David Tames: Good quality begins with audio. His first purchase was a quality lavalier microphone. Get the mic as close as possible to the subject. It’s okay for the mic to be visible. If using a shotgun mic, remember they are not totally directional. Good resource for audio tips is DV Info Net. It’s the one David reads first. Creative Cow and DVXuser.
Lighting is second thing you can do to improve your quality. “Lighting is the thing that creates the illusion of reality.” If you have the option, use natural light. Chiaroscuro uses different levels of light in the shot to create depth. Some of frame dark, some of it light. Give the light some angle and dimension. The key light is the primary light source. There can be a backlight. Always look for a way to move to better light. A flex fill helps fill in where there is harsh light.
A simple light kit for $250: Lowel Tota-Light, Lowel Umbrella for Tota, Manfrotto Nano Light Stand, and 25-foot extension cord. The umbrella turns the harsh Tota-Light soft and pleasing. Also, he sometimes uses a 150-watt Fresnels light for a backlight. It’s lightweight and portable. Without equipment, try moving subject closer to a window for light. Positioning as zero-cost lighting kit.
Composition. You can dramatically increase the perceived production values through composition. This one’s free. Some simple rules will help. “The Rule of Thirds:” Points of interest are in spots where two vertical and two horizontal lines cross. Upper right corner has most interest in Western culture. If you place the subject perfectly in the middle, it’s peaceful, calming. It will put your audience to sleep. Good for a meditation video; put the teacher right in the middle, for stability. Putting the subject at the edge of the frame creates tension and interest. Try to line up people’s eyes in the top third, so when you cut among different people, the eyes are at similar level.
Address. If someone is looking into the camera, it’s Direct Address. Idiom of car salesmen and fundamentalist preachers, presidential address. Can also be very intimate. Use it to create intense intimacy. Usually in a documentary, the subject is not speaking to camera, but to the interviewer, who is off camera.
Editing. Good book by Michael Wohl on Editing Techniques with Final Cut Pro. Introductory half of book is excellent.