Talking Head Video Production Tips – Camera, Audio, Lighting and Teleprompters

by Deepak

In this article, we will look at some of the basic and advanced tools necessary if you want to create a talking head video.

Those who have been following my blog and newsletter for a while would know that I have mixed feelings about talking head videos. Fact No.1: talking head video  on the internet is boring. Because internet is not like TV. Jakob Nielsen in his usability tests and eye tracking tests had proved that it is very hard to keep the user’s attention using a talking head video.

Sometimes just words-and-pictures animated videos (infomovies) are more engaging. A lot of web application’s intros and product presentations are not talking head videos. Take a look at Amazon’s new Kindle Fire‘s Quick Tour Video. If talking head videos were more effective, Amazon would have used it.

But if you are trying to build your own tribe, you need to connect with your audience by showing up. Though I wouldn’t recommend using talking head videos for all the content you produce, creating one for once in a while is definitely useful in establishing the connection with your audience and letting them know that you are a real person behind the pixels.

Say for example, a talking head video in the about page and a few videos where you are just explaining an abstract concept. You can also choose to use talking head video for 10-20 seconds before a presentation or a screencast or infomovie video. 

Unless you are already making huge profits in your business and wouldn’t settle for anything less than high end equipment, I would recommend that you do not invest heavily on the toys. I will tell you about the affordable, medium and high priced options for all the tools but don’t just jump in to buy the costliest one. Get the basic stuff, do some videos, see if talking head videos suit you and comes naturally to you and then you can upgrade your video production toys.

The Camera

The camera is obviously the costliest piece of the puzzle and the main revolutionary component in video production. Nowadays, there are so many cameras lying around in our home including but not limited to: web cams, phone cameras, point and shoot cameras with video recording, SLR cameras with video recording and the camcorders.

If you are just starting out but need something better than a phone’s camera, I would recommend the Kodak Zi8. The camera costs a little less than $450 and I can bet that you wouldn’t get such high quality recording at such a low price point anywhere else. You would have already heard me say that audio quality defines half the video quality. I always give an extra importance for the audio part and hence having an external microphone jack is very important for me. Fortunately Kodak Zi8 does have one and hence it is in my list of favorite video recording toys.

To find out more about the features of this camera, Click Here to go to Kodak’s Amazon page (aff Link).

If you are just starting out in your business and don’t want to invest even $450 in video recording equipment, you can use your computer’s web cam, iPhone 4S’s camera or even the web cam on your laptop.

Content is what matters the most and everything else is secondary. An average quality video recording wouldn’t affect a video with great content. However keep in mind that higher quality audio and video will improve the perceived value of your information and you multiply the effect of your video by leaps and bounds.

If you are ready to invest around $1000 for your video recording toy, I would recommend moving on to Sony’s Camcorders range. I have the Sony HDR XR 550E model which is a great camera with hard disk and steady shot. Last time I checked, this camera is not available in the market right now and Sony has upgraded their range of camera to a new series. The nearest equivalent now is the Sony HDR-XR550V 240GB High Definition HDD Handycam. When you buy such a camera, you can use it for your business projects as well as for personal use such as vacations – and write off the camera buying expense as business expense!

Essential Features of a Camcorder:

  • Ability to Capture Still Shots at at least 8 mega pixels
  • Optical Steady Shot – Eliminates camera jerks while recording on the move
  • External Audio Jack (Very important esp. if you are using tele-prompters).
  • Hard Disk or Flash Memory Recording (Should enable easy transfer of files to PC.)
  • Quick Replaceable Battery
  • Remote for Recording (Optional but very useful when using Teleprompters)

Digital SLR Cameras with Video Recording Facility

The camcorders like the one I have shown above have optical steady shot which really helps while recording on the move. Videos shot while driving the car or walking into a home or office are popular online and are also effective.

If you will be recording your videos without moving around, then the Digital SLR camera is a better option for recording talking head videos than the camcorders. One amazing camera which can be used both for business and personal use is the Canon EOS 550D. (aka Rebel T2i)

The main advantage of using a DSLR camera for video recording is that you will be able to shoot videos with the background blurred out. Such effect is called a ‘bokeh’ (Pronounce it as bokah). The following photo shows a pic with the same effect.

DSLRs are capable of producing such videos because of the larger lens which have lower aperture value (f value). The lower the f value, the more the background can be defocussed thus bringing more attention to the subject.

The camera comes with different sets of lenses and these lenses are replaceable depending on the requirement. If you want high zooming power, go for a larger mm lens like 55-250mm one. If you want more background defocusing, go for lens with low f value.

Audio for Your Video

A video with good content, good editing and bad audio can kill the entire video. However a video with good content, good audio and average video would still survive. Audio is 50% of your video.

If you are using one of the cameras I mentioned above, all of them have a microphone jack and you can just plugin a collar microphone and connect it to the camera directly. However the wires will be running around and you or someone may trip over it bringing the whole setup to a crash. Not recommended. So check out the options below.

Standalone Voice Recorder: My first recommendation for audio recording would be to use a separate audio recording device with collar mic for your talking head videos. My recommendation would be the Olympus VN-702PC Voice Recorder with Olympus ME-15 Microphone. Note that the collar mic works only with Olympus voice recorders. With other voice recorders, the audio level will be very low and unusable.

While buying a voice recorder make sure that it is a digital voice recorder where the files can be transferred to the PC directly. Some voice recorders will be cheap and will have good reviews but when you look more closely it will have some other recording format which makes it difficult to use with your computer.

After you record the audio and the video, you have to match the audio track with the video track. This process would be easy if you just match it with the wave form of the audio track which was recorded from the video camera. Later you can delete the audio track from the camera’s recording.

Shotgun Microphone: A shotgun microphone is mounted on the top of the camcorder or DSLR camera. Not all cameras support enhancement mounts. A shotgun microphone is an unidirectional microphone which records audio which is originating directly in front of it (in this case, a talking head) and eliminates all the audio from the back and the sides. Imagine the field of recording as a narrow cone with its sharpest point originating from the mic.

If you are looking to buy a shotgun microphone, my recommendation would be the Rode VideoMic Directional Video Condenser Microphone which offers a good balance of quality and price.

The main reason why you would want to use a shotgun microphone is that you will not appear in front of the camera with a collar mic on your shirt. It would look better. Also you can save some time in editing the video because the camera takes care of the synchronization.

Using Teleprompters

Teleprompters are a great way to guide you through the video. Before online videos, teleprompters were used by TV and News media for narrating the news to the audience. A teleprompter usually has a beam splitter glass which reflects a scrolling text from a screen and has the camera behind the glass so that it records the person’s face while she is reading the text on the glass. This setup is required to make the recording natural because if the person is reading the text from a screen and the camera is placed adjacent to the screen then the recording will show a person talking with her eyes looking somewhere else which would look very weird.

I have written a detailed post about the use of teleprompters and the various types of teleprompters available in the market. You can read it here: Using Teleprompters to Create Professional Videos for Marketing.

Note that if you use a teleprompter to just read out the text without any facial expressions, the final video will turn out to be very bland. Instead I recommend using notes on the teleprompter instead of the exact script that you will be reading out. It is always better to speak from the heart than the mind.

Lighting for Talking Head Videos

I am a big fan of natural lighting and I will always recommend it over manual lighting. If you are recording the video in your home or office, just place the camera near a window and let the sunlight from the window fall on your face. If you are recording during the afternoon with peak sunlight, then use a plain white cloth as a screen for the window so that the light becomes diffused and evenly spread out.

Lighting is a separate topic for itself and deserves a detailed post which I will be writing and publishing on this blog soon. But before I wind up this guide, let me show a nice portable lighting option which I came across recently. It is the Westcott Ice Light.

The product is quite pricey at $500 but it produces daylight like illumination and is very useful for recording videos outside of home and office. I will be publishing a review of this soon.

Conclusion

I hope you learned a lot in this post about talking head videos. But remember that talking head videos are boring online so do not overuse it. They are great for establishing a connection with your audience and sometimes even necessary if you are selling. But do not get overwhelmed by it. Remember not to be a perfectionist with talking head videos. Just record one and put it out there. You can never be perfect with it.

Links and Resources:

Let me know if you have any questions.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Tom Marin October 4, 2012 at 4:29 pm

Well if this isn’t the handiest article I’ve come across in a long, long time! Thanks a lot. Top quality videos, here I come! :-)

Reply

Deepak October 5, 2012 at 9:50 pm

Good to know you found it useful. Will be publishing more on this topic. :)

Reply

Matt October 17, 2012 at 2:28 am

May I ask why you prefer natural lighting over studio lighting for a corporate/talking-head video? I’ve just always assumed it was best to have studio lighting. My own opinion is that natural lighting can make the video seem amateur…

Reply

Deepak October 18, 2012 at 5:51 pm

I prefer natural lighting always more than studio lighting. One thing is that it is free. The next thing: Natural lighting looks natural, friendly and trustworthy. :)

You can make it look professional with enough effort.

Reply

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