This was written for one of my clients, Elisabeth. She is about to embark on video podcasting and presentation and wanted some advice on using her home office for her video shoots.
I hope you find this post useful, its a starting point to assist you as you explore the equipment, such as cameras, lighting and sound requirements for your budget. As your ability develops you’ll gain greater control over your home studio and its output.
Yes, you’ll need a studio
Call the location you choose to create your video podcasts in, ‘the studio‘. It doesn’t matter if its temporary in your bedroom, kitchen or home office. Its where you assemble your equipment and where you present yourself for your video.
Of course it would be better for a permanent setup but when you are just starting out that might not be feasible. By calling it ‘the studio’ you’ll develop a mental map (you may even draw the map) of where everything has to go. This is especially true for good lighting of you, and for good audio when you are speaking.
Good lighting dictates your studio layout
Well at least in a home or home office environments. Sometimes getting the lighting right is the biggest problem confronting a small scale video podcaster. Experiment with what ever lights are fitted to the ceiling, your window, with or without blinds (or curtains) as well as using desk lamps or floor standing lights. Its worth while doing a series of screen tests before deciding to part with the cash for dedicated studio lighting.
Mind where you lay your cables!
Cables for audio, video and computers are a nightmare if not well behaved. If you don’t have a permanent studio invest in some velcro straps (for example) to bundle and/or attach collections of cables to things to keep them out of your way.
Correctly positioning your camera
Stand alone camera
This is the preferred option. If the camera is separate/stand alone then it is easily moved, especially if its on a tripod. In fact if its not on a tripod you are potentially creating several problems for yourself. One is the absence of freedom to position the camera where it best works presenting you on screen. Another problem is vibrations. They may not show up until you’re on screen being observed by your viewers. Use a tripod. It overcomes most of the problems associated with using a separate web cam or laptop web cam.
Separate web cam
Web cams are offering very high quality these days for their cost. They can easily clip on to your main computer screen or laptop cover and provide very good quality for their price. Some come with fitted microphones too. Some may even have tripod adaptors making it easy to attach to a standard camera tripod. They tend to be light weight and easily transportable if moving between your studio and outside locations.
Built in (laptop) web cam
Of all the cameras available these types are the least flexible and likely will not have image quality as good as a separate web cam or dedicated video camera. That said, some web cams built into laptops and mobile phones these days are of very good image quality when say, compared to similar offerings of only a couple of years ago. The test is in whether or not the output is acceptable to you and your viewers.
A major draw back of a laptop web cam is its position. Usually fitted into the lid of your laptop. Adjusting the camera view means adjusting the laptop and that might not always be so straight forward if the laptop is on your desk. If the camera is in the lid it may also mean that the laptop lid is tilted back and is pointing up at you, meaning your viewers point of view is seeing you stare down on them (and they may possibly be staring right up your nostrils!). Consider raising the laptop on a platform so that the camera is at least at your eye level.
Correctly positioning your lights
There is plenty of advice on the WWW about this matter. It is important since it directly affects your look on screen. I won’t presume to advise about this but if you are new to video and have a limited budget read through Yaro‘s blog piece first. Then for further advice on easily assembled studios these Ikea hacks are well worth considering. This isn’t an advert for Ikea though. Its likely that with existing furniture and resources around your home you could put together a good temporary studio that presents you in the best light (pun intended).
Test your lighting setup
Yaro’s experience shows us that you can’t necessarily get it right the first time. Some experimentation is important and that means testing with you in front of the camera, primarily at this stage paying attention to the colour of the light on you and the surrounding furniture as well as indirect light, say for example, coming through a window, and finally how shadows might play across your face.
Check the links for advice on types of microphones and other equipment. If you are just starting off you won’t need it all, but a good microphone is important. They can get very expensive so for starters its probably a good idea not to splash out. If you’ve already got a microphone (built in or lying around spare) try that one first. Record a video session (see below for advice on that) and then judge the sound quality. If its mediocre then its likely you should replace the microphone you used.
The other useful device to get for your studio is a pop filter.
Test your audio setup
After you’ve adjusted your camera and lights: action! Well not quite straight away especially in front of your potential audience. Test by recording a session and/or doing a live broadcast to colleagues.
Record (or broadcast) a short session, say three minutes (set a timer) and speak content representative of the material you will be presenting or discussing during the video. Make sure to use words and phrases your audience are likely to hear you use.
Watch head movements: are you too stiff, too relaxed, do you change your head position backwards or forwards in relation to the location of the microphone. Speak to camera and when reviewing the recorded video note if the audio quality related to your head position varies. It may make it difficult for your viewers to hear you clearly if you voice is drifting in and out.
Note how you speak during the test video. An unvarying voice, lacking in tone is quickly noticed. While you are listening to the video check for any background noises such as air-conditioning, fridges, pets or other sources of extraneous noise.
Background music may sound nice to you but it may be distracting to your audience and detract from what you are saying. Test with and without the music track and if in doubt, leave it out.
The studio scene
Simply put, this is what people see behind you when you are appearing in the video. If you are really videoing in your bedroom and you don’t want people to see this, or you have a very messy office behind you find some way of hanging a cloth behind you (known as a backdrop) that obscures as much as possible. Preferably your backgroup should not be any kind of stripe or with a green or blue hue.
If you have a book case behind and want that as the backdrop have a good look at it in the test record session. Just check to see how “interesting” it is.
Testing your studio
Testing is important to make sure that how you look, how your studio looks and how you sound are all satisfactory. Make sure you test not just with yourself but with colleagues who will provide useful critique of those key elements, the studio appearance, your appearance and the sound quality.
When things don’t work
Its technology and *not* working is part of what technology does too. You just have to accept that it will misbehave at some point and be ready. Its useful to have a checklist handy rather than commit it to memory, especially if you are 10 minutes from the scheduled broadcast event. Here is a suggested list of things to check – I know some of them are achingly obvious but in the heat of the moment they can be the ones inadvertently skipped over:
- Power plugs in socket, switch is ON.
- Don’t “over plug” power sockets or distribution boards. Triping the overload regularly means there’s a problem and you need to fix it.
- Power cable is inserted into device (camera, lamp, etc) and its not loose or flopping around.
- Signal cables, i.e., the cable carrying the audio/video feed to the computer are connected at BOTH ends.
- If any device is reliant on a battery is the battery CHARGED? If not do you have a spare that is charged and the recharger is nearby and ready to use.
- Your internet connection and WIFI router devices (if they are separate) are both on and all indicator lights that should flash are flashing and they are displaying the appropriate coloured lights.
- If you are recording a session to your computer, or a chip on your camera make sure there is enough SPACE.
- Make sure pets, people and gusts of wind are all prevented from barging in on your session, shut doors and windows.
- Consider your personal comforts: the chair you sit on is setup correctly, cushions if you need them. You have a bottle or glass of water nearby. Sitting under lights and talking is thirsty work. Stay hydrated.
- Noise emitting devices. Your mobile and land line phones and your computer, pads or tablets nearby. Where possible mute the sounds or change to vibrate.
- Timing and timers. It might be worth while to have an onscreen timer rather than relying on the clock on your computer display. An on screen timer is usually bigger and easily spotted in your peripheral vision. A count down in front of you is a great way to focus your mind on staying within the time budget for your session.
If you have any feedback please let me know, I’d like to incorporate it in to the next revision. Blog post image by rawpixel from Pixabay Image credits for Facebook and Twitter posts: Image by Marvin Mennigen from Pixabay Image by Florian Pircher from Pixabay Image by Bokskapet from Pixabay Image by Andrzej Rembowski from Pixabay