running across a creaking floor, clock on the wall ticking, hands gesticulating, faucet dripping etc..

Cut images make editing easier later because you can cut to these images to link two other images that would cause a jump cut (unintentional jump in the image) or simply look funny.

Good cuts also provide visual variety and a more rounded film if they fit the content. In a heated discussion, for example, a close-up on the gesticulating hands of one of the people makes sense as a cut. A cut to a ticking clock is suitable if someone in the scene is waiting for something or if time is running out.

6. How to Shoot a Video without a Shaky Camera

One of the clearest signs that a video or film has been shot by amateurs is if it is completely shaky! Although a shaky camera is also used as a stylistic device in some professional films, we advise you not to use it when making videos in the beginning. Because most of the time shaky camera doesn’t look like dogme style, but just like not being able to do it.

Use a tripod or at least a solid base for your camera. If you are filming with a smartphone – use selfie sticks! It is very difficult to run a really good handheld camera and no one is forcing you to compete with the pros. Sometimes it’s a good idea to film with an action cam like the Go Pro. However, this should then be mounted on a mini tripod or on a mounting arm to minimise shaking.

If you ask yorself how to shoot a video, you should be careful not to produce any shaky camera images if possible.

Go Pro on a mini tripod on your wrist – shooting videos without ugly shaking

7. You’re Moving the Camera Too Much

Camera movements and zooms can be really great stylistic devices and there are great directors who have become masters at using them. But these are masters of their art and as an amateur filmmaker it is anything but easy for the result to look satisfactory!!!!

Therefore my advice: As a beginner, do not use zooms at all and use camera movements very sparingly! It is a typical beginner’s mistake to pan the camera around too much. Most of the time, the picture looks unstable and unprofessional. And you get problems in the edit because you can’t cut a picture smoothly to the other!

Tip: Film scenes mostly statically, but from several perspectives, and use cuts in post-production to create speed and variety in the image!

8. You Forget to Pay Attention to Connections

Another common beginner’s mistake when making videos and one of the reasons why films often look unprofessional are so-called connection errors. These occur when, for example, scenes that take place directly one after the other in the film are shot on several days and the people in front of the camera are wearing different clothes each time. Or a clearly different hairstyle. Or the furniture in a room is suddenly in a different position.
In fact, there are so many details to pay attention to in continuity that there is an extra job for it in professional film: Continuity Supervisors are only responsible for looking after continuity. And yet, even in the biggest Hollywood films, there are sometimes little continuity mistakes!

But if you try to pay attention to continuity when shooting your video, you can avoid the worst mistakes 😉

9. You Neglect the Lighting

Sure: you probably won’t have professional lighting equipment at your disposal. But if you want good pictures, you should make sure you have good light. Unless you’re shooting outside in bright sunshine, you should light your set well, otherwise you’ll be disappointed to find out later in the edit that your raw footage is too dark.

A video image that is too dark can still be lightened in post-production, but this usually makes it quite grainy: you can see that the image has been edited afterwards.

So try to have as good light as possible when shooting videos!

Tip: When shooting, make a white balance for every new lighting situation. Hold a white piece of paper in front of the lens and press the auto white balance button on your camera. This ensures that colours are reproduced true to life. Although all professional editing programmes offer the possibility to correct the colour afterwards, you will achieve the best results if you take care of this during the shoot.

10. You Accidentally Shoot Yourself

No, I don’t mean killing each other like in a western! That’s what they call it when the film crew accidentally shoots themselves in a reflection. And this happens more easily than you might think, because reflections lurk everywhere! How to shoot a video without your reflection in a mirror is one of the most difficult tasks you can manage.

So keep an eye out for reflective surfaces anywhere in the frame and whether they show you, the camera or something you don’t want to be seen.

11. You Don’t Pay (Enough) Attention to the Sound When Making a Video

Is the sound important for your film? If you only need moving images and then want to underlay them with music, for example, you don’t need to worry about the sound.

But: if you are shooting a video in which you sing a birthday serenade to a friend or record a short film with dialogue, then we recommend recording the sound with a separate, good microphone! There are also inexpensive microphones for the GoPro action camera or smartphone that make a big difference.

Depending on how you design your film acoustically, you can record different sound tracks even after shooting, e.g. a spoken commentary on the holiday video, sound effects or music.

Tip: Before shooting, think about how you imagine the soundtrack and what you want or need to record directly during the shoot.

If you take these tips into account when shooting videos, almost nothing will stand in the way of a good result! Also check out our tips for cutting videos or post-production!

At Abenteuer Freundschaft you can find tips for indoor activities and tips for excursions . You’ll also find ideas for gift-giving and a wide range of activities with friends, family and your partner.

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