Filming Basics


This page teaches some very basic principles about camera work, lighting, and sound, which will help in making a quality production.

Selecting a Camera: A Few Tips

Digital - A digital camcorder will make the entire editing process far more simple

Mic Port - Make sure there is a place for a microphone to plug in

Picture Quality - Considering the change to HD video, it might be a good idea to buy and HD camcorder, but that is up to you. You can find a good enough camera (non-HD) for $300, and an HD camera for about $800

Camera Work: Helpful Ideas

Film is cheap, use it - Once you have worked out a shot and everyone knows what they are doing, it is simple to do it multiple times. Film every shot at least three times.

Keep it simple - Zooming, panning, and dollying (moving the camera sideways while keeping it pointing forward) just make shots complicated and can make your audience sick. So if it is at all possible, don't move anything during a shot. However, if you want to try something, film is cheap, so try it both ways and see how it looks when you edit it.

Use a tripod - This makes an amazing difference in the end product. Even if someone thinks they are steady, the shots will be noticeably shaky without a tripod. However, if you want to establish a sense of uneasiness in a skit, you could accomplish this by carrying the camera, or tilting it a little to one side.

Continuity - If you are doing a skit, you should have someone assigned to make sure things don't change from shot to shot. For example, during a conversation, a lock of hair shouldn't go from being in front of a person's face to behind their ear in two seconds, unless one shot shows them moving it.

Close-ups are your friend/people aren't stupid - TV's are much smaller than movie screens, so it is important to get most shots as close as possible, and people can see only part of an object to know what it is. For example, if someone is sitting on a car, you don't have to show the entire car; you can show from the chest up on the person and have the windshield in the background.

Camera Work: The Shot

Rule of thirds - This rule applies to both video and photographs. Imagine a screen divided into thirds both horizontally and vertically; the lines and their intersections are where everything of interest should be. For example, if you have a long shot (not a close-up or mid shot) and have someone's entire body in a shot, their body should line up with the right or left third, with their head at the intersection of the upper third. If you have a close-up of somones face, their eyes should be on the upper third.

Frame the shot - This refers to using things as a natural border to the shot. For example, in conversations, you often see the shot framed by the head and shoulder of the person not speaking. You can also use building, trees, or anything to make this border.

Sequences - In a newscast or skit, it is often a good idea to start with a long shot, so you can establish a scene. You should also then vary between close-ups and mid shots, but you can use more long shots if you feel it is neccesary.

Height - While you can make your shot a bit artistic by filming from above or from the ground, the camera should mostly be at the eye-level of the person being filmed.


Standard setup - The most common and simplest lighting is the three-point setup. First, there is a key light, which is the brightest. It is usually placed about 30 degrees to the right or left of the front of the subject, and about 30 degrees above (a person's nose shadow shouldn't touch their lips). If filming outside, the sun can be used as a key light. Second, the fill light isn't as bright as the key light and helps to soften the shadows on the subject. It is placed 30 degrees in the other direction from the key light (if the key was to the right, the fill is on the left), and on the same level as the subject's eyes. If filming outside, a piece of white poster board can serve as a fill light. Finally, the back light goes above and behind the subject, pointing down on them. The back light serves to put a light around the subject so they can be separated from the background. It should also be noted that these lights are listed in order of importance, with the key light most important, and the back light least.

The Sun lights the front - Don't ever film with the sun behind the subject. This is rarely done even in professional movies, because it is very difficult to do correctly. Like anything, you can try it, but it probably won't work.

Effects - To film in the dark, use a less intense and more diffuse key light. If needed, try it with lights of varying brightness to see which works best, but you will always need to have the lighting brighter than you think when you're filming. To set a mood, you can try changing the color or position of the key light. For example, placing the key light low to the ground can create a feeling of uneasiness, because people are used to having light comes from above.


Cardioid SensitivitySelecting a microphone - There are different types of microphones that are best for different settings. For anything where a mic can be visible, an unidirectional (you must speak straight into it) is probably best. For anything where a mic must be hidden, a cardioid (picking up sound in a pattern as the picture shows) or an omnidirectional (picks up everything) would be best. The benefit of the cardioid is that it is less likely to pick up background noises. While a shotgun mic (very unidirectional) can come in handy, the benefits for small projects don't outweigh the monetary expense.

Use a microphone - Always use a microphone. Built-in microphones on cameras don't work well. When a microphone shouldn't be visible, you can wrap the cord around a broomstick and have someone dangle it above the subject's head.

Watch audio levels - As a general rule, audio levels should be as high as they can without going into the red. If your camera has any sort of audio level indicator, watch that while you are filming; if not, then watch when you are editing, and adjust the audio levels of the clips as needed.

Watch the p's - If you hold the microphone too close and are speaking directly into it, every 'p' will create a loud puff. So you can either direct your mouth just over the top of the microphone, hold it about six inches away, or buy a little foam insulator for the microphone that protect it from this.