Video Making Tips

Friends, the following tips, tricks and suggestions are those I have found to be most helpful in my trainings and for the people I coach one-on-one.  If you have an AWESOME UU video you’ve made that I can use in my trainings as an example, please email me the URL and description of your project and your learning from it…

I made the following video in 2009 for the First Unitarian Church of Providence, RI. Getting kind of ancient, but it is still one that is used as an example on the UUA’s website. Now we can do even more with video thanks to a wide range of social media platfroms that allow video recording and live streaming.

Imagine the Possibilities!

Before we get into specific video making tips,  here is a handful of ideas for the kinds of videos that can be produced to support the ministry of your congregation:

  • Welcome Videos
  • Meet the Minister
  • Member Testimonials
  • About Our Congregation – A Short Overview
  • Capital Campaign & Fund Raising Videos
  • Congregational Tours
  • What to Expect When Visiting
  • About our Religious Education Program
  • Documenting Important Events in Life of Congregation
  • Document and Share Teacher Training Videos
  • Video Supplements to Grant Applications
  • Video for Ministerial Search Packet
  • Sermon videos
  • Sermon TEASER videos explaining what’s coming up, why it matters and invitation to attend

Training & Strategy

I offer social media and smartphone video training for UU chapter groups, as well as one-on-one skill training for religious professionals and independent justice leaders.  For example, I’ve coached people on their messages, lighting, and delivery on a zoom call, recording the call for them and sharing it with them so they can post.  From group hands on training to having your very own director / producer for a video message shoot, let me know if I can be of service. Contact me.

Example of a video message recorded via Zoom. This was a Kickstarter update.

Video Apps

I use the following mobile apps for recording most short videos that I shoot at rallys, conferences, etc…. There are others, but this is great for getting started.

  • Device camera – Recording video with no editing other than trim start/end.
  • Twitter’s native video recording feature.
  • Youtube Capture App
    “Stitch together an unlimited number of clips as you build your story.”  Record multiple shots, edit and rearrange in camera, then post. This is great for more complicated videos that you want to shoot, edit and share directly from your smart phone.
  • signed on and in terms of the power it gives you.  Anyone can broadcast live!
  • Instagram Did you know the once photo only sharing social media platform also lets you share video?  Great if you are already on Instagram.
  • Facebook Record video right from within your Facebook app!

Video Cameras

There is such a huge range in cameras costs, capabilities, and your potential needs that recommending a camera isn’t easy.   You need to know what you’re going to be using it for, be it simple video messages from staff to filming worship, and details such as from what distance, are you connecting to an audio system, and so on.  Investing in cameras requires a real plan.  I recommend you start by identifying a congregation that does what you want to do WELL, and contact them.

Note that for my professional video work, we have pro’s with super high end gear.

For the simpler video blogging and other UU media I produce on my own,  I use a consumer grade Sony HDRCX580 camcorder which has a mini jack mic input.  The various HD Camcorders you can get from Amazon or BestBuy for $300 – $600 are pretty incredible.

MAKE SURE that if you get one of these consumer HD camcorders you get one that has input for an external microphone.


Getting Started

When you start, try using these tips adapted from the book How to Shoot Video That Doesn’t Suck by Steve Stockman.

  • Think in Shots
    Focus on interesting subject, frame shot, shoot, stop, move to next shot.
  • No eyes, no story
    There may be times when you want to capture a larger scene, but generally you want to be close enough to see white of your subjects eyes. Get close!
  • Keep bright light behind you
    With light behind YOU, the face of your subject is illuminated. If light is behind your subject, such as an exterior window, the camera will expose for that light background and darken your subject resulting in poor exposure of subject.
  • Use video camera like a still camera.
    NO zooming. NO moving camera. Exceptions? Sure. But try and keep the camera still.
  • Keep it short!
    Prepare yourself and your subject to deliver the goods in 60 seconds. You can make exceptions, but for mobile aim for 1 minute.

Am I Going to Watch This?

The decision to watch a video (or not ) happens in about 3 seconds, with people ready to leave at any second. Keep in mind these factors.

  • Time investment
    The shorter the video, the more likely it is to be watched. But ultimately, it is the value of the content that will determine if the viewer is going to invest. Don’t waste peoples time. Using clear titles helps.
  • Audio
    People have low tolerance for poor audio. If it is noisy, unless the point is showing a noisy event or the video is very short, don’t bother.
  • The point
    Establish point of video immediately so people can determine if they are going to watch it. People appreciate your offering this clarity for them. If it takes a while to get to the goods, consider trimming a video and sharing just the great clip. You can also post a full version (a sermon), the shorter clip and link them.
  • Pacing
    Even if the content value is established, if the pace is slow people checkout.
  • Image quality
    Viewers have low tolerance video shaking, poor exposure, focus and framing.

Tap screen / Press and Hold

On most devices tapping the screen in video record mode will set following:

  • Identify area to focus on
  • Set exposure
  • Set color balance

Minimizing Camera Shake

A few tips on keeping your image stable without use of a tripod or monopod.

  • Make sure you are NOT zoomed in at all. Some cameras remember zoom position. My relative had grainy shaky photos, asked for tips at a reunion. We discovered she had been zoomed in ever since buying camera. Whoops!
  • Holding camera with two hands, bend arms, brace forearms against body.
  • Lean against wall, pole, other stationary object

Know Your Full Frame

Some devices (especially IPads) default to a video preview not showing the full frame. Try to double tap the screen to see if it will allow you to see full frame. Before shooting, take test video filling screen with blank paper, compare framing on playback. Is what you thought you were filming the same as what was played back?

Camera Orientation

Ever see a video shared that was recorded vertically?  Keep camera held horizontally so screen is oriented like widescreen TV unless you are recording a square proportioned video or using a specific app that is designed for vertical video like Snapchat.
How to Hold Smartphone for Video

Update:  Okay, some apps now are desigend for vertical and square video.  Know the orientation of the video tool you are using and hold your smartphone accordingly.


Lighting is crucial. You can vastly improve your video by making sure you are recording in a setting with good lighting and position your subject accordingly.

  • More Light results in crisper video. More light equals more data on sensor.
  • Move subject. Don’t hesitate to ask subject to move. They want to look good! In convention centers, moving 10 feet or turning slightly can dramatically improve lighting. I use my fist serve as stand in for subject while trying different spots so they don’t have to move around so much.
  • Brightest light behind you. Keep brighter light behind you, illuminating front of subject as previously noted.
  • Give your subject a soul (if you can). Eye light in the subject’s eyes conveys life. If you have option, film in position that not only lights subject, but give those eyes a little shine. Harder to control if you’re using natural lighting. A window behind you can help with this.

Film at Eye Level

Many a UU video was destroyed by filming up the good reverend’s nose… Whenever possible, film at subjects eye level. Be mindful of tall and short subjects. If camera is lower, view is up nose and subject looks like a troll.. If camera is higher, view is down, subject seems more submissive.

Beware the Wall!   Step forward and Turn…

The only time someone should be filmed flat against a wall is for a mug shot.

  • If subject can reach back and touch the wall, they’re too close.
  • Have subject step forward several feet.
  • Have them turn so the wall is at a slight angle.

Framing Shots: The Rule of Thirds

In Western photography and film, we do not traditionally film subjects dead center in the middle of the frame. Instead, we use the rule of thirds, “a rule of thumb which proposes that “an image should be imagined as divided into nine equal parts by two equally spaced horizontal lines and two equally spaced vertical lines, and that important compositional elements should be placed along these lines or their intersections. Proponents of the technique claim that aligning a subject with these points creates more tension, energy and interest in the composition than simply centering the subject would.” Source: Wikipedia / Rule of Thirds.



Don’t place your eyes too high in the upper third and cut off your head!Framing your shot

Don’t place your eyes in the lower third. That’s not right!BadFrame_Lower3

Have your eyes floating right around that line between the middle and upper third.  No matter how far way you are from the camera, still aim for that same line.


2 comments on “Video Making Tips

  1. After using these tips, I can see the improvements in my videos. Reviewing the notes will make the next batch better! Thanks!

  2. Pingback: Tips for attending UUA General Assembly 2016 Edition – UU PLANET

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