I created the video for the first assignment in the Filmmaking & Storytelling with Casey Neistat course that I’m currently taking. The assignment was to use your phone to document and tell a spontaneous story, so I got a bit meta and filmed myself making this business research video tutorial. I hope you find the short video useful and can adapt some of my process for your own videos.
I’ve been making instructional videos and screencasts since before YouTube existed and I have changed my process over time as both my skills and technology improved. Another business librarian recently asked me about my current process, equipment, and software, and since it’s been a decade since I last shared how I make videos, I decided to write it up. I hope this post gives you some great ideas to create some incredible instructional content.
Make A Script
My video ideas typically come from the repeat questions I have previously received from students or from my own predications of the types of questions they will likely have in the future (which is also based on past experience). If I can put tips to solve common stumbling blocks on the web in a guide, faq, or a video, that can save the students time.
I’ll typically outline my idea using pen and paper, then put together a more formal script in Evernote. I used to be more off-the-cuff with my recording, and doing a script slowed down my process. However, because I am now more disciplined about providing quality closed captions to my videos, writing a script before I hit “record” saves time on the back end. A script also keeps me true to the topic at hand, which helps me keep my videos shorter and more on point.
Once I have a draft, I time how long it takes for me to read the script out loud. I then read the screencast part while practicing the clicking and navigating around the database or website. I then edit as needed if the flow is clumsy or if the script is too long.
What I use
Pen and paper
Evernote (Word, Onenote, or text editor work fine, too)
Would be nice to have
Record the Screencast
Typically I record the screencasts in either my work office, though during the WFH phase of the pandemic I recorded at home. At home my desk is near the furnace and the Xbox, I don’t have a door, the tile floor makes sound bounce, and the dog wants to go outside or play. I therefore have to be more flexible about when I record at home. Fortunately my work office has a door and carpeted floor, and due to many staff continuing to work remotely, it’s reasonably quiet. Regardless of location I prefer recording in the morning to limit interruptions.
I’ve used Screencast-o-matic for years (SOM) to record the screen of my computer, and I still find it to be the best bang for the buck. Currently I use a two monitor setup, so I will place my script (in Evernote) on the primary screen, and put the browser on the secondary screen. I will maximize the browser window to hide the address bar and my bookmarks bar, then set SOM to record the full screen. I always record on a monitor, not from my laptop screen, as the laptop screen has less resolution. The better the screen, the better the recording quality.
When I record, I rarely nail the screencast in one take. I frequently have to stop the recording when I mess up, delete the footage, then record the section of the script and screen again. Fortunately, SOM makes it easy rewind to where you messed up and record the section over. I used to just keep recording and just re-do the sequence until I got it right, but I have found that creates a lot of duplicate clips that you have to weed through later when editing. If you can nail as close to a final version of your screencast footage as possible, that will make the editing much easier later.
A dedicated recording studio with sound dampening (this is why the NPR podcasters recorded in their clothes closets when working from home)
Drink water before recording to prevent a scratchy voice
Make sure you have a quiet mouse surface
If your mic has a gain control (the Yeti does) turn the gain down as much as possible and place the mic as close to you as possible
Use a pop filter for your mic to dampen your P’s, H’s, and other breathing hisses
If recording a browser window, maximize the window and set SOM to record the full screen
Record the screen of a monitor, not your laptop, to maximize the screen recording resolution
Don’t strive for perfection or you’ll never get the recording done
You’ll naturally veer from your script somewhat. That’s okay, but don’t stray too far and ramble too much!
Edit the Screencast
Since I use Screencast-o-matic to record my screen, I also use it to edit the screencast recoding. I use SOM to trim the footage and add transitions between clips. I will do this rough edit before I film the introduction and conclusion on-camera video, as this process can sometimes cause me to tweak the script.
I usually add instructional callouts such as text, arrows, highlights, and shapes to the screencast after I film the on-camera footage. I could edit the screencast footage in my video editor at the same time I edit the camera footage. However, I find that it’s much easier to do the basic overlays and callouts in SOM. As I continue to improve my skills with Adobe Premiere, I may change this process.
What I use
Adobe Captivate has more robust editing functions with additional cost and complexity
Practice makes perfect you better
Record On Camera Intro & Outro
I include an on-camera intro and outro in almost all of my videos. I believe this adds a bit more personality to the video while also showing me as the “expert” behind the screencast.
As I mentioned above, I typically shoot the on-camera shots after I have a rough edit of the screencast. This sometimes takes place on different days, depending on when I have the time (or remember to pack my camera equipment). I’ve also shot multiple on-camera pieces for separate videos in the same day. (These were videos where I deliberately wanted to be seen on camera in the same shirt).
Shooting the on-camera parts can be more challenging and intimidating than the screencast. Sometimes it’s hard to get started with the most difficult part first, but the momentum from the screen recording pushes me over the finish line.
In Spring 2020 I wanted a bit more flexibility to record video away from my computer, so I started using my Sony A6000, which is a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera that originally released 5 years ago. The modern version of this is the Sony A6100, though if I was recommending a camera for making these types of videos (and not for photography), I would suggest the Sony ZV-E10. The ZV-E10 is an all around better camera for video and has a flip out screen so you can see yourself recording.
I also use a Sony 35mm 1.8 lens, which allows me to get the blurry background in some of my recent videos. If you’re just getting started, I suggest using the kit lens that comes with the camera first, then invest in another lens later when you get more experience.
I mount my camera on a tripod as shown in the images below. For this purpose, almost any tripod will do.
The onboard microphone on any camera is not great and bad sound can ruin an otherwise great video. I capture my voice with a lavalier mic that is mounted on my shirt just below my top button. My A6000 is an older camera that does not have a mic input, so I plug the lavalier mic into my phone and record the audio separately with an app. When I do the final edit, I sync the audio recorded on my phone with the camera video footage. Newer cameras such as the A6100 and the ZV-E10 have mic input jacks, so you can plug in and record the audio directly to the camera .
Both areas have decent light, though in some cases I have supplemented the lighting with household lamps placed just out of frame. I have some budget light kits on my radar but have yet to pull the trigger.
I’ve also shot other introduction videos “on location” to make them more relevant, interesting, and fun. Examples from my archive include:
While it’s fun to shoot at locations other than the office, it is a lot more challenging to control sound and lighting conditions. While I’ve gotten a lot better since those video examples linked above, it can still be very difficult to shoot a video off site, especially by yourself. It’s much easier to dial in your settings and repeat the recipe every time with a fixed location.
The nice thing about shooting in a fixed location is that you can use something to hold your cue cards or serve as a teleprompter. While an actual teleprompter would be ideal, I’ve experimented with several no-budget options, including using PowerPoint as a teleprompter.
Combine & Edit Footage
The next step in the process is to combine the on-camera and screencast footage to edit the final video. For years I used Windows Live Movie Maker (WLMM) which is sadly no longer available for modern Windows machines. It has been replaced by the Video Editor app, which will get the job done but is more limited than the software it replaced. FWIW my 10-year-old son used Video Editor for two months before he outgrew its capabilities (he wanted to do more cool stuff with his Fortnite and Minecraft videos). However, Video Editor is a decent free tool if you are new to video editing on a Windows PC and just want to get started. iMovie offers a bit more functionality and is also available for free on the Mac, but I’ve only used the iPad version.
Spring 2020 was the first time I used my A6000 camera, the lavalier mic, and my phone to record audio and video. Adding this equipment made for better quality video and audio, but complicated the editing process. I ran into problems using SOM because I had to manually sync the audio and video. This is a tedious process that requires visually aligning the sound waves from the different audio and video sources, and using SOM was not the best tool for the job.
I discovered that Hitfilm Express was a free video editor that could automatically sync the audio and video. I watched a Lynda.com course and a few YouTube videos that taught me the basics of using the interface and was off and running. Hitfilm is a great video editor, but it does not run very well on my work laptop (it runs awesome on my personal gaming laptop). I used Hitfilm to edit and sync the on-camera audio and video, but would then export a video file and complete the rest of the edits in SOM.
I’ve notes a few observations about the three applications below.
easy to use
a bit limited though more features the Windows Video Editor or iMovie
runs on low-end machines
can import camera footage to edit in addition to editing screencasts
includes automatic captions
most features are free, but can purchase add-ons for additional funcionality
spotty how-tos available on YouTube
one fairly comprehensive course on LinkedIn Learning
can be a bit laggy
useful for creating special effects (exploding books anyone?)
runs better than Hitfilm
robust training available on YouTube, Skillshare, LinkedIn Learning, and Adobe.com
more expensive and available via Adobe Creative Cloud subscription
includes automatic captions
Create Video Captions
It’s important to provide accurate captions for your videos to ensure accessibility. YouTube does provide automatic captioning, but I’ve found them to be a bit hit-or-miss. The advantage of using Screencast-o-matic to edit my entire video is that it also can automatically caption videos. I would use SOM to caption the video, then make edits where it made occasional mistakes in translating my Tennessee accent. I would then export the caption file as an .SRT file to upload to YouTube or Vimeo.
After a recent update, Adobe Premiere can now also create automatic captioning. I have found that the Adobe captioning algorithm to be the most accurate of any captioning feature that I have used. It is also incredibly easy (though still time consuming) to fix the incorrect captions.
Create Video Thumbnail
My last step before uploading to YouTube or Vimeo is to create a custom thumbnail. Odds are if I don’t upload a custom image, YouTube will automatically create a thumbnail image by capturing the most awkward and unnatural look on my face. I have used Canva and PowerPoint to design my thumbnails. Canva has more elements to use if you have more design talent than I do, and I’ve recently found that PowerPoint serves my needs. I now have a slide deck that is full of thumbnail options that I reuse and edit from previous videos.
Note that my process for saving the image from PowerPoint is different. If you simply save a slide as an image using the Save-As option, you get a 1280×720 size image which is not full HD. My workaround is to “present” the slide then use the Snip & Sketch tool to grab a high-res screenshot of the image.
Believe it or not, it has taken me longer to write this post than it does for me to actually make a video. In writing this post I’ve had the opportunity to read old posts and watch some old videos. I can definitely say I’ve gotten better with practice over time and I’ll continue to improve. I’m excited to get better with Premiere, and I will continue to enjoy learning about the latest tech and techniques.
If you’ve read this far, that’s pretty amazing. I hope you’ll be able to use something I shared to make your own awesome videos. If you have questions, feel free to leave a comment or contact me.
Finally, if this blog is around for another 10 years, perhaps I’ll write up my video process again then.
Right before the start of spring semester, I was charged with creating a short instructional film that succinctly explained our COVID safety guidelines to students. This was my first time doing a multi-scene film shoot where I was both the filmmaker and the one being filmed. I shot the entire video solo (although my son held my laptop as a teleprompter). I wanted to record (pun intended) and share what I learned.
The Final Project
Gear I Used
Camera: Sony A6000 mirrorless camera
Manual mode, Wide Metering, Custom white balance, Wide Focus
Lens: Sony 35 1.8 . Used to shoot the talking head shots
Lens: Sony 16-50 : Used to shoot a wider angle shot with me sitting in a study area (1:13), also me at the book pickup location (2:21)
Audio: Lavalier Mic plugged into my Android phone with Recording App
This free video editor is a great tool. It allows you to automatically sync audio from two separate sources.
Gear that would have been nice to have
A few of the shots indoors would have benefited from video lighting, rather than just relying on the available light. Our 2nd floor of the library is quite poorly lit. Lights would have made it much easier to match exposure and white balance across all of the inside clips.
White balance card
I used a piece of white paper to set my custom white balance with each shot. I’ve since purchased a white balance card set.
An external monitor
Having an external monitor to frame, setup and review shots would have helped me identify areas to improve the shot.
What I learned
I learn something new with each project. Here’s what I picked up this time around.
Working with a short deadline
I was given the assignment on Monday, had a script and shot list ready by Tuesday, and filmed and edited on Wednesday. The video was posted to YouTube on Friday, which was my deadline for inclusion in a news story that would be emailed to all students in the campus newsletter. If I had more time, I would have returned to reshoot a few of the clips.
The outside shots at the beginning of the video were bit overexposed. I shot this sequence around 9:30, and this was actually the first sunny morning in many days. If I had filmed the outside shots closer to 7:30 or 8 while the sun was lower, or if it had been a bit more cloudy (as it had for the past week) the exposure would have been a bit easier to get right. In the spring or fall, the leaves from the nearby trees would have helped to diffuse the light as well.
In addition to the outside shots described above, I was also not happy with the shot in the book stacks. I was facing a window, which was ideal, but the shot was still very much over exposed. The cause of this did not seem obvious at the time, but I realized when editing the video what I did wrong. When framing my shots, I had my son stand in for me to frame the shot and set exposure. He was wearing a very dark blue shirt. I wore a light blue shirt. Setting the exposure using him in the frame caused me to be overexposed during the actual recording. Next time we’ll wear similar colors, and I will shoot multiple takes.
I also set the camera light metering to “wide.” While this worked okay for most of my shots, the outside and book stacks shots were overexposed. Next time I will use center-weighted metering for the shots where I am in center of the frame.
Staying in focus
For the shot in front of the book self-pickup area (2:12) I used the Sony 16-50 kit lens as I needed a wider angle for the shot. Unfortunately, the lens decided to focus on the book shelves behind me and the sign to my left, resulting in me being a little fuzzy and out of focus. It’s not bad, but still noticeable. Next time I will set the focal point manually, though this is challenging to do when you are filming yourself.
The Final Take(away)
Unfortunately the video never made it into the all-student email newsletter. The video is posted on our “safe study” page on our website, and has been viewed about 70 times so far. Nevertheless, I learned from the project and got to practice my filmmaking skills. As a matter of fact, I applied what I learned just last week, where I had the opportunity to film a colleague. Learning from prior successes and failures helps to make future projects better. It’s also a lot easier to film someone else!
I let my sons borrow my GoPro a few weeks ago when they went sledding in the back yard. They recorded almost 10 minutes of footage. It was good practice for me to edit someone else’s clips down to a reasonably short video and I had some fun with the cuts.
Screencast-o-matic is a very affordable software that you can use to create screencasts, screen recordings, and instructional videos. I’ve used SOM for years and highly recommend it. It’s pretty easy to use and most folks get up and running pretty quickly. However, some users may find that their first few videos aren’t as good as they expected them to be. Here are some tips to improve the quality of the recordings.
Use Maximum Resolution Available
If you plan to upload your video to YouTube, Vimeo, or any other online host, it’s likely that viewers will want to view your video in full screen mode, especially if you are recording a web page with text. If you record at a low resolution, then the video will be fuzzy when viewed full screen.
If you’re recording on a laptop, check the maximum resolution of your laptop screen in your computer’s display settings. Many business class and inexpensive personal laptops often have maximum resolutions such as 1366 x 768, which is not Full HD. If you can only record on a laptop, make sure you use the “Full Screen” setting in Screencast-o-matic (both full screen . While full screen is only a few pixels more than the 720p setting, you’ll be capturing as much resolution as possible. It will still be a bit fuzzy when played full screen, but perhaps not as bad since you are capturing every available pixel on your screen.
Use an external monitor or TV
If you have one of those laptops with a low-res screen, you can increase the resolution by plugging into an external monitor or TV. As an example, my laptop only has a max of 1366 x 768, but when I plug into an external monitor, the resolution is 1920 x 1080 (full HD). This means that if I record on the external monitor in full HD, Screencast-o-matic captures the monitor resolution and the video will not be fuzzy when played on full screen mode on YouTube.
Once you plug into an external monitor, check and adjust your display settings. You can probably increase the resolution to full HD (1920 x 1080) on most modern monitors.
Get a better camera
If you are using an inexpensive or business class laptop, your webcam probably stinks. It might have a maximum resolution of 720p, that is okay for Teams and Zoom meetings, but it just won’t cut it if you want crisp on-camera video of yourself.
Use an external webcam
One option is to use an external webcam. My preferred brand is Logitech. They have a variety of webcams at different price points, but just choose one that is Full HD — you don’t need 4k for instructional video. I use the Logitech C920. I especially appreciate that you can use either the LogiCapture or G-Hub software to customize your camera settings. This keeps you from looking like a Smurf if the white balance is off, or like you are in a witness protection program due to poor camera exposure.
Use your phone’s video camera
If you don’t have a better webcam (or they are sold out due to a global pandemic and everyone’s working from home) you can also use your phone to record yourself. I suggest using a tripod to hold your phone and avoid shaky footage. While most phones have both a front-facing (selfie) camera and a rear-facing camera, the rear-facing camera is generally a better camera and offers a higher maximum resolution. While it may seem easier to see yourself while recording on the selfie camera, you’ll have much better results using the rear-facing camera on your phone. Make sure you set the camera settings to Full HD (1920 x 1080).
Once you record your video, you need to get the video file on the computer that has Screencast-o-matic installed. The file will be too large to email, so you’ll need to either transfer via USB or a cloud service (OneDrive, Google Drive, etc. ). Use the Import button in Screencast-o-matic to import the file into the editor. If you are importing the phone file into a video you recorded of your computer screen, , you will probably need to adjust the audio volumes to match since they are from two different audio sources.
Use an external microphone
Typically the mics on our laptops are not very good. If you want to get better audio, I suggest using an external microphone. This can be as simple as a conference call headset or your phone’s earbuds. If you want to get more elaborate, the Blue microphones are highly recommended and easy to use.
If you are using an external webcam, that audio is generally better than you computer’s mic, but it will pick up extra noises around the house/office.
My first videos in my new work-from-home basement office were a bit rushed, so I didn’t have much time to work out all of the details before recording the research sessions for my students. While the content was okay, I wasn’t happy with the quality of the audio and video. I watched a few YouTube videos and some Lynda training, and have adapted some ideas to improve my video tutorial setup.
The picture above shows my latest setup when making videos at home.
Blinds are open to let in natural light. I make adjustments depending on time of day, weather it is sunny or cloudy, etc.