9 Tips For Making Your Home Movies Look Professional

photo by fritzon

Some of the best things to watch on TV are shows starring you and the people you love. But let’s face it, nobody likes sitting around watching boring video of cousin Jimmy’s birthday party that drags on and on and on. Fortunately, there are some pretty simple tips you can incorporate into the mix that will instantly make your home movies not only tolerable, but down right enjoyable!

1) Don’t overuse zoom. Zoom-happy movies scream amateur and make audiences sick. Take a look at your favorite TV shows; they hardly ever zoom in or out on anything. Usually, they keep the camera stationary and let the subject do the moving. If you want to get a close-up on something, zoom in BEFORE you push record. It’s ok to use this handy feature once in a while, but don’t overdo it.

2) Ditch the digital zoom. Lots of cameras have a digital zoom feature. Don’t use it. It’s basically using an internal computer to “guess” at what the subject looks like from a closer range, and just ends up with a blurry image. If you do use zoom, stick to the optical zoom.

3) Let there be light. Lighting is a huge key to a nice looking video. Natural lighting is best, but wherever you shoot, try to make sure there is plenty of good light around your subject. Of course, a darkened room and a birthday cake adorned with candles provides great ambiance, but 20 minutes of a family gathering in a dimly lit basement rec room with dark paneling spells disaster. Also, avoid backlighting like the plague! Make sure your subject has plenty of light in front of it, or you’ll end up shooting faceless shadows.

4) Sound is underrated. Believe it or not, people are more willing to put up with a less than stellar image if the sound is good. If the sound is bad, they’ll go running for the hills, even if the image is crystal clear. It’s always better to have a microphone in the front of the camera rather than the back. At the very least, try and control background noise as much as possible and get close as to your subject as you can (unless you’re filming polar bears.)

5) Diversify your angles. Again, if you watch even a little bit of TV, you’ll notice that they almost never stay with one angle for more than 5 or 10 seconds. Try close ups, wide angles, bird’s eye views (from above), worm’s eye views (from below), and any other unique angles you can dream up. It will make your movie much more visually interesting.

6) Leave the special effects for later. These days, most video cameras have tons of special effects controls. Ignore them. It’s better to add the special effects later with video editing software. That way you always have a pure copy of your footage. You can always make that footage sepia-toned, but you can’t make a sepia-toned video full color. (Well, not without a professional and buckets of money.)

7) Ditch the date stamp. Yeah, it’s nice to know when a video was shot, but do that by labeling the tape or DVD. I’ve never seen a Spielberg blockbuster with the date and time it was shot in the corner of the screen.

8) Shoot more than the main action. Get video of some details for a richer final production. For example, if you’re on vacation, get some footage of pertinent signs, landmarks you visited, and restaurants you ate at. A quick shot of the waves rolling on the beach can be a nice opening shot that cuts to your rugrats building a sand castle. If you’re filming the first day of school, get shots of your little one getting ready at the beginning of the day and sharing her thoughts while standing in front of the school sign at the end of the day.

9) Mind the details. It’s easy to get so focused on the main subject that you ignore the other details in the frame. Make sure there isn’t a tree growing out of Johnny’s head or an unsightly garbage can in the corner of Sally’s first communion video.

9.5) A Bonus Tip! Avoid centering your subject in the middle of the viewfinder. Professional cinematographers often set up the shot with the subject lined up off-center, using the rule of thirds. It makes for a far more interesting composition.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also find this one useful: Five Tips for Phenomenal Photos of Your Kids

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  1. These are all great pieces of advice. My first job was as a pro cameraman doing weddings and the like and all of these rules are important to follow if you want to create something that isn’t a visual snore.

    • As a non-pro cameraman (just a dude with an art degree), it is comforting to know that I am not leading people down an ill-informed path ;)

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