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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

What Separates Your Video from the Pros'?


If you're looking to get some better video to share on Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube or even if you're shooting to document your life, you may ask yourself what makes the video you're seeing on television so much better.

It's a loaded question, but understanding a few concepts will help you move towards being a better videographer.

First of all, it's important to realize that frame rates and resolution play into the quality of the video. More advanced features on your camera also play into the quality of the video.

But it's important to note that these advance features basically give you control over aspects of your camera that is mostly automated in less expensive equipment. Meaning, that the more features you have on your camera...the more difficult it is to operate. Let me get back to this in a minute.

My main focus is to give some tips that you can use on even the cheapest video equipment to get better video. That means paying attention to your composition and framing as well as how steady your shot is.

There will be many posts on this blog that apply to any camera, including the one on your phone.

But how will more expensive equipment help your video look better?

If you're looking to become a video hobbyist and want to get into some more expensive equipment and editing...or even plan on making video into a business, it's important to know what you'll be getting as you move up the ladder.

This isn't a technical blog, so getting bogged down in numbers and arguments about who makes the better equipment is really a waste of time here. But let's briefly look at some features you may get as you purchase more expensive equipment.

1. Control Over the Focus

With your average camera phone or consumer digital camera you have very limited, if any, control over where your camera focuses. If you're trying to be creative or give your shot some depth, this can be a big pain in the butt. But with power comes responsibility. One of the very first obstacles a photog needs to overcome when shooting on more advanced equipment is making sure that his subject is always in focus...crisp and clear.

2. Control Over Exposure

Again, your average smart phone age camera is handling this aspect of video for you. It's basically auto-adjusting the picture so that the brightest thing doesn't look super bright and over exposed--or Heavenly, as I like to say. This can be a big pain if you're shooting video in mixed light...say near some windows. You've probably struggled getting a good picture before because something was too bright behind your subject. You've seen it. You'll point the camera and the bright light will dim, but so does your subject's face. Many cameras, including the one in the iPhone, now include a feature that allows you to tap on the subject you're want to take a picture of and then adjusting exposure (and focus) to the information included in that part of the photo.

In more advanced cameras, you have control over the aperture and can adjust the amount of light coming into the camera. Again, this leaves you open to shooting your entire video clip over or under exposed, so it's important to learn what proper exposure looks like on your viewfinder or display. This is something that takes practice. Next time you watch a documentary or reality show, pay attention to what happens if a camera man walks from inside to outdoors without cutting, that is in one continuous shot (and many try to avoid this move). For a moment, it will look like a nuclear bomb has gone off outside. A pro will be able to adjust the exposure accordingly and smoothly. Below are a few pictures that demonstrate exposure.

This is a photo of a window taken on an iPhone before the auto exposure has had time to adjust. 


Now after it has adjusted to the proper exposure. 

3. Control Over Your Shutter Speed

Like focus and exposure, this setting is also automated in your average consumer camera. And like exposure and focus, there are some very sciency principals that play into why certain adjustments do certain things. On a high end video camera or DSLR, you will have control over the shutter speed. This basically determines how long the "aperture" will be open. The most common use of the shutter is to reduce motion blur. Think of it as making things look really crisp as opposed to fluid. Another use of shutter speed is to control the depth of field...or how much of the picture...in terms of its depth...will be in focus. Shutter speed will need its own post, but if you're looking at some more expensive equipment, you're going to need to understand this concept.


In the end, these features give you more control and more creative control over your video...and if you're wanting to make some top notch home movies, eventually you'll need that control. In future posts, I'll be sure to address these more in depth and give some tips on how to use them.

Now, when it comes to separating amateur video from pro video...it's not these features. It's how you shoot, what you shoot and what you're trying to communicate with your video. You'll find plenty of tips you can use here.