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
- Teleprompter software
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.
What I use
- Screencast-o-matic – Free and paid versions
- Blue Yeti Microphone – ~$130.00
- A basic Dell laptop
- Adobe Captivate (much more expensive)
Would be nice to have
- 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
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.
Equipment I Use
Over the years I have used a webcam, a Flip video camera, a consumer camcorder, my phone, and a point-and-shoot cameras. From 2014 -2020 I shot my introduction videos using a Logitech webcam and the Blue Yeti microphone, which was recorded directly into the Screencast-o-matic webcam recorder. This was a very simple and efficient process that I still recommend for people who want to record video at their computers.
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 .
Equipment that would be nice to have
- A full three-point professional light kit
- A green screen to get more creative
- Save your flubs and goof-ups to make a fun bloopers and outtakes video.
- You will mess up — like shooting for 15 minutes with the wrong white balance making you look like Papa Smurf. Take these times as opportunities to practice
- Keep your clips short so there is less to edit
- If you mess up, give a long pause before restarting. It will make it easier to edit between the gaps in your footage.
- Document your camera settings so you know what to keep and change next time.
- Once you find settings that work, stick to them and repeat the process to be more efficient
Over the years, I’ve shot most of my videos in my office, as shown in the pictures below. I also shot my entire Industry & Market Research Basics tutorial in spring 2020 in my bar at my house.
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.
After the demise of WLMM, I edited my videos inside of Screencast-o-matic. I would simply import my web camera footage into the SOM app as a new video file, then insert the video file into screencast video project. SOM is a decent video editor with quite a few features and served me well until I changed my workflow in Spring 2020.
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.
This fall when my university made Adobe Creative Cloud available for all faculty and staff, I switched to Adobe Premiere. Premiere runs like a dream on my work laptop, and I am now able to do all of the editing of the combined footage in one application. I’ve still got a lot to learn, but I am excited about the future possibilities with Premiere.
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
- full featured
- 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?)
- professional quality
- 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.
Chad, thank you for the updated best practices!
Thanks for stopping by, Steve!