When you start to learn filmmaking – especially with basic equipment – you need to keep it simple. These tips will help you get good shots and usable sound with basic camcorders, still cameras, or your phone.
Before you start, check that your camera is ready. Make sure the battery is fully charged, the lens is clean, and there’s enough free memory.
1 Film separate shots
Don’t wave the camera around to scan the scene or follow action. Instead, plan your movie as a series of separate shots, keeping the camera still for each one.
2 Keep it steady
Turn on image stabilisation if you can. Support the camera with a tripod, or by resting on a table, a wall or the back of a chair.
3 Move around
Don’t shoot everything from eye level. Film shots from different places: above, from below, and from different positions around the subject.
4 Frame carefully
Frame each shot carefully and keep it simple: just show one thing in each shot. Pay attention to the background and the edges of the shot, and keep the camera level. Make sure the shot is clearly different from the one before it.
5 Don’t zoom
If your camera has a zoom lens, zoom all the way out, and stay zoomed out. Camera shake will be less obvious, and sound will be better because you’ll have to get closer to the subject.
6 Get in close
Use plenty of closeups to draw viewers’ attention to important things. But don’t zoom: instead, zoom with your feet by moving closer to the subject.
7 Check the light
Basic cameras give terrible image quality in low light. Film where there’s plenty of light but not too much contrast (you could fill shadows using a reflector). Film with the light behind you.
8 Take control
Don’t rely on autofocus and automatic exposure. Lock exposure and focus on the most important part of the image then adjust the exposure if necessary. Or learn to set exposure and focus manually.
9 Watch the sound
Be quiet and listen for a few seconds before you start filming.
If you’re using the built-in microphone, get in close and try to film away from distracting background sound. If possible, use a separate microphone, adjust the sound level, and use headphones while you’re recording.
If you can’t record good live sound, plan a film that doesn’t need it. Create the soundtrack afterwards, or edit to a voiceover or music track.
10 Hold the shot
Film each shot for a few seconds longer than you need: ten seconds for a shot with no action, or five seconds before and after any action or speech.
I teach all kinds of people to make films. I provide training for businesses, arts organisations, nonprofits and education. I’ve worked on film education projects with Apple Education, the British Film Institute, Film Education, Film: 21st Century Literacy and many more. My publications include Making Movies Make Sense and Editshots.