A Guide to Video Production: Elements of Video Quality
Most people have a general sense of professional video production vs amateur. Now that everyone has a 4k camera in their pocket, the line seems to be getting a little fuzzier for some people.
There are many things that set professional video production apart from an amateur one. To help you navigate the differences, we wanted to share a few and answer the question, “What makes a quality video?”
To be clear, this is a topical guide. If you have an in-depth knowledge of video production you will learn little to nothing. We don’t dive too deep into any subject to protect from information overload. We want to provide enough information for you to have a general understanding of what to look for and to be able to ask the right questions. Disclaimer done, let’s get started.
First and foremost, a quality video has a point or goal of some sort. The goal is to communicate something with someone that can make a difference on your bottom line at some point somehow.
In order to connect with your audience you need to start with your message; what are you trying to communicate or get across to your viewers? This needs to be clearly spelled out in the pre-production phase and needs to be as simple as possible. Some examples of messages for a jewelry story may be:
We have the best selection of jewelry in the city.
We offer a lifetime guarantee for your jewelry.
We offer jewelry from top designers.
It is important to spell it out your message in simple terms before you get into any type of conceptual work.
Another note on message, limit your message to one to two per video. Saying too much is the same as saying nothing at all. If you need to convey multiple messages, you need to look into producing multiple videos. This allows you to clearly state your message and get your point across to the viewer. Speaking of your viewers…
Now that we have clearly established our something, we need to focus on the someone watching. Your audience will greatly affect how you package your message and is the second-most important factor in concept creation and most important factor in distribution.
In order to make a connection with a viewer, you have to know who it is. This may just be a simple demographic or an in-depth buyer persona. Something to note, the more specific your message is, the more specific your audience needs to be.
A single product or service can be marketed to multiple audiences, but people buy for different reasons. When some people look at buying a car or truck, they look for the numbers. They want the information about the torque, transmission, horsepower, etc. There are many buyers that want to know if it has a backup camera and remote start. It is the same vehicle, but with different buyers.
Having this information will shape your message and how it is delivered. Creating a buyer persona or collecting demographic information is another conversation entirely, but make sure to have the information prior to developing your concepts.
Last note on audience, it is very important to get inside the head of your viewers, but this can certainly be taken too far. Only pay attention to the information that is relevant to the buying decision you are posing. Anything else is just fluff and becomes confusing and irrelevant.
Now for the fun stuff! The sad truth is that while concept offers the most opportunity to create something engaging and effective, it is often overlooked and undervalued.
The problem is perception. As a business owner, you just want to get your message across and get the phone to ring. You probably view concept and creativity as fluff that costs a lot of money for no reason other than for your ad agency to win an award. Unfortunately, sometimes that is the case.
“Creativity” can definitely be viewed as another term for bull***t. I encourage you to rethink creativity though. It’s nothing more than a tool used to package a message. It’s when there is nothing inside the package that frustrates business owners and viewers alike.
A functional concept is built on the something and someone we have already established. Remember, people don’t want to be advertised to anymore. You need to give viewers a reason to pay attention.
There are two very important factors in a successful video concept. First, people need to watch it (and pay attention), and second, they need to remember it. A prime example of this is YETI Stories.
At Farmore, We’re huge fans of the overpriced cooler brand. They are too expensive and the knockoffs will work just fine, but it is the brand that YETI has built around their products that make us shell out the extra cash to have the YETI name.
We watch YETI stories because they are entertaining and appeal to us. We intentionally go to their site to watch the content, and because it is a series, we keep going back (and buying things… lots of things).
Yeti Stories: SAM
If you are looking to create a single video or commercial, create a concept that hooks the viewer in the first eight seconds and gives them a reason to watch until the end. It is this reason that makes storytelling so effective. People love a good payoff and they will give you a few minutes of their attention to show them something. So don’t disappoint!
A good concept trumps production value every day of the week. The trick is not having to choose between the two.
Still on the subject of concept development; video is a great medium because it allows you to communicate in so many ways. You can tell different stories using the tools of the trade.
We will cover these in more detail later, but you use tools like shot style, color, music, lighting, etc. to tell your story. You don’t have to rely on imagery alone. Take the time up front to really flesh out your concept in all of these areas so that when someone does decide to give you his or her attention, you make it worthwhile.
Now that we have our concept, let’s dive into the finer details of video quality and production value.
Looks aren’t everything, but they certainly help. Video, by nature, is a visual medium and we need to pay attention to image quality. We have the luxury of shaping the image any way we like. It is easy to tell the difference between high and low production value, but here is the breakdown of what it takes to produce a quality image.
It was mentioned earlier that everyone has a 4k camera in his or her pocket. For anyone who isn’t familiar with the term or what it means, 4k is a measurement of image resolution , coming in at 4 times as many pixels as High Definition (1920 x 1080). Resolution is an important factor of quality because it plays a role in the amount of detail and level of sharpness of the image. With any modern, professional camera you’re covered. While 4k is ideal, not many streaming services support 4k, and even then, your display may not support it either. If you can’t shoot in 4k, High Definition (HD) or 1080 video is a must.
It is really cool to talk about the technical specs of a high-dollar camera. The camera is a key component in image quality, but anyone in the industry knows that it is the lens that makes all of the difference. There is a reason that lenses can cost tens of thousands of dollars. We won’t get into all of the specifics here, but here are a couple of ways that a quality lens will help to produce a quality image.
To put it very simply, depth of field affects the focal point of the image. This is a great tool that can be used to direct attention and adds to a look or feel of your video. Here is an example between a shallow DOF and a deep DOF.
We all want to look sharp. The sharpness of an image affects the amount of detail you get in the image. A quality lens will be sharp edge-to-edge and give your image very clean lines and fine detail. Lower quality images have much softer lines and can appear somewhat fuzzy at times.
When it comes to focus, that is one thing to be very careful of on set. Focus is one of the few things that cannot be fixed in post-production.
If you have ever been on a video production set you will notice that we often will change the lens for different shots. Most cinema lenses have a fixed focal length. The focal length of a lens determines both the field of view and the magnification of a lens. Without getting into too much detail, the higher the focal length, the narrower the field of view and the higher the magnification. To illustrate, here is the difference between a 14mm lens and an 85mm lens.
14 mm Lens
85 mm Lens
We use different focal lengths much the same way a painter would use different brushes, or a carpenter would use different chisels. Each one serves its purpose, and allows us to uniquely capture the subject matter.
There are so many other factors that make up a quality lens, but for this conversation we’ll leave it at that. If you want to learn more about lens quality, go here.
Color is a wonderful tool that can subtlety affect the mood and overall message of your video. It is a great way to “build a look” or give a video a “feel”. We use color as a cornerstone of our concept, and can even be used as the concept itself. It determines what time of day shoot, some of our shoot locations, and how we light a video.
Color can provide an emotion and allows us to lead the viewer to some conclusions. We can use a muted, warmer palate to make something feel comforting. On the contrary, we can use colder palates to make a shot feel modern or serious.
To make sure the color reflects your overall message, you have to make sure that the lighting is good enough to get as much data from the camera as possible. Keep in mind, the more data or information you can get from your camera, the more you can do with the color in post-production. The more information we have the more we can do with the color.
A key to good color is getting the skin tone correct. It is fun to play around with looks and other colors, but green people should be reserved for the superhero movies.
We can do a lot of work with the color in post-production, but the fact is, the better it looks in camera, the better we can make it look in post. We will get to lighting in a second, but if your image is over or underexposed there is very little that can be done to bring it back. If you are on set and it doesn’t look good, fix it then and there.
At the end of the day, color is a great tool that can bring a concept to the next level and make the viewer feel the message. Take advantage of it.
Saving the best topic for last, lighting is by far the most important element in producing a quality image. Think about it, all a camera does, all our eyes do, is capture and process light. It is our job to shape the light on our subject so that it looks great in camera.
There are many elements that go into lighting a scene, and diving into each element can become pretty complex. For this conversation, we will keep things topical and give you enough information to ask the right questions.
Exposure is a key element to lighting any scene. We want to keep the lighting relatively even where we don’t have anything in the frame over or under exposed.
To achieve this we use fill light, bounce boards, silks, and flags of various sorts. With these tools, we can shape the light in a scene to bring attention to the subject and make it look great.
Contrast can help to give the image depth and add character. We measure contrast in exposure. We measure brightest part of the frame and the darkest part of the frame. The difference between the two gives you your contrast. If we want a high contrast image, we want to create separation between the two giving you a result of high contrast as show below.
If we want to create a low contrast or flat look, we light and color the elements in the frame giving us a result shown below.
Neither look is right or wrong. Each can be used as part of the overall concept, look, and feel of our video.
There are many ways that we can light a scene. Ultimately, the way we light something is a major contributing factor to the look and feel of the shot. We use elements like fall-off, hard light, soft light, colored light, negative fill and so many other tools and techniques to create a unique look to support our concepts.
We are just scratching the surface on lighting because it is one of the more complex topics in the video production world. It can take quite a bit of work to get an image to look good, but in the end it plays a major role in the overall quality of your video.
The beauty of video is that we don’t always have to live in reality. We can make things look the way we want to illustrate our point. The important thing is to make sure that all of these elements come together to support the overall concept and message. Take advantage of the tools at your disposal to make a real visual impact.
Believe it or not, one of the most important factors in the quality of a video is actually the audio quality. To get quality audio you have to plan ahead. Also, until you are on a set you will never notice how many airplanes there are in the world.
The first step in having great audio in your video is capturing it. Like everything else, we have many tools and options to get the job done.
Many of the videos we produce feature someone talking in some fashion. To get great audio during an interview we use a wireless lavalier or lapel microphones. We also use a shotgun microphone that provides great audio.
We prefer to use a lav mic whenever possible. We get great audio from our subject, it is wireless, so it cuts down on setup and clutter on set, and finally it makes it a little easier to frame our subject because we don’t need to worry about a shotgun mic creeping in on our frame.
Something to look out for when you are recording audio is peaking. This happens primarily when the speaker uses plosives. Plosives are the sounds you make when saying words with hard P’s or D’s, etc. The best way to avoid this is by getting your input levels correct, but you can also use dual recording as insurance. This means that we record the same audio twice simultaneously at different levels so we have options in post if necessary.
To capture sound effects and ambient noise we prefer to use a shotgun microphone. Just to be clear, a shotgun microphone does not amplify noises like a lens can zoom into a scene. The purpose of a shotgun microphone is to narrow the audible focus. The longer your mic is the narrower your focus will be.
Sound can really bring a scene to life.
Sound effects can be recorded on set, separately, or purchased. The key is quality and usage. Most times, sound effects are not recorded with the footage. They are recorded separately or purchased.
For the most part, we want our sound effects to be true to life. There are cases when intentionally using a sound that doesn’t match action can be part of your concept, but that is the exception. Sound effects that are overdone take away from the concept and quality of the video. They should be more nuanced to bring a scene to life, immersing the viewer. Quality audio is a great tool that when used correctly can take your video to the next level.
Sound Design Example
Music could possibly be the most underrated element of video quality. We spend quite a bit of time searching for the perfect tracks for our videos. Don’t overlook this one or call it good enough. Check out our recent blog about how to save time finding music for your video by clicking here.
Good Music Example
Bad Music Example
Most editors cut and transition to the beat of the music. It helps to make things flow. That being said, the music you choose will have a great impact on the pace and style of your video.
Yet again, we think about the kind of track we will set the video to before we start shooting. We will intentionally include shots that we think will fit with the pace and elements in a song.
Music is powerful. It can set the mood and a tone and add volumes of character to a video. Using something energetic and upbeat will feel much different than something slower and somber. We pay attention to the characteristics of the client or event and select a genre and style that supports our message.
Last tip on music, if you have a pretty standard corporate video, setting it to an epic music track comes off cheesy. The same can be said for many situations. If the quality of your edit or footage doesn’t match the pace or tone of the music, it comes across as unprofessional and disingenuous. Select a track that fits the situation and message and it will be perceived as authentic.
Final part on sounding good is putting it all together. You have a voice over, a great song, and a few sound effects to put it over the top. They may all be quality, but they need to be assembled correctly to get a quality result.
The music should not drown out the voice over. When someone is speaking the levels of the music track should be lowered accommodate. The key is not making this too abrupt so it’s abrasive or obvious.
Same goes for sound effects, they shouldn’t be too loud so they stand out. They need to support the video, not startle the viewer.
Audio is a key part to any video and sometimes the lack of it can be used for effect as well. It needs to be thought out and captured cleanly, but the results make a huge impact on the overall quality of the video.
The test of a really great video is that you forget you are watching it. You get lost in the story and visuals. That means that it is put together seamlessly and the story has you hooked.
This takes a lot of time, effort, and planning as we have covered. Here are a few elements that can bring your video to life.
As mentioned briefly above, one of the many benefits of video is that we are not constricted to reality. We can speed things up and slow them down to highlight a characteristic, tell our story, and make the viewer feel good.
Time in a video really comes down to one element, framerate.
The framerate of a video determines the speed of the shot. For true to life speed we use 24 frames per second (fps). To achieve a shot that is slower we need more frames per second. We typically don’t record anything higher than 120fps for our videos. We use this to slow and accentuate the action.
Slow Motion Example
The other side of slow motion is time-lapse. To speed things up, we need fewer frames. This is accomplished by taking photos sequentially at predetermined intervals. The photos are then stitched together in a timeline and the result is a time-lapse. For every second of time-lapse footage, we need to shoot 24 photos.
The angle of the shot is a subtle detail but can make a big difference in the look and feel. When we plan our concepts we consider how we want the viewer to feel when watching the video and plan our angles accordingly.
Low angles can make things seem grand and powerful, while high angles can make things seem small or insignificant.
The angle can also be used to highlight certain characteristics or traits. If we want something to feel organized, we use an angle square to the subject. If we want to be personal we may use an angle over the shoulder of our subject.
When it all comes together it should feel very organic and tailored to the situation and concept.
The frame or shot composition is a great tool we use in the same way as an angle. It gives us another opportunity to make the viewer feel something rather than us having to say it.
To make our subject feel big or grand we may use a wide shot or frame. We can also call attention to specific elements by using a close-up frame. Other elements of framing are the position of your subject, balance, and depth.
We also consider the use of graphic overlays when shooting our footage. This means leaving space in our frame to accommodate for the graphic wherever we plan to put it.
Frame before Graphics
Frame With Graphics
While the image quality is important, you can also express a lot with movement whether that be the movement of the subject or the camera. When we are planning our moves, we think about the subject matter and tone of the video.
We have many tools when it comes to movement, but overall we use each one with intention and purpose to highlight specific elements and characteristic of our subject.
In addition to the specific moves, we also style the move. If we want our video to feel cinematic and polished we will use subtle and smooth movements, and for something more authentic or personal we use handheld.
Like all other elements of a quality video, movement must be used to support the concept and fit the tone.
Transitions are a lot of fun and can add a lot of style to your video. We use transitions to add style and production value to our videos and they are planned out ahead of time.
Many times our movements are determined by the transitions we plan to use. For example, we use a simple transition called a wipe. To do this we have to pass the camera behind an object in the same direction for two shots. In postproduction, we can stitch them together and the result is a smooth transition from one scene to the next.
There are so many different transitions to play with. Like everything else in a quality video, they should be used to support the concept and when used appropriately can keep your viewer watching.
It’s pretty simple but very important. If you get to the point where you are thinking, “when is this going to be over”, your video might be too long. Videos can range from 3-hour movies to 3-second clips for social media. Know where you plan to distribute your video and create a video length to fit.
We find that the majority of our corporate videos are most effective in the 1:30 – 3:00 range. The key is to condense the information so that the viewer will stay interested and finish the video.
We use the various tools like look, music, shot style, etc, we have at our disposal to communicate multiple messages simultaneously. It’s not necessary to say you are a quality company. That is a waste of valuable voice over. Instead, show that you are a quality company in your visuals and video quality. This is more effective than saying it anyway. We are leading the viewer to that conclusion; it’s not just your opinion.
Like we talked about to start this whole thing, the goal is to communicate something with someone that can make a difference on your bottom line at some point somehow. That means we need our viewers to do something when they watch our video.
Have goals for your videos. It can be as simple as views and branding, but a quality video can increase conversion rates on your website, win deals in sales meetings, increase your social following, and drive traffic to your website.
Create videos that represent you and your company well. It’s better to save your money and not put anything out than to release a low quality video. Quality doesn’t have to be expensive; you just need to know what to look for.