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Learn all about lighting, sound, composition and film makers eye as James Schramko discusses Video production with Ryan Spanger from DreamEngine.com.au….
In this episode:
01:12 – Why Web video has become very important
01:39 – The importance of good quality video
03:50 – The essentials of improving technical video quality
04:27 – Film maker’s eye
08:16 – The importance of sound
10:44 – External microphones
13:19 – Being aware of background noise
19:26 – Natural light versus artificial light
24:10 – Using automatic camera functions
26:07 – Hard lights and soft lights
27:31 – 3-point lighting
30:56 – Composition
32:45 – The rule of thirds
34:22 – The use of diagonal lines
34:56 – Using composition to tell your story better
41:35 – Film making as an ongoing process
James: James Schramko here from SuperFastBusiness.com and this episode is going to be all about web video and when it comes to web video, you’ll look for a web video expert so I actually have a really good friend called Ryan and he’s been making films for over 15 years. He’s got lots of industry experience, he’s been to the film school, he’s set up his own corporate video production business called DreamEngine and he worked with people to connect their audience better using videos, so he’s the perfect person for this.
The thing that I like about Ryan is that he has really good video standards and he’s been instrumental in helping me improve my video and I’ve still got a long way to go so I’ve got plenty more questions and we’re going to cover those today. Ryan also has a web video marketing show on the iTunes platform so make sure you look out for that. Welcome Ryan.
Ryan: Hi James, good to be here and great to be chatting about one of my favorite topics.
James: Well you know, it’s just becoming more and more important. We know how popular YouTube is, we all have the ability to film ourselves with technologies sitting in our pocket but I do want to cover things like whether we should be using the technology that’s in our pocket or whether we should be hiring a professional firm like yours to come out and make videos. So probably my starting point with this is assuming that video is important, and I don’t think many people would argue that, why do you think good quality video matters versus just getting the content out there?
Ryan: So with the explosion of video productional things like YouTube and some of it being a different source of quality, there is a bit of a trend at the moment of people saying “don’t get hung up on the technical side”, “it’s all about the content” , “Just get out there and shoot some stuff and get it out there and don’t worry if the quality is a little bit rough” and I mean I agree only so far as to say “don’t let perfectionism hold you back from implementing but what I would say is avoid thinking of the technical side as a limitation of your creative expression because as you progressively master the creative side, it’s actually going to enhance your creativity. It’ll improve the pallet of what you have to work with and you’ll have more of a creative vocabulary to express yourself and I think of it this way.
Would you prefer a well designed contemporary website or a logo designed by a graphic designer or on the other hand would you be happy with a few squiggles on the back of serviettes because the truth is branding really matters and design really matters so the way I think of it is having a dodgy video it’s like going to a meeting wearing an old shirt with a bit of food spilled down the side. You’re still saying the same stuff but your message is just not going to penetrate as well because you’re going to be judged on your physical appearance. It’s just human nature. So that’s why I think the technical side is really important as well.
James: Love it! Yeah, I really came to cover the technical side because as someone who’s putting out a video every few days, I’ve been through those phases, I look at my videos from a year or so ago and there’s wind noise, impossible to listen to, I’m right in the middle of the screen.All the rookie errors. What I want to do today is I want to just cut it down to the most absolute essential things that can help a home-based or small operator with some basic or medium equipment, get good quality videos out there like lift the quality. What are the things that we need to do to get that quality up in a short easy method.
Ryan: Okay cool, so we’re going to just concentrate on the filming side. We’re not going to look at things like content or distribution or script writing or all of that sort of stuff like you know what you cover in things like Content Assault and Own the Racecourse. I would divide the most important things to focus on into four sections and they are firstly, developing the eye of a film maker, sound, lighting and then composition so let’s go through those.
Seeing Like A Film Maker
James: Ok, I got to ask you what is film maker’s eye?
Ryan: You know I think of the film maker’s eye as opposed to the normal eye, you know your normal eyes that you see the world with.There’s another way of looking at it and that’s through the eye of a film maker. This is to me one of the most exciting things about making videos is that once you get into it, you’ll never see the world in the same way again because you become much more tuned in to the visual world around you. You start to notice how light works and you start to see how a camera sees which is different to the way that your eye sees.
So when you’re in a place where you’re going to do some filming, tune in to your physical environment and think about what the light’s doing. Is it a bright sunny day with harsh shadow inducing light, is it a cloudy day with soft flattering light? If you’re inside, where’s the light coming from? Are there down lights shining down creating a bit of an orange glow on people’s faces and shadows under their eyes?
Start to tune in to the visuals around you. And once you start to understand how light is working around you, you can set up your shot in a way that’s going to get you the best results.
James: Awesome, yeah I know what you mean. I’ve looked at some of my videos I have like skeleton eyes like they’re black sockets when you’ve been punched in the eye. I didn’t know anything about that stuff and my videos are still nowhere near where I want to be but what I found fascinating is when something like a Woody Allen documentary comes out, I think how is someone filming about a filmmaker going to make that film and I have a look at the shots that they take and I go in to YouTube and I have a look at the popular channels. Is that something we can do to educate ourselves about film maker’s eye?
Ryan: I think that the best way to do it is to look at what other people are doing and look at things like film and TV around you with more of a conscious critical eye. So for instance, when I first started working on video, I go to the DVD store and just hire a pile of videos and sit and watch my way through all of them with a notebook and a pen. And I would write down all the cool ideas that I’d see and I think about how I can implement them in my own work.
So when you watch TV, don’t just lose yourself in an escapist way. I would say watch the show consciously and start to think about what kind of lighting that they’re using, where are the lights placed, where are the shadows and what sort of emotional or psychological context is that lighting creating. And it’s not just film and TV that you can look at. Things like painting and photography will inspire plenty of ideas that you can build on.
James: I love it. I’ve formed a conclusion looking at some of these TV shows that they can’t afford a tripod. Because some of them have like a really shaky style happening.
Ryan: Yeah that’s true and I suppose when you’re watching ask yourself, I always say to people ask yourself questions like I wonder why they’re doing it that way, what effect is it and with the hand-held thing it’s more of a realistic, immediate documentary style thing that might capture a more realistic sort of feel. So when people make films or videos, they’ve consciously made decisions about why they filmed something a certain way and that’s going to get the best results.
So this stuff about the film maker’s eye there’s probably people out there who might think that’s not really necessary, I just need to set up the camera and go for it, but I can tell you that these are things that I’ve used to really make my work stand out and by doing or thinking about these sort of things you can really set your work apart from your competitors and become a better story teller.
James: I love it. I’m really interested in film maker’s eye. Thank you for sharing that. Now I’ve heard you tell me before that sound is important. In fact, anyone I’ve spoken to about video tells me that it’s more important than the images, which sounds strange when you’re talking about a visual medium but maybe you can expand on that for me?
Why Sound Quality Is Important
Ryan: Yeah, the reason why I say that is because if your content is great, people are going to forgive poor quality pictures. And this gets proved on things like YouTube everyday and that’s the reason why you’ll see really horribly shot footage on the news if there’s some really compelling content in there. But if your sound quality is poor,if people can’t hear what you’re saying properly,they can’t understand you.
They’re going to switch across to something else. They’ll disengage and you’ll lose them. So if you’ve got a good story to tell, it’s vital that you can be clearly heard and understood.
James: Nice. Okay, so I took onboard your information and I actually started using an external recorded and investing a little bit more into quality microphones. And the interesting thing is that if I do go a bit ghetto or whatever, people notice it. They say, and in fact yesterday someone said, hey this video doesn’t look like your normal videos. I’m like, yeah well spotted.
Because I might have had a technical glitch or whatever. And I must admit it’s damn frustrating when you’re starting to learn about this stuff, getting the right settings and whatever. If you haven’t been to film school.You haven’t filmed a hundred documentaries, there’s a bit of a steep learning curve to get the mix right.
But maybe you could tell us about the typical scenario where you sort of break away from just using that built-in mic. What is the step we should take and make it easy on ourselves?
Improving Your Sound
Ryan: Okay sure. So there’s a microphone built into your camera. And often, it’s a fairly poor quality microphone. Usually, the camera manufacturers haven’t spent a lot of money on it to keep the cost of the cameras down. And the way that those microphones work is that it captures the general sound around the camera, so they’ll all just as much record what’s behind the camera and in front of the camera.
It’s not isolating the sound of the person speaking, and you can usually tell when someone’s using a built in microphone because it might sound a little bit tinny, a little bit thin, there’s quite a bit of a background noise, and often there’s quite a bit of hiss as well.
You end up competing with all of the sounds around you which can be quite distracting for the viewer. That’s why you’d use something like an external microphone which basically as the name implies just means a microphone outside of the camera. And the most common microphone that I think your listeners would be using for face to camera videos and interview videos are lapel microphones.
James: That’s the one you clip on to your shirt.
Ryan: That’s right, that’s a little microphone with a clip that you clip on to your shirt that sometimes you might see a news presenter or a reporter using.
James: I’ve got this cool one, it’s called a pin mic and you snap the top of it off, you stick pins through your shirt then pop the top ones and all you see is this tiny black thing if you notice it at all.
Ryan: That’s pretty cool because it’s disguising the microphone and so it’s not taking people’s attention away. I mean that being said, I think these days people are so used to seeing those little lapel microphones that it’s not even a distraction.
James: You know if someone’s even holding a mic it could almost look like they’re professional.
Ryan: Yes that’s right because that’s also something people see on TV all the time and the most important thing is just getting that microphone in really close to the source of the sound so it’s concentrating on your voice. If you don’t have a lapel microphone, if you have got a handheld microphone, you can use that or you can even hold the microphone just out of the shot. The key is getting that microphone in nice and close. And the thing with something like using external microphone like a lapel mic is it just becomes an essential tool.
I think of it like a surfer needing a wet suit or a runner with running shoes. It’s just part of the gear that you need to do your job properly.
James: You’re right. You know we’re recording this call at the moment and I’m using a quality microphone because I want to make it easy on the listener, and I’ll put some effort into making sure that it sounds good. Something that you taught me as well, when I got a better quality microphone, I also got a shotgun microphone and you taught me that you have to be conscious about whatever is behind you when you use those because it’s very sensitive and it can even pick up a computer power in the background.
I can hear a computer whining so I have to go and turn the computer off and unplug it if I want to use that type of microphone, if I don’t have a boom and I can’t point it to the carpet or whatever. There’s all these little things to be aware of I guess.
Ryan: Yes that’s right. I mean the way that we are recording now is that we’ve consciously chosen a fairly quite space to record where there’s not a lot of competing sounds, and that’s the same process that people should go through when they’re recording video. It’s interesting the way the human brain works. It’s almost like our brain has made some kind of pact with our ears to filter out competing sounds.
Dealing With Background Noise
You may think that there’s not a lot of noise around you but if you just sit quietly for a minute and start to tune in to your environment, you can start to notice all sorts of sounds that your ears filtered out. So things like a bit of a hum from the computer, or birds chirping, or the distant rumble of traffic, or the sound of the winds blowing leaves, there’s all these little sounds that all can add up to just diminishing the quality of the sound a little bit.
James: As you’re talking I can hear a propeller airplane going over my house, and I’m using a microphone that is fairly directional so it sort of focuses on where I’m talking and hopefully it’s going to filter out a lot of the other noises. If the airplane is still in there, is there anything I can do about it?
Ryan: There are ways of adding filters and stuff like that later on to improve the sound quality. There’s an old saying in the film industry which is sort of a bit of a joke where people say “we’ll fix it in post” which means we’ll fix it in the editing.
Sometimes people think that it’s just a case of applying a sort of magic filter and all the noise in the background is going to disappear and you’re going to end up with great sound. But it’s not really true. A really highly skilled audio technician can do stuff to improve the quality of sound but of course that’s going to be expensive and time consuming.
Just to give a bit of a background about the way these audio filters work is that they remove a small part of the audio frequency, so they might remove the part of the frequency of the background noise but it’s also removing a little bit of your voice as well and it’s going to kind of diminish the depth. I would say that this idea of “I’ll fix it in post”, forget about that, get it right the first time and save yourself a lot of time and hassle down the track.
Sound is a massive topic, there’s so much there but really just those two things, using a lapel microphone and thinking about the sounds that are around you and choosing a place that diminishes background noise is just going to make a massive difference to the quality of your sound.
James: Yes that certainly saved me because I sort of realized that if you have a messy recording and inputs then it takes ages to edit and if it’s the end of the day and I’m tired I tend to just not want to do it. So now when I film something, if I realize there’s something tragic happening, I usually just stop and then start again. I want to get it as close to the end product in the first shoot.
Ryan: Exactly, because we’re not doing live TV here, you can go back and edit. But particularly for people who are doing things like your regular news broadcast, you want to limit the amount of time that you’re spending on it so you can work it into your routine and it’s not taking up a massive part of your day. So getting these technical things right are going to save you or your team plenty of time down the track.
James: Something else you taught me which is absolutely golden is that you can put them into different sequences when you’re finished so sometimes I’ll just run, record the whole thing and then I’ll replace the part where there was a terrible noise afterwards and now I can just chop that part back in instead of having to try and play around with filters or whatever. I just cut it out and move that new piece in.
Ryan: You can do that and I suppose if you are thinking about editing later on, the key is to not record any poor background noise. For instance, if you’re recording and there’s a plane in the background and then you cut and suddenly the plane is gone that’s going to be really obvious and that cut is going to be distracting. It’s not just about having something glossy and shiny and impressive for the sake of it, it’s about not diverting your audience’s attention away from you and on to the sound.
If you are going to be editing, then if there’s something like a plane that comes over, just cut and do that part again so you’re not going to have that kind of noise and then no noise juxtaposition so it’s not going to sound weird and distracting.
James: Exactly, so what I’m talking about is that I just let the tape run and then I just say the bit that I want to again and then I just go and pop that out and slide it back into where and replace the noisy plane or the dog barking. There are many numbers of natural disasters that can happen on a farm.
Ryan: It’s probably just worth mentioning that sometimes some of those things can just add a bit of character and quirkiness. Sometimes if you’ve done a podcast and your dog has barked in the background, that’s just being something that’s kind of set the scene. You’re in a home based environment and that’s revealed a little bit more about your situation.
Not every bit of background noise is a mistake. You’ve also talked about having the chirping of birds in the background which again adds kind of a little bit of your context in your story so sometimes those things are nice to leave in as well.
James: That’s true and you know when I was travelling and I didn’t have my tripod and the kids were holding the camera, they just couldn’t hold it up for too long, they started dropping it, I was working on lowering myself to still be in the shot and then I sort of laughed about it and sometimes I use the outtakes and I think I connected more with my audience for leaving that in, for being honest. And capturing that moment than to try and have a slick production in that case.
Ryan: I think so and it’s good to know the rules and it’s good to know when to break them and when it’s actually going to enhance your videos.
The Lowdown On Lighting
James: That is awesome. We probably should move onto lighting now because I know that’s another important fundamental. I’ve heard you talking about the difference between natural light and artificial light wherever the two should meet and that sort of stuff.
Is it true? Is it false? How do you do this? You know my cheat is of course I’m usually filming outside because it’s much easier to set up.
Ryan: That’s exactly right. Let’s talk about natural light versus artificial light. By natural light, I basically just mean the light that’s already there so the sun for example. Artificial light just refers to the light that you set up specifically for filming. And there are pluses and minuses for both and sometimes you’ll be using both at the same time.
Just starting off with natural light, like you mentioned the advantage is that there’s very little set up time, you’re working with the light that’s already there. On the other hand the disadvantage is that you have less control and the light can vary quite widely over a short period of time. So especially in a place like Melbourne, where I am, where we have a lot of variable weather and clouds you know coming in and out.
You can start filming with one particular lighting condition and within a couple of minutes the lighting may have changed completely. So that is something that you have to be aware of particularly for longer style videos, if you’re doing a shorter one or two minute videos that’s not as much of an issue.
James: I imagine you’d have to have a raincoat for your camera in Melbourne.
Ryan: Yes, absolutely depending on what camera you got. My camera can handle a little bit of rain but that’s definitely helpful. So just a little bit more about working with natural lights, if you are filming outside and there is some quite harsh direct light most of the time it is going to be better to actually just go into the shadows. Sometimes people think I need to have sunlight shining onto my face for it to look good but if it is a really bright sunny day it is going to create some quite harsh, unflattering shadows on your face.
James: There is no way I could do that. I actually wait until the afternoon and when the sun disappears over the house I film in the front garden. The sun is hidden but it is going over my head and it is shining on all the greenery behind me so I am filming I guess the shade and all that stuff behind me is lit up but my camera is sensitive enough to be able to get the right exposure even on an automatic setting. So, it comes out okay but I couldn’t look at the direct sunlight, no way.
Ryan: That is a really good way to go because what you are basically getting there is a much softer and more even, more flattering light. A lot of that is actually just reflected light so generally that is going to look a lot better. On that topic of reflected light once you look around you, so much of the light outside is actually bouncing from one surface to another. So, for instance when I am filming in an office in the city, often I will notice the sun shining is actually bouncing off an office building next door and coming into the room and these are some of the sort of things that you can use because that reflected or bounced light is so much more flattering and better looking than the direct harsh sunlight.
James: What about if you have artificial light and natural light so you are sort of near your window like you just described. Do you start to combine techniques or are there some tricks to that?
Ryan: Yes. I mean a lot of the time you are going to have no choice but to combine things. You know you might be inside in an office but you might not be able to completely close all the blinds and shut off all the natural light from coming out. Sometimes you are actually going to be mixing two light sources and it is important to know that the light indoors are actually different color to the outside lights.
So if you look at the sort of color spectrum, the outside light is more of a blue light and the indoor light is more of an orange light and it’s important to just be aware of that and make sure that when you are filming you are not ending up with you know, if you are filming yourself or a subject, ending up looking kind of really orange or on the other hand really blue. Now that is called white balance and I don’t want to get too technical but if people are interested in following that up it might be worth Googling that and learning about white balance and learning how to set your white balance in your camera
James: I know I’ve got mine set to AWB which is auto
Ryan: Yes that is a pretty safe way to do it.
James: It is for me because I’ve got three main ways that I film. I film outside, I film inside, and I film in my three-car garage which has the permanent set up of a black, white or green screen and the light is set up in the way that you are probably going to tell me about like a three point lighting set up.
Ryan: Yes, well you just mentioned the automatic white balance and that is worth generally touching on automatic functions of the camera. Often you hear professionals say “never use the automatic functions on a camera”. Now I wouldn’t say that should be a 100% blanket rule particularly for people shooting short web videos for YouTube. Sometimes, your automatic setting is going to give you the best results.
The one thing that you need to watch out for is if there’s a lot of light behind you and your camera’s set to automatic exposure, it’s going to make you look too dark in the frame because it is averaging out the light that’s in the frame and giving a kind of approximate calculations. I’m sure people who have seen this sort of thing where they have used an automatic setting on their camera and they are filming someone with a window in the background and you get that silhouette sort of effect.
James: If you want to see that, just go to Superfastbusiness.com and check out my logo because that’s exactly how I filmed that logo when I was setting up the camera. I did auto focus and I got this dark shadow thing and I realized I’m going to have to move my lights in a different fashion to get a result.
Ryan: Yes, exactly right and I suppose you saw them. It looks pretty cool, I’ll get a shot of that and sometimes these accidents or errors can actually create quite cool effects.
James: Oh that was just my filmmaker’s eye.
Ryan: Very good I like it. So then talking about using lighting, some artificial lighting that’s the thing that gives you a lot of control and so I like that. I like to exert as much control as possible in the filmmaking process and you know, I guess the potential disadvantage is that you are going to need to spend some money to buy yourself a lighting kit. It’s going to take you longer to set up. And it’s a little bit more of a learning curve to set up lights to make it look really good so without going to too much detail on this, just to run through a few key points I think are going to help people.
There are basically two types of lights and we’ve touched on this. We’ve talked about outdoor light, there’s hard lights or soft lights and hard lights are like the lights that shine directly on you like something like a lamp or a work light you know which can create quite harsh shadows and can be very bright and then something like a soft light would be fluoro tubes or LED lighting or a light with a soft box on it which is basically reflected lighting just going to give you a much more soft even better looking lights. So for your face to camera web videos you want to be using soft lights.
James: Right, now that’s good to know and also if you can find an area where you can leave and set up that works out beautifully in terms of setup time and if you’re dong regular videos, so I’ve got my little favourite spots and you know on occasion if I’m doing a lot of videos then I mark them out with a bit of tape so i can setup in the same spot each time.
Ryan: Yeah that a really good idea because sometimes the set up can take longer than the actual filming. So if you can’t leave then setup. Have some marks or even have a draw a little plan of the way you had things set up if you come up with good lighting setup.
Standard Textbook Lighting
So in terms of setting up your lights, the most standard textbook style of lighting is called 3 point-lighting. Now again I don’t want to go into too much detail to sort of overwhelm people so this is a good topic if people want to take their lighting to the next level, do a search on 3 point lighting where you can see some diagrams of the way these lights are set up and that’s going to give you a better visual reference point but it basically involves having a couple of lights in front of you and lights behind you.
Now you might wonder why you have a light behind you. What that basically does is put a bit of light on your shoulders and it gives a halo effect around your head and that separates you from your background and if you start to look at TV shows and films to a more critical eye, you’ll notice that they’re using this sort of effect all the time to separate the subject from the background and give a little bit more of a 3d effect.
James: Awesome, well hopefully you’ll see an improvement in mine if I started using that. The key light and the fill light and the backlight, is that what you call them?
Ryan: That’s right, yes. So the key light is the brightest light that you are going to use and that’s going to be in front of you in about 30-40 degrees to the side. Your fill light is going to be in the similar position but on the other side, so you have one light to the left of you and one light to the right. Now the reason why your key light is a little bit brighter than your fill light is because it’s going to make one side of your face slightly bright and it’s going to create a little bit more of a contour sort of effect.
So if both of those lights are of the same brightness your face would look a lot flatter where this is going to give more depth and that’s what a lot of lighting is all about. It’s turning this flat 2d image that we’re working with into more of a 3d sort of look, with more depth. And your backlight is as I mention the light that’s in the back. You don’t want that to be too bright but just to cast a little bit of light on your shoulders and on your head to separate you from your background.
So this is the most standard style of lighting and I encourage the listener to start experimenting with that sort of lighting.
James: Awesome. Okay so is this expensive?
Ryan: You can spend a lot of money on the stuff. I have. But you also don’t need to spend too much money. I think you can get some really decent lights from places like YouTube. The thing is they’re not exactly built to last and be moved around a lot.
If you’re in an environment where you can just set up your lights in your office or your room and leave them, that’s pretty much going to be fine. You don’t have to have the best quality lighting. On the other hand if you’re moving around a lot, those cheaper lights are going to break and die relatively soon.
I think for a few hundred dollars you can get yourself setup with a really good softbox lighting kit and that’s a great place to start. It is a bit of an expense to get started but if this is going to be an on-going campaign for listeners, something they plan to do for months and years, that’s going to be money really well invested.
Composing Your Shots
James: Awesome. Okay now the next tip is something that I think is fascinating because it’s really easy to spot; an amateur versus professional using the composition rules. Could you tell us about that?
Ryan: So this is the fourth of those four main tips that I’ve been going through and it connects back to when I started with which is about developing the eye of the film maker. Composition basically just means how you setup your shot and how you arrange things within the frame. It’s interesting because there’s a few standard rules that seems like humans are almost pretty much hardwired with. So if you look at like I’ve mentioned photography and painting and films, you’ll start to notice that basically, people frame people that they’re filming or painting or photographing in almost the same way.
Often these same sort of rules of composition apply so I’m going to mention a few of those and the reason why people do it is because it just looks more natural, it looks more visually pleasing and it looks more professional. By following these rules, you’re just not going to distract the viewer away from your content by kind of thinking, “Aw, I wonder why he’s framed it up that way.” On the other hand if you’re creating more of an experimental film where you want to break the rules a little bit, you can play with that stuff as well.
One of the most common mistakes I noticed with people when I first learning photography or filming is that they’ll put the person’s face right in the middle of the frame. That means that there’s a lot of space between the top of the person’s head and the top of the frame.
Working With Thirds
It almost psychologically feels like you’re diminishing the authority of the person and it just doesn’t look quite right. So the first step for framing up the person that you’re interviewing or yourself is imagine a couple of horizontal lines going across your frame. So you’ve got one line at the top third of the frame, and another line at the bottom third of the frame.
So you’re breaking up your frame into 3 thirds. The person’s eye should be roughly along the top horizontal line. Have a look at paintings, have a look at photography, you’ll see that setup is just really commonly repeated and it just seems to look the most natural.
James: Nice, what else you got?
Ryan: Okay, well that’s sort of referred to as the rule of thirds. If you start to look at pictures in terms of thirds, you’ll notice that a lot of things are framed up in thirds. So if you see a photo of a landscape, and you’ve got the sea and the land in the background, you won’t see the line of the horizon in the middle of the frame. You’ll see it either in the top third of the frame or the bottom third of the frame.
The same applies for vertical lines as well. You’re going to see this thing repeated over and over. Often in an interview, you’ll have the person sitting on the left hand side of the frame and then you’ll have something else on the right like a computer or a tree or something like that. As you’re watching films and TV, start to notice this rule of thirds.
There’s one more rule about lines and that’s diagonal lines. And again you’ll notice that a lot of films, objects with diagonal lines will be in the frame and this is about creating a sense of depth. So it might be the sense of a person standing on the side of the road, you’ll notice the road will make a diagonal line going off into the distance. And that’s going to create that illusion of depth.
So you’re trying to capture the real world on a 2D sort of space. It’s interesting once you become aware of these rules, you’ll see these little things all the time. Probably the most important rule about composition is, use it to tell your story better.
Telling A Story With Setting
Often when people start, they’ll just kind of plump the camera on a tripod or hold it and just film the person wherever they are. But once you start to make conscious decision about what’s going to appear in your frame, you’re going to add a lot to your video and you’re going to use it as a story telling tool. For instance, one of the videos that I made recently is with someone getting tips about stock broking. And so we filmed him with a background of 3 or 4 computers in the background and the computers had stock charts and stock tickers sort of thing and stock market websites and that’s a congruent image to have for someone like that.
It’s helping to tell his story. That’s setting him up as an authority. That’s showing that he’s keyed into the market.
So when you’re filming people, think about what are the things that you can have in the background of your frame that can help tell your story. I really like your videos James because part of your story is someone who works from home and you sort of reveal part of the way that you live your life through backgrounds and often that’s become so much more interesting than just having a really stark white background.
James: Yeah I got plenty of reactions when my background was the Coliseum. Or the Leaning Tower of Pisa on my travels. You know it does definitely develop a story. It’s obvious that today I’m not in my front garden or backyard or my garage.
I’m now somewhere else, where can I be? Why am I travelling? I’ve got so much reaction from just changing the background to my video. Even with the worse camera and less equipment, that was such a compelling part of the package.
Ryan: Definitely. Because you’re creating kind of a sense of connection and intimacy so people kind of feel like they’re there with you along the journey. Some of the other videos that you made while you’re travelling, you talked a bit about particular businesses and how they market themselves and you had shots of those businesses and designs and stuff like that in the background which just gave so much more context than you just kind of standing there or on the side of the road or in a car. I say to listeners, think consciously about what you’re putting in your background and how is it helping to enhance your story.
James: That’s a good one. You know the point I was working with there is I’ve learnt something and I think it was from my friend Alexi Neocleous was if you say something back it up with proof. So when I talk about an automated vending machine store, it is more powerful to actually show it than just to talk about it. Even though I was definitely compromised with my equipment, I had a 10 year old camera man I had an iPhone, we had traffic noise, we were really working against the odds and then every few minutes a person would come into the store so we just had to hit and run that story. But it was really fun to make and it was better to have that story than to not have that story.
Ryan: Definitely, your videos worked really well. They were authentic, they were natural, you kind of felt like you were there along the way. That’s why it’s really important to know these professional tips. But to use them consciously because you might have created something that was so technically slick, it might have taken all of the magic away from the video.
So a lot of the times it’s good to think about it and then go, “Is this background noise going to add to it? Is kind of a little bit shaky camera just going to make it feel more real? It’s not to say don’t do those things, but just do them as a conscious decision.
Bloopers And Out-takes
James: What about things like out-takes. My concern was people might think I’m unprofessional but then in reality, I think people almost kind of watch the video to find out what I’m going to stuff up today and they actually watch the video all the way to the end. I know this from my analytics and partially maybe they want to see the out-takes, and maybe because a lot of my audience at a similar stage to me just sort of struggling with this whole technology or using a whiteboard or a teleprompter, is it a bad thing, is it a good thing?
What’s your feeling as a professional? You probably would never put that in a documentary with a government organization or would you?
Ryan: Well there’s this phenomenon of the blooper reel and people just love blooper reels. They love to see the mistakes and the funny situations and the unplanned stuff. And also, people are so visually literate, they understand the conventions of film and video production so when you slot those at the end, people know it. They’re familiar with it.
It’s not like they’re going to go, “Aw, why did that just popup there.” They understand that sometimes in films there’s a blooper reel and it pops in at the end so it’s just all about choosing the right context and with what you’re doing, you’re having a conversation with people, you’re not trying to look too professional and corporate. You want it to be a little bit fun, and like you say, what a great strategy to have people watching through till the end. I reckon it works really well in that situation.
James: I usually make sure I put it after the bumper to clear delineation. The shows over, here are the other bits. Well you know what; I think we’re probably going to just do a quick summary just to make sure that we lock in these points.
You’ve taken us inside the film maker’s eye and you’ve given us some insight into what’s happening. What are we actually watching? What are we listening to? We’ve talked about sound, and how important that is.
We’ve talked about lighting, both natural and artificial. We’ve talked about composition, how to actually frame up the shot and some of the rules. And I guess we’ve got a new understanding, got all these little Spielberg’s and Kubrick’s out there now ready to hit the world and create stuff. You’ve got any closing comments Ryan?
Ryan: Well I think it’s important to think of this as an on-going process. I’ve been making films for over 15 years and I’m just learning as I go. And I’m sometimes making mistakes and sometimes I do something really cool and I sort of follow that away and think, “I’ll do that again sometime.”
Sometimes I see ideas from other people and I incorporate that into what I’m doing. But it’s just an on-going process. And it’s a process of making something, putting it out there, watching it with a critical eye and thinking, what do I love about what I did there, what can I improve a little bit and getting feedback from people and putting that on-board.
The reason why I love it is because you’re just creating something from an idea, and putting it out there and sharing it with people and getting the reaction. Anyone can do that now. There’s no impediment. There’s no cost. It doesn’t have to be a factor; it’s accessible to all of us.
James: It’s so satisfying. Well I just want to say thanks Ryan. Be sure to check out Ryan’s show it’s called Web Video Marketing Show. It’s on iTunes, I’ve listened to every episode, I love it. Keep up the good work. And thanks for helping all of our listeners.
Ryan: Thanks for having me on the show James. I really enjoyed it.
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