Journal

Ruminations about photography, travel and pursuing life.

10 Things I've Learned Creating Videos

Still from a recent video in Lofoten, Norway

Still from a recent video in Lofoten, Norway

My recent journey into the world of creating video has been…well, let’s just call it a learning experience. I’ve screwed up. I’ve broken equipment. I’ve deleted multiple hours of shoddy work. I got into this thing a few months ago as a personal dare — a challenge, really — to see if I could use the equipment already in my camera bag to create videos.

Since then, I won’t lie. It’s been awkward. Frustrating. Yet also, exhilarating and new. I’ve always been interested in video, for it’s a sibling of sorts to photography, but have always felt I lacked the skills to create it. And besides, aren’t there enough people in this world making videos?

But you know, this isn’t about what other people are doing, or how my work compares. This is something I want to create for me, my family, and anyone out there in the world who shares similar interests. It’s a shared learning experience, a creative outlet, and a means of expression. I’m stumbling and fumbling my way through, but having a lot of fun trying, failing, and occasionally getting something right.

On the eve of my tenth video, here are ten things I’ve learned.

Watching yourself on screen can be awful

You know how weird some people get when hearing their voice for the first time? Video is worse. Way worse. Unless you already make a habit of filming yourself, seeing and hearing “you” on screen the first time is super weird. You may notice strange body language quirks you weren’t aware of, odd vocal tics, and words you overuse and repeat. It’s embarrassing. It’s painful. But in order to get better and improve, you have to watch yourself. After nearly ten videos, I think I’m finally at a place where I can do that without cringing too much.

Be you, plus ten percent

I wish I could remember where I first heard this advice, for I think it’s brilliant. When on camera — or any situation involving an audience — boost your everyday personality an extra ten percent. Video is like theater, where everything needs to be just a little more pronounced so audiences can see and understand what’s happening from a distance. Anything more than ten percent can be exhausting and inauthentic, while anything less may be too flat. General rule of thumb, be you, plus ten percent.

Take time to breathe

You know that thing that happens when speaking to an audience where one sentence just runs into the next because you keep dropping conjunctions like “and”, “but”, “yet” and “because” instead of planting your feet on the period at the end of the sentence? Yeah, I do that. I think it’s a natural attempt at keeping an audience engaged, for if you never stop or slow down they’ll never have an opportunity to nod off. It’s not good, for all those conjunctions make your thoughts hard to follow, and in video they make your dialogue super difficult to edit. Slow down, pause, and give your audience a chance to digest before moving on.

Capture more than you need

To tell a complete story, you need A LOT of footage. I’ve come to realize that b-roll — despite its second class status — is actually one of the most important ingredients. It injects variety, eases fatigue (so people aren’t always looking at your ugly mug), and enhances your story. I never seem to capture enough. For that reason, I’ve started carrying around a DJI Osmo Pocket so I can quickly film anything of interest without stopping to open my camera bag.

Hold your shots

Every time you think you’ve “got the shot”, keep recording a few seconds longer. You might need that extra footage in post, especially when editing to the beat of a soundtrack.

Visualize your shot before flying a drone

I love flying my Mavic Pro 2 for establishing shots and b-roll. It does an amazing job at capturing stunning video footage and still photographs as well. That said, I’ve made the mistake multiple times of getting in a hurry and putting my drone in the air before planning what to do with it. All that aimless flying eats batteries, and by the time you find something, the drone has to land. Lesson learned — pre-visualize your subject and movement prior to liftoff.

Always bring a second tripod

Shooting yourself with a second tripod is a pain. It’s yet another tripod to carry, you’re constantly backtracking, and people around you will think you’re nuts (eg, on a recent trip to Iceland, a stranger chased after me because he thought I was leaving my tripod and camera behind). All that said, a second tripod makes a huge difference when telling your story. If you only film yourself while holding a camera, your audience won’t get an adequate sense of place by looking over your shoulder. A second tripod fills in the gaps, and helps the audience feel like they’re along for the ride.

Always shoot an intro and outro

As they say, films are created in the edit. I’m not creating motion pictures by any stretch of the imagination, but the same logic applies. You may think you know how your story is going to unfold when filming, but you don’t. Later while editing, you might look at your footage and realize that Day 3 would be a more engaging starting point than Day 1. You never know where your videos are going to start and end until you edit them, so it helps to record multiple intros and outros. General rule of thumb, record both at each new location you visit. That way you can later change the order of the story however you want to.

Pay attention to audio

I recently had to scrap an entire video from Iceland because the audio was awful. The gain on my mic was too high, which caused my voice to sound crunchy and distorted. It was just as painful to listen to as it was to delete what I considered to be solid footage. Since then, I’ve always made the effort to test audio levels every time I speak to ensure they’re correct (eg, -12db).

Don’t take it too seriously

Being a lifelong designer (both contributor and leader), I’ve always strived for perfection. I’ve restarted projects, nit-picked seemingly unimportant details, and driven myself (and some people around me) crazy trying to make something as good as it can be. But you know, there’s a point at which that effort and attention to detail impedes progress towards the greater goal, and you have to learn how to eat your mistakes, accept the imperfections, and move on to the next round. It helps to keep your eye on the long game and focus on what matters: sustained progress over time through a series of incremental wins. Instead of beating yourself up over how poor something turned out, unpack what went wrong, learn from the experience, and make an effort to fix it the next go around.

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Check out my YouTube channel to see what I’ve been up to.

Todd Dominey