Scott Hanselman

Making YouTube videos look sharp and professional on a budget

July 23, 2016 Comment on this post [21] Posted in Musings
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My team is doing some videos to show off some features in Visual Studio. Most of my videos or YouTubes are screencasts so the video quality of the people parts aren't a huge deal. I REALLY try to make my audio sound good but I've been somewhat lax on the video side, usually just using a webcam. While the Logitech 930e is amazing as webcams go, it's not really "pro." It looks good but it still looks and feels like a webcam in both field of view and depth of field.


I went looking for videos that had the look and feel I wanted and asked those folks that I admired how they did it.

I always love the way my friend Chescaleigh's YouTube videos look. They are clear and in focus, with amazing lighting and the background is "blown." That means there is a shallow depth of field with just Franchesca in focus and the background is a somewhat blurry.

Franchesca's videos are very professional

Franchesca pointed me to the Canon T3i DSLR HD camera. This is not just a nice still camera but also a very competent HD Video Camera that puts out fantastic 1080p video directly to an SD Card along with the ability to use alternate lenses. It also has options you can add on later like a remote control for focusing and starting/stopping recording.

The trick with the T3i is that it's a little older and you can find them for as little as $200-$250 on Craigslist. I've seen them cheap on Amazon as well. That makes them reasonable for a budget but again, the results look AMAZING.

I also love this video by Rachel Weil doing an overview Visual Studio Code. She steps it up with an interesting background and razor sharp focus. Her audio is also fantastic.

Rachel adds this Canon EF 50mm lens to her Canon DSLR to get a really tight focus. I haven't bought this lens yet but it's on my Amazon wishlist for the future.

Rachel's video is top notch

Good audio is so important. I tried cheap lavaliere microphones but I find I get the best results with a condenser mic held just out of frame. I like the Samson C01U but you can get decent USB Mics for <$50. Record your video and audio in separate files, and before you start talking *CLAP* very loud to make a spike in your audio, then you can line up your audio and video/audio files in your editor like iMovie or Movie Maker. Then mute the audio in your main audio/video file so you'll be hearing the high quality audio from your good mic and the high quality video from your camera.

Lining up video and audio

Finally, you need GOOD LIGHTING. ZOMG it matters so much. Even if you ignore all these tips and just use a webcam, get a nice light. Maria from my team recommended this CowboyStudio Dual Mount Brackets to let me mount a mic and lights to my camera, then I picked up this FANTASTIC 160 LED Power Panel. It's perfect because it's dimmable and includes color filters for getting different color temperatures or a diffuse effect.


I feel like the result is very close to the look I wanted and looks much more professional given a reasonable budget. Again, if you keep your equipment module (mic, camera, lenses, stands, lights, etc) you can improve your setup, as I have, as you have the cash.


How do YOU make videos that look sharp? Let me know in the comments.

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About Scott

Scott Hanselman is a former professor, former Chief Architect in finance, now speaker, consultant, father, diabetic, and Microsoft employee. He is a failed stand-up comic, a cornrower, and a book author.

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July 23, 2016 6:18
Do you have to do, like, makeup before you start streaming?
July 23, 2016 13:58
Scott, what software do you use for your audio and video editing?
July 23, 2016 22:10
Take a look on these tips Scott! An amazing effect with few adjusts!
July 24, 2016 1:48
At risk of being a video nerd (my previous career before getting into the softwares), there's one more thing that you can do cheap I think makes for a better image of a talking head. Get a backlight. The depth it adds makes a huge difference. Seriously, watch any newscast or movie, and look carefully at the way the light lands on people. You will always see light coming from behind, up high, even when they're shooting outside. The shallow depth of field you get from a DSLR already helps the human pop and separate from the background, but backlighting gives the person depth. You can use a clip-on light on a door, or ceiling fan or whatever. If you have track lighting or something otherwise directional already on the ceiling, point it at the back of your head.
July 24, 2016 2:33
How would you get live video with such setup? Im interested in the same idea.
July 24, 2016 8:49
Great post - what about software?
July 24, 2016 9:43
In your case and in my opinion:

Sound hardware seems [Ok] for you.

Light conditions of the room seems [Ok] (could be better, but it seems that is not the problem).
In other case, here you can use a lot of alternatives to improve the image and light conditions:
You can use a Softbox Diffuser too with a flash.
For example:
And more...

Image [KO] (a DSLR rocks, but I recommend you use good filters with your lens, prepare the camera settings in manual, tripod to stabilize the image, etc)
A good action camera is another alternative too, but a DSLR offers you more alternatives and flexibility.
In video, my Canon 7D is awesome for me... other people could be another hardware... depends on each one... :D

Lens: The 50 1.8 is great, however I have a 50 1.4, is a little bit more expensive, but the aperture is better, but the difference between both lens is very close.
Remember that to use a 50mm lens, you will need space between the camera and you.
The bokeh of the 50mm is great!
A wide-angle lens could be better and there are good alternatives too.
My favourite is the Tokina 11-16. Expensive, about 450$, but for me is awesome.

Video Post Production Editor [No idea what you are using] (here, is important the Software and the post-production actions, etc, but is not the most important. If the image has low quality or is bad, the video editor can not do miracles)

As in our profession, you can improve the results experimenting with different alternatives.
In your case doing focus with the scene and the normal conditions in the room.
The conditions of light, etc., in your room change the best expererience and all tips that we can give you here, could be valid or not, but I hope that my comments help you to take the best decision.
July 24, 2016 11:36
Have you run into any problems with the video length. If I remember right the T3i can only record up to about 20 mins of video. Before it switches to a new video file. Is this a problem for your recordings or not?
July 24, 2016 12:46
Sadly there doesn't appear to be any filter that can assist with turning my ugly mug into something that people would like to watch...
July 24, 2016 14:35
@steve woods,
To spare my audience from my ugly mug, I kept my cellphone camera away from my face and focus on the topic at hand. Yes, all my recent videos were shot on my Samsung S6 (mostly using the built-in mic). It is amazing what cellphones can do these days...
July 24, 2016 20:09
You could also pickup a microphone for the Canon camera. I use a Rode mic and it picks up everything. You can adjust the levels in the camera settings or you can have to automatically adjust for you. This will save the audio right into your video file so you don't have to merge it together later. The Rode mics range from $99 to $199 but you can get other brands cheaper.

This is the one I use. Has a few extra settings to customize the audio levels.
July 24, 2016 21:56
Jeff Putz's comment about back-lighting is spot-on. I was going to mention it until I realized he beat me to it! Proper lighting goes a long, long way in changing "pretty good" to "really awesome."
July 25, 2016 19:12
Aren't there turnkey solutions?
July 25, 2016 19:16
I took some traditional and 3d animation courses while earning my CS degree. Understanding the basics of lighting can turn an okay scene into a great scene, not only for filming a blog or movie shot, but also when using 3d rendering software. My instructor showed us this quick YouTube video which lays out using key, fill, and back lights and it's served me well since then. Very worth the watch:
July 26, 2016 17:20
Don't put your head in the middle of the frame. The top of your head must almost touch the top of the frame (see your other samples)
July 26, 2016 21:18
Can you recommend software for capturing the screen, especially the pointer moving around the screen, in a very clear and fluid way?
July 26, 2016 22:51
If you're going to buy a nice camera for a webcam replacement don't get a DSLR. Get an entry level mirrorless camera with the absolutely critical feature of 'clean HDMI out'. This means you can get a beautiful uncompressed HDMI output from the cam just like a video camera. Feed this into an HDMI capture device (I love the Magewell X1000-USB) and you can record or even live stream great video all day long.

I personally use a Sony A6000 and 20mm F2.8 prime lens to great effect for multiple live streams each week--can see them here:

Almost no DSLR has this clean HDMI out feature because they have to hold a giant heavy glass prism out of the way of the sensor with a solenoid and can only do it for so long before overheating or shutting down (also why DSLRs typically can't record video > 20 mins). Mirrorless cams can generally record for hours and hours without any trouble.

For audio I setup a Rode NTG2 shotgun mic and love it a lot more than messing with lavaliers, etc. Also nice to be able to mount it above pointing down rather than on desk taking up space.

All that said though if you're just getting started don't drop a ton of money on equipment until you are serious about it. Just a nice Logitech webcam (C920, etc) and good USB condenser mic will work great. Put some effort into lighting and you'll be amazed at the results like Scott mentions.
July 26, 2016 22:55
Also be careful a 50mm prime on a Canon Rebel (1.6x crop) is going to be more like an 80mm lens which is pretty far for a webcam style headshot. You're going to need the camera a few feet behind the monitor to just capture your head. Look for a 20-30mm prime and try to get one that focuses close (< 12 inches) or even is a macro.
August 01, 2016 10:16
Great comments, friends!

For screencasts I'm using Camtasia for everything.
August 08, 2016 18:07
What software do you use for editing?
August 08, 2016 22:51
Thanks for the post!
Above all the technique and lights stands a really tough job, but when you do this every time - you should get used to this.
I am still reading posts like how to rotate a video on iphone 6 and for now things you are trying to explain here are too hard for me and my blogging.

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed herein are my own personal opinions and do not represent my employer's view in any way.