We shoot a lot of video. We’ve picked up several tips while doing so that we think you’ll find useful. Recording interviews over the Web can be challenging, but with the right setup, you and your associates will be capturing great looking footage in no time.
Here’s our step-by-step guide–developed by our very own media producer Paul Whitener–to capturing great Web video interviews.
Making the Call
We recommend Skype to conduct group interviews on the web. When configured properly, Skype can be used to capture high quality video footage of group video calls and provide standard video files of each participant’s camera in a format ready to edit or post on the web.
Skype is free and available for both Windows and Mac.
You can use the free version of Skype to video call with one other person. To host video calls of three or more you’ll need to upgrade to Skype Premium. Prices start at $4.49 per month.
Recording an Interview in Skype
There are a few things you (and your guests) will need to ensure in order to capture high-quality group video calls.
- Each participant needs a computer with at least a 1 GHz processor, and connected to a high-speed broadband connection with an upload/download speed of at least 1.5Mbps. Note, you will need more bandwidth to host high-quality calls with more than two people.
- If you’re using a PC, we highly recommend running Windows 7 or 8.
- Unless you have a new Macintosh with a built-in FaceTime HD camera, we also recommend a webcam capable of capturing HD video. More information is in the “Camera” section below.
- Finally, to capture your video call through Skype, you’ll need to purchase and install an “app” in order to record video as Skype does not offer this feature yet. We recommend SuperTintin for Windows ($29.95), and ecamm Call Recorder for Mac ($19.95). While several apps for Windows can record calls in HD, there aren’t any available for Mac at this time.
Setting Up Your Studio
For Skype video calling you’ll be sitting at a computer while engaging your colleagues. This is an easy shot to get wrong, but we have suggestions to help you get good looking–and sounding–footage. Think about your shooting area as a studio and consider its various components: the camera, microphone, background, and lighting, and how you will account for each.
You need a webcam connected to your computer to participate in video calls in Skype. While most notebooks have webcams built-in, most of them are low quality. With the technology moving towards high definition video, we recommend using a webcam that’s capable of shooting in HD.
Newer Apple notebooks with the FaceTime camera can shoot HD out of the box. In other cases, we like two Logitech cameras as they shoot good looking video in most lighting conditions and record decent audio as well: the Logitech HD Pro Webcam C920 ($70) for Windows and the Logitech HD Pro Webcam C910 ($110) for Mac.
Like webcams, most microphones built into notebook computers are of poor quality. You have several options for improvement here:
- Many higher quality webcams, like the Logitech models we recommend above, can also capture decent sound. We recommend selecting a model with dual mics as this two-microphone placement works best for video calls.
- USB microphones, like the one shown below, easily connect to your computer and Skype and exponentially improve your sound quality. We like Blue Microphone’s Snowball ($68) as it offers great sound for price, or you can upgrade to their Yeti ($106) for even higher quality sound.
- Headsets or lavalier (lapel) mics can also capture high quality sound, however they will likely appear in your shot and can be more difficult to configure for Skype than the examples mentioned above.
Background & Setting
You want to select a private space with as little background noise and other distractions as possible. Access to filtered, natural light can also benefit your picture quality.
You also want to consider what will be behind you on-camera. If you have access to an interesting space, featuring it behind you can create a unique setting for your videos. For many of us, a backdrop (similar to what you’ve seen in a photo studio) is preferred as it provides a neutral, recreatable background.
We like to use a white backdrop for a clean, modern look. Other colors like grey or blue can work well too, but avoid patterns or textures. Backdrops can be purchased individually for around $40, but if you’re interested in using a backdrop we recommend purchasing a kit like the Cowboystudio Triple Lighting with Backdrop Kit ($160) which contains backdrops, a stand, and three lamps to light the backdrop.
If you purchase a new backdrop it will often contain several creases and wrinkles when hung for the first time. Use a fabric steamer to relax the fabric to achieve a smooth backdrop. The Conair Gs33r Compact Fabric Steamer ($30) is inexpensive and works well in our studio.
Bright, even lighting is your primary objective. As these samples below demonstrate, relying on room light alone results in footage that is under lit (top). The picture becomes muddy, the colors dull, and there are strong shadows on the figure’s face.
We use two small desk lamps ($23 each) with copy paper diffusers to light our foreground, and a three piece lighting kit to light our backdrop (see diagram below). While a backdrop is optional we feel that a few inexpensive lamps to provide additional foreground light where needed are indispensable.
If you have space or a need for a full lighting kit, the Cowboystudio Triple Lighting Kit ($60) is a reliable kit which will provide plenty of diffused light for you to work with.
Another note about lighting: when on our call we also like to dim our monitor as much as possible so we can still see our guests while creating as little light as possible. Light off the computer screen doesn’t photograph well and should be avoided on the face as much as possible.
Use Skype to preview your shot (#1) and adjust your lighting as needed. You’re looking to evenly light your face. The main light (#2) is your primary light source, while the fill light (#3) comes from the other direction, generally less intense, to bring down the shadows created by the main light.
Two desk lamps ($23 each) with copy paper taped in front of them to act as diffusers (as shown below) are highly effective at providing additional soft light for your webcam, just keep an eye on heat. You may need up to three back lights (#4) to light your backdrop (#5). Other backgrounds can be used but avoid too much activity as it can negatively impact video quality.
Framing Your Shot
For interviews, you’ll probably want to stick with one of the two framing options below; either centering yourself in the frame (left) or follow the “rule of thirds” (right).
Web Interview Checklist
To wrap this up, here is a quick checklist you should review before punching record and going on-air:
- Find a quiet, private space to record your interview
- Get your computer running Skype and your Skype recording software
- Make sure you have fast internet and an HD webcam
- Turn off your phone(s)
- Put on solid colored clothing that is business appropriate and contrasts with your background
- Last, but not least, lock up nearby pets