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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9 Responses to Tips for Online Video

  1. Wolfy says:

    I use QuicktimePro for final compression for web and podcasts. It gives me a REALLY good looking small file. It has an export for web option that allows for 2 iPhone files, one for syncing with iTunes and one for viewing over a phone line, and a desktop version that is a little bigger.

    I’ve started to try to organize my to-to lists, which aren’t as big as a book, but are less than fun, by writing them on my HUGE whiteboard in my office and then taking pictures of it using the Evernote iPhone app. The photos sync across all my computers and the web, and the software actually recognizes the text (sometimes) but it lets me search for the content rather than look for it. Also I haven’t yet found a way to sync a whiteboard across multiple offices. I have the same problem with paper…

    Great job on the video!


  2. Glenn Murray says:

    Nice post, Mignon. I feel your pain. And I’ve been thinking about posting my solutions in the same way.

    I was lucky enough to be advised by Bill Harper (

    I found the best results came from filming during the day with a big window on one side with light streaming in. I tested countless combinations of worklights, etc., and the sunlight worked heaps better. (Compare vid 1 (shot at night with worklights): against vid 2 (shot during the day with just sunlight):

    I had the camcorder (Canon HG20) set to its Snow setting, with Exposure 0. I then changed the settings in Premiere to Brightness 5, Contrast 100, Hue 5, Saturation 105.

    I use Adobe Premiere Elements for editing and rendering. And I used this instruction to deliver the best output:

    I still find my YouTube SD version isn’t ideal, but HD on both YouTube and Vimeo is great.

    I use a Canon HG20 HD camcorder, and a canon shotgun mike that plugs in the camcorder’s shoe. I also used a tripod. (In the first vid, I was in a tiled room, close to the wall. In the second – the sunny one – I was in a room with a concrete floor, and I was further away from the wall.)

    BTW, I thought your audio sounded great in your second clip.

    Glenn Murray

  3. Podchef says:

    Both videos were really pretty good. The first could have been saved by a better render out of Quicktime. I save out of iMovie or Final Cut Express as a full size .mov file and then use the free MPEG Streamclip to compress down to a variety of sizes. I like MPEG Streamclip because it offers a ton of flexibility.

    In the second video you should have bounced over to the wall to point out changing the slips…. It would have given meaning to your jiggling & been unexpected, fresh and quirky.

    I have long been a fan of Post-Its, paper and whiteboards for the big picture on large projects, but I also use the free, Freemind–mind mapping software–for organizing thoughts and changing layouts. In addition I use Notebook for keeping track of files, clippings and project management, including scripts and video/picture clips. These programs both work great as data management centers in conjunction with Word and In Design as production tools.

    Can’t wait till your next video!

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  5. Eric Susch says:

    It’s nice to see an established audio podcaster come over to the dark side šŸ˜‰

    Your second video looks good but you probably want to up your resolution a bit more. We’ve been using 640 x 360 for some time on our video podcast at It plays on an iPod but also looks decent full screen on a computer or on a television via AppleTV.

    Not bad for a first try though. Good visual content and the audio is decent too, which is where most people drop the ball. We’ve been producing our show for a few years now so if you have any questions, feel free to shoot me an email.


  6. admin says:

    Thanks for all the great extra tips!

  7. Derek says:

    How did you embed the video in the email newsletter?

  8. Nikki says:

    Hi Grammar Girl! I really enjoyed your vidcast. I used a similar organizational method when writing my master’s thesis and found it extremely helpful.
    I teach English Composition at a university and a community college. I love using your podcasts in my classes. It wakes up my students and helps them with their grammar.
    Thanks for all the quick & dirty tips!

  9. Margie Chey says:

    I really like the way in which you write and also the theme in your weblog. Did you code this yourself or was it done by a expert? Iā€™m extremely very impressed.

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