Published on January 28, 2019
Written by Sarah Khan
Communications Officer, Faculty of Arts & Science
University of Toronto
Videos have taken over our social media feeds, websites and presentations. In the post-secondary education communications environment, video is becoming the medium of choice. As communicators, we have no choice but to pay attention to this “trend” because storytelling through video is now the norm.
Our recruiters are using videos of picturesque campus buildings on perfect fall days to attract prospective students. Our professors are using videos in the classroom. Our career counsellors are using videos to help students prepare for their first interviews. Our registrars are using videos to remind students about fees, deadlines and exam rules. Our news and PR teams are using videos to highlight new research. And our advancement teams are using videos of inspirational graduates to attract potential donors.
If your department is anything like mine, budgets are small and time is short. You may have heard of a mythical creature called a “videographer” but the chances of getting one for your team are nonexistent. But there is good news: you can create your own videos using a few simple and affordable tools and lots of practice.
As with any communications project, planning is key. The more time you spend preparing for your video, the less time you will have to spend doing retakes and edits.
Storyboard, Script, Shot List
- A storyboard will help you lay out the video before you start filming. You don’t have to be an artist to create a storyboard. Keep it simple. My storyboards are usually stick figures on sticky notes.
- The script will provide direction to any other people helping you with the video. Scripts are also a good way to get your boss to sign off on the video. It makes you look professional and shows that that you know what are doing.
Pro-tip: Make sure to include dialogue and voice-overs in your script.
Here is an example of a script I worked on for this video:
- The shot list will help you figure out the technical aspects (lens, tripod, lighting, etc) before you start filming.
Spend some time scouting your locations. Get any necessary permissions. Figure out the best time to film. Do you need a quiet space? Do you have consistent lighting? What does your location say about your video?
- Use a variety of locations to keep things exciting. If your subject is describing something, show it.
- Avoid offices, especially cluttered faculty offices.
- Don’t put your subject in front of a blank wall. Move them to a lobby, an outdoor space or a lounge where there is movement in the background.
- Avoid noisy spaces, unless your video is about the noisy space.
- Go on location when possible. If your video is about a student club, visit the student club and show the students in action. If your video is about research, go into the lab.
Here are three examples from the University of Toronto where the videographers went on location and used a variety of backdrops to tell the story and keep the viewers engaged.
After all that planning, you should have an idea of the equipment you will need. Here is an overview of the basic equipment you can borrow, rent or purchase for your video adventures.
The best camera for DIY videos may be the one in your pocket. Most videos that we shoot for social media can be shot on a smartphone. The newest phones shoot in 4K resolution and have really good sensors, which is a fancy way of saying that the newest smartphones shoot better video than some older DSLR cameras. Of course, some videos will need a fancier camera but if you don’t have access to a camera, your phone will do just fine.
For inspiration, check out this video which was shot entirely on the iPhone X.
DSLR or Mirrorless
If your department has enough funds to purchase a camera, go for a DSLR or mirrorless camera. It’s a good tool to have in your toolbox. But keep in mind, you will need to invest in lenses and other equipment, which will raise the cost of your DIY video project.
Let’s face it, we all want drones for those fancy bird’s eye views of our beautiful campuses. But depending on the city you are in, flying a drone may be next to impossible (*cough* Toronto *cough*). If your team can afford a drone, good for you! Make sure you check the drone laws in your city and acquire the necessary permits before your first flight. If your team cannot afford a flying camera, try partnering with a local photographer who already owns a drone.
Here is an example of a drone photographer’s aerial footage of the University of Toronto St. George campus.
Tripods and Gimbals
Whether you are using a smartphone, a DSLR or a mirrorless camera, you will need something to stabilize your shots.
Tripods and Monopods
These allow you to keep the camera still. They range in price but for basic videography, you can use a cheap tripod that can hold the weight of your camera. Personally, I am a big fan of GorillaPods because they can be attached to a variety of surfaces like trees (outdoor shots) or chairs (indoor shots).
Gimbals or stabilizers have motors built in to keep your camera stable as you move. These are great tools for tracking shots, or shots where you want to follow the action. For my phone, I have a DJI Osmo Mobile 2 gimbal (used to film the video below), but you can get gimbals for any level of camera.
Lighting your scene is one of the most important ways to take your video from amateur to pro level. Light can change your shot dramatically and set the tone for the video. There are many ways to light a scene and which one you choose depends on the look you are trying to achieve.
For outdoor action scenes: You can use natural light and manipulate it using reflectors.
For indoor labs and classrooms: You can get creative with windows and shadows.
For interviews: You will want to light your subject to avoid the two most common issues: your subject blends into the background or they look like a zombie. You can purchase a light kit from a camera store or you can DIY your lights by using lights from a hardware store.
Here are some some tips to guide you:
- If you want to film outdoors, look for a shady spot if it’s a sunny day – you don’t want your subject squinting in the sun.
- If it’s cloudy outside, you have the best conditions to film – diffused light works best for interviews.
- When purchasing lights, look for neutral white light – not yellow or blue.
- Fill the shadows on your subject’s face – avoid overhead lights that throw shadows under the eyes.
- Position your key and fill lights next to the camera. Place a light behind the subject (back light).
Other than lighting, good sound quality will determine whether your video gets views or not. If you have speech in your video (dialogue or voiceovers), you will want to invest in a good microphone.
There are two main types of microphones:
- Lavelier/Lapel: These clip onto your subject and capture sound from all directions
- Shotgun: These can be attached to the camera and are more directional
These are some of the popular microphone brands, but there are others that work just as well:
Editing software is the last step before you can launch your pro-quality video. There is a wide range of editing software available, from simple to complicated. The software you choose will depend on your comfort level.
iMovie is one of the easiest video editors to use. It comes pre-installed on Apple devices so if you have an iPad or a Macbook, you can use this software for free.
- Adobe Premiere Pro
On the other end of the spectrum, this is one of the most complicated video editors I have worked with, but also the most robust and customizable. With Premiere Pro, you can produce full-length feature films or short 10-second video ads. It is one of the industry standards when it comes to video editing. I highly recommend spending some time learning Premiere Pro if you will be making videos.
I like Filmora because it has a simple interface for your desktop, and an even simpler app version. When I am editing a video for social media, I often use the Filmora app to get my video ready in minutes.
This is a great video editing app for Android devices. It lets you customize your video and has templates to make editing easier.
Canva is not exactly a video editor – it’s better suited for creating social media posts, including video. It has a range of templates that you can add your images/videos to and create polished posts for social media. The video below was created using a static image and the Canva app.
- Adobe Spark
Like Canva, Adobe Spark is also a great program to create social media posts, videos or simple websites. For videos, it has a few templates that you can use, or you can create your own templates. Putting together videos in Spark is fast and simple. You can also add your institution’s branding and make your videos look like you spent a lot of time on them.
- VideoScribe: This is my favourite program for making whiteboard animated videos. You can add your own videos or graphics into VideoScribe and customize the branding.
Other animation software have a learning curve so they may not be for everyone. But if you are interested in creating animated videos, look into:
These techniques will help you make better videos and improve your feeds.
When you are filming, capture extra footage of your subject talking, walking and engaging in different situations. Get shots of the environment, the subject engaging in their research, the room, the campus. All of this extra footage will help you break up the video during editing. Instead of showing a person talking for two minutes, you can cut to different scenes while they talk, and keep your viewer engaged until the end. Both these videos have B-roll footage while the subject keeps talking.
This is a great way to capture your audience’s attention for quick social media posts. For both the examples below, I used an app called fotodanz.
Apps like Zeotropic and Plotaverse will allow you to take a static photo and add dramatic motion to it. In the video below, I took a photo from a building at U of T and then used Zeotropic to add motion to the sky.
The video below has some excellent timelapse (where the camera stays still) and hyperlapse (where the camera moves) sequences of the University of Toronto Mississauga campus.
Stop Motion and claymation may be childhood memories, but they are making a comeback. The example below was filmed at a bookstore in Toronto, but this idea could easily be applied in a classroom, library or residence.
Finally, take classes on Lynda or CreativeLive and practise your video-making skills as often as you can. Do you have examples of videos you created and are super-proud of? Share them in the comments below!