One of our goals for 2014 has been to create new and compelling content to attract visitors. Google has been heavily promoting the Hangouts On Air for live video conferencing/presentations and we’ve started using them to connect with international students and answer their questions about financing their studies, choosing the right schools and a host of other topics. Video content in general has been very effective at building traffic and visitor engagement so we started producing our own whiteboard/blackboard presentations plus professionally produced animations to explain things like insurance for international students and the US healthcare system overall.
The lighting for our blackboard and whiteboard presentations are basically the same, reflections from the whiteboard are a little harder to compensate for our as our production studio (really, an unused office) is quite small and we don’t have the room to move the lights further away from the board. We have had the best luck setting up our lights with softboxes/diffusers at the side edges of the whiteboard to fully illuminate it, a third light off the side that illuminates the presenter and a fourth light that is positioned in front and above the presenter.
Quality audio is one of the key aspects of a good video. We’ve tried a variety of microphones; from the camera’s built-in mic (passable) to a shotgun mic and clip-on lavalier microphones. We use Audio-Technica ATR-3350 mics and have had mixed results. When they work, the sound is generally very good. The batteries are hit or miss and the connections inside seem fragile and prone to breakage. The included cables are quite thin but they are 20′ long. If you’re careful with them and keep a ready supply of batteries on hand, you should be able to get decent sound. We also have started using a shotgun mic mounted on the camera to reduce the cables needing to be run around the studio and as a backup to our lav mics.
The camera we decided on for our video production is a Canon EOS T3i/600D DSLR. These cameras are very reasonable priced and have a huge selection of lenses, batteries, microphones and other accessories available to us locally and online. For our purposes the video quality is outstanding, it can film in full HD, 1980 x 1080 at a variety of frames per second. With the Magic Lantern firmware additions we have access to really high-end features like focus peaks and exposure zebra stripes. We use 32GB class-10 cards to keep up with the high volume of data that needs to get stored, slower cards could cause problems. We also added an extended battery grip that can hold two batteries at once, extending the time we can shoot without needing to swap out batteries. We also picked up extra batteries and a few more chargers so when we do need to swap things out, we’re back online quickly. We’d tried a very cheap tripod but quickly found out that even though we’re not moving the camera around very much, we still needed something with rock-solid stability. The Weifeng tripod we settled on has three stage legs, a bowl mounted fluid head and can get our camera almost 6′ in the air.
We do a minimal amount of editing to the videos after they are shot, mostly just some minor color correction and sometimes some tweaking to the audio. Adobe Premiere is a heavyweight video editor and is overkill for what we need but we’re anticipating more complex videos in the future and it’s power will come in very handy. For the Hangouts we’ve been doing we wanted to use the same camera so we needed software to bridge the Canon T3i to the operating system and have it appear as a regular webcam. SparkoCam fills this need and has several options for us to work with so we’ve got the optimal resolution for Hangouts without wasting any bandwidth on pixels that won’t get displayed.
- Camera – Canon T3i/600D w/ 18-55 kit lens with Magic Lantern firmware add-on
- Transcend 32GB class-10 SDHC memory cards
- Extended battery grip, spare batteries and chargers
- Lighting – 5 x 1000 watt lights with softboxes plus hairlight on boom
- Audio-Technica ATR3350 lavalier mic / VidPro XM-55 on-camera shotgun mic
- Weifeng WF-717 tripod with fluid head and three stage legs
- Sold under various brand names, but available on Amazon and eBay for around $130-150
- Editing – Adobe Premiere
- Music – YouTube has several royalty-free selections to choose from and there are many resources available on the net for music that can be used under the Creative Commons license.
- SparkoCam software to allow the Canon 600D to act as a webcam for Google Hangouts.
Here are a few of the videos and Hangouts we’ve done so far:
- Choosing a US School: Private or Public
- Google Hangout On Air – Find a US School You Can Afford
- Google Hangout On Air – Finding a Cosigner for Your Student Loan
- Find Your Dream School in the US