Key Techniques to Record a Great Video

Video Recording Screenshot

I’ve been doing more video recordings lately, in favor of doing blog posts, and other forms of social media content sharing. Well, that doesn’t include Twitter. I’m on there way too much, and it’s a great way to share “nuggets” of information in a matter of seconds, instead of minutes or hours. It is a passion of mine to help people understand technology better, and inspire them to utilize technology in new and interesting ways. If I produce training content that is not well-received, then I am wasting my time as well as the consumers of my content.

While I have a strong technical focus on the Microsoft enterprise platform, and take pride in doing solid technical work, I also recognize that information is only as useful as the manner in which it is received by the content’s consumer. Therefore, it is my responsibility, as a content producer, to produce content that is of the utmost quality. After all, my desire is to associate myself with the attributes of passion, quality, dedication, and commitment to my audience.

In the remainder of this article, I want to share some of the key concepts that I utilize to produce my video content. If you share my passion for content sharing, technology, and community, then hopefully you’ll find these techniques useful to your endeavors as well, as you produce your own videos.

Topic

Before you start recording, it’s important to understand what you’re talking about. For video logging (vlogging), this isn’t terribly important, since you are probably talking about life events or concepts that are mostly coming from your internal thoughts. For deep technical topics however, it’s important to know your topic well, prior to talking about it. If you create videos that contain inaccurate information, or are incomplete, your audience will lose trust in you over time. If you’re just getting started recording for the first time, don’t let this stop you from creating and sharing content, as you’ll learn from experience. While your new audience might discount your skill initially, you will slowly build up your reputation over time, learn new techniques, and the tables will turn in the opposite direction!

Outlines

Some people will suggest creating an outline for your video, prior to recording. If you really know your topic inside and out, chances are you can talk through it without having to follow a guide. Plus, having a guide or outline can be a disruption during your video, if you have to switch over to it, or look to the side of your screen. This is less of an issue if you’re not recording your webcam, since you could have a printed copy of it next to you, but it’s still something to consider.

If you choose to use an outline, keep the bullet points brief, and don’t read from your outline. Instead, just type a few keywords that remind you of the subtopics that you need to discuss during your video. As you’re recording, use your own internal thoughts and expertise to “fill out” the concepts and fill in the gaps for your audience.

Droning through a video, without denoting where you are branching out into a new topic, will result in a lost audience, and reduced trust in your productions. Keep the content of your video segmented into logical subtopics that make sense together. As you’re recording your video, make sure that you verbally call out to your audience when you are changing contexts into a new subtopic or segment. You can also use video editing software to inject subtopics into your final production.

Audio Quality

While audio quality is just one part of the “complete package,” it is a very important one. If your audience cannot hear you clearly, it doesn’t matter if you understand the topic at an expert level, or if your video quality is good. Bad audio quality will immediately deter your audience members to look for a different resource. You don’t have to be a professional in order to produce videos with good quality audio. With this in mind, there are several things that we can very easily do to ensure that our content is high quality.

Environment

While the following statements may seem obvious to you already, some content producers apparently have not grasped the concept. Recording high quality audio requires a quiet environment, free from noises such as: cars passing, computer fans, air conditioning, clothes washers/dryers, dish washers running, kids running around screaming, and even minute sounds like your own breathing. If you have a separate room as an office, or a quiet basement that keeps most of the noise out, this would be ideal.

You also need to consider the reverberation impact that certain types of materials have. For example, if you are in a concrete basement, or in a small room with bare drywall surrounding it, you will most likely experience echoes in your audio. Again, you don’t have to be a professional to dramatically improve the quality of your audio. To avoid this reverberation, use absorbent materials on the walls, such as “acoustic panels.” While not inexpensive, acoustic panels are also not out of most people’s price range. If you only have to panel a small room, you could probably get away with spending about the same amount as purchasing a microphone.

Part of your environment involves making sure that you have enough space to move around during the video, without creating a lot of extra background noise. Make sure that your mouse isn’t running into your monitor stand or keyboard. If you have a lot of loose objects, such as pens and business cards lying on your desk, take a minute to put them away so that they don’t create extra noise during your recording. Some office chairs have wheels on them, so if yours does, make sure that you’re not banging into your desk during the recording. Try to keep your environment as stable as possible during recording, and this will result in a cleaner audio production.

Hardware

A quiet environment alone isn’t going to result in high quality audio. While your environment has a significant impact on the resulting audio, you also need a good quality microphone. Most laptop microphones are simply not going to cut it. Some webcams have decent microphones, such as the Logitech C910 that I use (or its successor, the Logitech C920), however these still typically have a “tin-like” sound to them, and don’t tend to pick up the lower frequencies that generally are associated with higher quality voice audio. My recommendation is to use a dedicated microphone and a separate webcam.

If you want a recording solution that’s more portable, you could consider a portable recording device, such as the Zoom H4N. The really cool thing about this device is that you can plug in an XLR microphone, and it supports XLR Phantom Power. Using a portable device like this gives you more flexibility in terms of which microphones you can use, since computers don’t generally have XLR microphone inputs. Most professional quality audio recording hardware uses XLR, so you’ll generally get higher quality audio with a solution like this.

While some people may consider it, I do not recommend using a headset, because these are more likely to pick up vibrations from your body.

Personally, I use the AudioTechnica AT2020 USB Condenser microphone, which I’ve had for about 5 years now. It works incredibly well, picks up a wide range of audio frequencies, has a simple USB Type B connection, and produces high quality audio. If you visit my YouTube channel, some of my videos use the AT2020 microphone, such as this one.

Another popular USB condenser microphone is the Blue Microphones Yeti. Newegg also offers a kit that includes a microphone stand and a pop filter.

Positioning

When recording audio, you generally want to keep your face positioned as closely to the microphone as possible. You’ll want to avoid touching it and breathing directly onto it, however, as these both cause vibrations, resulting in unwanted noise. If possible, you should look at creating or purchasing a “pop filter,” which serves a couple of purposes. First, it forces you to keep your face away from the microphone slightly, and second, it avoids wind noises that your mouth produces from harsh pronunciations such as “take” or “crane” or “pow.”

By keeping a close position to the microphone, you ensure that your voice is picked up more clearly than any background noises that might be present in the environment. It also helps to accentuate your voice over any echoing from the environment, like we talked about before. Whatever noise (generally speaking, your voice) you want to be recorded should be as close to the microphone as reasonably possible.

Volume

When I refer to volume in video recording, I’m not referring to listening volume. I’m referring to the recording volume of your microphone. In an effort to reduce background noise, it’s important to go into your microphone settings and turn the recording volume as low as possible, while still making sure that your audience can hear you. You might need to undergo a few test recordings to make sure that you’re loud enough, but as a general rule, keep the recording volume as low as reasonably possible. The key concept here is that you want to keep your voice close to the microphone, so that from the microphone’s perspective you are the loudest thing around. Any background noise should be hushed as much as possible, and keeping the recording volume lower will help to reduce the number of quiet background noises that are picked up by the mic.

Once you’ve configured your volume on your microphone, it’s important to ensure that your recording software, or some other program like Skype, doesn’t change it. Some communication programs will automatically change your recording volume, but when you’re recording a video, you want to keep control of that variable.

Software

There is a variety of software available to record your screen, webcam, and audio. I currently am using TechSmith Camtasia Studio to record and edit my screencasts, although I used to use a free tool from Microsoft called Expression Encoder 4.0 SP2. Camtasia enables the recording of your screen, webcam, and microphone as separate streams, which means that you can edit them separately from each other. For example, you might want to cut out your webcam or audio for a few seconds in post-production, while keeping your screen visible to your audience. Because Camtasia records each component as a separate stream, you have full control over each one independently from the others.

Video

Video is key component of any, ‘er, video production. Depending on what type of recording you are doing, you need to consider the quality of your screen recording in addition to your webcam recording. High quality recording, of both of these streams, is imperative to captivating your audience, keeping their attention, and ensuring that you have a strong and clear message.

Webcam

Recording your webcam is optional, during a screencast, but it often helps you communicate more effectively with your audience, by making your body language available to them. If you do choose to record your webcam as part of your videos, make sure that you are using a high-quality webcam, that can record 1080p video. If you use recording software like TechSmith Camtasia, the webcam is recorded as a separate video stream from your screen recording, and hence, you can always remove it after the fact, or simply hide it during certain sections of your video.

Lighting

If you are recording your webcam during a screencast, or if your entire video is just the webcam, you will want to make sure that your audience can see you clearly. Make sure that you have natural light on your face, and try to keep your background darker than you are. This will help accentuate your face and body, and thus will help your audience connect with you more effectively. If you want to accentuate your skin, try wearing a darker colored shirt, or if you prefer a more even appearance, use a lightly colored shirt.

If you are recording at evening or night, or don’t have much natural light, you might need to use lights to help increase your visibility on camera. If you have lights in your environment, such as a ceiling light, floor or table lamp, make sure that the lamp is not shining from behind you, and instead shines on your face. Try to avoid using colored lights, as these will distort your appearance on camera, and turn away your audience. Instead, use bright white, crisp lights, and make sure that the lights are not harsh. Use soft bulbs that diffuse the light being emitted, which will help to avoid creating harsh shadows behind you. The softer the overall appearance of your environment, the more professional your resulting videos will be, and your audience will be better engaged with you.

Screen Recording

You should always make sure that you are recording your screen at a resolution higher than 1280×720, to ensure that your viewers can see text, and other small elements on display. If you’re displaying text in an editor or web browser, you may want to use the text zooming feature to enlarge the text, to ensure that it is viewable by your audience. The Windows operating system (OS) has a dots-per-inch (DPI) setting that increases the size of many user interface elements, including text and buttons. If you are recording on a screen with a very high resolution (eg. 4k), then increasing the DPI setting might be necessary to ensure that the post-production video is realistically viewable by your audience. Make sure that you review the results of your video, before publishing it, and think about how someone with poor vision would view it.

Platform

In order to be successful with your content, you need an audience. Social media tools are widely available to help you share the content that you have produced. YouTube is a fabulous channel to publish your content on, because it provides built-in mechanisms such as tagging, embedding, commenting, analytics, custom video thumbnails, monetization, and much more. Vimeo is a slightly less popular platform, but also offers high quality video streaming.

Once you’ve published your video, there are social media platforms like Twitter that you can use to spread the word about your content. Twitter uses a concept called “hashtags” which simply allows you to assign topics to your tweet. For example, I use the #powershell and #azure hashtags frequently, when I talk about related topics on Twitter. Using hashtags helps people find content that’s relevant to topics they are interested in, and it increases your visibility. You don’t want to market your content to just anyone; make sure that you take advantage of common hashtags to market your content to a relevant audience.

Conclusion

The intent of this article is to provide some tips that will help you produce high quality screencasts and video recordings. Producing videos with high quality audio, screen recordings, and webcam stream, will encourage your audience to continue watching your content, and come back to you for future content. You don’t need to be a recording professional to take apply a few key concepts towards your video recording process. Keep this article as a reference, and review your recording process often, to make sure you are producing the highest quality content on a regular basis.