Tips for Producing Online Videos

Content From: Linda Lawson, New Media Fellow, Office of HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Policy, U.S. Department of Health and Human ServicesPublished: May 27, 20144 min read


linda lawson
Linda Lawson

Every day, millions of videos are uploaded to the internet to inform, teach and entertain. In 2005, when YouTube launched, I personally did not immediately grasp its significance. Fast forward to 2014 where there is hardly anyone who uses the internet that has not clicked on a video link. Today, video is a vital part of my daily consumption of online information.

In the early days of online video, many had a homemade quality, as if created with a webcam in a basement. Very, very quickly higher resolution video cameras got better and smaller, small enough to use anywhere at anytime. Almost immediately, individuals and small organizations discovered the power of video to amplify their messages using very inexpensive and easily obtainable equipment.

As part of the team, I have gradually become very involved in our video production. I should add that I had no formal background in video production and had to quickly learn to plan, shoot and edit. When I joined the video team 10 months ago, our videos had a fairly high production value. However, when began producing online videos four years ago, it was with a small video recorder. The quality of those videos was lower than what many now have in their smartphones, yet we effectively used a small camera to conduct interviews and to create HIV awareness messages. Fortunately, a rapidly changing scene in consumer technology enabled us to continually improve. For us that means the ability to add graphics audio, better lighting, leading to a more compelling product. Video has become, for, an important feature of our new media strategy.

Here are some basic lessons I’ve learned:

  1. Establish the story you are trying to tell. A script, even for a 30 second clip, is critical. The script will help you to, on paper, visualize what you need to shoot and where. The visuals can include graphics, photos, and other elements that aid in the storytelling. This can make a crucial difference in the look and sound of your production.
  2. Light your subject well for great looking video. I recommend that, whenever possible, you use natural light. If you are able to move your subject near a window, the sun can serve as your primary light source and is very warm and pleasing to the eye. Try to position your subject to place the window at a 90-135 degree angle. However, know that very bright lighting can create harsh shadows. Use additional lighting or reflective material to balance the lighting and reduce shadows.
  3. Audio is everything. You can shoot the most beautiful video with gorgeous lighting and compelling images, but if your sound is too low, too high, or has distracting background noise, your will lose your audience. The easiest way to ensure that you have quality sound is to get closer to your subject and to be aware of the physical space where you record. Is the room or area sparsely furnished? Does it have unusually high ceilings? Are you outdoors? If so, you may record echoes and other undesirable artifacts. If possible, and many consumer-level camcorders have this ability, monitor your audio using headphones. That way you hear what the camera hears. If you have the ability to simultaneously record the audio using a secondary source, that is the gold standard and a more advanced level of production.
audio work

To produce great online video, you do not have to own expensive pro equipment or have extensive production experience. Using these simple principles, you can take your interviews, awareness messages or online instruction to the next level. Planning is key. Time spent in pre-production saves time in post production. Take the time to practice using these tips. I am confident that it will make a tremendous difference in the quality of your work.

Our Black Voices blogger Ken Williams, who produces online videos on his YouTube channel, recently shared with us the power of digital storytelling for bringing awareness to the HIV community. In regards to his top tip for producing online videos, he says, “What I always try to remember when telling any story is to lead with subjects that resonate with me. I keep to stories that I’m credible to tell because either I’ve experienced them, learned them, researched them, know them…am them. It’s an approach that has always given me leverage to drive my storytelling with passion.”

For more information on ways you can produce great video on a budget, I invite you to watch this video by Jefferson Graham, USA TODAY tech columnist and host/producer of the "Talking Tech." He offers even more practical and inexpensive recommendations for equipment and filming technique.

If you produce videos, what tips would you offer? What practices or tools can the nonprofessional use to produce high quality video for the web?