So it’s 2022, and if you haven’t heard the phrase “content is king” yet, you’re either living under a rock or making a deliberate choice to forgo changes in the business and social world. Either way… time to switch it up.
Who Am I.....And Why Is This Important?
My name is David MacDonald, and I am a music video/commercial director located in Winnipeg, MB. I am also the owner of my own production company, Strangers Media Co. Now, if you’ve found your way to this page, I assume it’s for a reason - you want to step up your content game. But before we discuss how and why you should do this, let’s address the elephant in the room - what the f*** is “content” ?!
In an increasingly online and social world, the term content, in my opinion, has gotten lost in the masses. Turn on your phone, open Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, TikTok, or Twitter and you’ll see any and all types of “content” from photos, to videos, articles, and so on. And in my opinion, this is a great thing. Never has creativity been so easy to harness for the average user! But with that, comes a real blurring of the lines. I’ll explain.
What do Dr Suess, Kylie Jenner, myself, and an adult film star all have in common? Well, by definition, we’re all content creators. That title, once reserved for a select view, is now open to anyone who puts something out online due to the high demand and easy access of the industries. Now, I am not saying this is a bad thing as I want to gatekeep the industries I speak of, but it does come with the unfortunate side effect of really blurring that definition. Bringing it back to our main point - in a world that demands “content,” what does this mean to you?
Now, that’s a far more personal question than you think. Though there are many definitions and types of content, not all of them apply to you. In saying “content is King,” an important distinction must be made - brand specific content, is in fact, King.
When it comes to putting this content together, one thing must always be considered above all else - why am I doing this? For example, is the goal to create a brand image? Is it a sales technique? Or perhaps your goal is simply to stay front of mind for your customers. Do you want to be seen as serious? Light hearted?
Let’s look at Nike, a well known brand globally, for an analysis. Nike takes itself seriously and
positions itself for high caliber athletes. They also take firm social justice stances. When it comes to the content they produce (commercials, ads, photos), the level of seriousness in these topics is reflected appropriately. In other words, they do not sponsor people doing the W.A.P. dance on TikTok, because it does not fit into their brand image and does not accomplish any goal. Their graphics are clean and simple. Their commercials are motivational and serious in tone.
Coca Cola, on the other hand, runs commercials with cartoon polar bears drinking their product. And that works for them! Because it fit’s their goals and brand image. They do not need to be taken seriously, as their product is synonymous with fun and casual living. Switch the two strategies to the other respective company?
I’m willing to bet there are very different levels of success with those campaigns. A polar bear speaking on social justice while tobogganing and drinking from a glass bottle might not be received as intended. Long story short, not all content is good content for you or your team to produce. Stay on brand, ask yourself why, and then proceed. Content must fit your brand image, otherwise you will be counterproductive in achieving your goals as both a business and a “content creator.”
Now that we’ve established what content is right for you, let’s talk about actually making it happen. Again, to preface this, as a business owner who literally makes commercials and music videos for a living, I likely have more gear than most.
Good news, though, the advice I’m going to give you does not require the $30,000 investment I had to make. If I am correct, most people reading this are doing so because they do not want to/ cannot afford to hire someone like me to do it for them, so with this in mind, let’s address this in a budget friendly manner.
There are two things I am going to lay out for you here, and all that is needed is a phone (with a camera of course) and a couple table lights. Let's talk 1) framing your shot, and 2) lighting it.
When it comes to framing a shot, what that means (essentially) is what the camera is seeing or where your subject is within the frame of your shot. There are two methods I’ll talk about here:
1) The Rule of Thirds
2) Center Frame/Symmetry
Rule of Thirds
Have you ever seen this grid?
Well if you haven’t, there it is. A common setting that can be turned on through almost all mobile phone cameras as well as professional level gear (I even have it turned on on all our teams gear as well to ensure we ace our framing with easy references).
As you can see, this grid divides your shot in thirds both vertically and horizontally. Without getting into the science of it, the human eye is pleased by images which align the subject matter along these grid lines (or as close to as possible. In the above example, we have our boater on both the right third, and bottom third line.
Conversely, the sun is on the left third, and upper third. The Horizon is also very close to the upper third. With all this in mind, we can see that for whatever reason, as a viewer, this image is aesthetically pleasing to us. It is balanced, we focus on what we are intended to focus on. Our eyes are drawn to the subject matter.
Now if we take this exact same picture and disregard those rules, framing it completely differently, it is an entirely different story. Ignore the grid lines if you could, but you can now see our boater is nowhere near the right third-line, and as such, we are no longer drawn to them and the shot looks unbalanced.
Centre Alignment & Symmetry
The other option which is commonly seen is putting your subject in the center of the frame, equally balanced on both sides. When possible, scenes which are balanced naturally such as the photo below fit this principle well. The shot is balanced, equal on both sides. The eye is drawn to our subject matter in the center without distraction.
If we change the image cropping though? Again, different story
Yes, these examples are obvious ones, but the rules apply nonetheless when you are setting up any shot. When in doubt, ask yourself what you like to look at and go with that. Trust the human eye, your eye, to find what looks good. We all have it wired into us, the key thing is just to be aware of it. Shoot with a purpose!
Couple other things to consider, general rules if you will - Shooting from a high angle makes you look small, and powerless. Low angle makes you look big and powerful. Eye level is seen as equals, and perhaps most intimate. Oh yeah, and nobody logs onto social media to watch content where your crotch is center frame (unless that is the whole point, no judgement of course). Make sure the eyes go where you want them to … tasteful discretion. Be aware of camera placement!
Lighting is perhaps the single biggest thing you can do to make your content look higher budget. Now, rather than type out a full explanation, I would like to take this time to shamelessly plug our Youtube Channel where I have put together a video which explains it all: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=04eafAEFrt4&t=49s
For those of you who do not have lighting like we do, feel free to sub out our lighting setup with simple table-side lamps. One behind, one at a 45 degree angle. Though it's not exactly perfect, I can definitely get the job done on a budget/ in a pinch. There is obviously a reason we invest in the gear we do, but that's not to say you cannot accomplish something similar without it.
Lastly, turn out the “house lights”, the ones in the room you’re filming in, is a huge factor. Overhead lighting will create some nasty and unflattering shadows on your face, and the more we can control the better. A big part of successfully lighting a scene is choosing where not to light. Shadows give us depth. Depth gives us that cinematic feel.
Truth be told, I have never been one to keep information withheld as I do not believe it right to do so. If there are any questions, please feel free to comment below or contact me through social media/ email which I will attach below. That being said, keep these tips in mind and your content production value will take off overnight. I guarantee it.
About David MacDonald
David MacDonald is a local videographer/content creator located in Winnipeg, who runs Strangers Media Co and is a huge supporter of local music in Winnipeg, and around the world. In addition to being an avid traveller (not so much lately unfortunately), Dave is also an avid Arizona Cardinals fan. You can find his body of work in the following places: Instagram: @Davemac.jpg OR @Strangersmediaco | YouTube: Strangers Media Co