Video is an increasingly important tool in the instructional development kit. By making good, scalable choices of equipment and editing software and by optimizing your production workflows, you can achieve a trifecta: saving money, saving time, and making video that is a great solution for facilitating learning.
In this interview, video expert William Everheart shares key tips for saving money and tweaking your workflow.
BB: To create eLearning video, for equipment we have a choice between a mobile phone, a digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) camera, or a camcorder. What are your thoughts about the choices between those three?
WE: First, which one do you already have, especially when we're thinking about budgetary constraints? Most people carry around a video production studio in their front pocket and they don't realize it, and that's the mobile phone! Today's mobile phones are absolutely incredible when it comes to the quality of the cameras that are in them. It's just been popular demand that's pushed that area of the market, so most of us carry around a phone that is within a couple of years old. Within that constraint, I would say that you have a perfect device for recording video. If you have a mobile phone, great, use it. It's better than nothing at all.
Of the other two—the DSLR and the camcorder—if a person does have money set aside that they’re budgeting for video production, I would say go with the camcorder. There's a couple of reasons for that. One, the camcorder was purpose-built for recording video, designed for that one purpose in mind. It's going to have the features that you want, the features that you need for recording video, things like longer battery life, and longer recording times, based on the media. It's also going to give you other features that you need for video.
The DSLR has become very popular. I use it myself in certain instances but it does have a much steeper learning curve in order to get good quality video. It's not one of these things you can just take out of the box, turn it on, and start recording video like you can with your mobile phone or your camcorder.
BB: If you decide you would rather go with a camcorder, are there features that you should look for in a camcorder?
WE: Most camcorders have onboard memory. But I also look for features like additional memory ports so you can have dual memory cards. Instead of recording just to one card, this gives you some options. You could fill up one card with a video, and then the camera will instantly start recording on the second card. It gives you more recording time. Or if what you're recording is a little more sensitive, you could have the camera record to both cards simultaneously. That way you always have a backup copy.
Another thing I look for would be microphone inputs. Because the microphones that are built into a camcorder are not the best in the world, I never use them. Depending on the quality of the camera that you purchase, the microphone inputs could be something like a small 3.5 millimeter jack, which is the standard kind that your earbuds use with your cell phone—the same size small port. And then, if you have it in the budget, I like additional microphone inputs, such as the XR inputs, the more professional grade microphone inputs. I'm like looking for that sort of thing for scalability because the camera is one of those things you don't want to have to buy on a regular basis. To me it's better to maybe spend a little more and get those features that you need.
BB: Let's talk a little bit about video editing. What are the important features to look for in video editing software?
WE: I think the big thing with video editing would be the ability to manage your media, so you want to look for software that has the ability to ingest different forms of media because different cameras record in different formats. You need something that can ingest these different file types. You also want something that has a media bin. You're going to import multiple video clips and you need to be able to hold multiple video clips. Then you'll be able to stitch those together. Most all of the software is what we call nonlinear. That means that I can pull different parts from different videos and put them together, almost like a puzzle. I can pull a few seconds from one video and stitch them together with a few seconds from another video and so on. I don't necessarily look at brand names when it comes to the video editing software but most of the software out there has that sort of thing.
BB: Okay, here's a silly question: with a mobile phone, do you shoot in portrait or in landscape?
WE: No, it's not really a silly question. We get that all the time. What is the best format? Honestly, to me it gets back to how are my learners ingesting my content, wherever they viewing it— on a mobile device or the computer. Traditionally we would say that landscape is the way you want to film, not portrait, but you know if portrait suits the needs, then that's what you have to use. What you don't want to do is switch back and forth between portrait and landscape because that tends to mean some creative editing on the back end once you do the recording. Normally, I would suggest that you always record in landscape mode, thinking about the back end and the production workflow.
BB: What are the key steps in your workflow for video?
WE: For me, the key steps are, once everything is recorded, then going through those recordings and organizing them. The camera is going to have its own way of naming those files. They're usually serial numbers, sometimes it includes the date. So the first thing I like to do is go in and organize the various video clips. I like to make sure that I have all of the recordings that I need, and get that stuff organized, maybe even set up or change the naming conventions. I make backup copies of my recordings so if it's on a device or on a piece of media, I do not overwrite that media until the project is complete. I keep that as my backup copy and I'm duplicating that media or duplicating those files. And then, for me personally, it's a matter of maybe going through those video clips and taking a look at them. They should all be the same size, same aspect ratio, things like that. If there's contents that I think I’m missing, I reach back out and get that taken care of. Then it's on to assembly. Even if you just create a mock up assembly this is where you get to put on your director's hat and Steven Spielberg or something. What is the look that you're after, and what is the story that you're trying to tell? I create a simple storyboard using those video clips and try to put a basic story together and see that I have all the material. That's a great way for me to make sure that I have all the material that I need. Checking audio levels is another great thing to do,
BB: So do you storyboard?
WE: Yes, I definitely storyboard. I think that's critical. When you are shooting video, even if it's going to be one of those on-demand, or just-in-time learning type of situations, storyboarding will save you a lot of time in the editing phase and trying to figure things out. Storyboarding allows you to figure out the shots that you want ahead of time, before you go and set up the cameras, lights, and microphones. So when all that is set up, you don't want to have to re-position the camera every time — “Oh, that didn't look good, let's do this…”
Storyboarding is a great way to just pre-visualize the story that you're going to tell and the way you're going to tell it through video. So yeah, definitely a critical component before you even turn on the camera.
And yes, there's more!
William has more tips about video and about improving audio quality that we didn't talk about in this interview. He will deliver these in his presentation, "Better Audio and Video on a Budget", as part of The eLearning Guild's L&D on a Shoestring Online Conference April 22-23, 2020. From creating a recording booth; to better lighting and color; to better backdrops (no more noticeable green screen), William will help you take back control of your learning content and create amazing audio and video, even if you are on a budget. Registration is open here!