Welcome back to my Beginner’s Guide: Making Your Own Training Videos series. All of your efforts have paid off. You’ve made it to prime time – step 4: make the video!
The Beginner’s Guide to Making Training Videos gives you everything you need to start creating effective video for learning. It’s full of practical processes, guidance, and advice on how to execute learning videos of all sizes using a repeatable and customizable process. My first three posts covered the first three steps of the process: set a goal, write the script, and plan the video. You’ll want to check those out before you move onto step 4.
You’ve done everything you can to prepare for this moment. Now it’s time to actually make the video!
Step 4: Make the Video (Production)
As you know by now, making a video is a complex set of processes that challenge every beginner. How do you move any learner from awareness to skill acquisition? Use a framework, a mnemonic, or in this case an acronym.
Make it CLASSY
I’ve broken down the learning video recording process into this handy, easy-to-remember acronym:
Yes, it’s good!
Follow the CLASSY process and you’ll end up with a classy learning video. By the end of this step, you’ll have saved clips of your learning video that are ready for editing. So let’s get a bit deeper into what each segment entails.
When you set up to record a learning video, start with the camera.
Find Your Background
Use “director hands” or “finger frames” to find your first camera position. The ideal camera position for a scene is often called the “golden spot,” like “X” marks the spot where the gold is located! It may sound silly, but it’s a tried and true technique that works! When you scouted the location you were hopefully able to find your first background. Now, it’s time to find the perfect spot for your scene by using your hands to find the right lens and camera position for your first set up. If you are using a mobile phone or a camera with a single lens, the action is the same.
Now that you have effectively used “finger frames” to identify your first background, don’t move.
Use a piece of gaff tape, or any easy-to-remove-tape, to mark the spot on the floor.
Place the Camera
I’ve seen some DP’s stand on the golden spot while the grip brings the sticks and the camera to her or him. Sticks is film slang for a tripod. This is ideal! Together, they mount the camera on the tripod, level it, and power it on. Once powered on, the DP looks through the lens at someone standing in for the talent. The DP and grip work together to adjust the camera position so that it creates a visually pleasing image composition. They also evaluate if there is enough room around the actor to capture the whole action that will be happening in the scene.
If you are on your own, you will smile and say to yourself, “Thank you, Chris Karel” when you realize that you were instructed to mark the floor with tape so you can easily find the golden camera spot.
When you make a video by yourself, use an object like a plant on a chair or a lamp on a stool to mark where the talent (you) should stand. Then, press record on the camera and walk into position in front of the chair/stool. Stand still for a moment, move your arms up and down, and gesture dramatically as if you are giving a speech.
Now walk back to your camera and stop the recording. Review the clip you just made. Just like the DP and grip, you should watch yourself to see if your arms get cut off when you gesture. Evaluate your headroom to make sure your eye line is on the upper third line. Repeat the process until you are happy with the composition.
Use tape to mark the spot where you plan to stand and deliver your lines. I use “T-marks” to mark the spot where the talent should stand. Place the “T” on the ground so that both feet will fit on either side of the T like the picture below.
Test the Camera
Don’t take this step for granted! Do a few test clips to make sure that video is indeed actually being recorded on your camera, the memory card you’re using, or your phone. Size up your battery situation and make sure you’re fully charged or plugged in if needed.
Good lighting is a skill that requires practice and should not be taken “lightly” (pun intended). If you are not using a production crew, here are a few things to keep in mind to make sure you record learning videos that look professional:
- The overall look and feel matches the content
- Shadows have soft edges (soft light is the best light for learning video)
- There are no hot spots, bright spots, or glare
- Use backlight to separate the subject from the background
Start by placing the key light (the brightest, most powerful light). With a stand-in on their mark, move the key light to the right or left until you’ve created a soft light with very little shadow on the subject’s face, and zero shadows on the surfaces behind the subject. Once the key light is in place add your fill light to round out the subject’s face. Finally, add the backlight – also known as hair light – to make the subject pop off the background.
Then, spike the position of the actor. It’s not as violent or volley-bally as it sounds. By this I mean use gaff tape to place a “T” on the ground where the actor should stand. The base of the “T” goes between the actor’s feet and the top of the “T” should be perpendicular to the lens of the camera.
If you are recording yourself, then you already marked your “T.” It’s really helpful to have a monitor or use your mobile phone in selfie-mode to adjust the lights around you. Place a light, and look at the image in selfie-mode then add your other lights. The process is the same: Key light, add the fill light to reduce the shadows and add the backlight to make your image pop off the background.
If you plan to do a lot of the recording yourself, I suggest learning about the basics of 3-point lighting, a technique that is an industry-standard. You can get a decent overview from the following links:
Professional audio is invisible. For example, think about a time when you could barely hear someone talking in a video or there was a loud noise that distracted you from the message. Just like 3-point lighting, audio gathering is a skill that requires practice. If you are not using a production crew, here are some suggestions to make your audio sound clean and professional:
- Use a good microphone
- Use the right microphone for the situation (a single lavalier mic might not be the best choice for recording a group of people, for example)
- Always monitor the audio as the camera is rolling
- While monitoring, ensure your levels are between -12 and -9
- Listen closely for unwanted sounds (sirens, traffic, appliance hum, etc.)
- Ask for another take if you think the audio is compromised
I always try to use a shotgun microphone when I record learning videos. If that is not an option, use a lavalier microphone. I like to mount a shotgun microphone from a boom pole over the scene. If possible, use a grip head and a c-stand to mount the boom pole. Make sure it doesn’t dip into the frame!
Once the mic is roughed into place, you can connect it to the camera or field recorder depending on your audio setup. Press record and do a soundcheck. Have your talent talk normally as if they were performing the script. Monitor the audio with headphones and make sure the levels are appropriate!
If you are recording by yourself, set up your microphone of choice and press record. Perform the first sentence or two of your script. Then, take the time to play it back and listen to the quality. Use studio headphones or a pair of wired earbuds at a minimum. Avoid wireless or Bluetooth headphones as they can run interference during recording.
Listen for annoying hum sounds or outdoor noises. I suggest you try to guarantee that the audio quality is professional by monitoring the audio playback to ensure that it doesn’t clip. Clipping is when the audio wave extends past the allowable limit. Think grungy-heavy-metal guitar sound or someone placing their mouth on a microphone and yelling. The sound is distorted.
To capture pro-audio, try to keep your peaks (highest point of your audio wave) below -3. If the previous sentence made no sense to you because you are using a mobile phone or a camera that does not show you audio levels, then you need to rely on playback to ensure you record professional audio. Avoid clipping at all costs. You can turn up the audio, within reason, during post-production, but if your audio clips, there is no way to fix it effectively.
Pro-tip: Professional audio is invisible. You should never see a microphone nor should you think, “something is wrong with the audio.”
Test the Audio
Do not skip this step! Make sure that your equipment is working. Listen back with headphones to identify any issues with the microphone to camera connection or excess room noise. Step 4: make the video requires these little sub-steps to make sure the final product is professional.
Placing your props and moving background elements both in and out of a scene can elevate the look of your video if you follow a few simple rules.
- Avoid clutter unless the scene demands it
- Place green or blue items in the background to add color without distraction
- Keep warm-colored items (red, orange, yellow) to a minimum so they don’t compete with your subject
- Break the frame with your design
- Keep props close to the set
Breaking the frame can mean having a chair that is half in the scene and half out, which creates a realistic image. A plant that just edges into the frame also adds texture and creates realism. Amateur-looking scenes look fake because everything is perfectly placed, sterile, and fits like a puzzle in the frame of the camera. In the photo above, notice how the desk behind our subject breaks the frame.
Pro-tip: Place items in your scene during the set up of the camera, lights, and audio. Once the talent is in place, you can tweak everything to get it just right.
For continuity purposes, you might want to take a picture of the placement of items before recording a scene so you can put them back into place with each take. Continuity errors can distract the viewer from the intended message of the video. They’ll be too busy wondering where that big vase of flowers went and not learning about the laws of thermodynamics.
Press record and perform! Take a deep breath and realize that you don’t have to be perfect immediately. Review each take and improve as needed. Is the audio clear enough? Can you change your inflection to be more effective? Is there food in your teeth? The only way to make a good learning video is to review and improve until you are satisfied with what you record.
When you record a learning video with a team, there will be some decisions you’ll make in terms of your involvement with the actual recording. Will you operate the camera or do you manage the project? Regardless of your role, you must make sure the red light is on to verify the camera is recording. For every. Single. Take.
As you work your way through your shot list and script, mark it up for your editor (or yourself if you are also doing the editing!). Script markup and/or notes are helpful during post-production. This information lets them know if there were multiple takes for a particular scene. A good editor will scrub through all of the footage you capture, often referred to as logging the footage.
You can help this process tremendously by marking which you think are the best. Tracking the takes is highly valuable because it can save expensive editing time in post-production. Marking the good takes or edits to the script also improves the communication between stakeholders and the editor. In other words, crystal clear communication is key to success when recording learning video.
- If the dialogue changes, cross out the old language and write the new lines
- Number the takes sequentially and circle the one you feel is the best
- Write the timecode of each take on the script or shot list (only if the editor will use it)
- As you complete a shot on the shot list, check it off
- If you are using an editor, provide them with a copy of the marked-up shot list and script, and keep one for yourself
- Review your notes and marked-up script/shot list before you or your editor get to work
The goal is to get a YES from yourself – more about that below!
Yes, it’s good!
The Y in CLASSY stands for YES! Everyone loves to hear yes. It makes us feel good and gives us confidence. As you review your takes, work hard to earn a YES from yourself. You deserve it! Perhaps one of the most important parts of step 4: make the video is … Yes, it’s good!
The only way to get to YES is to put in the 10,000 hours to achieve “mastery.” Practice, practice, practice and you will get better. Do not judge yourself when you make mistakes or have to re-do parts of your video. It’s all a part of the process! No one is perfect and great videos are not created after one try.
Recording a learning video like a professional takes careful practice and confidence. In step 4: make the video, you have to first, be confident that you can make effective learning videos! As you read above, it takes a variety of processes and procedures that start well before the big shoot day, and you should feel accomplished for getting this far. Once you are ready to record, set a positive tone (especially for yourself if you are DIY-ing), create soft even light, record and monitor your precious audio and video, and take careful notes for editing.
Yes, you guessed it – editing is the next step!
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Did this post help you record a CLASSY video? What part do you want to know more about? Let me know in the comments.
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