Having been shooting, editing, and producing videos for the past 5+ years, and I’ve definitely run into my fair share of problems. These issues range from video quality, audio recording and playback, and general story continuity for the final cut of the video. I figured I’d start to write down some of the tips and things I’ve learned along the way to give others a help in avoiding these issues/mistakes/bad practices. Note, I edit on Final Cut Pro 10 (FCPX), but all these tips can be extrapolated for use in Adobe, iMovie, cellphone apps, GoPro editor, etc.
Video Transitions & Effects: A simple answer to this is don’t use them, with few exceptions. A new trend, especially with drone shots that provide a full perspective of a shot, is to zoom in and out between a far away, midway, and a close up. This can be effective when you’re far away from your subject initially, like at the base of a mountain, or approaching the a building in the distance, then zoom transition to a close up of you arriving at your destination. This allows the audience to gain perspective on bigger subjects or locations that might have taken you hours to get to, but only a second to show in a video. Otherwise, the only transitions I tend to use are the fade to black and fade to white. These come in handy when the light begins to fade at night and the videos become darker. Or in the opposite case, when your video clip goes from a dark area into a light, allowing you to fade to white into the next clip. If you don’t believe me, just look at 99% of every movie made in Hollywood. You’d be hard pressed to find a movie that uses transitions or effects to switch between scenes.
Stabilization: This is an area of video making that can go unnoticed throughout the editing process. Back when I was only editing unstable GoPro footage, I became used to looking at shaky footage constantly and it became my normal. But when anyone else saw it, they immediately noticed it. You can focus so hard on what’s happening in the shot that you miss how shaky the outside frame really is. And sometimes this can only be realized when you export the video and you stare at the outer frame to see how much it is shaking.
Try and make it one of your top priorities to stabilize your footage. There are many ways to go about doing this, but the obvious, and easiest, option is to use a tripod. If your camera isn’t moving, then your footage will be 100% stable. But assuming you are always shooting on the move, there are a ton of options to get that crisp, smooth footage depending on your budget. First, you can look for cameras with internal stabilization like the new GoPro Hero6, Garmin VIRB, Panasonic G-Series, Olympus E series, and Sony A series. Internal stabilizers will only help with smoothing out the micro shaking while holding a camera, not big movements. To keep those large movements steady, like in mountain biking or running, you’ll need to get an external stabilizer. Mid-range price, but effective options, are GlideCam or SteadiCam handheld stabilizers. These are difficult to master, but the most controllable option for always tracking your subjects while performing any athletic feat. The automatic, expensive options, are the 3-axis gimbals for GoPro like the Karma grip, DJI Ronin, or Feiyu A1000. With little-to-no-effort on your part, they will stabilize any motion you put it through. You can literally shake the camera on the gimbal in every axis, and you will still have a perfectly stable shot. So depending on your budget, there is an option for you. I personally have used all three, and each has their own place when shooting video.
A golden rule: the lighter the camera’s weight, the harder it will be to stabilize.
Titles and Text: Use these sparingly. If you find yourself needing to use texts or titles to explain something that is missing (location, time, date, key plot hole in story), don’t. Instead, try to use the videos you have or audio to explain it instead. You can tell a stronger story by showing the sun rise to signify it’s morning rather than just posting the time reading “6:00AM” on the screen. And likewise, if you are moving around to different locations or cities in your travel video, try to use the video of local signs, shot from on a train or plane, or airport arrival screens to show that you’re in a different spot than the previous scene. With that being said, sometimes all that information doesn’t need to be said at all if it’s not crucial to your storyline. Title shots and scenes are always classics, but make sure the title scene isn’t over crowded or too “busy”. Show the title on a blank/black background or a stationary shot, and then move on to your next scene to develop or tell that story!
Matching Frame Rate (FPS): This isn’t that important, but it is definitely noticeable to the trained eye. Hollywood movies are all shot in 24 frames per second (fps). And that is because they have found that it is the frame rate the human eye sees at. With that being said, most cameras don’t shoot at 24fps, but rather 30fps. When shooting at hire than 30fps, the video begins to look more like a soap opera or video games which use higher frame rates. This mismatch in fps can be quite odd looking when paired back to back. Though not normally an issue if you’re using the video clips from a single camera, this can become an issue when you start using multiple cameras like a DSLR, GoPro, and iPhone all in the same video. Click the information button to check what frame rate the video was shot at. There are options to drop the frame to bring higher fps video clips back down to the project’s default frame rate.
Slow Motion: Can be the best part, and worst, part of any video. Producers like Sam Evans and Sam Kolder use, almost exclusively, slow motion for every single cinematic shot. This can be achieved by always shooting in a frame rate higher than 48fps, which is 2x the fps than what the human eye sees (explained above). We are used to it being used to slowdown a subject moving fast like in skiing or the cheers of beer glasses, but I can be used for much more. Slow motion shots can make boring, mostly static, shots like snow falling or people walking into a really interesting one. Slowing shots down is just a good change of pace from the quick clips and real-time video speed that we are so accustomed to. Slowing a shaky shot down by 50% can also reduce how much shaking the audience views. On the converse side, when the clip is slowed down it becomes twice as long, and this can lose the attention of the audience really quickly if nothing is happening. This event happens often with iPhone super-slowmo videos on the internet. Rather than let the video play at full speed until the action happens, we are stuck waiting ten seconds before the person gets hit in the face with the yoga ball (or whatever stupid internet video you might have found yourself addicted to watching). A take away here is to balance how you use slow motion. Note, I have never found a reason to speed up the clips to 2x speed, if that is the case, use a time-lapse. Time lapses can take large periods of time, where not much is happening, and turn it into an incredible scene. Search on youtube for time lapses of sunsets, weather events, or even crowds (you won’t be disappointed).
Timing Clips & Music together: A crucial component for mostly every single action/adventure sport video I’ve ever watched. Time the buildup of the song to a building shot and right as the music drops, some epic back-flip shot is timed up perfectly with it. So what’s the best way to time all your clips to the beat of the music? One way, that I have found easy and helpful, is to put the song into a blank project and listen to it straight through. While listening to it, find the key to insert a marker and tap it along with the beat. Now you have the music broken up into chunks that go along with the beat. You can go back later to change/retime the marker to match or signify the buildup, breakdown, and different portions of the songs to set the mood. This way, when you bring in clips to the project, you can retime the clips and snap them to the marker you’ve set on your song. Another way to achieve this is to use the cutting tool. Cut your song along with the beat or at key beat-drops so that you know exactly where you want your video to match up. I personally like when clips end or transition to the next one along with the beat of the song. Additionally, I like when video clips fade to black along with the music fading out and then reappearing when the songs build back up.
Audio Overlaid on Music: This can be the voiceover that you just recorded or audio you shot prior in a video clip, but just want to use the audio by itself. The key here is that you want the audience to hear the audio/voice you’re overlaying over top of the music track that accompanies the video. A recent piece of advice I found is to keep the music volume constant throughout the entire video, which might require a lower volume overall than you originally anticipated. I used to always duck the music volume when I overlaid a voiceover or audio, but now I have come to see the light. Go listen to a good documentary or film, you’ll notice the background music is constant even when there are people speaking. This allows the audience to not be distracted by constantly increasing/decreasing volumes. Secondly, when overlaying a voice on top of a track, select the length of the song that will have a voiceover on top of it, open up the equalizer, and drop down the 1K band. This is apparently the frequency that humans speak at which allows the voice over to fill the gap left behind in the song frequency perfectly. The song will become slightly muffled in the background, but barely noticeable since you’ll be focusing on the audio from the voice instead.
Choosing The Right Music: The music in the background of your video can make or break it. If you don’t believe me, think about all the terrible videos you’ve watched because the song was awesome. Conversely, think about a cool GoPro video or touching documentary you started to watch, until the choice in music didn’t match the video and you stopped watching. When your audience sits down to watch one of your videos, you connect with them through both their eyes and ears. In order to have their full attention, you need to capture both. Not ever GoPro style movie needs to be put to dubstep or EDM music. Experiment with genres that express a different mood. Classical music can yield a cinematic feel, while the acoustic guitar can result in a calming affect over your video. Of course, if you and your friends don’t listen to country or EDM music, it won’t be worth it to include that song in your video if it will reduce the likelihood of your friends watching it.
I will continue to post different tips I have learned through the years to help you all create some of the best videos and tell the stories you want to tell. The best piece of advice I have ever heard had nothing to do with frame rates or audio quality. It was to create your art for you and your friends, not for everyone out there on the internet. Make something that connects with the people you’re close with, and let the rest fall into place. Even if your best friends, and your Mom, are the only ones who watch your videos, the stories will feel way more genuine and memorable in the end.