Top 10 Tips for Beginner Filmmakers

December 29, 2019

Creating videos is easy. Anyone and everyone can make a quick video with their smartphone.

But creating great videos takes creativity, practice, and a little knowledge about filmmaking basics.

If you want to have fun creating videos that inspire others and communicate a visual message that people will pay attention to, you need to put some effort into improving your skillset.

Here are my top ten tips for improving your filmmaking skills so that your videos will truly stand out.

1 | Master Your Camera

I put this tip first, because it truly is the most important place to start.

Your camera is the tool you will be using to tell your story, but it’s just that - a tool. Your camera is simply an extension of the creative ideas in your mind.

If you don’t know how to translate those stories from your head to your camera, then how will you ever capture videos the way you want to?

I’m telling you, your videos will be absolutely revolutionized once you begin to understand the functions of your camera and how to actually take control of the proper settings for each and every situation.

Aperture, shutter speed, and ISO come together to make the perfect balance in each and every shot. Do you know what each of these mean? Do you know what happens when you alter one versus the other? If you answered no to these questions, then this is the perfect place for you to start.

Here’s another example of a real life scenario where this decision matters.

Want to shoot your subject with a super soft, blurry background with the subject in sharp focus in the foreground? This is only achieved by having your aperture setting on your camera set as wide as it can go.

But if you don’t know anything about aperture or how to change it, how can you achieve that desired effect?

Or maybe you are having trouble keeping a moving subject in focus with your videos as they move through the frame? Did you know that stopping down on your aperture can help keep a wider zone of your frame in focus?

This step can take years or it can take just a few weeks, depending on how committed you are.

The techy camera terms can feel overwhelming at first, but I’m telling you, it’s not that complicated once you give it some practice.

I recommend mastering the following concepts before moving on in your filmmaking endeavors.

manual mode for filmmakers
  • Aperture
  • Shutter Speed
  • ISO
  • White Balance
  • Frame Rates

In case you want to study up on these concepts a little more, here’s an in depth article discussing each one in great detail, specifically for filmmakers.

2 | Shoot What You Love

My second piece of advice for beginner filmmakers is to care about the work you choose to shoot. If it doesn’t bring you joy, don’t shoot it.

Side note: I mean this for those who are hobbyist filmmakers looking to improve their craft. If you are a professional filmmaker, I completely understand that not every working gig is going to bring you joy. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. I’m specifically speaking to those who are simply practicing to improve their skillset.

If you love music - shoot concerts and music videos. If you love skateboarding, shoot your friends at the skatepark. If you love traveling, document all the amazing trips you go on. If you love lifestyle, shoot your kids or friends in real life.

You get the idea.

You are going to spend a lot of time and energy learning and growing in your craft, so you may as well be having fun while you do it. Plus, the last thing you want is to burn yourself out doing something that feels like work.

The passion you have to capture the things you love simply cannon be faked. Your work will shine the most when you’re having fun and all the practice you’re putting into it will be effortless.

If you don’t love what you’re doing, how can you expect anyone else to?

shoot what you love

3 | Think Like an Editor

I heard this phrase early on in my filmmaking career and it’s stuck with me.

Many times as a hobbyist filmmaker you are the producer, director, cinematographer, and editor all in one.

What I mean is - the final video is your idea and you execute every part of it. But traditionally, there were different people for each of those roles, sometimes a handful for each.

Even in my own career, it was often a different person shooting the footage and then handing it off to an editor for post production.

If you’ve ever edited a video in this fashion, you know how frustrating it can be to sort through the footage you’ve been handed and not find all that you need to put the story together.

The shooter didn’t give you an opening shot. The shooter didn’t give you enough angles to cut a seamless scene together. The shooter didn’t give you a transition shot to move naturally from one location to another. The list goes on.

This phrase is meant to emphasize that to be a great shooter, you need to be thinking like an editor.

Make a list of all the shots you think an editor might need and how they would use them. This will get your mind thinking on set so that you will never again miss the shots you’ll need in post production.

Here are a few specific examples:

  • Film a few beats longer than what you think you need. It never hurts to have an extra second or two of footage. Once you’ve nailed a shot, wait just a second or two longer before you stop recording. This gives your editor extra room in case they want to edit in a fade or transition from that shot to the next.
  • Always grab establishing shots. These are shots that move the film from one location or scene to the next. Without them the film will feel abrupt and confusing. Grab extra shots at each location that gives context to where you are. It doesn’t have to be anything complex - simply a wide shot of the exterior structure or a sign outside of a building that provides information about where the scene is taking place.
  • Capture more than you think you need. When in doubt, grab another take. It’s always better to have more than you need than not enough. Give you editor choices between which shot is best rather than just one option.
  • Cover all the angles. You need to give your editor several options, especially if there is dialogue in your film. To cut from one shot to the next, your editor needs a different angle, otherwise you’ll end up with jump cuts.

4 | Set Monthly Challenges

Not only do you need to be shooting what you love, you also need to guard against boredom or falling into a creative rut.

A great way to continually improve your skillset is to practice, practice, practice. But you don’t want to burn out or feel like your hobby has become a job.

But how do you keep things interesting and fun?

I suggest finding a few friends to join you in a monthly creative challenge. Your friends don’t even necessarily have to be filmmakers - they can be photographers, graphic artists, writers, anything creative really.

Grab a calendar and come up with 12 topics to revolve your challenges around. Here are some ideas to get you started, but really you should make them whatever sounds the most appealing to you.

  • Fresh Beginnings
  • The Color Blue
  • A World in Motion
  • True Happiness
  • Something Old, Something New
  • I’m Thankful For
  • Symmetry and Patterns
  • Totally Natural
  • Being Alive
  • Self-Portrait

At the beginning of each month, make it your goal to create one project revolving around the designated theme for the month. You can be as abstract or as literal as you choose. The point is to have fun and to flex your creative muscles.

This can be done completely solo on your own, but I find it more fun to share the journey with friends.

Did you know that we have a private facebook group of other filmmakers doing this together? We’d love to have you, so come check it out and start participating in our monthly creative challenges.

5 | Get Creative with Camera Angles

When I look at the work of artists that I admire, I notice that they are constantly pushing creative boundaries with their camera angles. This is one of the easiest ways to instantly make your videos stand out.

Put a little thought into it. Take ten extra seconds to move your body around and see what angle looks the best.

Here are a few quick ideas to get you started.

Shoot from Above

Hold your arms up or stand up on a stool or chair to shoot directly above your subject. This is a great establishing shot idea because it gives your viewer a lot of context for what’s happening in the scene.

shoot from straight above

Shoot from Way Down Low

Another very easy yet creative technique to add variation to your films is to get down on the ground and shoot from very low down. Literally, lay down on your stomach, put your camera on the ground and see what things looks like. You’ll be amazed at how this changes the feeling of your shot. It is great for making your subject or scene look and feel epic. It can also give the impression that you are going on a journey as the viewer’s eyes have nowhere else to look but up and ahead.

shoot from down low

Use Leading Lines

Pay attention to other elements within your frame. Stairs, walls, columns, and bookshelves are common everyday objects that you can easily use to frame your shot. Identify where the lines and edges of these objects are falling within your frame and direct your shot so that these ‘lines’ point toward your desired subject. These lines ‘lead’ your viewer’s eye to the intended point of interest.

use leading lines

Shoot Through Another Object

It could be through the leaves of a tree, railing on stairs, etc. It gives you bokeh and out of focus elements that add extra perspective and depth to your photo.

shoot through something

6 | Maximize Natural Lighting

Aside from learning how to operate your camera, this is arguable the most important factor in improving the quality of your videos.

So many people are intimidated by lighting for video, but there’s no need to be. It takes practice and observation, just like anything.

The beauty is that once you start to understand it, you’ll be invincible. I used to be nervous about this too. I’d scout out my locations ahead of time just to get a look at the lighting and angles to make sure they’d work.

Now that I’ve been shooting for a while, I have developed the confidence to know exactly how the light is going to look through my camera before I even turn it on. This isn’t a crazy skill - you can easily develop the same ability. It just takes some attention to detail and enough practice.

Here are a few tips for making the most of natural lighting in your films.

  • Timing matters. Shoot at golden hour. The actual hour varies depending on where you live and the time of year. In general, shoot during the hours directly after sunrise and before sunset. The sun is at its greatest angle during this time and will give you the softest, most indirect lighting.
  • Shoot next to a window. Windows are big, naturally diffused light boxes. And they are the perfect source of natural light. So move your subject right next to the window and see how that soft light bounces off them. If the sun is shining directly in the window, you may need to wait for another time during the day when the sun moves to a different direction and gives you indirect sunlight.
  • Backlighting. If you haven’t heard this term before, it refers to shooting right into the direction of the sun with your subject standing in front of the sun, blocking some of the light. It works best when the sun is low (golden hour). NOTE: if the shadows of your subject are long, then it’s a good time for backlighting. It takes practice, but once you master this technique you can get some really dynamic lighting in your videos with lens flares and golden light.
natural window lighting

7 | Let Others Inspire You

If you can carve out 10 minutes a day to watch a video or two from a filmmaker that you admire, your work will automatically improve without you putting in much more effort than that.

You’ll start to see new ideas and naturally formulate more creative ways to tell stories, just from seeing how others have done it.

You’ll brainstorm better ways to grab shots and push the boundaries.

You’ll be inspired to be better in your own work just by watching what is possible.

Go a step further and start jotting down specific techniques that you see these other artists doing. Then, go and research those specific techniques so that you can practice them as well.

Step by step your own work will improve by leaps and bounds.

8 | Share Your Work

When your work is on display, you will naturally improve.

It’s human nature.

Without even thinking about it, we want to impress others with our craft. You don’t have to feel bad about it. Of course, it shouldn’t dominate your creative decisions, but you can harness this impulse for good if it becomes a reason to continually improve your skills.

Secondly, if you share your work with likeminded creative people, more than likely you will become part of a community that will build you up and help you improve your filmmaking skills with their feedback.

Sharing your work is a great way to stay accountable to yourself and others.

If you share on social media, it’s a great way to document your progress. How amazing to look back a year later and see how much you’ve improved.

Did you know that we have a private group of filmmakers on facebook where we share monthly creative challenges, our latest work, and more behind the scenes information? I’d love to connect with you along with the rest of our crew of filmmakers on the blog.

You can check out the group here.

9 | Take a Filmmaking Class or Course

One of the best things I ever did for my own work was to take a few online photography and filmmaking courses. Not only will you feel committed (since you’ve likely invested some hard earning money), you’ll have the steps outlined for you so there’s no guesswork involved. You’ll know exactly where to start, how to proceed, and what outcome you’ll have in the end.

If you’ve ever felt overwhelmed at the amount of knowledge that you want to learn, but just didn’t even know where to start, a course may be the perfect choice for you.

In my case, I had a few specific photographers that I really admired that I saw had some online courses. Because I’d followed these artists and really wanted to learn how to do what they were doing, I was interested in some of their materials.

My work and style grew 100 fold the year I decided to participate in those classes. Not only that, but because I’d developed more confidence in the work I was able to produce, I became much more confident directing during shoots.

It can be so helpful to learn from other professionals, so be sure to scout out the filmmakers and artists that you admire and invest in a course or two.

If you’re curious, here’s my favorite place for online photography classes.

For you beginner filmmakers, I’d love to have you join my in my online course. Production is still in the works, but you can go ahead and sign up for more information about the course once it’s released.

10 | Don’t Stop Making Stuff

You’ve made it to the end of this list, which tells me that you’re serious about becoming a better filmmaker.

Now that I’ve gone on and on telling you about all the things you can do to continue learning and growing, I’m going to tell you something a little contrary to all of that advice.

Don’t worry about all the knowledge. Don’t worry about doing anything wrong. Have fun and don’t stop making stuff.

I repeat. Don’t stop making stuff.

A few years ago, I transitioned from working full time at a production studio where I was making 5-10 short videos every few weeks to moving to a new state, starting a family, and creating my own business. Life was busy and so was I.

I didn’t stop taking videos altogether, but I did slow down. A lot.

Even though my knowledge didn’t go away, I was out of practice. I stopped experimenting. I stopped creating like I had in the past and honestly it hurt my work.

So my final advice is - above all the knowledge, all the facts about cameras and techniques and things to learn, don’t forget to get out there and practice it yourself. Shoot and film and edit and put something together. Even if you’re busy, set realistic goals for yourself and get out there and do it.

Your turn.

I’d love to know your thoughts about becoming a better filmmaker. What tips do you have for the rest of us? Drop me a line in the comments below and let me know what you think.

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top tips for filmmakers

Happy shooting!

-Beth

Hi, I'm Beth.

I started Handcraft Films to give other filmmakers and photographers the gift of documenting their own stories for years to come. I hope you'll learn something new and share your creativity here.
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