How to plan and shoot a high quality video on a tight budget

11.05.2014 19:02

Video Production on a Budget: Ordinary Kit, Extraordinary Results

Courtesy Vzaar

“Budget”. The word sends a shiver up many creative minds. How can you make something awesome when you’re working within limits?

But – and stay with me on this – a budget isn’t a bad thing

When you’ve got limited resources – be it time or money – you are forced to be creative. You’ve got think fast, learn quickly and find a way around setbacks.

And that’s exactly what we’ve had to do when making our videos. We don’t have flashy kit, we don’t have talented actors (sorry guys!), and we definitely don’t have time to spare.

You don’t need to throw money at something to make it good – great even. I’m going to share with you how we squeeze every drop of performance out of our humble (but well loved) DSLR…

1. The Plan

Make a plan. And stick to it.

When you get to the shoot itself you’ve got loads to think about to just get each shot right. You’ll make your life so much easier if you’ve planned out what you need to do before hand.

First, we write our script, then (because none of us can draw!) we create a written storyboard so that we know exactly what’s happening at each point in the script. Audio down the left hand side, visual on the right:

vzaar video planning process

This then gets translated into a shot list. I tend to visualise the shots we’re going to need whilst reading the storyboard, but running around taking test shots at a rehearsal also works very well. For larger shoots we also create a prop list to make sure you have everything you need to hand, and you don’t get caught out by continuity errors.

This gives you some lovely little (or long) lists from which at you can just tick things off as you go along.

2. The Kit

A little kit can go a long way. You don’t have to have a Hollywood sized budget to pull of a great looking business video.

Three important questions to ask:

Does your DSLR take video?

I know, I know, stupid question. But some of them can’t. Don’t worry though, your dreams of video stardom don’t have to go to waste. You CAN still create a video from stills. It does require a touch more planning before the shoot, and a bit more effort in the edit suit, but it’s definitely possible

For an easy life just check before you start you’ve got a camera that’s fit for purpose!

How well does it capture sound?

Chances are, not that well. Most DSLRs have a teeny tiny mic on them which will pick up all sorts of hiss and ambient noise.
vzaar audio kit
Clear audio makes such a difference to your overall video. Often people can be forgiving of a less than perfect visual – as long as the audio is clear, so it is worth spending a bit of budget on some higher quality kit.

Now, I’m not talking trillions. We got ours for under £500 (about $800).

Our preference is the Rhode NTG2 Shotgun mic, but you could also try lapel (we tend not to just because they look a little clumsier in shot).

We then capture that with the Zoom H4n audio recorder and sync everything up in the edit.

Which lens should you use?

No right or wrong answer here. It depends on the shot you’re going for. Both portrait and wide-angle lenses pretty much do what they say on the tin. Use these for your close ups and wider angle shots. And if you do need to capture something in the distance the telephoto is the one for you.

Our lens of choice is the Canon EF 50mm f1.8. It’s nice and bright, great value for money and it’s a prime lens which means there’s no chance of it unexpectedly changing focal length in between takes.

3. The Shoot

Congratulations. You’ve made it to the shoot. Let the games begin.

Stick to the plan

I cannot stress enough: get the shoot right.

Putting out fires in the edit is never ideal – and sometimes impossible to do. Creating and sticking to the plan you created way back in step 1 will pay off big time when you’re in the editing suite.

Now, on to setting up your shot…

Manual vs. Automatic

The problem with keeping your camera in automatic is it will constantly be auto correcting, focusing and generally changing its settings between takes. The only way you can ensure each shot is consistent is if you lock it all in yourself.

Put your camera in manual. It will give you so much more control during the shoot.


If you’re doing this on a budget I’m guessing you don’t have a full on lighting rig (if you do you can skip this part). You’re probably working with ambient (natural daylight) or artificial lighting.

If you’re filming on a sunny day you’ll probably find the natural lighting can be very harsh. On the other hand, artificial lighting can be quite yellow – making everything look like it’s been spray tanned to oblivion!

How to balance it all out? Well, you can do it for about a tenner (around $17).

For this you’ll need: 1 shower curtain, 1 piece of A1 cardboard, a roll of tin foil and a bit of masking tape.

A shower curtain makes for an amazing light diffuser. Just stick it up over your window and – hey presto – your harsh light becomes softer.

Now, take your tin foil and cover one side of your cardboard with it using the masking tape. Congratulations. You just got your very own reflector board. Use this to reflect the light and fill out any harsh shadows in your shot.

Handheld vs. Tripod

Use a tripod. I mean it.

Shaky camera work is nobody’s friend. DSLRs are just too light to be able to hold ‘em steadily. The last thing you want is to give your viewers motion sickness!


The problem is people working in your business are experts at selling clothes, at managing accounts, teaching first grade math – whatever. They’re NOT experts in front of the camera.

One really simple thing you can do to put your subject at ease is to smile. Better minds than mine have done the research and found that smiling is contagious. If you’re smiling: they’re smiling. You’ll get a much more vibrant presence on camera that way.

Final Thoughts

If you remember anything, remember this:

Keep. It. Simple.

Bells, whistles, after effects, explosions. These all come later – if at all.




Work with your kit. Don’t try and do things that it just wasn’t designed to do. An effective video does NOT need a ton of special effects. Concentrate on crafting a compelling, engaging narrative with simple, clean shots.
Making Your Own Video On A Budget