Video Essentials

Five More Online Video Don’ts

You love the don’ts! When we published “Five Online Video Don’ts” in July, we had no idea it would become one of our most popular—and commented upon—articles.

To bring you more of those negative lessons, those bad steps to avoid, we again spoke with Tim Plum, the director, writer, and camera operator behind Plum Productions, a full-service video production company in Chicago. Plum has worked with clients on many campaigns, so he knows what to do to get perfect results. Even better, he knows what not to do.

1. Don’t Have Bad Lighting

Even experienced video pros can have bad lighting. They do it by trying so hard to be unconventional and hip that they force an unsuitable style on a video. It’s contemporary now to avoid classic three-point lighting, Plum says, and to instead enhance the existing natural lighting. Sometimes the results work and sometimes they feel too harsh. Don’t show of your own style at the expense of the subject.

The idea is for the subject to look relaxed and comfortable in a natural space. “Pulling out every light fixture in your kit may not be the way to achieve that,” says Plum. “Sometimes bouncing a 1K into the corner is all you need.”

Use a white card to bounce light, or else bounce it off a wall to create a softer look. If you’re shooting an interview, remember that subjects look better when looking into the key light.

2. Don’t Have Bad Sound

“A great video can be made or broken with sound,” says Plum. If your audio isn’t recorded well, that will distract the viewer and take away from the message. Poor sound can come from using only on-camera microphones and positioning the cameras far away. If can also happen if you don’t monitor your audio levels while shooting. If your recorded audio is too low, you’ll need to boost it in production, which will also boost ambient room noise. If your recorded sound is too loud, it can over-modulate.

To get the best sound possible, position your microphone as close to the subject as possible. The two most popular mic types are lavaliers (which are worn on the lapel) and shotgun or omnidirectional mics (which record sound from one direction only).

3. Don’t Put a Lot of Headroom over Your Subject

People get uncomfortable framing a shot, because they think that the subject’s head should always be fully in the frame. That’s not true, though, says Plum. You want the subject’s eyes to be one-third from the top of the screen. In close-ups, this means cutting off the top of the subject’s head. Don’t worry: it still creates a more pleasing frame.

4. Don’t Put Your Subject Against a Wall

While it might feel natural in filming to place your subject against a wall, that creates a flat, boring backdrop, says Plum. It can look weird and uncomfortable to the viewer. If you’re filming someone at a desk, put him or her in front of the desk and use it as a backdrop. If you’re shooting an interview in a building lobby, stand your subject in the center of the lobby, showing the expanse of the room behind them.

5. Don’t Generalize While Budgeting

This isn’t a tip about allocating money, but about working with clients. Be specific when creating a budget for a project. If all you put down for a budget is the total fee, your client will be focused on the expense. Instead, create a line-item budget that shows them how that fee breaks down. Then they’ll focus on what they’re getting for that money.

“They like to know how the money is spent,” says Plum. He also notes that creating a detailed budget communicates that the production company is detail- and task-oriented.

Having a detailed breakdown also allows you to negotiate later, if the budget is too high for the client. Hint that the amount is flexible by saying “Please let us know how we can adjust this to fit your needs.” If the client needs a lower total, you can ask if they need that second mic or second day of shooting, for example, and bring the total down. You won’t be able to meet every client’s price, but having the conversation allows you to get some of the work that would have turned away at a high lump sum fee.


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  1. Great points. It’s the fundamentals that sometimes get lost in online video production – get reminder that quality is in the details. “We want more don’ts” – Keep em coming!

    Posted by JC Polk | December 8, 2010, 10:11 am
  2. The two most popular mic types are lavaliers (which are worn on the lapel) and shotgun or omnidirectional mics (which record sound from one direction only).

    DB – Shotgun microphones are uni-directional – not omni

    Perhaps I can help with your sound advice – see my website for a sample of my writing.


    Posted by Dennis Baxter | June 19, 2012, 10:18 am
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