Our Tips for Shooting Web Friendly Video that Compresses Well

Jul 11, 2011


When it comes to bringing an attractive video experience to your website, the real star is of course the video itself. If your videos look attractive, viewers will be more engaged, and less likely to navigate away. Not only do quality videos look better, they will also compress better, which helps with two important factors – you save on video delivery costs, and smaller files mean your viewers need less bandwidth to watch the videos smoothly.

Here are a few tricks for making your videos look and sound as good as possible. Web friendly video should be easy to compress, and continue to look good even after it has been encoded to a low bitrate.

A general rule of thumb is that you should always make sure to start with a video in its original format and in the highest quality possible. Video compression is lossy, which means it will always degrade the image quality of your video (see image below).

The Right Equipment

By bringing the right equipment to the job, you can do a lot to improve your video quality.

Tripods – Make sure your image is stable. Use a tripod whenever possible and only use handheld shots as a deliberate choice (e.g. to give your video more of a in-the-moment feel), or when you have no other choice.

External Microphones – The cheapest way to improve audio quality with your video is by using an external microphone. Built in microphones generally don’t perform well. Audio quality improves as the microphone is closer to the audio source. Almost all cameras have a microphone input, so with a simple handheld microphone you can improve your audio quality.

Lighting – If there isn’t enough light, you will get a lot of noise in your picture (see image below). Noise doesn’t look good and won’t compress well. There are a couple of things that you can do to make sure that there is enough light:

Shoot in locations where there is a lot of natural light, preferably during the day time.

Bring your own light. Note that you don’t need to break the bank with an expensive studio lamp. You can start out with just a couple of cheap halogen floodlights and work your way up to more professional equipment over time.

If your camera and/or lens support it, use a higher aperture (lower f-stop) in low-light situations, so more light will reach the sensor. This option is generally only available for higher-end video cameras, although newer consumer-end digital SLRs are now capable of shooting high-definition video.

Planning Your Shots

When choosing your shot there is also a lot you can do to make sure that your video compresses well.

Reduce Background Movement – Make sure there isn’t a lot of movement in the background; use a static scene. While a background of an ocean or blowing trees in the wind can give your video a nice touch of nature, it means that the video encoder will spend time and bandwidth properly encoding your dynamic background instead of focusing on the main subject.

Reduce Horizontal MovementPanning shots are difficult to compress because new information is continually entering the shot. Flash in particular is inefficient when it comes to decoding panning shots when they are encoded in H.264. Zooming, on the other hand, is much easier to encode.

A cool setting found in most high end cameras is filming with a shallow depth of field. This means that closer objects in focus stay in focus and anything outside, behind or around the shot will blur faster. This is beneficial since blurry parts of an image don’t have sharp edges and compress far more efficiently. In addition to it being a nice effect, a shallow depth of field improves the image quality.

Last, if possible, configure your camera to shoot video in progressive mode. It might save you a lot of headaches during editing or encoding. If video is interlaced, chances are your end result will have interlace artifacts like in the image to the right below.


All in all you get the best results by making the original picture as clean as possible, and removing any unwanted movement. Using a separate microphone will help your audio quality a lot. These are just a couple of simple pointers to get you started, if you have any other tips, feel free to leave a comment!


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