The 3s of Basic Photo & Video Production Skills For Any Camera

By Caleb Clark.  


Designed For:
  • Anyone who wants to get better photos and videos with any camera, smart phone, tablet, etc.
  • Teachers who want to teach basic video and photography skills
  • You will need: 30+. Any camera that does still and video. Speakers/headphones.

Rule of Thirds Composition

Frame by the Rule of Thirds (It's really more of a guideline than a rule...get it!'ll see in a minute). 

YouTube Video

Next time you are watching movies or TV, try to turn the sound off. Notice what makes a shot look "professional." Where do they put the camera and what do they choose to include in the frame. It's ALL purposeful.

Links: Rule of thirds. Site: A simple explanation of Rule Of Thirds. Site: Rule Of Thirds explained. Based on the Golden RatioPortrait or headshot photos for biographies, personal sites, etc. Portrait how-to video. Art behind headshotsAdvanced techniques. 

Three Point Lighting 

  • Always try and get to the ideal of three point lighting, the basic configuration the pros use.
  • Links: Basic Three-Point lighting. Graphic explanation of three-point lighting. And on rendered fruit
  • Natural light from the sun (on a cloudy day, or indirectly through a window), is best. When in doubt, put a window at your back. Florescent ceiling lights are terrible.
Advanced. Three point in depth with pro lights which goes into black and white backgrounds and dramatic lighting. Advanced 3-Point lighting with a white background and How to do infinite White on a Budget. An award winning video on how to use lights to make a pure white background you can edit anything into.
Now, find a partner with a camera. Take turns practicing using natural light from a window to light each other's faces. Use three lights of any kind to try and light a small object, such as a stuff animal or piece of fruit, with three point lighting. 

Three Foot Mic Proximity

Audio is the secret of good video. Keep mics close to mouths. 

  • Place the camera's microphone within a body length of your subject's mouth, or closer.
  • Before you start a video shoot, practice recording both outside and inside so you know where the mic is on your camera, and how good it is at recording different sounds.
  • Listen to the "sound space" of where you are before you record. Listen for noise from traffic, appliances, fans, music, wind, open windows, etc. Close your eyes. Listen to where you are for a solid minute. Find the noises you can turn off, like fans or computers, and turn them off. With a partner, practice talking to a camera recording video as you back away from it. Watch and listen to the recording so you know how far away your mic is good to.
  • Equipment review and links. <$30 wired lav mic.  Good intro shotgun mic. Good first wireless lav.  Zoom H1 recorder.   2014 mics under $100Budget wireless mic review

Three Video Editing Techniques

Editing video takes TIME. 
  1. Minimalist: The quickest editing is not to edit. Record video very carefully in short clips (30 seconds to 10 minutes) that start and stop when you want them to. Then, upload directly to Youtube. The next quickest is to edit only start and stop times, no audio, music, etc. Use MPEGSteamclip from
  2. Online: or YouTube has online editors can can do some editing of short clips. They change constantly. 
  3. On computer editingiMovie and Movie Maker are free with Macs and PCs. They will make full movies with sound and video editing. 
  • Use music under the audio your camera captured to smooth transitions from one scene to another. Or, record a few minutes of "silence" where you record your scenes to use under transitions. Believe it or not, all locations have a "sound of silence"
  • Shoot with editors in mind. For example: After an interview, get some "B-Roll" or shots where you don't worry about the sound, and just get objects, scenes, views, hands, people standing around, and other shots for the editor to use.
  • Always shoot a few seconds before and after the content you want starts and ends.
  • Then you will need to buy a fast computer with a big hard drive and backup hard drive and install Sony Vegas, Premiere, or Final Cut.

Three Photo Basics

1. Kodak Lessons Top Ten TipsPractice each of these basic skills until you really understand them. This is also a great lesson to assign to students.: Kodak has been a pioneer in photography since 1888. They have excellent free basic training for any camera and skill level, see: Kodak advanced subjects | Basic Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO for DSLR cameras. Take photos that are examples of each of the 10 tips. Edit them until you have one good photo for each tip. Name them with the tip's number and name. Upload to a site such as Flickr or Picasa, submit a slide show link to your instructor.

2. "Be The Camera Grasshoppa." Quiet your mind. Look around you. Do you have enough light to see the subject clearly? Where is the good light in the room? What can you do to get more light? Quiet your mind. Close your eyes. Can you hear a fan? Traffic? Talking? Can you hear your subject talk very clearly?

3. Practice. Carry your camera everywhere. Take photos several times a day for a month. Push buttons you don't understand. Practice shooting during the day, night, and indoor, outdoor. Learn the basic buttons most camera's have. See: Kodak Lesson on Camera Controls

Three Coverages

Every time you set out to capture a place, event, or activity, you need to get "coverage" to tell the story. Coverage comes from Hollywood and it means to always shoot some of each of these kind of shots:
  1. Long shot: Far away, establish the scene, e.g. A town from from a nearby hill, or a school and it's property.
  2. Medium Shot: Medium close, e.g. Main street, or a hallway, or classroom.
  3. Close Up: Headshots of people, or close ups of objects being built, etc. Most of your shots can be of this type, after you've established the scene with a few long and medium shots. 

Three Step Production Processes

Everyone's own specific "workflow" is different. The concept is always the same however. 
  1. Shoot. 
  2. Download and Organize. Get your media off the camera and in a safe place. Organize your original files so you do not compress or edit the originals. Do a rough edit by deleting bviously unusable shots. Either save original resolution somewhere safe, or use a non-destructive editor like iPhoto or Picasa. Name files/folders/albums in a convention that makes sense to you, such as " Organize into projects, events, slide shows, etc. Do a final edit of each photo's levels and cropping. 
  3. Upload and Backup. Upload events or slideshows online. Backup your original hi resolution, and edited photos. With a non-destructive editor this is just backing up your computer. With a program like Photoshop, backup your files to another drive or online. Good Reviews on a site such as CNET.


Three Misc

Do not zoom unless you can't walk closer. Zooming cuts the light and makes things shakier. Exception: If you are using a tripod, and external mic, most camera lens' have a "sweet spot" that is zoomed about 10-20% from the widest setting. 

Use white foam core panels to bounce sunlight onto subjects. 

If you can't afford wireless. Record sound with a separate sound recorder (Smartphone, audio recorder) strapped to a subject and synch the sound later. User a hand clap to simulate a film slate to help you sync later. 

A Home-Made Summary

  1. Rule of 3rds: Frame your subject by the rule of thirds.
  2. 3ft. mic rule: Keep mics close to mouths.
  3. 3 point lighting: Use a lot of indirect natural, or high quality electric, light

YouTube Video

Free Upload Sites

  • Flickr or Picassa for still photos.
  • Vimeo has a great player and options if you want great looking video.
  • YouTube is the de facto place to put all your videos no matter where else they may go, it is the second most used search engine on the web.
  • is great for episodic show production.
  • Text: Every video will need a title, description, and key word tags. Write these in a text file like NotePad (PC) or TextEdit (Mac) so you can copy them if the upload fails. Establish a set of tags you always use, and then add a few tags unique to the content. Example. Specifics to the media first, i.e. "photo, redwoods, 2008, mendocino, california" then keep a text file with general tags you can copy and paste, i.e. "caleb clark, portfolio, vermont, educational, technology, technologist, instructional design, marlboro, MAT, edtech, grad school, graduate school."
  • Thumbnail: Some sites let you control a still photo for the video. It is best to shoot this with a still camera, vs taking a frame of video.

Camera Buying Tips

Once you pick a brand, stay with that brand. This saves time because you can learn one interface, and reuse batteries, chargers and other parts as you buy over the years. We recommend Canon "Powershot" cameras, but most major brands have good models. We look for:
  • Impartial reviews from reputable sites such as Steve's Digicam, or CNET Reviews
  • High mega pixels, but beware, this is a sales gimmick that can distract you from the other as important factors below. 
  • Optical zoom numbers matter, not digital. Digital zoom is another sales gimmick  It's not really zooming so high numbers don't really matter. 4X is fine.
  • Good sensor chips and software on the camera.
  • Good "glass" or lenses. The bigger the lens, the better. 28mm to 105mm is a good guideline.  
  • Personally I like Canon Powershot point-sheet cameras, Audio Technica Shure mics, Jabra mics/headphons, Logitech webcams/mics,