20 years ago one of the main differences between a professional video and amateur video was the quality of the equipment. Even then there was more to it than the cost and quality of the equipment but that was the primary reason why no one ever considered producing their own corporate video. There are still differences between professional and consumer equipment but gap in the picture quality difference is becoming narrower all the time. We now see productions that are shot and edited on an iPhone. With the equipment available to so many at a reasonable cost many people and companies consider producing their own video to save money. I have seen this done successfully but that is a rare occurrence. In most cases, what seems like a reasonable endeavor often proved to be much more difficult that thought at the onset.
Like any other profession, video production is a skill that is learned in school and developed over time. Like an engineer, teacher, or dentist, video producers go to film or broadcast school and then spend many years in junior positions slowly working their way up to a senior production role. This gives them a base of knowledge that helps them do their job and know instinctively what will work well and not so well when producing a video.
So what separates a professionally produced video from an amateur production? While good equipment always makes a big difference, there is no substitute for training and experience. When a company insist on shooting their own footage there are a few things I identify as making a video look amateurish and if you can get these things right then it is half the battle to having footage that can be turned into a usable product in the edit suite. They are:
Lighting is hard to do properly when not trained so the best thing is to use the natural light but move the subject to where the light is most flattering. Don’t shoot a subject that is strongly backlit and make sure there are no harsh shadows.
Using a camera mic usually sounds hollow and makes it hard to hear what is being said. A simple way to address this is by buying an inexpensive lavaliere microphone from an electronics store such as The Source (Radio Shack). The microphone will plug into the camera’s mini audio jack and then can be clipped to the lapel or tie of the person speaking. This always makes a huge difference to the quality of the audio. If you can’t get a microphone then ensure the subject is close to the camera in a place without much ambient noise. Everything picks up on camera so if a plane goes overhead or a loud car goes by then you need to reshoot the segment.
Shaky footage caused by the camera being handheld is the biggest problem to overcome. The best way to address this is to buy a tripod and use it. Having your camera solidly mounted on a tripod will make the biggest difference to the look of your footage.
Avoid zooming and panning. To get a smooth zoom or pan is very difficult. Most consumer cameras don’t have a very good controls for zooming and often the zoom is on or off rather than having a variable speed. Both zooming and panning require professional cameras and tripods to do properly and require the skill of an experienced camera operator. It is best to shoot your topic with various camera angles and framings and try not to zoom or pan. Zooming and panning are also techniques that are used far less often in a professional production than most people think. Look at a television show and note how often you see a pan or zoom vs. a series of shots with different framings.
Finally, you need to edit your footage. In a production the editing is as important as the shooting. We typically shoot hours of footage for a fairly short 3-5 minute video and then select only the best shots for the final product. Editing also requires organizing your footage and putting shots into sequences and adding music, graphics, and transitional effects. This is where the rough footage comes together to make your final production.
The bottom line is that producing a high quality video that looks professional is much harder than it appears. Video has a huge impact on how customers perceive you and your business so it is worth doing right.