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Here’s what I learned about shooting videos.

I have a delightful client named Jimmy who loves LinkedIn. He wanted to increase his LinkedIn followers and share his expertise with a series of videos. He wasn’t worried that neither of us had a lot of experience making videos. Our first few were a little clunky, the lighting wasn’t great, and we had to film a couple dozen takes for each video to get it just right. But each time we shot new videos, he got more comfortable and I got more efficient. After a few months, we could film 6-8 new videos in just a couple hours. Here’s what I learned along the way.

Get a few key pieces of equipment.

The camera on your phone will do a great job making videos for social media. But the microphone will likely be too far away from your subject to record clearly and without background noise. You’ll need a lapel mike that will plug into your phone. I used this inexpensive BOYA Microphone with smartphone adapter. You’ll also need a tripod to keep the phone steady while you film. A tripod is also good for trying various different angles and settings. And a remote control can help limit the possibility of you moving your camera or your tripod when you start or stop the video. I used the ATUMTEK 51″ Selfie Stick Tripod with Bluetooth Remote. I also purchased a small round “selfie ring light” for soft face lighting, but it created a tiny circle reflection on Jimmy’s glasses. We had better luck setting up in a location that offered enough natural light. If you’re shooting with limited light, it might come in handy, but I never used it much and you probably won’t need it either.

It’s OK not to be OK.

Don’t be afraid to get out of your comfort zone. That was the topic for one of our very first videos, and it’s great advice. Don’t overthink it. People expect online videos to be more like real life than perfection. Do your best to get prepared and then start shooting. It’s easier to shoot twice than to edit two videos together, so if you make a mistake while filming it’s best to just start over. Film as many times as it takes to get your message across but don’t be too critical of yourself or your video.

Lighting and backgrounds matter.

Look for a location where your subject is comfortable and there’s enough light. A good rule of thumb is to put the light source behind the camera so that it shines on the face of the subject. Front lighting will partially or fully eliminate shadows. There’s nothing worse than shooting a great video only to find there’s a wonky shadow across the subject’s face or you can’t quite see their eyes. Shooting outdoors can offer great lighting but avoid direct sunlight because this can make your subject squint, light can reflect off their glasses, or cause harsh shadows in weird places.

Avoid complicated backgrounds. They can be distracting and your viewer may find that they’re trying to figure out what that thing is in the background vs. watching your video. Think about all the time you spent looking at the books and the artwork in the background when reporters started broadcasting from home during COVID. I know I wasn’t the only one wondering if they actually read those books or if they were just for show. There’s even a Twitter account named Room Rater. It’s pretty hilarious and they are spot on with their ratings.

On the other hand, beware the hostage video – make sure there is something in the background.

Tailor the format to where it will be posted.

This is personal preference and may be determined by where you plan to post your videos, or how you expect them to be viewed. We posted this series to LinkedIn, but also to YouTube for use on the website. It made sense to film horizontally, because LinkedIn crops vertical videos into a square on their newsfeed. But, if you’re posting mainly to Instagram, you may want to film vertically since that is easier to view on a phone.

A consistent hello and goodbye is nice.

Jimmy was great at choosing a theme and thinking through several video topics within that theme. He always knew the points he wanted to make, and we usually edited on the fly. Shoot your first take of a video and play it back. Look for places you could say things more clearly or cut out extra info you don’t need. Shoot two or three versions and choose the one you like best. Choose a consistent way to open your videos. It’s as easy as, “Hi, I’m Jimmy and today’s video is It’s ok not to be ok.” Make it something that feels comfortable for you, and gives the viewer some idea of what they’re about to watch. End your videos in the same way. Find a sentence or phrase that wraps it up and feels right for you. In one of the first videos we made, Jimmy ended it with “Make it happen!” We liked it so much, that became the way he closed every video, and the name of the series overall.

Record until it flows easily and you can wrap it up in 2 minutes or less.

It may not seem like much time, but when you’re watching videos, 30 seconds is plenty. Two minutes is really the maximum, unless you’re filming a how-to video or one of those closet makeovers. I may not be the best audience, but if there’s too much introductory content, you’ve lost me. Get on with it. No one wants to watch a 15 second intro for your 30 second video. Plan ahead for your topic and your content. Do a practice run-through and time yourself so you have a good idea how long it will be. If you have someone filming you, ask them to give you a warning at 30 seconds or 45 seconds so you can wrap it up. Don’t be afraid to film several versions of the same content and choose the one you like best. You may find that after you’ve filmed the same topic a couple of times, the content flows more smoothly and it’s easier to wrap it up in less time.

Do some simple cropping.

Go through all your takes and choose the best version for each video. You’ll likely have some extra time in the beginning and the end of the video. Trim your video so that the viewer doesn’t have to wait long for it to start or for it to end. When we first started, I made simple edits on my phone and it worked fine. But it was hard on the eyes, and it didn’t allow me to do any other editing like transitions. So after a while, I began editing in iMovie instead.

Once we had a few videos in our library, we started having some fun with bloopers. After each shoot, I’d take the funniest moments and put them together in a single blooper video. iMovie made it easy to cut the bloopers and connect them together. But you could use any video editing software that you like. If you want to get fancy, you can add logos or other information at the beginning or end.

If you’re using iMovie, export your videos for use in social media. Sprout Social keeps an up-to-date list of specs for different social media platforms here.

Post to YouTube & Share.

The easiest way to share your videos is to create a YouTube channel or setup a Vimeo Account. Then you can upload all of your videos to one place. YouTube will automatically optimize your video and create a short link to it. Be sure to give your video a name and description. If you edited your video on your phone, you can also add an opening screen or a closing screen in YouTube. Publish your video and then it’s ready to share. Copy the link and paste it into any social media post, email, or website and voilà.

Jimmy’s company is now called Positive Leadership Consulting, and you can watch his videos here.