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How to Create Great Videos On a Budget

Video has suddenly become more important than ever before. It's truly the only way we can communicate and engage with donors "in person" at this time. If you aren't already utilizing video in your donor relations strategy, you should be! There is a common belief that good video has to be expensive and expertly produced, and that's simply not true! You (yes, you!) can create great videos from home with a few simple tricks. We asked Lynne, Tyler Wessel (our resident videographer), and JD Beebe (CEO of ThankView) to share their best video tips for beginners. These tips are for shooting around your house with what you probably already have or could easily acquire on the cheap. Looking for an expensive video kit? We've listed our favorite products here.


Prioritize your lighting. If there’s one thing you can do to increase your video quality, it’s to have sufficient and proper lighting. You know all those phone commercials that are entirely “shot on [insert favorite phone]”? But then you can’t replicate that incredible video quality? We can pretty much guarantee they are also using professional lighting behind that camera lens. Plus they are probably doing a bit of color grading in post, but we digress.


We’ve all seen or been on video chats where you can barely see the person, where they look like a shadowy silhouette against a well lit wall behind them. This is particularly exasperated if you are in front of a bright light source behind you (such as sitting in front of a window on a sunny day).


The good news is this is often an easy fix, even without professional lighting:


  1. Place a light source in front of you so that your face is clearly seen. This could be natural light sitting in front of window (FACING the window, not with the window in your background), good overhead lighting in a room, or you can move a lamp (either a floor lamp or table lamp) in front of you (behind the camera/computer/phone). If you need to remove the lampshade to enhance the brightness, that’s fine (the lamp won’t be on camera). The goal here is for your face to be well lit.

  2. Try to use warm and natural light rather than harsh white light.

  3. For backgrounds, avoid sitting/standing in front of a window with direct sunlight or another bright light source. Remember, you want to be FACING the window.

  4. Give some depth between you and the background source. You can actually have some warm lighting behind you--and sometimes a window, if it’s not direct sunlight--as long as you have proper distance between you and that light source. In fact, a little warm ambient light (such as a table lamp) can add a LOT to your video, but your priority should be lighting yourself.

  5. If you want to film outside (with proper social distancing!), consider where the sun is positioned. Behind you and you may be a silhouette. In front of you and you may be squinting. An overcast day is actually good for shooting outdoors as it filters and scatters harsh light. Sunrises or sunsets can create amazing lighting opportunities.


If you’ve never thought about lighting, then our best advice would be to experiment and play with the lighting before your call or before shooting a video. Turn on your webcam or camera and test it out. Try different setups. It may take multiple attempts, but you’ll be happy to get it right.


You have good lighting, now get good sound. Don’t overlook your audio source. Too many times people ignore HOW they sound. You don’t want to sound grainy and echo-y. Not only is it distracting, it can also make it hard to understand you.


If you can, use an external microphone rather than a laptop/phone/camera mic. Built in mics just aren’t quality; never have been. Use an external mic. If you are able, do some research on Amazon to find a quality mic, such as a podcast or shotgun mic; they are fairly affordable and can be used for a number of ways. (In fact, we've linked one in our video kit below). Also, did you know that some earbuds (such as Apple’s) have a mic on them as well? This is better for video chats than shooting a pre-planned video, but they can make a big difference.


Also, don't forget to remove loud pets (and children) from the area. 

Think about your background. Of course some video chat platforms help here. You can hide your messy background with a fun background. Skype allows you to blur your background.


If you don’t like these options or are shooting a video rather than getting on a chat, consider what’s behind you. You don’t want that pile of laundry behind you. Do you have nice artwork on the wall? A colorful accent wall? A lovely outdoor seating area? Think outside the box. Consider the message you want to convey in your video.


Steady your camera. On a video chat? Put your laptop on a table or counter where it won’t move; avoid your lap. Shooting a video with your phone? Get a tripod; don’t try to hold it steady. You can get a phone tripod on Amazon for $10 and up. A steady shot makes a better shot.

Film Indoors. Even if you are somewhere rural and not close to others, there are many people who don’t have that luxury. To show solidarity, choose to film indoors or on a private balcony or space that clearly indicates that you’re staying safe and solitary. 


One person per frame. Outside of immediate family (or as we call it—your Quaranteam), don’t film multiple people in the same frame. Record a Zoom or Google Hangout section to get multiple people in the video if necessary. And this may be a personal preference, but having watched newscasts where the interviewer and the interviewee are walking but six feet apart, just looks odd. If you want to have multiple people in your video, use some simple light editing to splice the videos together. 


Ask about the viewer. Make the video a two way street. Even if the video is delivering a specific message, ask your audience how they are doing. Leave a way for them to reply with their own video or email response. 


Don’t be too far away from the camera. The more distance between you and the camera, the more likely it’ll be hard to hear you. Try and frame yourself into the camera so you’re waist up with your head fully in the frame. The reverse can be true - get too close to the camera and you’ll end up looking like the girl from The Blair Witch Project! 


Strike the right mood. These times call for being more serious than normal. But don’t be afraid to add a little levity. We should never downplay people’s legitimate fears or personal pain but sharing something uplifting or a positive thought will go a long way. 

Don’t be too critical of yourself. Listen, no one expects you to be a perfect videographer. These are strange times; people will show you grace. The biggest thing to remember is that you don’t need to be perfect. It’s about the message, not the packaging. But do your best. Make an effort. Learn something new. With a few simple adjustments to your surroundings, you can make a video people will want to watch. 

A few more tips to keep in mind while on camera:

  1. Look straight at the camera, try not to use too many notes, you look distracted

  2. Be casual and imperfect, it harkens and genuineness 

  3. Be honest and vulnerable

  4. Try not to be doom and gloom, we can get that from the news

  5. Demonstrate need without seeming needy or desperate

  6. Treat your audience to behind the scenes content or something from personal insight

  7. Use short concise sentences with relatable wording, now is not the time for jargon (is there ever a time for jargon?)

  8.  If you can include a transcript or close caption the video even better!

  9. Have something in your sights that brings joy, something behind the camera that will make you smile!

  10. Try to get it in one or two takes, after that you can literally feel the anxiety creeping into the screen

  11. Use "you" in your video as much as possible instead of the organization's name

  12. Be yourself! 

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