The Elements of a Good Video

Tell Compelling Stories with Video

Video is worth 1.8 million words.

James L. McQuivey, Forrester Research

The 2015 film Tangerine was shot on an iPhone 5s and went on to be an official selection at the Sundance Film Festival. The story of Tangerine is a testament to not having to rely on the latest technology in order to be a successful video. It also begs the question of what are the elements of a good video?

Having a clear story with an arc

All good videos need a good journey, or else it’s a waste of your audience’s time, and yours. A story can be anything from how a business got started, to a water crisis in an American town. Stories center around humans to illicit specific emotions in humans. In order to take your audience on this emotional adventure, you have to have your main character go through a character arc. This arc is their “roller coaster” journey from beginning, middle, and the end of the story. At the end is where they must learn a great lesson.

Knowing who the audience is

There are many beautifully-shot videos that can still miss their mark and not deliver the intended message. Sure, those videos look pretty, but does your audience understand the message by the end of the video?

When you make something that is to be consumed or viewed by other people, you have to think like them and try to deliver the images and text in a way that they would best absorb and interpret them. If you are making a video that will be viewed by children aged 3-5 years old, you might want to use cartoons or talking animals. If you are making a video whose main audience will be people aged 60-85 years old, your video can focus on facts and not waste time entertaining. Know your audience. Think like they do.

Time and effort

Producing a good video takes time and effort, and a lot of learning. Making the best video means you might be shooting more days than you thought, or that the video requires more editing time than you expected. Taking the shortest route isn’t always the best route. Give your work the time and effort it deserves.

You also might not possess all of the skills you need yet, but lack of skills never trumps passion. I still Google “How To” videos when I can’t figure out how to do certain things. It’s just a part of the process. The success of a project is also in the time and effort you put into self-improvement.

Prioritizing audio quality over video quality

Your audience will be turned off if your video has bad audio. Your film can look like The Revenant, but if the soundtrack was 2 hours of rumbling wind through an iPhone speaker, your audience will hate you. Always apply the “60/40 rule” when it comes to prioritizing audio quality over video quality.

Watching other people’s videos and judging them

Have you ever heard the quote “If you want to be a good writer you have to be a good reader?” The same goes for making a good video. The good thing about this is that there are MILLIONS of videos to watch online. And I don’t mean only watching the “good” videos; you must watch all the bad videos too and make a mental list of what looks good to you and what makes you cringe. If you don’t have a judgement on what’s good and what’s bad, then how will you know which one you are?

The development of your ability to judge (yes, judging is okay here) is actually known as something else you might have heard already: developing your eye. When you hear people say so-and-so’s “got a good eye!” in the case of photography and video, it is really a person’s ability to quickly judge what looks “right” and what doesn’t. So watch other videos, good and bad, and judge them.

Have more tips on making a good video? Leave a comment below.


Valerie is a freelance filmmaker, video editor, and photographer based in Honolulu, Hawaii.

8 Replies to “The Elements of a Good Video

  1. Talk about timing! I bought an action camera about a month ago and have been using it as much as possible. It’s difficult getting it out at social gatherings without looking ridiculous, weird, and out-of-the-ordinary.

    I’ve been trying to make better videos and I think a great way to learn would be to watch people that already know what they’re doing and judge theirs. That way I know what to do when I pull the camera out and press record. Thanks a lot for this article.

    1. Hi Brandon. Yes, bringing out a non-photography camera at parties can be awkward. Most people know how to pose for a photo but aren’t sure what they should be doing when it comes to being on video. The cool thing about this is that you can be creative like attaching the camera to something like your shirt or your drink cup and getting a new perspective; I would just let people know that they are being recorded and that you might make a video just for Facebook friends or something. 😀 Don’t be afraid to get creative with it!

  2. Hi there! Story is always key but great you mentioned audio. It´s so crucial and most people think about that way too late.

    Any examples how everyone can setup up their audio to the next level?

    1. Hi Manny! For starters, I would recommend an on-camera shotgun microphone such as Rode’s VideoMic GO. It’s perfect for DSLR camera setups and a slight improvement over the camera’s built-in microphone. If budget allows, and depending on your needs, lavalier microphones that clip onto the speaker’s shirt (if applicable) are always the way to go. Another popular choice is using an external sound recorder like the H4N Pro, but this requires syncing your audio in editing.

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