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Elements of Good Videos

At The Movies!

Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel
In this section of the course, we're going to look at several videos with a critical eye to identify elements of videos that are successful.

While it's great to create your own style, a lot of what works and doesn't is fairly well understood.

Throughout the ages, painters learned their craft by modeling their teacher's work until they gained proficiency. Many paintings attributed to Rembrandt were actually the work of his pupils, for example. After learning their craft students develop their own signature style. 

The goal here is to try a bit of that process by showing examples of short videos to illustrate successful techniques and things to avoid.

There are many things you can learn from viewing others' work. Even bad videos are instructive!

Watch the following videos. To notice things like what shots were used, how the filming was done, what the sound is like, and whether it "connected" with you.

For each video there are some critical comments, but watch the video first before reading those.

Video 1

A Well-Done How-To Video

Although the topic is as mundane as they get, this short video demonstrates good use of lighting, editing, and video in a how-to video. 

Some content is best described in a fact sheet or publication, but slicing a tomato is not one of those. It is more efficient and effective to teach this using a video. It would take more than 1:30 to describe on paper how to do this.

How to slice a tomato

This video appears to have been recorded by a trained videographer. 

There are a couple of points worth noting:

  • The video content itself is probably close to 15 years old. This video was posted in 2009. If you notice the area where the action occurs is in a 4:3 ratio, just like older televisions. The green bar on the right is a clever way for the editor to use this older content in a modern 16:9 format. The equipment used to record was not of the same quality and resolution as current equipment, and the intended destination was probably a television via VCR or DVD. It was edited and repurposed into a YouTube video.
  • You may notice a slight hum in the audio if you listen on headphones. This is probably a result of the equipment used to record the audio at the time. It isn't distracting and there are no environmental sounds. The speaker's audio is captured clearly. If a quiet music track were added, you would not notice.
  • This video is simple and effective, but it doesn't really connect emotionally with the viewer. Given the short duration and very specific content, that's probably OK. It has more than 500,000 views so clearly it's been useful.
Video 2

A Simple How-To Video That Works

A video doesn't have to be complex to be effective. This video only has 2 shots and a simple outro animation. There is no doubt that the creator is not a professional, but the content is still well done. It probably took longer to load the video editor than it did to do the actual editing!

This video shows how to tie shoelaces. This may seem a silly topic, but for parents of children with autism, this is a challenging skill to teach children.

How to tie a shoe step by step

What this video does right:

  • Gets to the point and stays on topic. Not a lot of fluff or stories about her children. Just shoe tying.
  • Camera is still and the above angle with the shoe facing away from camera is excellent as it replicates the view a child would see.
  • The sound is clear and loud.
  • A parent looking for a video to help a child with motor skills issues will relate to the video and she shows the lacing from the child's perspective. Many shoe tying videos show it from the front.
  • The video may be short, but it was practiced and thought was given during the planning process on how to teach the topic effectively.

There isn't really anything to complain about, but a more professional production may have finished the project with a bit more flair and pizazz. It also would have been good to use white shoelaces to improve contrast and visibility. 

It's had 2.7 million views, so I think there isn't much room for criticism.

Video 3

Useful Content, Poor Execution

If you have an indoor cat, then you've dealt with hairballs and grooming. It's a real concern of many cat owners so the topic has an ability to really connect with viewers. However, this video has some issues. Watch it now.

How to brush your cat's coat

She clearly is experienced at grooming and is lucky to have a cooperative cat! It looks like she planned what to cover and do, albeit without a storyboard or script, but working with an animal makes planning hard. 

This video has some shortcomings worth pointing out.

  • The camera is not still. It is being handheld by an assistant. 
  • The camera isn't always looking at the action. Notice the part where the tail is being brushed: you can't see the tail.
  • The sound is recorded from a built-in mic on the camera. The volume is clearly related to the distance from the camera's mic. 
  • There is no editing. Probably a better way to teach this would have used close up shots edited in with narration rather than moving the (shaky) camera closer to the cat and the speaker. Potentially there could have been a dozen takes to get the content looking good. 

On the plus side, it is a cat video. It has over 70,000 views.

If you have time, re-watch this video and think about what you would have done differently if you had to make a video on this topic.

Video 4

A Well-Executed Cooperative Extension Video Series

It's always good to see what others in Extension are up to, and to avoid any awkwardness of singling out our colleagues in California, we will look at a video from another state. Since North Carolina is about as far from California as you can get, let's look at a video about making salad dressing. 

This video is part of a series of short videos, all well-done, by food and nutrition educators and agents in North Carolina that teach basic cooking skills. 

Basic Vinaigrette

Like many Extension videos, there are surprisingly few views, especially considering how well done these are. 

What I liked:

  • There is no doubt the project was planned. It may have taken several takes for the clips to be just right, but they look and sound good.
  • Excellent use of text to accompany the video.
  • It is well lit and expertly edited.
  • Great use of subtle sound in the background.
  • Makes good use of still shots, which are panned and zoomed to simulate motion. This is an easy technique for anyone to use and can both simplify recording and allow some shots that aren't possible with smartphones such as extreme closeup shots.
  • Appropriate set used to film in.
  • I like how she tastes the food at the end. It makes a nice finish.


  • If the goal was to convey information to non-readers then this project is successful. But as a good reader, I think I could have learned more efficiently with a fact-sheet. Other videos in this series (like this one on frying eggs) rely more on movement and action and are great for video.
  • Some of the shots could be better composed. The presenter is always centered in screen which looks odd with a wide screen. 

It may not be evident from just watching this one video, but while each video has a little different feel from different presenters, there is consistency in branding and style that connects them. (Here is the channel link.

A long video that covered "Cooking Skills" would be possible, but it would be a complex project and hard to use when only a certain subject was needed. By breaking up the larger topic into short videos, it becomes simpler for users to digest in small chunks relevant to individual needs.