When it comes to content, we usually recommend the 80/20 rule. According to this rule, 80% of your time should be used to promote curated content, while 20% should be dedicated to creating it. Your approach to creating content can include writing articles and blog posts, hosting podcasts and – more and more often – video recording.
Video content has gradually become a popular way to connect with your audience and make your online presence unforgettable. It can be more personable than written or audio content, as it puts a face to the name and allows your audience to feel like they know you better. Some options of video content include online courses, video blogs, virtual classes, YouTube videos, advertisements, interviews, and such.
The intended audience in this article are people and businesses who would like to get started with video recording activity with a low-cost setup.
This article focuses mainly on pop-up video recording needs, with reasonably affordable equipment, but professional content quality. Advanced steps would include multi-camera and audio recording, editing, overlays, graphic inserts, floating head, computer screen, tickers & etc. This article focuses only on the main narrative producing quality videos with people in the main frame.
Before you start
Before getting into the details of video recording per se, it is important that you identify the true purpose of your activity. Why are you doing this? For what purpose? What audience and which platform is the intended method of content distribution? All your effort would go completely wasted if you did not publish it! Right?!
One key aspect to consider is the intended platform you are going to use for publishing the content. YouTube, Vimeo, social media channels, and others have resources available, on the expected technical format of the content. – Make sure that you are geared to produce the content in the required technical format, as per the intended publishing platform.
Before you hop in to the planning and action, you may need to make an online order for the equipment, if suitable equipment is not found in the closet. This chapter explores the most important aspects of hardware requirements for any studio.
Video lights are one of the key pieces for any video recording studio. To be clear, we are talking about continuous lights, which is not the same as the flash/strobe used for photography. Those are completely different beasts altogether.
There are a ton of lighting solutions available on the global market. How do you know which options are good and which are good enough?
The keywords here are: good enough. – There are plenty of prohibitively expensive equipment which are sometimes not much better than their cheaper cousins. And even if they are considerably better, expensive equipment might be more than what you need.
You need a minimum of two lights, either natural or artificial. A third light source might be needed as well, depending on the environment and preferences. For natural light, sometimes sunlight from a window or being in a place with bright daylight above your head is just what you need. Beware that when using natural light, you still want to avoid extremities such as sunlight right in your eyes.
When choosing your light, you should also seek something called “soft light” which has a color temperature that matches natural daylight. This is around 5500 Kelvins. It is also essential to use light softeners – often a white fabric in front of the actual light bulb/led – to provide us with the soft light we are aiming for. It is also helpful to choose products with “Barn Doors,” which help to focus the light in the direction you need.
So, to recap, what makes a decent video light solution?
- Two or three lightboxes, sometimes called softboxes
- Color temperature around 5500 Kelvins
- Barn Doors – if available on the product
- A stand for each light source
- Light softeners for each light source
If you take your equipment to places and have to unpack, set up, dismantle and pack, there are a few additional items that can be extremely helpful such as carry case, extension cords, battery packs, etc. Having these items on hand avoids surprises once everything is set up. – We have had shortages of outlets so many times, we have lost count. Extension cords are a lifesaver!
Some people use a ring light, or a selfie ring light, which attaches directly to the SLR lens with a twist, or with a holder on top of the iPhone. These are originally developed for small-item macro photography and are also quite mobile due to their small size. However, they are no match for a proper light set. Ring lights need to be very close in order to light up the subject and also create a glare into your eyes, making them a distraction to both you and the audience.
For this article focus and purpose, we should be budgeting around C$250, or less, per proper lightbox. These are a couple of options:
Video Recording stand
Video recording is much easier with all the technology available nowadays. We often use plain iPhones – yes, iPhones – but any newer smartphone model should have a capacity for 1080p video and will produce good quality videos. You can use one, or multiple devices, depending on your needs.
Choosing a SLR or specialty video recorder is worth another 1,000 words article, so we won’t get to that this time. For now, let’s assume you are using a regular smartphone.
The minimum video recording resolution should be 1080p@60 fps (frames per second), but if you have a capacity for 4k@60fps, that would be preferable. The space needed to store your recording increases according to the resolution you choose, so before you start recording, make sure you have enough storage space on your device. It would be a shame to lose a great snap in the middle of the most exciting part because you ran out of space!
Also make sure your battery is fully charged or attached to a power source/battery pack.
Another aspect to consider is stability. If you are making robust video shoots outdoors or when you are on wheels, devices like gimbals and stabilizers are great to stabilize your video, but you don’t need that here. For the purposes of this article, a simple tripod does the trick.
What should you look for on a tripod?
Solid metal frame with connecting struts between the tripod legs – Solid legs and connecting rods in the lower part of the tripod is crucial. They provide support to your equipment and prevent the video from shaking. This is especially important, if you know you are going to have some heavy equipment on it, or if you know there will be people and objects moving around while you are recording. Look for solid construct.
Compatible Tripod Connector, unless SLR or Pro-Camera is being used – SLRs and Video cameras come with ¼” socket, which can be used to attach the camera directly to the tripod. But for iPhones or other smartphones, we need a holder. Something very simple will do, like the examples below.
Expect to pay C$100 to C$200 for decent tripods. You can find cheaper tripods on the $50 range which tend to be focused on mobility and travel but often don’t yield the needed stability. Likewise, the tripods with higher price tags are aimed for professionals who have specific needs and special demands.
Some suggested tripods for iPhones would include:
Audio recording is another essential part of your video recording process. Without proper audio, even the best quality video will fail to reach its goal. This is an area you don’t want to neglect.
Thankfully, voice recording equipment can be one of the most affordable pieces of hardware. A lapel mic – or one for each person speaking – connected to your iPhone can serve this purpose well.
If your set up – which we will discuss later in this article – requires distance from your iPhone or video recording device, you can look for wireless microphones, or use another iPhone to record the audio. In the second scenario, you will need some video editing skills and software to place the two sources together.
A good lapel/lavalier mic will cost you around C$40. There are also wireless options, which will likely have a higher cost. Wireless microphones also introduce another set of technology, prone to RF interference and other challenges. Simplicity is beautiful, in this case.
Our suggested lapel microphones are:
If you are using a 3.5mm plug microphone – like the one suggested – you may also need an adapter since newer iPhones, no longer have 3.5mm plug. These are available in most local electronic shops, and also on Amazon.
One of the things most beginners forget: clapping! For yourself and all the mates supporting your efforts! Pat yourself on the shoulder for getting this far in this article!
But there is also a real clapper – which you have likely seen many times in movies, tv shows, and most often in bloopers. Clappers are a critical piece of the video recording process, especially when you are using multiple recording devices. Why? They provide an audio signal – a sharp peak in the audio waveform – which is the same in all recordings for that take. That provides synchronization points for all tracks and will be enormously helpful in video editing. When using a clapper, you can align all tracks to the peak audio signal it produced.
Fancy clappers have a timer display running in the front with a wooden stick on top, which is being clapped. They also have text that indicates the take, episode, date, locations, etc. But the simplest form of the clapper is your own hands, which are free! If you don’t want to use your own hands, you can choose any option that will produce a sharp and loud sound that can be captured on the audio waveform.
When it comes to software you can go as simple or complex as you want, it all depends on how sophisticated and professional you want your video to be.
Of course, we all want to see top-notch, CNN-like video quality at glorious 4K HDR with ATMOS surround audio. But is it really needed? Likely not. Think of what is good enough – and maybe go a little further – for your audience expectation and to allow them to extract value from your production. If the focus is on audio, invest in the necessary equipment. If your video’s focus is of a graphical nature, invest in the video and the lights that will enhance that – but never neglect the audio!
In the simplest form, a single iPhone 6 or newer has all the software you need built-in. Connect the lapel mic, launch the camera app, and off you go recording your latest episode of action, drama, and love, whatever your intent may be.
When using a dual iPhone set up to record audio and video separately, you can use Voice Record Pro, by Dayana Networks Ltd, on the audio recording device. It’s free of charge. You will also have plenty of options to upload your clips directly to a gazillion of different cloud storages.
If you are using multiple devices – for audio, or to capture different angles, a whiteboard, presenter, etc. – you will need additional software to bring all these resources together. There aren’t many true professional-grade video editing tools out there, but Adobe Premiere is a great option. You can start with the Premiere Elements version, but if you want to process 4K videos and add additional features, it is recommended that you upgrade to the full Adobe Premiere Pro version. Consequentially, you will need the respective skills to edit the frames in a seamless way.
Your recording environment is another extremely important element. For the purposes of this article, we are considering recording setups that do not include recording your computer screen but focus only on the person or people speaking. If your video needs also require capturing your computer screen and embedding your “talking head” to your recording, advanced video editing skills would be needed. We are not getting into those details here.
So, let’s have a look at what makes a good video recording environment.
Seeking the perfect audio
We previously discussed audio recording from a hardware perspective. Now let’s discuss what makes a reasonably good audio environment.
- Avoid Hard Surfaces – Hard surfaces cause sounds to reflect and bounce back creating feedback. You do not want that echo in your audio track. So, you should look for a room with no corners and no hard surfaces.
- Get the size right – A very small room can be challenging to set up all the equipment we need and discussed. On the other hand, rooms that are too large – such as auditoriums – provide a full other arrays of challenges with echo and volume. We recommend a room of at least 4 by 4 meters but preferably a bit larger. Choose a space where you have enough space to fit your equipment and set up, so you can be comfortable during the recording.
- Room finishing – Avoid rooms and spaces with concrete and stone floors and walls, if possible. Wooden floors (not squeaking) carpets and sofas are great!
- Avoid Echo – Try covering the floors and walls with thick rugs, or another similar household decoration, which you may have available. In professional audio recording spaces, you will see cones made of foam on the walls. The purpose is the same, to kill the echo and reverberation.
- Pay Attention to External Noise – After you set up everything to make your recording environment perfect for audio, pay attention to external noise. Sit still in your intended recording space and listen. Do you hear birds, air-conditioner going on and off, a summertime fan going, dogs barking, cars or other traffic, kids playing, tv or anything else? You should not hear any of these, and if you do, it’s not going to be ideal space for your recording. You need to change something, either your space, or the external sources of noise. Any of those external noises will be impossible to remove later.
Because of external noises, we do not recommend outdoor environments. There are uncontrolled items like wind, rain, trees, bushes, sunlight, etc. Each of the natural components can create a distraction, noise and lighting changes to your well going take, or worse, ruin the otherwise perfect take.
So, while you are likely not going to fill the whole screen with your face, you need to consider what else is visible in the video, the backdrop.
Photographers most often use white, or other consistent color backdrops, even a large piece of linen, to hide everything else. Depending on your audience and type of video topic, you can consider what’s acceptable, or even required as a backdrop. For meditation types of topics, candles and rugs on the wall (for audio) might work very well. But for a business-themed video, a formal background would be more appropriate.
You also need space for the backdrop, if it needs to be setup. Bookshelves work well as backgrounds for study, business, and medical topics. If you decide to use your bookshelf, make sure it aligns with the message and brand you want to project to your audience.
The recording sessions can be daunting, especially in the beginning. So, think of what the most natural environment for you and your topic is. Some people are most natural when sitting behind the desk. If you choose this format, ensure that your desk space is tidy and that your posture and demeanor are being well captured in video.
For interviews and talks, fabric sofas work well, as those provide echo cancellation, but also a lot of comfort for the interviewer and interviewee. In the end, you want to appear relaxed, but knowledgeable, and it only works, when you are truly in your natural state of mind.
Standing setup might be good as well. It keeps you active and it provides more flexibility. Watch out hopping back and forth, especially if your take is a long one. You can, and should, move but moving too much can become a distraction to your listeners.
If you need a whiteboard or any other props for your video, you have two options. Either set up two video recording devices with stands or – if the items are small enough – have them readily available. Choose a location that allows access without requiring you to leave the video frame.
Last, but not least, consider your appearance. Yes, the focus of the video is the story and the value you are offering. And yes, we are all beautiful people, but hair and make-up – for men included – can make quite a difference in the way your audience will perceive you in the video. You don’t need to be a Victoria’s Secret or L’Oréal model, but a tiny touch up will do some magic, trust me.
The same applies to clothing. You don’t need to invest thousands of dollars in suits and apparel but have a look at yourself in the mirror before going live and consider your audience. Do your clothes send the message you want to send to those watching the video? Think about the type of clothing, but also color and style. We recommend staying away from clothes that strobe – fine prints, complicated patterns, and fluorescent colors – as they are too distracting.
Setting up equipment
This is pretty straight forward. Once you have decided on your ideal room and set up for the recording – standing or sitting, with or without a table, etc. – think angles. The placement of your equipment will impact the quality of your recording, so it is important to consider different angles.
Ensure there are no light sources directly behind you – like windows or a doorway – which are significantly brighter. If there are, you will need to change the setup, so that the light is directly from your side instead of behind you. Aim for a 45-degree angle from your back.
If there is a window with natural light, try to have it on your side, or slightly back, without actually getting the window into the video. Do note, the potential outdoor light condition changes.
If you only have two light sources, set up those in front you, in a 45-degree angle from the camera, one on each side, at your eye level, or just a bit higher. For a dramatic impression, turn the other side light off, or dim it.
Find what works best for you. But don’t neglect the impact of lights in your recording. They are essential.
Set the camera – aka. iPhone stand – at the distance, so that the video frames you in one of the golden spots. You can see the golden spots, by enabling the grid in the iPhone camera settings. The grid divides the screen into nine segments, providing four crosshairs, each one third from the edge. These crosshair points are the golden spots, where we generally aim to have our subjects.
From a video framing point of view, your waist is a good spot to cut off. Remember to leave some space for the head to move up and down, while the upper one-third crosshair aims between the eyes!
If you are looking to embed a watermark or logo in your video, we suggest setting the camera, subjects, angles, and suitable backdrop in a way that leaves the white area in the video at the right lower corner. This white or light area can be for example the front edge of the sofa.
Unless you are doing Instagram, we should do a horizontal camera setup, the traditional 16:9 aspect ratio, which is the most universal. Wide, not tall.
Connect the lavalier lapel mic directly to the iPhone recording the video, and you are done! If the wire is not long enough, you may need to use another iPhone, as explained earlier, and then combine the video and audio tracks with video editing software.
Remember the clapper! Clap your hands, once, as loud as you can, after all the recording devices are rolling. If you have a handy husband, or wife, they may be able to provide you two straight pieces of wood hinged together!
Planning the take
Even when presenting a topic that is familiar to you, planning the take is important for the quality of your video recording. You want to ensure you are capturing all the information in a clear and precise way, that is easy for your audience to follow. The best way to reach this goal is by planning the take.
Depending on the topic and length of the intended take, planning does not need to be super complex, but you should still have some guiding notes.
We don’t recommend writing a word-per-word script, as these types of scripts make you feel mechanical and unnatural. Word-per-Word scripts were used in teleprompters – which were quite popular for a while – but using this style for an entire training course makes the delivery very dry. Besides, people can tell when you are speaking naturally and when you are reading from a script.
Instead, we recommend having a list of six to ten talking points or questions that you would like to ask during your interview. The talking points ensure you are covering everything you wanted for each topic, in an order that contributes to the natural flow of your presentation.
There is nothing wrong with having notes guiding your thoughts. We are only human, and professionals use notes too!
Keep in mind that practise makes perfect. While planning is useful, do not give up if the initial take is not ideal. Work on it and keep practising. You will see improvements with each take.
Sharing the content
This chapter is towards the end of the article, but it’s not any less important.
While you have invested some money and a lot of time and effort in creating those marvelous videos, people want to see them! And we suppose that’s the whole point of doing this! Right?
So, think ahead about the method you are using to publish, and what format the material is needed, so you can get the format right, from the very beginning, and just simply hand the material forward into the systems or people.
iPhone produces universally compatible video files but is sometimes difficult to get out into non-Apple devices and software. The easiest methods can be Google Drive, Dropbox, and just using a Mac to export files from iPhone.
There might be some other apps and sharing options as well, but depending on the case, this might be worth studying before you engage in long series of video recordings, you need to get it out to people somehow!
Video recording can be complex, and it can be simple. All it really needs, is lights, audio, video, and action! All this can be achieved with smartphones alone but – as discussed above – you can make an amateur video look professional with a few simple investments and a bit of extra effort.
While setting up the room and lighting is not overly difficult, and recording the video is simple, and possibly enjoyable, the video editing can be tricky. Unless you already have the tools and knowledge, you will need to invest time to develop your editing skills. If you are not really into editing, find yourself a trusty partner who understands you, your topic, and is comfortable with video editing.
Learning video editing, especially inserts, logo reveals and other advanced elements, will a bit of studying, practice and tools to hone an efficient workflow. If you don’t have these skills and don’t intend to develop them, look for assistance. Your time is likely more valuable in front of the camera, than behind it.
Video recording can start as a hobby and turn into a profession or an asset for your business. It should be a fun activity, which you enjoy doing! Your enjoyment and enthusiasm will actually show in the video. People can see through you if you are pretending, so don’t put on a character, be your natural self!
The total budget and investment needed is likely somewhere around C$300 to C$600, depending on the selection of the equipment. Your house price is not included! Going up and beyond C$600 would be overkill for the beginners, and likely offer little additional value in return. Extremely expensive professional equipment is designed for ruggedness and rough handling, yet solid performance. Unless you are planning to record a professionally or cliffside, the higher end equipment is not a necessary investment.
I hope this article gives you some ideas and tips on how to move forward with your production and creates a new star for the world to see!
Best of luck! And don’t forget to share links to your video creations on the thread below.