Browsing through Darren’s ProBlogger website got me thinking about one aspect of blogging that I use to take part in: video blogging or vlogging. As a video professional, I love this media and find it appealing and easier to use in regards with tutorials or commentary. I understand that a lot of users still like to read at their own pace but after reading this article you might find a few ways to cater to your old and new users with captivating video blogs.
1- KNOW YOUR TOPIC
A pretty basic idea that also works for normal blogs. Understanding fully what you’re about to explain, comment on or give a tutorial on. Most well known vloggers don’t just stick a camera in their faces and start yapping. You must have a concise plan, a sort of script to work off of. Do your research, plan ahead and write down major points so you don’t find yourself doing: “hummmm, then uh.. hmmm… heuuu”
2- WATCH YOURSELF AND YOUR SETTING
Are you about to record yourself in your bathrobe? Are you slouching in your chair with the kids running around behind you? If you want to be taken seriously, you must take the necessary actions. Be presentable; think of your vlog like a real presentation in front of thousands of people. That doesn’t mean you must wear a suit and a tie and stand behind a podium but you need to show an image that will convey approachability and professionalism. A good way to achieve that is to clean up the clutter on your desk, be careful as to what shows up in the background. If need be, drop a nice neutral colored drape behind you (not directly behind you, about 5 to 10 feet is perfect). Don’t sit with your back to a window since that will create an awful effect known as backlighting. No matter what your backlight button on your camera says, it still will look horrible. Wear neutral clothes, don’t use bright colors unless you really have to show your crazy side. Focus your eyes straight at the camera while speaking and do an effort and smile now and again.
No need to go buy LED light boxes or fresnos for a vlog shoot. Use the light sources in your home or office. Simply direct it in a way where you, the subject, will be lit evenly. To make sure you have an even light, you can diffuse it using a white cotton sheet in front of the light source (not too close, don’t burn it). The best way to use this technique is to use a flood light (the ones that point straight up to the ceiling, usually 100 Watts) and direct it downwards. Rest it on a chair or a table and make sure the center of the light hits your upper body. Place the light 5 feet away. Without the diffuser, your face will probably be “hot” (hot spots on the screen are also referred as blown and happen when a subject is overexposed). Place the sheet in front of the light and extend it so light can go through. You will see right away the difference, the light will now be diffused and will hit the subject evenly. You can also use a background light to make you stand out a little from the background. To do so, use a directional light source like a spotlight and place it on the floor or above the subject but just in front of the background directed at you. That light is usually less bright than the main one and not widely used for vlogging but you can experiment.
So many webcams are available on the market nowadays, some great and some amazingly horrid. You do not have to spend too much money to get a decent camera that will have good enough resolution and frame rate (the number of frames in one second, i.e. 10 frames a second will show a little lag in your video, the more frames a second the better) to do your vlogs but then again you don’t have to use your webcam either. For the most part, vlogs are a quick way for users to get the information they need in a video format, right? You obviously don’t want your visitors to sit around and wait for the video to load because it’s badly compressed, right? Keep in mind that you’re not trying to compete with Diggnation and other web shows that use HD cameras worth thousands of dollars (their shows are in general around 180MB to download and last more than 30 minutes). If you have a digital camcorder (or still camera with video function) lying around like most people do these days, use it. The difference will be huge. These real cameras have a much better lens and capture light and colors in their true form without cutting corners like most webcams.
I used to shoot some of my older stuff with an iSight camera and had great success with it. My clients were happy with the tutorials and the quality of them. I wasn’t. I knew I could do better and keep up with the changing technology. I’ve since shot some using a 1chip digital camera and saw an instant difference. Since I was shooting full DV (frame rate of 29.97 frames per second), I could then compress the vlog into 24 or 20 frames a second – which is much higher than the webcams and still keep the great resolution that the DV gave me. (more about compressing under point 7)
Speak clearly, enunciate and don’t go too fast. It’s hard not to stress over how we look or how we sound and feel natural when in front of a camera, that’s why being calm is the number one state you must be in. Don’t move to quickly in front of the camera, your movement will be blurred out at this level of compression and is not recommended. Use more punctuation than normal, make sure your voice doesn’t get boring after a while.
6- CUTTING YOUR WAY THROUGH THE COMPETITION
As your shooting your vlog you should already know if you’ll be using video inserts of an image you’re talking about or a snippet of another video you’ll be reviewing or commenting on. Editing makes it all happen. Editing is key to putting together a vlog that has a “to the point” mentality. Use visual bumpers to separate your points. Add titles to stress the important part of your commentary. Add music at the end and beginning with a short title sequence presenting your vlog. So many different editing tricks you can use to make your vlog more snappy and enjoyable to watch, instead of the boring monologue it could become. Be careful though, editing can also be an ugly poisoned apple if badly used. Too many cuts will make the viewer look away. Too many titles will make the viewers spend less time listening to you and more time trying to decipher all the text. Music can become annoying if used throughout the vlog as a background bed. All in moderation for a better production.
I use Final Cut Pro on the Mac but it is definitely not the tool to use if you’re simply creating vlogs. iMovie for the Mac is a great alternative and brings a bunch of great features and ease of use to the vlogger. On the PC side, MovieMaker and a slew of other consumer softwares are great at what they do as well. Remember, the point of making a vlog is to be visually enticing but without wasting too much time. You don’t want to create a 5 minute vlog that took you a full day or production. The first one might take you longer but as you get better at it you will see an immense improvement in your timeline. I can now write, shoot, edit and compress a full 5 or 10 minute vlog, in less than an hour.
7- COMPRESSING YOUR VLOGS WITHOUT SWEARING UP A STORM
Once your edit is done and you’ve watched yourself in amazement, it’s time to compress and let others enjoy it too. Most of the editing software you will be using wil have export features for different formats. For vlogs, the smaller the better but you also don’t want to lose too much quality. Popular formats are MP4, MOV, MPEG, AVI. The ones I tend to use most are .MOV and .MP4 because they give me great quality without much video artifact (pixelized image, blurry spots and video flicker).
Here’s a quick guide to the customizations I most often use.
Format: .MOV H.264
Frame Rate: 24
Key Frames: Automatic or every 50 frames
Frame Reordering: Yes
Encoding: Faster Encode
Date Rate: Automatic or 250 kbits/sec
Format: MP4 – Video Improved
Data Rate: 256 kbits/sec
Optimized for Download: Yes
Image Size 320×240 QVGA
Preserved aspect ration – fit within size
Frame rate 15
8- POSTING YOUR VLOGS WITH EASE
Sharing your vlog is the whole point of this exercise of course and you can only achieve that if you find an effective way to distribute your vlog quickly and easily to all your viewers. If you have less than few hundred people a month visiting your site you can get by hosting the video yourself without much problem with bandwidth and speed. On the other hand, if you’re viewership is greater than you probably will want to use a video sharing website like the very popular YouTube to post your videos. On a personal note, I don’t recommend using YouTube because of their horrible compression rate when transferring your vlogs into their own Flash format. For better quality, try Vimeo.com and embed your videos directly on your site using their own player.