Planning Your Video

All the guidebooks will tell you to spend the most time on planning. We say just the opposite. At Camga, we’re all about getting you started, so we don’t encourage you to get too anal retentive about planning. Better to begin. We’ll learn as we go.

Here are some things you do need to be careful about.

  • Make sure everyone who will appear on your video program knows what you’re doing and why. Make sure they know that you are videotaping for a program you’re going to show to other people and that it may be available on the web as well.
  • Be especially careful about including children, because they can’t give valid consent, only their parents. If you need to use children in your video, e-mail Lee Borden and he will fix you up with an appropriate written release to be signed by the parent of any child you use in a video.
  • Your first video shouldn’t last more than three minutes. If the program you want to shoot runs longer than that, narrow its focus. Your audience is typically searching for information on a narrow subject, so they will welcome your focusing on one issue. If you’re planning on having a person talk for most of the video, think about what they will be describing and try to include some shots of it, so your audience can see what they’re hearing about.
  • Give yourself lots of time. Video production is a blast, but it’s far more time consuming than most newcomers realize. As a rule of thumb, plan on two hours of production time and 4-8 hours of editing time for a three minute program. This idea of giving yourself time is particularly important when it comes to the schedule for showing your program. Remember, we’re all volunteers who do this in our spare time. Plan on allowing at least two weeks for editing your piece after you have finished all your shooting and before you need to share the program.

Next Shooting Your Video

Shooting Your Video

By now you know we’re trying to keep this simple. That’s true as well when it comes to shooting your video. Here are some simple principles to help you:

  • Set your camera on auto focus and auto aperture control. Plenty of time later for you to do this manually. Right now, let the camera worry about that so you won’t have to.
  • With rare exception, you’ll want to keep each shot short. If your video is a talking head (one where the bulk of the video is a picture of one person talking), that shot itself will be a long one, but the visuals you shoot to accompany it should be no more than 20 seconds per shot.
  • Video cameras are funny about starting and stopping. If you turn your camera on and someone starts talking right away, you may lose their first words (or first actions). One way to minimize this risk is to coach the talent to wait two beats before beginning their action. You turn the camera on and get it running. Make sure you like your shot. Then say “two beats and go.” Your subjects usually won’t wait long enough, so make sure you’re basically ready when you give them the okay. Then when your action finishes and you know you have your shot, let the camera run another two beats or so before you press the stop button. This will give you a much better chance of having a usable shot. If you’re shooting “person-in-the-street” interviews, and if you have a fairly steady stream of people to interview, the safe way to do it is to just let the camera run. Tilt the camera down to the floor until you’re ready for the next interview. This will help you in editing, because it will make it easier to spot when interviews start and stop.
  • As you’re shooting people, it’s more interesting to the audience to see three close-ups that last one second each than a shot of three people that lasts for three seconds. Look for eyes. If your audience can see eyes, they’ll find your program more interesting and be able to identify more easily with the subjects of your video.
  • Most camcorders have serviceable on-board microphones, and our HF R600 is no exception. The camcorder’s sound will be disappointing, however, if you’re more than eight feet from the person speaking (even closer if there’s any background noise). You can shoot your visuals from any distance that’s convenient, but you’ll want to stay close to anyone whose words you want your audience to understand.
  • Be careful about shooting in windy weather. Our ears are amazingly good at filtering out wind noise, but Canon’s not as good at this as God is, so you may have to work to minimize wind noise. The editing equipment we use has some rudimentary filtering capability, but don’t expect miracles. If you must shoot in windy conditions, we have equipment that will help you with audio quality, but it makes shooting more complicated. The best way to eliminate wind noise on your first videos is to avoid shooting in the wind.
  • If possible, try to shoot in cloudy weather or with the sun behind you. If the weather is partly cloudy, be careful about cutting abruptly from one shot where your subject is in full sun to another in which the sun is behind a cloud.
  • When you’re beginning, never zoom during a shot. We know this sounds fussy, but newcomers to video always overuse the zoom. The easiest way to solve this problem is the simplest. Don’t use zoom at all during a shot.
  • While we’re at it, be sparing with any camera movement during a shot, unless it’s simply to follow action as it happens. Pans (moving the camera side to side) and tilts (moving the camera up and down) are easy to overuse.
  • When you stop one shot and start another, be careful about avoiding a “jump cut,” where the subject appears to jump quickly from one shot to another. The best way to minimize this risk is to vary your angle somewhat between shots. For example, if you finish with a bust shot of your subject, perhaps the next shot could be a close-up of your subject’s hands or a picture of someone else reacting to them. If you’ll be showing the same part of your subjects body from one shot to the next, you’ll have to be careful to make sure they’re in the same position from shot to shot.
  • When you’ve finished all your shooting in a particular place, take a moment and just let the camera run for a few seconds with no one speaking. This “room tone” sometimes helps us when we need to insert some space in a program and don’t want the sound to drop out suddenly.
  • After you’ve finished shooting, hook the camera up to your television set and watch all your footage to make sure you have all the images you need. Make sure you use your television set instead of the little monitor on your camera, because the TV will give you a big enough image so you can see problems with focus, unwanted movement, etc. that might not be apparent on the camera monitor.
  • Carefully write down which images you want to use and in what order. Your editing task will be much simpler if you have done this before you begin.

Back Planning Your Video

Next: Editing Your Video

Editing Your Video

The best editing job with your first video is no editing at all. Plan your project so you can turn the camera on, say what needs to be said, and turn the camera off. Some of the most useful videos on the Internet are produced that way, and they’re just fine for delivering a simple message about gardening or horticulture. When you’ve finished, email your video to Lee Borden, and he’ll mount it on YouTube for you.

If you need to edit your video, you shouldn’t need to pay money to do it. Your Windows PC comes equipped with Windows Live Movie Maker, which will do a decent job helping you trim your clips and transition from one clip to another. If you’re an Apple user, you’ll have iMovie on your computer, which is slightly more versatile than Windows Live Movie Maker. It’s beyond the scope of Free Video School to teach you how to use a video editor, but here are some resources for the two main free editing programs:

Windows Live Movie Maker


There are some things you can do easily as you edit. You can add titles at the beginning and/or end of your program, and anywhere else in the program as you like. Typically, you can do a variety of transitions between shots, like dissolves and wipes. You can do the same thing with audio transitions.

There are also some things you cannot do easily. You can’t easily correct your too bright or too dark picture, filter out noise, or make your talent sound better than they do on your tape. We often hear people saying something like “We’ll clean that up in post,” meaning somebody will be able to do something in the post-production process to correct a problem that occurred during shooting.

When you hear someone say “We’ll clean that up in post,” know that this is a person who hasn’t spent much time in post. There’s virtually no correction or adjustment in post-production of the basic picture and sound that can’t be done much more quickly and simply in the production process itself. So please, if you have a problem with wind noise, or dialogue that’s too faint, or a picture that’s not quite dark enough, address it while you’re shooting so you won’t have to worry about that in the editing process.

When you are finished with your editing, email Lee Borden to work out how to get your video up on Youtube.

Back: Shooting Your Video

Next: Camga’s Video Equipment

CAMGA’s Video Equipment

The equipment you need to produce a decent teaching video may already be in your pocket or purse. Today’s smartphones have remarkable video capabilities and decent onboard microphones, so don’t be afraid to get started using your smartphone. Here’s a page with some specific tips for shooting video with an iPhone, and here’s one about using an Android phone. Make sure you always shoot in landscape mode (with a horizontal screen rather than a vertical one) and that you stay nice and close to anyone whose speech needs to be heard. For your first video, a smartphone is a convenient and serviceable option.

When you’re a tad more ambitious, we have some great equipment that will give you more choices.

We own a Canon Vixia HF R600 camcorder. Its 64 GB SD card holds several hours of HD video. It has two batteries, each of which lasts about two hours. You can read its owners manual here.

We also own a Zoom H2n digital audio recorder. This is a sweet little recorder with five onboard microphones plus an input for a lavalier microphone. It has a 32 GB SD card that will allow it to record several hours of great-sounding audio. You can read the manual for the Zoom H2n here.

Rounding out our equipment package are a floor tripod and tabletop tripod, accessory cables, earbuds to monitor sound while you shoot, an SD card reader, and a case.

Back: Editing Your Video

Next: Using the Zoom H2n For Great Audio on Your Videos

Using the Zoom H2n For Great Audio on Your Videos

The built-in microphone on the Canon Vixia HF R600 is surprisingly good. If you’re speaking within eight feet of the camera, if the wind’s not blowing, and if there’s not a great deal of noise nearby, the quality of the audio should be just fine. Sometimes, though, you can’t count on all those “ifs” to be true. Does that mean you can’t shoot? Honestly, if this is your first video, it probably does. There’s enough to think about on your first video without having to worry about a digital audio recorder, so it probably would be better to wait until conditions improve.

Once you have a couple of videos under your belt, though, don’t let a little challenge like wind noise or distance from the camera deter you from producing a great video. That’s why we have the digital audio recorder. Follow these simple steps, and you’ll have great audio to go with those beautiful pictures even when conditions are difficult.

Use the camcorder’s microphone too

You don’t need to do anything to make this happen, because whenever you shoot video with the Canon HF R600 it will record audio with its onboard microphone. And you may find for any number of reasons that the camcorder’s microphone is better for some or all of your program. It’s a great insurance policy.

Control handling noise

The Zoom H2n is a high-quality recorder, and it’s extremely sensitive. Unfortunately, that sensitivity extends to the case; if you touch it or rub it in any way while it’s recording, you’ll hear it on the recording. You can easily prevent handling noise either of two ways:

  1. Use the lavaliere microphone (see below)
  2. Use the “handle” (actually a tiny tripod with one of its legs broken off) in the front compartment of the equipment case.

Set the gain on the H2n

The camcorder’s audio volume will be adjusted automatically for the best sound, but you need to do it manually with the H2n. While your talent is speaking from the same distance and at the same volume as will be used when you record, adjust the audio gain on the side of the H2n until the signal peaks reliably at or near -3 db. If possible, keep an eye on the meters while you’re shooting to make sure you’re still shooting at about the right level.

Make it easy to sync in post

The Canon HF R600 will automatically synchronize its audio with its video, so you won’t need to worry about it when you use the onboard microphone. When you use the H2n, though, the audio signal produced by the H2n will need to be synchronized with the Canon’s video for you to be able to use them together. The easy way to do this as you are shooting is to remember, every time you stop and restart either the camcorder or the H2n, to create an audio slate mark. With both the camcorder and the digital audio recorder running, use short, staccato syllables to say “1, 2, 3, Mark!” These short syllables will be recorded on both the camcorder’s audio and the H2n’s audio, and you’ll be able to use them in editing to line them up with each other.

If you have an editor that provides visual waveforms for audio files, you can line them up visually. If not, you can synchronize them using the technique described in this video. Make sure you view it full screen and using the highest resolution. After the video and the audio are synchronized, you can vary the volume of the camcorder and the H2n as you see fit to get the best, most useful sound.

Using the lavaliere microphone

Camga owns a tiny but excellent quality lavaliere microphone. You’ll find it in the pill bottle in the front pocket of the video equipment case, and it plugs into the receptacle on the side of the Zoom H2n that says “LINE IN.” Set the H2n on XY, and don’t worry about the fact that the signal shows up on only one channel; that’s the way it’s supposed to work. You can place the H2n in the talent’s pocket and thread the lavaliere microphone cord up through their blouse or shirt so that the only thing that shows is the microphone itself, clipped onto the talent’s clothing. The microphone works fine without the black foam windscreen, but please leave it on so we won’t lose it.

Dealing with wind noise

h2n-with-windscreen-225x300The lavaliere microphone always has its windscreen attached, so if you are using the lavaliere microphone, you’re already doing everything you can do to control wind noise. If you’re using the H2n’s onboard microphone, you can attach the windscreen stored in the front pocket of the equipment case. The windscreen for the H2n works well. Yes, it’s grotesquely ugly, but you’ll be far better off with your audience seeing an ugly windscreen than hearing ugly wind noise. The windscreen does nothing to prevent handling noise (see above), so you’ll still need to use the “handle” even when the windscreen is attached.


Back: Camga’s Video Equipment

Next: Using Your Smartphone for a Safety Shot

Using Your Smartphone for a Safety Shot

Producing videos is fun, some might say addictive. But there are lot of things that can go wrong. And by the time you have assembled your talent, crew, cooperative weather, and plants at the right stage in their development, you want to do everything practicable to protect against mistakes, don’t you? Enter the safety shot.

It’s the nature of most of the instructional videos we produce for Camga that the camera is usually hand held. This helps the operator stay nimble to get right in when it’s appropriate and get a well-timed close-up. What happens, though, if the operator misses the shot entirely? If you have a smartphone rolling with a long shot, you can just cut to it. You may miss that million-dollar close-up, but you’ll rescue your program.

If you have a willing buddy (this is a great way to earn hours!), station him or her in a location where most of the key action is visible. Let the Safety Shot person start rolling (preferably on a camera you control), and instruct them to keep rolling until you tell them to stop. Ask them to do whatever is necessary to keep the smartphone steady, because when all else fails, their shot will become live. When everything else is rolling, make sure you provide an audio slate mark (go to Using the Zoom H2n For Great Audio on Your Videos and look for “Make it easy to sync in post”) so you can easily sync the smartphone video with your other video and audio. And make sure you don’t erase the video on the Safety Shot phone until you’re satisfied you have everything you need without it.

If you end up needing to use the Safety Shot, you may need some help with the editing, because compatibility is sometimes an issue when you weave the camcorder video with smartphone video. If you encounter problems with this, email Lee Borden and he’ll make sure you get the help you need

Back: Using the Zoom H2n for great audio on your videos

Back:  Planning your Video