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How to Light, Frame, and Shoot Online Video

While some of the time-tested principles of traditional video production still apply, online video is really a world of its own; here we look at key elements of online video production that distinguish it from producing for other media, including composition, lighting, and more.

Shooting in the Highest-Quality Format

Shooting in the highest-quality, highest-resolutions format that your camera allows makes a big difference in the long run. Even if you plan on delivering your video in standard definition, you should still shoot in HD if your camera supports it. Not only does this help prevent quality loss; it also allows you some extra room for creativity in editing.

For example, you can modify your scale properties and make a single-camera shoot like a multi-camera production because you have larger images with which to work. Ideally, you should know the final delivery specs of your video before you hit the Record button.

Choosing a Frame Rate

The next important online video production factor is the frames per second (fps) mode. YouTube says that the frame rate should match the source material, while Vimeo recommends not exceeding 30fos. Therefore, I lean toward encoding videos at 30 or 29.97fps.

I’ve seen some people export with slower rates like 15fps to reduce file size, but I would not recommend this. Online videos can often lag, so you’re likely to experience sync issues by encoding your videos with a slower frame rate than your source footage.

Selecting Exposure Settings

Now let’s talk about exposure. While each video production requires a different exposure for mood or tone, I like shooting with a smaller f-stop because it can create a shallow depth of field (Figure 2, below). This actually accomplishes two things.

Figure 2. Shooting with a shallow depth of field makes your video look more cinematic.

First, it gives your video a cinematic look; second, it actually makes your video encoder’s job easier because you’re telling it what areas of the screen should be in sharp focus. A general rule with shutter speed is to make sure it’s double the amount of your frames per second. So if you’re shooting at 24 or 30fps, then your shutter speed should be at 1/48 or 1/60 to replicate normal motion.

Other Ways to Improve Video Quality

That about covers the basic controls of your camera, but let’s take a moment to discuss some other ways we can make our online videos look good. Thinking back to compression, I recommend using a tripod, monopod, or some type of stabilizing equipment to keep your shots steady.

Stable footage is easier to compress because you’re not moving the frame as much, thus not allowing new information for your encoder to analyze. You can also turn on the image stabilization feature on your camera. This will go a long way in making your footage look better online.

I also like to avoid live zooms and pans because they bring new information into the frame, which can result in more compression to the video. Instead of live zooms and pans, try to sequence your frame with wide, medium, and tight shots.

One of the biggest mistakes I see in online video is the use of highly detailed and intricate backgrounds. Gradients and high-motion items can bring unnecessary noise into your video. When it comes to online video, it’s best to keep backgrounds simple. Stick with seamless backgrounds or fabric cloths that are non-reflective. Use flat paint on any wall you might see in your video to avoid reflecting production lights.

Coordinate colors with your talent so that they’re not blending in with your background.


The same thought process should be applied to green screens. Since video compression will reveal more flaws like noise and artifacts, it’s absolutely critical to get the right lighting when using a green screen. Figure 3 (below) is a good example of proper greenscreen lighting.

Figure 3. Proper lighting is critical with greenscreen video.

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