Are you just starting out making movies of your family activities, parties and events and want to learn how to put them up on the net? Here are the basics

1. Shoot the video

Of course you’ve got to shoot the video first. Whether you use a new DV camcorder or an older VHS machine, you got to have pictures and sound. If you have watched a lot of Internet videos and short films, you may have noticed a few things. Internet video, like TV, but more so, relies on close-ups of faces. Big wide shots and vistas simply do not work well – especially if someone is watching the video on a tiny little window on the computer screen. Try to keep the background simple and extraneous action to a minimum. Unlike film and TV, where action is paramount, introducing lots of motion makes it more difficult to compress. I am referring not only to the motion of your subjects but camera motion and background activity. Try to cut down or even eliminate all live zooms. Simply cut from wide shot to medium shot to CU – not only will it work better for the net, it looks more professional.

Best hint – use a tripod! – Because the less shake and movement in your shot, the better and smoother your final Internet movie will be. No matter how great you think your camcorder’s image stabilization works or how steady you think you can hold the camera, even if your eye can’t see it, the software that does the encoding will recognize the movement and will have to work extra hard, lowering the overall quality of the video when streamed over the net.

2. Edit and Compress the Video

Once you have all your footage, you need to input it into your computer, edit it together and then compress it for distribution over the Internet. Most editing programs will do all of that.

If you have a digital video camcorder, you can output your video using a DV or firewire cable to your computer. This is especially easy if you have a Mac or multimedia computer with firewire/1394 input jacks. If not, you can buy an inexpensive DV input card (maybe $20-$30) for your computer and install it. Some of the newer hard drive and flash memory camcorders will transfer the video via the USB connector.

There are a wide variety of editing programs that range from free programs like Windows MovieMaker and Macintosh iMovie that are found bundled in to almost every Windows XP and Apple computer. Once you have mastered those, and you need a bit more whiz bang to your videos, you can then look to affordable and easy use programs from companies like ArcSoft, Dazzle, Nova, Pinnacle, Sony and Ulead. If you want the best, check out programs like Adobe Premiere, Apple Final Cut Pro, Sonic Foundry’s Vegas Video, Ulead MediaStudio Pro, etc.

By the way, if you are in a hurry, or don’t want to bother doing a lot of editing, you can use an automatic video editing program like muvee AutoProducer and then save the final movie as a streaming video file. There are bunches of “automatic” video editing programs on the market but muvee is my favorite because of its ease of use and variety of movie styles.

In addition to capturing and editing the video, most of these offer video compression capabilities that allow you to output your finished video in a variety of streaming formats.

When you first create a movie from your digital camcorder, you will probably be working in what’s known as an AVI file. AVI files are really big and too massive to easily transmit over the Internet. Once you have finished editing your movie, you need to compress it and squeeze it down a bit to make it more transportable.

The Windows based programs usually offer a choice of WMV (Windows Media Video), MPEG or Real Video. The Apple computer programs usually offer MOV (QuickTime) or MPEG. Some of the third party video editing programs will offer a diverse spectrum of video compression formats. However, you can’t go wrong by using WMV, MOV or MPEG. Most people already have players on their computers that will play back these formats.

If you want to squeeze your video down really small so that people can play it on their portable media devices like cell phones or iPods, you should probably use the MPEG4 settings.

These compression and file settings are usually found in the export section of most video editing programs.

Remember, the more complicated your movie, the more difficult it will be to maintain quality of the streaming video when you compress it for the Internet. In order to maximize the final quality of the net delivered video, you can avoid scenes with lots of layers, special effects, action and moving cameras.

This means that when you are shooting your video, avoid wide shots and big vistas. Instead, try to concentrate on close-ups of the people in your video. Also try to avoid lots of motion or very busy backgrounds. What works best for the web, albeit a bit boring, is a headshot of someone talking with a nice plain pastel background.

Also, try to make sure the subjects of your video are well lit and you can make out their features. Flat lighting works best and you want to avoid shooting someone who is half in darkness and half in the light.

When you are editing, remember, the fewer dissolves and effects you use, the happier your compression program will be. Also, make your titles and credits big. TV style. Fill the page with your opening title – use large, bold letters so that they will stand out when sent over the net.

3. Put your movie on the web

The final step is to stick your movies on the Internet. This is now very easy as they are numerous sites competing to host your videos for free or almost free. Some sites will accept any format of video file while others are a bit more particular.

Some of the sites that will host your video for free are YouTube, Grouper.com, Yahoo Video, Google Video, etc. Just do a web search for free video hosting and you’ll be amazed at all the choices you have. In addition, most of these sites offer the option to send emails to your friends and relatives to steer them to your videos. You can post the url of your video on your personal web page or MySpace page. Many of the sites also let you password protect your video, or post it to a non-public page so only those people who you want to watch it will be able to find and access your videos.