Wondering how your favorite filmmakers create movie magic? Have an idea for a video project, but not sure if your skills can do it justice? In this series, we’re introducing you to the basics of videography. Quiet on the set — we’re rolling!

Lesson Two: Equipment

Spend too much time looking at camera equipment and your head might start to spin. Professionals have tons of equipment, but in all reality, most beginners can start with just a few basic tools. Regardless, it’s a good idea to keep a list of the pieces you wish you had so that you’ll always remember what you’d like to buy next.

At the risk of stating the obvious, a camera is the most important piece of equipment you’ll need. Whether you use a DSLR, a camcorder, or even a smartphone, you need to shoot your video on something. If you’re only going to make a few projects, use your iPhone; after all, smartphone cameras are pretty good nowadays, so you might as well put yours to use. While DSLRs are expensive, they produce high-quality footage, so they’re a great investment for anyone who’s really interested in videography.

Photo by Aaron Van Dike
Photo by Charles King

No one wants to watch shaky footage, and although editing software often includes a stabilizing feature, it’s always best to use a tripod. These life-saving accessories facilitate everything from composing your shot to getting steady footage. Buy a tripod. Just do it.

Believe it or not, capturing good audio is often just as important as getting good footage. Unfortunately, DSLRs rarely have great in-camera microphones, so if your video is going to include any sound bites or natural sound, you’ll need an external mic. Clip-on lavalier mics are perfect for recording interviews, and shotgun mics are indispensable accessories for picking up other types of sound. Of course, different types of microphones record in different polar patterns, so do your research before making your purchase!

Photo by @thephotogear
Photo by Gordon Ly

While videographers can’t change the amount of natural light on any given day, they can take back a bit of control by knowing how to manipulate what light there is. An external light source is helpful on professional shoots, but beginners can easily get by with just a five-in-one reflector. Don’t forget that you’ll need to bring along a friend or a clamp if you want your reflector to stay in place!

You’ll also probably need the essentials: a camera bag, SD memory cards, and spare batteries. Remember that video files are huge, so if you don’t want to clutter your computer with project files, consider purchasing an external hard drive for your video library.

Take a moment to catch your breath — that’s a lot of equipment, and the costs can add up quickly. Always remember to weigh price against quality; it’s better to add new equipment slowly rather than spending a small fortune all at once on low-quality pieces. That said, if you’re looking for good-quality, budget-friendly equipment, Amazon Basics is always a great place to start your search.

You could also identify a few videographers whose work you admire and check their websites for equipment recommendations; many professionals publish information about the equipment they keep in their camera bags. While you will need to customize their recommendations based on your own needs and budget, this can prove an excellent starting point.

Photo by Johannes Wenninger

Key Takeaways:

  • You can shoot video on a DSLR, a camcorder, or even your smartphone, but you’ll get the best results by using a DSLR.
  • A well-stocked beginner’s camera bag should usually include a tripod, an external microphone, a five-in-one reflector, plenty of SD memory cards, and extra batteries.
  • If you’re worried about running out of storage space on your computer, keep your video files on an external hard drive.
  • Do research before making a purchase. It’s better to slowly add equipment at the price point and quality that you need, than to buy lots of cheap equipment all at once.

Header image by Drew Mason

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Whitney Brown
Whitney Brown is a recent journalism graduate and travel writer based in Utah. She has lived in France and Ireland, and she's always planning her next big adventure. In addition to her passion for travel, Whitney loves archaeology, photography and floral design.