How to film a high-quality YouTube video without a production team

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Filming a YouTube video is easy – essentially all you need to do is just grab the closest camera and press record. But if you want to film a good video that people will enjoy watching and makes them want to stick around for more… there’s a little more to it.

Back in the earlier days of YouTube, expectations of quality were low. Webcam footage was the norm and editing was minimal. Now, however, the YouTube audience expects a video of similar quality to a Netflix show when they click play! That’s a lot to live up to for a creator.

But luckily as audience expectations have risen, so too has the ease and accessibility of high-quality cameras and editing tools. You can achieve a professional-looking video on your own, without a full Netflix production team, and you might just have all the equipment you need already. Perhaps it’s even the device you’re reading this on…

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I’ve been making videos on YouTube for nearly seven years now (with varying degrees of quality) and in that time I’ve learned a lot about what matters when filming a video, and what doesn't. Let me give you some pointers on what to be aware of when you film your next YouTube video so you can make sure you’re focussing on the right things.

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The three ingredients of a high-quality YouTube video

A good video needs three things:

  • A well-lit, well-composed shot
  • Clear audio
  • An engaging presenter

When creating, you should be aiming to strike a balance between these three things.

They’re all equally important when it comes to how your viewer will perceive the quality of your content. A good-looking video with terrible sound will be too hard to understand, and you could be the most knowledgeable person in the world about your subject matter, but if your video feed is badly-lit a potential subscriber is going to find it hard to see and connect with you.

Here’s what to do to hit that sweet spot.

Filming beautiful footage

Let’s start with the first thing people will notice about your video: the way it looks. Getting good video footage is actually less about using a fancy camera and more about lighting and framing.

Lighting

If studio lights aren’t part of your equipment setup, make sure you film in a room with lots of natural light. You don’t want sunshine streaming through a window and casting harsh shadows. When the sun isn’t shining in directly, filming in front of a window is the best way to ensure you’re well-lit.

Framing

Compose your video shot just as you would a photo. Pay attention not only to where you are in the frame, but what’s in the background too. When you’re filming yourself, it’s really easy to get a little narcissistic and focus only on our face when you’re setting up a shot. But the background matters too. It should be tidy (so check you’ve put the laundry away…) and add something to the aesthetic of the shot. Ditch the plain white wall background, it’s boring!

I like to film in my office in front of my gallery wall. There’s a lot going on in the art, but because I use a camera lens with a short depth of field the background blurs nicely and isn’t distracting.

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Recording clear audio

Bad audio is distracting. You want your viewer to be paying attention to what you’re saying, not wondering if that static they’re hearing is your air conditioner or a tap running in the background. Unless you’re an audio expert, this stuff is hard to fix in an edit. So you want to get it right when you’re filming.

It’s a good idea to invest in a microphone (we’ve collated a range of budget-friendly suggestions in this guide). You generally want to place it very close to you so that it will reduce echo and pick up what you’re saying clearly.

A mistake I see people making a lot when using a microphone is placing it three feet away from them next to the camera when they film. It’s much better to prop it in front of you on a desk or tabletop.

Whether you have a microphone or not, filming in a room with lots of soft furnishings (think curtains, cushions, rugs etc) will help to reduce echo. Oh, and turn the AC off while you film!

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How to be engaging on camera

The last element that makes up a good video: you! Or more specifically, your wonderful personality. The last thing you want, after putting effort into the framing and sound of your video, is to come across as boring on camera.

A timid presenter speaking in a monotone voice will make people click away from your video fast, no matter how professional your footage looks. To engage your audience and make them want to pay attention to your video, you need to be animated and let your personality shine through.

The single best thing you can do to ensure you come across well on camera, is to prepare what you’re going to talk about in advance. Being prepared will help you feel more confident, and will mean you can focus on how you deliver your message instead of putting all your attention on what to say next.

Think about your audience as you film and try to remember you’re not just talking to a camera, you’re talking to a real human who will be watching your video on the other side of the screen. Speak to them as you would if you met them in person at an event.

You’re bound to feel awkward filming videos at first (it’s a rite of passage for every YouTuber!), but with practice, you can be your true self on camera. The more you film, the faster you’ll get to that point.

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12 steps to shoot a YouTube video

The most important thing I’ve learned about filming a YouTube video is to give myself time. I’ve never created a video that I’m proud of in a rush.

So, plan a time to record then work through these steps:

  1. Set up your equipment: Check your camera/phone battery is full and that it’s set up nice and sturdy on a tripod (or a stack of books if you don’t own one of those) so it will stay steady as you film. If you’re using a microphone, ensure it’s plugged in and switched on.
  2. Test everything is working: Never assume that just because this same setup worked perfectly last time, you can just hit record without a care in the world this time. Always film a test clip. Just a few seconds so you can review it and check you’re happy with how it looks and sounds.
  3. Review your notes: Skim through what you’ve prepared to speak about. You don’t need to write a script or learn lines, but your filming process will go much smoother if you at least have a rough outline of what you want to say.
  4. Take a few deep breaths: Get yourself ready to be on camera and let your personality shine through as you talk.
  5. Hit record: Take a moment to make sure all the right red lights are on.
  6. Smile and start talking: It’s always nice when the first frame of your video starts with a smile!
  7. Look straight into the lens: I know you’re beautiful, but be conscious of looking into the camera as you film, rather than at yourself on screen. It’s super distracting for your viewers when you do that.
  8. If you mess up, start the sentence over: Remember, videos can (and should) be edited! So you don’t have to stop recording or start the whole video again if you stumble over a word or say the wrong thing. Take a breath, think about what you intended to say, then get right back into it. When you cut out your mistakes in the edit, your audience will never know they happened.
  9. Do a few takes: Give yourself options! If there’s a part in your video you’re not 100% sure about, try saying it a few different ways. You can pick the best version in the editing process. (I always record at least two different intros and outros to pick from.)
  10. Pose for a thumbnail: When you’re done filming, take a few seconds to capture the image for your video thumbnail. You can do this by taking self-timer photos, or just keep the camera rolling as you pose and you can export the frame you like later on.
  11. Check the footage, again: Scrub through the footage you just recorded. Are you happy with it? It’s better to find out now if there’s anything that needed tweaking rather than when you sit down to edit.
  12. Save the files: There’s nothing more frustrating than accidentally formatting a memory card and erasing footage from a video you haven’t edited yet! As soon as you’re done filming, save your footage to your computer or hard-drive to avoid memory card mishaps.

Figuring out your own filming style

The more videos you make, the more you’ll begin to add your own personal steps to the recording process. Me? I like to get my camera set up then go do my hair and makeup while running through the points I want to cover in the video in my head. And I always feel more confident filming when it’s a good-hair day.

You might like to try batch-filming two to three videos in a session to make the most of your setup time. Or maybe you’ll discover you’re at your best presenting when you practice in front of the mirror first! Try things out and make refinements to this base process I’ve shared here to form your own way of filming. Every YouTuber does things a little differently.

Here’s some words of wisdom from other YouTubers on how to film a video:

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The way I make videos is pretty simple: I write the script during the week (1 hour a day) and record/edit at the weekend. I’m still trying to figure out my style but I think that in each video I reveal my real personality a step at a time. My goal is to look at the camera as if I was looking at my best friend and be myself, the real me…and say goodbye to all the cringe!
Sara Brunettini, UX Design YouTuber

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I’m trying not to get hung up on “perfection” and instead focusing on putting content out, learning what is getting views/engagement, learning what I actually enjoy making, and then tweaking and improving from there. Progress over perfection and all that!
Kelly Jepsen, Gaming YouTuber

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The greatest challenge for me was learning the balance between script and delivery. The more detailed the script, the harder it is to deliver it naturally. The less detailed the script, the harder it is to deliver the exact message you want to.
Raymond Stone, Design YouTuber

  1. Be yourself – everyone else is already taken. Don't be a copy of the “big” YouTubers. Viewers will connect with you.
  2. Really flesh out the viewer avatar so when you film ask – will my avatar watch this?
  3. No perfection – you can always improve so upload, learn, and adapt.
    Liron Segev, Tech YouTuber

If there’s one thing you take away from this article, let it be that you don’t need to be a video professional to make professional-looking videos. You’re a video-production team-of-one, and you’ve got this.

How to connect with your YouTube subscribers

As more viewers begin to see your unique style and connect with who you are as a creator, you need to make sure you can connect with them outside of YouTube. Instead of relying on YouTube to send notifications to your channel subscribers when you upload a new video, you need a way communicate with those subscribers as well as other causal viewers like your social media followers. And email is best way to do that.

When your viewers sign up to your email list, they've given you permission to send them content directly to their inbox- and that's pretty special. People are more and more careful about who they send their email address too, so when it happens, that means you can talk directly to them, free of ads and algorithms. You can pitch them ideas, ask them for feedback, share more of your expertise- it's truly the best way to build a relationship with your audience.

But how do you get your YouTube subscribers to your email list? A landing page.

Adding a landing page link to your video descriptions, channel info or even  your Instagram bio is the easiest way to give your audience a focused step to take to join your email list. And with ConvertKit, building a landing page is fast, easy and FREE! You can create a free ConvertKit account today and in a few minutes have a landing page ready to send your YouTube subscribers to your email list.

Check out this video to learn how to build a landing page in 4 simple steps.

Connect with your audience

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Charli Prangley

Charli is a designer from New Zealand currently living and loving life in London. She’s passionate about side projects and when she’s not designing at ConvertKit she's running an online store, and creating content for her design-centric YouTube channel and podcast with the aim of helping out young creatives.

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