Overview of the Recording Process
Your smartphone is an excellent tool to record video, however it does impose some constraints that a dedicated video recorder or higher end camera won't have. This section will help you to record better content.
UC ANR's How-To Video Webinar
The video clinic team recorded a webinar on April 21, 2020 that covered the basic tools and expectations of video production. It can be viewed on this site at this page.
The recording topics covered in the webinar are reviewed in more depth below. That recording also covered some content in the Getting Started section.
Basic Recording Skills
It takes some practice to record clear, quality audio and video. The best way to improve your skills is to try recording in different situations and with different equipment to see how the results turn out. In this way you can improve over time.
To get started with a basic knowledge of recording video clips, watch this excellent video by UC ANR's Ricardo Vela. (43 minutes).
Video with iPhone (also covers Android)
This useful video will show you how to record, and covers some basic concepts in establishing a quality look and feel.
There is brief coverage of editing on your phone. In this course we will be using Adobe Premiere Elements to edit videos, but the tools on your phone can help you to trim clips. This can save storage space on your phone and speed up file transfers.
Most of what you need to know at a basic level for recording video with audio is covered in this how-to video.
An additional resource with another perspective is a webinar done by Steve Elliott. It has more focus on video. It can be viewed at this link.
B-roll refers to extra footage collected and used in editing to accessorize the main content (A-roll).
Just as a belt or a scarf can make an outfit look finished and professional, B-roll can make a video production look polished.
B-roll can serve several important functions:
- Further illustrate a point
- Add emotional or dramatic flair
- Break up monotony
- Emphasize change in topic, much like indenting a paragraph when writing
- Covering up editing or recording mistakes
- Adding context to a shot
Many people in Cooperative Extension regularly gather photos of interesting images for use in talks or publications. You can do this same thing with B-roll while you are out and about.
This video explains the differences and use of A- and B- roll in video production.
A and B Roll Explained
Most video projects will contain many clips that will be combined in the editing process. While some content will not end up in the final edit, it's not always obvious while filming, or you may have recorded alternate takes.
It will save you time if you organize your content when you import it to your computer. Chances are your camera, phone, computer or other device will create an unhelpful name. iPhones, in particular, tend to save files over multiple folders, in no particular order.
Transfer files soon after making the recording. Clips can be hard to find on your phone, but your computer can sort by date, which speeds the process up considerably.
There is no single right way to organize your files, but if you don't have a process in place already, here are some tips you can try.
File Organization Tips
- Create a single folder that holds all the content for 1 project, i.e. 1 final video. Separate multi-part topics each into separate folders.
- Give each file a name that describes its content. Be clear because other clips may look or sound similar. Date is not usually a good description, and the file already contains information on creation date anyway.
- If you record multiple takes of a clip, label each clearly; I use a number.
- Since still clips (photos) are probably stored on your computer in a different folder, make a copy of the original and paste the copy into the project folder.
- Save your Premiere Elements project file (.prel) in this folder. The default location is hard to find.
- If you already know with some certainty the order of the clips, you can begin each file with a number so that they will be listed in order. Alternate takes can be labeled 3a, 3b, 3c, etc.
Everyone sounds awful when you hear yourself for the first time on video.
But here is the truth: You already sound like that to everyone else! Maybe not as tinny and thin as little phone or laptop speakers sound, but it's pretty close.
If your clients currently value what you say, then they should be receptive to you on video as well. None of us may go on to a career as a voice actor or spokesperson for a major hotel chain, but your own voice will get the job done. Don't worry about it.
Even so, they say you get better and more relaxed with practice.
This video shows that improvement happens with practice. Maybe it will improve your confidence. I think Amanda Horvath is probably more of a natural YouTuber than many of us, but you can see how she improves, especially in terms of confidence, in front of the camera.
Insecure On Camera? You Aren't Alone.
For some reason, our brains are more critical of poor audio than video. It is important, then, that the audio portion of a finished video project be clear.
There are several sources of audio that get combined into a finished video. The quality of the final product will be closely related to quality of the original recordings.
The primary sources of audio in your video will be:
- Narration (Voice)
- Spoken content recorded with video such as an interview or technique demonstrated by the speaker who is usually wearing a mic
- Ambient sounds like nature, machinery, water, etc.
- Sound effects, hopefully used sparingly
- Music (optional)
Ideally these sounds are all recorded separately. The hardest part of recording is getting clean, clear audio without too much ambient background noise.
When recording with a smartphone, you essentially have 3 options to record sound:
- Built-in mic on your phone (some only have front-facing mics)
- A lavalier mic worn by the speaker
- A "shotgun" direction mic that records sound in the direction it's pointed
As a rule, you will be most pleased with a lavalier mic. A shotgun mic can be good in quiet locations. The worst option is the built-in mic.
This video demonstrates the differences between microphone types.
Smartphone Mic Test
The April webinar recording referenced on other pages shows the above video as well as another good example.
Lavalier microphones (also called lapel mics, or lav mics) are omnidirectional microphones that are handy for recording how-to videos. In most cases they will be clipped to one's shirt or jacket or taped on to something.
Tip: use gaffer's tape to affix mics and other equipment without hurting surfaces.
Lapel mics work well for recording an interview or your own self. They are not intended to record ambient sounds, although they seem to be great at it when you least expect it. As the sound source gets further away, they will pick up less sound from it. That is usually a good thing when your goal is to isolate speech, but if it struggles to pick up your voice, the sound will not stand out from the background noises.
Lav mics placed along a line equal with your armpits is a good place to start. Under your collar works well, too. Experiment!
This video was made for general filmmaking, but it shows the variety of uses of lavalier mics. In our case, we recommend using a corded mic, not wireless. Corded mics are reliable and simple to use. Wireless is essential in dramatic roles, but since our films will largely be made by stationary speaker, we can do without them.
Wind Is Your Enemy
Wind is responsible for wrecking many recordings. The sound of wind rushing past the mic can obscure sounds by overpowering the input with noise.
Wind can also create other audible sounds. Be ready for windchimes, sliding objects, rustling leaves, and falling recording equipment.
Always try to avoid windy places. If you do have to be in a breezy location to record, try these tips:
- Place the lapel mic under a collar or just inside a jacket or sweater (gaffer's tape is good for this)
- Move around a corner or behind a windbreak
- Use your reflector to block some of the wind
- Affix the windscreen (you still have it, right?) to the mic
If your mic is inside an article of clothing, be very careful of movement. Clothing that rubs against the mic will be louder than the wind!
Recording Audio with a Laptop or Computer
Sometimes it's more comfortable to record audio at your computer but this can cause some minor issues.
First, your computer may be located in a small room. This will introduce a subtle echo (reverb) effect. On its own it is no problem, but be aware that clips filmed outdoors will not have this. You can add some subtle reverb in post-production, but that is beyond the scope of this course. If the effect is too strong, try recording in a larger room with carpet and soft objects. Bedrooms are a good place to start.
Second, your computer may be noisy. If you are recording while seated next to a computer with a loud fan, then that sound may come through on the recording. It can be reduced in editing, but it's better to not record any unwanted sound. Try using a longer cord or recording onto your smartphone using your lav mic.
Finally, the mic input on many computers can introduce a noticeable hum to the recording, especially when plugged into a wall outlet. This is due to some subtle electrical wiring issues. Most commonly this is solved by recording through an audio interface instead of the PC's mic input. You probably have something like this already, but don't realize it: a USB headset used in video conferences. While the audio will sound different than the lav mic's, it will usually be free of hum. (I've noticed that most recording methods introduce hum when using PowerPoint's built-in presentation recorder. Use an external screen capture program like Camtasia or OBS Studio.)
If you do end up with a recording that hums, Adobe Premiere Elements has a simple tool that works well to remove it, but you will have a better quality recording by avoiding it altogether.
Human brains are remarkable adept at filtering out unwanted sounds in real-life situations, but recorders are not so clever. It may not be apparent during filming that there is an audio issue.
Here is an example of what can go wrong. Sounds like what is heard in this video are commonplace during real conversations, but can ruin a video clip.
Professional videographers wear headphones while recording to monitor the sound levels. They are usually using wireless audio transmitters or have other equipment a step up in sophistication from what we will be using. Monitoring ensures that sound is, in fact, being recorded, and there are not background distractions.
For this course we are not recommending purchasing a means of live monitoring of audio. It adds more complexity to the process.
Even without a monitor, it is still essential to know how the final recording will sound.
A good process you can use to improve your chances of successfully capturing good audio follows:
- Hook everything up as you would for recording and make sure the connections are secure (gaffer's tape helps with this)
- Do a sound check by recording the subject saying something boring like "testing 1-2-3" or practicing their script
- Plug in headphones and listen to the playback
- If it sounds good, reconnect the mic and make your recording
- If the sound levels are off, adjust the location of the mic and go back to #2
- If there are unusual noises in the background, try recording silence to see if there are environmental sounds you can address, or if you have a connection, hum, or other technical issue; then go back to #2
The basics of recording video have been covered, but there are a few other pieces of information you may find useful. Below we will cover:
- Lighting tips
- Using a camera instead of a smartphone
- Mounting a phone on a tripod
- Using a gimbal stabilizer
- Types of shots used in filmmaking
Using a Camera Instead of a Phone
They say the best camera is the one you have with you. Since smartphones are so common, the focus of this course is on using them to record how-to videos. But they are not the only option.
Many people already have nice mirrorless or DSLR cameras and these can also be used to make videos. The Micro 4/3 format is a common choice by YouTubers to record videos, but any format will work.
Why would you choose to use a camera if your phone is prefectly good?
Dedicated cameras usually have zoomable or interchngeable lenses. More lens choices open up more possibilities for recording.
As a rule, phones have wide-angle lenses: about the equivalent of 20mm. (Some newer ones have a longer focal length option.) If you are filming close to a subject, it can distort faces in an unflattering way. Filming with a lens that's closer to 50mm creates a nicer looking face and allows more space between the camera and the speaker.
Specialty lenses are available for cameras that can allow macro shots (extreme close-up) that are good for capturing images of small things like insects.
Dedicated cameras also have larger sensors. This can improve video quality in lower light.
There is no need to buy a fancy camera for short how-to videos, but if you have one already—and you're comfortable with using it—feel free to try it.
Not every model works well for video.
Considerations for Using Cameras
- Since cameras have both longer lenses and larger sensors, a smaller slice of the image will be in focus. This will require you to "stop-down" the lens. Adjust the f-stop and preview the image to ensure the subject is in focus. I find outside, my camera gives good results at about f/5.6 while recording video with a 40mm lens. Try starting there.
- Pre-focus the lens. Because the depth of focus will likely be less than your phone's, the camera will try to continually refocus video while you film. Not every camera is great at that, and even when they are it can look weird as the camera adjusts. Find the focus before recording, lock the camera into manual focus, and ensure to don't move near or away from the camera while filming.
- Don't use the built in mic. You may hear internal movement from the camera, and most built-in mics are poor. You will need to use a lav or shotgun mic for good sound. IMPORTANT: most cameras use TRS audio connectors, whereas phones use TRRS. You will need a TRRS to TRS adaptor to use phone equipment on a camera.
- Some cameras, especially lower end or older models, just don't do well with video recording. You should experiment first to find out. A common shortcoming is limited recording length or no HD quality.
- Always use a tripod. Camera shake is much worse on longer lenses. If you want to pan, get a fluid panning head for your tripod that is meant for video.
Mounting a Phone on a Tripod
If you want to record yourself and/or desire completely stable video recording, you should mount your phone onto a tripod using a bracket made for that purpose.
The phone mounting bracket selected on the recommended equipment list has a slot on the top called a cold shoe. It is meant to hold lights such as an LED light, but some shotgun mics come with a foot to mount in a cold shoe as well.
This video shows how to connect everything.
How to attach a smartphone to a camera
It's always a good idea to use some gaffer's tape to secure a dongle or mic into their respective jacks. A loose connection will cause you to lose audio signal.
Gimbals are mechanical devices that attempt to counteract sudden movements. They create a smoother, more fluid video. Without a gimbal, movement like panning, moving closer, or walking will be nauseating to watch.
Gimbals can help you get stable footage when you cannot use a tripod.
Here is a quick comparison of using a gimbal vs. handheld recording.
It is not necessary to own a gimbal to make how-to videos, but it is a nice accessory. If you like to film shots that set up a scene like walking in a field or park, a gimbal will help you get better footage.
If you do not have a gimbal, keep your camera mounted on a tripod and avoid shots with walking or panning.
For close up panning shots, you can use a high-resolution still photo, and create the panning effect when you edit the video.
Types of Shots Used in Filmmaking
As the example videos show, it doesn't require a lot of fancy camera work to make an effective video; however, having a large toolbox ready can help you better tell your story.
This video goes over most of the basic shots used by filmmakers.
Basic camera shots and angles for filmmaking
Here are 4 additional resources that can help you record better video.
Most of the time you will be able to use your phone to record content without a problem.
For situations where you want to set up a tripod, interview someone, use lighting, or use professional equipment, you may need to obtain permission. You also need written permission to use other people in your video.
At a farm or home, this is as simple as asking, but in public places it can be more complicated. This page has more information. Review it before filming.