Setting up for video / synchronous broadcasting

So you’re staying home due to the Covid-19 response and you’re going to record videos for your class, or run a synchronous session. Here are some ideas about setting up a recording station at home.

To keep things simple, it’s possible to just use your internal microphone and webcam. You may not end up with the best audio/video, but it should be functional.

If you have the interest and inclination, and in a few instances a small budget, you can easily improve your recording setup.

Here’s one of the web-conference set-ups that I regularly use from home:

WebinarSetup

Let me break it down by component:

Audio

  • I have an external microphone (a lavalier one here, sitting next to the computer). I don’t always use an external microphone because my MacBook Pro has a pretty decent built-in one, more than sufficient. However, my other laptop doesn’t have a great built-in mic, so if I use that laptop I need the external one.
  • Sometimes I use a USB headset with noise canceling mic if there is likely to be extraneous noise in my house. I also keep my mic on mute when I am not the person speaking.

Video

  • I use my built-in webcam most of the time because it is convenient. If just recording a video, I may use my phone camera.
  • My laptop is on a stable surface and raised to a level where I will appear well framed and at a pleasing angle when the webcam is on. Note that a key part of framing is having the computer level with or slightly above eye level. That’s why I have the laptop sitting atop a tray desk. It’s cranked up to a height that will be eye level for me (I’m short). If you’re seated at a table, you may want to put a few books or a small box under your laptop to raise the camera height.
  • The background that shows up on camera is simple and uncluttered. In this case, it’s just the corner, and a pile of art books on a table. I’ve chosen this spot because it is a corner. You can’t see family members (including and especially the dog) walking around behind me, nor do you see where a backpack got dumped on the floor or a pile of mail sitting on the table, etc. This spot is always tidy and ready to serve as a background.
  • I use a ring light (aka my glamour lighting), which is positioned in front of me to illuminate my face without shadows. No matter how tired I am, this glamour lighting always makes me look pretty good. Best $30 I’ve spent on technology, hands-down. You can also place a lamp you have around the house in front of you. What you don’t want is strong light coming from behind or the side.

Personal comfort and preferences

  • I have a comfortable chair and a drink of water nearby.
  • Printed slides or notes are positioned where I can read them (just in case I get lost or need to look ahead).
  • My iPad is at my side because I like to have a second screen available and sometimes I log in to the session twice and use one device for the camera and to monitor the participants and chat panes and the other for the screen share. (This is really quite extra … but I always feel better with a second device by my side.)

When recording a video (not live)

  • If using a script, I tape the script on my screen, just to the side of the webcam lens are. That way I won’t be fussing with paper and my eyes will be generally looking in the right direction).
  • If I need to read a long, continuous script, I’ll use a teleprompter app on my iPad / phone so the words just keep scrolling along.
  • If not using a script, I tape a little photo of someone right next to the webcam lens area so I have a reminder to look at the camera (i.e., make eye contact with the viewer) and not at myself or random things on the screen.

My Equipment

Here’s a list of equipment that I use fairly frequently. This equipment is NOT NECESSARY, but if you think you’ll be doing a lot of video work it can make your life a little easier.

  • Selfie Ring Light on stand — $30 on Amazon — This is what the YouTubers use, and it will make you look good. It’s much easier to set up this light than to try to adjust regular household lighting and window shades. The stand has a clip that can hold a smartphone, which is also handy if you want to record a brief video on your phone. It runs on USB power, so you can either plug it into a laptop or use an external power supply. You can see my external power supply in the photo above (the light blue brick).
  • Selfie Ring Light — $13 on Amazon — This is a smaller, cheaper ring light. It clips right onto the top of your computer/tablet/phone. It isn’t as nice as the freestanding one, but it’s very portable and it gets the job done.
  • Lavalier Mic — $22 on Amazon — This inconspicuous mic clips on your clothing and helps get a cleaner sound than the typical built-in mic.
  • USB Headset — $24 on Amazon — This headset has a noise canceling mic, which helps reduce pickup of extraneous household noise. I live near the train, the hospital (ambulance sirens), and a high school where the students like to rev their engines loudly as they drive away at the end of the day (why????). I never notice these sounds except for when I’m recording videos or on a web-conference. The noise canceling mic helps.
  • Blue Snowball Mic — $50 on Amazon — This microphone is pricier, but has a great, warm sound. It’s really nice if you plan to record narrated slide shows or podcasts.
  • Teleprompter Lite — free for iPhone/iPad — Nifty little prompter app. Also helpful when giving a scripted speech in person.
  • Webcam Cover — so many options, less than $5 — I used to just put a sticky note over my webcam when not in use, but I’ve shifted to a cover. I like the ability to just leave my camera on but slide the cover down over the camera when I take a break in the middle of a class.

What works for you? Feel free to leave a comment with your video tips and tricks.

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