Let’s see what we would need to set up a small video recording studio at home, especially aimed at a vlogger / YouTuber that appears in the foreground, facing the camera.
For the team we will try to recommend or give options from the simplest and cheapest to a semi-professional solution. We will divide it into sections: camera, sound, lighting and the studio itself. Keep in mind that the final result (regardless of the content itself, editing, etc.) will depend on the whole set, that is, it is useless to record with a professional camera if we have poor lighting or the audio is bad.
With some high-end smartphone you can get a very good video quality (also true that they are expensive). In general, a video camera or a photo camera has better optics and will give us more image quality.
Record at least in Full HD, which can be mounted on a tripod.
Good focusing and tracking system (eg face / eye detection to keep the subject’s face focused) the folding screen can come in handy when we shoot ourselves, to see the frame and if we are focused (this can be a little more difficult from a distance).
Camcorder or Camera?
Today virtually all cameras record video in Full HD. My recommendation is a camera, as we will have quality photo and quality video in a single device.
Compact, SLR, mirrorless..? Although there are many other factors, perhaps one of the most important is that with interchangeable lens cameras we can use the optics that best suits what we need and the larger the camera sensor the more possibilities it will give us. These factors will allow us to obtain for example unfocused backgrounds (the subject is highlighted on the background, which appears blurred, which gives much more prominence and a more attractive aspect to the video) or give us more possibilities to record when there is not much light in the scene. See here why SLR / EVIL are so used for video. For details information and select your best one follow this post.
Tripod for the Camera
It can be a small tripod to place on a table, but in general it is convenient to have a tripod that allows us to regulate in height and offer a very stable support for the camera.
Keep in mind that if you have a very heavy camera, for example a large SLR mounted with a telephoto lens, the tripod must be robust. And if you are going out to the countryside, mountain, etc. You will also be interested in looking for a tripod that will hold, with aluminum structure (or carbon fiber if you can spend a little more).
The high-mid-range tripods are divided into two parts, the tripod itself (the legs) and the patella or head (the part that connects to the camera and allows movement). The ball joints of these tripods are purchased separately as each type of ball joint has certain characteristics and uses. There are special ball joints for video, which allow, for example, to make a smooth panorama in recording (panning)…
If you are not going to record especially complex scenes do not complicate yourself: a sturdy and stable tripod.
Sound quality is so important (sometimes more) than the video image quality. If you can, avoid recording the sound with the internal microphone of the camera. Use whenever you can external microphone or external recorder (may even be worth a normal cell).
Lighting is arguably one of the most important factors in achieving quality video (equally applicable to photography). You can have the best camera in the world, but in the end the camera captures the light of the scene… If the scene is poorly lit the result will be bad.
We do not talk about quantity of light but of using the light to create a suitable environment for the scene to be recorded. The lighting of a scene is a science, but it is also an art.
Let’s see some lighting options for a small studio (for example a room in our house) and a usual format with the interviewee (the vlogger for example) in the foreground.
What we normally look for in this type of scenes:
- Let there be enough light, so that the camera can capture the details and the colors
- Achieve volume, make the person’s features well represented
- Avoid hard shadows, especially on the face
- To give protagonist to the subject with respect to the background
- The basic lighting scheme can be made with 3 light sources: main light, fill light and counter light (backlight)
As its name indicates, the main light is the one that provides more light and serves as a reference for others. It is usually placed at about 45 ° to the camera-subject axis. It is placed above the height of the head pointing to the face, at an angle of about 60º, so that the shadow of the nose is angled downwards. You can play with the angles of inclination for example if the subject uses glasses to avoid reflections or to get the subject to be as favored as possible.
The main light sets the tone for the intensity of the other sources and sets the color temperature. All light sources should have the same color temperature as the main source. It is not in the interest of mixing color temperatures (eg fluorescent light with tungsten lamps).
All lights should be rather soft, including the main source, although this may be a bit harder. A hard light is one that generates very pronounced shadows (a very dense gradient of shadows). A soft or diffused light is one that generates very soft shadows (very soft gradient). Hard lights come from spot light sources, with little emission surface, for example a light bulb, a flashlight, a direct flash, direct sunlight.
Diffusers are used to soften a light. For video, perhaps the most comfortable for the person in front of the spotlights are soft boxes or diffuser umbrellas, which are nothing more than a translucent white surface placed in front of the light source.
Following the basic lighting scheme, the second source would be the fill light. The fill light is placed on the opposite side with respect to the main light and the camera-subject axis. That is, if the main light illuminates the left side of the face, the fill light would illuminate the right side. The angle of incidence would be fairly flat with respect to the camera so as not to generate new shadows (the double-shadow effect is usually bad on the face). The idea of filling light is to soften the shadows generated by the main light. The fill light has to be smooth and less intense than the main light.
It does not need to be a bulb, it can be a white reflector (a white surface big enough and we can change its angle easily). There are very cheap portable floodlights. We just have to find some way to hold them to keep them at the angle we need.
The third light source is the light or back light. This light is placed behind the subject, quite high above his head and pointing to the top of the hair and to the shoulders (from behind). The purpose of this light is to create volume, define the profile and above all separate the subject from the background. The height and intensity will be regulated according to the subject: if you have a lot of hair, little hair or none… and the color of the hair (the backlight will be less noticeable in dark hair) The counter light can be placed on the opposite side of the main light or on the same side.
What do I Need Then?
The best light is natural light, you can try to organize your studio to use a large window as main light and a white reflector for the backlight. But keep in mind that this is not always possible (because of the geometry of the study) and that natural light makes us very dependent on the schedule and the type of day (cloudy, sunny, the passage of clouds produces changes of intensity …)
If you can make a small investment look for a panel of LEDs for the main light. The LED panels allow to regulate the light intensity, do not generate heat, some allow to change the color temperature, consume very little… You can find panels of 300, 600 and 900 leds at a reasonable price. With a panel of 600 leds should be enough for a study in a room of normal size.
Keep in mind that some LED panels powered by batteries do not include a power supply, but usually do include a connector (ie you have to buy the power supply separately). If the panel does not have a color temperature option, always choose 5500K, which is the temperature of natural light, so you can use the exterior light itself (when available) as the main source or as a filler. And you also have to see if the panel includes or not tripod, brackets, etc. In case you have to buy it apart.
A more economical option are the light boxes that use fluorescent bulbs of low consumption. Some light box kits already include a tripod, diffuser, etc. These boxes usually have a base for several light bulbs. If you are only going to use the lighting in your studio you can even make light boxes in a home, there are many tutorials on the internet, anyway the price of the structure and the support for the light box is usually low, Expensive are probably light bulbs. You can buy the bulbs separately, 5500K (color temperature), and with a minimum power of 40-50W. They should be specific bulbs for studio / photo lighting (high CRI) for best results.
Professional tripods and light fixtures are more expensive because they are designed for intensive use, taking into account mountings, dismantling, transport and working conditions. The tripods that come in the light box kits and the cheaper lighting tripods are usually quite fragile, but if we are just going to use them in studio they may be an acceptable option.
It is not worth buying halogen spotlights or based on incandescent lamps: they consume a lot and generate a lot of heat, to the point of being dangerous.
Look for different combinations to create these three light sources of the basic lighting scheme:
- A large led panel as main and two smaller led panels as fill and backlight (as we can adjust its intensity at will)
- A large led panel as the main source, plus a filler reflector and a smaller LED spotlight as a backlight
- Two light boxes: one main and one for backlight, using a reflector for filling
- Three light boxes. We can adjust the intensity for filling and backlight by unscrewing bulbs or separating the source
- There are small led torches that are placed in the flash shoe of the camera, perfect for recording video outdoors. We can take advantage of this torch for example for backlight or for filling.
Quality of Light – CRI
Sunlight and light from incandescent materials (tungsten lamps, typical old bulbs, or halogen lamps) have the property of emitting at all wavelengths. To put it in a simple way: they emit all possible colors.
When white light hits objects, they absorb wavelengths and reflect others. Each object has a characteristic hue depending on the colors it absorbs and reflects.
Fluorescent lamps and LEDs, because of the physical processes they use to generate white light, generate a somewhat different spectrum of radiation. Simplifying a lot: they do not emit all possible colors within the visible spectrum.
These gaps in the emission spectrum slightly affect the color of objects. Normally there are color components that should not be (default or excess). Depending on the emission spectrum you can notice for example the skin tone of people or when photographing products that have to show the exact color (corporate brand colors, etc.) or can be produced a little more muted colors.
The CRI (Color Rendering Index) is a value that measures the quality of the light of a source based on how that light allows to faithfully generate the range of colors of a scene, always from the point of view of human vision.
The CRI scale ranges from 0 to 100, with 100 being the ideal light source (sunlight or tungsten lamp). Professional photography is considered ‘perfect’ light from CRI 90. Below CRI 60 is considered low-quality light for photography (and video). The CRI is not a perfect indicator, for example does not work very well with LED sources and also does not take into account that the electronic sensor works differently to the human eye, but gives us an idea of how good (or bad) a particular source of light.
Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and LED lamps found in all stores, for home use, shop lighting, etc. Are designed to offer a certain light power and a certain color temperature, but its CRI is usually low and can vary widely between different makes and models (with CRIs from 20 to 80)
That is why there are specific models for photography, with higher CRI, above 80 and. These models are usually more expensive but it is worth it because we will get colors that are more faithful to reality and more intense. And if you record people, the tone of the skin will be more realistic.
If your budget is too tight you can try LED or low-consumption ‘normal’ (household) lamps. The problem is that each brand and each model can offer quite different results.
Background / Recording Set
We will try to ensure that the protagonist of the scene is focused on the subject, not on the background.
Try to separate the subject from the bottom as much as you can physically. The counter light helps to give volume and to separate the subject with respect to the bottom. We can also place an additional light source illuminating the bottom, for example from below or from a side, to give a sense of depth.
You can use as a background part of the decoration of your studio, for example if you record in a room at home or in the living room, or if you have a dedicated studio. But please check that everything is minimally ordered, clean and presentable. It gives very bad image to see in the background the disorder of your room, boxes in the middle, dirt…
You can buy funds for photography for little money. We can simply use a white wall area (or whatever color) as a background and use a small ambient light next to the wall to break the uniformity a bit.
Something that is very good is the selective blur of the background (the subject is focused while the background is defocused). What do we need?
- We will try to place the subject as far as possible from the bottom
- We will use a tale objective, which gives us an equivalent focal distance above 50mm for putting an indicative figure
- We will try to use a large diaphragm aperture (f / 2.8 – 1.8 if possible)
- If your camera is not interchangeable lenses or you only have the kit lens, try using the larger (larger zoom) focal that allows you to frame the scene
- About the camera to the subject everything that allows you the frame you are looking for
Keep in mind that what we are looking for is to reduce the depth of field, reduce the area that is focused in front of and behind the person in front of the camera.
If you pass and you reduce much the depth of field any movement of the subject will remove it of focus and will be worse the remedy than the illness. That is why it is preferable to move the bottom as far as possible and play with a depth of field that gives us some flexibility. In cinema, some marks (for example on the ground) are made so that the actor knows how far he can move back and forth during a scene.
If you have the camera set to autofocus mode and you have very little depth of field it is possible that the camera is all the time looking for the perfect focus point and what you get is an unpleasant effect of constant blur.
Nor should we be obsessed with the blur, it is not worth it if we have to use a frame so forced that it spoils the final result.