6 Tools We Use To Create Our Promotional Videos

By April 14, 2015Video Production
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Photo credit: Hannah Maia Taylor


We’ve always avoided getting too technical when it comes to talking about our services. This is because, quite frankly, most clients don’t care about how we get the job done in technical terms…as long as the job’s done well! But we do get quit
a few questions about how we actually create the video production and promotional videos that we release. Some potential clients are curious, some might have an interest in movies, video or photography, and that’s cool.

As regular readers of this blog know, I don’t write too much about equipment and the technical side of video production. This is also due to the fact that equipment is an ever-changing issue and filmmaking tools are constantly being updated. And, to be honest, too many people get stuck on this issue and spend huge amounts of time trying to keep abreast of all the changes and updates for everything they own (and even stuff they don’t own!)

How Exactly is a Promotional Video Created?

With that said, this isn’t meant to be seen as some all-encompassing description of our process, or even a detailed look into what equipment we have. This is a rough guide about just some of the key items that we carry in our video production business.

I’m not going to be too specific with a lot of these tools because, as we’re all only too acutely aware, technology evolves so fast – I don’t want this article to be outdated in a year’s time. I’ll speak in general terms, but be specific where needed.

Without further ado, here are the 6 Essential Tools We Use To Create Promotional Videos:

1. A DSLR Camera

As I’m sure you’re aware, DSLR cameras are taking over the world right now. What people are come to realize in the last 5 or so years is that DSLR cameras (that’s Digital Single Lens Reflex) aren’t just great for taking photos (their initial use), they also have amazing video capabilities.

We call it the “DSLR Revolution” because these cameras have pretty much changed the way videographers and indie filmmakers work/do business. There are loads of great articles around the internet about how DSLR cameras have revolutionised modern videography. Just know that DSLR cameras have taken the filmmaking community by storm.

Canon EOS 5D Mark II

This isn’t your uncle’s large, unwieldy “video camcorder” that he used to shoot family gatherings and holidays with. These are small, easy to handle cameras that produce fantastic looking results. You might have heard, and it’s true that DSLR cameras have been used to shoot Hollywood movies.

One of the most popular DSLRs is the efficient and all-round effective Canon 5D mark ii. Both Canon, Nikon and Sony make solid and well respected DSLR cameras, and there are of course other brands out there. These DSLRs have completely changed the world of videography, enabling us to capture footage that has a cinematic looking quality, without the need for huge Hollywood style cameras.

We always carry at least two cameras with us on every shoot, whether it be our corporate/commercial video production or our wedding videography at our sister company, Shoot The Piano Player Wedding Videos.

That brings us to…

2. Lenses

lenses1

We use lots of different lenses, but wanted to highlight a couple that are the real ‘go-to’ lenses for us:

– Canon 24-70mm 2.8

– Canon 50mm 1.8

A quick word on what those numbers above mean (and, again, this isn’t meant to be an out-and-out detail tech guide):

– The number with the mm after it is the focal length. Focal length describes the distance between the centre of a lens and its focus. Or, put more simpler – the higher the focal length, the further away you can capture video from. This is a very basic reading of a highly technical process, but it’s a good rule of thumb.

Higher focal lengths are not necessarily better (a common misconception of those new to video or photography). They’re just better in certain situations. Bigger focal lengths nearly always mean more sizeable lenses. But, at the end of the day, it all comes down to creative decisions on a shoot. Some action demands a close-up shot, some a shot from further away. Bigger isn’t better, it’s just used for a different situation.

– The second number (in this case 2.8 and 1.8) describes the f-stop (in photography circles, this will nearly always be described as the maximum aperture). The lower the f-stop number, the more sensitive the lens is to light. So lenses like the two mentioned have relatively small f-stop numbers and therefore are good for low-light conditions.

The Canon 24-70mm is a great walk-around lense, as is it’s cousin, the Canon 17-55 2.8. The focal length is perfect for something like a wedding, as the distances it captures normally cover about 95% of distances you’re likely to have at weddings. Obviously, there’s lenses for other more niche situations – such as when the bride and groom are far away on a hill, for instance – and a lense with a longer focal length is needed. In those cases, something like the Canon 24-105mm is handy. Of course, we’re into the realms of creative shot decisions at this point – a videographer could, naturally, just walk a little closer to be nearer his subject.

The Canon 50mm 1.8 is a great little lense – especially brilliant for capturing two-shots – that is, two people talking. It performs well in low light conditions due to it’s low f-stop number. We use the 50mm lense for lots of interview situations.

The low  f-stop means that this lense is also fantastic for capturing shallow depth of field video. This produces the cinematic look where the background is blurred out and the foreground (often people) are in focus.

Like anything else in life, there are of course alternatives to Canon. Nikon make some brilliant lenses, as well as fantastic cameras that rival Canon’s range in a lot of ways. For cheaper alternatives to Canon and Nikon lenses, there are Tamron and Sigma. There is much debate about the quality and durability of the so-called “cheaper lenses,” but this is definitely something to be aware of.

Important note on lenses: What people are always surprised to hear is that a good lens will (probably surprisingly) cost you more than a camera body. It will also last longer, too. It’s not unusual for a good lens, that’s kept well and cleaned often, to outlive multiple cameras.

3. A Laptop

laptop1

Once we’ve filmed your project, the next step is to upload the camera footage ready for editing. We use Apple Mac computers and laptops for this.

One of the safety measures we take on all our shoots is to backup our footage early and often. To avoid memory card failure issues, we regularly transfer footage onto the laptop and the hard drives to prevent any potential loss of data. This is just an extra layer of protection that not many videographers think to do.

Beyond editing our videos, a laptop is an essential business tool that performs a range of tasks. Not least of which is running our website and showcasing our portfolio of work.

Why a laptop and not a desktop solution? A laptop will allow you to be more mobile – it would be crazy to take a full desktop solution on a corporate shoot! We do, of course, use various computer setups in our studio, including desktop computers and laptops.

My recommendation for a laptop is Apple’s MacBook Pro. It’s a great intermediate solution and a fantastic piece of kit. Obviously not going to be as powerful and quick as a desktop solution, but if you kit your Pro out with 8MB of ram (most come with 4MB), you’ll be well on your way to getting maximum efficiency out of this machine.

4. Editing Software

You need a good editing software solution in order to put together and edit the video that you capture with your DSLR camera.

Going along with the theme of me recommending specific products, I’m going to put myself on the line and straight-up recommend Apple’s Final Cut Pro X. Yes, I’m a big Apple fan! This is what we use these days.

It wasn’t always this way in our business, though. Here’s a photo of Russ a while back editing with Final Cut Pro 7 (the previous incarnation of the Final Cut Pro software):

final-cut-pro-7

These days, we use its slicker and more powerful brother, Final Cut Pro X:

final-cut-pro

Sure, there are other editing platforms out there, but this is my favourite. Perfect for the intermediate video editor (the learning curve isn’t too steep) and also still great as you get more advanced.

During my time studying film production at Los Angeles’ UCLA film school, we were taught to use the ancient Steenbeck editing machines. These are old-fashioned flatbed editing systems that were used most commonly from the 1950s-1970s, where practioners would painstakingly edit hundreds of reels of 16mm or 32mm film. Anyone who’s sat down at one of these things comes away with a newfound respect for anyone who plied their trade with one of these beasts! They really are cumbersome compared to their modern computerised counterparts, but it’s an incredibly illuminating process to learn.

Each frame of film existed in a physical form, and if you wanted to make a cut in a scene you’d need to physically cut it using something that looks like a sellotape dispenser and then (literally) glue it back together.

Here’s a picture so you can see their true scale and ferocity:

steenbeck-editing

So as a young student just a few years ago, we were instructed to edit 16mm film on these with the intention of teaching us the foundational pricniples of editing – which are the same whether you’re using a flatbed machine by hand, or editing on a computer. I guess they were also teaching us how easy we have it now that everything can be done on a computer!

Back to modern times: Apple’s computerised editing solution is a breeze to use and the updates since the initial release of version 10 have greatly added to the usability and power of this software.

A great alternative is Adobe’s powerful Creative Cloud range of products. A monthly (and reasonable) cost will get you, among others, Adobe’s Premiere and After Effects video editing software.

There’s so much to the editing process that the full depth of it is really beyond the scope of this article. Our clients are nearly always not aware of the kind of work that begins once the shooting process of their project has finished. And that’s cool, because they’re always overwhelmed with the results we produce.

To touch on a few things that go into the post-production side of videography – that is, everything that happens once we start editing with the footage we filmed for your project: there’s title work, motion graphics work with Adobe After Effects, music editing, getting captured sound just right, transitions like fades and dissolves, and much much more.

5. A Tripod & Glide Equipment

tripod

I’m going to make a bold statement: you can’t shoot good video without a tripod.

At least a tripod. Sure, there are other stabilization tools out there for the videographer But, again, we’re talking about the essential tools of the trade here.

Lots of videographers who come into this business from a photography background just simply don’t get this: You can’t film professional looking video without a tripod. It’ll just look shaky like that footage you took in Ibiza with your camcorder after a few of Jimi Costa’s rum-based beachside cocktails!

If I was to give someone new to videography a solid (pardon the pun!) tip, it would be this: Get a great tripod and you’ll never shoot an annoyingly shaky shot again. You’ll be able to pan left to right smoothly, taking your shots from the realms of vacation footage into professional looking territory. As well as the pans, you can get great looking tilt (up and down) movements.

Invest in a tripod first, learn it, and then consider other stabilization tools like monopods, sliders, etc.

There, I wetted your appetite!

What we use: right now we use the Manfrotto 755XB with a good fluid head, among others. Investing in a great fluid head enables us to do the smooth moves and improve shots massively. There are plenty of other tripods out there for all sorts of situations and budgets.

I include “Glide Equipment” here as this is one of the questions we’re often asked once clients have seen our Brochure & Guide To Prices. One day, I’ll create a Frequently Asked Questions section on the site that will delve into a lot of the questions that we’re asked at initial meetings with clients.

So the most obvious form of “glide equipment” that we carry is a slider. It sounds so very futuristic, but it’s not quite as Sci-Fi looking as it sounds.

What the slider enables us to capture are those awesome “gliding” shots as the camera seems to flow past guests in our videos. The slider is basically a small length of “track” with a plate to allow the camera to sit comfortably. The slider track works like the “dolly track” in traditional filmmaking – tracking shots are possible, as well as smoother pans from left to right. We can also get a cool effect that looks like zooming, but isn’t. This is the infamous “dolly zoom” of filmmaking and can actually be achieved with a slider and a decent lense.

For the most famous use of a “dolly zoom” in Hollywood movies, check out this clip from Martin Scorsese’s classic
Goodfellas:

6. Sound Gear

zoom-h4n

Sound – listed last but it’s so, so important. Not many people outside of professional videographers/filmmakers realise the new ‘make-or-break’ issue with sound quality. People often don’t believe us when we try to explain just how important good sound is to the quality of their wedding video, but they always understand us when they hear the results!

An important thing to remember about sound is its absolutely paramount to the viewing experience. Picture this: if you’re watching something on the internet, most people will put up with a poor, even grainy, picture quality. However, they won’t put up with awful sound!

That stuff gets turned off right away. And it shows the true power of sound.

With that said, a camera like a Canon 5D will capture decent sound. Sound is a much debated and controversial issue, and “decent sound” more so. Let’s put it out there: it’s a very subjective matter.

Look, you can capture “decent” sound with most DSLR cameras using their in-camera mic. But decent isn’t something we strive for at CrawfordCarlin Films. We want awesome!

Sure, a less professional videographer might add music to a video in an attempt to gloss over the bad sound they recorded on the wedding day. But most people won’t watch your wedding video if the sound of the bride and groom speaking is awful.

Getting sound right is so important, and it’s the most stressful aspect to get right on the day, as the variables can be so different depending on the location.

Top notch sound comes from off-camera mics. We have all sorts of options at our disposal, but here are a couple of good ones that work great in all situations.This is just one example of an ‘on the camera’ mic and a mic for ‘off the camera.’

On-camera: the Rode VideoMic.

Off-camera: the Zoom H4N

The Rode VideoMic sits neatly on top of the DSLR camera.

The Zoom H4N is a recording device with a built in microphone.

In Conclusion

As I mentioned at the start, these are just the 6 Essential Tools We Use to Create Promotional Videos. We can talk about Canon L-glass, monopods and Carl Zeiss lenses another time.

Thanks! 🙂

 

Do you have any questions about the equipment that we use and our process? Please feel free to get in touch. Or add a comment below if this article has helped you understand video production a little better.

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