Tips and Tricks

We’re excited for young people from all different backgrounds to participate in the Exchange Stories – Change History project. While some of you may have a great deal of experience with cameras or editing, we understand that many of you may not. To help you on your way, we have compiled some of our favorite tips, tricks, and tutorials from across the web.

Basic Camera Settings

When learning how to use your camera, it’s generally a good idea to start with manual in hand and your camera set to full manual control of ISO, aperture, shutter speed, and focus. If you do not have your camera manual, they are often available from the manufacturer online. Not all cameras have the option for manual control, but some cameras like the iPhone and iPad can access these functions through third party apps such as FiLMiC Pro and Kinomatic. Once you understand what these functions do and how they affect your image, it will help you to make better use of the programmed and automatic functions to create the best possible image.

Handheld Filming

Filming handheld can be freeing in that it allows you to move quickly with your subject and create a more dynamic feel to the video. The problem is, however, that it can create certain distracting issues in your footage such as shaky footage and rolling shutter. Here are some simple tips to fix these problems:

  • Use Wide Angle Lenses. If you’re using a video camera with a zoom lens, try to stay as wide as possible.
  • Use image stabilized lenses or a camera with Image Stabilization
Use a heavier camera or lens. Added weight can help to prevent shake and vibration.
Practice Practice Practice.
  • Work on your smooth ‘cat walk’, tucking your elbows into your body, and keeping your knees slightly bent.
  • Take your camera out for a walk and see how stable you can make your shot before you begin to film. Just knowing what you are currently capable of and comfortable with will help when you figure out how you want to film your project.

Video Examples

"How to Film Handheld Without a Rig" from Fenchel & Janisch

How To Hold Your Camera from Jared Polin AKA FroKnowsPhoto.

Using a Tripod

Tripods are incredibly useful. They offer a shake-free perspective in which you can set your camera recording and (provided your subject doesn’t move out of focus) concentrate on the action happening in front of you. It also lets you use longer focal lengths (telephoto as opposed to wide angle) without camera shake or vibration.
Some general tips when working with a tripod for interviews:

  • Check your focus and composition from time-to-time. It’s easy to get caught up in the interview and not notice your subject has either changed the way he or she is seated or the camera may have been bumped without you knowing.
Remove straps or hanging objects from your camera and tripod if you don’t need them. This will help prevent catching if you are creating a camera move such as a pan or tilt.
Try to make sure the tripod is either on a stable surface (such as cement) or that people are not moving around during the interview. Surfaces like wood floorboards can bend when a person shifts their weight, leading to a camera movement during the middle of an interview.
If you are sitting with your subject at a table, try to avoid using a mini tripod on top of the table. People tend to speak with their hands and movement like resting their arms on the table or tapping it to punctuate a point can cause camera shake.
If you do not want your composition to change during the interview, “lock down” the head of the tripod (thumb tighten the tension controls. Don’t over-tighten as it may cause stripping).
  • Practice your pans and tilts.
  • On the more expensive ‘Fluid Head’ tripods, it’s a bit easier to achieve a jitter-free pan. With practice, though, you can do it on most if not any tripod.
When performing a camera move, give three seconds of breathing room before and after each take.
Review your footage before moving onto the next shot.

Video Example

Tripod Tips and Tricks from Matthew Pearce


“3 Point Lighting” is a great lighting technique for beginning filmmakers to learn and is very useful in controlled environments such as seated interviews and closed sets. In its most basic form, 3 Point Lighting consists of three light sources: Key Light, Fill Light, and Back Light. The Key Light is your primary and strongest source of light. In an interview setup, it is the main light that illuminating your subject’s face. What you’ll probably notice is that, when placed at an angle to your subject (we don’t want to blind anyone) this light will create some shadows on the opposite side of their faces. That’s where the Fill Light comes in. The Fill light is a softer light source often used to help fill in those shadows. The Back Light (also sometimes referred to as a hair light) comes in from behind your subject, creating a visual “3d pop” as it helps to separate your subject from the background.
There’s nothing better than seeing it in action, so here are two great videos demonstrating this technique and simple setups:

Video Examples

3 Point Lighting from Scott Eggleston AKA The Frugal Filmmaker

3 Point Lighting from Steve DiCasa AKA DiCasaFilm

White Balance

While you can use lamps and bulbs found around your home, is important to remember is different bulbs have different color temperatures and having mixed bulbs can create strange color casts you may not notice until you’re editing. Even though our eyes may see sunlight, fluorescent light, and tungsten light as white light, they are actually quite different. Relative to each other, sunlight tends to be cooler (a more blue colored white) and tungsten tends to be warmer (a more orange or yellow white). While our brains are great at compensating for this, our cameras tend to have a bit of trouble. The easiest way to prevent this is to use three of the same bulb types: three tungsten, three compact fluorescent warm bulbs, or three compact fluorescent daylight bulbs when shooting with sunlight.

Video Examples

White Balance Made Easy by Joshua Cripps

Recording Sound

Here’s a little exercise to get us started: close your eyes for thirty seconds and listen carefully, noting in your mind what you hear. With that list of sounds in your mind, what did your ears pick up?

Assuming you are inside, it could have been the low frequency noise from cars passing outside, the sound of vents, radiators, refrigerators, footsteps, or conversations through the floor. In short, you heard nearly everything that you would usually tune-out or ignore. When capturing audio for your film or interview, all of these background sounds that you experienced will find their way into your recording. Once in there, they are very difficult, if not impossible to get rid of. While this is not a problem for b-roll (non-interview footage filmed for illustrative or cutaway purposes) as you can easily delete or replace the audio from a clip, having distracting or overpowering background noise over your interview can become a problem. You cannot separate this background noise from your subject’s dialogue. The good news is that, with a bit of forethought, you can help to minimize most noise issues. Here are some Tips:

  • Wear Headphones to monitor the audio levels. The best way to fix audio issues is to prevent them while recording.
  • Have the microphone as close to and directed towards the subject as possible without it being in the video frame.
If you have the ability and are comfortable using a clip-on lav or directional microphone for dialogue, do so! It probably wouldn’t hurt.
  • When filming in a home or workplace, try to find a well dampened room. A way to test this is to either snap your fingers or clap. In a largely empty space with like a gymnasium, classroom or office, you may find an echo that will embed itself in your interview audio and may be distracting to your audience. Generally speaking, the less echo the better. Having the microphone as close to the subject without being in the shot will help to minimize this issue.
  • When filming indoors, try to find the sources of hum and airflow and either turn off or dampen them. Refrigerators are notorious for turning on and making noise in the middle profound realizations, so unplug it during your interview (and make sure the plug it back in when you’re done). Turn off any air conditioners, thermostats, and televisions. If there are any sounds that you cannot seem to stop, try covering the source with a heavy blanket.
  • Make sure everyone on set turns their phone to silent (the microphone may also pick up phones on vibrate).
  • Try to avoid a room with heavy foot-traffic or a road directly outside.
  • Understand that noise is not always a bad thing. It all depends on the situation. Say, for example, you are interviewing an individual using an iphone as he or she walks into the subway. Your interview is going to have essentially three locations, each with a unique audio character (the background noise, reverberation, echo). So long as your subject’s voice is clearly audible and understandable, the audio character could add something rather than detract. Sound creates space both for what the audience sees, but also for what exists outside of frame. Just make sure that you try to remind your subject if he or she needs to speak louder and always monitor the audio through headphones while you film. If you are going to film in a potentially problematic space, take your camera and a friend to do a practice interview. This will help you decide if the location or equipment is right for you.

Video Example

How to Get Great Audio from Fenchel & Janisch

Organizing Your Media

Every video editor has their own tried-and-true methods for storing and organizing their media, the development of which are often accompanied with horror stories of lost files, crashed drives, and missed deadlines. With that in mind, we wanted to give you a head start with some of the most common issues and some general tips and tricks when working with and organizing your media:

  • Backup backup backup. Using a digital camera offers a great opportunity to capture life in real time. The one issue is that you are left with a file that probably doesn’t have a physical copy (in the form of tape, disk, or the like). Don’t have very many files? Back up your media in cloud storage. Have an extra thumb drive or external hard drive? These are perfect places to copy and store your media.
  • Be diligent about capturing your files. Double check that the number of files on your card and the size of the enclosing folder is the same as the one you copied to your computer.
Use a consistent file naming scheme. Are you going to name the files according to the scene and shot number? Are you going to name them according to the date and time in which they were taken? It’s ok to have your own system, so long as you are consistent.
  • Save your project file in dated iterations in multiple locations. Project files tend to be very small (as they do not contain any media files, but reference the media files on your drive). You can easily keep them in cloud storage, on a thumb drive, or even email them to yourself. Making different versions for “”? You can easily distinguish them with version numbers such as “,” or dated files names such as “”

Video Formats and Transcoding

What is a video file? If you are just getting into filmmaking, understanding video formats can be a daunting. So, let’s focus on what a beginning filmmaker should know. First off, a video file is comprised of two basic parts, the “formats” (or “container”) and the “codec”. Think of each video file as a piece of candy. The “formats” is the wrapper. It describes to the video player what kind of information is within the file and how to read it, and is visible to us as a file extension (such as .MOV, .AVI, .MP4). The “codec” is the candy within, the compression/decompression algorithms which compress the video data. The reason why you need to know this is because every video file that you import or export will have these two parts: format and codec.

On Import

Next, you want to be aware of what your camera captures and what your editing software supports (check out the following section “Video Editing Programs” for links to your software’s supported media formats). Most programs will be able to work directly with consumer level video formats and codecs such as AVCHD, .MOV (quicktime), and .MP4 (mpeg). However, if your editing software is unable to import or edit the files, you can transcode (convert) your video to one that your software can accept using MPEG Streamclip. This software is for both Mac and PC and available for free from Squared5 []. Having noted what files are supported by your software, open MPEG Streamclip. Drag your video file into the newly opened window. Go to File>Export to (whatever format you need). Select settings that are as close to your original video as possible but conform to your editing program’s requirements. For example, if your original file is the following:

1920×1080 (1080p HD video)
30p (30 frames per second, progressive)
.MTS format (a format associated with AVCHD video)
MPEG – 4 AVC codec

and your editing software can only accept a quicktime .MOV format with H.264 codec, then you would go to File>Export to Quicktime (which sets your format to .MOV) set the export settings to:

Compression: H.264 (this sets your new codec)
Quality: 100% (don’t want to lose quality in the transcode)
Select Multipass (this will take longer, but you’ll end up with a cleaner transcode)
Sound: Uncompressed (don’t want to lose quality in the transcode)
frame rate: leave this blank (otherwise it will change the original frame rate)
Frame Size: 1920×1080 (unscaled)
Deselect “Interlaced Scaling” (as your original video was progressive)
If you leave the rest of the settings alone and select “Make Movie”, you should end up with a video file that can be imported and edited by your editing software.

On Export
For the purposes of your submissions, we’re going to talk about about creating a video file that will upload to the web streaming service, Vimeo. For step-by-step directions, please check out Vimeo’s encoding tutorials. From iMovie to Avid — the directions are all available here

Editing Your Video

Getting Started
There are so many different programs, platforms, and processes that we can’t go into every single one. We can, however, direct you to some basic tutorials and programs based on your interests.

I want to film and edit on my iPhone or iPad:
Check out How to Edit in IMovie on the iPhone with OS7 for a step-by-step tutorial from Mark W. Gray AKA Pocket Film School.

I want to film on my Iphone and edit on my computer:
First you will need to transfer the video files from your iphone to your computer (walkthrough here) from My Apple Gadgets. After that, it depends on what editing program you want to use. Most programs can handle the files directly (with the exception of the older version of Windows Movie Maker, see the “Video Formats and Transcoding” section of this page for more information). Check out the other scenarios here to see if one fits your needs.

I want to use iMovie
iMovie comes standard on Apple computers. It’s an excellent tool for beginning filmmakers and has an extensive set of written tutorials from Apple – Available here.
See if your camera is compatible with iMovie here.

I want to use Windows Movie Maker
Windows Movie Maker is another good tool for beginning filmmakers and allows for simple video editing. This program either comes standard on computers with Windows operating systems or as a free download.
See what files Windows Movie Maker can edit here.

I want to use Final Cut Pro 6 – FCP7
FCP6 through FCP7 are the precursors to Apple’s current media production program, Final Cut Pro X. While these programs are older, they can handle many of the newer video formats. You can no longer purchase Final Cut Pro 6 or 7, but may find it at your school, work, or in your home.
Extensive tutorial for beginners from GetGoing Tutorials
Supported video formats can be found here.

I want to use Final Cut Pro X
Final Cut X is a professional editing program for Apple Computers and available for purchase through the Mac’s app store. If you are new to FCPX, check out Larry Jordan’s tutorial series on youtube.
FCPX’s supported video formats can be found here

I want to use Adobe Premiere
Adobe Premiere is a professional editing program available through Adobe Creative Cloud through a monthly subscription.
Beginner’s Tutorials are available from The Skills Factory.
Supported Media formats can be found here.

I want to use Avid Media Composer
Well, if you want to use avid and have access to it, you probably don’t need help from us! But, for those of you who don’t know, Avid has a five part “Getting Started Fast” series on youtube.