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How to Make Great Video: Setting Up to Record with Good Composition

Video production tips

Part of an on-going series about how to make great videos, without needing specialized tools. Read more here.
Last time, we talked about backgrounds and lighting. This time, we’ll discuss composition.
Composition is a term that painters and filmmakers use to talk about where everything fits in a picture. Good composition will be visually interesting, while naturally draw a viewer’s eye to the places you want the most attention. Bad composition will be boring, or even worse, will lead the viewer to look away from what you wanted them to be focused on. Entire film classes can be spent on composition. But just a few quick tips are all you really need to make your video look much more professional.

Setting Up for Great Video Composition

Setting up the camera.

Use a tripod to position your camera. Don’t prop it up with books on your desk—you’ll never get the right angle and it’s going to fall over at the worst possible moment. Don’t have someone else hold it in their hands—it’s going to shake. No one can hold a camera perfectly steady. But you don’t need one of the big old-fashioned tripods with the telescoping legs that go to the floor. These days you can find mini-tripods that can go on your desk for $10-15. Some even have flexible legs that can wrap around things to position the camera exactly the way you want it.

The Rule of Thirds.

Take a minute to compose your shot. You don’t want to be too close to the camera and cut off parts of your head. You also don’t want to be too far away and look overwhelmed by your background. Those are the easy parts. Less obviously, you don’t want to be dead center. It’s boring. The Rule of Thirds is a popular technique that makes it easy to create interesting, dynamic shots.
Pretend you have divided your screen up into thirds, both vertically and horizontally.
Making your own video: rule of thirds
Now, instead of putting things right in the middle, try to put the most interesting things, like your head, on one of those lines.
Making your own video - example of rule of thirds
Looks pretty good, doesn’t it?

Regarding windows.

When we talked about lighting, we mentioned the usefulness of natural light. If you have a window available, you’ll want to use it. You might be tempted to sit right in front of the window, especially if you’ve got a great view. Unless you want to get a professional lighting rig, resist the temptation. When you see great shots of people directly in front of windows, you can almost guarantee that there was an array of lights behind the camera to make sure that the people’s faces could be seen. With a window behind you, all that gorgeous natural light is wasted on the back of your head. All the viewer will see is a darkened face in front of a window full of bright light. Instead, shoot sideways, next to the window. The light will fall on your face, instead of washing it out.
There’s obviously much more that can be done to make amazing videos—that’s why there’s an Oscar for cinematography. But with a little thought towards audio background, visual background, and composition, you can make your videos look much more interesting and professional.

Like this post? Read from the beginning of the series.

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