Tips for Online Video

I made a video episode for the Grammar Girl podcast this week, and it was quite an ordeal, which is why the show came out two days late. I learned a lot along the way, so I thought I’d share it with you here.

I’m posting the first less-than-adequate video I made (which was about the third take), and the final product (which was the fifth take, and which we shot and edited after getting some sage advice from Trent Armstrong–Modern Manners Guy, but more importantly for this story, video guy extraordinaire).

Find Trent Armstrong at these locations:

As an aside, if you care about the content of the videos (how to organize a book), you’ll learn slightly different things by watching both videos. I didn’t use a script so there are a few non-overlapping tidbits.

Both videos were filmed with a Canon GL2 camera.

The “Bad” Video


We shot this one during the day, using one 500 watt halogen worklight pointed almost straight at me, a bright incandescent light hitting me from the side, and light from the windows hitting from the other side of the room. We turned on various other lamps throughout the room for good measure. Apparently the color of the electric lights doesn’t mix well with the blue light from the windows, and we had them positioned wrong.

Tripod & Mic

We shot without a tripod (which made the video shaky), and I pointed to things on the wall as the camera moved to them (which made the section slow and dizzying). I used an inexpensive wireless lapel mic.

Editing and Compressing

In editing, I covered up pauses or breaks with iMovie HD transitions, and “shared” the file with iMovie HD QuickTime settings. The final version looks 100x worse than what I saw in iMovie while I was editing. I was shocked by how pixelated it was. (The player here seems to be making it tiny instead of making it bigger and pixelated like QuickTime did when I just plugged the link into my browser.)

The Better Video


Trent gave us great advice about how to deal with the lighting. We waited until dark to film so there wouldn’t be light from the windows, we positioned the lights a foot or two higher than my head, and we had the brighter light hitting me from the right at an angle (my right, as I was being filmed) and the bright incandescent light hitting me from the same angle on the left.

Trent also recommended that I stand farther from the wall to eliminate shadows.

Tripod and Mic

We shot with a tripod to make the film more steady. (Unfortunately, I was sitting on an exercise ball while we filmed and I’m bouncing a tiny bit, so it’s just unsteady in a different way. Next time I’ll use a real chair!)

I broke down and bought a better mic: a Shure PGX omnidirectional wireless lavalier mic. It sounds a lot better, but in my opinion, not as good as it should for how much I spent on the darn thing, so I’m going to take it back and try a cardoid mic.


I did a lot more with still shots to make the part go faster where I was pointing to things and having the camera follow me in the “bad” video.

I still did the main editing in iMovie HD because I know how to use it better, but I transferred the file to iMovie 08 so I could use a cropping technique Trent recommended to make the transitions look more professional.


I “shared” the video from iMovie 08 using QuickTime settings that would give me the biggest video possible, and then used a program Trent recommended called VisualHub (which is now only available as open source code) to compress the file down to 360 x 240. (Using a different compression program made a huge difference, perhaps the biggest difference of all the things I’ve mentioned.)

Compression took forever (OK, about 30 to 40 minutes each time), so make sure you are completely finished editing before you compress. I had a stray audio file at the end of my movie the first time I compressed, so that long wait was wasted and I had to do it again after 30 seconds of additional editing. Also, about half way through I realized that iMovie would work faster if I shut down all the programs I had running in the background that I wasn’t using but that were taking up processing power. Duh!


When we first started, I had a really hard time remembering what I wanted to say. I posted an outline on the wall, but it was obvious I was glancing away at something. (I didn’t keep the early takes, so you won’t see this in the “bad” video.)

By the time we did the final take, it was much easier for me to remember the main points, but to me it feels as if I wasn’t as animated. I don’t think I smiled as much or talked with as much energy as in the earlier video. In fact, I think I look exhausted in the “good” video. I guess that’s what days of fighting with video will do to a girl!

Now that I have these great tips from Trent, I’m hoping it will be easier next time.

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