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Part 1: Producing video for the Web

The popularity of video content on the Web has grown substantially over recent years thanks to increases in Internet connection speeds in most countries around the world and higher bandwidth allocations provided by Web hosts and ISPs (Internet service providers) alike.

In this two-part series, you'll learn about producing video content that's best suited for the Web. In part one of this series, we look at the video production aspect. In the next article, we'll discuss which video format to use, how to best present and position video on your site, search engine considerations and how to support Web visitors with slow Internet connection speeds.

Online video production techniques

The technique for producing video content for the Web can best be compared to that of television commercials (TVCs). TVCs are produced with the aim to:

  • Immediately grab attention
  • Stand out from the competition
  • Maintain interest, and
  • Convey a message in the shortest possible time

The same principles apply to online videos. Web users are accustomed to getting information quickly. In addition, the shorter the duration of the video, the less bandwidth will be used.

Planning your video: The pre-production phase

Before you begin producing your video for the Web, you'll need to plan how to get your message across successfully (the pre-production phase).

To plan your video's content, create a story board. A story board is a series of "pages" laid out next to one another, each listing a scene. You can move the pages around until you have found the best order. From each "scene" on your completed story board you can then begin planning in preparation for the filming (production) phase, such as writing/finalising the script, looking for filming locations and planning camera angles.

When writing your script, a good rule to remember is that each page will usually result in approximately 1 minute of video. Currently, most videos for the Web are about 2 to 3 minutes in duration. Therefore, aim for 2 to 3 pages in your script.

Filming your video: The production phase

Choosing the right equipment

Regardless of your website's size or popularity, you want to make your video look as professional as possible. The first step to achieve this is to get the right equipment. Try to get the best equipment you can afford. Although you could in theory film your video using any camera - even one on a mobile/cell phone - the quality of the finished video will vastly improve depending on the quality of camera used. On the Web, the dimensions of the video will be small. Even so, a high definition camera will still produce better results than a standard definition one. Benefits of using higher-end cameras include better quality lenses and more advanced image capturing capabilities which result in better colour reproduction and sharper images. The microphone will also play a substantial role in the resulting quality of the sound. If the camera you are using supports an external microphone, try to select one that is best suited for the conditions in which you will be filming.

Always produce your video at the highest quality

When the time comes to publish your video to the Web, you'll need to scale down its quality. However, during editing, always capture, edit and render your video at maximum quality. This will produce the best results during the final encoding and compression process.

Filming tips

  • Aspect ratios: Before you start filming, decide on the aspect ratio you will be using. The aspect ratio is the width of the video compared to its height. Some cameras support multiple aspect ratios. Common aspect ratios are 4:3 (1.33:1) and 16:9 (1.78:1), the later being a common wide-screen format. Currently on the Web, the 4:3 aspect ratio tends to be the most commonly used. If you are filming using multiple cameras, they should all be configured to the same settings.
  • Framing the subjects: Note how subjects being filmed are framed in the picture. Some background objects could cause unwanted results.
  • Lighting: Lighting affects the quality of the image. Different light sources such as tungsten, florescent and halogen bulbs produce different results. Ensure that the white balance of your camera is configured correctly. If you need to increase the lighting of subjects, something as simple as a large white piece of cardboard can be used to reflect sufficient light towards them.
  • Continuity: Continuity refers to the process of ensuring that there is consistency throughout the video such as ensuring the plot, events, appearances of the cast, and that objects and locations flow together correctly. An example of a continuity error might be a clock showing different times throughout the same scene.
  • Focus: Many cameras today have an auto focus feature. If you decide to use auto focus, note that it can sometimes produce unpredictable results such as temporarily losing focus on moving objects without warning.
  • Camera lens: Keep the camera lens clean at all times so that dust does not become visible, particularly if lens flare occurs from the sun or lighting.
  • Review footage regularly: Review footage (including listening to the audio) as soon as possible after filming, so that you can do another "take" if any unanticipated issue becomes apparent.
  • Limit unwanted background noise: There are various types of microphones for different situations. Some microphones will pick up unwanted background noise more easily than others, especially distortion caused by wind.
  • Minimise camera shake: Use a tripod, or other stabilising device(s) when filming. Camera shake looks unprofessional and can be very distracting. If filming outdoors, heavy tripods will produce better results than lighter ones, particularly in very windy areas.
  • Familiarise yourself with the technology: If you're not yet familiar with the equipment you will be using during filming and with the video editing software you will use for editing later, be sure to learn how to use it properly before you begin to avoid costly and time consuming mistakes. Finally, it's also a good idea to produce a quick "test" video from start to finish (including uploading a test copy to the Web and playing it) before you start work on your main video.

Finalising your video: The post-production phase

The post production phase is when everything comes together in the editing process. The best and most suitable footage from multiple "takes" is selected, put together in the right order, and other elements such as music soundtracks, narrations, titles and credits are added.

Some tips include:

  • Perform colour correction: If your video editing software has colour correction tools, use them to enhance dull footage or balance the colours between scenes. The quality of colour correction is one of the major factors that sets professional productions apart from others.
  • Start the video by setting the scene: To give the audience an understanding where a video was filmed, set the scene in the first few seconds using a wide shot. For example, to set the scene for a video about an exhibition at a museum, you might briefly show the outside of the building.
  • Sound effects: Enhance the video's audio by adding sound effects where appropriate. Having access to a library of sound effects (including everything from doors opening and closing to background noise loops) can be helpful for this purpose.
  • Limit the use of special effects: Special effects such as animated transitions from one scene to another might make a video look interesting, but that doesn't necessarily make a video look professional. If you do decide to use special effects, they should only be applied where they compliment the video. They should not be distracting or overwhelming.

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