Sunday, October 27, 2013

10 tips for recording video in the classroom

I updated this post in October 2014. I added a few tips for teachers and created a Google Docs version too. The new post is here.

Given the popularity of this post, I created a video version of the tips. It is embedded at the end of the list.

I would think many of these items are obvious, but as much as I have to remind students I know they're not obvious to everyone.
  • Plan in detail.  I know it's more fun to start recording, but poor planning will result in either lots of frustrating editing or a poor final video.  Good planning includes a detailed script for all dialogue or narration and a storyboard showing the basic camera views for each shot.
  • Make sure you are recording files you can edit later.  This means you have to record with a camera, phone or other device that creates a file format compatible with your editing software.  I recommend doing a quick test with your equipment first. Record a short clip and try to edit it with your editing software.
  • Hold your camera, phone or device in the landscape position.  I didn't think to remind students of this until we started letting students use their own devices.  Remember that computer monitors are always in landscape.  Don't hold the phone or iPad so the image is taller than it is wide.  It might work great for Vines or other clips you send your friends, but it really weakens the final product no matter how good everything else turns out.
  • Think about what the viewer is seeing and break up the scene accordingly.  Does it make sense to stand back with the camera and just record the whole scene as if it were a skit?  Or would different camera angles throughout make it more interesting?  Would close-ups of certain action help tell a better story?  Is there anything in the background that will distract the viewer from what is most important?
  • Listen before recording.  Is there background noise or bad acoustics that echo when actors talk or make other sounds?  Choose a quiet location.
  • Listen carefully when you are recording too.  Be aware that a distracting noise (squeaky chairs, doors closing, etc.) while someone is saying a line can't be removed later.  We often block these things out easily when listening to someone in real life, but when watching a video they are impossible to ignore.  
  • Speak clearly when being recorded.  Probably everyone on the set knows the script and knows what is being said.  The viewers don't have that advantage.  Pay attention to how fast you talk, how loud it is and whether or not the words are distinct.
  • Record too much rather than not enough.  Start recording several seconds before action will start.  If someone will say, "Action," or otherwise alert everyone to start, be sure they wait at least a second after the camera has started to cue the actors. It is so easy to trim a few seconds off the start or end of a clip in editing.  Compare that to the case when the camera person turns off the camera immediately after the last line or the actors start talking as soon as the camera starts.  Those make for bad edits later.
  • Along with that, if you have the time, get two good takes of each shot.  You can overdo this, but generally if everyone finally gets a good performance once, the next one will be even better.  During editing it can help a lot to have a couple choices for the take that will end up in the final video..
  • When acting a scene, don't look at the camera or the person behind the camera.  It is very common for actors to look to the person working the camera as if to say, "Did we get it?"  Those looks can ruin an otherwise great take and sometimes you won't notice it until editing later.
To sum it up, remember you can save a ton of time in editing with careful planning and by paying attention.  Consider what the viewer will see and hear.  After you make a couple videos thinking like this you'll appreciate your favorite movies and television shows all the more!

Based on your experience, what advice would you add to the list?

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