12 free power tips for video footage that doesn’t suck

as the video editor for the youth group, summer is my second busiest time in terms of footage piling up on my desk. the busiest time is early march to late april, when i inherit 10 to 20 hours of interview footage from about 20 high school seniors and their families. in the summer, we often have multiple trips and events in quick succession, so it’s important to stay on top of things. in fact, our poor little camera went on 3 trips in 3 consecutive weeks, and its power cord was left behind that final week!

whether i get tons of footage from an event or precious little, it’s my job to transform whatever i’m given into a masterpiece. the trick is how good quality the footage is. i’d rather have 15 minutes of good quality shots than 75 minutes of stuff that looks like you didn’t realize the camera was turned on. sometimes i’m involved in the event, so if the quality is lousy i have nobody to blame but myself. when i’m not there, it may be someone who knows what they’re doing, or not. whether you’re fortunate enough to have a staff position devoted to editing, or you’re doing everything yourself, here are tips that will crank up the quality of your footage before you can say “dramamine.” you’ll note that not one of them costs a dime, just some patience and forethought.

timecode is everything

one of my biggest frustrations is when the timecode gets messed up. if you have no idea what i’m talking about, that’s ok. trust me on this one and do these two things:

  • let the camera run for at least 10 seconds at the start of a new tape, and again at the end of your batch of footage. when the computer “captures” your footage, it needs time to think. if you jump right in with important stuff, there’s a good chance it will get cut off. it also doesn’t hurt to pause a few seconds each time you hit “record,” but you don’t need quite as long.
  • don’t rewind and watch footage, no matter how they beg. this one causes me even bigger headaches. it’s also critical that the timecode be continuous. i have better things to do than to restart the capture process every three minutes because somebody just couldn’t wait to see that one thing that one person did.

cut the caffeine

what i mean by this is much of the footage i get looks like you’re on a slow roller coaster. i can fix some of it, but here’s how to give an editor footage that has at least some usable shots instead of giving the viewer whiplash.

  • walk around or record. don’t do both at the same time. i almost never use footage where the horizon jumps up and down with every step, unless i’m going for an in-the-panicked-crowd tone. i haven’t needed it yet, so just hold yourself still to record.
  • pan and zoom sloooooooowly. panning is moving the camera left and right. you’re not a dog in some pixar SQUIRREL! just take your time. take in the shot before moving the focal point. do the same when you zoom. the rapid in and out effect was left behind in the 90s, as it should have been.
  • ghetto-rig a tripod if you must. i admit, lugging a tripod around is a pain. that doesn’t mean you’re at the mercy of your tired, shaky arms. rest the camera on or against a stable object, or use your body itself as a brace.

keep your mouth shut

i don’t mean to offend anyone here. it’s just that when you are constantly talking from off camera, you force me to include your voice. i may choose to, but don’t make that decision for me.

  • allow a pause between your voice and theirs. be honest, don’t you mainly want to hear from the people on camera? don’t add your own nonstop narration. of course, i may just turn your volume down and set it all to music.
  • consider having an on-camera interviewer or host. this saves the awkwardness of talking to a disembodied off-camera presence. but still have them pause and don’t let them talk on top of the subject, either.
  • never, ever turn the camera on yourself. unless you’re going for a “blair witch project” tone. wait, have never done that either, and don’t intend to. if you want to be on screen, give the camera to someone else.

let there be light! (and sound)

here is where it’s hardest for me to clean up amateurish video. again, this is about free, so don’t rush out and buy a bunch of mics and three-point lighting rigs. some common sense:

  • don’t keep them in the dark. use natural light to your advantage. don’t put the sun or a window behind your subject, but use these free sources of light to your advantage. here are some good tips – just apply them to video footage instead of still photography.
  • up close and personal. this is the number one way to improve sound quality in most cases. not “what’s that cologne?” close, but close enough that the camera’s built-in mic can pick up most of what your subject says.
  • avoid ambient noise and wind. that said, you’ll find yourself unable to control the forces of nature, and background music or crowd sounds, at least in most cases. if you really want a shot but it’s too loud, consider providing an “establishing shot” but waiting for a more quiet space to record voices.
  • if you must, get a plug-in mic. yes, i said these were all free, but if you’re going to invest any money, this is where to do it. we don’t use this very often, so i’m not the right person to ask for shopping tips, but i think you can get something pretty reasonably priced.

i hope these are helpful. pass them along to whomever you entrust with your youth group (or family) video camera. did i miss anything you’ve found helpful?

if it’s time to take your final video product to the next level, i’d be honored to hear from you. look me up at www.innovideocreative.com.

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About andrew burden

andrew blogs about being a volunteer youth leader, teacher, video editor, husband, friend, child of God
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