So what separates the pros from first-timers? Often, it’s just a few boneheaded mistakes that keep amateur videographers from producing quality clips. When I spoke to New York Times video journalist Erik Olsen last week, I got some insight into a few of those stumbling blocks. As you’re preparing to produce your first video here are some of the details that shouldn’t be overlooked.

“People rely on the camera’s microphone,” Erik told me during our interview. I’d be lying if I said I’d never made this mistake, so his words definitely resonated. “It can mean the difference between a good and bad video.” The lesson: your camera’s onboard microphone doesn’t cut the mustard.

I hate to tell you that there’s something else you have to buy, but take the time to research and invest in a separate microphone that provides professional quality audio. There are literally hundreds of options out there, and some really great articles helping you navigate the spider web of options. I’m currently testing two different microphones next week while shooting some video for and don’t want to just recommend something I haven’t used, so when I know the pros and cons I’ll post my results and let you know.

It sounds pretty intuitive, but Erik couldn’t stress this point enough: “Put your camera on a tripod.” Sure the Blair Witch-style of shooting is intriguing, but for most video a shaky picture will just be annoying and ruin a potentially good shot. Tripods allow you to create smooth and fluid panning shots, and to conduct interviews that are steady-framed and not distracting because of camera movement.

When purchasing a tripod keep the following things in mind:

· The cheaper the tripod, the less stable it will be. Typically, cheaper tripods work for flat surfaces, but the moment they are put on uneven ground they have a hard time keeping the camera steady.
· The lighter the tripod, the higher the price. This usually pertains to carbon fiber tripods, which can skyrocket into the $500+ range. Of course, the exception to this rule are the uber-cheap tripods which might be light, but will have a hard time holding up in the elements.
· The heads on tripods can make or break a shot. If you plan on doing a lot of panning, make sure you get a head that supports this use.
· Finally, if you travel a lot, consider a monopod, or micropod. These are lightweight, versatile, mobile, and easy to pack.

Keep your equipment safe
Be sure to protect your investment. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve dropped a camera (both film and video) only to find that a well-padded camera bag saved my butt. I would strongly recommend either a Lowepro bag, or a waterproof, bombproof, Fort Knox pelican case. I use both: the Lowpro for everyday use and the pelican for traveling or rafting trips. Typically, both run around $100. This might seem steep at first, but making sure your equipment is safe, and in the same place every time, is key to successful video.

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