Over the last twelve months, I've been asked to produce a lot of videos for my district. To mark this busy and exciting year, I've compiled my top twelve tips for shooting video like a pro, one tip for each month of the year.
Some of these tips I learned over my years as a wedding videographer; other tips I acquired from reading magazines, blogs, and shooting videos for EdTech Magazine: Focus on K-12; and others I stumbled upon through old fashioned trial and error. Although this is not an exhaustive list, perhaps there's something for everyone. So... you want to produce professional development (PD) videos for your school, or district?
1. Plan. Before you even pick up a camera, it's imperative that you take the time to understand the vision and scope of the project. Ask questions like: Who is the audience? After watching, what do you want the viewer to feel, to know, or to do? Is this a "call to action?" The better you understand the vision, the better the video will be.
2. Use at least two cameras. The wide shot can be a camcorder on a tripod in the back of the room. A mid-range camera can be mobile, such as a handheld camcorder, or, a camera attached to a mono-pod. Maybe a spouse, friend, or student, can be in charge of this second camera. The second camera operator should only use zoom to frame the shot.
3. Digitize visual aids whenever possible. Filming a screen yields poor results; therefore, if content is going to be shown on a projector during the lesson, visual aids should be digitized (scanned) and integrated into the video during post-production. This includes PowerPoint presentations, websites, etc. If content from a computer is going to be displayed during the lesson, install screen-capturing software and capture this content right from the source. I prefer an application called Snagit.
4. Interview key people. Interview the subject on-camera. Ask about the lesson. In fact, the best videos are driven by a good interview. Capture those conversations between the teacher and the students. Take a couple students into the hallway and interview them, too.
5. Care about audio. People can tolerate subpar video if the sound is good; therefore, invest in at least one wireless, lavaliere mic. Get a shotgun mic for your second, mobile camera. That way, when your footage is ready for editing, you will have plenty of options.
6. Care about lighting. Before the lesson, ask the teacher to avoid standing in front of the LCD projector for long periods of time. Bring extra lights, if possible, and if there are any curtains, open them. Video requires a lot of light to produce a good picture, so turn on as many classroom lights as possible. Although lights will diminish the brightness of the projector for the students, failure do so will lead to poor video quality.
7. Cut it out. Be ruthless. Viewers' time needs to be respected. They are giving their time, so be sure to cut interruptions from the final edit: students asking to use the restroom, searching for a cable, troubleshooting a computer glitch, etc. Dead air must be eliminated.
8. Add textual elements. Take advantage of onscreen, textual elements to draw attention to significant points the teacher makes in the video. Use lower thirds when introducing your talent. If a speaker says something that is difficult to hear, type the text on screen for the viewer. Identity moments during the lesson when the teacher addresses the common core state standard (CCSS), and draw the viewer's attention to this by typing it on the screen. There is tremendous value in other teachers seeing what CCSS implementation really looks like.
9. Easy on the transitions. No one walks out of a movie theater and asks, “My, weren’t those transitions amazing?” Or, “Boy, I really like how the editor used that boxy, spinning transition.” Fancy transitions usually distract from the story.
10. Make faster cuts. Ever since the days of MTV (Music Television, circa 1980s), video cuts occur quickly. It's not uncommon for music videos to cut to another angle every second. Although professional development videos are not the same as music videos, it's good practice to change the camera angles frequently, as this tends to hold the viewer's attention longer.
11. Use B-Roll. When filming b-roll, film the subject for at least 10 seconds. These "handles" can be trimmed away, leaving the center portion, which is often the best part of the clip. Film liberal amounts of b-roll, and use only the clips that best illustrate what is being spoken on screen.
12. Short and sweet. When it comes to professional development videos and tutorials, be concise. I think TeachingChannel has the right idea when it comes to tutorials for teachers. They get those lessons down to the bare bones – they’ll take a 50-minute class period and trim it down to a lean 5-14 minutes. Depending on the video, two minutes is golden. Three minutes is often just right. Longer than three minutes may fall on deaf ears. It totally depends, of course, but as a rule, always leave the audience wanting more.