Top 5 Mistakes of the Master Flipographer

Last post we took a look at how rapidly technology has advanced in the past 20 some odd years.  This week I want to address the plethora of bad video plaguing  the internet.  With the advancements in technology, our advancements on self-criticism have seemed to decrease almost as rapidly.  We think we can throw up anything on the internet and it will be deemed just as (cute, funny, amazing, educational <–insert your own adjective here), as we thought it was.  The truth of the matter is you have exactly 3 seconds to capture your audience’s attention, otherwise it is likely that they will click off and go looking elsewhere for their information or entertainment.  We have entered an age of infotainment on YouTube, “commercials” need to be amusing, to the point and give us the needed information we are searching for.

It is one thing to throw up some video of your kid scoring the winning touchdown for the game to share with family and friends, but nobody wants to see shaky, handheld, bad audio, poorly lit video associated with a business they are about to entrust.  As a matter of fact it is likely that you are scaring off your potential client base if you have video like this on your website or social media outlets.


Canted angle/fish eye lens

Now that is not to say that creative video isn’t allowed.  It all depends on your market.  If you market is rebellious teens, well then skateboarding videos with fast motion, a variety of camera angles and a liberal use of lenses might be exactly what they are looking for.  But if your target market is middle-aged white men, they don’t want to have to pop a Dramamine tab in order to watch your video.

With that said, here are the Top 5 Mistakes I often see in video and some quick pointers to correct them.

Mistake No.1 -The Talking Head:

This section is actually twofold.  The first is that no matter how much Maybelline is paying you to promote their beauty products, nobody wants to stare at your face for very long.  It’s boring.  Show me what it is that you are talking about.  Use some cut-away shots to promote that product, let me see it in action.  Take some close-ups of it working or of people using it.  Don’t have a product?  Offering a service?  Then show me how that service can help me, my family, my dog or whomever.  If you are a financial planner, show a graph that details if I buy that big screen now, I won’t have enough money to buy my ocean liner when I turn 65.

The second talking head mistake that I often see is this:

Bad Thirds

There is one basic rule to formatting your shot.  Do not cut off a person where they bend.  (i.e.-neck, elbows, waist, knees), and try to give them a little “head room.”

It is also good to remember the rule of thirds-and that is this:  don’t place your objects in the center of the frame. Eyes should be along the upper third and the nose should be placed along the right or left third.

Good Thirds

Rule No 2-What did you say?

Bad audio is one of the biggest problems I see plaguing the YouTube revolution today.  The vast ocean of possible devices we can view video on is staggering; from mobile devices and tablets to your full-sized desktops and laptops, not all of them have great control over sound.  (Also consider where people might be viewing your video).  The basic rule is to make sure that your audio has a baseline of around -6db.

Audio Guide

There are number of options in decent lavalier microphones that fall under the $30 range.  Now while I do have a partnership with Amazon, I do base my product suggestions on personal experience with the product.**  One of the cleanest sound producing lavalier microphones I have come across is by Audio-Technica.  This lavalier microphone falls under the $30 range, and this version has a mini-jack plug (suitable for most smartphones) which produces clear, crisp audio.  If you budget allows it, you could opt for the wireless lavalier which allows you a little more motion freedom.  I like the Sony Camcorder Wireless Mic, which will run you around $100.

Lavalier Mic

Lavalier Mic

My other recommended purchase is a mono-to-stereo adapter.  At around $4, these are a quick, cheap alternative to sound coming out only one side of the speaker.  Don’t talk out of one side of your mouth, make sure your message is heard loud and clear.  A good investment indeed!


Rule No. 3-Sea Sickness

I can’t say it more simply than this: USE A FREAKING TRIPOD!!!!  This is virtual Dramamine for video.

From the flexible tripod , which is capable of handling most modern consumer grade cameras including the GoPro or your smartphone; to my favorite the ProMaster xc522.  There are also a number of options for under $50 from Cowboy Studio .  Depending on your preferred locale for shooting your video, determining which tripod will be most useful for your budget is a personal decision. Finally if you are shooting with a smartphone, there are a number of options for attaching your phone to your tripod.  My favorite is the Square Jellyfish which fits most smartphones from iPhones to the Galaxy S5 and costs around $15.


From L to R the Flex, Smartphone and Photo/Video Tripods

One warning with the flexible tripod is the tendency for people to wrap it around their wrist, a tree branch or other non-stable item, which essentially nullifies the entire point of purchasing the tripod to begin with.  They also do not come with a level, which is a highly useful little feature which prevents you from having a lopsided image (when used properly). Remember to check if your tripod has a level onboard, so that you can make sure your shots are not lopsided.  What you see in the tiny camera screen, isn’t always exactly the way you thought it would be when you get it home to edit on a larger screen.

Rule No. 4-Natural Lighting (can be your friend)

While having studio lighting is always recommended, natural lighting does not have to be your enemy.  With a few tweaks and some inexpensive alternatives, you can “fill” in the light needed to make your video visually appealing.  Remember to always adjust your camera’s white balance settings so that you are not creating a blue or orange cast over your subject.  Blue light is caused by daylight shooting and orange cast is under incandescent lighting.   Remember #dressgate?  Without creating a viral stir again, the dress was determined to be black and blue, and the reason some saw other colors was because of the temperature of the light it was taken in (among other things like your eye’s natural light sensitivity).  But back to today’s lesson…

Even the most basic of cameras will have adjustments for shooting in “outdoor” or “indoor” conditions.  This should reduce the effect of the color cast.  Make sure that you are not shooting near a window or using a mix of indoor and outdoor lighting, otherwise you will have you use your custom white balance setting. If you are shooting outdoors, make sure that the sun is not directly behind your subject, as this will cause a silhouetting effect.  If you shoot with the sun directly in front of your subject while you will get more even lighting (depending on time of day) your subject will have a tendency to squint.  The easiest fix for outdoor even lighting is to place yourself at a 45 degree angle to the sun and then pick up a reflector.  I’ve also seen (and used), everything from tinfoil covered foam poster board, car windshield reflectors, to sheet insulation (available at DIY warehouses), but usually only in a pinch.

Incandescent Lighting

Incandescent Lighting

Blue Light

Shot indoors near a window

Rule No. 5- K.I.S.S.


The simplest rule I can tell people to obey is to keep your video simple.  If you have a lot to say, break it down into short bites.  You will find that people are quickly clicking off your video if you are running longer than 2 minutes.  Our culture has developed such a short attention span, thus we simply are not interested in long, seemingly never-ending video posts.  We want our information concise, informative and hopefully somewhat entertaining.  One of my favorite sets of commercials is the “Mayhem” series from Allstate.  These commercials are 30 seconds in length, give you the information you are looking for and do it in an entertaining way.  They are memorable. Let’s face it, in this day and age there are many other people out there doing, selling or promoting the same thing you are.  What makes you unique?  Get your message out there and show it to people, but do it quickly!



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