Video Production Tips & Tricks


Think through the goals of your video before you begin capturing footage.

Questions to consider:

  • What story are you trying to tell?

  • Who is your audience?

  • Where will you distribute it?

  • What do you want people to do after they watch it?

  • Who has editing experiences?



When films where shot on film, filmmakers needed to think through what they were going to shoot ahead of time. Digital video has changed this methodology for some, but outlining or storyboarding your video is still important because it allows you to plan what you capture ahead of time. Consider writing an outline or even storyboard before you start shooting. It is OK if your idea changes as you shoot – that is bound to happen as stories evolve in documentary filmmaking – but it will still help you to plan in advance.

Questions to consider:

  • What do you need to capture to tell this story?

  • Are you including interviews? If so, what do you want to ask your subjects? Prepare!

  • What action do you want to capture?

  • What B-Roll do you want to have?



If possible, have a written release for your interview or main subjects to sign. In some cases, written releases may not be possible. If that is the case, get an on-camera release.

  • Ask the subject to state their full name and that they agree to be filmed.

  • Ask for the subject’s email address in case written releases are necessary in the future.


Shooting Tips

  • Check space on phone - can you clear space?

  • Make sure to charge your battery. Bring your charger. If possible, bring backup batteries for your phone

  • Shoot landscape/horizontal, not portrait/upright

  • Hold your shot – count to 7 or 10 before moving or ending your shot

  • Look around you – are you about to shoot something that a bunch of others are already shooting? You may not need to capture it. Save space and battery.

  • Two cameras can be good for editing interviews


Steady Cam

The world is your tripod.
— Kirsten Johnson
  • What is around you that can help steady your shot? What can you place your camera on?
  • Use both hands to hold your camera or phone

  • Locking you elbows into your body can help stabilize the camera

  • Use feet as a base and move your upper body not just camera

  • Use what works for you and practice!



  • Context is interesting - take a few steps back to capture the environment around the person you are shooting


Rule of Thirds

  • Check to see if you have a grid on your camera. Where grid lines cross is a good place to put your action/something of interest

  • When shooting interviews, eyelines should be around the top first third of the grid

  • Position your interview subject on one side or the other if you they are being interviewed by someone off-camera. The subject’s eyeline should go across the frame. When interviewer is off-camera, positioning the subject in the center of frame does not usually work well.

  • If the subject is talking directly to camera, you have more flexibility with how you frame them. In this case, framing in center of frame works.


Natural Lighting

  • Look at where sunlight is coming from. The sun should be behind the camera person so the subject or shot is not backlit.

  • Try to find a position where light is even on the subject

  • Try changing positions and angles until it looks best

  • Use/make a bounce board – If you are carrying a white-backed poster for the march, it may be possible to use it to reflect light onto your subject. Have a friend hold and experiment.



  • Use lamps to illuminate subjects

  • Avoid interrogation room lighting where you are shining lamp in someone’s face

  • Positioning a lamp with a shade in front or off to the side of the subject can help, but if this creates unneeded shadows on subject, do not use.

  • Use overhead lighting when needed

  • Windows are a great source of natural light when shooting indoors. Try positioning your subject so that they light from the window illuminates their face. Once again, be mindful of shadows and changing light.

  • Better to be slightly underexposed than overexposed for editing


Complimenting Your Master Shot

  • Think about shots that will add to your story

  • Capture B-Roll to help tell your story. Ideas:

    • Interview subjects walking, working at desk, in their environment, etc.

    • Building exteriors, signs, and other shots that help to contextualize where you are or tell more about your interview subject

  • Shoot subject from close and far away

  • If you are shooting an isolated action like someone walking down a hallway, have the subject repeat the action a few times and cover it from a variety of angles


Manual Exposure and Focus

  • Does your phone have have manual exposure and focus? Check your phone camera settings before you begin filming.

  • Not all smartphone apps do this, but try pressing and holding on an area of the screen to activate the AE/AF Lock function. With a smartphone, the most important is the AE (Auto Exposure) Lock because you don't want the smartphone to keep changing the exposure while you're filming.

  • This will often happen if you're panning across an indoor scene (especially if there are windows!), so try locking the exposure on an area that gives you a good exposure for the whole scene. Manually setting the focus is great when you want to get close to an object, and you need to tell the camera to focus on a particular area.

  • Don’t use digital zoom if you have it, it will degrade the quality of the image



  • Find where mic is on your phone

  • Try and find a quiet spot

  • Get close to the subject talking – ask them to speak loud, clear, and slow

  • Bad audio can ruin a great piece of video, and just because your smartphone can record a decent voiceover in a quiet controlled environment, it doesn't mean you can 100% rely on it when you're out and about.

  • If it's a perfectly still day, go for it, and if you want to video someone talking, get as close to them as you can to make sure they are heard above any noise in the environment. No doubt you've heard the horrible sound wind noise makes on video clips, so locate the built ­in microphone and try to shield it from the wind, but be prepared to remove the audio later it it's noisy and unusable.

  • Have another person record audio separately on phone

    • Audio Slate - Describe your shoot

      • Name, rolling, camera and time of day

    • Name file so you know what the audio is

    • Talk to camera person to come up with a naming convention for the video and audio so it’s easy to pair during edit



  • Tripods, monopods, selfie sticks can all help you stabilize your shot and get overhead angles

  • If you want to capture better audio on your phone, look into the Rode SmartLav microphone

  • Extra phone batteries and chargers