Want to create a polished, professional video that makes your audience believe it came from a professional studio? It’s easier than you think. Instead of dropping thousands on top-of-the-line equipment, try these easy and affordable (free is definitely affordable) techniques to take your video visuals to the next level.

Choose A Location That Matches Your Desired Video Visuals

The location of your video will help set the mood and tone and everything that follows, so you want to make sure you have the right one. Are you talking about extreme sports? Stay out of the board room! Is this a corporate onboarding video for new employees? The middle of your nearest park probably isn’t the best choice.

 Videomaker Magazine has some great tips on how to scout the best spots, and what to look for before making a decision. Here are a few of the most useful:

1.      Know Your Script

Choose a site that matches the tone of your video. As you set out to look at locations, you have potentially endless possibilities. Remember that above all you have a story to tell, and choose a location that lends itself to that. Don’t let your location limit your story, instead.

2.     Scout At The Right Time

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Be aware that locations can change. It's wise to check your spot on the day of the week and the time of day that you'll be taping: these factors can produce surprisingly large changes on the suitability of a location.

Automobile traffic and noise, visitors to recreation and entertainment spots, and tourists at scenic or historic areas (to name just a few examples) all come in waves that vary dramatically based on the time of day, the day of the week and the season.

3.     Look At The Light

Churches, ballrooms, restaurants, auditoriums and homes generally feature low amounts of available lighting. Check light levels by shooting a few seconds of test footage with your camcorder.

Solutions for poor lighting might be as simple as scouting out window blinds and curtains that can be opened to add daylight. In some cases you may wish to bring in lights or ask permission to replace the bulbs in accessible light fixtures with brighter-burning units.

4.    Follow The Sun

Outdoor lighting conditions can be as challenging as those indoors; exterior illumination changes all day long. As you're scouting locations, pay attention to whether a given spot is in full sun, partial sun or full shade. Bright sun can be harsh on people's faces, and light-colored surfaces can blow out in full sunlight, causing automatic camcorder lenses to underexpose shots. Partial sun can be tricky, as well; today's camcorders, though sophisticated, can have trouble handling the high contrast in this situation. Ultimately, you may find that fully shaded locations or overcast days produce the most consistent results.

5.     Listen

Clean, high-quality sound is critical in making a video that rises above the ordinary, and it’s silence that ensures you get the location sound that you came for.

The whooshing of traffic, the white noise of moving water, and the echoes of voices and movements can all get in the way of high-quality audio. As you scout a location, check for any of these conditions by listening to your camcorder's microphone pickup through headphones. Test your wireless mike at the site as well, listening closely for any type of interference.

6.    Check For Power Supplies

Many outdoor locations are far from power sources and even some indoor locations can pose AC challenges, so multiple camera batteries are always a good idea. But you'll still need to evaluate your power options at any location.

How will you power your lights? What if you do end up draining all your batteries? Is there anywhere to plug in the charger? Is the spot remote enough to make a car-lighter AC adapter a good idea? In a location that does have power, you may be able to plug in, but you'll still need to think about the system's pre-existing load and whether or not you can get to the fuse (breaker) box in case something blows.

Set Each Shot With Video Visuals In Mind

Even if you’re not setting out to make a contender for next year’s Academy Award for Best Cinematography, how you construct your individual shots can go a long ways towards raising the quality of your video.

Framing

Premium Beat, a great resource for royalty-free music, also has some great resources on their blog for video production.

1.      Use The Rule Of Thirds

The rule of thirds simply states that you want to think of your shot in three main parts: left, center and right. You can take this one step further by composing your shot vertically as well, breaking it into top, middle and bottom for a total of nine individual segments.

Placing your main object in one of the main thirds will go a long way towards framing a technically sound shot. There may be times when you want to go against the rule of thirds, but it should always be a calculated choice and never because of lazy technique.

2.     Create Symmetry (Or Asymmetry)

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Creating symmetry is one of the most effective ways to frame a shot that will feel well composed on a screen. Symmetry provides the viewer with a sense of balance that subconsciously allows them to become immersed in what they are watching – drawing them further into the characters, setting, or scene by the leading lines in the frame.

On the other hand, images that are intentionally off balanced will create a sense of disconnection and instability for the viewer, which can work well for horror, thriller, or high action.

3.     Avoid Eye Level Shooting

Placing the camera at eye level with your subject can leave the scene feeling sterile and unemotional. It can work well for videos that are intentionally benign, or for a documentary-style shoot, but in most instances your best bet is to place the camera slightly above or below eye level.

That slight angle can help you either diminish or empower the character on screen, and guide the emotional experience of your viewer.

4.    Have A Theme

It’s important that you have a theme or guideline for yourself when setting out to shoot any project. An example of a visual theme or motif that you might choose to explore would be empty space.

Let’s say you are shooting a film that deals with very lonely characters that feel isolated from each other. It would be a great visual choice to shoot them with lots of open, empty space on either side of them so that their loneliness and isolation is conveyed to the viewer effectively. You also might choose to frame the characters in single shots, as opposed to two shots, since that will also make them feel more disconnected from each other.

This clearly is just one example, but the point is you want to pick a theme and run with it – whatever it may be, to ensure that you are creating a distinct visual style that is unique to your film.

5.     Shoot With Intention

Think about every single one of your shots and consider how you want it to add to the story you’re trying to tell. If you’re going to break the “rules,” make it intentional. By understanding the purpose behind the rules you are breaking, you will understand the effect your approach will have on the audience and the meaning behind your intentions will be felt.

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Background

It only takes a second, but if you don’t catch a mistake in the background while you’re shooting it could haunt you every time the video is watched. Don’t believe me? Check out this list from Cracked that points out glaring mistakes in some pretty big movies.

Take a close look at the shot through your camera and make sure there is nothing awkward in the background that gives your actors antenna, or makes it look like buildings and trees are sprouting from their head.

Part Two Is Coming

There’s so much great information to go over still, make sure you stay tuned for part two!