Video production: Learning the basics to improve your visual storytelling

Video production: Learning the basics to improve your visual storytelling

Tom Mays, Assistant Professor, Business Technology



The last 20 years has brought on remarkable change in the video industry. We have progressed from the need for multimillion dollar production environments to a time when high quality video can be captured using a phone. While the improvements in quality and cost have been quite dramatic, it is still necessary to apply fundamental video production techniques in order to enhance audience focus on the messages in our digital stories.


The production process consists of four phases. The preproduction phase is the planning phase. This is when we outline our video, and if appropriate, write scripts and create storyboards. After planning, we move to the production phase. This is when we capture our audio and video. In the postproduction phase, we edit our video, and graphics, photos, and other digital media are incorporated. After we combine these elements to tell a story, we need to distribute them. In the past, this was done using tape or disk, but now online distribution is prevalent.



There are several essential skills for developing high-quality video. The latest advancements in camera technology make it much easier to create good looking video. But there are some other “professional” things we can do that can give our videos a polished look and feel. Among these are learning some fundamentals for lighting, audio, and camera framing.



Most cameras like to see a lot of light in order to create good looking video. One common lighting method is called three point lighting. This scheme involves placing lights in front, to the side, and behind our subject. Through practicing light placement, you should quickly develop a feel for what happens when you add and move lights around in a scene. Now you may think that not every situation needs to be lit, and you would be correct. But through practicing light placement, you may also learn a few things about working with natural light, or light that already exists in a particular room.


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

Overhead View


Audio is a component of video production that is often ignored. We don’t always have to use expensive microphones to record decent audio (although it does help). One trick to improving audio quality is to simply reduce or eliminate extraneous or ambient sounds from the production environment, such as turning off refrigerators and HVAC, or simply closing doors. While these may seem obvious, they are often forgotten during the “heat” of the production process. Professionals make these mistake as well.



Now that we addressed lighting and audio, we need to make sure that we are paying attention to how our subjects are framed on screen. There are certainly times where creativity in framing is appropriate. However, for much of what we shoot, the rule of thirds can help guide us in framing subjects on camera. When applying this rule, we divide our screen into thirds, using the resulting grid to help balance our shot and draw attention to areas where we want the audience to focus.


These have been just a few ideas to get you started in improving your productions. To learn more about the basics of video production, you can view the how-to video series developed by Susan Baim and Tom Mays available at Also keep an eye out for video production workshops offered through E-Learning.






About Tom Mays, 
Prior to arriving at Miami University, Tom spent over 15 years as the owner of a multimedia development company that specialized in creating training and marketing materials for distribution via DVD, touchscreen kiosks, and the web. Please contact Tom if you have any comments or questions at

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