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9 Telltale signs of amateur video

It’s easy to take good video for granted until you’ve seen bad video: the poorly shot, poorly lit, shaky kind that makes any viewer cringe. Here are some of the worst offenses in videography:

1. Everything looks blue or orange

Video shot outdoors looks blue, while video shot indoors is a puke-colored orange.

Solution: Off-color video is often a result of unbalanced color temperature (see an example here). Use the camera’s white balance feature — usually a single button or found in the features menu — to counteract the offending color.

2. Zooming back and forth during shots

Many video newbies have a trigger finger when it comes to the zoom button: static action is happening but the videographer repeatedly zooms in and out.

Solution: Let go of that zoom button! The temptation exists to do something with the camera if, for example, a person is talking for an extended period of time. But using the zoom too often can be distracting and result in mismatched edits.

3. Video alternates between clear and blurry

You’ve seen it before. There’s some action happening in the video and as the subject moves the video becomes blurry and out of focus.

Solution: Most consumer-level cameras come with the autofocus feature turned on, which means anytime something moves in the video, the camera will try to regain focus, resulting in a blurred image. If you anticipate any sort of quick movements, turn off the autofocus which is usually found in the camera menu.

4. Jumpcuts

He’s over here, now he’s over there! If video begins to resemble stop-motion animation, something has gone incredibly wrong.

Solution: Zoom out and keep the action in frame. Refrain from stopping and starting the camera between continuous shots.

5. Subject of video is off-kilter, unbalanced or cut off

Something is weird about the video. It’s tough to pinpoint, but it has to do with the framing of the subject.

Solution: One of the biggest mistakes when shooting video is ignoring the rule of thirds and the concepts lead room and headroom. Learn the basics of video composition from any book or online resource.

6. Excessive ascending or descending shots

The subject in the video is sitting down, but the camera is towering over him/her/it. Or the camera is at a low angle, making the subject look like a frightening giant.

Solution: Good video — especially the kind of video used in a journalistic context — should be shot at eye level. This means raising or lowering the tripod so that it is at the same level of the subject being shot.

7. Video looks like it was shot during an earthquake

The video won’t stop shaking and is making the viewer nauseous.

Solution: Unless you’re going for the Cloverfield style of videography, use a tripod whenever possible. If you don’t have one, try low-budget tricks like placing the camera on a stack of books or leaning against a wall while holding the camera.

8. Video is dark and grainy

Nothing makes video more unwatchable than not being able to actually see anything.

Solution: Video shouldn’t be a Rorschach test. Videographers should make use of a light kit or at the very least turn on a nearby lamp.

9. Audio is drowned out by ambient noise

The main character or interviewee is saying something deeply profound…but the sound of passing cars, honking horns or violent wind is drowning them out.

Solution: Get thee a microphone! The built-in microphones that come with most video cameras will pick up every sound in the area, but using a cardioid or unidirectional microphone will pick up only the sound you want to hear.

Once you’ve mastered the basics of online video, check out blogs like Video 2 Zero and MultimediaShooter to learn even more about what makes great video.


Also on 10,000 Words:

How to edit your video online for free or cheap
Tips for shooting better video for the web
Newspapers on YouTube: Dos and Don’ts

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