Self recording like a pro

Make a production plan

Are you planning to record a quick one-off message to students, a scripted presentation to camera, a narrated slideshow or maybe an expert interview? Depending on the kind of video you’re aiming for, there are a number of recording options and university supported solutions to choose from. If you’re looking to get started immediately, the most common workflows are:

1. Check your toolkit: computer

If you’re working from home, you almost certainly have everything you need to record a basic narrated slideshow video. But if you’re planning something more challenging like a presentation, an interview or a demonstration, you might need to assemble a few extras.

Firstly, you’ll need a desktop or laptop computer. These days, any university issued PC or Mac will be powerful enough to record and edit a short video in standard HD (1920x1080p). Because students are often bandwidth constrained, we don’t advise trying to record in 4k unless you have a strong justification - for example if you’re incorporating hi-res scientific or medical imaging footage into your edited video.

2. Check your toolkit: microphone

Next, you’ll need a microphone. Most laptop and desktop computers do include a tiny built-in microphone, but it’s often terrible quality and located right next to the fan. The ideal microphone will depend on your use case, but in order from cheapest to most expensive:

Earbuds with mic

Provided with most phones these days, you can try using your earbuds with on-cable microphone. Recommended if you don’t have any other option. Popular models include the original white iPhone headphones, or the headphones provided with your university issued Samsung phone.

USB headset

Available to order through iProc in Themis, a USB headset will improve your audio quality when using web conferencing tools like Zoom, and can also improve your audio quality if recording a narrated video. Popular models include the Logitech H540 USB Headset.

Desktop USB microphone

Sometimes referred to as a podcasting mic, a desktop USB condenser microphone will make your narrations sound great, and can be less obtrusive than a headset when recording presentations using your web camera. Popular models include the Rode NT-USB and the Blue Yeti.

3. Check your toolkit: web camera

If you’re planning to record more than a narrated slide show or audio podcast, you’ll probably want to appear in the video at some stage. Most university issued laptops will include a built-in web camera, as do the iMac desktop. If you need to add a camera to your desktop, there are lots of options for clip-on USB web cameras available like the Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920. If you have a modern Canon stills camera, you can check to see if it’s compatible with Canon’s USB webcam drivers.

4. Check your toolkit: mobile phone

The highest quality camera you have around the house might be your mobile phone. To use your mobile phone as a camera for recording yourself, you’ll need some kind of mobile phone support like a tripod, a desktop phone stand or an improvised stabiliser. If you’re using your phone to record an interview, a demonstration or an experiment, you might be able to hand-hold your phone if it’s one of the more recent models that includes a built-in image stabiliser, otherwise it’s safer to stick to a tripod like the Manfrotto Compact Action Tripod combined with a clamp to hold your phone like the Joby GripTight One Mount.

Before you start an important recording on your phone, make sure you’re familiar with the camera application. In particular, make sure you know how to set the recording resolution is 1920x1080 at 25 or 30 frames per second, familiarise yourself with the focus and exposure settings (find out how to ‘lock’ the focus and exposure to minimise distracting image shifts) and practice transferring recordings off the phone and onto your desktop.

5. Know your software options: personal capture

It is possible to record, upload, trim and deliver a narrated slideshow or a webcam presentation using a single, centrally supported software application, although you might find the editing options a bit limited. Your two main options are Kaltura Desktop Capture and Echo Universal Capture. Both applications can record a screencast of your desktop (for example to capture a slideshow presentation), a webcam feed (for example to show your face while you present from a script or notes) or both a desktop feed and a webcam feed simultaneously for a picture-in-picture effect. Once you’ve recorded, the video will automatically begin to upload over the internet, and you can the access your recording directly from within Canvas.

Both Kaltura and Echo also allow for limited cloud-based trim and edit functions, as well as enhancements like machine generated transcription and captioning. From the student’s perspective, Echo might be more familiar and has the added benefit of a mobile app for students that allows for offline viewing of videos. From a teacher’s perspective, Kaltura has more options for enhancing videos once they’ve been recorded. In particular, Kaltura allows you to record a presentation using your webcam and then attach your slide deck as a separate presentation track. You can also add chapter markers to longer recordings.

6. Know your software options: Desktop recording

If you want to try your hand at a more professional edit, you’ll need to record your footage using an alternative software option. For narrated slideshows, the most popular option that is free for staff and students is to use PowerPoint to record your voice directly over your presentation. If you’re able to spend on software purchases, Camtasia is the most popular dedicated screen recording package.

If you are working on a Mac, the free bundled application QuickTime can record audio, or a webcam video, or your desktop – and you can even record a screencast from an iPad or iPhone attached via USB if you want to annotate over slides or images with an Apple pencil.

If you just want to capture audio, Audacity is a free audio recording and editing package that works on all platforms.

7. Know your software options: video conferencing

Finally, if you are producing an interview or discussion video with one or more guests, you can use the built-in recording functions in Zoom. These work best if planned with the final recorded interview video in mind, rather than simply as a recording of a live tutorial, webinar or teleconference chat.

8. Know your software options: editing

If you are recording using Echo or Kaltura, there are basic trimming features available once you’ve uploaded your personal capture recording. But to take your mobile phone or desktop recordings to the next level, you might want to do some editing on your computer. Apple iMovie has long been known as the easiest desktop editor to learn, and if you have a Mac you can use this free software to easily trim, add titles, overlay photographs or slides, balance your audio or combine different video clips together to tell a story. If you’re on PC or Linux, OpenShot is is the easiest free alternative we’ve been able to find.

If you want an industry standard desktop editing package, you can request an Adobe Create Suite subscription from the IT desk. Adobe Premiere has a steeper learning curve, but the newer Adobe Rush is much quicker to learn and also includes phone applications to make recording and editing mobile footage more streamlined.

9. Recording like a pro: start with a quiet room

A professional video always starts with good audio, and good audio starts with your physical environment. Sit in the room you’re planning to record in for 20 seconds with your eyes closed, and try and identify ambient sound sources. Try and minimise any sounds within your control by closing doors and windows and switching off fans or air conditioners. Constant noise sources are generally less distracting than transient interruptions like traffic or crowd noise, so you should also plan your recording for a time when the house is generally quiet.

10. Recording like a pro: check your audio

Before you start your recording, take a couple of short test recordings and play them back with headphones to verify that you’re capturing good audio. This is especially important when using an external microphone like a USB desktop mic or a set of earbuds, as depending on your operating system, the sound source settings can change from application to application. This is also a good chance to familiarise yourself with the recording software you’ve chosen. Practice starting, pausing and stopping a recording, and find our where the files are saved and how large they are to avoid trouble down the track.

11. Recording like a pro: work out your eyeline

If you’re going to appear in your video presentation or you’re recording an interview over video conference, you’ll want to pay close attention to your eyeline. Presenting to camera, even with a webcam, is all about making a connection with your audience. As webcams are often located at the top of your laptop screen or monitor bezel, try and adjust the height of your chair or desk to bring the camera to eye level. If using a mobile phone, you’ll need a tripod or desk stand to bring the camera to eye level. If you’re just starting out, it might help to mark the exact location of your camera with an arrow on a post-it note to remind you where to look.

12. Recording like a pro: pay attention to your frame and background

Once the camera is at eye level and you’ve worked out your eyeline, adjust the overall frame. For a presentation to camera, you want to be centred in the shot, with just enough headroom that it doesn’t look crowded. You can adjust this by moving yourself closer or further from the camera. At this point, it’s easy to start recording but before you do, check what’s still visible in the background. If you’ve framed up correctly, the you should be occupying most of the centre of the frame but your background will still be in shot. Try and minimise anything distracting by moving it out of shot or by fine-tuning your framing. In particular, try and frame out anything moving (e.g flickering screens), anything with faces (posters or book covers), anything brighter than your face (e.g unshaded windows or bare lamps) and anything personal that you wouldn’t want your students fixating on (e.g racks of laundry).

13. Recording like a pro: get some light on your face

Finally, pay attention to your lighting. If you’ve followed the instructions on framing, you should not be backlit or silhouetted by a bright window or lamp. But your image can still be improved by getting more light on your face. When lighting your face, a soft source is better, and you want to avoid creating reflections if you have glasses. Some simple options include a desk lamp bouncing off a light-coloured wall behind your camera, a soft LED ‘selfie’ light, a lamp shining through some kind of diffusion, or a window with blinds partly drawn. If you want to invest in a dedicated soft light, our team recommend the Elgato Key Light or the Elgato Key Light Air

14. Recording like a pro: narrated slideshows

Students are very familiar with narrated slideshow videos because of the prevalence of lecture capture, but if you are recording your own set of videos you can do a better job of them by redesigning your slides for video. Firstly, chose the 16x9 aspect ratio for your slides to make the most of the video frame.

Secondly, make use this redesign opportunity to chapter your presentation – if you can split your presentation into chapters of around 10 slides each, you’ll keep each video under 10min in length. This makes it easier for students to rewatch the videos and find the information they’re looking for, and it allows you to intersperse activities in the LMS between lecture chapters.

Finally, minimise text on screen. Narrated slideshows work best using a combination of images and diagrams. Cut out the text on screen, and instead use the LMS features to add captions to your video to make them more accessible.

15. Recording like a pro: screencasts

Screencasts are often used as a shortcut to capturing slideshows (for example when using lecture capture). Screencasts are actually better used as a tool to demonstrate computer tasks, show problem-solving steps, or instruct students on how to use a particular software or site. When recording a screencast, make sure that the area you want students to focus on is full-screen, try and disable any distracting popup notifications, and have a tidy desktop. If you’re using a browser, make sure that you close any extraneous tabs or pages. Use your computer’s built in accessibility tools to increase font sizes, or If you’re editing your screencast after you’ve recorded it, you can capture a larger screen area then zoom in afterwards.

16. Recording like a pro: interviews and discussions

Zoom makes it easy to record a remote interview with an expert in your field, but watching a pre-recorded webinar or group discussion can be taxing for students. Video interviews tend to be carefully planned in advance, with a set of discussion topics and lead-in questions shared in advance of the call. If you have a range of topics to cover, consider splitting your recording into chapters. Rather than starting your interview with lengthy introductions, remember that you can always use the tools in the LMS to add background context to your recording, allowing the conversation to get straight to the point. Rather than starting your interview with a list of academic achievements or accreditations, start with a couple of friendly warmup questions then transition into the first area of discussion. If you’re recording a workshop or tutorial discussion, try and run a a special ‘exemplar’ discussion for the video distributed version that’s more tightly moderated and follows a clear structure to make it more watchable for students who can’t participate.

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