Launching a vlog: Tips and gear

Launching a vlog has been an interesting expedition into the world of vlogging, so here’s five tips and all the gear you’ll need to launch your own vlog – From camera kit to lighting, audio and editing.

I’ve been pretty quiet on the blogging front over the last few months, and there’s a good reason for that. I’ve been spending more time pursuing my second passion (Digital will always be my first)… Snowboarding. In particular, I’ve launched a YouTube channel titled ‘The Snowboard Vlog‘. (Please subscribe!). It’s been an interesting expedition into the world of vlogging, so here’s five tips and all the gear you’ll need to launch a new vlog.

Tip 1: A camera for vlogging

The first thing I learnt was that a good quality camera makes a lot of difference. I tried three devices – an iPhone 6, a GoPro 4 Silver and a Canon 5D. Here’s what I made of each.

iPhone 6

The iPhone has a pretty decent camera, especially when recording in 1080p at 60fps using the main camera (not the selfie camera). I coupled my phone with a Joby GripTight to mount it onto a tripod for more stable recording. The downside of the iPhone is the lack of advanced options, such as aperture and white balance. I grabbed some cheap lenses for my iPhone, too, to help take even better videos when I’m out and about.

GoPro 4 Silver

First off let me say that the GoPro 4 Silver is a great camera. It’s got 1080p at 60fps just like the iPhone and has some more advanced options thanks to it’s protune settings. Coupling the GoPro with the Joby GorillaPod meant I could mount almost anywhere without shakey footage – This is my set-up of choice for on-the-move videos. Audio, more advanced camera settings and some funky distortion on certain lens angles let the GoPro down, however.

Canon 5D Mark II

And so to the Canon 5D mark II… What a camera! It really does blow the iPhone and GoPro out of the water. Set to full custom mode (Shutter speed 1/30, Aperture F4.0, ISO 200-400) the 5D takes beutiful video. Most DSLR’s will have this level of precision settings, but the Canon 5D’s quality is amongst the best.

In fact, the Canon 5D has been used in some major Hollywood films, including Iron Man 2 and Captain America! Downsides are that it’s a touch old, and misses some of the more techy functionality such as Wifi from more modern SLRs. Either way, it’s a great camera and my choice for most videos.

Tip 2: Get your lighting right

I never expected it before I started filming, but the lighting actually improved my vlog quality more than switching from a GoPro to an SLR. I spent around £90 on lighting kit. For this price I managed to get three decent 130 LED lights, three universal power adapters (the lights can also use the 5D’s battery packs) and three tripod-style clamps. A pretty good deal, allowing me to move into a more professional 3-point lighting rig.

3-point lighting set-up

First of all, a quick comparison of 1-point vs 3-point lighting.

1-point light: Front on

1-point light, directly above camera. Over-exposed, dark background.

3-point light: Much better

3-point lighting provided a much more natural look and lighter background.

There’s a ton of information about 3-point and 4-point lighting by people much more ‘in the know’ than me. Basically, the 3-light set-up uses three lights, and the 4-light set-up uses an additional one to light the background.

  • Key light: Set to your right at about 2 o’clock, pointing towards you. This is the strongest light.
  • Fill light: Set to your left at about 10 o’clock, pointing towards you. This is aimed at softening any shadows.
  • Back light: Set directly behind you, at 6 o’clock, pointing towards you. Contrasts you with the background.
  • Background light/s: This is the additional light for 4-point lighting, and is used to brighten the background.

I also filmed in front of a window, to gather extra light, however I found this difficult as videos varied due to changing weather. The 3-point lighting helped minimise the effects of Blighty’s ever-changing conditions.

Now, for those astute readers out there, you may notice I mentioned only purchasing three lights, not four… But I DID light my background. This is mainly because I was using a white background. There’s more on this in ‘tip 4: Set your scene’ but I felt that the illumination of my background would offer larger benefits than back light. The white wall actually reflected a good amount of light back onto the back of my hear and shoulders, so I was pretty happy with the result!

Tip 3: Good quality audio

After lighting, audio was the biggest challenge I faced when getting my set-up right. Whilst the Canon 5D’s mic isn’t bad, it’s a little tinny and picks up sound from all over the place. The GoPro mic was even worse. To combat this I picked up a £30 external mic which fits onto the 5D’s mount (hot shoe, cold shoe, who knows!).

The mic is uni-directional, meaning it cuts out audio from other areas and instead focuses on just what’s in-front of it. This improved the quality of the audio, though I still suffer from a bit of echo. The room I film in is pretty much empty except for a bunch of snowboarding gear, lighting and camera equipment. This is something I hope to work on in the future, but for now a bit of editing can boost the bass and reduce the trebble.

Tip 4: Set your scene

Setting the scene can vary between super-easy to super-difficult depending on your existing surroundings. For me, I wanted to keep it simple, so opted for a boring, white background. As I mentioned, without lighting the white background actually came out grey, and so post-production editing to turn it white resulted in an over-exposed looking face.

There was another problem, too. Shadows. Pesky, stupid shadows. Luckily by moving the key and fill lights further away from the camera, and pointing across my face, rather than straight onto it, the shadows were lost out of shot. I also used the background light to reduce any scene backgrounds.

One great tip is to keep aperture as low as possible. Not only will this let more light in, but also resuce the ‘in-focus’ area being captured, resulting in a blurry background. Watch out, though, because I filmed a whole morning’s of footage out of focus. I’d already got a Canon remote control, so was able to take a quick snap whilst sitting down to focus the camera before locking out the optical zoom.

Tip 5: Learn to edit

With my first round of footage shot, I got to the fun stuff: Editing.

The first thing to consider is your background track, if you want one! This can really change the overall feel of a vlog, and unfortunately YouTube’s copywrite rules mean liscenced tracks are often uneligable for monetization, mobile views or specific country viewing. Luckily, YouTube’s audio libary is full of decent tracks, some of which require attribution in the description and some which don’t.

Onto software. I’ve previously tried three different pieces of software; GoPro Studio, iMovie and Adobe Premiere Pro, with the clear winner being Adobe’s offering.

GoPro Studio

A nightmare to use, especially on Mac. I couldn’t get on with this software at all. It was clunky, didn’t work well with other hardware and gave limited options. I’m sure (and hope) that GoPro are looking to make their software suite more user-friendly as soon as possible! 3/10.

Apple iMovie

Not bad, but it feels a little too ‘home-video’ for my liking. There’s a decent amount of control, but some of the more advanced features you get in Premiere Pro are missing, such as audiable scrubbing and advanced audio/video edits. Overall a solid 7/10.

Adobe Premiere Pro CC

There’s no comparison between GoPro Studio / iMovie and Premiere Pro – It’s the software of choice for many Hollywood studios and with good reason. There’s a massive community of support, not least by Adobe themselves, and I found some nifty keyboard shortcuts could bring total edit time down to under an hour.

Putting all these tips together I feel has made my videos much stronger, and given them a much more professional(ish) look. The key is always going to be the person presenting, but getting the equipment and editing right can make all the difference.

Have you got any additional vlogging tips? I’d love to hear about them in the comments section below!

John Alexander Rowley

An enthusiastic digital marketing professional passionately dedicated to increasing the online presence of businesses and individuals in order to improve engagement and ROI.

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