We have clients who take the opportunity to shoot quick client testimonials on their smartphones or compact cameras, and send them to us for editing.

This is the advice we give them, to help them, and us, deliver professional and persuasive videos:

1. PICK THE QUIETEST ROOM YOU CAN FIND

Nothing interrupts more shoots and ruins more takes than noise.

  • Avoid rooms near high traffic areas: lunch rooms, reception areas, elevators
  • Air conditioning hums. If possible, turn it off
  • If there are others in the room, before you start videoing, say (loudly):
    • “Everyone. Turn off your phones now!”
    •  and before you roll, call out: “Quiet please!”

Don’t forget to turn your own phone off so you don’t look like an idiot when it rings. And show no mercy to those who break the silence

The microphone on your phone will amplify ambient noise and make the person’s voice sound muffled if they’re more than a metre away. For the clearest sound:

  • Plug an external microphone into your phone
  • Put the microphone on a desk stand close to the speaker
  • If you’re using a lapel mike, clip it on so their clothing won’t brush against it
  • Hide the cable under the speaker’s clothing, and run it back to the camera out of shot

2. MAKE YOUR PHONE CAMERA DO THE WORK

If your phone camera has these settings, here’s how you should set them:

  • Video Quality: Select the highest setting – Extra High or Superfine
  • Resolution: Select the highest setting – 1920 x 1080 or 1080P
  • Don’t use the 4K setting. You don’t need it for web videos
  • Frame Rate: Select 25 fps (US: 30 fps)
  • White Balance: We’ll cover this below

3. POSITION YOUR SUBJECT FOR LIGHT, NOT BACKGROUND

Lighting is far more important than background because:

  • You’re shooting a person, not a background
  • The person will (or should) block most of the background anyway
  • If the background is interesting, it will be a distraction
  • If you want to show background stuff, shoot it separately (see ‘Cut-Aways’ section 10 below)

The sun or daylight through a window is usually your strongest light source, so, if the daylight is steady:

  • Stand or seat your subject next to a window
  • Position them so the window lights half their face from one side
  • Move their chair (and desk) if necessary to get the light on their face right
  • If possible, turn off the overhead fluoros
  • Look at the person through the camera
  • Light the shadow side of their face with an off-screen light or a big white reflector (a whiteboard, for example) until you see detail and their eye socket isn’t a dark shadow

4. WHITE BALANCE IS EASY AND USEFUL

Before you shoot, check the White Balance to make sure you get the colours right:

  • Move close to your subject
  • Look at their image on your phone screen
  • If there’s a bluish, yellowish or pinkish tinge to the image:
    • Hit the White Balance icon
    • Cycle through the five or six WB settings
    • Pick the WB setting where the colour of your subject’s skin on the screen is the same as when you look at them directly

If in doubt, the Auto WB setting on the latest phones and cameras works well in most lighting conditions.

5. SHAKE, TWITCH, BUMP, TILT & WOBBLE

Everything’s a complete waste of time if you can’t keep the camera steady.

For a start, turn the Screen Grid or Guidelines setting to On and use the resulting grid on your phone screen to keep the horizon level.

Next, no tripod? St Vitus Dance will absolutely destroy even the most brilliant testimonial. So put the phone on something solid. Put it on a pile of books (remember those) and tilt it until it’s pointing at the subject. Then hold it in position while you shoot. Or hold the side of the phone against something vertical – a wall or door frame.

The important thing is to get the camera into the right position and hold it dead still. And the world is full of things that will help:

  • A door frame
  • A window frame
  • The wall
  • A desk
  • A table
  • A pile of books on a table
  • Anything solid and fixed
  • On top of the back of an office chair*

*Office chairs are also good for dolly (moving camera) shots, if you’re adventurous and have lots of time.

6. TURN IT ON AND LEAVE IT RUNNING

Stopping and starting shakes the camera, makes you miss good takes, and wastes time during the shoot.

Memory is cheap, so:

  • Put a fast 16GB (or bigger) memory card in your phone – it will hold hours of HD video
  • Set your phone to record to the memory card rather than to its internal memory
  • Check if your phone/camera sets a time limit on videoing. Disable that ‘feature’
  • Start videoing and leave it running

Check it periodically during natural breaks to make sure it’s still recording (paranoia is good).

7. KEEP IT SHORT

Most people won’t watch an online video beyond a minute or two. So tell your client shorter is better.

If they deliver a long convoluted sentence, or get bogged down answering a question, gently ask them to repeat what they just said.

Something like “What you just said was brilliant. Say it again in a couple of simple sentences.”

8. PUT THEM AT EASE. KEEP THEM AT EASE

Content is the key. And testimonials are about confidence and credibility. If the person you’re videoing is fluent, confident, and personable, it will probably go well.

If they are hesitant, nervous, anxious, or have difficulty sounding natural, your primary job is to put them at ease and keep them at ease. Clear all observers from the room. Be patient and tactful. And if they gain or regain their confidence, you’ll get great material.

If they don’t, then stop pushing. Give it a rest. Postpone the shoot to another day. Be gentle. Remember, they’re probably more disappointed than you are.

Consider hiring a professional video team or videographer with the gear, experience, and techniques to get a good video performance out of even a very shy or nervous person.

9. DO IT AGAIN

People perform better after they have rehearsed. Once they have delivered a good, usable statement or answer, and you’ve captured it on video (check the video to make sure you got it all) ask them to run through it again, while it’s fresh in their mind.

  • Tell them it will make them look even more professional and confident
  • It will give you two takes of all the good stuff, which will:
    • give you a safety/backup 
    • make editing easier
    • make the final production better quality
    • make the performance more polished

Most people, even CEOs, appreciate the opportunity to polish their delivery so they look more assured and competent

10. A CUT-AWAY WILL SAVE THE DAY

Possibly the most dull and lifeless piece of video you can ever produce is one long static shot of a talking head. B-o-o-o-r-i-i-i-ng ! ! !

Cutting away to other scenes will relieve the visual monotony in the same way that blinking relieves the strain of a long stare.

Before or after the talking head shoot, shoot some 10 to 15 second shots which illustrate whatever the person is talking about. These are cut-away shots which the editor will use to relieve the monotony of the talking head.

If the presenter mentions support staff, shoot some support staff at work. If they mention production, shoot the factory. If they talk about product, get some shots of the showroom. See?

Cut-aways could include wide shots of the building exterior, the reception area, shots of the showroom, wide shots of work areas, products on display, wide shots of a factory, production line, assembly plant. Trucks leaving the dispatch dock. etc.

Cut-away shots are great bandaids for covering the joins where you’ve edited out a mistake. If you can’t shoot cut-away shots, use still shots or brochure shots, etc.

Cut-away shots will make even the most boring talking head video more interesting. 

 

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