Back to the basics

“Learn the rules like a pro, so you can break them like an artist.” ― Pablo Picasso

What is true for the artist is true for the video producer. You must learn good basics before you can add creative techniques. There is a language to the screen. There is a visual language ingrained in all of us who have grown up watching it. If you don’t keep the basics, you risk confusing your viewers. Of course, every great artist, like Picasso, breaks the rules a bit. But before you begin breaking rules, you first need to establish the basics.

The first primary rule of video is exposure. That’s the light that comes into the camera. You could say that all creation with a camera is painting with light. We have to get this down before we can try something different. Your exposure has a big effect on the viewer’s feelings and mood. We all understand the emotional differences between a very dark scene and a very light scene. It says something about what we can expect. If a scene is too dark for a viewer to make out your visuals at all, you’re likely failing in the visual language department.

Composition describes the framing of a shot. This can be tricky and the subject of some debate. In terms of photography and still art, the goal is to get the viewer to focus their attention in a certain place. This is true with moving images as well, although there’s a lot more in play. The way something comes in or out of a frame speaks volumes. And yes, if you get it wrong, it can confuse the viewer. For example, a person pushed way to one side makes a viewer expect something to come in and fill the gap. When it doesn’t happen, they start scratching their heads.

Obviously, we cannot forget story. Some might say it’s the most critical element in every video production. A production must tell a story and every visual should support that story. Everything needs to be cohesive. Your video doesn’t need to strictly follow a classic arc, but a series of random shots does not make a story. It’s like the person who just throws out random idea or memories without a point.

Finally, there is audio. Sound is a big part of story. Yes, there are silent movies, but there’s a reason they are rarely made anymore. People may be primarily visually oriented, but sound plays a huge role. With the right sound, you get mood and feeling just like with exposure and composition. Sound may even resonate on a deeper level. Sound is not just dialogue. (Although, if you can’t hear the dialogue, than what’s the point?) Imagine your scene takes place in a train station but you hear the sounds of a babbling brook. Your audience gets lost.

There may be a point that you want to make. There may be a cinematic style that you’re going for. Those things are great. We need to experiment with ideas and looks, but let’s make sure we’ve learned the rules before we break them — like Picasso.

Matthew York
Matthew York
Matt York is Videomaker's Publisher/Editor.

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