Video: Simple tips for improving your video and sound recordings at home
Many of you will find yourselves needing to produce recorded materials for learning & teaching purposes. You may be a member of staff preparing content to support lectures or you may be a student submitting assignments and you may be struggling to get the level of quality and polish that you’d like from your recordings.
This guide is aimed at anyone recording learning & teaching material using a desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone. We hope to provide you with some simple tips that can help you setup your environment and equipment to get the best possible quality for your recordings.
Creating recorded content can be stressful, so one of the best ways to improve the quality of the finished product is for you to be as relaxed as possible. Having a separate space to record in is great as it can be a way of separating work from the rest of your life and vice versa. However, we recognise that many people don’t have enough space to be able to create a dedicated area. So here are a few points to think of as you ponder whatever space you have.
- If possible, try to arrange your working environment in a way that makes sense for you, not everyone in your house. Even if it is just for the duration of your recordings.
- Try to get comfortable, this is probably the most overlooked thing.
- Try to arrange an armistice with other household members so you can have some quiet time to get your work done.
- If you are thinking of adding in video of yourself, realise that that can give an insight into your home that you may not be comfortable with. We have some suggestions on options below.
- Remember to take breaks and allow yourself to make simple mistakes – uums and aahs are not the end of the world.
- Be nice to yourself.
Choosing where to film
Ideally, you need a spot that is, or can be, well lit, quiet and has a relatively uncluttered background:
- A cluttered background can be distracting to your viewers. A plain wall or even a white sheet can be an effective improvised background.
- Be mindful of what is visible/readable in the shot. Don’t include anything that compromises your privacy or security or could be considered inappropriate or offensive by any potential viewer. You also probably don’t want students to see your bedroom behind you!
- Giving a little thought to lighting will greatly improve the look of your video.
Don’t position the light directly behind you, unless you want to appear in silhouette. And avoid lighting from directly beneath or directly above your head to avoid unflattering shadows.
- Any light is better than no light. The light source could be a window, a room light or a desk lamp
- Where possible try and avoid mixing light sources. Although sometimes not obvious, each type of light has a different colour (daylight is blue/white, light from tungsten lamps is yellowy-orange) and mixing them creates unpleasant colour casts.
- Position yourself so that your face is well-lit, with the light directly in front of you or just off to one side.
Light directly in front
Light off to one side
- Soften light that is too strong – If you are squinting, or areas of your face appear bright white use curtains or blinds to diffuse window light. If using a lamp, try bouncing the light off a surface rather than pointing it directly at yourself. But be aware that light will pick up the colour of whatever it passes through or bounces off – so green curtains/walls, will make you look green!
- Don’t position the light directly behind you, unless you want to appear in silhouette. And avoid lighting from directly beneath or directly above your head to avoid unflattering shadows.
- Find the quietest possible spot to record. Sit quietly in a space and listen to the sounds around you: things like the hum from electrical devices such as fridges and freezers, traffic noise, dogs barking, seagulls calling will be distracting for your viewers and are best avoided if possible.
- Rooms with soft-furnishings will create a more natural sound whereas an empty room with hard walls and surfaces will create an unpleasant echo.
- For clear audio, you need to position your microphone as close to you as possible. If you are using the built-in microphone in your recording device, the quality of the audio will be affected by how far away you have to place it from yourself – too far and it may sound tinny.
- Be conscious of generating unwanted noise yourself – rattling jewellery, tapping fingers or pens on a desk, the microphone rubbing against your clothing should all be avoided.
- Using an external microphone will greatly increase the quality of your audio recording. ‘Lavalier’ microphones are ideal, inexpensive and readily available online. The microphone is simply clipped onto your clothing somewhere around chest height and the cable plugs directly into the microphone input of your recording device. Other plug-in desktop microphones can also help as you will be able to move them closer to yourself. If you are recording using a device without physical audio inputs (e.g. newer smartphones), wireless Bluetooth microphones are available, although they are more expensive (e.g. Instamic).
- Make sure you have muted the speakers on your recording device, otherwise you may get unpleasant sound distortion known as ‘feedback’.
Positioning the camera
- Position the camera so that it is roughly level with your eyes. A small pile of books can be used to raise the camera to the correct level.
Framing the shot
- Frame your shot so that everything from your shoulders up to just above your head is in the shot. Your eyes should appear roughly one third of the way down the screen. This will look natural to your viewers.
- Find a sitting position that is comfortable for you and try and maintain it throughout your recording – excessive leaning towards or away from the camera is distracting to the viewer and, unless you are using a lavalier mic, will result in the recorded sound becoming louder or quieter as the distance between you and the microphone changes.
Avoiding camera shake
- Keep the camera still. Any unintentional movement of the camera in a recording can be very distracting for the viewer so place your recording device on a solid surface and ensure it is secure. Avoid holding the device in your hands. If using a smartphone, simply prop the phone against a book or wall – bluetac can reduce the risk of it slipping. Mini tripods are also inexpensive and easily available online.
Do a test recording
- Record a short test video just to make sure that your recording device is working correctly, and to check you are happy with your background, lighting and sound.
Additionally, if recording on a smartphone/tablet:
- Use the exposure/focus lock. The camera will have an exposure/focus lock. Use this to keep the focus and exposure constant throughout your shot. Unintended changes in focus and exposure during a shot are very distracting to the viewer.
- Don’t shoot vertical video. We’re living in a widescreen world! So make sure you shoot horizontally!
- Don’t use the camera’s digital zoom. This will reduce the quality of your video. If you want to get a closer shot, just move yourself or the camera closer until you find the perfect shot.
Some other tips
- Reduce network traffic -If you are struggling with your connection speed consider shutting down other bits of software on your machine that use the network such as email, web browsers. Perhaps ask other users to stop using their devices for the duration of the call,including streaming servicesavailable via smart TVs.
- Restart the device –Sometimes memory on devices can become fragmented. Quitall of the applications on these devices and try restarting them.
- Audio only –Video conferencing has many advantages but it is processor intensive. If you cannot gain the required level of quality on your conference consider switching your webcam off (audio only). People will endure poor video however they will not put up with poor audio.
The Central Media Services team would be happy to help you overcome any specific challenges you face when recording content from home. Get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org