Lately, I haven’t been blogging as much here at WordStream. I haven’t been on an extended road trip (sob), nor have I spent the last eight weeks or so in quiet contemplation in a monastery atop a mountain in the Himalayas (though I could definitely use it).
The reason I’ve been blogging a lot less than usual is because I’ve been working on some exciting side projects here at WordStream, namely shooting and editing a lot of video (stay tuned in the coming weeks for more info).
Many businesses want to ramp up their video marketing, but to say it can be intimidating would be an understatement. With so much to think about – from camera equipment and editing software to lighting a shot and optimizing audio – the barriers to entry can be high. Fortunately, the price of decent gear and post-production software has dropped significantly during the past 10 years, making now the ideal time to start producing your own marketing videos.
In today’s post, I’m going to share 15 tips for editing and producing marketing videos, so grab a cup of coffee and get ready for a crash course in marketing video production.
The best marketing videos don’t just happen – they’re a result of meticulous planning and preparation.
Before you even think about getting your camera equipment ready, consider putting a storyboard and shooting script together. Storyboarding helps you figure out exactly what shots you need before you start filming, and a shooting script is like a screenplay for your video.
Storyboard panels for ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2’
You don’t have to draw a stunning masterpiece for your storyboard. In fact, you don’t need to draw it at all. You can use a series of still photographs as a storyboard, or even rough sketches or stick figures – whatever is easiest. Just make sure you know what shots you need before you start filming.
Remember – the more time you spend planning your marketing video, the less likely you are to find yourself missing footage later on.
Make sure all your presenters or subjects know what’s expected of them beforehand to minimize mistakes or wasted time on the day of the shoot. You should have a good idea of what the finished product is going to look like long before you arrive at your location, and your presenters should know exactly what they’re doing.
Also, try to avoid having your presenters memorize pages upon pages of script – they’re probably not actors, and asking this of them is likely to cause more anxiety (and mistakes) than allowing them a little freedom.
Planning to intersperse shots of your team hard at work into your video, or cut away from your presenter to other footage? Then you need what videography professionals call B-roll footage.
B-roll is essentially any footage that isn’t of your primary subject. If you’re filming an explainer video showcasing your software product, B-roll footage might include shots of satisfied customers using your product, or an external shot of your offices, for example.
Whatever footage you need, figure it out during the pre-production phase to avoid situations in which you need footage you don’t have. Remember – there’s no such thing as too much B-roll.
TIP: If you need a shot of something that would be difficult or impossible to film yourself, such as aerial shots or footage from exotic locales, you can always use stock B-roll footage. I’ve used footage from Beachfront B-Roll several times in the past, and the quality and diversity of the footage is excellent.
Whether you’re shooting a video or taking a photograph, composition is crucial to the finished product. Composition is so important it deserves a post in and of itself. However, since this is a crash course, we’ll just cover the basics for now.
Composition is the proper term for how a shot is framed and staged, or “composed.” This refers to how your subject – whatever it is you’re filming – is arranged and positioned within the shot.
Whenever you’re filming anything (or taking photos), remember the “Rule of Thirds.”
Imagine your shot is divided into nine equal sectors by two horizontal lines and two vertical lines, like so:
Notice how the primary subject in the image is positioned where two of the four points (which are known as the “anchor points”) intersect? This technique is used to draw the eye toward the main points of interest in the shot. The viewer’s eye will naturally gravitate towards the top-left anchor point, and many people will spend longer dwelling on this area than other parts of the shot, making it a logical point at which to position the main area of interest in your shot – in this example, the face of the subject.
This is a pretty standard composition using the Rule of Thirds, and although it might not seem that remarkable, composing your shot in this way makes it easier for the eye to “read” and results in a much more aesthetically pleasing shot overall. Your audience probably won’t even notice the composition of the shot, because it just “works.”
The Rule of Thirds can be applied to just about any type of shot, including landscapes. Using the horizontal lines is a great guide for where the horizon line of your exterior shots should be, and where your subject should be positioned:
In the example above, the upper of the two horizontal lines is the logical horizon point for this shot, as using the lower of the two would result in the shot containing way too much empty sky. Of course, this might be precisely the effect you’re trying to achieve, so think of this as a guideline rather than a hard-and-fast “rule.”
Many cameras enable you to overlay this grid onto your viewfinder, making it easy to compose your shot before and during filming.
However you choose to frame your shot, make sure that you keep composition in mind, especially when setting up your camera. To read more about shot composition, check out this great guide to line, shape, negative space, and other composition techniques.
Few things will ruin a marketing video faster than a shot that is either too light or too dark. Yes, you can correct image brightness and contrast in post-production to some extent (more on this later), but it’s better to get the shot right on the day of the shoot than relying on “fixing it in post” later on.
When it comes to lighting in video, different kinds of light have different temperatures. These color temperatures are measured in degrees Kelvin (°K):
Again, this is a complex topic and could easily warrant its own post, but for our purposes, all you need to know is that mixing two light sources with different color temperatures will make for an unevenly lit shot.
Let’s say you’re shooting an explainer video featuring a member of your team. You’ve chosen an indoor room with good acoustics (more on this later), and you’re ready to start filming. The room is lit primarily by fluorescent lights, but there’s a problem – a large window that lets in plenty of natural daylight.
If you position your subject too close to the window, you could run into a potential contrast in light sources – the fluorescent overhead light with a temperature of around 4500° K, and the daylight, which has a temperature of around 5600° K. This kind of conflict can be difficult to compensate for, and it’s a headache you really don’t need.
Wherever you’re shooting, ensure that your primary light source is even and consistent. If you shoot indoors, avoid rooms with windows. If this isn’t possible, position your subject sufficiently far from the windows to avoid the daylight interfering with your shot.
Now we know that different light sources have different temperatures, we need to account for these temperature ranges by manually setting the camera’s white balance – a process that basically tells the camera what “true white” looks like in an environment to avoid color casting.
In the image above, the shot on the left has a blue color cast caused by the natural temperature of the daylight in the shot. The white balance of the shot on the right has been set correctly, capturing the true colors of the image.
Many cameras have an auto-white balance feature, but I strongly recommend learning how to set it manually. This avoids relying on your camera to achieve a correctly color balanced shot. You can learn how to do this by referring to the instruction manual of your camera.
Even if the color casting in the example above is the effect you’re trying to achieve, film the shot using the correct white balance and adjust the color in post-production – don’t rely on lazy camerawork to achieve a particular effect.
Unless you’re filming a Broadway musical, you should probably avoid placing your subject in bright pools of direct light. Intense primary light sources can blow out the brightness and contrast of your shot and cause unflattering reflections on your subject. There are many different lighting techniques, each of which can be used to achieve a certain effect.
If you’re lucky enough to have a professional light rig, don’t just point it at your subject – make sure your shot is lit evenly, and use a reflector and/or a diffuser to minimize harsh spotlighting or shadows (such as the “mustache” in the far-left example above).
To learn more about lighting for video, check out the awesome videos at the Vimeo Video School.
Before you start filming, check the acoustics of the location in which you’re shooting. Is there an echo? If so, try and find somewhere else to shoot. You can fix a lot of audio problems in post-production, but even a faint echo can be a nightmare to get rid of completely.
You don’t need to soundproof a conference room in your office (but hey, if you can, go for it), but be sure to bear the acoustics of your location in mind when you’re scouting for possible places to film. It could save you a lot of headaches later.
Even experienced presenters make mistakes, and the last thing you want is a situation in which you only have a single take of a crucial part of your marketing video.
Even Norse gods mess up sometimes.
On the day of the shoot, make sure to run through multiple takes. This provides you with a safety net in case you notice something wrong with one of the takes, and allows you to edit together your final sequence from several clips of the same sequence rather than relying on just one.
Even if the first take goes flawlessly, shoot another – just in case.
Before we dive into my post-production tips, you need to choose and familiarize yourself with your editing software.
I strongly recommend using Adobe Premiere Pro, which has been my go-to editing package for almost a decade. This remarkably robust editing program has everything you need to start producing professional-quality marketing videos, and the pricing plans are very reasonable (around $250 per year for an individual license), meaning that the barriers to entry have been lowered considerably, even for small businesses.
Despite being a comprehensive professional editing suite, Adobe Premiere Pro is also surprisingly user-friendly, and the learning resources and user community at the Adobe website are amazing.
If you’re working on a Mac, you might be tempted to opt for Apple’s Final Cut Pro. Although Final Cut Pro is a fine editing package, I still recommend using Premiere Pro. In my opinion, the ease with which you can seamlessly move between Premiere Pro and other Adobe programs such as After Effects and Photoshop alone makes it the stronger software program.
When importing your footage into your editing program, clean up your clips as you import them. Most editing packages allow you to set “in” and “out” points for each clip, reducing their length by trimming out pauses, giggles, and false starts.
Editing the final sequence together using trimmed clips is a lot easier than adjusting each individual clip on the fly.
When editing a shot of someone doing something, make sure to cut to the next shot during the action that your subject is performing.
For example, if you’re editing together a sequence of someone opening a door before walking through it, cut to the shot of the subject opening the door at the precise moment the person turns the door handle. Cutting away before or after the action can look jarring and distract the viewer. You may not even have to worry about this, but it’s worth bearing in mind if you’re working on a more ambitious video.
Once you’ve got all the clips you need imported into your editing program, it’s time to start actually putting the rough cut of your marketing video together.
Editing a sequence can get complicated quickly, so tidy up your clips as you work.
However, before you begin the painstaking process of frame-by-frame editing, get your clips roughly into place. There’s no point agonizing over precise timing issues until your video has already begun to take shape. It won’t look pretty, but it’ll give you a solid idea of which parts of your marketing video need the most work.
Unless you’re making a Star Wars parody video (which would be kind of awesome in a marketing context), don’t use radial wipe transitions – or star wipes, or any of the other “zany” effect presets that come with your editing software. The more attention to draw to your transitions and editing, the cheaper and more amateurish your video will look (and yet we still forgive George Lucas for this).
If you have to, use simple cross-fades to transition from one shot to another. Let your content do the talking, not your editing software.
Not every video needs background music, but if you’ve decided that yours does, be careful about your choices. For example, you probably wouldn’t expect to hear Norwegian death metal in a promotional video for an animal shelter. Ensure your music is suitable for your project.
Also, pay close attention to the licensing requirements of the music you plan to use. Unless you use royalty-free music or compose your own, most music is subject to stringent copyright restrictions that could land you in some seriously hot legal water if you don’t play by the rules. For help with this, use our guide on how to use music in ads (without getting sued!).
Remember – a record company won’t care if you’re “only” using copyrighted songs in a short marketing video. It’s copyright infringement, plain and simple, and it could result in a costly lawsuit, so tread carefully and err on the side of caution.
TIP: There are several sites that offer royalty-free background music and sound effects, including:
You can also use certain songs and orchestral pieces if they are considered to be within the public domain. You can read more about public domain music at the Public Domain Information Project, and browse a selection of public domain artists and genres at Public Domain Music.
Editing packages such as Premiere Pro and Final Cut Pro are extraordinarily powerful and enable you to accomplish a great deal with your videos, but they’re not magic.
Don’t assume that any and all problems with your video can be fixed in post-production. Sometimes, you simply won’t be able to correct the brightness or contrast of a shot as much as you need to, or manage to isolate a single person’s voice in a room crowded with hundreds of people. Yes, it might be possible given enough time and skill, but post-production should be seen as a process to add polish and finesse to your video, not an opportunity to go back and fix mistakes that could have been easily avoided during a properly planned shoot.
Hopefully, this post has given you some ideas of pitfalls you can avoid when the time comes to start producing your own marketing videos.
If you have questions about any of the points raised or anything else video-related, let me know in the comments – I’ll do my best to answer them.
Originally from the U.K., Dan Shewan is a journalist and web content specialist who now lives and writes in New England. Dan’s work has appeared in a wide range of publications in print and online, including The Guardian, The Daily Beast, Pacific Standard magazine, The Independent, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and many other outlets.
See other posts by Dan Shewan
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