In my last post I wrote about Architect Dylan Chappell and how he’s using video to explain what he does and how he works. In this post I want to jump into how you can create your own talking head videos and the equipment you’ll need.

Here’s an example of what i’m talking about. Recorded as part of the BIM Day Out festival this last July.

Equipment

  • DSLR (We used a 7D, but any DSLR with video will suffice)
  • 50mm 1.8 (one of cheapest lenses you can buy, but delivers beautiful images with a blurred background)
  • Zoom H4n sound recorder (No lapel mics, just using the standard built in stereo mics)
  • Tripod (keep the camera still and shake isn’t a concern)

Walking through the process

What we did in this instance was set up the DSLR on a tripod and move from person to person and record a three minute video. The tripod keeps everything still and avoids us having to use any fancy stabilisation rigs. We avoided having to bring in lights too by choosing locations with good natural lighting.

The camera itself is my standard workhorse Canon 7D, but any DLSR with video should deliver exceptional video. The lens used was a simple Canon 50mm 1.8. It’s super cheap at $125, but delivers beautiful images because it’s a prime lens and allows for a big aperture that blurs the background. It does however have a pretty shocking auto focus. Actually the whole approach to focusing with DSLR cameras (except for some new models just released) is pretty clunky. So to avoid these issues a simple solution is to:

  • Mount the camera on a tripod
  • Frame your shot
  • Set you lens to manual focus and then focus on the subject’s eye using Live view.

And I forgot to mention here that the blurry background is created by using a large aperture like 2.8.

The recording itself was generally done in one take. We had a series of about 5 questions which we asked each person and they responded naturally. Out of 15 interviews there were only a few times where we stopped completely and did a retake. Sometimes it was just easier to keep going, even if there was a mistake and then edit it out in post production.

Video and Audio

To get decent audio out of you video you need to go beyond the microphone built into your DLSR. One option is to plug in a lapel mic directly to the camera (eg, an Audio-Technica ATR3350 which goes for around $30) which has the advantage of the video and audio being recorded all at once, but what most professionals do is record the video on one device, the audio on another and then splice it together in post production. We went with the later and used a Zoom H4n sound recorder, which retails for around $250. There are also cheaper models which will get the job done. On these videos we just used the built in mics on the Zoom H4n and had someone hold it in front of the speaker. This was incredibly versatile and avoided wires and lapel mics. It was more like a moving reporter with a microphone. What I would say about this approach however is that the interviewer’s voice is a little tinny. That’s because they’re speaking behind the microphone. So in hindsight, if both speakers are in front of the recorder than no problem, but if you want absolute audio quality (rather than speed and mobility) then lapel mics are probably the way to go.

We didn’t use any special equipment to synch the video and audio at the same time. We just said one, two, three and the two of us (one on camera, one on audio) hit record.

Editing

The editing process involves a couple steps.

  1. The first is creating a template which includes an intro and an outro. Once you have this setup, processing 15 videos becomes much easier.
  2. The second step is importing the video and audio and synching them. Some software will do this automatically for you, others require you to visually match the sound waves of the audio with the movement of the speakers mouth. (tip: if you record audio on both the audio recorder and the camera then matching the sound waves becomes much easier)
  3. And the third step is cleaning up the mistakes, the cuts and edits.
  4. Once all of that is done then you’re ready to export and share your video.

The software that I prefer is called Screenflow, which is actually screencast recording software (approx $100), but is so easy to use. I’m not sure why, but every other piece of editing software I’ve used is not so much complicated because it’s advanced, they’re often downright clucky. Anyway, Screenflow is simple and effective.

Conclusion

So there’s obviously a few steps involved in getting a video recorded, cut and uploaded, but it’s not rocket science either. And if you already have a DSLR with video then you’ve got half the equipment just sitting there. Where this is all leading though isn’t about making videos because they’re fun. In a future post (which i’m not going to promise to write next week because of some other news and crazy adventures) what I want to explore is why video is valuable and how architects can use it to engage with potential clients. Video is unique in how it can project the real you into the world and connect with people, but there’s something else going on too. the audience behind platforms like Youtube (and podcasts) is exploding. The social media effects of video are a big factor of why people are taking notice.. but that’s for another post.

Can’t wait to see some of you make some videos!