As you learn how to play an instrument, it’s exciting to show your progress to your friends. But you don’t need a Hollywood studio full of equipment to capture your best self. You can create a wonderful video with just your instrument and your phone. There are three areas where a little planning and thoughtfulness will immediately improve the quality of your videos: setting up your shot, lighting, and audio. Here are a few simple tips to help you get started.
It’s as simple as pressing record
You don’t need an expensive camera to film. In fact, you can use the camera on your laptop or your phone. There are inexpensive phone tripods, or in a pinch, a stack of books can act as a stand. Having a steady platform to line up your shots is key to producing quality work. Though you may not be creating your videos for other people to learn from, a lot of people will be looking for that online, so keep that in mind while you are creating your video. This is important when you think about framing your shot. When I’m playing my ukulele (but this can apply to any stringed instrument), I set up the camera so my face and as much of my uke is in frame as possible. Your viewers will look at your hands to see how you play chords, and what the strumming pattern is. When I first started recording, I only included my hand playing the chords. I got tons of messages asking what the strumming pattern was because people couldn’t figure it out just from the sound. I could have solved that by framing my video right!
With an instrument like a piano, you should set up your camera at a higher angle to ensure you can show off both your playing and your singing in the video. If you are only playing, an overhead shot focused on the keyboard, would allow viewers to see exactly what you are playing as you play it. When you set up, you also want to figure out where you’re going to publish your video. If you are putting it on Instagram and YouTube, you may want to center yourself so the video works both as a square and as a landscape video.
Putting you in your best light
When you set up for filming, select a background that’s not too distracting. Set your camera up as close as you need to for the right framing so you don’t need to zoom. Also give as much space between you and the background as possible to give depth to your video. This ensures it doesn’t look flat and uninteresting. All of these choices will give your video a more professional feel.
Set up with your light source in mind. I try to use as much natural light as possible as it makes your skin tone look more natural. If you can use natural light, make sure the sun is shining toward you with the window off camera, and never behind you. If the sunlight is too bright or too direct, it can blow out your features. If that’s happening, then close the curtains and set up some alternate lighting. Most simple camera set-ups use three point lighting. You can use this if there is no natural light that you can use. Essentially you have one light focused directly at you (key light). Then you have a light on either side of you – one to the right and one to the left. One will focus on the side of your face (fill light). This helps eliminate hard shadows across your face. The other will be focused a little more to the back of your head (backlight) but it’s never directly behind you or shining into the camera. This helps you stick out from the background.
If you don’t have a professional lighting set up, lamps are a great alternative. Make sure the lights aren’t too close to you, or you’ll be too bright, and you’ll create hard shadows on your face and the wall behind you. The further away you can place the lamps, the more diffused the light will be, which gives you a softer and more natural feel to your set up.
Sound is key
When it comes to recording sound, that’s where I invest a little money. I’ll stress that you don’t need to buy anything, but you can up the quality of your videos with good sound.
When you’re performing live, you can record your sound and video with the same device instead of trying to sync video and sound later. If you are recording via your computer, there are mics you can plug into a USB port. You can place these directly in front of you as you record. As I don’t want the mic blocking my instrument, or me, I use a Rode shotgun mic on my DSLR and there are similar mics you can get for your smartphone.
For those who are singing, you can use a pop shield to help eliminate some of the hard P sounds. You can build a DIY pop shield really easily out of materials you likely have at home already. To minimize set up, I use a foam windscreen on my mic which helps do the same thing. After you have everything ready to go, all you have to do is press record. Remember to have fun, and know that it’s easy to start again if you make a mistake. No one has to know how many takes it took to get your best version.
When you’re done, any video recorded on your phone or computer will be ready to upload to YouTube or Instagram. You can also edit directly on your phone with free editing software if you want to create any intros or outros to go along with your song. There are lots of online lists that can help you find the best software for you. Happy filming!