Watch: 5 Things That Will Make Your Films Instantly Better

You can start making films and videos with better production values right now if you keep these 5 things in mind.

When you first start out, chances are your work isn't going to look too good. Poor lighting, ill-fitting music, and boring compositions plague the lion's share of beginner content, but it really doesn't have to, especially if you know what to look for to make your films and videos look more professional. In this video, photographer/videographer Peter McKinnon shares 5 things that can instantly make your stuff look loads better. Check it out below:

These things might seem like no-brainers for all of you experienced pros, but for the beginners reading this, things like lighting, music, and camera movement may not be on your radar yet. So, here are the 5 tips McKinnon talks about in the video, which you can pull off without having to get your hands on any extra equipment.


Good lighting doesn't require an expensive kit; it could be as simple as placing your subject near a window or flipping on a nearby light. Even getting your hands on some cheap light modifiers, like a reflector or diffuser (or even a poster board or bed sheet), would work wonders at giving your shot better lighting.

Sound and Music

Adding sound and music to your project can be difficult if you're unaware of the emotional and psychological effects they can have on an audience. For instance, putting a death metal song over a tender love scene may not be ideal (though, maybe it could work in some rare, very weird cases). So, be sure to pay close attention to how music makes you feel, as well as how you want a scene to make your audience feel, that way you'll be able to match them accordingly.

Learn more

Information is more accessible now than it has ever been, and many times it's free, whether it comes from a tutorial or a blog like this one. Make it a point to learn everything you can about your craft: read more books, articles, and blogs, watch more films, tutorials, and video essays, and most importantly shoot more projects, because practice makes perfect.


If your shot looks and feels boring, a good way to make it more interesting and cinematic is adding some camera movement. It doesn't have to be super elaborate or complicated, like some of the gimbal moves you might've seen; a short and simple tracking shot on a slider can truly work wonders. You don't even need to buy a slider to get this kind of shot either. You can use pretty much anything that has wheels or allows you to move your camera without interference, like a shopping cart, car, or skateboard. I've even used a bed sheet before to get a tracking shot, so let your imagination run wild.


The location of a scene is incredibly important for many reasons, because not only does it help tell your story, but it helps add to the overall aesthetic. Choose interesting and aesthetically pleasing locations whenever possible (unless your story calls for something else), because if you do, you have essentially baked-in production value.

What are some other things that'll help beginner filmmakers add to their production value without requiring them to spend any money? Let us know in the comments.      

Your Comment


This is a fantastic video for anyone starting out. Sub'd

February 26, 2017 at 6:30PM

regnis mada
Film, Life Story & Marketing Coordinator

Thanks V Renée!
This was a great video. WAY more than 5 things, if someone's going to be literal. But still - fantastic advice.
Also, for anyone being nit-picky, when he says, "More motion is going to be more professional..." obviously he's means within reason. I'd throw the word "relevant" in there before 'motion' - but I reckon that's what he meant. I've seen still shots that should have been moving and moving shots that should have been still... but for the beginner, I reckon he's bang on the money. Move the camera!

Another point that he didn't really make on the Music front - is that it really helps to know the piece of music (or at least the genre) you are going to use for the video prior to shooting, as it can dictate the pace at which you do your pans, slides, and re-frames. If it's pumping music, a slow camera move feels odd. On the other hand, if it's a timid track - and you whip pan... Yeah, people are going to spaz. Picking a good track ahead of time and keeping it in mind on set will definitely help.

February 26, 2017 at 9:09PM

Jared Adamo
Creative Director / Producer

Looking forward to Peter's recommendation on music websites. Currently using royalty-free musicbed/premium beat. I'm a big fan of window lighting and diffused lighting without the rain that's easier on the eyes.

While on the subject of lighting I saw a scene in "Lord of the Rings" where harsh mid day light casted dark shadows on the main actor's eyes (mid shot) starting at the eyebrow onto the check bone. Peter's spot on with his assessment.



February 27, 2017 at 8:59AM


Excellent advice and really engaging delivery. I'm finding that the more I learn about the software, the easier it is for me to be plan ahead and work around production problems. It's so much easier to edit creatively once you're confident with the software.

I thought the punch in the face was a nice touch.

February 27, 2017 at 9:19PM

Nicholas Cook
Film Production Student

Nice post. Good to see music is second on the list — our team at Music X Film broke down the nominees for Best Original Score at the 2017 Oscars, read here;

February 28, 2017 at 12:47AM

Thomas Miller
Music Licensing

Great video, great info, spot on, nice dynamic, and best part no frikin apples

February 28, 2017 at 1:15AM, Edited February 28, 1:15AM

Vladimir Miketa
Cinematographer & Editor

Great video! Motivational. However...You 'tilt ' the camera up and down. A 'pan' (short for panorama) is a camera move from left to right or right to left.

February 28, 2017 at 9:02AM, Edited February 28, 9:11AM

Lee Albright
Owner-Albright Films

Useful and important tips.
Thank you.

March 2, 2017 at 12:10PM

Sameir Ali
Director of Photography