5 Online Video Mistakes That Make You Look Like a Rookie

This post is by Maria of Fitness Reloaded.

It’s 2013. We don’t live in the 90’s anymore. Do you know what this means?

It means attention spans are lower than they have ever been, YouTube video consumption is through the roof, and people’s video standards have risen dramatically.

Your content might be good, but if your video isn’t equally good, guess what your viewer will do? That’s right, click away to another video.

Bye bye, potential fan. Farewell. I realize I might never see you again.

The problem is when we are first starting out, we might be able to tell whether a video is good or not, but we might not be able to understand exactly what makes it good or bad.

That’s because we might have the taste for what a good video is really like, but we don’t yet have the skill to bridge the gap between our good taste and what we’re capable of producing.

In this post, we’ll help you level up your videos. And I’ll show you the most important things you should know about making your videos look great.

You Have to Start Somewhere

You see, I am no exception, I was a complete video rookie and I have proof. Here is one of my early videos revealing a surprising factor that makes Americans more obese than the Europeans.

And here is one of my latest ones giving away the #1 thing that successful people do that makes them believe in themselves. It’s not perfect, but it’s miles ahead of the previous one.

Take a look at both of them. Do you see the difference between the two? Let’s dive in and see exactly what it is that I am doing in the second video, that I am not doing in the first video.

1. Video Production Quality

The obesity video is shot in HD (720p) and then uploaded in a lower quality (480p). However, even my HD 720p uploads did not look good enough on YouTube, and this is the reason I didn’t bother uploading higher quality – it would take me longer to upload the video to get the same result.

The discrepancy between the actual quality of my videos, and the YouTube quality made me not embed my videos from YouTube on my site, but instead use my own video player. For instance, here is the “Obesity in America” post that includes the first video.

I didn’t realize it, but this practice hurt me. I didn’t get views on my YouTube videos from my site. I didn’t get YouTube subscribers from my site. All because I was shooting in 720p. You see, my old camera’s highest quality was 720p. Back then, I figured that 720p would be good enough. It’s not. If you want to shoot good videos, go for 1080p. The “believe in yourself” video is in 1080p quality and the difference is significant.

Nowadays, you can get great HD 1080p quality with a DSLR camera. I got a Sony A57 for $600. There are even point and shoot cameras that offer that for less than $200. If you are serious about video, then recording at 1080p is non-negotiable. Even if you later export it at 720p for file size, bandwidth, and uploading reasons.

(Note from Caleb: An important thing about your online videos that you want to be aware of is the fact that not everyone will be watching in 720p or 1080p. Many will be watching at 480p or 360p which makes things discussed later in this article, like sound and lighting, super important.

Also, just because a camera shoots in 720p or 1080p doesn’t mean it will look amazing. Heck, even laptop webcams boast “1080p”. The difference is really in the optics of your camera’s sensor and using a fast, fixed focal length lens. They will look much better than the kit zoom lens that comes with your camera.

If you’re a Canon or Nikon shooter starting out with video here are the best budget DSLR cameras that I’d recommend you check out:

Also, image quality has a ton to do with your lens choice. Instead of using the packaged lens, pick up a good prime lens (which means that it doesn’t zoom). A 50mm like the Canon 50mm f1.4 for ~$340 or the Nikon 50mm f1.4 for ~$335 is a great start. I’m a Canon guy personally, but they’re both great choices for high video quality for sub $1,000.)

2. Close Enough to See the Whites of Our Eyes

I first learned this concept by reading the book How to Shoot Video That Doesn’t Suck.

A captivating video includes close-ups. Close enough to see the whites of the eyes of the “actor”. This is what transfers emotions effectively and is an amazing way to show emphasis. My obesity video is shot with a fixed distance, and there are no close-ups.

Close-ups are easy if you have two cameras. One of them is closer to your subject than the other and you are all set. Then, it’s all a matter of combining the footage from those two cameras in a single clip during editing.

But what if you only have one camera?

One way is to edit in your close-ups. Some video editing programs like Final Cut Pro X allow you the option to “crop” a video. If you do this though, you will actually lose some of the quality of your shot. However, if your video was shot with good lighting and 1080p quality, then the drop in quality shouldn’t be obvious.

(Note from Caleb: You can see how cropping and slow zooms help keep the viewer’s attention in much longer videos like in the sales video Chase made for Fizzle.co.)

This is what I am actually doing in my “believe in yourself” video. When I got the shot, I was right in the centre. I created close-ups during editing, and that’s why I sometimes appear to be to the left, or to the right.

Another way to create close-ups with one camera is to shoot the video twice. Just put the camera a little farther or closer during the second time that you shoot the video. Then, once again you combine the shots in a single clip during editing.

No drop in quality this way, but you do need to shoot the video twice.

3. Excuse Me, What Did You Say?

The quality of the video rapidly deteriorates if the sound quality is poor. Camera microphones are not good enough because they collect the sound from the whole room, creating too much “noise” that is hard to filter out.

Our ears can filter that noise out, but microphones can not.

That’s why you need an external microphone that points at you and collects sound from you, while ignoring sounds that come from other directions.

Here are a few sound recording accessories with some of the best professional sounding, yet budget friendly options.

  1. A lavalier microphone (Olympus ME-15: $25 or Shure SM93 XLR: $135) – These are the small microphones that attach to your clothes and then run directly into your video camera. They are sensitive enough that they might pick up noise from your clothes rubbing on you. However, if you are being steady while you shoot your videos, then a lavalier microphone is your best choice. This is what I would have bought if I wasn’t shooting exercise videos.
  2. A shotgun microphone (Rode Video Mic: $150 or Rode VideoMic Pro: $229) – Those attach to your DSLR camera as shown here. They replace your camera’s microphone, and they do a much better job.
  3. An external recording device (Zoom H1: $95 or H4n: $250 or Tascam DR-05: $95 or DR-40: $175) – An external recording device can do wonders for your audio, but they also increase your overhead: You need to sync your camera’s audio with the audio captured from your device. That’s why film-makers use clappers.

I am using my camera’s microphone in my obesity video, and a Zoom H4n in my “believe in yourself” video. Turn up your speakers and listen to my first video. Can you listen to this “shhhh” noise? This is what I got rid of in my second video with Zoom H4n. My voice is sharper too.

4. Content Isn’t King, Lighting Is

Lighting is the foundation of a good video.

  1. Lighting improves the quality of the shot captured. 
  2. Lighting enhances the subject of your video.

In my obesity video I am sitting right next to the window so the lighting is ok. It could have been better if had I used extra lights though. More lighting is almost always better.

In my “believe in yourself” video, I am using these lights ($220). There was no natural light in the room and I could have never shot that video without the lights.

How do you know if the light is too much? You check how the skin tone shows up in your film. If it’s washed out, then you are probably having too much light on your subject.

If you want to learn how to properly use 3-point lighting, this video is the best tutorial online.

5. Awkward as hmm, ehm, huh?

It is natural to pause and think about what to say. What does not come out well though is to leave even 0.5 sec of those moments in your video. You must learn the art of cutting!

As you see, there is minimal cutting in my first video, while my second video is much more sophisticated.

Now you might be worried that if you cut your shot in scene #1 and scene #2, then when you combine the two scenes together you will notice a “jump” in the video.

You’re are right. You will notice a slight jump that may or may not be bothering.

If you want to get rid of it, then change the angle of scene #2.

For example, scene #2 may be zoomed in. Or, scene #2 may be taken by the footage of the second camera that was shooting from a slightly different angle.

If you do this your final video will look natural. No jumps. Just a seamless progression.

What about transitions, effects, background music, branding intros, calls to action?

I could go on and on about creating good videos, but I really wanted to show you the basics. Putting in fancy sound effects and transitions may sound like fun, but nothing will show up good if your initial footage lacks light, the sound is just crappy, or your don’t know how to cut…ruthlessly.

Master the basics and then you are free to explore and play with your options. For example, that’s what I did with my “subscribe” call-to-action at the end of my second video, where I am being chased by YouTube’s “Subscribe” button.

Every step you take will lead you further in the creative process. Enjoy this journey as it almost never ends.

As the Olympic champion sprinter Michael Johnson said:

 “It’s going to be fun. There’s always something to do.”


What do you struggle with when making videos? Or what are some of your favorite resources for learning how to make better videos online?

Let us know in the comments below this post.

Maria is a Stanford Engineering and an MBA graduate. She is the founder of Fitness Reloaded, where she helps people feel their best by creating healthy habits. She is the author of “Surprisingly…Unstuck”, the bible of forming healthy habits that stick not just for a month or two, but for years and decades to come.

63 thoughts on “5 Online Video Mistakes That Make You Look Like a Rookie”

  1. Hello and thanks for sharing this content. This could not have come at a better time, and I am just making preparations to start producing online videos for my blog. Lots of great tips and things I would otherwise have missed. Thanks for continuing to produce stellar content!

  2. This is GOLD, Maria! Thanks so much for sharing!

    And you, too, Caleb. It’s like this post was sent from the video angels above. I’ve been in the market for a new camera for videos, and this answers all my questions. Thank you so much, guys!

  3. It’s funny, I’ve been playinh with video blogging very recently for my personal blog. My first two videos suck big time, but I’ve learnt a lot! Now you come with this article, thank you, María.

    Right now, as a super-rookie, my biggest concern is to know what to say. I mean, in my first two videos I didn’t have a script (duh!). On the first one I just turned the camera on and started talking. Horrible. Bad lights, long and boring video with lots of uhhhmmm… arrrr… that I had to edit.

    On the second one I only took some notes, but never thought too much about what I was going to say. So, I ended up repeating myself like 20 times. The good thing is that I change the lightbulb of my lamp for a white one.

    I’m still in the cheap side of video making. My camera is kind of old (Minolta Dimage Z1 with 3.2 MP) and the resolution is not sooo good, but I will wait some time and experiment a little more until I decide to buy a full HD video camera. Hopefully, I will be making cool videos like you or Marie Forleo in the future (if I learn to memorize my scripts before).

    One question: do you write and memorize your script? Or just write some points and talk? Do you rehearse before the actual shooting of the video?

    1. Hi Maria,

      This is an awesome post. I’m a video producer and online video marketer and I have a great tip for cutting down on the editing time, and even the rehearsal time – use a teleprompter.

      Now, you may be thinking this is an expensive gadget that you can’t afford, but here’s a link to FREE software you can download onto your laptop (no I’m not an affiliate – I just really want you to succeed with video) http://www.movieclip.biz/prompt.html.

      You can also purchase a cheap app for your iPad that only cost $4.99.

      Both of these are great tools, and drastically reduces the amount of time for shooting, you can get the best take in fewer takes (maybe even one), and best of all NO EDITING – if you get it in one take. Just add your front and end bumpers with logos and call to action and you are ready to upload to your blog or YouTube.

      Here’s to your online video success!!

      The Online Video Marketer

  4. Marie, Thanks a lot for this great post.

    With your 5 mistakes you describe exactly all the mistakes I did when I started with video. I am still far away from being perfect. I am still learning and improving a lot, but as you said: firstly and most important: focus on sound (3) and light (4). When you have the sound and light right, editing will do the rest (if you are recording with good HD quality).

    I know it is important and it makes a big difference, but I found editing quite time consuming. Shooting 3 or 4 videos is done in an hour, but it seems that editing can take forever :-)
    What is your experience with it?

    1. It takes me about an hour to shoot a 5-min video – that’s because I have to set up my “studio” with lights and everything, and then start shooting.

      Editing takes about 1 hr-1.5 hr.

      However, it does get faster with practice, and as you prepare templates.

      E.g., my “intro” is a template. My “subscribe” call to action at the end is a template. The background music is now a template that I don’t have to figure out every time with each new video.

      Also, other edits are now standard like audio fixes and color adjustments.

      Standardizing the editing process helps a lot!

  5. Maria, all I can say is “Amen Sister”! Initially it was enough to do “talking head videos” only. Nobody else did video so your badly lit, poor sounding video would have been fine. These days, though, those kind of videos hurt your online image more than no video at all.

    Believe me, I have made all the mistakes myself too. In fact, I’m still making some of them. However, you are 100% right in saying that newbies have to focus on lighting and sound before anything else.

  6. Great suggestions on the video. If you don’t want to learn all this yourself, I can send a professional camera crew to your site anywhere in North America. We have a great production pipeline that makes 30s, 60s, or 90s videos easy and professional. You’ll be amazed at how affordable it might be.

  7. I love the tip about the whites of the eyes. When I do my videos, I film them outside — I’m in the pool industry so while filming outside near a pool lighting is never a problem. However, I never think to do close ups of my face, partly because I have a face for radio 😉

    I do think that getting closer shots would be better for my videos since I’m trying to add humor to them. I need to reconsider my camera angles this summer.

    Love the post, great information! Thanks so much.

    1. Just start noticing how movies do close-ups to convey emotion or to grab your attention. You’ll get a lot of ideas! They really do the trick!

  8. Folks, I love everything you’re doing here at Think Traffic, so please take this comment the right way. Shooting 1080p is not an absolute must. It’s simply not. I’ve seen tons of YouTube videos that look great in 720p. Many factors could have affected Maria’s video quality at the time, including old codecs that YouTube used to transcode video. 720P is still a great format, and it’s the one used for content delivery on many major TV networks. It’s still HD, and it looks a LOT better than the old standard definition. Having said that, Maria’s other suggestions are right on the money.

    I’d like to add one: write a script! Hopefully, you’re not winging it when you write your “epic shit” blog posts. So why would you wing it in front of the camera? Your audience doesn’t want to hear your “uhs”, “ums”, and “you knows”. Don’t improvise what you’re saying while you’re saying it. Write a script first. Then deliver that script brilliantly. Your audience will really appreciate that you respect their time by delivering your message tightly and concisely. And they’ll come back for more. Good luck!

    —-Todd Ruel

    1. Todd, I agree that 720p is better than standard definition, but 1080p just…looks better. I haven’t seen a video on Youtube in 720p and be happy with the quality and that’s why I advised against it. I’ll be happy to see examples of great 720p if you have any in mind.

      Thanks for the script tip. You really can’t go on camera if you don’t know what you’ll be talking about!

  9. Excellent comment Todd. A script is a must. First thing I was taught when starting video.

    Conversions and engagement rise with tight well written scripts.

  10. Thank you for the great read!

    I also recommend to clients that have a low budget but still want a professional editor to help out is to start off the project and then pass it off to a pro.

    Final Cut X has the ability to import iMovie projects. So a client can start to edit a rough draft of the edit and then pass it off to a pro like myself to clean it up, mix it and add more to the project.

    Thank you again for the great blog! Keep up the great work! :)

  11. I never thought about filming with two cameras and using the second footage to edit out pauses while changing angles. That’s a great tip. And you said that you use a H4N, is it mounted on top of the camera when you shoot or placed elsewhere?

  12. Wow Maria,

    I got a lot out of this article and watching the difference in both of your videos was highly entertaining.

    I just surpassed the 100 mark videos in YouTube and you can easily tell the progress difference from my first and last video but I still have to upgrade a few things like a better camera and better illumination.

    Are you using Final Cut Pro X for editing your own videos or any others?

    Thanks in advance!


    PS. Chase’s video on Fizzle absolutely ROCKS.

  13. Great information. Do you have any recommendations for spicing up videos that are screen captures or presentations? I currently do not have the lighting necessary to make the video quality I want so usually do presentations or screen capture videos.

  14. Great post and very timely as I’ve been thinking about switching some of my blogging over to video blogs.

    One technique I’ve been experimenting with is cutting away from the speaker so some of the issues with editing and such go away. For instance, if you’re talking about a recent event you could cut to a shot of the story on a news website while you’re still doing your voiceover.

    It breaks up the video and takes the pressure off the speaker to be “on” for the entire video.

  15. There is more and more information stating that the iphone4s and 5 is good enough to start with.
    I have seen some good videos, with lavalier mics and lights.
    What is your opinion?

    1. My opinion is…do your research. Usually when a new camera is available, Youtubers do reviews and/or post videos shot with this camera. If I were you I would search on Youtube for videos shot with iphones.

  16. Thank you for your generous and informative post, Maria!

    I have a question about transitions. Do you use or recommend prepackaged effects? A plus would be a savings in production time but a minus might be “looking like” every other video. I suppose the latter can be overcome by the personality of the content itself.

    Your thoughts?

    1. I am in favor of using transitions…just don’t overdo it. There are people who abuse transitions by putting too many of them. The results is that they draw attention away from their content and to the transitions themselves.

      The safest transitions are the “wipes” and the “dissolves”.

  17. I found this information very helpful and Thank You for posting it. I want to use video’s in various ways on my personal fiance blog, but have not moved forward due to quality. I struggle with seeing the impact and potential of the use of video’s and putting out video’s that are low quality.

    I go back and forth but your post and the information included was very helpful to see available options! Posting the two examples or before/after videos was great stuff!

  18. Hi Maria,

    Great info and tips but it seems to me it’s rather complicated and time consuming especially if you have a full plate of work daily. I’m just starting my video marketing with simple camera but would love to get a professional person to take care of that for me later down the road.

    Thank you,

  19. Thanks for the advice and I do appreciate it, I could be making better videos and will start putting some of your advice to work. Though I don’t agree with “Your content might be good, but if your video isn’t equally good, guess what your viewer will do? That’s right, click away to another video.” If the content is good, if I’m getting an answer to my question then I don’t care about he quality of the video, as long as its watchable. In fact I’ve just paid quite a bit of money for a course, it’s the best course I’ve ever done, without doubt. The lighting is bad, too dark, but after the first few seconds I completely forgot about the lighting etc because the content was so enthralling. I think video is the way to go and we will all get better at it technically but I think a lot of people don’t do video because they fear it won’t be good enough and it holds them back from getting their brilliant message out there that people need to hear. So when starting out I really wouldn’t sweat it. I do appreciate your insight and advise though. Thanks

    1. Hi Angela,

      As you see when I started out as well, my videos were not particularly good. But I didn’t let that stop me!

      I’m just saying that quality…pays off 😉

  20. Great post. Very clear and informative…and you look and sound awesome! My question is about the music. I’ve seen great videos with and without music. Why did you choose to incude the soundtrack? I’d love to hear your take on this.

    1. Hi Arnie,

      Thanks for your kind words. I put music because it makes the video flow better. At least that’s my opinion.

      The best way to decide is music is a good idea or not is to test it. Just Create different versions of your video with or without music and you will immediately know which one appeals to you the most.


  21. Grat and relevant info! I’m planning a video series right now and this definitely got some idea rolling! Thanks for your contribution!

  22. Such a fabulous post, and it could not have come at a better time. I just started a vlog series, and I’ve also made my interview series into video instead of just audio. I have so much to learn! Thanks for all of the recommendations too– I’ll be checking those out.

    And having those two videos as examples really made your message that much clearer– I’m visual so it helped to drive the point home. :)

  23. Wow Maria,
    the progress you’ve made moving from the former to the latter video is tremendous! Thanks for sharing your secrets and resources. It’s pretty hard to survive in today’s environment of a decreased attention span and increased expectation from video quality and special effects. You’re definitely doing good in video recording! Keep on the good job!

  24. Hey thanks for the awesome tips! I’ll keep them in mind when I’m recording my interviews. I’ve already got better lighting, I just need to improve the audio

  25. Awesome post Maria, the difference between your earlier video and the quality now is impressive.

    I think these tips are spot on for newbies, especially lighting and sound. With the accessbility of top quality equipment for a reasonable price, quality video is now an expectation, not something that stands out so much anymore.

    Just a tip for anyone shooting in small room that doesn’t get much natural light:
    I picked up a ring light for my videos and it’s been awesome (I’ve had a lot of good feed back on my welcome video on my site), you can get it from Amazon (Stellar Photo/Video Light) it’s not the cheapest thing in the world but it’s a nice light in a small area.

    Again awesome article and pointing out the basics for people to build on.

  26. Hey, thanks for sharing! I think video marketing is one of the most powerful marketing instruments for the future. As a new blogger I have so much stuff to do, but as soon as possible I´ll start video blogging as well. It s very helpful to see the comparison!
    I took a look on your youtube channel- you’ ve produced 97 videos so far, great!
    How much time do you spend on video producing?
    Cheers, Chris

  27. Love the post. I’ll admit, with video becoming such an awesome way of creating content, many bloggers (like me) are really lacking in this regard, spending so much time on the content itself, and not the presentation.

    That being said, I just picked up the T4i as you recommended (was looking into the 7d, but figured I’d start here), and started making a dedicated effort to start publishing some awesome video content.

    Note: I had an old 50mm lens laying around and if you can afford one of these, I’d highly recommend it. Really helps get the quality of depth you’re looking for and adds a bit more polish.

    Great post Maria and thanks for the recommendation Caleb. Will post some results once I’ve got something of note.

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