When you start a YouTube channel, there are a number of things that take you by surprise.
One of them – for me, at least – was the sheer number of things I needed to remember to do when it came to recording my a-roll (the bit when you talk to yourself while staring at a lens).
However, over time, I’ve nailed down the a-roll recording process to a point where I barely have to think about doing anything other than priming my memory cards and hitting the record button.
It all comes down to three camera settings which should never get in the way of you shooting your next video.
1. Pick the right file format and recording settings
Your camera (whether it’s a smartphone or DSLR) will have a number of recording formats. They’ll all have weird names (usually acronyms) that mean nothing to most of us, but which are of great interest to people who take pride in pixel peeping and ensuring every last bit of colour is accounted for.
I’m not one of those people. Nor am I about to suggest they’re wasting their time; I admire their passion.
But when it comes to filming yourself for a YouTube channel on a regular basis, there really isn’t much time to faff about with file formats. So, the first thing you need to do is pick a format and stick with it – forever (or, at least until you buy a new camera).
Consult YouTube for the recommended file format setting for your camera. I always do this. The trick is to find people who recommend the best format for editing speed and image quality (there’s always a balance).
Depending on the type of camera you’re using, the file format may also be joined by a setting for the colour depth (usually expressed in [number]-bit), a recording setting (usually a number and letter combo such as ‘100m’) and the frame rate. Again, search YouTube for advice on your camera – you’ll only have to do this once, remember.
If you’re interested, on my Sony FX3, I record all footage in XAVC S 4K in 10-bit 4:2:2, 100m and at 24FPS. But that’s only because I did my research.
This will again come down to the camera you’re using, but if it’s either a modern smartphone or a DSLR purchased within the last couple of years, it’ll have some form of autofocus.
Smartphone autofocus is top-notch. In fact, you don’t need to worry about it, because it just works. So, move onto number three, if that’s you.
But if you’re using a DSLR, make sure you dig into the autofocus settings. There should be some form of eye or face tracking available; if so, turn it on. If not, try out whatever is available.
If the autofocus on your camera appears to keep your face (most importantly, your eyes) reliably in sharp focus as you move around in the frame, you’re onto a good thing. Set it and leave it.
If your camera’s autofocus is ridiculously slow or totally unreliable (as it was on my old Sony A7Sii), you’ll need to opt for manual focusing before each video. I did this for the first eighty videos on my channel, so it’s possible. But it’s not for this blog, so stay tuned for advice on that in the future (or get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll explain how I used to do it!).
3. Set and forget your shutter speed, ISO and aperture (for a-roll)
These are the three most important camera settings you have access to, and when it comes to ISO and aperture, you may need to change them fairly regularly.
However, we’re talking about a-roll filming today, which are the pieces you’ll do to camera. If you have a fixed location for your a-roll that relies on artificial light, you shouldn’t need to change these settings – ever.
If you also shoot b-roll (for instance, product shots), you’ll undoubtedly want or need to tweak the ISO and aperture occasionally. If that’s the case, just make sure you note down the a-roll settings for ease of recall.
However, for a-roll, you shouldn’t have to change these settings if you’re usually sat or stood in the same location and have your own lighting rig.
Here are some quick tips for all three settings:
- Shutter speed: the one setting you should never have to change. The general rule of thumb is that your shutter speed should be double your frame rate (or there or thereabouts). So, if you’re shooting in 24FPS, your shutter speed is best set to 1/50.
- ISO: this controls how sensitive your camera’s sensor is to light. The higher the number, the brighter the image, but the noisier it’ll be (although this is less of an issue on newer cameras). Set yours as low as possible (or at the base ISO recommended by the manufacturer) so that you’re not shrouded in darkness but well-lit without being overexposed.
- Aperture: this will dictate how much of your background is out of focus (creating what is known as ‘bokeh’). The amount of bokeh is entirely an artistic choice, so set it to whatever you like best. The lower the number, the more blur you’ll see behind you. Just bear in mind that the aperture will affect how bright your image is, therefore you may need to counterbalance this setting with the ISO.
Once you’ve nailed your image, leave the above settings as they are, or make note of them if you’re likely to adjust anything during b-roll filming.
I hope this has helped. As I’ve noted a number of times above, this is all about setting and forgetting. The last thing you want to be bothered with during an a-roll session is camera settings.
You need to make this vital YouTuber tool work for you, which means hitting record and doing your thing – that’s it. You’ll only achieve that level of efficiency with simple, reliable camera settings that don’t need constant tweaks.
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