Tips for shooting and producing high quality videos

Tips for shooting and producing high quality videosSeveral people have emailed me asking to how to produce video blog posts. Since replying to each inquiry hasn’t been high enough on my priority list, so I’m responding to all of you publicly here.

(Of course, a simple Google search will probably reveal everything I’m about to share and more, so don’t forget to look there. Plus, check out the archives of past blog posts here that talk about using video in ministry and blogs.)

Programs I use for editing

I primarily use iMovie ’09 for all my video editing. It comes free on my Mac and is just so amazingly user-friendly. I also have Final Cut Express, but I’ve only used it a couple times to do some work that was a bit more advanced. Probably 98% of my editing is done in iMovie.

Sometimes I use LiveType, a Mac program that’s included with Final Cut Express, to create text animations like this one, too.

In the past couple weeks I started playing with the trial version of Adobe After Effects and created this cool little intro, but After Effects is too expensive for me to purchase so I doubt I’ll keep it around for much longer. It’s also pretty advanced. It’s definitely not a novice, user-friendly program.

If you’re on a PC, the Microsoft’s free Windows Movie Maker may be sufficient for your needs as you begin to experiment with video editing.

Where to get a cool intro

You can find a lot of good stock (royalty free) video footage and animations at and If you want something quick and easy that you can just throw some text over, check there first.

If you think you want to try your hand at editing an animated After Effects template, also has a lot of good AE templates you can customize with your own text, images and video clips. Unfortunately, it’s not quite as simple as dragging and dropping your content in the blank spaces, but if you committed to spending a couple hours on it and if you’re willing to watch some video tutorials on YouTube, it’s definitely doable with the trial version of After Effects.

Determining what video content to publish on a blog

For my blog here, I basically take a topic that’s related to my blog’s audience and draft a couple thoughts on paper. I then tape that sheet of paper on the tripod beneath the video camera while I shoot to make sure I stay on track and remember everything I want to say. The trick is to maintain eye contact with the camera lens and only use the sheet if I have to.

Use a clock to keep videos moving

No one likes to watch a video where someone rambles on and on in circles about something, so I use the timer on my iPod Touch to make sure I keep moving through my notes. I try not to spend more than a minute or two on each point.

Also, since YouTube limits videos to 10 minutes, a timer helps me know when I’m approaching 9 minutes and need to wrap it up. If you ever do a video interview with someone, explain ahead of time that you two have a maximum of 8 minutes to talk, show them the timer and do your best to stick to 8 minutes because it will always go over and end around 9+ minutes anyway.

Another note about interviews: when you’re shooting a conversation with someone, time feels like it moves naturally to you, but when people watch it on a video, it moves a lot slower, so keep the pace quick and don’t get stuck on something for too long.

Camera I use

I use a Canon HF100 video camera because it’s small (size of a soda can), shoots in amazing HD quality, 12x optical zoom (great for framing shots from a variety of distances), and has some limited advanced features for when I need them. However, if you’re looking to purchase a camera, the Canon HF200 is out now and seems to be a slightly better camera.

Of course, there’s the Flip HD cameras, too, if you want something that does a good job as a cheaper point-and-shoot camera.

Microphones I use

The thing many people overlook when it comes to shooting the video is that the audio quality. It’s is just as important as the video quality. Video camera’s on-board microphones aren’t entirely bad, but an external mic will make a huge difference in the overall quality of your video.

I mostly use the Sony ECM-MS908C mic for general shooting. It does an outstanding job, especially since it will cut out miscellaneous sounds that come from other angles around the camera. This mic’s audio is far superior to any video camera’s on-board microphone. Definitely worth the investment.

For interviews or for subjects that are a further away from the camera or if there’s a lot of background noise, I use the wireless Azden WMS-PRO wireless microphone set, but honestly, I’m a bit disappointed in the sound quality of these mics. They record a very low hum in the background, probably noticeable to no one else but me. It’s absolutely better than the alternative of using a standard mic under the aforementioned conditions, but you also get what you pay for when it comes to wireless mics. If I could do it over again, I’d probably save a bit longer and purchase a higher end UHF wireless mic system.

Notes about lighting

One of the biggest mistakes I made when I first started shooting video is that I ignored lighting conditions. Most cameras let you set the “white balance” to a preset of sunlight, shade, cloudy, florescent, tungsten, etc. Make sure you use that! Otherwise the people in your footage will turn out looking sunburned, pale, or worse.

Also, when I started I thought that the more light there was, the better, but that’s not necessarily true. There are two things that are important when it comes to lighting:

1. It’s best if the light is all the same “temperature” (roughly, the same kind of light). For example, try not to mix daylight from a window with florescent light from the ceiling. If it’s unavoidable, set the white balance on your video camera manually by zooming in on a white piece of paper and use the settings to automatically determine and adjust the camera’s white balance.

2. Be aware of the angles from where the light is coming. Search Google for “three point lighting” and try to use that basic light setup when it’s just you and the camera. For example, here’s two YouTube videos about three point lighting that will explain the basic concept: here and here. You don’t need to purchase expensive lights or anything — just use normal light bulbs that are all the same brand and position them accordingly.

Do you need all this equipment?

Probably not. When I first started doing my video blog posts, it was just me and my Macbook Pro, that’s it. I used Mac’s built-in iSight webcam and mic to record directly into iMovie. I slowly upgraded as I saw that the video blog posts were being received well, that I enjoyed doing them and was willing to put the time into shooting and editing each video. I’d recommend you start small and upgrade your equipment slowly over time as you learn what you’re doing and figure out what equipment you need most.

What tips do you have for shooting and producing video? We would love to hear them in the comments below!

Posted on September 30, 2009

  • Loved the article, wish I had the money and time to do more with video. For those who are not Mac-ophiles, the Windows Movie Maker is generally a good choice for what MOST youth ministers are going to be doing – light editing with easy transitions. If you want to get fancier, the cost obviously goes up as does the time/difficulty rating. You can also go the open source route, although most open source video editors are incomplete or overly complicated.

    • But see, that's just it — video doesn't necessarily take a lot of time. In fact, I did my first video post because I didn't feel like typing it out, so I sat down and video recorded my thoughts instead. It was a lot faster! No spelling and grammar to watch for, no revising sentences, so time to type it all out — it was much quicker.

      That said, it is a lot quicker to send an email to my youth group mailing list than it is to shoot a youth group announcements video (email = 20-30 minutes; video = 2 hours), but the effectiveness of the communication is much different, too. The open rate of my emails is about 20%, but the view rate of the videos is 110%! People won't take 2 minutes to read an email, but they'll take 10 minutes to watch a video.

      And it's not really that expensive — you can start with a $50 webcam and Windows Movie Maker and you're good to go. Cheap way to evaluate whether you should do more video or not. That's how I got started.

      • I meant the time to do the REALLY cool stuff like with the Adobe After Effects and having green screen and all that fun stuff. You're right though, it doesn't take much to do a good video that will grab the teens attention, and its a lot more effective than me just standing up there talking.

  • Ricky

    I totally agree with Tim. Last week, I spent about an hour filming and editing a video that was about 5 minutes in length. To be honest, the video sucked! LOL. It didn't turn out as great as I had envisioned in my mind, and after watching it at our youth meeting I felt that I could have communicated it more effectively from the stage. But what I noticed was that every single kid and adult in the room was glued to the screen listening to every word that was said. When the night was over, students were asking me about the video (where I filmed it, when I filmed it, etc.) and making comments about what they learned from the video.

    Even though the video, in my opinion, wasn't as good or as "effective" as I thought it could have been; the message clearly sunk in. Video, even a "crappy" one, has a way of grabbing students' attention and keeping them locked in. That's why I try to use it as often as I can. Thanks for the post Tim.

  • Julie

    Do you have a recommend on which Flip camera to get? I get that the HD ones will take better quality, but won't the file size also be larger?

    • I'd definitely recommend going with an HD camera. The price difference isn't that much higher and most sites like Facebook and YouTube now support HD video. The file sizes will indeed be larger, but that shouldn't be a big deal. If you plan to keep all the video, just dump it on an external hard drive or something.

  • jamie

    Hey Tim,

    The after effects videos are AWESOME. How can I edit them without paying $999 for it? Or have you found other video intros of equal quality?

  • jamie

    If you know a teacher through the adobe education store after effects is 350….is it worth it?

    • Before purchasing it, you should definitely download the 30-day trial of After Effects and use it for a month. If, after a month, you decide that it's worth the investment, then go for it.

  • David

    I have a question about istockphoto the link you recommended…did you say that everything on that site was free??? because I went their and it looks like you have to pay for some things there??? any way thank you so much for the info you posted here it was very helpufl

    • No, is not free. It's royalty-free, which means you purchase a license with the media you select that lets you use it free from copyright infringement, but it's not monetarily free.

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  • Hi Tim.

    Personally this year I'm about to start a video blog so I need all sources and information as possible.

    Your post definitely has helped me.

    Greetings from Guatemala.

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