By Craig Chee | From the Fall 2016 issue of Ukulele
The ukulele has to be one of the most social instruments ever made. The little ukulele is bursting with personality and is just begging to be shared, which has made it the perfect instrument for sharing videos online. From webcams to smartphones, DSLRs to proper camcorders, sharing music has never been easier. Whether you’re working on a project with others, playing a song for a loved one, or just showing off your newest instrument, there are many ways to get your stuff up online.
Before I started teaching and performing on ukulele, I studied photography and videography and these are a few of the most important tips I learned to help you look (and sound) your best in your videos.
One of the biggest elements in recording is light. Cameras crave as much light as you can give them, so the rule of thumb is the more the better! More light = faster shutter speeds = better-looking videos.
If you only have one light source, our goal is to get a nice, soft light. Picture warm sunlight, gently coming in from a sheer window curtain, versus standing outside on the lawn with the hot sun beaming directly on you.
A light angled on you from the front will give a nice dynamic look (as well as lower the chance for harsh reflections from the uke if the light is directly in front of you), but having the light come too much from the side can cause distracting shadows. To get a softer light from just one source, try bouncing the light off the wall or ceiling in front of you.
If you can set up more than one light, a light set in front of you and one on each side can also help ensure that you are nicely lit. In addition to the one in front of you, a light set 45 degrees on each side will prove to be a very good starting point on balancing everything out. For the more creative types, having many lights to help manipulate the background can be fun and rewarding. You can highlight different elements around you, such as prized ukuleles behind you or your pet in the corner.
TIP: WATCH THOSE REFLECTIONS!
Take a few minutes to see if you can spot any reflections from your instrument, glasses, or any other distractions in the background. A quick rotation of objects (or even just moving them) will help keep the focus on you!
Anyone who has tried to do selfies with their phone, knows that the camera angle can change everything. The same applies to videos. Typically, you will want the camera to be at eye level or just a bit higher. This will put the focus on you and your beautiful face!
Fill the frame! Unless you really want a lot of the background in the frame (like if you’re recording at a beautiful location), try to fill the frame with the main subject: you and your ukulele! Just like with your song arrangements, be as deliberate as possible. If something is in the frame or background, make sure it’s there on purpose.
TIP: CONTRAST HELPS!
If you have darker hair, like me, a light or white background will help make you pop out of the background!
CAMERA & MICROPHONE
Although the camera and microphone in most smartphones and tablets can capture a great performance, you will find more options and functionality by upgrading to a webcam and USB microphone. Most webcams have a nice wide-angle lens attached, which will give you a better starting point than the restrictive lenses found on many smartphones. You’ll have better footage to manipulate if you want to explore different editing software in the future. With the dedicated microphone you’ll also have a much better tone for your singing and/or playing. For Zoom lessons, in particular, this can make an enormous difference.
Don’t forget that if you’re singing and playing, the uke is there to help accompany your voice, not to fight it! Keep track of where your mic is, as you might have to adjust how you play depending on where the mic’s focus is. We have a tendency to play louder than we sing, so make sure you either have the mic closer to your face or adjust your playing to help balance things out.
TIP: WATCH YOUR LEVELS!
Most recording programs have the microphone set on auto-gain so you don’t have to worry about controlling levels. But, this means you have to be aware that if you have loud sections in the video, you need to watch those peaks, as it will sound distorted if the differences in sound levels are too great in a very short period of time.
LIGHT(S), CAMERA, ACTION!
Now that you’re all set to record, it’s time to share a few tips for your performance. The most important piece of advice I can share is this: Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. When I first started making videos, I was so stressed about making the perfect take, that I looked grumpy and stressed throughout the whole video. Strive for a great take and rest assured that you are building a lot of experience every time you go through a take. Even if you make a small mistake, try to go through the entire song. The rest of your performance on that take might be really good and the small mistake might have even put you more at ease. Plus you’ll have some great outtake footage if you end up cracking yourself up!
Eye contact is good while performing and good while shooting video, so try to line your camera up as close to the area of the screen you’ll be watching yourself from. It will help make it look like you’re staring at the camera even if you’re watching yourself. Seasoned video makers will center their eye contact on the camera itself instead of constantly watching themselves.
Now that you know some of the basics, have fun! Your energy can be felt both onscreen and through the speakers! Your audience is rooting for you!
TIP: DON’T MISS IT!
Practice recording yourself with the intention of deleting it after. There are so many times that I wish I recorded the “practice” take… Since we can delete unwanted footage rather quickly, don’t be afraid to record everything!
TOOLS FOR SIMPLE EDITING & UPLOADING
Mac (QuickTime) and PC (Windows Movie Maker) users have free programs that can help trim the beginning and ends of your video. You can either export them in a YouTube-friendly file and upload them to your channel, or you can quickly edit and upload directly from your smartphone or tablet. I could dive into the more complicated editing, but we’ll save that for another time!
Basic Tools of the Trade
- Smartphone/tablet with small tripod or stand
- Desk or floor lamps
- Soft boxes for lights
- USB microphone