Introduction: Professional Video and Audio for Podcasting
Looking good on a shoestring and not being in a professional studio offers many challenges to the pod-caster even with a budget. Space and cost have there own issues along with the limitations of the equipment.
Usually the most critical issue that most You-tubers get wrong is lighting. At a minimum you need three lights, two at eye level at 45 degrees to the talking head and one 18 to 24 inches above the camera aimed slightly down illuminating the top of the head and reducing shadows behind the subject. Shadows and uneven lighting of the subjects face are usually a tale tail signs of a lower quality production standard.
If you intend to use a green screen behind you or a seamless background you might consider adding two more lights under the desk shining behind to to further damp down stray shadows.
The problem comes in that professional lighting seems to be way to bright for the better webcams that are designed to operated in less that optimal conditions. The bright light can blind the talent. Many of the light boxes are also very expensive and need tripods to set at the correct positions and then you need room to place them. Most people that don't have a dedicated studio room to podcast in can see small rooms get way to small once all of that equipment is in it.
In audio, the question seems to be microphones and conditioning the room to get rid of echos and outside noise. Depending on what you are doing you also might want a mixer hooked to the computer recording for live streaming the video.
Step 1: Camera Selection
If you are looking for an inexpensive webcam there is only one to recommend. That is the Logitech C920/C930 family of webcams. There are two reasons that this is the pick unless you go to a high end camera.
The 920 series first uses a glass lens and most if not all webcams use a plastic lens. The other issue is the format that the data is compressed in when using Skype and YouTube. That is it naively uses H264 as the compression using a great deal less computer resources.
There may be newer cameras coming on the market that I don't know about but I think those two features are what you are looking for. Mine was on sale for $75.
You will see my camera is taken apart. My background is a false wall with logos and 12 feet wide by 8 feet tall. Now in using other webcams the issue is getting it to focus sharply on the background. The lens is adjustable on the C920 and you can check this video out on YouTube that shows you how to take it apart and adjust it.Since I noticed it looked a bit better with out the glass on it I decide just to leave it off. While the lens is glass and from Carl Zeiss, the cameras front shield is plastic.
Also on my computer monitor, the webcam seem to move since the bases on the monitors are rather cheap these days. There is also a instructable called Tertial Webcam that will show you how to mount it to an architect lamp boom.
My webcam was epoxied to the boom using the flange that attaches to the lamp switch housing.You may need a USB extension cable depending how far away your computer is.
Because the boom arm is designed for a heavier weight than this webcam without the weight of the mounting base that was left off, one of the springs from the upper arm was removed and seems to offer easy movement.
Once you have proper lighting you will need to adjust the cameras settings. To do so, launch the webcam software and go to the advanced settings. Hold a very white sheet of paper in front of your face or better yet a medium sized poster board in white in front of your face and watch the controls move. When they have settled, turn off the automatic settings and then tune them for the best picture.
This is most important for skin tones to make you look natural and is a very subtle cue to your viewers that you care about the polish of your presentation. This is where shading windows and using the diffused lighting will allow you to not have to take big swings at the settings each recording session and this should go smoothly for each episode.
Step 2: Cheap But Effective Lamps
Architect lamps offer inexpensive lighting and the ability to position them on the corners of desks with c-clamps that come provided or you can screw them to walls or other supports. Since they are articulated, they can easily be aimed.The ones I used were from staples and they were on sale at the time for $9. What they didn't have is diffusion of the light source and the glare can be harsh and have you squinting into the camera even with low powered bulbs. I was looking for something cheap and easy.
The material that most photographers use for diffusing light and building light boxes is attainable at fabric retailers and half a yard cost me $4. It is sold as white rip stop nylon and when I went to Jo-Ann Fabrics the fabric counter lady knew exactly what the light box people used. It is white and translucent with threads that look like quadrille ruled paper.
You will also need quilting hoops available at the same sewing retailers like Jo-Ann's and Micheal's. These are made to hold cloth tight while needle pointing or quilting. Find the size that is just slightly larger than the light shield of the lamp. There is a inner and outer hoop and I paid about $2.50 for them.
Draping the cloth on the inner hoop and sliding the outer hoop over it, slow tug and pull until tight while tightening the outer hoop tension screw. Get it drum tight. You may need to use more than one layer of material since the lamp bodies will only be a few feet from your face. I used two.
Use the loop (soft) side of a Velcro strip and add one to two inch strips uniformly on the inside of the inner hoop until the hoop fits snugly over the light hood. I cut the strips in half and then trimmed to the edge of the hoop with the razor blade.
I spray painted my wood hoops black to match my lamps. The hoops also come in bright colors in plastic but a little more expensive. You might try these to match the diameter of the lamps hood.
When you are ready. use a single sided razor blade to trim the excess rip stop nylon to the hoop frame and you are done with this step.
Step 3: Kick Lights
Kick lights are on the floor or in my case screwed to the underside of the desk to keep them off the floor. They are smaller and used to soften shadows behind the subject. They should be at waist level or below and aimed back in at 45 degrees to center behind the talent.
In this case some $8 Walmart lamps were used.The inner hoop of a wooden quilting hoop was used by cutting through the ring and slowly reducing the diameter with a file until it would pop in and hold the nylon diffusing material tightly.
When tight, use a single sided razor blade again to trim off the excess. Using a staple gun or screws and cable cable clamps you can route the electrical cord on the underside of the desk to remove some clutter.
Step 4: The Light Bulbs...
The choice of light bulbs to use with a web cam is critical because of the nature of the cameras. They are cheap but effective. Unfortunately most do not have the range to white balance to produce true skin tones. When looking at bulbs you want something around 5000 kelvin for the color temperature.
We used fluorescent bulbs but you could also use the new LED bulbs. With these bulbs inclosed in the hood temperatures with incandescent bulbs would get extremely hot and pose a fire hazard. The CFL's are extremely cheap and selected because of that.
Remember that they CFL's will take 5 or 10 minutes to produce full rating output of light. So turn them on a few minutes before. For this project $14 of bulbs were all we needed.
Step 5: Audio
Sounding good and clear is important. Using a dedicated microphone is a must and it should most likely tie into the computer via USB. Standard audio studio microphones will need a amplifier but may still have a lot of computer noise introduced in them. Using a mixer still will bring the audio into the computer as a analog signal and still have unwanted noise in the background.
You can buy a microphone with a USB out as in the popular line of Blue microphones that are favorites with pod-casters. The local musician store will have better microphones but you will need an adapter from the microphones XLR connector to the USB and they usually are around $40 or higher.
If you will have guests/multiple hosts or want to play back audio or a Skype guest, I would recommend a mixer with a USB 2.0 connector in it. The only choice currently is the Yamaha MG-10XU as it has the 2.0 USB interface on the back. Most mixers and adapters have only USB 1.0 at this time and the fight between the webcam and microphone can cause issues even on my fast machine with the much slower USB 1.0 and the faster USB 2.0 webcam.
Make sure with either an adapter or mixer it says USB 2.0. If it says 1.1/2.0 compatible, it's USB 1.1. They take a lot of liberties in the labeling. Many of the audio guys at the music store will either act like it doesn't matter because they just do audio. It is having two devices that causes the problems.
A mixer can allow you to expand from a single guest with a Skype in from another computer and guests in studio. The cheaper version of this mixer does not have the USB connector at 30$ less. This model also has basic audio compression and can help you sound more consistent in your vocal level.
You might even want to consider mixers with a mix minus for remote guests.The mixer will need an aux send to do this bit of magic. The bigger brother to the MG-10XU the MX-16XU has that feature but check around to find the features you need.You can do one (1) mix minus on the MG-10XU by using the FX Send output. By leaving off the FX button but panning up the volume on the channels you want on the FX buss, you can send back the audio without the audio of the guests voice.
"In audio, a mix-minus is a particular setup of a mixing console or matrix mixer, such that the output to a certain device contains everything except the input from that device. This prevents echoes or feedback from reverberating or howling and squealing through the broadcast or sound reinforcement system."
If you go with a studio microphone they can run from $100 to several thousands of dollars. Most will find that a Electro-Voice RE 320 at $300 would be at the upper range of useful at a pod-caster level, but what I use. Because mics are dependent on your voice I would recommend that you test it with headphones at a local music store to see how that mic renders your specific voice. You will need a pop filter and a shock mount. See my other instructable on this. Once we switched from just an audio podcast to the video and audio we chose to use the shock mount and pop filter that were professionally made.
We are going to hi-def for our productions and now a few more things will show up in the frame. Since hosts on our shows tend to be using the computer a lot, a boom can get in the way for a mic. Using a piece of oak and a toggle bolt (sometimes called toilet bolts), I made a base for the shock mount of the RE-320 that keeps it low enough for my desk height.
Lastly, noise is always an issue. Using moving blankets hung on walls can cut unwanted noise, echos and light. There is nothing worse that recording and hearing the next door neighbor or the rain and thunder. By hanging the blankets over windows you can also get a consistently lit studio where passing clouds, headlights of cars will not change your video levels.
Step 6: Conclusion
You might notice a few things in the picture. Because of the 16:9 aspect ratio we will be using soon, I have added two more outboard lights for the 12 foot background. That we can do that for about $12 per light is pretty sweet.The walls around me have 2 by 4 studs up in front of the windows and walls to hang the moving blankets. One screw each was put in on the top of the window frames where they won't show after this is taken down. This really killed the echos in a room that is stone and glass. The moving blankets are about $15 a piece for a 4 x 8' and were just tacked up to the false 2x4 walls.
You should also see the headphones. There will be a need to listen to yourself while recording and the guests you might have so either need ear buds or the old school radio announcer headphone look. Studio monitors (speakers) allow you to playback and hear how your production will sound to the general public.
We also have a high end audio microphone processor that one day might be on your shopping list. It will have some controls that the entry level mixers and even high end ones don't have to make you sound as good as you can be.
I hope this have given you some ideas on how you can add production value to your home studio and produce a quality podcast at least technically. If you check out my other instructables, you will find one on how to make a shock mounted mic stand and pop filter that you should also have for quality in your completed projects.