Top 3 tips to make better videos using a webcam for teachers (cheaply)

Would you like to know how to create educational videos using your webcam that don’t look like they’re made in someone’s basement, but without spending a small fortune?

I bet you do!

To help you in this worthwhile pursuit, I have some tips for you… but first a warning: Producing very high quality videos is not a walk in the park. I say this, not to scare anyone off, but to level off expectations. Producing movie quality videos is what the professionals do! And they get paid a whole lot of money to do it! All those fancy transitions, music and animations take talent, practice and time. However, with a few practical tips, you can produce decent quality videos with your webcam on the cheap, that are just fine for the majority of uses in the Educational world.

My first generic tip (tip number zero): your webcam video should be less than 6 minutes in total – anything longer and your viewers (students) will switch off.

And without further ado, here are three of my top tips:

1. Invest in a light

One of the issues that newcomers face when producing a video is that their faces are hidden in shadow, or they look old(er), or they look unnatural. In most cases, the issue is the lighting. To fix this, the most effective solution is to a) Film somewhere where you have a soft, natural light source that illuminates your face (but not directly, because then you’ll be squinting). Ideally, this would look like a well lit room, flush with natural light – perhaps with your computer and webcam facing away from a window with indirect sunlight. If this seems like a pipedream, then you are in luck, because there is another option, b) Buy a light.

There are a few things to keep in mind when searching for a lighting solution:

  1. Use an LED light. I recommend them for a few reason: i) The bulbs last longer, ii) they use less power and (iii) generally produces less glare than alternatives.
  2. Think about colours. A bright white light can make you look like you’re a sweaty mess. A red tinge can make it seem like you’re beaming out a signal from Mars. Some lights come with coloured filters that you can slot over the bulb to improve the quality or produce a certain look. You can experiment with DIY solutions like covering a bulb with a bit of cellophane wrap, but if you do this, just beware that bulbs can get hot… particularly halogen bulbs.
  3. Angles matter. A light shining down from above your head height does not equal a light that is shining up from your desk. Remember when your sibling told that terrifying story about the ghosts while holding a torch under their chin? You could replicate that experience for your students if you’re not careful. When you are picking a light, try to get something you can adjust. Up and down, and with a cord that is long enough to allow you move the light around to where it is most effective.

My recommendation

The LimoStudio AGG1501 Photography Continuous 600 Lumen LED Light Set is a good option (two for one!) that ticks all the boxes. It’s cheap yet effective, the two lights are adjustable (allowing you to place one on either side of your webcam), it comes with different colours and has LED bulbs. It retails for $19.99 from Amazon which is a small price to pay for making you look like a real human when you do your filming. 

2. Invest in a decent microphone

Sound quality is very important for educational (all) videos. Whether you are explaining a very detailed concept, or providing an introduction to who you are, and what you expect from your class, it is vitally important that students can understand you. Purchasing a decent microphone is essential. There are hundreds of options available, some are good, some are not. A few key aspects to look for when picking a microphone are:

  1. Choose one that cuts down on ambient noise. Chances are you’re going to be recording your video in your office (whether at home or at work). Offices attract noise! Whether it’s the air conditioning, the people walking past having a conversation, a lawn mower outside, or an REM concert, some microphones pick up a whole range of sounds that you don’t want or need for your educational video. This rules out most built in microphones on your laptop or mobile devices.
  2. Think about how you’re going to use it. You are probably not going to be holding the microphone. Your hands are going to be busy moving a mouse around, and maybe pressing keys on the keyboard. This rules out most studio microphones, unless you want to shell out hundreds of dollars on something with an adjustable floor stand. Fortunately, most USB microphones sit on your table and can be positioned so they are close to your mouth, without being in the way. Further, if you are planning on using the microphone for screen-casting, or personal audio recordings, then the ideal microphone for you is going to be different than if you were planning on recording music, interviewing colleagues, or performing a mime.
  3. What are you plugging it into and where are you taking it? This is a practical consideration. There is no point in buying a USB microphone if you are intending on plugging it into a mobile device that doesn’t have a USB port. And if you want to carry it around with you, then you are better off getting a microphone that is portable and fits into your bag.
  4. Does it make you sound like a Tin-Person? A natural voice quality is important. Nobody wants to sound like a character from the Wizard of Oz (I guess?).

My recommendation

No surprises here, as I’ve recommended it previously: The Samson Meteor Mic for around $70 USD is the choice that ticks all of the above boxes. It’s portable, it does a decent job of reducing background noise, it sits on your desk, it looks like a Star Wars robot, and voices sound quite natural. Better yet, it won’t break the bank. On other sites, the Blue Yeti USB Microphone is strongly recommended. We have trialed this microphone, and while it is feature packed and would likely do a decent job of recording with some tweaking of settings, we found the sound was a little tinny. It’s also more expensive (coming in at almost $110), and larger – so if you’re intending on moving around with your microphone, it’s not that much of a practical option. On the plus side, it is a conversational piece, as it looks like it could have been at home in the ’50s jazz clubs.

3. Write a script, rehearse and revise

Full disclosure: Editing a recording is kind of annoying. And unless you are somebody who relishes using editing software to produce your final videos, it is much easier to write and revise a script, rehearse a few times, and record yourself in a couple of takes, than it is to edit a mistake filled and flawed recording using Final Cut Pro (for Mac users), Adobe Premiere or Camtasia, or even Windows Movie Maker (this version is for mobile devices). Editing can take hours. 

A better option for those of you who are time poor, and less than enthused about the prospect of learning how to use editing software, is to follow the script route. Writing a script does not mean that you need to write every single word you are intending on saying – unless you are into that sort of thing. Start with an outline of what you want to say. Something like:

“Hi everyone,

This video will provide you with three key points that you should keep in mind when you want to record a video using you webcam: Lights, microphones and script writing.

Firstly, Lights are an important part of your video… you should think about…

Secondly, think about sound quality. Invest in a decent microphone….

Lastly, sketch out a draft of what you are planning on saying….”

Thanks for watching – any questions, pop in a comment or email me at xxx@email.com”

Then, if you are confident in the meat of the paragraphs, ad-lib and see how you go. If you are someone who needs more guidance, then feel free to fill in the gaps with important points to keep you on track. What is important is that you are comfortable, you are natural and you retain your persona. The last thing you want is to sound like a robot (unless you are actually a robot).

You might need to record yourself more than once. That’s perfectly okay. Just start again. Even if you have to record yourself three times before you nail a take, that is still only 20 minutes… tops (keeping to the 6 minute rule). Remember, editing can take hours.

If you have any experiences with recording yourself for educational videos, and have picked up some good (or bad) habits along the way, please let me know in the comments below.

 

 

 

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