Everything You Need to Make Your First Video

John Lothian

John Lothian

Executive Chairman and CEO

In this era of social distancing and quarantining at home, John Lothian Productions is now offering a FREE “Everything You Need to Make Your First Video” mini course. The course is designed to give you important lessons, tips and tricks to shoot your own quality videos while away from the office. There are five lessons that walk you from picking your topic to what kind of equipment you need.

With everyone from your grandmother to your boss communicating via video in this pandemic world, the need for high quality, concise and well conceived video to get your message across has never been higher.

Here are the 5 lessons:
Lesson 1: What should be in my video?
Lesson 2: What video format should I use?
Lesson 3: What tools do I need to make my video?
Lesson 4: How do I make a great video?
Lesson 5: Do you have any tips to help my video stand out?


Robert Weiss

Lesson 1: What should be in my video?

My favorite type of video is one that explains your “why.” People become your true fans and customers because they connect with your mission and purpose. There is no better way to jump start that connection allowing your team to visually explain your mission.

The best part is that you can shoot a simple, inexpensive video and still have a great impact. Some people might even feel more connected because it is like a peek behind the curtain.

So don’t get scared away because you can’t spend big money on equipment or a video project. This tells how to get your message across with any budget. Step one is figuring what your video’s content will be.

First Video Ideas

  • Mission: Your “Why”
  • Personality of your employees
  • Product/service explainer
  • Tutorial
  • Company Updates
  • Event Coverage
  • Interview
  • News
  • Behind the scenes
  • Live/webinar
  • Internal/training

Each of these types of video calls for different formats and production quality. A fun video showing off your employee personality or mission could be done with an iPhone and might feel great.

But if you want to make something showing the value of your product/service, you want the visuals and audio to match that level. Remember the last time you saw a local commercial? It didn’t make you think, “Now that is a quality product.” The same thing could be said about a product video. With a tutorial you could get away with a screen capture. But if you are doing an explainer, a great looking animation is going to keep someone watching much longer than you poking around your screen with a cursor.

Take some time and think about what video content makes sense for you. In the next lesson, we are going to cover the format that works best for each of these topics.

Lesson 2: What video format should I use?

Now that you know what your video is about, it’s time to figure out your format. It is always time to figure out the level of production. You want to pick a format that matches up with the quality you can produce. You don’t want to use a handheld phone when trying to show how amazing your product or service is because that takes away from your message. You also want to keep your expectations in alignment with your purpose for the video. You want it to look great, but let’s be honest, it won’t look like a Hollywood produced film – and it doesn’t have to.

And don’t worry if you can’t afford a $10,000 camera. In the next lesson I’ll walk through the steps to take to improve your production at any level. For now, let’s focus on the format you would like to create and we will go from there.

This is the versatile video style that we’ve all seen in documentaries and news programs. Here, you can combine interviews, voice overs, visuals (b-roll) and music to fully reveal your video subject. You get to use personality and passion to connect with the audience. You can also cover up any mistakes with a variety of other visuals and voiceovers so you don’t have to be perfect. And if you’d like to include customers, this is a great format to illustrate, through their words, who you are and how you are making a difference.

Great for: Mission: Your “Why”, personality of your employees and product/service explainers.

This is very similar to the documentary style, just a little more toned down. For example, Apple and others do this for product videos, with someone looking off camera giving all the needed information on the product.

Here’s a tip: Unless you are an on-camera professional, don’t plan out every word you want to say. The best way to get everything you need is to set your topics ahead of the video shoot and then have someone ask them as a question. Your responses will come across in a more natural and authentic way that connects with your audience.

Great for: Mission: Your “Why,” Personality of your employees, product explainers, tutorials, company updates and, news internal/training videos.

So you want to explain your software product. You could do the classic recording screen, rambling explanation and mouse jumping around the screen. But there are better alternatives. Actually, it’s not a bad idea to start with that so you know what you want to explain. From there you can create a voice over and use screenshots to create a more measured video, moving a digital mouse around exactly where and when you want to show it. From there, you can fold in some of the interview style and flip back and forth to get your perfect message across.

Great for: Product/service explainer, tutorial, internal/training.

Explainer alternative:
My favorite type of video to create right now is an animated explainer video. Sometimes it is a lot easier to show someone how your product or service works with some clever images rather than actually showing the product. It is also a great way to add some personality and fun into the video.

We know how much personality matters to grabbing an audience. An interesting animation also holds someone’s attention better than other formats. I have found myself watching minutes on a topic I don’t care about because the animation held my attention. Animation can also work for almost any content. Keep in mind the level of animation is also going to reflect your level of product or service.

Great for: Mission/Your why, product/service explainer, tutorial, company updates, news, internal/training.

Looking into the camera:
This is a tricky format because you want to make sure you’re using it at the right time. I almost always default to looking right off camera. Bumbling around while looking off camera feels a lot more natural than when you are looking right into the lens, so be careful.

My rule is if you are talking directly to the person watching then it is okay to look at the camera. So if you are giving a behind the scenes tour or updating your audience on what is going on this is a great format. It seems to work for presentations that are totally off the cuff. Anything that you are trying to say exactly right is very hard to pull off.

Great for: Company Update, Event Coverage, News, Behind the scenes, Internal/training, live/webinar.

All of these formats can also work together. So have fun figuring out what pieces work best for your goals. In the next lesson I am going to go over the actual tools and methods to create your amazing video.

Lesson 3: What tools do I need to make my video?

Shooting video can be very expensive, but it doesn’t have to be. The price of some of these tools has gotten so low that anyone can make good looking videos for their company. There are also some simple hacks that can be used to make cheap gear feel expensive.

If you want any advice on some more advanced tools or want to know what we use, send us a message. For now, here is a list of the basics to make sure you can get a good product.


Here are some cameras to consider.


We said it before and we’ll say it again. Audio is just as important as video. You can choose from two paths – buying a mic that records into your camera, or buying a separate audio recorder. The separate recorder is going to give you a better result, but it adds another step in the editing process.


Most people don’t think about lights, but this can make the biggest difference in the quality of your image. You don’t have to break the bank either. Simple LED work lights from Home Depot may work just fine. But if you want to diffuse or spread out the light, make sure you use a light non-flammable material to cover the light panels.


Lesson 4: How do I make a great video?

First, let’s go over some tips.

Audio is just as important as video. Most people don’t focus on audio but really should. Most viewers can let bad visuals pass, but when their brain hears bad audio it tells them the video is bad as well.

NO COMEDY. Unless you are a pro don’t try to be funny. There is nothing more painful than someone not connecting with humor.

NO SCRIPTS. There is no better way to show something stale than to read off of a script. We will see you reading. And don’t memorize it either. That just doesn’t sound natural. The only time you should use a script is for voiceover.

Go Hands Free. Don’t hold anything. If you have papers or a water bottle the audio will pick up any motions with it. Also, if you have notes, you’ll use them even if you don’t have to. If you need notes, put them face down and look at them between takes.

Clean Up. Look at the background of your video. Have a stuffed animal sitting behind you? People will stare at it and miss your message. We’re naturally distracted like that. So don’t give them a reason to look elsewhere.

Sunlight. Don’t shoot with a window behind the subject. Most cameras cannot capture you and the outside at the same time. Either you will look really dark or the outside will be completely white, especially on beautiful sunny days.

Sit up straight. It looks really bad when you are slouching in a video and takes the energy away. One more tip: use a non-swiveling, non-reclining chair.

Keep It Short. Make the video as short as possible while putting in the needed information. Under two minutes is best. Some would say under one minute. You can have longer videos for tutorials, but people generally don’t have long attention spans.



In a best case scenario, you have a three-light setup. But you can get away with just one, or sunlight, if you have to.

The main light (key light) is used to light up your subject from a better angle than ceiling lights would. No one looks good lit from directly above them. If you don’t have a light you can use a window or the sun. Just place the light in front and to the side. Side lighting gives the best look.

The second light is the shadow light (fill light). Its role is to fill in some of the shadows created by the main light. You want this light to be less bright causing that side of the subject to be a little darker. This gives the subject more dimension and definition. You can even use something like a white poster board to bounce some light at the subject.

The last light is the back-light. This light separates the subject from their background and is the least necessary but is nice if you have it. Any light that is aimed at the subject should have a filter in front of it. This can be as simple as a shower liner or could be a photographer’s filter/bounce. The reason is the bigger the light source the better the light looks. So you are taking a light source the size of a light bulb and turning it into the size of a shower curtain. This will light your subject in a much more even and appealing way. If you don’t have something you can always bounce your main light off of the wall and onto the subject. This will give you the same effect, but with less light.

Your subject should be placed to one side of the frame with their eyes at the point that the top third meets either the left or the right third. If the subject is looking right into the camera, place them in the middle of the frame, but keep their eyes on the top third line. Now that you have placed them make sure they are looking toward the center of the screen. So if they are on the left they look to the right and if they are on the right they look to the left. Lots of people mess this up and end up having their subject looking off screen. You wouldn’t know why, but this will make the viewer feel uncomfortable because they can’t see where the subject is looking. They feel cramped.

Depending on your camera there are some settings worth noting – frames per second, ISO, aperture, white balance and shutter speed.

Frames Per Second – 24 FPS is what you should default to because it gives you the most film-like look. Some cameras will only be able to do 30 FPS which is what most TV is shot in. If you want to do slow motion then 60 FPS+ is what you want to do. You can then set it to 24 FPS while editing and it will look slowed down.

Aperture – This is how much light that is allowed into the lens. The main thing to know is that the lower the number, the more blurred the background will be. I like to shoot with a low aperture because again it looks more like film to have a blurred background. It also puts the focus on the subject.

ISO – The easiest way to think of the ISO is that it’s about brightness. The higher the ISO the brighter it will be. When you are inside without a lot of light you can set this higher and get a better picture.

White balance – This is what makes your image warmer or cooler. This can be very complicated. Luckily most cameras make it as easy as possible. They have settings for things like direct sunlight, shade, incandescent light… I would stick to those. One thing you don’t want to do is put it on auto because then it can change during the shot if the lighting changes and give you a weird look.

Shutter Speed – There is only one good setting for this unless you want to look like “Saving Private Ryan.” action scenes. If your camera lets you change this you want it to be around double your FPS and keep it there. This will give you the correct speed. A higher shutter speed will give you the scattered jumping look while a lower speed will give you a dreamy look.

So what should your setting be? FPS should be 24 if you can. Aperture is where I start when making the scene look right. I get it as low as I can to blur the background. This also brightens a darker room. Once I have set that then I change the ISO until the image is sufficiently bright. It is better to be a little darker than too bright. Once something is blown out (all white) it can’t be saved. So if the video looks too dark raise the ISO if too bright then lower it. Set the white balance to match your main source of light. Finally set the shutter speed to double your FPS and leave it there.

The two biggest things are to test your audio levels and if you are recording separately to hit the record button. I have forgotten to record audio several times and it is not a good feeling, knowing you are going to have to start over again.

Make sure that headphones are part of your kit. That way you can make sure you hear the sound that is coming in. Not only will you want to hear the subject, but any background noise you might be able to change as well.

Just like brightness you don’t want it to get too loud and “clip.” There is no fix for clipping. If you are able to see a recording level on your device you want their levels to hit between -12 and -6. 0 is where it clips.

If you are using a boom mic you want it as close to the person’s mouth as possible without being in the shot. From above you will point it past their mouth and at their upper chest. This will get rid of most of the popping from Ts and Ps.

Editing is a longer course all by itself. If you are able to film two angles that’s better because then you can edit the person easier by switching angles. You can also fade into the cut or even do a cut without a fade if you zoom in a little on the subject. Use b-roll (images, animation, other video) when possible to cut in-between what the subject is saying. If you want more info or tips feel free to contact us.

For exporting the best thing to do is export using h.264 encoding. Most programs let you pick how you will export and this will be an option. It is the default for youtube and other web videos. If you can change it, the MBPS should be between 5 and 12. This is going to affect the quality and size of the video. So the higher the better quality and bigger. With these two settings, you should have a nice looking video for youtube, Vimeo or wherever you are going to put it.

Lesson 5: Do you have any tips to help my video stick out?

Now you know what makes a great video, there are still plenty of things you can do to make sure yours stands above the others. This includes using video and pictures as b-roll. When you are filming your subject make sure to film around the area for things that are related to your subject or the message of the video. If your subject talks about an award get video or pictures of the award to add to the video. This kind of extra work goes a long way to keep the viewer interested. Remember we get bored easily, so the more you can change it up the better. Below are a couple of more add-ons to think about adding to your video.

Video Bumper
Video bumpers are great. They are the quickest way to brand your videos so people always know it is coming from you no matter where they are watching. Think of the Disney logo you see before every film they make. All you need to do is create a simple animation of your logo and URL moving into place. You can even do a simple fade in if you have to. These can also be used on websites or on screens at trade shows. If this sounds interesting then don’t miss the offer below.

Video Opening
A video opening happens right after the bumper to introduce the specific video content. Think of it as the show credits on a TV show. The peacock animation was the bumper for the network and then the credits were the opening of the video. These can add interest to what you are about to see and give your video a little more of a professional look. But be careful. Making your opening 30 seconds long is a quick way to lose your audience.

Adding music to either your opening or entire video makes your can provide a more professional feel that is much more engaging. It also helps cover up any problems with the audio. Unless you have the most expensive audio equipment you are going to get some background noise or hissing and this will cover that right up. Make sure to try different types of music because it will affect the feel of your video.

About John Lothian Productions

John Lothian Productions is the commercial video production division of John J. Lothian & Company, Inc., home to John Lothian News, MarketsWiki, MarketsWikiEducation, MarketsReformWiki and CryptoMarketsWiki.

John Lothian Productions was launched after demand from the industry for better quality video materialized and John Lothian News presented a higher quality video product than was typically seen in the industry. Early projects were small and included events and commercials, but JLP eventually won a contract to make a 30-minute documentary for the CBOE’s 40th anniversary. Other significant projects followed, including the 100-year anniversary of RJ O’Brien, a celebration of the life of Ivers Riley, an Intellectual Property Exchange event, SEFCON events and more.

The John Lothian Productions team includes Head of Videography Patrick Lothian, Producer and Editor Mike Forrester, Script Developer Thom Thompson and Executive Producer John Lothian. Additionally, freelancer and former John Lothian News President & Editor-in-Chief Jim Kharouf is a collaborator.

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