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VLOG #4: The key technical tips to record great videos of yourself

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Full transcript:

Hi, it’s good to see you here!

My name is Romain, and welcome to the fourth episode of the VLOG, comfortably set up at home, with a cup of coffee.

Alright so first and foremost I hope that you’re staying safe, both physically and mentally, during this very weird COVID-19 time. I’m doing well, but for sure things have changed quite a lot in Singapore since my last video which was more than a month ago. We are now in what’s called a “circuit breaker”, which is more or less a lockdown. That’s supposed to end on June 1st, let’s hope that’s the case. And we are very limited in what we can do. We can of course go out for the essential things and exercise a bit, which I do quite a lot and run almost every day, which helps me keep fit and energized.

And this energy led me to think of a two-part video for you. Something useful, I hope, done entirely at home because hey, do we have a choice? This is becoming for sure the new normal now and I think people are starting to realize more than ever before the power of video communication.

So what do I have for you today?

Well, I thought I could be helping those of you who would like to get started with communicating with video with your community, here on LinkedIn, YouTube or elsewhere. And maybe you’re doing it already – and kudos if that’s the case, that’s really great! – and you might need some tips to improve and get the best results possible.

So let’s start with the first video where I will talk about the technical side of things: how to get the basics right, and I have this little whiteboard with me as a summary of what we are going to cover.

I wanted to start with the technical aspects first because that’s usually what attract people when they see your video popping up in their social media feed for example, or on your website. For sure it’s not everything but it’s very important to have some basics right so that people stick to your content and watch it to the end and eventually take action on it, if that’s your objective.

Now, there are so many technical aspects to be considered to do great videos, but since we are talking about the do-it-yourself-at-home type of video here, I think we should concentrate on the two most important elements which are: lighting and sound.

And to be clear, we are dealing with talking head video here, so most likely you sharing some information, knowledge, ideas with your audience to the camera, and not doing something like a super professional corporate video or something on those lines, but just to create quality content in a clean and engaging way for your audience.

So first, let’s start with lighting.

Lighting

It is so important and so many times overlooked to have a good light on yourself when you record your video, and I’m telling you this: in videography like in photography light is almost everything. In fact, it matters more than the camera you’re using. Which means you can achieve a great looking image with about any camera as long as you have a good light source on you, and of course the easiest light to find is the light coming from outside, the natural light, so I recommend you sit or stand next to a window because it naturally diffuses the light and it looks good. The light needs to be facing you and not behind you because it will look quite bad.

If you record your video indoor, like what I do right now, I recommend you do so at around midday because it’s when the light is at its brightest, so it looks great. So you just have to stand or sit next to the window and have a look at the screen to see how it looks the best to try to avoid these shadows, because when you have dark areas in your image it will create some grain or noise on the image, and when you upload this video on YouTube or any other platform, these platforms will actually compress further your video and that will look even worse.

If you want to record your video outdoor, maybe from your balcony, you can do so during the blue hour, which is the first hour after sunrise, or the golden hour, which is the last hour before sunset, because it creates this very warm and pleasing light on you. Don’t do it during midday because the light basically will be above you, the sun is there, and it’ll create very harsh shadows on your face, which is not very flattering.

So right now I’m in my bedroom, about two meters away from my window, and I’m just using natural light for this set.

If for some reason the outside light is poor or your place is built in such a way that light doesn’t come in very well, I have one super nice accessory to recommend, which is really worth the investment – just about 20 Singapore dollars or 15 US dollars – and that’s called a round light reflector. The one I have here is called “5 in 1” because you can play with the light differently by using their interchangeable cover system. You can use it to bounce the light into the shadows with the white face, soften it with the translucent face, block it with the black face, and even make the scene warmer with the golden face or brighter with the silver face. So it’s a lot of possibilities to improve your lighting environment for a very negligible investment and without the need to buy a LED light or anything that needs power.

So for example if I stand against the wall, you can see some shadows being formed behind me, which I can reduce by bouncing the light on them, just by using this cheap accessory, so that’s pretty cool.

That being said if you have a nice lamp producing warm and pleasant light at home, don’t hesitate to try using it, but make sure it’s positioned well to not look too scary. What works the best usually is to put the light slightly above the camera and in front of you.

So lighting: done! Next: sound.

Sound

Equally important to lighting, if not more, is the sound quality of your videos. And in fact, it’s been proven that people prefer to watch a video with a bad image quality but a good sound, rather than the opposite.

So for your videos the number one rule is to get the microphone as close to your mouth as possible. So for this I have two options to recommend: you can either invest in a wireless microphone system typically made of an audio receiver plugged to the camera or the smartphone, and an audio transmitter on which you can plug, for example, a lavalier microphone; or you can just buy a lavalier microphone, like this one, which you plug directly to the camera or the smartphone, you might just need an extension cable for that.

Believe me, that will make such a big difference compared to the audio coming from your device, especially if it’s recording from a distance.

The cheapest option definitely is the lavalier mic, for less than a hundred dollars you get a decent one giving you good quality. For this video for sure I could have used a higher-end microphone like a shotgun microphone pointed at me, which I own, but I decided to use the equipment I’m talking about so that you can get a good idea of the sound quality you can get for your own videos.

Also in terms of the recording environment: be aware of it and make sure you use a quiet space. Close the door, stay away from a running fridge or construction work for example. The last thing you want to do is to retake the whole video because of the bad sound environment.

It’s always recommended to be in a room with some furniture, curtains, blanket or any other material that will help absorb the echo, so of course the worst thing is to be in an empty room. And if you can, turn off the aircon. That produces a background noise. That being said, I have to confess for this video: I live in Singapore… I have to keep it on! Just try your best in your environment…

So far I’ve been recording this video with my professional camera and this lavalier mic for an enjoyable experience, but let me now switch to… recording fully from a smartphone. I didn’t do anything to tweak the light or improve the audio. Actually the audio is coming directly from the iPhone, and you can hear it’s pretty poor. The iPhone is about one meter away from me right now, and of course if you bump on this content online you would be less inclined to watch it until the end, right? Now let me use the lavalier mic for a better audio quality and use the light reflector to remove those shadows on my face. Much better, right? And please use the main camera on your smartphone: the one at the back and not the one at the front, which I was using on the previous clip, because it’s most likely that it has a better sensor and overall better image quality with a higher resolution. So of course it’s a bit tricky because you will need to make some test videos before you hit record, because you don’t see yourself on the smartphone, right? But it’s much better for the quality.

Sound: done!

Alright we are done with lighting and sound. Of course there would be so much more to talk about on the technical side but before I leave you let me just share five small tips to help you make a big difference in your videos:

  • Stability: First, make your camera stable, use a tripod if you have one or if you don’t, maybe your pile of books can do.

  • Headroom: Second, give yourself enough headroom, don’t be stuck to any side of the frame – first, because it doesn’t look good and second, because if you want to edit the footage later it gives you much more flexibility to crop.

  • High resolution: Third, always shoot in the highest resolution that your device has. Nowadays all cameras do at least HD but if you have 4K: go for it. That will just give you the best quality possible, and when you upload it online, even if it’s converted to HD, that will look better.

  • Camera position: Fourth, to get your best appearance on camera, position it at eye level and about arm’s-length away. More is fine, if you can zoom in.

  • Clean background: And fifth, clean up your background. The last thing you want to have is your audience distracted by the mess at your place, your cat wandering around. Make it clean, make it simple, and clothing-wise: use contrast with your background.

Alright that’s it for today, I hope it was useful and it will help you make great videos at home or in any environment actually, those tips apply everywhere.

In the next video that’s coming soon, I will be helping you with the other side of the coin: how to be engaging and deliver your content for best results.

If you want to react on this and maybe ask me questions about these tips or more, please feel free to do so, leave a comment in this video or send me a private message or an email, I’ll be more than happy to help you.

Thank you very much for watching, thank you for your time and attention, and until I see you in the next video: take care, stay safe.

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