Beginners’ filming tips


by Tom Barrance

When you start to learn filmmaking – especially with basic equipment – you need to keep it simple. These tips will help you get good shots and usable sound with basic camcorders, still cameras, or your phone.

Before you start, check that your camera is ready. Make sure the battery is fully charged, the lens is clean, and there’s enough free memory. 

1 Film separate shots

Don’t wave the camera around to scan the scene or follow action. Instead, plan your movie as a series of separate shots, keeping the camera still for each one.

2 Keep it steady

Turn on image stabilisation if you can. Support the camera with a tripod, or by resting on a table, a wall or the back of a chair.

3 Move around

Don’t shoot everything from eye level. Film shots from different places: above, from below, and from different positions around the subject.

4 Frame carefully

Frame each shot carefully and keep it simple: just show one thing in each shot. Pay attention to the background and the edges of the shot, and keep the camera level. Make sure the shot is clearly different from the one before it.

5 Don’t zoom

Zooming while you’re filming usually looks terrible. Set the zoom and don’t touch it while you’re filming.

To make things easier, zoom all the way out, and stay zoomed out. Camera shake will be less obvious, and sound from an on-camera mic will be better because you’ll have to get closer to the subject.

6 Get in close 

Use plenty of closeups to draw viewers’ attention to important things. But don’t zoom: instead, zoom with your feet by moving closer to the subject. 

7 Check the light

Basic cameras give terrible image quality in low light. Film where there’s plenty of light but not too much contrast (you could fill shadows using a reflector). Film with the light behind you.

8 Take control

Don’t rely on autofocus and automatic exposure. Lock exposure and focus on the most important part of the image then adjust the exposure if necessary. Or learn to set exposure and focus manually

9 Watch the sound

Be quiet and listen for a few seconds before you start filming.

If you’re using the built-in microphone, get in close and try to film away from distracting background sound. If possible, use a separate microphone, adjust the sound level, and use headphones while you’re recording.

If you can’t record good live sound, plan a film that doesn’t need it. Create the soundtrack afterwards, or edit to a voiceover or music track.

10 Hold the shot

Film each shot for a few seconds longer than you need: ten seconds for a shot with no action, or five seconds before and after any action or speech.

More about making your first movie