So You Want to Make a Lecture Video, Part 1: What You'll Need
I don't want to brag, but my YouTube channel has a whopping
42 43(!) subscribers. 43 subscribers! That's more than 42.
Many—like, more than 43—have asked how I make these and what kind of time/money investment they require. I don't know if this will wind up being The Definitive Guide to Lecture Videos in the RJC Style or anything, but it seemed smart to get some thoughts thrown up on the catalog.
I should note that what follows is nowhere close to best practice. This is mostly self-taught through trial and error and a heaping handful of tutorials on YouTube. Put differently: this works for me, but it might not work for you, and it likely isn't best for anybody. But, we all start somewhere.
Any recipe begins with an ingredients list, right? So, let's handle that. Here I'll describe the stuff that I've picked up over the last few months, but you only need a small subset of these things to get yourself started. In coming weeks, I'll write more articles about the process that turns these tools into a movie.
- a camera (I hope you knew that);
- a source of light;
- a microphone; and
- some means of controlling sound.
You may want:
- external memory; and
I'll discuss each of these in turn.
A camera: I've been shooting my lectures on an iPad Pro. Many people are surprised to hear that, but it's remarkable how much you can do on one of those things—certainly enough for a hack like me to get the job done. My dream camera for shooting videos is probably a Canon EOS R. Canon cameras have very swift facial recognition, which helps the colors stay true in case you happen to be a wild gesticulator like certain hams we both know.
A source of light: as many people have learned from Zoom this year, the right window at the right time of day is a perfectly serviceable light source. But, it's not very consistent. It's very easy to address the problem with some cheap softbox lights. These were $60 for the pair when I bought them, but they're up to $80. (Hello, somebody with 43 subscribers has endorsed them.) Depending on your circumstances, you can basically go as cheaply as possible. I wound up using one softbox for making the movies, but I use them both for the synchronous session for the flipped classroom. I'd love to upgrade to an Aputure LS, but that's a steep price (~$1000-$1250 once you've gotten stands and covers) for something that I'm doing OK with relative to the other parts of the movies—and again, something that can be handled with a window if you're clever.
Full disclosure: I also purchased a more expensive LED ring light like those used by, say, ASMRtists. (Now you're talking about, say, $125-$150.) It's a really great device, and I use it as a fill light during filming and as a back light during Zoom meetings. (For more on the three-point lighting technique, see this tutorial.) But, I just didn't love how it set up with my iPad. If you wind up shooting on an iPhone or small camera, it might be a good fit.
A microphone: here there are fewer compromises to be made. The movies have to sound good, particularly when you're conveying technical material to undergraduates. There are basically two starter-level options that you hear about: Blue Yeti and Rode. I have a Blue Yeti and have been quite pleased with it. I'll probably upgrade to a higher-level Rode eventually.
If you're filming on your iPad (as I do), you'll also need an adapter (like this one) to link the microphone and the iPad. Both of them use USB, but the computer alone doesn't send enough power to the microphone.
Some means of controlling sound: my home office/studio has hardwood floors and bouncy walls, one of which I talk into directly. The aforementioned iPad rests atop two yoga blocks—hey, I use them for something!—which in turn sit atop a wooden desk. All this to say: there's a lot of bounce in here. Thankfully, all one needs to counteract the problem (at least somewhat) is a cheap pack of moving blankets and a cheap pack of foam acoustic pads. Baby, you got a stew going!
Memory: you may also need to store the raw and edited movies somewhere other than you main hard drive. Each of my raw films is about 20GB, and each edited one is about 30GB. That adds up quickly. I use an OWC Mercury Thunderbolt external hard drive; it's very fast and very easy to use, but it's also noisy.
Headphones: I figured that most students would watch the videos with headphones on, so I wanted to optimize the sound editing for that context. It helps if you have some good headphones yourself. I use Sony WHs, which I love. The matte black finish also looks cool in case they have to be in the movie.
UIUC affiliates get free access to the Adobe Creative Cloud, which is very good luck. That said, one can purchase CC access (or even app-by-app access) for a somewhat-reasonable monthly fee. There are other creative suites out there, but I was already familiar with Adobe from making presentation slides.
I use the following software:
- Adobe Premiere Pro for film editing.
- Adobe Illustrator for graphics.
- Adobe Audition for sound.
- Adobe Photoshop for thumbnails and other photo editing.
- Adobe inDesign for documents (syllabus, problem sets).
- In coming months, I'd like to learn Adobe After Effects to improve the "animations" I've been letting myself get away with.
The vast majority of my editing time is spent juggling between Premiere and Illustrator. I'll describe that process later on, but really, all you need is a way to edit movies and a way to draw. After that, it's all just details.
It's worth noting that Premiere and Illustrator both have nice implementations for tablets, though I think the associated workflow would be very annoying.
Outside of the massive Adobe universe, I use LaTeXiT to create images out of LaTeX. It's amazing: everything you need and nothing you don't. Works like a charm. Plug and play. Every cliche you can think of applies.
Stock Music and Visuals
The students tell me that background music really helps. I use a service called Epidemic Sound, which runs $15/month. It has more than enough music to get you going. Then again, you can also get a lot of great stock music for free on YouTube Studio.
You can get stock graphics from many sources. For stock photos and videos, I've had very good luck with Pexels, a free service. Vector images are trickier. I pay $25/month for Adobe Stock. That gets you a certain number of tokens per month (they roll over). Some weeks I don't use any vectors; other weeks I use lots. I think it helps, though. For example, I almost always wind up using a vector image in the thumbnail:
Since the stock images come in .ai format (Illustrator), it's super-easy to modify them for your own needs. Hector and Achilles took about two hours to Illinois-ify, but the others were all a matter of seconds.
And That's About It
It really isn't very difficult to get a good setup; you just have to figure out what it is that you're trying to do and what limitations you face from your recording environment. Lighting and sound are probably your biggest hurdles, so get yourself a consistent source of light, a good tool for recording sound, and some useful little tools to control the bounciness in your room.
Things need not be perfect. The raw output of my videos looks and sounds far worse than the edited output. There's a reason that "we'll handle it in post!" is a thing. In coming weeks, I'll be writing more about my process for trying to make the best of whatever footage you've got.
But really, a window, a phone, and a microphone will do just fine for most folks' needs.