Making professional-looking YouTube videos is a skill that doesn’t take too long to learn. If you’re serious about vlogging, these principles will make your channel really stand out from the rest.
The best thing is that you won’t even need a big budget for this.
Some basic equipment and filmmaking knowledge will allow you to record professional-looking video on your own. You won’t need to become Steven Spielberg for this, believe me.
Let’s start by telling you the basics on how to make YouTube videos look professional:
There are two elements involved in making a professional-looking YouTube video: production and editing.
Production includes everything from the camera you use, to lighting, set and audio. Editing is all about making your video make sense before uploading to YouTube.
In this post, I will talk about production. This is where the professional look comes from, and editing for YouTube is a simple task that I might cover in another post.
For now, let’s start by talking about your camera.
Table of Contents
- 1 Learn What Your Camera Can Do to Record Professional Video
- 2 Zoom in Against Perspective Distortion
- 3 Use White Balance to Make Colors Look Sharp
- 4 Get a Good Microphone to Record Professional Audio
- 5 Make Sure Your Audio is the Best (Hardware and Editing)
- 6 Build a Set to Give Your Channel Personality
- 7 Improve Your YouTube Channel’s Aesthetics with This Simple Rule
- 8 The Main Secret to Professional-Looking Video
- 9 How to Set Up a Professional Lighting Studio at Home
- 10 Conclusion
Learn What Your Camera Can Do to Record Professional Video
One of the biggest concerns when vloggers want to start recording videos for YouTube is if their camera is good enough. For professional-looking video, if you get the lighting and audio equipment, a camera between $200 and $300 might be more than enough.
Even if your camera can only record 720p video, that’s fine for YouTube. The real professional look won’t come from recording 1080p video at 30 or 60fps.
If you already got a camera, test it with good lighting and audio first before buying a new one. It really might be just enough. There are more important things involved in making a vlogging video look professional.
For now, let’s just try whatever camera you got already (even if it’s your IPhone’s camera).
Zoom in Against Perspective Distortion
Try the different levels of zoom. The best way to record professional video is to zoom in your camera.
This might sound weird, but when you zoom out, you create something called Perspective Distortion. Zooming in is a common technique for portrait photography since it gets rid of any distortion caused by the camera lens.
Some cameras have way too much zoom. Make sure you don’t use it excessively. Just zoom in until your face looks natural. Write down on paper how much zoom you’re using to get rid of the Perspective Distortion caused by the wide angle lens.
Aim to zoom in your lens to at least 50mm. This is the focal length that gets rid of Perspective Distortion.
Finally, make sure you’re using the optical zoom for this. Digital zoom is a kind of “fake” zoom that will only reduce your image quality without restoring any distortion.
Use White Balance to Make Colors Look Sharp
White balance is about setting the right color temperature. Most cameras, even if they aren’t professional, come with this option.
By setting the right white balance you make sure white looks white and not yellow; it will ensure that each color looks exactly how it should.
To test it out, grab a piece of white paper and take a picture of it with your camera before recording. Does the white look white? If it looks yellowish or bluish, try setting a different white balance.
You need to do this every time you change your recording location and time. Color temperature changes according to the hour of the day, and it also depends on the light source.
Refer to your camera’s manual to change white balance. Most consumer cameras only offer some preset white balance settings -often named sunny day, tungsten, etc. However, some offer a manual way of imputing the exact color temperature. These are the best to achieve the right colors.
Before recording, take a picture of a white sheet of paper to check if white balance is okay. If it’s not, try with the different presets until you find the one with the right colors.
Get a Good Microphone to Record Professional Audio
If your camera has a mic jack, you could use it to connect a lavalier microphone. This is a good way of recording audio.
You could also get a USB microphone, a good portable recorder or a shotgun microphone.
Whatever you do, don’t use your camera’s built-in microphone if you can, even if it doesn’t have a microphone input; you’ll record bad quality audio with it.
Make Sure Your Audio is the Best (Hardware and Editing)
How to check your audio is good:
Your voice must be clear; people mustn’t need to make an effort to hear your voice.
There shouldn’t be any background noise. This is exactly why a directional microphone is best, as they only record what is right in front of them.
Another big part of having good audio is making sure you edit it properly after your video is recorded.
You will need to synchronize both audio and video properly if you don’t use a microphone connected to your camera.
A trick to sync audio and video is to clap your hand loudly after starting your recording. This way you will see a high peak in your audio track during the editing process.
We want to use that clap sound peak to sync audio and video together.
You can use that peak to sync easily with the clap of your hand. After everything is synchronized, cut the part of the video and audio where you clap.
When you start recording, clap your hand and wait around 5 seconds before starting to speak. That clap can leave an echo at the beginning of your video if you start speaking too soon.
Another important tip about audio: if you’re using background music, make sure your voice can be heard clearly.
There is no exact method to know the best level for the music. You will have to train you ear to know if the music is at a good level. As long as you don’t have to make an effort to hear yourself, the music is just fine.
It’s better not to use music that has a voice singing to it. They are usually harder to ignore for your viewers.
If you use an instrumental piece, it will be much easier for your audience to subconsciously separate the music from your voice.
As a final note, don’t make the newbie mistake of recording the music live while you make your video. Add the music to your video during the editing process instead.
Build a Set to Give Your Channel Personality
Ask yourself the following question:
What do you want your videos to look like?
Do you prefer a blank background?
Would you rather give viewers some perspective of your life and what your channel is about by showing some elements in the background?
If you want the professional and clean look of a blank background, you will need a Backdrop Background.
Otherwise, it might be a good idea to include some elements that can be related to your videos.
For example, if you make cooking tutorials, you might want to have your kitchen shown in the background.
There are some cool elements you can add to your background. Look for example the following makeup artist. She uses some lights in the background that look pretty good when they’re out of focus.
Be creative and make sure you give your videos uniqueness.
Take your time to think about this. Things might look too serious if you use a simple blank background.
Go to a YouTube channel that you like and pay attention to the background they’re using. Ninety percent of the time you will find out that their background is not accidental; it’s all planned beforehand.
Improve Your YouTube Channel’s Aesthetics with This Simple Rule
One of the things that most professional-looking YouTube channels out there share is that they use at least some basic photo composition rules.
Here I will just teach you one rule that will serve you for any video you want to make from now on.
As you might know, photography composition is all about thinking the placement of the visual elements you want to capture.
People new to composition tend to put their subject in the center of the picture. This is usually a bad practice -although it’s okay for a lot of informal vlogs.
However, many YouTubers don’t know about the following rule that can improve their channels’ aesthetics.
Following the Rule of Thirds can be a great help if you want to give your channel a professional, expert look.
It’s really simple to follow:
Just imagine that your picture is split in nine parts of the same size. In this setup, there are 4 key spots that you should use to place your subject.
The intersections in red are the spots where, according to this guideline, your subject should be placed.
You don’t have to put your subject in two or more spots at the same time, as long as they’re placed in at least one of these intersections, the photography should look balanced -although balance also depends on the rest of the elements in the picture.
Here is an example of a YouTube channel that follows this rule:
This rule is also called Rule of Thumb in photography because it’s something to bear in mind for every picture. Still, this is not a rule you should always follow.
It’s just a guideline that will make your videos look better because it follows the Golden Rule and the Divine Proportion.
But let’s not get too much into that, let’s now see what I believe is the most important secret to professional video.
The Main Secret to Professional-Looking Video
Did you know that good lighting is what makes videos look professional?
When you make videos for YouTube, audio is more important than anything. However, the only way to achieving a professional look is with good lighting.
Lighting is more important than camera because most consumer-level cameras can record around the same video quality. What really changes from one compact camera to another is their performance in low light and some features that are not vital but do make things easier.
Cameras lose A LOT of quality in low light. They can’t capture light as our eyes do, so even if you think there’s a lot of light, your camera won’t see it the same way. Their sensors need a lot more lighting than we do.
If you got the proper lighting setup, your camera will record video at the highest quality possible.
And it isn’t only about your camera being able to record at the highest quality possible; lighting will also make you look much better.
How to Set Up a Professional Lighting Studio at Home
There are basically two ways you could go with lighting: a paid way, and a free way.
The first one will allow you to be more creative and will give you a lot more flexibility.
The second one is, well, free.
First of all, do not worry about lighting equipment being too expensive; there are already photography lighting kits that you can grab from Amazon for $50-$100.
Let’s first learn the basics of portrait photography you can apply in your vlogging channel:
There are many -actually, a LOT- of ways you can go with lighting, but I really like one of the simplest lighting setups used in portrait photography: Fill, Main and Background light.
Fill light is usually composed of one light source that you set in front of the subject. It should be behind and slightly above the camera.
Main light is set at 45° degree in relation to the subject and it’s more intense than the Fill light.
Background light is used to -yep, you guessed it- illuminate the background, and its intensity will only depend on your taste.
Your studio should look like this:
Technically, you could forget about Background light, but personally, I really like to have a bright background; it makes the environment feel more natural in the video.
As I said, there are many combinations you could try with these three lights. You can change the degree, intensity, distance and amount of light sources you use.
I just like this particular setup because it’s easy, cheap and it works great for vlogging, but you can get creative and play with lighting until you achieve a setup you like.
Using Main and Fill lights will give your face a natural, clean look. Main light will create small shadows on your face that will give it depth and dimension, and the Fill light will soften them to make them look natural.
You will want to play with your lighting until you can achieve shadows like the example image below. Notice that the model’s left side shows more shadows thanks to the usage of Main Light from the right side:
There are different setups that can achieve good results. However, the basic idea is to use Main light to create the shadows and the Fill light to soften them up.
Another alternative is to just use both lights with the same intensity and at 45° to highlight your whole face without showing any shadow. This technique is the best for makeup videos, as it hides the model’s imperfections, but there’s no reason not to use it for another kind of channel.
It really comes down to knowing the basics of lighting –which you just learned- and knowing what effect goes better with the content of your video and your personality.
In the end, it’s all about creativity and giving your YouTube channel personality This is simply the best thing about owning a lighting kit.
On the other hand, if you don’t want to spend on a lighting kit, you could try this kind of setup to achieve a similar effect:
As you can see in this image, you can use natural light, but you will need to record during the day.
If you’re lucky enough, your house will have the proper windows to allow this. If it doesn’t, you will need a lighting kit for Main, Fill and Background light.
One of the common problems you might find when using this free setup is that the light hitting your face needs to be diffused; your window doesn’t come with a soft box like lighting kits do.
There are many ways to overcome this. You could try with a soft cloth like silk to soften the light coming from your window. Maybe your own curtains will work if they aren’t too thick.
Try to think a way of using something light to diffuse the light coming from your window and it might be enough to give your videos a professional look.
Make sure the camera is set to use the light relfected on your face to calculate the exposure. This is easier when a camera has a manual exposure mode available.
If you create makeup videos, there’s a specific kind of lighting you might want to use. Here is a more complete guide about lighting and camera for makeup artists.
If you want to make a video look professional, good lighting is key, and there’s no need to spend a lot of money on it. You can grab a cheap lighting kit that will work pretty well. You could also try to do it with the lighting already available in your house.
You should always try using proper lighting first before getting a new camera. Lighting will make your video look much better than higher recording quality.
If you want to get a new camera, save money for a DSLR. It will give you a lot of versatility to improve the quality of your channel by allowing you to be more creative and giving your videos a cinematic look.
Also, remember that everything that appears in your video has to be planned. All the elements you can add as your background will give your videos a unique look that will identify them.
Finally, don’t forget to include audio when you plan your budget. When making YouTube videos, having good audio is much more important than investing in the most expensive camera. Nobody will take you as a professional if your audio sucks.