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Whether you are an aspiring filmmaker, vlogger or you want to earn a living by creating videos for clients, you have probably at some point asked yourself: How do I make my videos look more professional?
Essential ways to make a video look more professional are: 1) Shoot from different angles to keep the viewer interested. 2) Avoid shaky footage (unless called for) by using a tripod, gimbal or steady-cam. 3) Make good use of the negative space in each frame by finding the harmony between your foreground and background. 4) Utilize depth-of-field to draw the viewers’ eyes to what you want them to focus on. 5) Use the right transitions. Don’t go overboard with zooms and twirls. A simple hard-cut, j-cut or l-cut works wonders for 90% of transitions. 6) Use creative text animations to spice up your footage. 7) Use color correction and color grading to give your footage a coherent look and finish. 8) Make sure to get good quality sound and music.
Let’s dive into these points in more detail. Have a quick read through and check whether you are utilizing these important techniques in your video making.
Shoot From Different Camera Angles
Shooting from different angles can help keep the viewer invested and reveal more information about the subject.
The angles you choose may depend greatly on your subject and the desired effect, thus it is important to know what kind of effects a certain angle adds to your project.
In the video above you see a lot of different examples of different camera angles in the cinema, and how they affect the viewer. Below I’ll describe the most common shots in more detail.
Eye Level – the most neutral, thus the most prevalent type of a camera angle. In most cases it means that the camera is pointing straight ahead to the subject’s face, its lens being at around the same height as the subject’s eyes. This will help the audience focus on the subject’s emotions and keep a neutral feel to the shot. In other cases, when the subject’s face is not in the shot, the footage will be filmed from around his height.
Low Angle – the camera is placed lower, pointing up at the subject. This angle will make the subject look more threatening or in a power position. This angle can be maintained for a certain character throughout the whole film as a part of his/her characteristic or left for the scenes where power needs to be emphasized.
High Angle – the exact opposite of the low angle. The camera is higher up, pointing down at your subject, thus making it look smaller, more vulnerable or hopeless. This shot too can be used the exact same way, to further establish the power positions between the characters.
You can also utilize and combine different kinds of shots for the best result.
POV – Point-Of-View shot, which reveals, what the character is seeing. It can be used in many creative ways and cut together with eye-level shots of the character. Any way you use it, think about the effect it will have on the scene.
OTS – Over-The-Shoulder shot, which is used when there are a few characters interacting. One of their faces will be shot from over the shoulder of another character, and then, usually, switched around. This way the spectator can see both of the character’s emotions and this shot can potentially make any interaction look more interesting, that say, a two-shot would.
Two-Shot – a shot with two people in it. It can be used in any size, even a close-up. There a lot of variations to it, as you can have one shot or a three-shot, depending on how many people are in the shot.
If you have a possibility to use more than one camera simultaneously, consider doing so. This way you can have different shots filmed at the same time.
If possible, you can try and work around it by shooting the same subject and action, but from a different angle after you are done with your first angle. Be mindful, that you have to understand why you are shooting from a certain angle and that it complements the video rather than takes away from it.
If you have all the main footage that you know will work well, and some extra time left, you can play around with different types of shots. You can start by doing something simple, like side shots, or adjusting the camera angle slightly from the usual eye line.
Whichever angles you choose, be aware of the fact that different angles change the way that viewers see and understand your subject.
Avoid Unintentional Shaky Footage
If you are going for a professional look in your videos, there definitely is no space for shaky footage – unless it’s called for.
What we’re talking about here is essentially intention.
If you’re shooting an action scene in a short film, from the point of view of your protagonist, or you want to add some motion to your footage for dynamic purposes – by all means, use all the camera shakes, you like.
The camera shakes which mimics the movement of your character’s movements can be a great way to add some life to a scene of e.g. two persons sitting and talking about some dramatic event about to happen.
This is the intentional use of camera shake and it takes skill and practice to “shake” the camera in the right way.
Unintentional shakes are like the jitters you see in your friends’ home videos, holiday videos or selfie videos. They look unprofessional and amateurish.
To avoid these you can use a gimbal, shoulder rig, steady-cam, tripod, or monopod.
If you are in a situation, where no camera stabilizer is available, or, for a certain reason you just have to shoot handheld, there are a few ways to minimize the shakiness.
Use A Wide Lens And In-Built Camera Stabilization
Try shooting with a wide lens and zoom out as much as you can. If you zoom in, you emphasize all the little moves that happen.
Some cameras have built-in image stabilization option, make sure to use that.
Make use of your neck strap
Lastly, you can try utilizing the neck strap, if there is one on your camera. Put it around your neck and then pull the camera away from you so that the strap is tight, this will give a point of leverage and your camera work will not be as messy.
Another way to achieve this effect is by wrapping the camera strap around your elbow. To do so, start by putting your right arm through the strap, past the elbow, and bring your hand back out around the outside of the left part of the strap. Film as you normally would, but make sure the strap is tight. You can adjust its tightness by tilting your arm.
I find that for me the latter works a bit better than the strap around the neck technique. Try them both and see which technique works best for you.
If you happen to have shaky footage in the post-production stage, there is a variety of ways to fix it. However, be aware, that they might not work perfectly and it is always better to be prepared so that your camera work is smooth.
If you want to read more on how to stabilize your footage, I recommend you to read our article 7 Affordable DIY Ways to Stabilize Your Camera On A Budget.
Use the Background and Negative Space to Your Advantage
When you are preparing to film, do not forget, that your subject is not the only important part of your scene. The background and the use of negative space are just as important.
Let’s start with the background. The background is a part of the scene that appears furthest away from the viewer, and it forms the setting for your main subjects.
When filming, it is important to think about the background in advance, because a suitable background will help you create a well-rounded story, a uniform feeling, and give your product a professional look.
When choosing your background, avoid white or grey blank walls, and generally, anything that looks boring. However, your background can’t be overwhelming or clash with your foreground and message that you want to deliver – find the harmony in between.
The background always has to match the foreground and your theme. You can even go as far as finding the props you could use to further your story, as well as thinking about the colors that would complement each other.
A scene (starts around the 0:42 mark) from Wes Anderson’s film “The Royal Tenenbaums” embedded above) above, is an example of great use of the background.
Notice, how the props are just as heavy in both sides – great choice of placement – and all of them are well thought through.
They support the story further and reveal more about the character. He is conducting a research about the character named Dudley, and you can see how his props are tied to neurology, which is his profession, as well as all the different gadgets that he uses for his research. His space is cluttered, but the colors all compliment each other. A mess that is in harmony with the subject.
Another very useful way to make the background look better is to play around with depth of field, but more information on that in the next paragraph.
Negative space is the space around your subject. In other words, it is everything apart from your character or subject. If your negative space is well thought through, it will have hidden meanings that are more than meets the eye, thus providing your viewer with a more rewarding experience. Negative space can be in the foreground, middle ground or background. No matter where it may be, it is just as important.
There can be quite a big part of the negative space within the shot, therefore, it is important that you use it in a way that enhances your shot and adds to the scene. There are several ways to do so.
For example, you can make good use of the negative space by leaving space in the direction that your subject is facing, thus satisfying your viewer’s curiosity.
Be aware of the different composition rules that exist (such as the rule of thirds) and use them to your benefit.
You have to think about your subject in relation to the negative space around it. This way you will better understand how to choose your shot and what to do with the negative space in it.
Do you want to make your subject pop? Then use contrasting colors for your negative space, declutter it. Do you want to show that your subject feels alone? You can show it standing far away from the crowd. Contrast is a great way to employ the negative space to further the feeling of the scene.
Therefore, background and negative space can determine what your film will look like and what spectators will get away from it – all the way from a rewarding experience to aesthetically pleasing visuals.
Make sure, that the background fits the scene and is interesting to look at, and make sure your negative space is used well in relation to your subject. This way you will never go wrong.
Have a look at this excellent video from James Hayes, which features some good examples of negative space used in cinema:
Utilize Depth of Field To Your Advantage
Depth of field is the distance between the nearest and the furthest objects within a scene that is in an acceptably sharp focus.
There are a lot of shots, where you need to guide your spectator’s eye for the story to develop better. There are things within the scene, which have to be emphasized. And there are things which need to stay in the background and not draw attention to itself.
If you know how to work with depth of field, you will be able to not only show your spectators what you need them to see but have a cinematic and professional look to your final project as well.
For example, you can use a shallow depth of field, and then pull into focus important details and things, that you want your viewers to focus on. Or you can use deep depth of field to create certain relationships between the subjects or things in the scene.
Creative use of depth of field will translate into more cinematic and visually interesting footage on the screen.
Here is a short summary of how to create different types of depth of field:
To increase the depth of field, you can:
- Narrow your aperture by picking a bigger f-stop number e.g. from f/2.0 to f/8.0
- Move your subject away from the camera
- Shorten your focal length e.g. by changing the lens to one with lower focal length, or simply by zooming out.
By increasing your depth of field more of the shot will be in focus.
To decrease the depth of field, you can:
- Open up your aperture by picking a smaller f-stop number e.g. from f/8.0 to f/1.4
- Move your subject closer to the camera
- Increase the focal length.
By decreasing the depth of field less of your shot will be in focus.
If you are having trouble choosing settings and distances, there are online calculators, such as this one, that will help you calculate your depth of field.
All you have to do is simply find your camera on the drop-down list, input focal length, chosen f-stop number and subject distance, and the program will let you know what the limits of your depth of field are. You can also utilize this tool, to better understand how to navigate your camera settings for different results.
One more great technique to use with varying depths of field is creating more depth in the shot by having different things, buildings, or anything else positioned in varying distances from the lens.
A very nice way to do that is also incorporating several light sources in the background – they look especially great if your depth of field ends somewhere towards the middle of them. If there are many of them, they can create an illusion of infinity.
Have a look at this video from (now defunct?) 5minutefilmschool, which does a great job at summing the basics of depth-of-field with a couple of examples included:
Utilizing these important techniques will definitely give you a more cinematic look.
Make Good Use of Cuts and Transitions
Don’t go overboard with fancy transitions. A simple hard-cut between two scenes will almost always be useful. Or you could use a simple J-cut (where you hear the audio of a clip before we see the actual clip) or an L-cut (where we still hear the audio of clip A fade out after a cut to clip B).
Depending on the purpose and style of your video, you can use different types of shot transitions during the editing process in order to enhance and complement your video. Again, these only apply if they are called for.
If you want to see some excellent examples of creative transitions put to good use, I recommend you watch the TV series Sherlock (2010- ) starring Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as Doctor Watson. The way this series uses transitions always adds to the story. It’s never just there just as a fancy effect.
Have a look at this excellent breakdown by konradnoises of some of the transitions in Sherlock:
In many promotional or interview-type of videos, you can easily get by with hard-cuts or J-cuts and L-cuts.
In other cases, for example, in nature or traveling videos, you can use zooms & tilt type of transitions. If done well, they can look absolutely stunning. But be careful with all those swiss-pans and zooms, unless you want to end up as another YouTube cliché.
Use Text to Spice Up Your Video
Text is an important part of a video when you want to communicate a message.
If you are shooting an ad or a video where it makes sense to do so, try to insert more dynamic and interesting fonts and text effects. This will contribute to your video looking more interesting. The ad will be more fast-paced and these effects can also contribute to the aesthetics you are going for.
Text effects can help you achieve a fun and modern look to your videos, and at least for me, that’s what my customers often ask me to do.
For example, one of the promotional videos I was creating was supposed to have a sense of youthfulness and energy. I have used several techniques to achieve this.
I had words appearing on screen one by one, which was there to complement the footage.
What I did was I made them flicker just slightly, and while they flickered, I have added a “Bad TV” effect, which was readily available on Final Cut Pro X.
This added some playfulness and emphasis on the text while looking great in the context of the video, and that was what my clients were looking for.
You can play around the effects that are on the software you are using, additionally, you can download some good ones from the internet.
In most cases, it is important to do at least minor color corrections to your material in order to make your footage look its best.
Oftentimes you will find that the exposure, white balance, contrast, skin colors, and saturation needs a bit of correction, and even these basic edits can elevate your video to the next level.
However, color grading is more than just simple color correcting.
Color grading can change the entire mood of a scene e.g. by making everything seem blue, grey and cold, or orange and warm. It is a great tool to employ in order to not only make your video look more professional, but get the message across.
Good color graders get paid a lot because there is a true art to it and they tend to have their own unique style.
However, you do not need to be a professional to have a good color grading in your video. You can do color grading yourself by playing around with the Lumetri Color Effect included in Premiere Pro or the Color Inspector included in Final Cut.
If you want to quickly apply a certain look (like a certain film stock or colors from a specific Hollywood movie) you can apply a LUT to your footage and tweak it.
A LUT stands for Look-Up Table. It takes the colors of your footage and changes them into a predefined range of colors. There are lots of LUTs included in Premiere Pro and Final Cut you can play with. You can also find both free LUTs and LUTs you’ll need to pay for online.
If you are going for the professional look, ideally, you would want all of your final products to have color grading.
If you want to learn more about the basics of color grading and color correction I recommend you read our article Color Correction vs. Color Grading: What Is The Difference?
Good Music and Sound Design
If you want your video to look more professional, you absolutely must have great sound quality!
Start by making sure that you are well prepared to shoot and record great sound.
Get away from any sounds that are not intended to be in the video.
Close windows, and don’t film by the street.
Have all the necessary equipment you need for a specific job. Common equipment includes a lavalier microphone, a shotgun microphone, a boom pole, headphones, and maybe an external audio recorder with XLR-inputs.
Remember to check your sound levels frequently, so your sound doesn’t distort or isn’t recorded at all.
When it comes to editing your video, you have to spend almost as much time and effort on sound editing and design, as you do on your footage.
- Check the sound levels – are they too high or too low? Adjust accordingly.
- Make sure, that the sound does not jump throughout the video. If it does, adjust it by increasing or decreasing the volume on each clip, and maybe even apply a compressor in the sound mixer of your software. Your goal is for it to be at a similar level in every shot.
- Apply sound transitions, like J-Cuts and L-Cuts. You can also apply sound transitions that dissolve and merge the sound together for a split second, this way you will have a uniform feeling to the sound throughout the film. However, make sure they are very short, otherwise, they will be obvious.
- Get rid of all the sounds you do not want to hear – boom being hit, radio microphone cracking, an occasional car or anything else, by cutting them out, turning down the volume, or masking by something else, if possible.
Sound FX and Foley
Once you make sure your recorded sound is perfect, you can move on to working on sound design more in-depth.
- If applicable (for example, if shooting a film), add extra sounds, also known as foley, according to your theme or location, to enhance the sound quality.
- If you were filming in a restaurant, you can add some sounds that you would usually find there – people talking or chairs being pulled here and there. If you are shooting in the forest, you can add some birds chirping or forest atmosphere, et cetera. This will make the atmosphere feel more natural.
- Does your video need any music? If so, what kind, and where, to make the video more interesting? The music, of course, has to match the theme and purpose of the video.
Listen to it once again (you can even turn the video off and only listen to the sound – this way you will truly be able to hear everything without distractions), and see what else the sound is lacking or has too much of.
Sound design has to be as natural as possible and not clash with the video. If done right, this can elevate your video to the next level.
Conclusion And Recommended Further Reading
I hope you have learned something or at least had a chance to refresh your knowledge by reading this article.
Check out this article that absolutely every video maker needs to read. https://filmdaft.com/stop-making-these-10-common-mistakes-when-shooting-video/ It will help you avoid common mistakes when shooting a video, and in turn, make your production look much better.
If you would like to know more about how professionals choose their camera settings for shooting, please do have a look at this article. https://filmdaft.com/how-to-choose-the-right-camera-settings-for-video-production/
Do you have anything more to add to this list? Let us know down in the comments, and maybe your points or questions will make it into our next article!
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.