Framing and composition

Most everyone knows about dividing your frame into vertical and horizontal thirds, but the essential question to ask yourself is: where do I want to focus the audience’s attention? Use strategically placed props to guide their gaze: harness natural shapes to direct viewers’ eyes to the center point of the shot: a river that meanders towards the hero’s house, for example, or overhanging branches to naturally frame your presenter. Think of each shot as a beautiful picture in its own right.

Lighting tips

The camera doesn’t see subtle light gradations like we do, so it’s best to avoid areas of high contrast. For example, if it’s a sunny day and you’re filming someone under an awning, the chances are they’ll come out too dark or the background will be bleached out (‘burnt’). As with props or visual landmarks, lighting can be used to direct your audience’s gaze. But, excitingly, it can also drastically alter the mood of each shot – warm sunlight, cold artificial light – thus enhancing and accelerating your story. The golden rule is to keep it simple.

The power of sound

Good sound adds professionalism to your film – and it needn’t be expensive. There is a range of external microphones available that allow you to capture pro-quality sound minus annoying background noise. Try the Audio Technica AT831, which plugs in to your headphone jack, or the IRK 90 ‘tie mic’ kit, which is ideal for interviews. Recording voiceovers can add further professionalism: simply import the sound files into your editing software and drop them over the top of your movie at the desired point. A decent soundtrack can also make a huge difference, but make it sensitive.

Shoot with editing in mind

Efficiency and simplicity are key, whether you are making a short drama or a wedding video. So bear in mind the essential elements you’ll need to get the story across – namely a beginning, a middle and an ending, happy or otherwise. Once you’re aware of these fundamental ingredients, it will help to prevent you from overshooting. There’s nothing worse than having to wade through clips you really don’t need. Another tip is to keep things chronological: shoot them in the order they’ll appear – it makes it much easier to sift through footage.

It’s all in the cut

Good editing can make the difference between a great short film and a clunky home video. While editing apps offer dozens of tricksy options for transitioning between shots – including ‘wipes’, focus drops and special dissolves – it pays to keep it simple. Often overlooked is the simple cut, where you go from one shot to another; just ensure it makes sense. For instance, don’t show someone walking from left to right, then cut to them walking right to left, which is known as ‘crossing the line’. It disorientates your audience. The idea is that they shouldn’t notice the film shifting from shot to shot.

Your phone as edit suite

Gone are the days when an expensive editing suite was essential for making credible videos. Many smartphones come with built-in software, allowing you to cut your creations on the move. For example, with the BlackBerry Z10’s suite you can cut, colour and tweak the footage, so you can immediately edit and share your creations. There are tons of editing apps available, too, which range in complexity from simple cutting and trimming of clips to colour treatments and fancy transitions.

Color grading

Contrast and colour are two other important elements that will mark your film out from the crowd. Most cameras (including smartphones) will shoot scenes fairly ‘flat’, so adding or enhancing colour during the edit is your opportunity to bring additional beauty to your shots. Why not, for example, make the sky bluer or add a golden filter to create a sense of nostalgia? While most editing apps allow you to adjust colour, you can get really creative with dedicated computer software such as Magic Bullet, which allows you to blur the edges of shots, among other trickery.

Additional kit

A classic ‘homemade’ symptom is camera shake. There’s nothing wrong with shooting things hand-held – indeed, for documentary it can add a sense of drama and immediacy – but using a tripod makes things slicker. You don’t need to spend a fortune: a Manfrotto will set you back around £139, but you could grab a Camlink monopod for around £20 and still get steady shots. Attach it with a smartphone mount, such as the one SlipGrip offers for BlackBerry and other handsets. For more stylised shots, try using a macro lens. There are various ones available that magnetically attach to your phone via an adhesive metal ring.

Create your own green-screen studio

A green screen allows you to present to camera in front of an exotic background. All you need is a smooth wall or backdrop painted green, because this colour differs most from human skin tone. You can use any matt paint, but it’s best to go with purpose-made chroma key stuff, which you can order online. Light the screen evenly (two lights from below, one each side) then film your piece to camera. In the edit suite, drop your shot on to the timeline and place your location backdrop on to a layer behind it. Next, add a ‘chroma key’ layer to your green-screen shot, then use a tool to remove the green elements from the background. Hey presto, your location shot appears behind you.

Other tricks for adding production value

Time lapse is simple but beautiful. Try shooting clouds or a busy city square; let the camera roll for five minutes then speed up the shot in the edit, so it plays in ‘fast forward’. Shots like this are great for conveying drama and movement. Merely varying your shots will add ‘expense’ to your video. So if you’re filming a car journey, get creative: hold your phone outside the car for a few seconds and shoot the wheels; or capture the driver’s eyes in the rear-view mirror. There are endless ways to convey your story. Have fun with it …


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