A few weeks ago, one of my followers (autumnintrigue) requested an explanation of my photography and video process. Then the next week, my gorgeous friend HannahJay asked about my setup as well. Sorry this has been so delayed, sweet ladies! Still playing catch-up from the crazy-busy of last month. But I’m more than happy to show you guys how I do what I do, as I watched countless videos on YouTube for tips and tricks on vlogging video setups- YouTube make-up artists have a great knowledge of lighting because if your lighting is wonky, your face is gonna look jacked up as soon as you walk out into the sunlight.
The funny thing is that I went to school for a degree in Multimedia Journalism (i.e. lots of video and AP style guide headaches) and I hated my final year of school, which was very heavily focused on broadcast journalism. It took me a year out of school to realize how much I loved shooting and starring in video, as long as it included a method and equipment on my terms. To start, my basics include: a camera, a tripod, and a computer with video editing software. My super helpful extras are: one or more lighting device(s), micro lens, additional tripod in another size, background, a photo editing app and/or software, a camera with wireless capabilities, and some plain ol’ knowledge.
CAMERA: I have a Samsung NX300 that I bought off Amazon early this year for about $400 (the price has since fallen about 50% as of this blog’s post date.) Aside from two big annoyances, I love this camera and it’ll be a long time before I feel the need to upgrade. One annoyance (a lack of a flip screen) has since been taken care of, as you can see in this Amazon listing. The other misgiving- the inability to attach an external mic- isn’t that bad for my purposes; while the camera does pick up wind etc., the sound has been really good for casual use, especially considering that it’s an internal mic.
Note that this technically isn’t a DSLR, it’s a mirrorless camera. There are pros and cons to both but mirrorless cameras are typically lighter, smaller, and have a better video quality. Plus I’m a total sucker for the faux vintage exterior. If I switch from auto, the Smart options are my go-to. Maybe one day I’ll get adventurous enough to go manual but so far, I haven’t felt the need. I bought this camera primarily for use on my March trip to Iceland and it served me well. Here’s a picture with the stock lens and auto settings:
Here is a video with the stock lens and auto settings (and some beautiful scenery):
As you can see, while it’s not a perfect camera, it performs pretty dang well in a variety of settings.
TRIPOD: I made do without a tripod for several months but it was decidedly annoying, especially while trying to shoot video outdoors. In June, I bought this little guy from Target so my family could have a group picture on our family vacation. Although we never got that group photo, I’ve used the heck out this goofy looking thing. Not only is the Manfrotto Pixi Camera Tripod portable and stable, but it looks like a character straight from WALL-E. A note for casual nature photographers: it’s been a godsend for all my hiking pictures and performed very well outdoors.
COMPUTER: My faithful 2011 Macbook Pro is still chugging along despite several drops and lots of use. Unlike photos, it’s pretty necessary to edit videos if you don’t want 15 minutes of you rambling on and on about a subject. I use iMovie 2011 and it gets my YouTube videos done just fine. Sure, if I had more money I’d spring for Final Cut Pro (which I personally prefer over Premiere), but I have no qualms with the software that came preinstalled on my Mac. I would like to do more aesthetically pleasing intro effects and that would currently be my only reason to upgrade. As my computer has been consistently been giving me some weird attitude via brief lag and screen goofs, I’m anticipating that I’ll be buying a replacement next year, most likely a refurbished Macbook Air.
With these three basics, you should be able to at least adequately create your own multimedia. Want to level up? Here are some fancy upgrades that have enhanced my blogging and vlogging content.
LIGHTING: Lighting will make or break my videos. I just feel like my post-production visual editing equates almost to CGI: something is noticeably off and takes the viewer out of the narrative but you know the creator is trying their best. What a gross feeling. There are countless YouTube videos with instructions for lighting set-ups and equipment. The products you’ll want to buy will depend on your needs, your budget, and your shooting space.
In my case, I usually shoot in my back room which was a decent amount of free space but not enough for an entire studio lighting kit. My apartment has pretty limited access to sunlight, which is in fact free and the best lighting you can ask for, from a video perspective. Not to mention that I have a cat who is very curious (read: hellbent on mass destruction) so my equipment has to be easy to put up and take down. For this reason, I went with a ring light. Oh, and because it has that awesome/eerie eye effect.
Specifically, I bought the 18″ dimmable Diva Light Super Nova Ring Light. Yes, I paid $249 plus $40 for the Diva Ring Light tripod stand. Yes, there are cheaper options. No, I wasn’t willing to risk $200 on a possibly faulty product. I’ve been known to ignore a questionable review on Forever 21 but for me, this wasn’t a place to play around with my time and money. And I don’t regret spending the money unless it’s been awhile since I’ve made a video (ahem…) Please note that there are other cheaper options that have worked for other people if you don’t have the money but make sure to do your research. It’s also great to look for a dimmable light that comes with a diffusion cloth. Don’t underestimate how intense these lights can be and you’ll want options. If your goals/space situation differ from my own, be sure to try out other lighting kits that may use box lights or have more of a filler for darker spaces.
MICRO LENS: If you’re someone that watches a lot of YouTube, you’ll notice that lots of creators have a blurred background (“bokeh”) while they are in focus- or, in more profesh terms, a shallow depth of field. With a micro lens, it’s quite easy to create this effect but, like most good lenses, it most likely won’t be cheap. My Samsung NX 45mm f/1.8 lens was $229 at my time of purchase, which is actually on the lower end of the new lens price spectrum. At the time of this post, it’s listed on Amazon for $256.
Here are two examples of depth of field in photographs:
This turns out wonderfully in photos but I’ll be honest, there’s something about shallow depth of field in a video. Whew, gets me all hot and bothered. If you’re planning on doing videos that involve a minimum of movement and either closeup or medium framing on yourself (or whatever subject), a micro lens is probably your best bet to achieve that look. Another great thing about my micro lens is that it’s far more portable than my standard. I don’t have a roomy purse but with my micro, I can easily lug my camera around along with my standard Fields Notes, bkr, wallet, etc.
I debated heavily between the 45mm and the 30mm pancake lens. The only thing that swayed me definiteively was how quiet the 45mm was comparatively while filming over the 30mm. One of the shortcomings of using both autofocus and a micro lens is that your camera will constantly be refocusing if there’s a decent amount of movement in frame. Also note that this lens does not zoom, although you really won’t need it. This can make larger shots more difficult though. Several successful YouTubers have sworn by (and utilize) the Canon 50mm f/1.8 mm STM lens and there are other examples/recommendations for different brands here. I highly recommend searching Youtube for videos filmed with any lens you’re looking at, as you can see the focus, noise, etc. in action.
ADDITIONAL TRIPOD: This definitely isn’t a necessity but it sure helps. The above is actually the light stand for my ring light but it also acts alone as a tripod. And since it has a full height of 6 feet, it’s helpful with larger shots that don’t require me to place my camera on precarious stacks of boxes or books (my go-to for years in pre-tripod days.) As this was made for the bulk and expense of a ring light, it’s darn sturdy and I’ve never worried about my camera toppling it.
BACKGROUND: Let’s say you can’t afford a micro lens but you still want an interesting backdrop. Honestly, I just use this Laura Kicey Moonbeam Tapestry from Urban Outfitters for $69. I actually had a coworker ask me if I used a green screen in one of my videos. I mean, that’s always an option but I don’t have that kind of time or patience. Now that I have an interesting desk setup upstairs, I’ll probably add some Christmas lights during filming (which reads surprisingly gorgeous on video) and try that but this tapestry has worked out so far for my stationary/talking shots. And it looks great in a good micro lens bokeh (yeah, I know- Leah, shut up about the bokeh nonsense already.) You basically want something with enough varying depth and color to be aesthetically pleasing but not distracting from you, the subject.
PHOTO EDITING APP: If you had any preconceived notion that I’m any sort of professional with all of this, this tip will dispel that myth quickly. I don’t use Photoshop or anything else in the Adobe suite to edit any of the pictures on here or my Instagram feed. Nope, I use the app Afterlight on my iPhone and it’s often just cropping, framing, and/or a touch of a filter. Wham bam thank you m’am.
There are tons of these kinds of photo editing apps available for free on your smartphone, assuming you have one, as well as a plethora of free web resources. I just like Afterlight because the filters are a bit more subtle than most competing apps and by now, I can edit a photo to be fully blogworthy in a minute or two out of habit. Another popular and similar app a lot of people use is VSCO, which I’ve played around with a few times.
CAMERA WITH WIRELESS CAPABILITIES: The above tip is a huge reason why I love having a camera that can connect wirelessly to my smartphone via Wifi and a Samsung app. It means that I can transfer pictures to instantly edit for some quality social media posts or to upload to WordPress for future blog posts. I can also email pictures, use my smartphone as a remote viewfinder (which is AWESOME for distant, hands-free camera focusing), or send pictures from my phone to my camera (although I still have no idea why one would want to do that.) The smart camera aspects were not a huge draw for me before buying but it’s improved the speed of my work so much that I won’t forfeit these capabilities in any future equipment upgrades.
KNOWLEDGE: I didn’t realize how much my education would help in my blogging/vlogging adventures until I got started. Editing video or writing content requires far more time to create than consume and it’s so tempting to get sloppy with the little details. My classroom knowledge has not only helped me know what those little details are but also to push through and give each project it’s due time and effort. I still have a lot to learn, especially in the self-marketing aspect, but I plan to gradually work on that with YouTube Creator Academy, a channel created by YouTube to help new (or old!) users make the most of their channel’s reach. I also highly recommend mining YouTube for short but concise lessons on framing, proper editing techniques, composition, etc. While it’s not the equivalent of a Bachelor’s, I have learned so many random skills outside of photo and videos with just the aid of helpful YouTube videos. And who knows, maybe you’ll be that person for someone else one day!
Hopefully this long-winded and image-heavy post covered all the basics of the tools and methods I use while creating multimedia for Work Hard Stay Humble Co. What equipment do you prefer? Would you want to see a video demonstrating my process from beginning to end? Any suggestions for me or other readers? Let me know in the comments below.
Be kind. Live authentically. Practice gratitude. Hustle daily. Work hard. Stay humble.
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