Beginner's guide to creating a video story

One person getting interviewed with video and audioYour community has a story to tell, and video could be the best way to tell it.

Video can be more captivating than stills or text.  How can you make a video if you’ve never done this before? We have some steps you can follow to help make your video story look professional, even if this is your first time:



Part 1: Choosing your equipment


One person getting interviewed with video and audioMost camcorders sold today shoot in high definition (HD). Even most smart phones and tablets are claiming to produce HD video, and they can be a lifesaver if your camera is out of commission or if you don’t have the budget for one. Using smart phones is a great option if you are planning on posting short clips from your phone directly to social media, especially for live events.

Smart phones can only take you so far if you are planning on using features like zoom, manual focus, or installing an external microphone. Even though smart phones can record HD video, the quality isn’t the same as a dedicated camera. So if you are looking to produce high quality videos for your website or even social media, you should invest in a camera for this purpose. For limited budgets, you could purchase a point and shoot camera with HD video capabilities. If you have some room in your budget, a DSLR camera with video capabilities will produce high quality videos.



A video that is constantly shaking and moving in and out of focus can be very distracting. A tripod will help your video look more professional by keeping your image steady. Full-sized tripods start at about $20, so it’s a relatively small investment for a big improvement in the quality of your videos. If you don’t have a tripod, put your camera on any stable level surface.


External microphone

If you only use your camera’s built-in microphone, your audio quality will be poor because the built-in microphone picks up every sound around it. For example, if filming outdoors, the wind may completely destroy your audio. External microphones start at about $25, and this is another great investment that will make your audio sound clean and professional. To save yourself time putting the video and audio together in the editing phase, make sure you're using a camera that you can plug in your external microphone into.


Part 2: Mapping the content

A woman getting interviewedWrite down a list of shots you want to see in your final video. For example, if you are videotaping an opening ceremony, you might want to capture shots of the venue, speeches, entertainment, and interviews of the guests.

Focus on getting a variety of shots to capture what’s happening throughout the day. Use the agenda to help you identify key moments to film instead of trying to capture every moment.  A little bit of planning can help you organize your videotaping priorities as well as save your camera’s battery life and space in your memory card.

Don’t spend too much time capturing official speeches. While they are often inspiring during live events, they lose some of the energy when you view a recording afterwards. Instead, focus your time on getting people’s reactions to the speeches or other highlights of the event. These interviews give your video story a personal touch and make your video more interesting.

Prepare questions in advance such as “What is one word you would use to describe the event today?” or “What was your favorite activity and why?” Don’t just read the questions – listen to your interviewee, make sure your questions lead from previous answers. Start with one of your scripted questions, and then have an organic dialogue with them.

You could also do more in-depth interviews that are 10-20 minutes long with key people in your story. Find people who are knowledgeable about the topic you want to discuss and people who have a great on-camera personality.


Part 3: Shooting basics

Typically, there are three types of stable shots used in videography: wide, medium and close-up.  Each type of shot refers to how far the camera is from your subject.

You subject can be anything you are focusing on such as a person, a group of people, or an object. For example, if the subject of your video is a group of kids playing on a playground, a wide shot allows the audience to see how many kids are there, the immediate environment and the area around them.  A medium shot is closer, allowing the audience to see more of the subject and less of the setting and environment around them (i.e. a mom pushing her child on a swing). In a close-up shot, the camera is close to the subject, eliminating the surrounding environment (i.e. a child’s happy face).  

Here are examples of these three types of shots:

Wide shot:

A wide shot of a community event with people and a large tent in the background










Medium shot:

Medium shot of kids getting their faces painted at a community event










Close-up shot:

Close-up of a boy getting his face painted









For best quality of close-up shots, avoid using zoom. Instead, physically move the camera closer to your subject so you maintain the sharpness and quality of your footage.

Try to shoot all three kinds of shots to make you final video more dynamic and interesting. Have a few wide shots to give the audience some context: where the event was held and how many people were participated. Then focus on medium and close-up shots, especially on people’s facial expressions and emotions.

Unless you are shooting an interview, try shooting some of the footage from a position other than eye level - get on the ground or get up high. This makes your video more dynamic and interesting to watch.



Part 4: Interviewing basics

A man getting interviewed by someone with a professional video cameraInterviews give life to your story, whether it’s a 10-second clip of someone saying what their favorite part of the event was or a 10-minute story of how the community has changed over the last few years. No matter what the length of your interview is, here are a few things to think about:

The background:

Find a background that helps tell your story. For example, you can film a teacher sitting in their classroom or a mother advocating for more outdoor playtime standing in a local park.  A good background adds the value and credibility to your video interview. 



Make sure your interviewee is properly lit. Avoid dark corners of offices and hallways. If there is backlighting from a window or the sun, change locations so the light is in front of the person.



Avoid crowded rooms and outdoor locations that are windy or have a lot of traffic. Especially if you don’t have an external microphone, find a place that is as quiet as possible.


Ask leading questions:

Never ask questions that produce “yes or no” answers – instead, ask “what,” “how,” or “why.” For example, instead of asking, “Did you like the event today?” you could ask, “What part of today was your favorite, and why?”


Give helpful reminders to the interviewee:

Remind your interviewee to speak in full sentences and to incorporate the question into the answer. Also, make sure to pause before answering or asking a question. This will make the editing easier, especially if you want your questions be removed from your final video clip.


Stay silent:

While your subject is responding, it is best to stay silent. Even short responses from you like “yes” or “uh huh” will be distracting and you won’t be able to edit those out of your final video. To acknowledge that you’re listening, maintain eye contact and nod your head.


Help calm their nerves:

Not everyone is comfortable in front of a camera, so you may need to spend a few minutes discussing the topic before you start recording. Small things like telling jokes or turning off the red light on the camera can help put your interviewee at ease. If there is ever a point where the interviewee didn’t know they were being filmed, be sure to ask permission to use those clips in your video.


Part 5: Editing

In this final step, assemble the footage with music, titles and graphics into a complete video. Most editing can be done with free video editing software, like iMovie (for Mac) or Windows Movie Maker (for PC). You can read more about video editing tools here.

When editing your video clip, keep in mind that your audience has a short attention span. This is especially important if you are planning to post your video online, because you need to hook your audience within the first few seconds to make them watch the entire video.

Regardless of software you are working with, there are a few basic editing techniques you should know:

Avoid motion in the first camera shot of your video clip:

Instead, start with a static, wide-angle shot to establish the location where the action is going to take place. Once you established the location, start adding close-up shots, introducing the participants of the event and then move on to details and interviews.


Have smooth transitions:

Your audience shouldn’t be startled or confused by transitions from one clip to another. One way to do this is to put different kinds of shots next to each other. This is extremely important when working with close-up shots. For example, a close-up shot of a book lying on the table with another close-up shot with different book lying on the table would result in something called a “jump cut,” meaning an abrupt transition from one scene to another. The same goes for placing two shots together where you used a camera motion (zoom or panoramic shot). If you have any camera movement in one shot, it would be better in most cases to put a stable shot after it.


Avoid holding on one camera angle for a long period of time:

For example, during a speech or an interview, instead of showing several minutes of the person talking to the camera, insert some meaningful photos, graphics, or other video clips that would visually support the story.


Remember, the more you practice, the better you’ll get! Implementing these tips will help your videos flow better and look more professional.


Additional video editing resources

If you’d like to learn more advanced tips, check out this guide or these video editing tutorials for:

Or, find the one for the software you are using.


Happy filming!

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