Podcast Episode #2: Simple Tips to Shooting High Quality Web Videos

On today’s podcast, we share some simple tips that will dramatically improve the quality of the web videos you’re shooting. You’ll discover straight-forward information on how to increase the quality of your lighting, your audio, and your video, so that you can start shooting high quality web videos.


You can download this podcast directly from this link, or find our Web Video Marketing Show podcast on iTunes.

Podcast Transcript

You’re listening to the Web Video Marketing Show, the podcast for business owners and marketing professionals, that will help you connect with your audience more effectively by using video. Here’s your host, Ryan Spanger.

Ryan: Welcome to the Web Video Marketing Show with Ryan and Steve. Hello, Steve.

Steve: I’m good, thanks Ryan. How are you?

Ryan: Yeah, really good. Today we’re going to talk about how to shoot your own DIY web videos.

Steve: Excellent. It’s great.

Ryan: Is that something that you’ve been doing a bit of lately, filming your own videos?

Steve: I have. I’ve been trying different things, probably over the course of a year, using different equipment and trying to shoot in different… indoors and outdoors. This should be full of good information for me, I think.

Ryan: How’s it been going?

Steve: Pretty good actually. There’s a lot to learn. I think one of the hardest things is if you’re doing it sort of by trial and error, then like me, I had to keep reshooting things over and over to get it just right. It’s an interesting learning curve. I’m interested to know a little bit more about how I can get a better quality video if I’m going to do it myself, and probably what’s most important in a setup to consider doing that.

Ryan: Okay. Great. One of the things we mentioned in the last episode is there’s a place for shooting your own videos, and then there’s a place for commissioning experts to do that.

In my mind, things like Facebook, YouTube, other social media sites, your blog, it’s an ideal place to put out regular video content. That’s stuff that you can often shoot yourself. At other times it’s often better to use a professional video company to create videos that might go on say, the home page of your website, places that are really prominent and places that you want have that slick professional look.

We’re going to be talking about the times when it’s great just to shoot your own contents and to put that out there on a regular basis and show an authentic natural side of yourself to your customers.

Steve: Sounds good. I think… because you do see that mix, don’t you? Sometimes there’s people at home or on a job and they want to show a quick video of how they’re doing something. It’s not always easy to get a professional crew in. They’ll take a quick snap even off their iPhone or something like that, as opposed to maybe getting the whole crew in. Definitely if you’re trying to put your best forward, it’s always better to have a professional job done, I think.

Ryan: If you are shooting a video yourself, we’re going to talk about some things to make your videos look and sound as good as possible.

Steve: My first question, Ryan, and this is probably what I’ve tried to learn over the last couple of years, is how important is the actual camera behind doing these videos? How important is it to have a good camera? Do you have to pay a fortune to get a good camera?

Ryan: The camera is important only so much as you need to have a decent camera in order to record video. The great thing is that these days with advances in technology, pretty much all current cameras shoot very good quality video. Even mobile phones shoot really great quality HD video.

Steve: Probably more so true when they’re getting used on YouTube and things like that, that they tend to be an acceptable level. Is that fair to say?

Ryan: That’s right. Firstly people are used to seeing amateur style videos on sites like YouTube, but also the actual picture quality from a lot of these phones is phenomenal. It comes down to more the skill of the user than the actual technology. The technology is not an impediment. Don’t let the fact that you don’t have a broadcast-quality camera stop you. You either have a camera at the moment that’s quite acceptable, or have access to one that you can borrow.

The thing about it is that it’s not just all about the camera. Sometimes people can focus too much on the camera and forget about some of the other things around it, which is your quality of your sound, the quality of your lighting, and most importantly the quality of your content.

Steve: Right. Just on the camera issue, I was using a little Sony Bloggie for a little while. We actually gave one of those as a gift to a friend of ours who had a new-born baby. They love it because they’re able to grab quick videos when something happens. It’s just such a lightweight little camera.

I actually tried to use that, but what I’ve found was it kept sort of zooming in and out all the time on an auto-zoom phase, which I couldn’t figure out how to turn it off. That was probably a little bit not as good when I was trying to use that as a professional business tool, having it zoom in and out of focus all the time.

Ryan: Yeah, that’s right. Often the auto functions, which are designed to make your life easier, can actually get in the way sometimes. The cool thing about a camera like that is it’s really designed for ease of use. It makes it that much easier and more accessible to create your own videos.

It’s very easy to shoot. You can shoot for the most part on an auto setting. It’s also easy to get the files into your computer to edit and get them out there. A camera like that, particularly to start off with, can work really well.

Steve: Last episode we were talking a bit about audio. You were actually saying that in some cases the audio is quite often more important than the video itself. Is that right? Is that the most important part?

Ryan: I believe that it is. You just assume that because of video, the actual vision is the most important part. However, your audience is more likely to forgive bad quality video, as long as the content is really good, than bad quality audio. A bad quality audio, if they can’t hear you, forget about it.

I’ll say that again. As long as your audio is of decent quality and your content is good, people are much more likely to forgive poor quality video, but not the other way around. It’s vital to make sure that your audio is recorded well.

Steve: That’s interesting. I’ve never really thought about that before. It definitely makes sense. If I’m going out to create a video then, what should I be doing to make sure my sound is of good quality?

Ryan: The best way to get reasonable quality sound is to get the microphone as close as possible to the source of sound that you want to record. Often the mistake that people make is they’ll use the built-in microphone in the camera, which is not only recording the source of the sound, but it’s also catching your atmospheric sound around you. It might be cars or winds, or other people talking.

The key is to get the microphone in as close to the source of sound as possible. One of the best ways to do that is to use something called the lapel microphone, which is a really small microphone, which clips on to your shirt. Do you know the sort of thing I’m talking about?

Steve: Yeah. They often use that on a live news feed, or something. I see a guy with a little microphone on his collar.

Ryan: Exactly right. The closer you get that microphone in, the better quality that sound is going to be and the more it’s going to reduce competing sounds like winds and traffic, dogs barking, all the sounds that you don’t want to be there.

If you are choosing a video camera, try to choose a camera that you can plug in an external microphone. You’ll be able to plug in something like a lapel microphone.

Steve: Are they expensive, right?

Ryan: They don’t have to be expensive. You can get a reasonable quality of lapel microphone for $50 or $100. You can get a pretty decent quality microphone for a couple of hundred dollars, and then something really professional for a few hundred dollars, more than that. Even if you buy a really basic one, it’s going to make all the difference to your sound quality.

It’s a great place to start with your recording your own web video, face to camera videos, or filming interviews.

Steve: As far as the actual ambient noise and those sorts of things, do those lapel microphones pick up much of that sounds? Do they work a little bit differently?

Ryan: The way those microphones are designed is to record the sound that’s immediately close to the microphone. While they’re still going to capture sound happening around you, by turning the recording level down and having that microphone close to you, you’re reducing the level of all of the other competing sounds.

That’s why it’s important to get it in as close as possible. The way those microphones are designed is to really concentrate on recording the source closer to the microphone.

Steve: That sounds good. That would’ve come in handy, actually, for a couple of videos that I was taking of houses. There was all the car noise in the background.

Ryan: That’s right. The next thing to think about, in terms of sound, is our ears have basically conditioned us to filter out competing sounds. For instance, if you think about the sounds that are around you now and really tune into the sounds that are around you, you might start to notice things that you weren’t aware of before.

It might be, say, the buzzing or humming of a computer. It might be some other electrical equipment that’s on in the background, the sound of birds, or the rumble of traffic in the distance. All of those sounds, our brain and ear will work together to filter out, so we’re just concentrating on the sound that we can hear.

When you’re recording it, the recording device doesn’t do that. It picks up everything. When you go into a room or space where you’re going to record, it’s important to tune into the sounds that are around you, notice what all the other competing and distracting sounds are, and think about what you can do to try to reduce or eliminate them.

Steve: Clever. There’s so much to think about. That’s clever. Good advice.

Ryan: They’re pretty basic things. They’re just going to improve the quality of your sound and the overall professionalism of your product. It might be something like switching off the computers that are around you, eliminating that hum. It might even be a buzzing fridge that you switch off. Don’t forget to switch it back on when you finish recording.

Close the window to stop the noise of the traffic, or switch off the air conditioner. Go to a part of the house, or a room, that’s away from the street, or away from birds or dogs, or whatever it might be. Often it seems like as soon as you start recording, someone turns on a lawnmower. It’s mainly just because you’ve tuned out a lot of these sounds before.

If you can think consciously about all the sounds that surround you, you’ll end up with a more professional product. It’s easier for the people who are listening to hear. They’ll be more committed to staying with you on the journey.

Steve: It sounds like, really, you’ve got to have a bit of a game plan, right? When you’re going to a location that you’re going to do your video, you start by doing the preparation. For me it’s always been, “Here we are. I’ve got a little camera stand. I’ll put my camera there. I’m ready to go.”

What you’re actually saying is stop, make an assessment, and then work out the way to make sure your audio’s going to be great.

Ryan: Yeah, that’s right. Just think about where you are and what quick decisions can you make to improve the sound quality. You might be at an event and you get the chance to interview someone. If you take them into an adjoining room, or away from a noisy area, it’s just going to be so much easier for people to hear and enjoy the sounds.

There are little decisions that you can make that can make a huge difference on the quality of your sounds.

Steve: Great. If we start with those things, first thinking about the audio and the audio quality only first, then go to setup, what then can we do to improve the picture quality? Because I’ve had issues with this before where I’ve run videos of certain shots and then realized that it’s all washed out because the sun’s coming in through the curtain, and the wrong angle, and we have to move to a different side of the room.

Are there things that you can sort of do to fast-track getting ready, or getting in the right location to actually do the video and improve the picture quality?

Ryan: There are definitely things that you can do. In the same way as you tuned in to what the sounds are, that are going on around you, you can do a visual audit as well.

As a cameraman, if I walk into a room, or I’m walking along the street, I’m always aware of the quality of the lights around me. Is it direct sunlight? Is it reflected off a building? Are there clouds obscuring the sun, which makes for a much softer sort of light? What are the colors of the light? When you’re in a room, is the light from a natural source coming from outside, or is it coming from lights inside?

If just start to tune in to where your main light sources are and what sort of light they’re causing, that’s the first step.

What you want to do is try to make your lighting look as flattering as possible, if you’re filming a person. For instance, eliminating things like shadows under people’s eyes, which is just unflattering. Sometimes that can be caused from having quite strong direct lights overhead.

Steve: Or too many late nights.

Ryan: Yeah, that’s right. It can definitely amplify that. The first thing to do is to think about where is your main source of light coming from.

If you’re in a room in the daytime, often your main source of light is coming through the windows. Therefore, if you’re filming an interview, or a face to camera video, face towards the window. That would be your primary source of light, which will usually be quite a flattering sort of light source.

If you’re outside and it’s a really sunny day, try to get out of the direct light because that direct sunlight is going to cause quite harsh shadows, which aren’t really going to look that great.

Steve: When you’re talking about these different lights, should you have the light always coming from behind the camera?

Ryan: Look, it is a similar rule. If you’re outside and it’s strong bright light creating shadows on people’s faces, the best thing to do is to actually set them up in the shade. You’re going to have a much softer, gentler, more even light and they’re not going to be squinting. That’s the first step to do.

Often people will think, “We need to get them into the sun because we need to have the sun on them.” That sun is going to be too bright and cause ugly shadows. Look for a shadowy area, under a tree, or something like that. You’re going to get a much more flattering, more impressive and professional result.

Steve: Does it matter, if you do that right and you’re under that shadow, does it matter if the camera is under the shadow also? Is that better that it’s under the shadow, or if the camera’s out in the sunlight, looking into the shadow, would that be too dark? Is that right?

Ryan: Either way is going to be fine as long as the sun is not shining directly into your lens, which might be causing flare, which could be a problem.

Steve: Yeah, that’s good to know. What else is something that we should keep in mind? Like if we’re indoors, there’s an example – I think you were saying there might be reflected light, or if it’s a cloudy day outside, maybe that’s not so bright, do you go turning on all the lights? If you actually start to think about maybe having a bit of a light kept on?

Ryan: If you’re indoors, some basic things that you can do if you don’t have enough light, is really simple. It’s just open up the blinds, open the curtains and turn on the room lights. That might give you enough lights just to shoot a basic web video.

Buying your own lights is another option. That’s probably a show in itself, just because there are a few issues there. If you’ve started shooting your own web videos, and you’re getting some good results, that’s the next step. That’s something that we’ll talk about in future episodes.

Something that we’ve mentioned before is, you know when you mentioned your camera defaulting onto the auto setting?

Steve: Yeah.

Ryan: That can be a problem because what the camera’s doing is setting up its exposure, which is the amount of light that it’s letting into the camera, based on how much light it’s seen. Have you ever seen, if someone’s filming and they turn towards the sun, or towards the light, and everyone in the video goes black? Everyone goes dark.

The camera’s brain is basically saying, “I’m seeing lots of light, so I need to close my aperture exposure to let in less light, which is just going to look terrible in the video. If you have a good average light setting for your video, you can use that auto setting.

If you’re filming towards light, that’s where the problem comes in. It can also come in some sort of, if you’re filming with a white wall in the background that’s reflecting a lot of light, the camera will stop down. It will reduce the amount of light coming in and the subject that you’re filming will start to get darker.

If you are able to, you have a camera with a manual setting, setting up your exposure manually is going to give you a much better result.

Steve: Right. You just sort of jugged my memory. I did a video of a house recently, where one of the guys was talking about the different places and different rooms. We tried to walk in from one area to another, but we had that exact same problem that you’ve just mentioned where we would walk from the kitchen to the laundry and all of the sudden the laundry door is all glass and it was too bright and it went totally black.

We kind of worked out that instead of actually doing a motion picture, we had to just do room by room, and then edit it in a way so we were just in the kitchen and then we were going to the laundry and get the best angle.

Ryan: It sounds like a perfect way to do it. Often amateur videos have way too much movement. People can get a little bit seasick with all that. It sounds like you found the perfect solution there.

Steve: Yeah, it’s just one of those things, trying to work out how to overcome some of those light issues that you’re talking about.

Ryan: Just tune in to what you’re actually capturing. If it doesn’t look right, redo it with a different background. Take a different approach just like you did.

Steve: That’s such good advice. Is there anything else that you can add, Ryan? Any other tips that you can give?

Ryan: Something that’s worth mentioning is the framing. What I mean by framing is if you’re filming someone, where they appear in the screen. A common mistake that people make is to frame up someone’s face in the middle of the frame and leave a lot of room between their head and the top of the frame. Do you know what I mean by that?

Steve: Yeah. The top of their head line is still quite a lot of space above it?

Ryan: Yeah. That’s right. That just doesn’t look great visually. It also makes the person seem kind of smaller, and more diminished in the frame. If you watch TV or movies, you can see that generally there’s a small amount of what they call headroom, which is the space between the person’s head and the top of the frame. It just looks a lot more flattering.

Steve: I had never really thought of that because every time I’m going to shoot a photo, I always try to sync to the faces in the middle of the screen.

Ryan: A good rule of thumb is to think, are the person’s eyes… If you take the frame and break it up into thirds, so you have parallel lines going across from left to right, ideally you want to have the person’s eyes on that top third, on that top third line.

These are almost… If you look at paintings throughout history, hundreds of years, you’ll notice that they generally feature the same top of framing in composition. That’s just because it’s almost the way humans are designed. We’re kind of like in-built to appreciate a particular type of framing. It’s just something that looks more pleasant, it looks more professional.

Steve: That’s a really good tip. I’ve never even really thought about that before. Thinking back now on some videos I’ve created, I’m remembering some of the videos I’ve shot. You’re right. It’s kind of this weird dead space. I definitely agree, it does make them look smaller.

I also find people talk with their hands a lot. Having that extra space might actually help. Do you recommend that?

Ryan: Definitely. If people talking with their hands, zoom out of it so you can actually see them because it’s going to give the viewer more visual information and more context.

It’s important to think about when you’re filming someone, or filming yourself, are you zooming right in up to their face, or is it a wide shot, seeing them within the context of the environment? Because psychologically that’s going to be quite a different feel and it’s going to give you different information about that person.

Let’s say you’re filming someone on a building site. They might be talking about the work that they’re doing there. If you film it in a wider shot, you’re going to hear them, but you’re going to get the context of what they’re talking about by what’s in the background. If you film someone in a much more close-up shot of just their face, you’re going to get more of a sense of the person’s emotions.

It’s important to make that decision before you actually do the filming, rather than it happening by accident.

Steve: That’s almost based on the content. Is that right?

Ryan: That’s right. If you watch something like a news or current affairs show, you’ll generally see the framing will be in a sort of head and shoulders type of shot. That’s a pretty standard neutral shot.

If you go in closer – unless it’s a very good reason, you shouldn’t really go in any closer than that because it’s going to focus too much on the person’s face and the emotions and their expressions. It might show more of their so called imperfections, wrinkles and bumps, and that sort of thing. It’s going to be a little bit more flattering to be further out.

If they’re talking about their surroundings, it’s great to zoom out even further, to see them within that context.

Steve: That’s excellent.

Ryan: The last thing that I want to mention about shooting your own videos is a reminder to be natural. Speak naturally, conversationally, and from the heart, just as if you would be sitting with a friend or a client.

Sometimes it might be tempting to copy the inflections or manners of a T presenter, but it’s going to come across as contrived. You’ll be far more engaging if you are authentic. Just a reminder, be yourself.

Steve: I think that’s the hardest part, is when you get in front of the camera, just to kind of relax and shake up all the weird feelings that make you be self-conscious and just relaxing. That I suppose is the art in itself.

Ryan: It is. I find it challenging because you’re in such a contrived situation, really. You’re trying to mimic sort of natural, authentic situations, which is hard to do when you’ve got a camera and a microphone and maybe lights, there might be some other people around.

The best thing that you can do is just practice that. Every time you do it, you’ll get better.

Steve: Great. That’s excellent advice. Thanks, Ryan.

Ryan: We’re getting to the end of our episode on shooting your own DIY videos.

Steve: Ryan, what can we expect to listen to in the next episode?

Ryan: In the next episode we’re going to be talking about case study and testimonial videos. To me this is one of the most powerful way of capturing the stories of your happy customers, and sharing them with potential customers.

It’s something that I use a lot in my business, and have achieved great results from these type of videos. It’s something that more and more we’re shooting for our clients, to help them sell their product and services more effectively.

In the next episode we’re going to talk about how to capture great case study videos.

Steve: Excellent. I’m looking forward to that, Ryan. That sounds great. It’s actually something that I’ve really wanted to start to do for my own business. Very timely.

Ryan: Excellent. Thanks, Steve. Good catching up with you again. I look forward to the next episode of the Web Video Marketing Show.

Steve: Yeah, me too. Thank you, Ryan.


 Ryan Spanger


Ryan Spanger is one of Melbourne’s most respected and sought-after video production professionals. Ryan founded Dream Engine in 2001, and specializes in helping medium to large corporates, government departments, and the non-profit sector to connect with their audience by using video.

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