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This is another post from my Quick Tutorial series for YouTubers and those who are looking to create video content.
It’s worth reiterating: I am not an expert (by any stretch of the imagination) when it comes to video production, I don’t own or use any fancy equipment and tech, I have no background in video production or photography, and actually, I think that’s kind of the point. The point here is to show you that yeah, you can do it, and you can do a halfway decent job at creating video content as a total amateur.
Instead of trying to collect all the latest gadgets that the YouTubers with million+ subscribers are telling you to get, work with what you’ve got. I hope that’s what this Quick Tutorial series is about: maxing out the capabilities of what you’ve got.
This post in particular will consolidate some tips and tricks I’ve learned about YouTube video making at the amateur level.
Record Your Videos During the Magic Hour
In photography, there’s this thing called the golden hour, or the magic hour. Fortunately, there are two each day. The first is the hour after sunrise, and the second is the hour before sunset.
I’m lucky because that conforms to my work schedule. The first golden hour is just before I leave for work, so actually, my makeup is freshly done. Most days I make it home before the second golden hour, just before sunset, so as soon as I’m back from the office, I go straight to recording the video.
If you don’t have lighting equipment, then I would urge you to try your best at scheduling video recording time during one of the golden hours. Afternoon sunlight can be too harsh, and after sunset, it’s often too dark. Cameras tend not to like artificial lighting, so then your videos get that grainy quality.
When you record during the golden hour, you can get away with a lesser-quality camera. I’m using a 1.3 megapixel webcam for both the video footage and the audio. For comparison, most professional YouTubers opt for a 50.6 megapixel resolution camera. These days, your smartphone camera is around 12 megapixels.
So yeah, given the drastic difference, the pixel quality of my current portfolio of YouTube videos is still shitty compared to what most people are shooting at these days, but it isn’t so offensive in quality as it could be (given the 1.3 megapixel resolution) because I’m shooting during the magic hour. Shooting at the magic hour compensates for that drastic resolution difference.
For me, I’ve also found that recording during the morning magic hour by an east-facing window is the best, and recording during the evening magic hour by a west-facing window is best.
Guys, if you can, follow the magic hour in photography. It truly is magical. You get that soft diffused light on your face and that perfect balance of light and shadow in the frame. You know those expensive ring lights that makeup and beauty gurus get? Yeah, the whole point of those things is to recreate the lighting of the Magic Hour. You get two for free each day, so if you don’t want to invest in a ring light, then try to schedule your recording time to the Magic Hours.
Positioning of the Camera Lens
Prop your phone, webcam, or laptop so the little circle camera lens thingie is about level with the top point of your forehead. I stack up books on my tabletop to get the right height for my camera. When the camera lens is just a touch above eye level, the angle captured on the footage is going to be your sweet spot. Everybody looks better from this angle.
If you prop up higher than your forehead and you have to look up, here’s the thing– yeah, it’s a good angle beauty wise, but it’s too obvious and people in the know will think you’re trying too hard. Look, I love you, so I’m just keeping it 100. If the camera angle is too high and you’re looking up to hide that double chin and make your eyes look bigger, folks will be on to you.
The level-with-forehead trick still gives you all the benefits of the higher angle, hides your double chin, gives you the bigger eyes, but is so subtle that it’s hard to detect that vanity-driven motive. Now, if you’re looking down at your camera lens because it’s too low, honey, no one looks good at that angle.
Where you position your camera relative to the natural lighting matters, too. In fact, it matters a lot.
Let’s say I’ve positioned my camera so it is facing what you see above. I am sitting in front of what you see above and recording my video. The lighting is shit. I haven’t edited the above photo at all so you see exactly what it looks like as-is.
But the thing is, in real-life it’s bright and sunny at the moment. So if you’re not experienced, just by looking at how well-lit the room is while you’re standing in it, you may assume everything will look good on camera. Unfortunately, what it ends up looking like on camera is what you see above.
The reason the lighting looks like shit and you get all that dark shadow and everything in the foreground is blacked out is because your camera is facing the sunlight head-on. Note the window. Beautiful, brilliant natural sunlight is shining in from that window, lighting up this place magnificently, but your camera won’t catch any of that 100% because of positioning.
Now let’s see what happens when we change position. Same room. Unedited photographs. The only difference is where in the room I’m shooting my camera from.
When I position my camera so the natural sunlight is behind the camera and I’m facing the light, the result is what you see above. Look at that beautiful, softly diffused, yet brightly lit backdrop. Same room. Same time. Camera position matters a lot.
The rule to follow is always place your camera in front of the natural light so you face the light when you record. You do not want the natural light to be behind you.
However, the exception to this rule is high sun. If it’s too bright and you face the light, your face will be overexposed and lighting will look harsh. It will overemphasize angles and flaws on your face. Meanwhile, position the camera as instructed above and the light you get magically softens the features on your face and hides flaws. It’s like instant divine photoshop.
Sure, Audio Matters, But Either Go Big or Save Your Money
Everyone will tell you that your sound quality matters, and it’s true, so I thought okay, I’m a cheap-ass, but maybe I can invest a little bit in a mic. I started off by purchasing a $15 lapel pin microphone, then tried a $40 microphone, and then a $60 microphone.
All of them were no better– literally no better, I mean, not even a little bit, no effing difference— than the built-in microphone on my 2014 laptop (which has a built-in webcam) or my Logitech HD Webcam C310. I did blind listening tests on all of them. It was so disappointing since I had gone through the trouble of purchasing these mics. (Fortunately, I could return them, which I did.)
Later, I learned from techies that basically, unless I’m spending $100 and up on a microphone, no, it’s not going to be good quality. Bleh. I’m not there yet.
I am just not at the level of YouTubing or making video courses where I need a $100+ microphone. So. If you’re feeling like you’re in my camp, too, then yeah, audio matters, but if you already have a microphone or one built in to your webcam, then it’s probably not going to be worth your while to buy a $15, $40, or even $60 additional mic thinking it’ll improve your audio quality. Chances are it won’t, and you’ll be out $15, $40, or even $60. You’re better off saving your money.
So instead, I just stay mindful of simple tricks, like speaking directly into the mic, making sure I’m facing the mic, recording only when there are no extraneous background noises, and making a close enough distance from the microphone as to not incur that echo-y sound.
What Is Your Purpose and Point of View?
I think it helps to have a defined purpose and point of view when you’re curating your YouTube channel, but that’s just me. Not everyone agrees. Plenty of channels are amazing when they fly by the seat of their pants and wing it.
Is your purpose to find your tribe online and become part of a community? Is there an educational focus? Is it to entertain? Is the purpose to raise your professional or business platform and use your channel as part of your marketing efforts? Realistically most channels are a combo.
So I recommend writing out a statement of purpose or a mission statement for your channel. It can be a private little thing for your eyes only. By writing it out for yourself, your videos will naturally have more impact and substance, because even if you don’t declare it, viewers can intuit that sense of purpose driving your videos. People naturally gravitate and are attracted to those who live with a sense of clear purpose.
How Long Should Your Video Be?
Okay, if you’re asking me, I’m going to say I don’t actually think there are any hard and fast rules here. You’re going to hear the “under 10 minutes” rule or “15 and under,” some variation of that. If you’re trying to appeal to that million-viewership mindless mainstream mass, then yeah, I think that’s about right. If your video is marketing something, then yeah, keep it under 10 minutes. Beyond that, you’re shooting yourself in the foot and it’s not going to be effective at marketing what you want to market.
But if your YouTube channel is genre-specific, then the “under 10 minutes” rule might not apply. Perhaps what’s more informative for you would be to figure out the preferences of your target audience. In some genres, your target audience is going to be more willing to sit through hour-long videos. In other genres, nope, that’s not going to happen. So it really depends.
As a n00b first starting out, I tried to conform to the “under 15 minutes” rule and it was next to impossible, given the nature of the content I wanted to cover on my channel. The rule I set for myself created all sorts of challenges that turned out to be not worth my time trying to overcome. It didn’t serve my greater purpose. So I stopped trying so hard to keep things to a certain duration of time and I felt like that made my videos better and, more importantly, opened me up to greater creativity. Freeing myself of the time constrained allowed me to be more creative.
I think where the idea of a time limitation for videos comes in handy is to keep it as a constant mental check for yourself that you’re not going all over the place in one video. It doesn’t actually serve your purpose if one video is all over the place. You’re a lot more effective (and can actually do justice to each point) if you subdivide those topics into separate videos.
Jump Cuts Can Keep You On Point
This one can get controversial. Some people prefer a video edited with jump cuts and others find it really annoying. You’re not going to please everyone, so instead of trying, decide on this issue based on what you want.
Do jump cuts serve me? For me, my answer is yes.
A jump cut is basically when you crop one video seemingly after a sentence or paragraph, and the very next starts in what is obviously a different video clip.
Let’s say I have 5 points I want to cover in a video. Each point I want to cover is a separately recorded video. I then later upload all five videos into a consecutive string in a program like Movie Maker, cut out the pauses at the beginning and end of each clip, and then add transitions between them.
When I record a video, it isn’t just one single video file. It’s actually something like ten. As soon as I click the red record button, I deliver that one point I want to make, then end the recording. I stop, think about the next point I want to make, then click the record button, record that point, then stop. And so on. I try to keep to recording me talking about one point per video clip. Then I string them all together into a complete video.
On my end, recording videos this way means that in the end result video, I stay on point better (or I appear to, since I’ve cut out all the extraneous parts). Recording mini-video files that I string together makes it easier during the editing stage. Sometimes while recording I stupidly think A and B and C are relevant, so I go on and on about those points. Then during the editing phase, I realize they’re not relevant at all, and I’m rambling, or I simply change my mind and realize I don’t want to share those perspectives, so I can easily delete out the video clips I made for A, B, and C, instead of having to painstakingly cut and edit a single video file.
To Script or Not To Script
Another controversial issue. There are compelling arguments for both sides. If you write out everything you are going to say into a script and then read it in your video, chances are it’s going to come across like you’re reading not talking and no one likes that. People get bored really fast when they sense that you’re reading, not talking. On the other hand, if you don’t write out a script, you’re more likely to go off on tangents, ramble, a video that should only be 5 minutes becomes 50, and you end up not even covering all the points you had intended on covering.
When I study the YouTube channels I love– the professional, highly-polished, well-produced educational videos– you see both scripted YouTubers and non-scripted, and both can attract a huge following. So I think it boils down to which method suits your personality better.
For my Tinkering Bell series and the Holistic Tarot Companion Course videos, I write out a script. For my Bell Chimes In, I don’t script those, but I write out a bulleted list of talking points. Then I try my best to stay on track of those talking points. However, more often than not, I pause the video recording and go in to change up what those talking points are, so it’s not like I force myself to stay on point. If it so pleases me, I’ll change things up mid-stream.
SEO the Shit Out of the Title, Description, and Tags. (Is That Really a Thing?)
Yeah. Yeah, it’s really a thing. I only follow this rule when it suits me, by the way. Sometimes I have my own little creative idea things going on that aren’t SEO-friendly. I’ll go with my own little idea and forego SEO strategies.
I talked about SEO before here, “What is SEO and How.” Those guidelines apply here to how you title your videos, what keywords are included in the description box, and the keywords you use for your tags.
Mastering SEO is how you gain exposure for yourself. Then, whether people take on to your channel will be up to the quality of your content and delivery. But to get those initial eyeballs so you stand a chance, SEO the shit out of your video uploads.
An easy way to do this is to just think about what keywords you search for in YouTube to find videos that interest you. Those keywords need to be the first words of video titles you upload and post.
Another tip I was taught is to identify the top five most popular YouTubers in your community or genre. Go to their YouTube channel page, click on the “Videos” tab, and then in the top right corner, click the option to sort by “Most Popular” videos. Note the keywords and topics of the videos that get the most views. This will give you a sense of what topics will gain you the most exposure if you talk about them, and how to title and tag the videos for SEO.
As for gripes about selling out, it’s only selling out if you don’t want to talk about that topic and then do it anyway just for the prospect of fame or fortune. If it’s a topic you’re genuinely interested in giving your two-cents on and it happens to be a popular topic, I don’t see the problem with doing a video on the topic. This kind of market research I’m recommending is just going to help you be smarter with your time and effort.
Breaking the Rules Because Life
I don’t always follow these guidelines even though I know these guidelines produce the best conditions. Because, life.
The golden hour of the day may not be a convenient time for you to record. Or you’re recording while on the go so you can’t prop up your camera lens to forehead level. Rambling talking head videos work well if your channel purpose is to foster community. Rambling videos convey personality.
Sometimes, intentionally breaking from standard for a video gives a dramatic effect, or serves your intentions better than following the rules. So mix it up.
Knowing the rules and why they’re there is good, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you need to follow them. There’s a reason popular YouTubers record footage only at certain times (that or spend hundreds of dollars on lighting equipment), or use jump cuts, or edit, etc., but that doesn’t mean you’re required to conform. We conform at will because we know it produces good quality, but sometimes, we just need to go off and do our own thing, do it our way. That’s cool.
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