Beginner's Guide to Vlogging

So you want to be a vlogger?

Woohoo! Welcome to the club. Vlogging is an incredible tool for documenting your life and building up a loyal community of people who love what you do and want to share in your experience.

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Some of our favorite vloggers on YouTube have been working in the medium for a long time. They have experienced a lot of success, but with that success comes a ton of failure. You might shoot something and then realize it was completely out of focus. Maybe you’ll record an entire vlog before you notice that the microphone you used wasn’t even plugged in. Or you shoot a ton of content, store it on a hard drive, and then the hard drive explodes on you.

Confession: all of those things have happened to me.

Don’t get discouraged. If you are really committed to sharing your story with the world, you will make it happen. Sometimes that means just stopping for a few hours, taking a break, going for a run, and then coming back to the camera.

But you’re not reading this because you want to learn what NOT to do. You’re reading this because you want to learn what you should do! Getting started with vlogging is easier than ever thanks to accessibility of equipment. And it takes just a few simple steps to get started.

Here are my top three vlogging tips for anybody who is getting started with vlogging:

1. Get the right equipment. A smart investment at the beginning of your vlogging journey can take you a long way. If you are going to be recording most of your videos on your phone, make sure you have enough storage space!  Upgrade that cloud account, already. Or spend some more bucks to purchase the model with more GBs.

If you are looking for a device that is exclusively for shooting video, make a list of everything you want in a dream camera:

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  • Small and compact.

  • Shoots in low light.

  • Flip screen for selfie mode.

  • Durable.

  • Really easy to use.

Now take that list to your local camera store (B&H is my toy store), and ask the experts! Or browse the reviews on Amazon. Do your research and be willing to make either an investment or a compromise.

Getting the right equipment also means getting the right accessories. Do you need a tripod? What about an external microphone? A monitor? Selfie stick? The options of video accessories on the market are endless and getting better every day. My advice is don’t invest a ton in camera accessories right away. The more you vlog, the more comfortable you’ll get with the medium and you’ll get a better understanding of the tools you’ll need to help you improve your content. Slowly build out your vlogging kit.

In summary: camera first. Accessories later.

2. Don’t move the camera. This is THE BEST lesson I ever learned about documentary filmmaking. When you’re trying to capture a story in the world around you, let the story happen in front of your camera; don’t try to make something happen.

Each and every frame matters. Frame your shot first. The frame you choose is the way you choose to see the world. Is it a low angle looking up? Is there an element in the foreground that hints at the location. Is it a tight shot on someone’s smiling face? You have all these decisions at your discretion when you’re the storyteller. That’s a lot of power, right? Don’t take your role lightly. It’s incredibly important to find the right frame.

Once you carefully set up your frame, hit “record”. Don’t move the camera (you’ll probably want to put it on a tripod). The scene will play out. Cut the camera, reposition the frame, hit record, and repeat all over again. Too much camera movement can get a little Blair Witchy (nobody watches YouTube to get that cool dizzy feeling) and will make your video look too amateur.

Keeping the camera steady is an easy fix to help elevate the professionalism of your vlog.

3. You can never have enough b-roll. B-roll is your best friend. It has a zillion different purposes, namely to move the story along. But it’s also great for covering up the mistakes in your speaking or filler words (like umm and uhh) and to avoid too many jump cuts.

What exactly is b-roll? B-roll is any additional footage that helps tell the story. It typically is sans audio, so what is being said or heard in the b-roll footage will not be in the final video.

It helps to think of your video in terms of layers. Check out this handy little infographic to get a visual understanding of what b-roll is.

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There are three layers of visuals (what we see): a-roll, b-roll, and titles. And there are two layers of audio (what we hear): main audio channel and music. The audio layers run throughout the entire video; they’re more or less permanent.

The first layer is the a-roll. This footage is the subject speaking so it matches the main audio channel. What we hear and what we see is the same! The second layer is the b-roll. It is pasted over parts of the a-roll where there is a gap in talking or where it makes sense to add a visual element. As you can see, there is no gap in blank space anywhere in the timeline; otherwise, it will be a silent black screen in your video. There is always some kind of video running at all times. The b-roll (in blue here) supersedes any a-roll, so if there is a gap in b-roll, the a-roll will play until another shot of b-roll runs.

B-roll can be anything from landscape footage to tight footage of someone’s hands to old photos or maps. Those are just a few examples. The kind of b-roll you capture is really limited by your imagination.

So when you set out to start your vlog, make sure you capture plenty of b-roll. Limited b-roll is an editor’s worst nightmare!

Vlogging is an adventure! Embrace your role as a storyteller and stay committed to your mission. You’ll be crushing the vlogging game before you know it.

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