Often posts about how small businesses can produce/use video content for email and online marketing focus on the editing software and video hosting services. That’s all well and good, but what about the hardware required? That’s the tougher nut to crack for many of us I think. So, I’d like to share a few tips and things I’ve learned about hardware and video production. Don’t worry, this will be a high level pass and I won’t bury you in specs or techno-babble.
With today’s HD cameras, you can shoot some very nice footage without spending a lot of coin. All of the interviews at GetResponse.TV were shot with a low cost Canon VIXIA video camera. Let me go over a couple of the key features I think you should consider in a camera. I’m not covering every point, just some features most people might overlook which I’ve found to be important.
An external microphone jack is a must! Don’t buy a camera if it doesn’t allow you to connect an external microphone.
If you’re shooting on your own then having a flip view finder is an absolute necessity. Having this allows you to frame and adjust the shot with you in it. Seeing what the viewer will see is helpful too, so long as you don’t stare at the screen wide eyed as you tape.
Whether you are remote or in the studio, make sure you do a short test of the video and microphone. Shoot a few seconds and talk a bit – you wouldn’t believe how easy it is to not have the damn microphone plugged in or turned on. If you are using a wireless, be sure you have the receiver and transmitter on and on the same channel.
If at all possible, get a camera with a shoe. A shoe is kind of like a roof rack and allows you to attach stuff like microphones. You’ll see why this may be important shortly.
Microphones and sound
My personal favorite for home studio use is the Blue Yeti. Aside from the fact that it reminds me of my old radio days, it happens to be about the best USB microphone on the market. It also has some nifty features. You have a choice of four recording patterns (this controls how the microphone records the sound from a room) and it even has a headphone jack. There’s no special software to install, but you may have to go into your sound/recording options to set it as the default microphone. If you have any other microphones integrated or connected, you’ll want to be sure they are disabled.
You can use a standard microphone, that requires a mixer which would then connect via USB. In most cases, the Blue Yeti or other USB mic is easier to use and more affordable.
In the field
Several companies make affordable wireless handheld or lapel microphones. You won’t want to use the lapel option if you plan to interview people unless the kit provides two. A handheld mic is the better option overall for field interviews (if you don’t plan to use a shotgun mic). I use an Azden wireless microphone kit which is entry level, but does the job very well and is very affordable.
Hands off pal!
I have one important interview tip for you and that is to never let the interview subject grab the microphone! You should be the one holding on to it, but make sure you tilt it closer to them when they are talking. Don’t shove it in someone’s face because that’s intimidating, but make sure you do some dry run interviews to test how the microphone works and learn how to adjust levels if need be before using it for an actual interview.
I use a handheld microphone mainly because I have experience using one and the camera I use doesn’t have a “shoe” for it. The “shoe” is simply a connection on the top of the camera which holds a microphone in place. If you can, I suggest getting a camera with a shoe since more options are always good.
A shotgun does a very good job of capturing voices right in front of it, but not on the side. It doesn’t “zoom” into the sound, but it does do a good job of isolating the voices in front while being less sensitive to other noise in general. The shotgun mic gives you a lot more flexibility, lets you be more natural and if you’re nervous it will allow you to stuff your mitts in your pockets rather than trying to hold a microphone while your hand is shaking. Hey, I still get nervous on camera, most of us do.
The Swiss army knife microphone
If Batman needed a microphone in his utility belt, it would be the Zoom Handy Recorder. It does just about everything and anything (it even has an integrated metronome and chromatic tuner) and the new H6 has more attachments than your vacuum. Definitely worth a look, especially if you want a microphone that you can use for more than podcasting and video shoots.
Windsocks and pop filters
In the field a windsock will reduce other sounds which may distract from your audio. The pop filter is an in-studio device which is very good at stopping any “p” popping. You can pick this kind of stuff up at the local music store.
This is a little off topic since we are talking about video primarily. But if you plan to do some voice over work or podcasting and assuming you don’t want to cover your home office walls with old egg cartons, a “nearfield absorber” might be the ticket. This will absorb sound and reduce or eliminate echo problems.
I use Primeacoustic’s VoxGuard “nearfield absorber” and it does an excellent job of dealing with echo. There is also a desktop version intended for podcasters. The devices are very affordable and you’ll find them at many music stores and online. If you really want to save some coin, here’s an example of a DYI version.
I don’t actually use any lighting gear when I shoot. I do pretty well using the available light in most situations. However, there are cost effective solutions out there and even some amazingly simple DIY projects! Did you know you can use a Chinese lantern to difuse light?
A prompter or teleprompter scrolls the text you want to read at a speed of your choosing. They used to be large clunky boxes which were fed printed scripts for news anchors to read, but today computers make this much easier. All you need is a desktop, laptop, tablet or smartphone to make it work.
The problem you may run into with prompters is that your delivery won’t sound natural and it will be obvious you are reading. However, it’s very easy to get off topic or ramble if you don’t have something to keep you on track such as a prompter, cue cards or a script. Yes, you should know your topic, but a “good read” and working with a camera is something you learn and it takes practice.
A simple Google search will present you with a plethora of options and even some DIY alternatives. There are also good free web based options such as Easy Prompter.
Yes, you can get prompter apps for smartphones and tablets too. I love the idea of using a tablet for prompting, but have yet to try it. Best Prompter Pro is one example of an app which runs on a smartphone or iPad.
Practice makes perfect
Practice everything you want to do on camera and make sure you watch yourself and learn what your bad habits are so you can fix them. If you tend to say things like “ya know” or other verbal crutches, the best tip I can give is to stop fearing “dead air” and take a break. People use verbal crutches to fill in space as they talk – we are afraid we’ll be interrupted if we allow for a pause. But don’t worry about this, better to take a deep breath (as long as it’s not a loud sigh) then to keep saying “umm” over and over again. We all do it too, so don’t be too hard on yourself.
Be a natural
A natural conversational tone is not an easy thing for most of us. If you’re having trouble with this, picture yourself sitting across from someone at your kitchen table chatting. You might even want to take a small plush toy and stick it on top of the camera and talk to it. I’ve worked with a couple of radio broadcasters who used this trick. I’ll never forget the lady I worked with who always had an Odi stuffed dog in front of her to talk to.
Avoid the “royal we”
No matter how many people are watching or listening to you, each one of them perceives it as a one-to-one conversation. If you want to connect with people then talk to the individual, even if you have ten million viewers.
I’ve focused on hardware in this post, but let’s touch on the hosting too. There’s Youtube, Vimeo for more traditional hosting of videos and then there’s hipper shorter video options such as Vines and Instagram. Don’t dismiss the shorter video hosting options either. It’s amazing what you can do with a six second video, a smartphone and some imagination. Lowes did a great job using Vines for their #fixInSix promotion.
Video in email
With the GetResponse Multimedia Studio you can:
- Record audio and video,
- Upload ready-made videos,
- Store all your video materials in one place,
- Include them in your campaigns with a click.
But Jim, what about video editing software?!?
I realize I didn’t get into that because the focus was hardware, but that’s where you come in. What video editing software do you use and why? I’d love to hear your suggestions.