Creating Better Videos: Getting Started

In his last post Matthew Rogers-Draycott promised to share some of the tips, tricks and ideas that he has been using to improve his recorded material. He starts with looking at how you can create better videos.

Creating Better Videos: Getting Started 

Recording content for blended, flipped or fully online courses is a minefield. Not only do you need to shape it to fit a very different set of pedagogical and methodological considerations, you also need to ensure that it is recorded in a way which maximises the impact of material you are delivering. 

There has been a lot written about how to design materials for these contexts but, surprisingly, the same attention has not been given to providing clear advice on how to record for them. As someone who has some experience of this work and, is currently exploring how to improve my output, I felt that this was something I could contribute to.  

In my effort to address this topic I am going to write a series of blogs/vlogs that will discuss how to produce better recordings using varying levels of equipment. In this first piece I am going to explore the key factors that underpin the production of good recordings and make suggestions as to how these can be controlled with minimal equipment. 

In my opinion there are 3 key factors that you need to control to produce good recordings: 

  • your environment
  • your camera position
  • and the placement of your microphone. 

The Environment 

When choosing a place to record there are 2 things you need to consider, the first of these is the ambient volume. Managing ambient volume is not just about finding a quiet place that is free from other distractions or interference, that bit is quite obvious, it is also about ensuring that the room you are recording in is not too acoustically bright. A bright room is one that is tilled, has hard floors, and/or lots of hard furniture. Recordings in these environments will tend to sound echoey and tinny even with good quality equipment. This means that kitchens and bathrooms are not ideal, instead, try to record in carpeted rooms with lots of bedding and/or soft furnishings. Larger rooms with less furniture are also not a good choice as they can add an echoey quality all of their own to the recording. If you are stuck in a large or, acoustically bright space, putting a pillow behind your mic or, at the either side (just out of shot if you are using video) can help, as can hanging a blanket around the area you are recording in (to make it acoustically smaller). 

Matt set up
Matt’s home set up

Assuming that you are videoing your content the second thing you will need is light, even a good camera with low light correction can be rendered inept with poor lighting. If you do not want to invest in lighting, which can be done relatively cheaply, the important thing is to try to make sure that your face is lit from behind the camera and that you do not have any bright light sources directly above, behind, or to the side of you. This should make sure that the visual tone of your recording is even and that you do not look washed-out, in shadow, or have any instance of flare from other light sources. A simple trick is to record during the day, and do so directly facing a window, this should ensure that you are lit by the natural light from the window without the need for any additional light sources. 

Camera Position 

Next, you need to consider where your camera is positioned. Wherever possible your eyes should be level with the camera and you should be able to speak directly into it as if you are looking at the audience. If you are using a webcam, putting it on a small tripod can help to get the right level, if you are using a laptop, I would advise you to lift it up using a small pile of boxes or books to achieve the same effect. When you see yourself on camera your face should be framed in the centre of the image, with a centimetre or so between the top of your head and the top edge of the screen. Making sure that your camera is at eye level will also help to reduce shadows and, if you are using an inbuilt mic, it should ensure that you are speaking toward it. 

Laptop stand by Jem Yoshioka
Laptop stand by Jem Yoshioka

Microphone Position 

To be clear, buying a good external USB microphone or headset is the quickest fix to improve the quality of any recordings you are producing vs. using the mic that is built into your laptop or webcam. The reason for this is that laptop and webcam mics are small, poorly filtered, and often badly positioned. 

When considering mic placement, it is important to understand that the further away you are from the mic, the thinner your voice will sound and the more the environment will affect the recording. That said, if you are too close to the mic you will sound overly bassy and the impact of your breathing will be exaggerated. Therefore, the mic needs to be close to your face, but not too close, about 15-30 cm away and just slightly off-axis from your mouth is ideal. If you have a pop-filter or windshield you should use this as it will further lessen the effects of breath sounds and aspirated plosives on the quality of the recording. Following these suggestions should mean that you can turn-down the gain on the microphone, which will in turn reduce the impact of any background noises. These tricks will help your voice to sound richer, fuller, and minimise any interference.  

Microphone set up

If you are stuck with only a laptop and in-built mic the best advice is to lift it up (as previously suggested), and get your face as close to the mic as you can while still maintaining a good framing of your face in the screen. Beyond this there is not much you can do to improve your audio unless you are willing to engage in some post-production with something like audacity

I hope these tips are useful, in my next piece I am going to focus in more detail on getting the audio right and will use some examples to illustrate the points I have raised here. 

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