A video is a time-based recording of both the visual and audible components into a single medium. This page focuses mostly on the visual components of videos (see the Audio resources page for specifics about audio).

There are many different kinds of videos that you can create. Below you can find some examples of the common video projects that we work with and a short description:

  • Video Blogs or “vlogs” are a form of online journaling that has become popular. These videos are usually simple, lightly-edited, and often use a single camera. The vlogger typically sits in front of and speaks directly to the camera and the audience. Vlogs are posted mostly on YouTube and Facebook, some on Vimeo and other sites, and are generally used as a medium to elicit viewer interaction via comments. Popular video bloggers often monetize their videos/channels in order to make money.
  • Video Essays take a writing assignment and add to it by introducing audio and visual components. Much like written essays, video essays are often structured with an outline and present research or craft an argument. This style of video is commonly compared to a short video documentary style, but the goals of a video essay and a video documentary can differ significantly.
  • Video Documentaries are non-fiction videos that document an event and/or inform viewers about a subject matter. Motion picture length documentaries are often a genre used to persuade viewers to take action or make change. Some consider these to be the “long form” of video essays, however, we consider documentaries to be their own category.
  • Video Slideshows are made up of a collection of images that typically are accompanied by a music or a soundtrack. Some recorded voice may be present in video slideshows, but it is not necessary.
    • Slideshow Voiceover Videos are typically presentations (PowerPoint, Google Slides, Keynote) with a pre-recorded audio track and timed slides, rather than a live presentation. This genre of video is commonly used for giving presentations and lectures in online courses. We recommend visiting the Presentations page for more about how to design a pre-recorded slideshow.
  • Instructional Videos are videos that take a concept or idea and explain it in video form. They can be as simple as a recorded lecture or slideshow voiceover, to as complicated as an animated video.
  • Narrative Videos are comparable to a motion picture film, in that they are often fictional and tell stories. They typically include monologue/dialogue, music, and sound effects. They differ from animations by using real people and places.
  • Animation Videos are when images or objects are manipulated in a video to appear as though they are moving. Cartoons and stop-motion are two forms of animation. The former typically consists of a series of hand-drawn or digitally created images, whereas the later is the manipulation of objects using short single frames. Animation videos can be fiction (narrative) or non-fiction (video essay or documentary).

Video Design Tip:
There are a lot of things that make up the video planning, recording, and editing processes. It is easy to jump in and get started, but then make mistakes early on that make more work for you in the long run. Get some recommendations for your video by meeting with one of our DesignLab consultants early on in the process, before you record, so you can save yourself time later!

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Design Tips and Tricks

When shooting effective videos, there are 6 key design elements that you should consider. These elements are orientation, focus, shot scale, composition, lighting, and white balance. In this section, we will provide tips in shooting more professional-looking videos.

6 design elements (orientation, focus, shot scale, composition, lighting, and white balance) with thumbnail photos of larger images that will be described below.

1. Orientation – Shoot your videos with the right orientation for the platform. Making sure you orient your frame properly ensures that the elements in your frame during your shoot are also the same elements in your final output without need for cropping or having black bars on the outside of your video.

  • Vertical Orientation If your video is going to viewed on social media (Tik Tok, Instagram, etc.) it may need to be oriented vertically (left frame below).
  • Horizontal Orientation If your video will be viewed on a computer screen or TV (like YouTube or Vimeo), you should orient your shot horizontally (right frame below).

2 Horizontal Video Frames. Left video frame shows a vertically oriented shot of a brick monolith in a park. Along the edges of the video frame are black bars that demonstrate the video was not oriented properly. There is also a magenta

2. Focus – Your video should be clear and crisp.

  • Your subject should not be blurry. Use your camera’s built in capabilities to focus on the subject when filming. When working with a person as your subject of focus, aim your focus as the subject’s eyes. You cannot sharpen a blurry video after the fact, but you can always make it blurry later when editing. Nowadays, most cameras have an auto-focus feature. If you’re struggling to get your camera to auto-focus, consider moving the object you are filming closer or further away from the camera. You may also need to turn off auto-focus and manually adjust your camera settings.
  • Avoid unnecessary and distracting visual information. You can guide your viewer’s attention to the elements you want to emphasize on your video by placing the focus solely on the subject and making the excess information blurry. As you can see below, the left shot has the focus on the figurine of the man with glasses and the background is out of focus, while the right shot has a focus on the Darth Vader figurine.

2 frames of the same subjects (figurine of man in glasses and figurine of Darth Vader from Star Wars holding a red lightsaber). The left shot has the focus on the figurine of the man with glasses and the rest of the shot is out of focus, while the right shot has a focus on the Darth Vader figurine instead.

3. Shot Scale – Your subject should not be too close or too far from the camera.

  • Long Shot – Full shot of the subject (head to toe). Good for showing in b-roll and showing full body movement but not ideal for most footage. A long shot does allow for a lot more background information around the subject (left image below).
  • Medium Shot – This is the standard shot scale, in which the subject is seen from the waist up. Commonly seen in television interviews and on newscasts. This shot puts the subject as the largest part of the frame and eliminates excess background information (right image below).

2 video frames. Left frame demonstrates a long shot scale with the full head to toe shot of a man in front of a graffitied wall playing a trumpet or cornet. He is wearing a knit hat, jean jacket, dark pants, and sneakers. Right frame demonstrates a medium shot scale a man from the waist up surrounded by trees. The man is wearing a football jersey and hugging himself.

4. Composition – Use the rule of thirds to orient your subject in the frame. The rule of thirds is an imaginary 3 x 3 grid in your frame (see image below for grid lines). When you have a subject interacting with an environment, you can use the rule of thirds to help you place the subject and balance the space.

  • Top to Bottom – The subject’s eyes are best located near the top line 1/3 of the frame, near or just above the line (as demonstrated below).
  • Left to Right – If the subject is looking directly at the camera and the background is not important to the shot, it is best to center them in the middle of the frame. However, if you want to capture some of the background, you can put the subject to the left or right 1/3 of the frame, centering them along one of the grid lines. When not centered, it is best to have the subject at a slight angle facing away from the edge of the frame (as demonstrated below).

Video Frame demonstrating the rule of thirds with two horizontal and two vertical white grid lines dissecting the frame. Behind gridlines is the frame of a man in front a blurred out candy store. The man is wearing a blue sweater over a white collared shirt and tie.

5. Lighting – Make sure your subject is well lit. Since your subject’s face is the most important communication tool, you want to be sure that their face is well lit (left image below). Filming the subject in front of a bright window, for example, will cast the subject in shadow and prevent the viewer from seeing them properly. Don’t have professional lights? Use house lamps or desk lights!

When you shoot indoors, try to establish a 3-point lighting setup.

  • Key Light – The major and strongest lighting. Positioned to one side of the subject.
  • Fill Light – The secondary lighting on the other side of the subject that is softer than the key light. This light source is meant to cancel out all shadows that have been created by the key light.
  • Back Light – This light is located opposite the fill light behind the subject. Back light gives definition to the subject and gives a three-dimensional feeling, keeping the subject from blending in with the background.

2 images side by side. Left image is of a UCLA female gymnast demonstrating a well lit subject. Right image demonstrates the standard 3-point lighting in reference to an object and the camera as described in the text above.

6. White Balance – You want your footage to look natural, where colors come across true. White balance removes artificial color casts in your image so that it looks natural and accurate to the setting. It’s best to aim for a neutral color temperature (as in the center picture below) where whites are “true white.” That is, the image matches the color that you perceive with your eyes in the specific location where you are shooting. You can use a white piece of paper to test your white balance before you’re shooting. If you want to go cooler or warmer color temperature, you’re better off doing this in the editing process in case you change your mind later on.

Top of image is a labeled scale of light from left to right: cool, neutral, warm. Below the scale is the same image of a woman with shoulder-length dark hair. The left image is labeled

UW-Madison Student Made Examples

Video Blog (Vlog)

Get to Know Me by Maya Hysaw

Narrative Video

Jinx by Maya Hysaw

WARNING: Film contains sexual assault and alcohol abuse. Viewer discretion is advised.

Stock Video Databases

Below are a few DesignLab recommended stock video databases:

Coverr LogoCoverr – A collection of stock videos designed primarily as cover videos for websites. All Videos published on this site can be used for free both for commercial and noncommercial purposes. You do not need to ask permission from or provide credit to the Videographer or, although it is appreciated when possible.

Moving Picture ArchiveInternet Archive Logo – This library contains digital movies uploaded by Archive users which range from classic full-length films, to daily alternative news broadcasts, to cartoons and concerts. Many of these videos are available for free download. *Be sure to check for licensing!

Pexels LogoPexels Video – This site provides high quality and completely free stock videos licensed under the Creative Commons Zero (CC0) license. This means you can edit or change the videos and use them free for personal and even for commercial projects. All without asking for permission and attribution is not required.

Videezy LogoVideezy – This site allows you to share and download Free HD Stock Videos, b-roll, backgrounds, and other cool free video footage. All the videos are free to download and, depending on the license, free to use in your projects.

Videvo LogoVidevo – This site offers completely free stock video footage and motion graphics for use in any project. Everything on Videvo is free to use for commercial or non-commercial usage.

Vidsplay LogoVidsplay –  This is a collection of completely free stock footage. You are granted non-exclusive rights to use and download our video material without the need to pay royalties for each use.

Vimeo LogoVimeo Free HD Stock – This is a group of videos designed by a user. All clips found in this group are given away for free use in your projects. *The free nature of these videos does not apply to other Vimeo content.

Instructional Videos YouTube Playlist

Equipment Available at UW-Madison

Please note that DesignLab does not offer any equipment checkout or recording space. Below is a list of places on campus where you can checkout equipment

Equipment checkout services may not be available at the locations below due to the pandemic. We recommend contacting the location to confirm availability, the current checkout processes, and checkout lengths.

College Library

College Library provides UW-Madison students, faculty, and staff access to a variety of equipment for making videos. Equipment checkout is done at College Library’s Second Floor Service Desk (right by DesignLab!) any time the library is open.

Types of Equipment Available: HD Video Cameras, DSLR Cameras, Tripods, Microphones, Voice Recorders, Laptops

Checkout Length: 7 days

Checkout Process: You will need your Wiscard to checkout equipment.

Questions? See the College Library equipment checkout website here for more information.

Memorial Library

Like College Library, Memorial Library is providing UW-Madison students, faculty, and staff access to some equipment for making videos. Equipment checkout is done at the First Floor Computer any time the lab is open.

Types of Equipment Available: Laptops, Video and Webcam Kits*** (Kits available by request:

Checkout Length: 7 days

Checkout Process: You will need your Wiscard to checkout equipment.

Questions? See the UW Libraries equipment checkout page for more information.

Steenbock Library

Like College Library, Steenbock Library provides UW-Madison students, faculty, and staff access to a variety of equipment for making videos. Equipment checkout is done at the First Floor Service Desk any time the library is open.

Types of Equipment Available: HD Video Cameras, DSLR Cameras, Tripods, Laptops

Checkout Length: 7 days

Checkout Process: You will need your Wiscard to checkout equipment.

Questions? See the UW Libraries equipment checkout page for more information.