Developer's Guide to Video Production: Fundamentals of Video

Lee Robinson

Lee Robinson / March 04, 2022

9 min read––– views

You want to start creating videos for developers but are unsure where to start. It seems daunting – what equipment do I need? How do I edit videos? How do I make them good quality? How do I distribute them?

This guide will teach you everything you need to know to start creating videos for a technical audience. It will explain the fundamentals behind video production and explain the terms you need to know. It will show you how to have excellent video quality in your home studio.

I create videos for my job (in Developer Relations) and have worked as a freelance videographer in the past. This multi-part guide will share tips I've learned over years of creating videos and also include a purchasing guide to save you time. I've done the research, and have different recommendations based on your price range.

  • Part 1: Fundamentals of Video
  • Part 2: Video Equipment & Purchasing Guide
  • Part 3: Shooting Videos & Screencasts
  • Part 3: Editing & Distributing

Why Video?

Video is quickly becoming the most common way people consume content. With the global adoption of smartphones higher than ever (80% of the total population in some countries) and improvements to internet speeds, it's easier than ever to stream video. That's why TikTok was one of the most visited websites in the world in 2021.

Reusing Content

Creators can reuse content in many ways and redistribute it to multiple platforms. Podcasts do this well. They shoot an hour-long video and have:

  • The original video version
  • Audio-only version
  • Individual clips

Then, they can distribute this content in multiple ways:

  • Audio streaming services (Spotify, Apple Music)
  • Full video to platforms encouraging longer content (YouTube)
  • Individual clips to social media platforms

When combined with delegating parts of the creative process (filming, editing, uploading), this can be highly effective for creators. They sit down and have four conversations with guests a month (at an hour each) and have generated 10x content for months to follow.

Most videos should start with a script. A well-written script is the first step of creating an exceptional video. But you've just created another piece of content to distribute – your writing! The same script used for your video can be used for a blog post or a series of tweets.

Video Outputs & Shot Types

Different video formats require different research, planning, scripting, and output. There are two ways to deliver video: pre-recorded or live. Live video is gaining popularity but is more challenging than pre-recoded video. For both output types, there are a few common types of shots:

  • Screen recordings: Showing your editor, terminal, or browser as you explain a topic with audio.
  • Talking heads: A close-up shot of your subject, where they're speaking to the camera. The term talking head comes from traditional media.
  • Mobile-first: An important separate type because it's typically filmed vertically instead of horizontally.

Fundamentals of Video

Let's take a look at the terminology and concepts you'll need to understand to successfully create your first video.

Camera

You can film your videos with your phone, and it's arguably a better option for certain distribution platforms (like TikTok), but you'll want to invest in a DSLR camera for higher quality eventually. You'll hear lots of new terms from the videography industry, so let's break down some of the most important ones.

While some of these terms only apply to DSLR cameras, they're good to know even if you're shooting on an iPhone. In general, the goal is to end up with a shot that's not too dark and not too bright; instead, you want a shot that's just right, one with lots of detail.

  • Aperture: how much light is let into your camera (specifically your sensor). Aperture is measured in terms of f-stops (f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, etc.). Lower f-stop, more light. Higher f-stop, less light.
Aperture
  • Exposure: the brightness of your shot. If a shot is over-exposed, it's too bright and certain parts become “washed out”. If it's under-exposed, it's hard to make out all of the details and the footage can become grainy. Aperture affects your exposure.
Exposure
  • Shutter speed: the length of time the camera shutter is open while taking a photo. Aperture is measured in sections or fractions of seconds (1/125s, 1/250s, 1/500s, etc.). Shutter speed can affect exposure and the sharpness of your video. For most developer content, you'll likely have a fixed shutter speed for talking heads.
Shutter speed
  • ISO: how sensitive your camera is to light. A higher ISO means brighter shots. ISO is measured in numbers (100, 200, 800, 1600, etc.). The goal is to keep a low ISO (100) for the best quality. For the type of content developers are producing, you can usually control your environment and lighting to allow for this to happen. Situations where you're filming and it's dark would require a higher ISO or external lighting.
  • Frame rate: A video is really just a bunch of pictures (frames). The frames per second, or FPS, is how we measure frame rate. Movies & TV typically use 24fps to allow for motion blur. To film slow motion, you want to have a higher fps (60fps or 120fps) to allow for additional frames when you're stretching the video out. Otherwise, the video will look choppy when slow instead of fluid.
Frame rate
  • Resolution: You've probably heard 1080p, which is HD. This is 1920 pixels wide and 1080 pixels tall, expressed as 1920x1080. There's also 4K, which confusingly has 3840x2160 for UHD and 4096x2160 for “cinema” 4K.
Resolution

Lens

A camera is only as good as its lens. Further, different focal lengths affect how the image looks.

The longer the focal length of a lens, the narrow its angle of view. Subjects appear larger with longer focal length lenses than they do with our eyes. Inversely, short focal lengths make subjects seem much smaller than they do to our eyes.

Faces are an excellent demonstration. Long focal lengths make faces appear rounder. Shorter focal lengths make faces appear thinner and amplify features such as noses and eyes.

Focal lengths

Extremely low focal lengths are called ultra-wide (e.g. 16mm). This is now popularly known as the GoPro look, although any lens at that focal length can recreate the same look. For example, 0.5x zoom on an iPhone camera is equivalent to a 13mm focal length.

Extremely high focal lengths are called telephoto and work best for outdoor shooting where you have plenty of space between the camera and subject.

The longer the focal length, the further away you have to place the camera from the subject, which makes filming in small spaces inconvenient. This is why most developers use a wide or ultra-wide lens for indoor shooting.

Different camera brands have different types of mounts (e.g. A-mount, E-mount, etc.). You need to ensure your lens mount matches your camera. For example, Sony cameras have an E-mount. You'll need to use E-mount lenses, or purchase an adapter.

Audio

Audio quality is arguably more important than video quality. Why? Bad audio quality is worse than bad video quality. Especially when doing screen recordings.

The goal when recording audio is to prevent clipping – when the audio is too loud and information is lost. You can always raise the volume of your recording, but you can't fix clipped audio. You prevent clipping by monitoring your audio and ensuring the level doesn't “peak”. Aim to record at -12db (decibels).

Peaks

It's also important to control your environment. Have you ever seen images of artists singing in the studio? Their setup has been acoustically treated and soundproofed.

Recording studio

Soundproofing is the process of making a room resistant to the passage of sound waves. You're blocking sounds from entering the room and preventing internal sounds from escaping. Certain materials, like the paneling on the wall above, absorb and trap sound waves.

You also want to prevent plosives (e.g. words with the letter P) from introducing popping sounds. This can make your recording sound unprofessional. This is what pop filters and windscreens in front of mics prevent.

Pop filter

Lighting

To nail the professional look, you don't want to rely on natural lighting. You need a predictable, reliable way to light your subject. The most common way is to have a three-point lighting setup with a key, fill, and (hair/rim) light. I recommend watching this video to learn more.

Lighting

A lot of lighting comes down to artistic preference. If you want the dramatic look, maybe you only use a single key light so there are more shadows.

You will also want to diffuse the light. This prevents lighting from looking harsh and unnatural, and instead better reflects natural lighting.

If you've ever seen a professional photography studio, you've likely seen lights with diffusers. They often look like umbrellas or large circular coverings on top of lights.

Photo studio

Conclusion

That's a wrap on the fundamentals of video. You've learned about:

  • Reusing Content
  • Video Outputs & Shot Types
  • Cameras
  • Lens
  • Audio
  • Lighting

Next, we'll learn about the different types of video equipment and I'll share some recommendations for equipment to purchase based on your price range.

  • Part 1: Fundamentals of Video
  • Part 2: Video Equipment & Purchasing Guide
  • Part 3: Shooting Videos & Screencasts
  • Part 3: Editing & Distributing

If this was helpful, let me know on Twitter.

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