6 Tools that Separate the Extraordinary Video Creators from the Ordinary Ones
Every day, thousands of hours of video are published and promoted online. If you’re hoping to monetize your video content or grow your audience, you’re not only competing against other digital media creators, you’re also competing against Hollywood and the advertising industry.
The good news is that by adding a few tools to your production gear, you can give your content that Champagne quality taste on a Bud Light budget. You’ll need to invest a little dough, but doing so will help you avoid the common mistakes that turn viewers off.
Here are the 6 tools that will take your video content from ordinary to extraordinary.
A 3-point lighting system
A poorly-lit video immediately signals to your viewers that your film is low-budget. And why would they want to pay for content that looks bad?
No matter what kind of video content you produce – features, documentaries, educational, instructional – a 3-point lighting kit is the foundation upon which most well-lit sets are created.
Your basic kit should include:
- Key light
- Fill light
The size of each light and the type of bulb used will vary depending on your unique needs, but your lights should be as sturdy as you can afford, easy to set up/break down, and simple to move – either on the set or between locations. If possible, the lights you purchase should include barn doors, or leaves that attach to each light to help direct its beam.
You can purchase lights to fit any budget at stores like B&H, but don’t overlook eBay and Craigslist for used lights that still have plenty of life left in them.
Once you’ve chosen your lights, check out this quick tutorial on how to set up a 3-point lighting kit.
Set Design Software
Quality set design can create a unique “home” for your video content that enhances your brand and makes viewers want to return. Next to lighting, this is the most important differentiator that will set “great” content apart from “good” content.
Professional production designers use sophisticated 3D modeling software to sketch out their ideas for carpenters, painters and set decorators. Fortunately, you don’t have to learn AutoCAD to design your own sets.
Sketchup for Film Stage, originally created by Google, is an easy-to-use application that lets you visualize your ideas, storyboard and even work out camera shots before you ever set foot onto a set – saving time and money in costly reshoots and delays.
Hollywood heavy hitters such as production designer Alan Hook (Iron Man 3, Insurgent) use Sketchup for their feature films. At only $700 (AutoCAD pricing starts at over $1600) video creators of all levels can step away from the boring white walls that scream “amateur,” and step onto a set that injects life into their story.
So you’ve invested in a good lighting kit and designed a killer set. Now it’s time to banish that shaky camera work from your content forever.
Including a camera slider in your toolkit ensures smooth pans, zooms and reveals – assuming you don’t need to move your camera more than a few feet in either direction.
Great filmmakers know that a camera sliders (also known as “rails”) are the key to creating everything from dramatic reveals for films to silky-smooth zoom in/out for instructional videos.
Like every tool on the market, you can pay a little or a lot for a slider. The cost will depend on the type of camera you plan to use with your slider and the conditions you’ll use it in.
Want to see a slider in action? Check out this quick video to see what a difference this versatile tool could make in your next project.
For scenes or shots that require the camera to move with or follow the action, you need to stabilize the camera to avoid nausea-inducing motion (unless you’re shooting Blair Witch Project-style).
Adding a shoulder rig to your gear vastly reduces shake without completely sacrificing the authenticity of motion. It’s the tool of choice for many documentary filmmakers who want that handheld feel without the distraction of too much blur and bounce.
Shoulder rigs can be expensive, even for DSLR cameras, but you can also make them yourself (here’s an informative tutorial). And if you’re uncertain whether a Steadicam might be a better option, check out this great comparison featuring footage shot with both.
External Sound Recorder
If you’re an independent filmmaker or content creator on a budget, you’re probably shooting with a DSLR camera. While these little cameras shoot big-camera quality video, they produce sound that screams (or more accurately, whispers) “low budget.”
You can have the very best story, news, or ideas to share, but if your sound isn’t top-quality, your audience will quickly find entertainment or info they can actually hear and understand.
A sound recorder can take your video from good to great without costing you a fortune, and you can pick up a well-reviewed and respected model for around $150 bucks (Cheaper if you buy them used). Attaching it to your DSLR camera will let you monitor both audio and video simultaneously if you’re a crew of one.
Yes, you’ll have to sync your video and sound, but your editing software probably has a tool to make the process easy – and the high-quality sound will be worth the extra effort. The audio quality of your content can be the difference of whether a viewer chooses your content over another, so do not skimp out!
Stock Footage or Video
Stock photos and video have gotten a bad rap in the creative industries, but let’s be honest: some of the photos are obviously staged and hokey. But usually the awfulness is a result of how they’re used more than their actual composition.
These relatively inexpensive photos and clips can be a video creator’s best friend, and will merge seamlessly into the look and feel of your content, if used properly.
Need some emergency b-roll? Use stock video to quickly fill in gaps and tell a more complete story. Want to illustrate an idea or process but don’t have a talented graphic designer on your payroll? Stock graphs and illustrations to the rescue!
If you’re facing a creative or ethical dilemma over whether or not to take advantage of stock sources, this excellent article (and the associated comments from filmmakers) just might change your mind.
Well, there you have it. Using these six tools will help elevate your films and video content from the ordinary to the extraordinary. What must-have tools did we leave out? We’d love to have your thoughts in the comments below.