Video tips and tricks


Most colleges recognize the value of admissions videos and make a point to include them on their websites. The downside is that many of these videos are poorly conceived and produced so watching them is a chore.

I talked with Bill Denison, an amazingly talented educational photographer, about making great video. With his input, I’ve put together a list of things to do to make your videos stand out—in a good way.

1. Know what you want to accomplish. Don’t just shoot and pray that something will emerge. Outline your goals. Without a clear idea of what you want to say, you could wind up with a lot of footage that never gets to the point.

2. Keep it flexible. You need an idea about where you’re going, but you also need to be flexible enough to rethink it as the project proceeds.

3. It’s about story, not technology. A good story can deliver a powerful message. Be sure you are focused on telling that story, not showing off that you have the latest zoom camera with sliders and fill lights.

4. Don’t be literal. Use video to express the story rather than merely record action. Interpret rather than document. This is where shooting style comes in. A small detail can sometimes be more powerful than showing the entire scene. Different angles can add dramatic interest. For example, showing feet descending a set of steps can be more interesting than shooting the full staircase.

5. Shoot a variety of angles. Include a variety of low and high angles, long shots, medium shots, close-ups, etc. Don’t move to the next scene until you are sure you’ve covered the subject with multiple angles and ranges. It’s always better to shoot too much than not enough.

6. Know how to roll. Documentary videos are composed of A-roll and B-roll. A-roll is the footage of the interview. It can be shot in the studio or on location, and the focus is the person speaking to the camera. B-roll is everything else—like the video that plays during an audio voice over.

7. Know when to shoot B-roll. Shoot B-roll after the interview. Why? The conversation may inspire ideas on how to shoot the person in action.

8. This is video…move! Get your subjects walking, running, or going in or out of a room. If you’re in a lab, follow the student as she gets up from the table and walks to the specimen case. Record the organic sounds around you. This adds a sense of realism to the action on camera.

9. To make great video you need to watch video. If you want to learn to draw, you study the old masters. The same is true for video. Take the time to critically assess the work of exemplary videographers.

Here are a few links to get you started:

Great concept.

Narrated by Werner Herzog, this video uses humor to tell an important story.

A simple idea that gives a glimpse into the thinking of a number of people.

From Bill Denison’s portfolio, photographic stills with voiceovers create a dynamic experience.