Simplest setup for unembarrassing Youtube video creation
November 27, 2013 9:52 AM   Subscribe

What are the simplest requirements -- in terms of both technology (camera/software/etc.) and lighting/clothing/makeup/background setting/etc. -- to make a reasonably good-looking Youtube video that will feature just one speaker talking. Are iMovie and an iSight camera inadequate?
posted by shivohum to Technology (8 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Controlling the lighting is the most important thing. Here's something that doesn't seem obviously wrong when I skimmed it. Long time since I've tried to do anything in this area.
posted by jsturgill at 10:49 AM on November 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

It depends on what you're doing.

If you want to create a fictional narrative thing like a webisode, I'd say you definitely want a pro-level -- or at least upper level film student level -- lighting and sound setup as well as a real camera (not your phone or webcam). You're also going to want to use pro editing software, such as Final Cut.

If you are thinking more of a very simple "talking head staring at the camera" type of thing (like, say, the famous "Leave Britney Alone" video), I think you can get away with a lot less. I've made a few Photo Booth + iMovie and iPhone Camera + iMovie type things, and that technology got the job done just fine (though, as a filmmaker, I wouldn't necessarily brag about having "directed" them and would be sort of nonplussed to have them go viral). In this case, I would say try to find the best natural lighting you can, and definitely tweak the sound arrangements until you're satisfied with them. Make sure you can be heard and there are no obvious technical problems.

My biggest pointer with anything edited on iMovie is not to go crazy with the effects. Keep your on-screen graphics classy. Don't use a bunch of novelty wipes or graphic effects.
posted by Sara C. at 1:02 PM on November 27, 2013

Best answer: This tutorial lays out a lot of the basics.

I'll break it down into a bulleted list. My assumption here is that you want to do this from a webcam (though I will briefly touch on the main alternative at the end) which is a perfectly fine way to do this. Essentially, here's what you need to do:
  • Look into the camera rather than at your face on the screen! I had this way down the list but it's so important that I've moved it to the top. I know it's tempting to look down there to check and see what you look like, but it'll make you look like you're not paying attention. In fact, hide that window completely to remove the temptation. Either look at the camera so that you are making eye contact with the viewer (as the camera is their eyes) or look at whatever you want the viewer to be looking at. If you look at the screen it will look like you are looking away from them. This is probably the single most important thing you can do.
  • Reduce the light coming from your monitor. It's unflatteringly blue, poorly-positioned, and can create weird screen reflections on your eyes especially if you are wearing glasses.
  • Have a diffuse source of quality light somewhere in front of you and slightly to the side, like in the 2 or 10 o' clock position. This will keep your subject well-lit while providing just a little bit of soft shadow to give some depth. The linked product is not the only or necessarily the best way to go about this. In fact, you could probably accomplish something just as good with a 120-watt incandescent and some parchment paper for a diffuser. (Incandescent bulbs make quality light, by which I mean they have a perfect color rendering index, the measure of how much of the spectrum is actually represented in a "white" light source.)
  • While we're on the subject of lighting, think about the color temperature of your light source. "Cooler" light in the 5000K+ range as produced by most fluorescent lights and LEDs and some incandescent bulbs will make your subject look more like they're outdoors since daylight is actually fairly blue. "Warmer" light in the 2000K-3000K range as produced by most incandescents, some CFLs, and a few LEDs will give more of an indoor look. The "indoor" look will read more neutral in a video as it's what most people expect to see, and is usually more flattering for human subjects. Use that as your default choice if you're unsure.
  • Mute the background lighting. It's OK for there to be some light spilling in from elsewhere besides your main light source (in fact it's probably preferable unless you want things to give a strong impression of "this was shot in a studio") but you don't want your subject to be strongly backlit and you don't want bright points in the background. Having lots of lighting in the background, especially bare bulbs, will be distracting and will really make it hard for your camera to figure out how to accurately represent the scene.
  • Have a clean and neutral background. You don't necessarily have to hang up a backdrop like in the tutorial above, but make sure you don't have anything cluttering up the scene to distract the viewer. You especially don't want obvious things that are partially behind the subject such that they look like they're sticking out of her/his head. A bare wall is a good default, though feel free to get a bit more creative. Just make sure that there's nothing in the frame to distract the viewer from whatever it is you want them to be looking at.
  • Include something white in your picture for the camera to set its white balance from. This can be as simple as wearing a white shirt as in the tutorial, but you want to have some real white in the frame in any case. Your webcam is probably going to be using automatic white balancing, which basically works by looking for the "whitest" thing in the frame, deciding that that's what "pure white" is supposed to be, and then adjusting the color of everything else to suit. Sometimes automatic white balance can get a bit more clever than that, but it definitely works best if there's some true white in the frame. If there isn't, your camera is more likely to guess wrong and give everything a really weird color cast.
  • I don't know much about makeup, but definitely wash and dry your subject's face. Just washing the face will remove oils that naturally build up on the skin over the course of the day and which can make a person's nose and forehead look really weird and shiny on camera. Other than that I would probably do nothing special, though someone else in here might be able to give you some makeup tips and I bet there are tutorials on YouTube.
  • Get a decent webcam like this Logitech C920 (which I've not used though I'm planning to buy one – my own research seems to indicate that it's considered king of the pile right now). I don't know if the iSight is decent or not, go read some reviews and find out.
  • Get a decent microphone too, one that will represent your subject's voice faithfully and not pick up a lot of background noise. No specific recommendations on microphones, but a good clip-on lapel mic (link just to show you the type of mic I mean, I know nothing about that model) of some kind would be my first thought, followed by some type of directional or "shotgun" mic (again, link just to show the general type) pointed at your subject's mouth. The video and sound quality from built-in webcams and mics is inherently terrible on pretty much all computers.
  • As Sara C. says, keep the effects minimal unless ridiculous effects are specifically part of your schtick. Think about it – how often do you see elaborate wipes, weird fades, floating neon text, etc in professional productions? Not often, outside of infomercials or productions that are intentionally going for an "amateur" effect. Keep it basic, keep it clean, let the content rather than the effects be the focus of attention. Most entry-level production software (never used iMovie, but I assume this is the case there) is going to really encourage users to have fun with wacky effects and transitions. Resist the temptation.
Final note: as an alternative to a webcam, you could also record from a digital camera that can do continuous 1080p and has an outboard mic mounted to it, though it will be a little bit clumsier to work with. Still, not a bad option at all if you already have such a camera on hand. Lots of people do that, and it works fine. All the previous advice still applies though.
posted by Scientist at 6:11 PM on November 27, 2013 [9 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you very much jsturgill and Sara for the pointers!

Scientist, that was an amazing answer, thank you, but your tutorial link just points back to this page. Mind reposting the link, please?
posted by shivohum at 6:19 PM on November 27, 2013

Mods contacted, link fixed. Sorry about that. Glad you liked the answer, shivohum.
posted by Scientist at 6:42 PM on November 27, 2013

Oh, and finally I should mention that the above advice, if judiciously applied, will get you comfortably into the "quality amateur" class of person-talking-to-the-camera YouTube videos, the sort of look that you see in some of the better home-produced tutorial and review series on the web. It covers the basics and will make you look like you know what you're doing to someone sitting at home watching videos on YouTube.

It won't fool anyone into thinking that you're a professional cinematographer or that your video was shot in a professional studio with a real budget, however. If you're going for a truly professional look, I can't really help you. That probably requires a fair amount of specific training that I don't have (though there are people on MeFi who do, including Sara C.) and much more expensive gear than the sort of stuff I recommended above. That's a whole different level of doings, and beyond my ken.
posted by Scientist at 6:57 PM on November 27, 2013

For the sake of posterity, I'd like to mention that my link to the lapel mic went to the wrong type of mic entirely. I was talking about microphones that are similarly small and directional, but which are designed to clip onto a collar rather than stick straight out of an Aux socket.
posted by Scientist at 4:41 PM on November 29, 2013

Those are called lavaliere mics, or "lavs". (Pronounced lahv, not laaav, if you end up needing to rent them and want to sound normal.)

Oh, and yes, if you live in a major city you can probably rent all this stuff. It's not crazy cheap, but it's much cheaper than buying in most cases.
posted by Sara C. at 5:38 PM on November 29, 2013 [1 favorite]

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