Introduction: How to Make a Hidden Camera YouTube Video

About: I like to build things for one reason only. To have fun. Creating for me is a way to let my imagination loose and explore. If you like the things I have created, subscribe.

It's been a while since my last instructable; it's been almost a year actually. I still frequently peruse the site, but my creative efforts have shifted. I went through a strong photography phase for a while, and now I'm interested in videos. This change in what I make isn't bad, and if anyone out there is considering trying something new I wholeheartedly encourage it.

Anyway, to get back on track, I've been interested in making videos for a while now. The end goal is to direct films, but for now I want to start small: with YouTube videos. Inspired by the works of LAHWF and Stuart Edge, I decided that this summer I want to make social experiment/prank videos. I hesitate to write that, though, because prank has a negative conotaiton. I think most people think that a prank has to be at the expense of another person's downfall, and that we are laughing at as opposed to with. On the flip side, social experiments are more awkward, which still can make the person being 'experimented' on feel discomforted and, well, awkward. My goal was to make everyone happy: me, the people I'm interacting with, and the viewers. I'm going to stop here because this transitions well into the first step. C'mon, follow me!

-John Mulaney

I figure right here is the best place to put my video. Enjoy!

Step 1: Figure Out What You Want to Do

First, you have to figure out what you want to do. As it was briefly described in the intro, there are a lot of different interactions you can have with a hidden camera set up. I think the most popular are the stereotypical prank videos, which usually are slightly mean-spirited. A great example is VitalyzdTv. His top videos are slightly mean spirited. Don't get me wrong, they're pretty funny, but they're also kind of mean. And yet, he has 6,253,773 subscribers as of June 23, 2014! There's a huge audience for these types of videos, but you have to get over the fact that you are basically making fun of the people you are interacting with.

The next genre down the ladder of hidden camera line is social experiments. Popularized by LAHWF, who right now has 1,570,532 subscribers (still a lot!). These awkward videos are just that, awkward. They don't really make fun of the people you interact with, but you do put them in awkward situations. And whenever ANYONE gets put in an awkward situation, that person always acts different from their natural person. Maybe a little more defensive, maybe a little more awkward, who knows? These videos are usually hit-or-miss, and if you look at LAHWF's top 5 videos, only about 1, maybe 2, is/are really awkward, the rest are pretty good-natured and fun.

That leads me to the third hidden camera genre. It doesn't really haver a name, but I'll just call them feel good videos. Feel good videos make you happy when filming them, because you are doing a good thing. It's just like how you feel better giving a gift than receiving one. Also, it makes the people you interact with happy, because you are doing something nice to them. They'll usually act even nicer than usual, to be honest. And finally, the viewers are happy when they watch feel-good videos. Why? I dunno, some part of your brain just likes seeing other people happy, I guess. In turn, it makes you happy! IT's a win-win-win!

All this being said, I decided to (try to) make feel-good videos. That was my decision, and you may have a different one. That's okay, I don't judge! Let's go to the next step!

Step 2: Equipment

So you figured out what you want to do, huh? Great! Now to another fun part, the toys and gadgets!


Let's start with cameras. There are a lot of cameras out there that can shoot video, and you could probably figure out a way to make it work with any camera. That being said, some routes are easier than others. There are really only two easy routes, dedicated video cameras (camcorders), and DSLRs.

Lets start with camcorders, because these actually spilt into another two groups! I know, how exciting! We'll be looking at the prosumer models, and the professional models. There are consumer models, but the price difference between those and prosumer ones is virtually nonexistent. Alright, let's start. Camcorders are what you think of when you think of a video camera. When it comes to the prosumer (professional consumer) models, they are pretty cheap, and you could get one that meets your needs for a couple hundred dollars. Looking at B & H's best sellers list, I found a model: that would fit the needs to most. What's weird is that the higher end prosumer camcorders are a couple thousand dollars, and you can get a much nicer professional camcorder for that money. Ah, marketing. The professional camcorders are beasts, however. These are big cameras, which can be a deterrent (especially if you want a hidden camera video!). However, they are the best video cameras out there; there is a reason Hollywood uses them.

The other type of camera is a DSLR. For a while, these bad boys only shot pictures. However, once the Nikon d90 came it (it was the first DSLR that shot HD video), the game was forever changed. Then Canon introduced us to the Mark II, I believe, which became the industry standard for DSLR video filming. What's great about using DSLRs to film is that you can use different lenses. Zoom lens, close up, it doesn't matter. Also, most DSLRs these days shoot comparable, if not better film than camcorders. DSLRs are pretty cheap too! However, the lens can easily be twice as much as the camera, especially a nice telephoto, so be wary of that. The final advantage of a DSLR is that it gives your cameraman more of a disguise; people constantly ask my cameraman if he's a nature photographer! I use a Nikon d5200. I'll recommend it, but it's really the only camera I know, so not much to compare it to. That being said, I think you're better off with Canon cameras, especially the t2i, t3i, t4i, and t5i line, or if you can afford it the Mark line. I bought a Nikon because I already had Nikon lenses from my photography phase.

Basic Needs Of Your Camera

- You want to be able to shoot 1080p, at 30 frames per second (fps). 60 fps would be even better, but its not necessary. Having 60 fps vs. 30 fps would just result in a smoother video, by the way. Also, make sure you get a camera that shoots 1080p, not 1080i (p stands for progressive, i stands for interlaced; again, p will give you a smoother video). Also, you don't want 720p, or lower.

- Most camcorders don't have an interchangeable lens feature, which means you can't change or put on a new lens. That's usually fine, but make sure it has a nice zoom. If you have a DSLR, you want a nice zoom/telephoto lens that can get you 300mm. If your not sure about the zoom capability of a camcorder, go to a store and test it out. If you can't go to a store, I'm sure there is a YouTube video that showcases and analyzes the zoom.

- This shouldn't be a problem with DSLRs, or newer camcorders, but I recommend having a camera that uses memory cards. They're cheaper than tapes!

- A good battery life is nice, but not crucial. You can always buy another battery to swap out during shoots, too.

- A good autofocus capability is nice, but I recommend having a manual focus as well. I always use manual focus, because while you might have small changes in focus when I walk, you'll never have the huge changes that can occur if the autofocus finds a new subject.

- Finally, sensor size. Arguably the most important thing for ANY camera. Forget megapixels and the price tag, the sensor size is what makes a great camera. The bigger the sensor size, the better the picture. It really is that simple of an equation.


A good, sturdy tripod makes a huge difference. When it comes to buying better tripods, you basically buy them in halves. There is a bottom part (the legs), and a top part (the head). There are some heads made for video, which I recommend, but I have one for photography which I have found a way to make do with! Here's the tripod I use: Some YouTubers use monopods, but I recommend a tripod. You'll get smother video, and you can always (kind of) turn a tripod into a monopod!


Arguably one of the most important features, the microphones. Unfortunately, you can't really substitute a good, albeit expensive, product when it comes to audio. Really the only way to get audio for hidden camera videos is with a wireless lav mic (you could have an audio recorder on person when filming, and then try to sync it up during editing, but that would be a lot of work. That being said, I think Stuart Edge does this...). Anyway, to save time, and for better quality (if you don't edit right), invest in a good lav mic. I own the Sennheiser ew112 PG3, which I know a lot of YouTubers use (I even think LAHWF used them once). They come with my highest recommendations, but with one warning and several pieces of advice. Warning first, there are several different channels, which deal with groups of frequencies. Sennheiser has a chart somewhere that can show you which channel (A, B, or G) would be best for where you live. I found the chart kind of confusing, however, but after an hour or so of frustration I determined that the G band would be best for Chicago and bought it. No problems so far. I got them used, from ebay (the seller was fplogistics), for $470. LAHWF uses (Sony UWPV1), which Amazon doesn't show a price for, but I believe are around $500.

The advice I mentioned a couple sentences back should apply to any wireless system, but just know that it is intended for the ew112 system. First, at each location you have to set up for a new frequency. For the ew112, while KEEPING THE TRANSMITTER TURNED OFF, you have to set the Squelch setting to low, then go to easy setup, scan new list, and then wait for it to search the frequencies. It will give you a bank with a number of free frequencies (max is 12, I believe), and the default choice is the one you should pick. Then turn the transmitter on, sync it, and then you could return the squelch to medium, although I kept it on low and it worked fine. Also, there are two important settings that you have to play around with, AF Out and Sensitivity. After experimenting, I decided to keep the AF Out at 0 dB and the Sensitivity at -21dB. These setting worked perfectly for me, but you should play around with it. Finally, I have the most general piece of great advice that will apply to all wireless mics (that I had the unfortunate experience of learning the hard way). Test the range of your mics, because as you become out of range the audio cuts out. I lost an entire day's worth of footage because I was too far away. The solution was to find a closer hiding spot for my cameraman. :)

Computer and Editing Software

I use a MacBook Pro. It makes a huge difference to edit on a Mac, but I'm guessing I won't change the minds of any PC-ers. However, if you are getting a new computer and think you want to pursue any form of art (includes building!), get a Mac. As far as software goes, the basic programs like iMovie will work, but the better programs do help. Fortunately, Apple lets people use a 30 day trial of the FULL VERSION of Final Cut Pro X. I'm still on that time, but when it runs out I'll probably buy it. It's a great program.

External Hard Drive

You don't want to slow down your computer with all the gigabytes of footage, and it helps to have your footage in a safe place!


Finally, there are some small things that I'll just name that you should always bring with you. Camera bag, back pack, spare change of clothes, gum, snacks, lots of water, duct tape (to tape the mic to your body), and your notebook of ideas (see next step).

Step 3: Ideas

Coming up with ideas is fun, but very challenging. Try to be original with your ideas. Copying ideas is fine and all, but you won't feel as successful or happy once you're done. For example, Whatever (YouTube channel) started off redoing LAHWF ideas, but after a while they started filming their own ideas. And for those keeping score at home, Playing Pokemon in The Library is probably in my Top 5 Best Pranks of all time.

Here's the thing with coming up with new ideas. You realy only need one good one a week (most YouTube channels only put out one video a week). While that seems like that would be easy, it's actually pretty hard. And of course, when you do come up with a great idea, 99.99% of the time it's when you are just about to fall asleep, or when you're out to eat with your fiancé and their parents, and there is no paper or pen to be seen. In those cases, you have to write it down, even though its inconvenient. Put it on your phone, write it on your hand in blood, whatever it takes; well, maybe not the blood thing. Then, the best thing you can do is grab one of those hardcover journals. Write down all of your ideas so that they are in one place. Also, write down tips and tricks, mic settings that work well for you, whatever. It's nice to have a hardcover copy of things.

Step 4: Location, Location, Location

Once you have all of your goodies and ideas, you need to find a good place to film. The place should have a moderate amount of foot traffic, but not too much or else it'll be too loud. But you want a decent amount so that you have your choice of people that you can interact with.

You also want a place that isn't too close to busy streets, airports, or other noisy situations.

A nice green place with some nice grass and some cool trees helps because I'm told it's athletically pleasing. All jokes aside, the greenness does put people in the right mindset.

Also, you want people that are 18 or over. Why? Boring legal issues. Long story short, I'm fairly certain (although I have done next to no research on this) that kids need parental permission to be filmed. You might also have to fill out release forms, blah blah blah. With adults, what I do (and have seen others do) is to make sure you ask them if it's okay for them to be in a YouTube video (make sure you film them saying this!), and that's it. It is perfectly legal to film in public places, but if someone doesn't want you to use their reaction/footage then either blur their face, or just don't put them in it- it's not worth the risk.

All of these rules and guidelines to where you should film; is there even a place that would fit all of these criteria? Yup, and they're all over the place. College campuses. Ideally, a quad like place is where you would film.

*Make sure your cameraman is close enough so that he won't cut out, but far enough so people won't suspect anything (100 ft is ideal range). Hiding places help, but make sure they don't get in the way!

Step 5: Lights, Camera, Action!

Not much to say here. Make sure you get to your place early so that you can get parking, you can scout it out, find a place, and start filming. Film more reactions than you could ever need, so that way you can pick the best ones when editing!

Also, make sure to have a good cameraman. Mine is horrible; he didn't film/deleted six reactions one day. Just kidding, kinda, because my cameraman is my brother. But this goes along with a piece of advice. You can find someone to film for you to free. My brother knows next to nothing about cameras, but it doesn't matter because I can set it all up. All he has to do is turn it on, press record, and occasionally focus. Doesn't sound so hard, now does it, brother?

Also, another pro tip. Make sure to watch one or two of your first interactions on site. Make sure they look okay and sound okay. That way, you don't have to waste an entire day of shooting, you can just fix the problem on site!

Step 6: Editing

I read a lot of articles and saw a lot of videos that instructed me on Final Cut Pro. I'm by no means a master, but I have the basics down. I'm not going to go into a lot of detail, but feel free to ask questions in the comments below!

Make sure to correct it for color, and maybe mess around with the sharpness. The audio can always be fixed, and make sure it's not too loud. Finally, make sure to optimize the settings when you save the master file.

Oh, and adding background music helps. Here are two great places to get free music that is royalty free: incompetech and YouTube.

Step 7: Uploading and Publishing

YouTube makes uploading easy, so go ahead and upload your video. It might take a couple hours, so I like to upload it at night, and then publish in the morning.

Unfortunately, it's not just uploading. You need a description. I just write small things along the lines like, "Thanks for watching." Make sure to give your links to your social media, whether it be Twitter, Facebook, a blog, or Instagram.

You also need tags. Tags are just keywords to help people find your videos. It's pretty obvious that you should add words like your video title, your channel name, and other words pertaining to your video. But, it's also helpful to write very popular phrases, like how to kiss a girl, or the names of very popular videos at the time of your uploading. I've heard that keywords don't really matter, but do them anyway.

Next up is the thumbnail. Pick a high quality image; ones that feature attractive guys or girls (depending on your audience) help. Some people add text to their thumbnails, but I personally kind of find that a little obnoxious. My strategy is clean and simple. Pro Tip: VERIFY YOUR ACCOUNT AS SOON AS YOU CAN! There are many helpful advantages to it, but one is that you can upload a custom thumbnail. It helps, because that's the first thing people see of your video!

You can also monetize your videos, which I do. Ads are annoying, but if you could get enough money to buy better equipment.... It's up to you.

Finally, make sure to pick a category for your video. I choose entertainment, although comedy is the one I probably should do. I think it was Stuart Edge who said you should pick entertainment... Again, it doesn't really matter.

That's really it! Click publish and you're done!

Step 8: Getting More Views

First things first, you should upload your video on either Monday or Tuesday. The weekdays are when videos are watched the most, so might as well take advantage of time. It also makes sense to upload in the morning (for us Americans), because that is a time when the majority of your potential YouTube audience is awake and at work.

It helps to share your video on social media as well; get the word out! Have your friends and family help too!

To be honest, though, once your "in", your "in". If you have a million subscribers, do you really need to advertise your new video? Not really. But for the rest of us, we have to get the word out somehow. I haven't had success though with any outside sites to put out word for my video. I dunno, maybe you will. If you do, tell me! Just kidding. Kind of.

Step 9: Your YouTube Channel

You need to make your channel professionally looking too. I drew a picture for mine, and it actually kinda looks cool. Most people have photographic portraits of themselves, which I'll probably change to soon.

Make sure you maintain your image everywhere, though. Engage people when they comment in a positive way. Also, make sure you are up to date on your social media!

Step 10: Final Thoughts

If anyone out there has questions, feel free to ask and I'll do my best to answer ASAP! Thanks for reading all of this, and sticking with me! You guys are the best.

Epilog Challenge VI

Participated in the
Epilog Challenge VI