Obviously, given that I posted the inaugural video for the Get Smarter and Make Stuff YouTube channel yesterday, I’ve been spending time working with video. And I’d like to think that – while I won’t be winning any Emmys for my work – I’ve really stepped up the production values from my previous videos. In other words, I got smarter (smarterered?) on video production. So why not share what I’ve learned?
Although it’s never been something I’ve spent a lot of time in, I’ve used a bunch of different video editors over the years. Mostly whatever came with the computer – Windows Movie Maker when I was on Windows, iMovie after OS X became my main OS, and a bunch of others I don’t even remember at various times over the last couple of decades. Lately, however, I’ve been digging Davinci Resolve, by Blackmagic Design. I haven’t surveyed the marketplace to see what alternatives are available. I just downloaded a bunch of free options, threw away the ones that confused me or that didn’t seem to do much, and was left with Resolve.
That may seem like faint praise, but it’s just how I wound up choosing. Having done so, I’m very impressed. It looks to my untrained eye to be incredibly powerful, even in the free variant, with support for multiple camera angles, sophisticated color correction, dynamic titles and transitions, and a host of other features that I’m sure I could spend years learning. The manual is 3,590 pages long 😮 but it’s not like I’ve had to read the whole thing to get started. As with everything nowadays, YouTube is chock full of content teaching you how to get started with the thing, and as you might imagine given the subject material, the production values are quite high. Blackmagic also has training videos that look to be pretty good. I’ve started watching them, although I had to install a video playback speed plugin in order to be able to watch them a bit faster than the default speed. YouTube’s playback speed keyboard shortcuts have spoiled me.
Like a lot of people, I have a bunch of obsolete cell phones lying around. Video quality on these has long been good enough for reasonable YouTube videos, and I use two of them for two of my cameras. For the third camera, I picked up a cheap GoPro alternative. It seems to work reasonably well. I mount one of the phones in a tripod and film with the front camera as my main shot. This allows me to see whether I’m in frame. The other two get mounted in various attachment mechanisms I have sitting around, like this one or this one. I’ll probably whip up a camera arm from some aluminum tubing at some point, a bit like what this guy did.
One of the best bits of advice I got about video production, I got from watching James Clough’s Q&A video. He wisely says that the best thing you can do to make a more watchable video is to improve your audio. And it’s true: ever since hearing him say that, I immediately noticed that my reaction to YouTube videos with decent sound is far more positive than to those that just record with their camera mic.
Fortunately, getting good audio is really easy. Just use a lavalier mic. Clip to to your chest and off you go. I use this onhttps://amzn.to/3bMvTZ0e. It’s wireless, and comes with all the attachments you need to run it into a computer, your phone, or whatever you’re using to record audio. I’ve been using my Zoom H4N but honestly I’m not sure why. I’ll probably start running it into my main phone/camera instead, since it means there’s one less file to deal with, and audio/video sync gets that much easier.
I know I’m not done learning. Shooting and producing good video is a obviously a whole discipline in and of itself, and something that people make a career of. I don’t plan to dive into it to the exclusion of all else – it would eliminate shop time, for one thing – but I am enjoying the process of producing better video with less effort.
I think there are still some easy gains to be had, simply by continuing to learn how to use Davinci Resolve. In addition to that, I probably need to do a better job of planning videos. When I was recording my Clojure course for Pluralsight, I found that writing out everything I wanted to say made for a HUGE reduction in the number of times I had to re-record. I don’t know that I would ever do that for shop videos, as I like for my shop time to be at least somewhat explorative. But perhaps an outline or even some storyboarding would help. Not sure yet – we’ll see!