Sunday, January 21, 2018

Lights, Camera, Action!

For those readers who aren’t video savvy, the following is a popular article on getting started with making your own videos we posted at one of our other sites,


So let’s say you want to tape someone or something to put on your website. Where to start? Oddly, even the word “tape” is becoming outdated, as many of the least expensive video cameras today don’t use tape anymore. They record to solid state chips or hard drives inside the camera body.


Flip Video produces the hottest items in the camcorder market, the Flip Ultra and Flip UltraHD. These sleek camcorders look no different than digital cameras and are small enough to easily fit in a pocket, purse or backpack. These nifty devices save the video to an internal chip so there are no moving parts, nothing to change, and unlike camcorders that use compact flash cards, nothing to lose. Both models offer a full two hours of recording capacity, a bright two-inch transflective screen for no-glare viewing even in direct sunlight, and an innovative AA rechargeable battery pack that can be conveniently recharged through the camera’s built-in USB arm. The Flip Ultra is priced at just $149.99, while the Flip UltraHD sells for $199.99.

These cameras could not be easier to use. Just point and shoot. Flip Video camcorders are the world’s first with on-board software to enable editing, organizing, and seamless video uploading to websites. Even the built in microphone does an impressive job for for what it is. When you’re ready to upload to your computer, simply flip (hence, the name) out the USB connector and using the provided software, transfer the video clips as simply as transferring a file. Then upload to a website or import into your favorite editing program and away you go. Folks, it just doesn’t get any easier than this.


OK, the Flip Video cameras are not for everyone. For those wanting higher quality and more options, you will want to move up to either a consumer or prosumer camcorder. The camcorders today offer amazing value. For around $300 and up you can get a quality camera that will either record to DV tape, a memory chip or internal hard drive, will have options for adding a more professional microphone, and some even have a built-in light for working in dark spaces.

There are scores of cameras available in this range. If you stick to Sony, Canon, Panasonic, JVC, Sanyo and other well-known names, you can’t go wrong. B&H is one of our favorite sources for equipment. World renowned, B&H, is the place to be for all your video and pro audio needs. Their commitment to sales quality and customer satisfaction is second to none.


You’ve probably noticed that “tinny” sound most home movies have, and the way the background sounds overwhelm the main subject. That happens when you rely solely on the built-in microphone. It isn’t picky about what it hears, and the louder the source, whatever that is, the more it will be the main thing you hear. Plus your hands handling the camera, or if you are outside, the wind can create a lot of noise.

For professional sound you will want to add external microphones. Lavalier mics (wired or wireless) are placed on the “talent” and give a sense of presence. They will make a 200% improvement in the sound of the person speaking over a built-in mic. You can buy a simple lavalier mic at Radio Shack for $26.49 online. I use a lot of $300 lavaliers and this mic isn’t bad at all compared to them. It isn’t as good, but at that price it is a great value. If you do want a more professional lavalier, the Sony ECM 44-B is an industry standard and can be had for $220 at B&H Photo Video and other places. These mics sound great and will last a lifetime if treated with respect.

Shotgun mics can be used on the camera, on a boom pole or a mic stand. Contrary to what many people think, a shotgun mic does not amplify or reach out to get the sound in front of it. It works by ignoring the sounds to the side and behind it, to varying degrees depending on the design. These work great when you need to isolate a speaker or actor but cannot practically use a lavalier mic. You can spend thousands of dollars on a top end pro model, but good quality can be had in the $200 – $500 range. B&H Photo Video sells our favorite shotgun mics from Sennheiser and Audio Technica for under $300.


All video cameras love light. Most cameras today will operate fine in darker situations, such as an indoor room without a lot of windows, but you will improve the shot immensely if you add light to fill in shadows, add a sparkle to a person’s eyes, and bring out the colors of a scene.

Like microphones, lights can be cheap or very expensive, and unless you plan to shoot professionally there is no reason to spend a lot on lights. Simple worklights from Home Depot will work in many situations. A person at a desk could be lit with a desk lamp pointed at them. You can get ornate with lighting diagrams (that’s the cool patterns the light throws on the wall behind the subject), but the point is to light the subject so as to fill in shadows (or create them, for mood effects) and to give the camera enough light that it doesn’t push the gain up and cause graininess in the image.

One of the challenges of lighting is that what your eye sees is not at all what the camera sees. Your brain evens the “color temperature” of light out, but the camera cannot do that. When you adjust it for tungsten light, the kind that you get from stage lights or a traditional light bulb, it will see daylight as blue. If adjusted for daylight, it would see tungsten as deep orange. So you may have to add colored gels to the lights to balance everything out.

To keep things simple, when shooting indoors with tungsten as the main light source, try to eliminate daylight unless you want the blue effect (this can be quite nice, when done artistically).

I have given a very quick overview of what you will want to consider at all levels of shooting. If all of this seems overwhelming and high production values are your goal, you may want to call a professional.


6 Responses to “Lights, Camera, Action!”


Check out what others are saying about this post...
  1. […] get top of the line camera equipment or hire professional videographers. Learning about some simple lighting, audio and camera techniques will put you ahead of the game and justify your […]

  2. […] point is, equipment should not be a stumbling block to getting started producing your own SIV as I wrote about last summer. The skills to do it are a topic for another day, but for now, remember that the […]

  3. […] you are serious about shooting better quality videos you will want to invest in a microphone, and probably more than one kind. Inexpensive lavalier […]

  4. […] how strongly we feel about making your videos look as good as possible. One of the most important pieces of equipment you need to do this and one often overlooked by the novice videographer – and a few […]

  5. […] in many shooting situations, adding light is what you need to do and you can do it in a pinch fairly […]

  6. […] costly production techniques to produce a successful video, you should pay attention to some your audio and lighting quality. There is no excuse for bad audio in an SIV. After all, half of good video is sound. Also […]


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