Filming 101 (Blended Learning Primer)

Filming 101 primer title banner

Although not always possible it is recommended that you should spend a little time planning any filming/recording that you want to do. This primer is designed to help you get the most out of your filming session by helping you plan and consider what it is you want to achieve with the resources you have at your disposal.

When planning you filming session have a look at the ‘Filming Checklist’ guide. If you are conducting an interview then also look at the ‘Video Interviews Checklist’ for specific interview guidance.

Jisc Digital Media (Site has been archived):

Distribution and Audience

A major factor on what and how you record will be governed by who your intended audience is and how you are expecting them to consume the finished product (VLE, organizational video service, YouTube, DVD etc.). Do you absolutely have to have top production quality video or will a ‘Just Good Enough’ approach be suitable for your needs. E.g. a Promotional Video for distribution via DVD (high – very high quality) against a talking heads interview to be streamed online (low – medium quality).

File formats and video codecs

There are a wide range of video file formats and many cameras will record in proprietary formats by default. Where providing guidance on every camera make/model and their settings is not possible here, a few examples will be provided.

Essentially if you are unsure of the file type and codec that your camera is using you will need to go into the camera settings and check there. The best format to recording to maximize compatibility is to save as a MPEG4 format or container (.mp4, .m4p) and the H.264 coding format (codec).

If you have a video in a format other than this you may need to convert (transcode) to the MPEG4 format. There are several ways do this. If you can open the file in a video editor then you should be able to ‘Save As’ or ‘Export’ into an MPEG4 (.mp4 or .m4p) file.

Saving in Microsoft Movie Maker
Saving in Corel VideoStudio

Alternatively there are a number of free dedicated conversion applications available, such as WinFF (Windows, Linux) or Handbrake (Windows, Mac)

File Size

It is worth noting that media files, especially video files, tend to be very large when compared to typical word or pdf document, this can pose a problem when uploading. Many systems may have a limit on file sizes that they will accept and large files are more susceptible to failures in network connection especially over Wi-Fi. It is always good practice to make sure the file is as lean (small) as possible to mitigate against this.

Capturing Audio

With the power of mobile devices capturing video these days is no longer a problem. On the other hand capturing quality audio can be tricky. Microphones on most Phones, tablets and handheld cameras tend to pick up a lot of ambient environmental sound (cars, air conditioning, bangs, clicks and squeaks) that we naturally filter out. These can become very distracting on a recording.

To mitigate against low-quality audio, carefully select your recording location to minimize the ambient noise that might be picked up. Secondly, if possible use a dedicated microphone usually the better the microphone the better the quality of audio. There are also different types of microphones (boundary mic, directional or shotgun mic etc.), each designed to capture sound for different scenarios.

Directional microphone: Picks up sound from set directions depending on the requirement.

Single direction (Uni-Directional) for podcasting and Vlogging.

Front and rear (Bi-Directional) for interview style scenarios.

Local area (Omni-Directional) for general recording, seminars and conferences.

Note: many good quality microphones will have multiple settings for different use.

Boundary microphones: Specialised directional microphone particularly good for recording performances, meetings and seminars.

Lavalier Microphones: Also known as lapel mics. These are small microphones that you can clip to your clothing and are an unobtrusive option for filming or if the subject is mobile.

Shotgun Microphones: A mic with a narrow focus of pick-up and better at picking up audio at a distance. Often used attached to a camera to pick up the audio from the direction it is pointed.


Lighting, Shots and Composition

Effective lighting and composition for a video has an element of personal taste but with a few simple techniques you can ensure that you always have professional looking results.

Jisc Digital Media: Video: Setting Up a Video of an Interview (HTML)


The most common lighting setup for both still and video is the 3 point set up. This is used to light the subject without any hash shadows whilst not making them look too flat.

The basic 3 point lighting setup consists of…

  • Key Light’ or ‘Main Light’ – placed approximately 45 degrees to the right or left of the subject.
  • Fill light’ – placed approximately 45 degrees to the opposite side of the subject that the Key light was placed.
  • Back Light’ – placed to cast some light on the rear of the subject just to help make it stand out from the background.

A graphical representation of the basic 3 point lighting set-up

This can be achieved with just the contents of an average office without the need for expensive lighting rigs.

Key Light: Light from window, main room light or desk lamp

Fill Light: Desk lamp, tin foil or even white paper/card in lieu of a reflector

Back light: Desk lamp


Shots & Composition

Composition is how you choose to frame your shots; it is equally as important for video as it is for still photography. Things to consider for you shot composition are ‘The Rules of Thirds’, the type of shot (Establishing, medium, close-up) along with cropping and framing.

Rule of Thirds

One of the most basic compositional rules is the ‘Rule of Thirds’. If you divide your screen into 9 equal parts, with two horizontal and two vertical lines. The subject (usually their eye) or point of interest should be at the intersection of or at least one on these lines.

Examples of ‘The Rule of Thirds’

Photo of several groups of graduates in black gowns taken from a high point of view. A grid imposed over the image shows that the placement of two with red gowns illustrates the rule of thirds. A grid imposed over a photo of someone presenting at a conference illustrates the rule of thirds


When shooting video, you will choose from different shot types for the type of filming you are doing. Practically you place your camera wherever you want to for the result you wish to achieve. The classification of shot types are just a common language in filming to convey what you are want to do (or what others want you to do). Different shot types are used in different filming scenarios.

The Establishing Shots – Wide shots allowing the viewer to take in the entire scene, establish the setting/context.

Medium Shot – Subject is full length or cropped but typically a medium shot doesn’t really include much surroundings. Good for framing multiple subjects (e.g. interviewer and interviewee) or providing variety from just close-up shots.

Close-up Shot – Tightly cropped shots of the subject (head and shoulder or face) and makes the subject the sole point of interest.

Cropping and Framing

Similarly to still photography, you make decisions on what to include in the shot along with its placement within the screen all this will make the final footage look pleasing to the eye.

  • Have the subject looking into the shot (more space in from of them than behind)
  • Cropping at major joints should be avoided.
  • Avoid bright patterns and busy backgrounds which will compete with your subject
  • Place the subject in a setting that provides context to the video and its topic




screenshot of 3 examples of different storyboards

Although not a mandatory part of filming creating a storyboard however basic is a good way of thinking through what it is that you want so when you come to filming you don’t miss anything or if someone else is doing the filming for you then a storyboard allows them to better see your own vision for the shoot.

Although for a Hollywood movie a storyboard will look like a graphic novel it isn’t necessary for such refined detail. Simple stick figures will suffice. Work within your own abilities, it’s for more important to do a storyboard than it is to do one beautifully.

  • Use Post-it notes and draw on them. You can move the notes around to reorder the sequences till you’re happy.
  • Take photos instead. These can be pasted into a document and graphics and text overlaid

Top Tips to recording video footage on a mobile device

  • Don’t shoot vertical video. Always record in landscape.
  • Use a tripod of hold with both hands
  • Try and use an external Mic. If using the devices built in mic check you aren’t covering it with your hand.
  • Don’t use the Phone’s zoom. Hold steady and move closer/further from the subject.
  • Light your video
  • Avoid transitions from light to shade and other high contrast light recording
  • Use the exposure lock

How to Record Better Mobile Videos – TechSmith Tips (YouTube)



Other Resources


Video Conversion/Transcoding



Posts and guides