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Shooting a video can sometimes feel like an easy task, that can be figured out as you go.
However, no matter the level of your knowledge and expertise, shooting mistakes can occur, and there are some things you will always have to think about beforehand.
Here is a handy list of some common mistakes that can break any video and how to avoid them.
Have a read through before you shoot a video, it might be a good refresher and a tick-off list to get you through the pitfalls of video making.
Mistake 1: Not Recording Good Audio
There is a good reason why the sound is on top of this list. It is incredibly important!
However, I have seen many new filmmakers put all of their focus on the visual material and giving very little thought to sound. Don’t do it!
The viewer might forgive you for the poor visual quality, but they will never forgive you for the poor sound quality.
I think we can all agree – all of us have seen videos, which have compromised the quality of the visual element. However, if the sound is good, then it is not too big of a problem.
Many music videos or brand advertisements nowadays use “bad” visual quality or unclear footage as their aesthetic, but with the good sound and music on, it is still enjoyable to watch. However, bad sound will be annoying to viewers, and they will be very tempted to turn your video off.
There are several techniques that will help you avoid improperly recorded sound.
Firstly, the setup. The ideal set up would be to use a boom microphone (preferably a shotgun microphone) in conjunction with a lavalier mic (if there is a speaking subject). If the latter is not available, use the boom microphone, but be extra cautious about your sound. Always make sure you are pointing it correctly to your subject, and ideally, have a designated sound person.
Another point to make, on any microphone that you might be using, you have to look out for the buzz, hum and other types of unwelcome sounds as well as make sure the audio levels are appropriate.
Avoid loud environments, and if possible, turn off any fans, air conditioning, close the windows and avoid cars as well as some electronics, or anything else that emits a sound that the microphone might pick up.
Your goal is clear and uninterrupted sound or the voice of your subject.
Also, make sure not to record the signal too hot. If your sound gets distorted from recording your sound source too loud, there is no way of saving it in post-production.
It is much better to leave some extra headroom for sudden loud noises, than recording your signal to hot. Working with digital sound, it is easier to bring up the volume in post-production without introducing a lot of noise, than it was in the analog days.
Always make sure you monitor your sound in headphones – or at least – keep a good eye on the meters on your screen.
Mistake 2: Bad Lighting
We all know this one – good lighting is essential. It can make the subjects pop, turn the spectator’s focus where you need it to be and create desired emotions.
It can sometimes be hard to choose the best lighting for video recording. Check out this handy guide on lighting, if you would like to learn more about the use and set up of lighting.
If you have a proper lighting setup and the appropriate amount of light for your situation, you are pretty much there in terms of lighting looking good.
However, the best rule of lighting for me so far has been:
Over-light it, and then adjust it on the camera.
The truth is, you often need much more light for the camera than you think you do. When it looks like you over-light it in reality, it usually turns out to be perfect on camera. This way you can turn down your ISO levels and adjust the aperture accordingly. That’s how perfect lighting is made, voilà.
Mistake 3: Not Recording the Right Exposure
One of the most prevalent video mistakes is unsatisfactory exposure. There are two ways this can happen.
Underexposure occurs when not enough light reaches the sensor, thus resulting in a shot that’s too dark. There will be details lost in the shadows and dark areas of the shot.
Overexposure occurs when too much light reaches the sensor, which results in a shot that’s too light, “burned out.” Thus, the details are lost in the lightest areas and highlights of the shot.
Generally speaking, over & underexposure is bad because you lose the details of the shot and it looks off.
It is always best to correct these problems on the camera, before a shot, since it will be very hard to recover details from the shot that is lacking them in post-production.
The easiest way to prevent underexposure, of course, always be cautious and analyze what you are seeing on the monitor.
If you are shooting video in low light deem it to be too dark, add more light to the scene – use a reflector or a lamp. You can also try to increase your aperture, as large aperture lets more light into the camera.
Try not to overwork the ISO, since then it will generate noise, and that’s something you usually don’t want. In my experience, it is best to use ISO up to 400 and not higher than 1000 and still get good results. However, it depends on the camera and lens that you are using.
If your image is overexposed, you can try turning the lights down or placing them further away from your subject. If that is not possible, you can use filters or cloth, or anything you have handy that will disperse the light (be cautious about the lights getting hot and starting a fire). You can also decrease your aperture. Always check your ISO – it might be too high.
Mistake 4: Setting the Wrong White Balance
Wrong white balance is another shooting mistake that is often made. White balance depicts the cast of color on your shot, and if chosen wrong, it will look unnatural and unpleasant.
A properly chosen white balance will depict the shot close to what it looks like in reality.
The white balance will vary according to your light source and the warmth of the light it is emitting.
If the balance is chosen poorly, your image will have a blue or green cast, or on the contrary, if it is too high, orange or yellow cast.
It is best to go by your eye and not use the default white balance presets on your camera. Always try to adjust the white balance yourself, by Kelvin. You can do this by using a grey/white card or a color checker passport.
Try putting it up and down and see what works best with your shot.
Generally speaking, if you are shooting inside with fluorescent lamps, somewhere around 4200 K should look about right, however, play around a little and find the best number for your shot.
If you are shooting outside in bright light, it will go up significantly, and if you are shooting inside with darker light, it will go down. Always best to adjust it and see what works for your situation.
Remember, you must adjust the light balance anytime a significant amount of light is introduced in the shot, with any location change, or significant time change (for example – midday and night).
Mistake 5: Not Having a Clear goal
This one is very applicable to anything in life.
However, when you shoot a video, you need to have a clear goal. You do not necessarily have to have everything mapped out second by second, but you have to know at least the basics. Great way to make sure you are not going to steer off the road, is asking yourself these simple questions:
- What am I trying to convey?
- What emotion am I trying to get viewers to feel?
- What do I want people to think about after watching this?
- What do I want the production to look like?
- What do I want the final product to look like?
I find these to be very helpful to ask myself when planning out a shoot. If you do not know the answers to these questions, some of these points can be very hard to fix after you have all the footage shot and all that’s left is editing. You can also find yourself having produced something that does not look like you intended it to look.
Think about the result you want to have and work towards it.
Mistake 6: Not Being Prepared for Unexpected Events (aka Everything That Can Go Wrong Will Go Wrong)
Now I am not trying to be negative here, but this is the mindset that has saved me a lot of peace of mind and good night’s sleep.
The bad news is, this tends to be true. Your assistant will call in sick, the location you were planning to shoot in is suddenly inaccessible, you have somehow lost your memory card and, since it’s cold out, your battery has run out 30 minutes in.
The good news is, if you think that anything that can go wrong will go wrong, you will come up with solutions to problems that might arise, and generally, be more organized.
Some notable examples of how to use this mindset to your benefit:
- Bring extra, of everything- – gaffer tape, extra charged batteries (way more, than you think you actually need), – additional memory cards ( it is better to have two cards of 32GB than one of 64GB, this way, if something happens to one memory card, you still have another).
- If shooting outside, check out the weather; think about the things you are going to need if it rains.
- Have a few arranged locations, just in case you find your main location suddenly has limited availability (been there), is very noisy or you cannot shoot in there for any other reason.
- Even if you think you do not need a tripod, shoulder rig, et cetera, bring it! You might find that you will need it, and not having anything that helps you keep a shot steady can be a real problem.
Generally, plan the shoot through and think about what can potentially go wrong, as well as ways to prevent them from going wrong or fixing these situations without wasting too much time. This will help you be prepared.
Mistake 7: Inconsistent Shooting for Editing
You are in the stage of shooting, and everything seems to be taken care of. However, have you thought about the consistency of the video you are making?
It is very important, that the video is fluent, conveys the message and is interesting to watch. A few of the most common mistakes that can interfere with these points are breaking the 30-degree and 180-degree rules and not leaving the camera rolling enough time before and after your action.
The 30-degree rule is a basic guideline, which states that the camera has to move at least 30 degrees relative to the subject between consecutive shots of the same subject. If you happen to move the camera less than 30 degrees and edit those shots together, they will look jumpy and out of place.
Have a look at this video from the International Academy Of Film And Television which explains the 30-degree rule in more detail:
The 180-degree rule is a guideline regarding the on-screen spatial relationships between two characters.
First, you need to determine an imaginary axis, which will be between two characters in a way where if the camera remains on the same side of the axis, the first character will always remain frame right of the second character.
If you break this rule and start shooting from the other side of the axis, the spectator will feel as if the characters have switched places.
Before and during the shoot, you have to think about how the video is going to look like edited (even if you are not the one doing it). You might need special transition shots, and, if you have a certain narrative within the scene, then the master shot will be very important when editing.
A master shot is a recording of an entire scene from start to finish from an angle that keeps all the subjects on the screen. It tends to be a long shot and it is great to interchange with other shots when editing. If you have a master shot, you will not need to worry too much about another shot not being usable, since you can always come back to your master shot. Sometimes it can also perform the same function as an establishing shot.
If you have a master shot, you will not need to worry too much about another shot not being usable, since you can always come back to you master shot. Sometimes it can also perform the same function as an establishing shot.
Think about the consistency of how close the shots are to the subject (most of the time, it is very awkward if you jump from a wide shot to a close-up, unless there is a very specific reason for that) and many more.
Think about the final result, and take a few odd shots more than you think you need. Trust me; this will help you out later on. And if not, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Mistake 8: Poor Focus
This shooting mistake is extremely common. It can be a very tedious job trying to fix it in post-production, and you might not be able to fix it at all.
How to avoid it? Just be mindful. Always check your focus – before each shot. Keep an eye on it during the shot and take mental notes – you might need to take it again, and better notice it sooner rather than later – this way you can avoid having to skip the shot altogether because it is unusable.
Consider using an external monitor – this way you will be able to see everything more clearly and avoid problems with focus.
If the latter is not possible, most cameras have the option to magnify the view on the LCD screen – always do it and check if the subject, or, if shooting a person, subject’s eyes are in focus.
Some cameras also have the function of peaking – it creates a greater contrast by emphasizing the outline of the subject in focus. Make sure to use any of these tools to your benefit.
Mistake 9: Improper Composition
There is quite a lot to learn about video composition basics. However, there are a few rules, which are more or less intuitive, that you have to keep in mind.
First of all – headspace. Don’t leave too much or too little headspace. In terms of shooting wide and mid shots, leaving less than 1/3 or about 1/4 of the screen space is usually a good rule of thumb to go by. Leaving too much will be distracting; leaving too little will feel cramped.
Mind the rule of thirds. It is the easiest rule to go by. Remember, that the places where the lines meet are always good places to position your subjects in.
Make use of the lead room. It is a principle about leaving some negative space in the direction that the subject is facing, looking and moving to. If, for example, your subject is facing the left and is positioned on the left side, it can create subconscious tension for the viewer. Remember, your viewer is curious and wants to know more.
Always use the negative space for your benefit and use the lead room to create more suspense and better viewing experience.
Have a look at the excellent video above from the International Acadamy of Film and Television which explains this in more detail.
Mistake 10: Not Using a Tripod When Called For
Many filmmakers, especially new to the industry, prefer not to use a tripod for one reason or another. However, there are times, when the tripod is the best way to get the result you are looking for.
For example, there are shots, that require fluidity, and others require stillness. These two differences can create a very contrasting atmosphere.
When I was producing one of my short films, we had two characters. Character A would feel all kinds of difficult feelings in the presence of character B.
To convey that, we have used a combination of stabilizer fluid shots and stills – fluid shots for when character A is alone, stagnant shots for when they are together in the shot.
This turned out to be a great way to make spectators understand the stagnation and negativity when the characters were together. This way, the viewers felt the emotions we had intended for them to feel.
On a more basic level, your hands WILL get tired. No matter what, this will happen, and you have to decide whether that is something that might interfere with your goal.
Another point to make is that shooting handheld is always messier than on the tripod. Does that interfere with your goal?
Focus can also become a problem when shooting handheld; make sure the focus will stay in place.
Moreover, if you are shooting handheld, you should ideally avoid zooming in, since this will only magnify tiny movements you make. That’s where the tripod comes in – zoom in as much as you like. See which one is better for your project.
It is also important to think about the time that you have. It might take 3 minutes to adjust your tripod and make sure it is level; however, if you are not satisfied with handheld footage because of one wrong move, you might have to reshoot it again and again until you get it right.
The results will not always be consistent and might not turn out the way you want them to. It is not necessarily good versus bad – it is just the case of planning and knowing your final goal and preferences.
Generally, if shooting something professional, often you will need a butter-smooth video, and the only way to do this is either to use a tripod, a gimbal or expensive stabilizer equipment. It is always safe to start with a tripod and go from there.
If you have made it to the end, you can now be confident that next time you film, it will be much more planned out and you will avoid these mistakes.
If you want to learn more about how to plan your next video shoot, I recommend you read the video production steps guide.
If you need more information about the video shooting equipment, check out this handy guide we have created.
Do you agree with our list? Did we miss a common mistake? Please let us know in the comment section below.
Greta Linkeviciute is a Writer/Filmmaker who aims that every film she works on challenges the viewers to think independently. When not working on films, she writes about films & filmmaking, traveling, and works on film photography projects.