How to record a video — the basics

Written by
Brandon Copple
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5
min read

Making video for YouTube, TikTok, NASA, or anywhere doesn’t require feature-film level production, and plenty of creators have built strong followings by recording on their webcam or phone, in their bedroom or even their cars.

But that doesn’t mean they don’t put any thought into recording. At the very least, every creator should aim for a level of production value that doesn’t distract the viewer, or make it hard to see or hear what’s in the video.

Recording a decent-looking video might take a few tries, but with the right gear, environment, and tools, you can become a capable creator. The more you know going in, the less trial-and-error you’ll have to endure. Here’s some advice to get you started.

It all starts with your camera — the thing that will capture your video. These days, you’ve got options. You can use an actual video camera, a smartphone, a webcam, or a computer with a webcam. Here’s a primer for the different devices; if you don’t need it, skip down to our recording tips.

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Recording with a camera or phone

The best way to record a video is with a camera or smartphone. It will be easier to move around and set up, and in general you’ll get much higher-quality video. Here’s how:

  1. Set up your equipment. Set the stage for your subject, whether it’s you or someone else. Adjust the lighting, test your mics, and establish your basic video capture settings. If you’re recording yourself, use a tripod to hold your camera or smartphone steady while you record. On smartphones, it’s better to use the regular lens than the selfie cam.
  2. Test out your setup. Once you get yourself situated in the frame, mark the position so you know where to sit or stand and how to position your body (especially if you’re a one-person production team). Take a few test recordings to ensure you’re where you need to be, and that all of your other recording settings are as you want them.
  3. Record. Once you’re all set up, find the record button on your camera or phone. We’re guessing (hoping?) you can do this without our help.

Recording with a webcam

The steps for recording video through a webcam depends on the type of computer you’re using. To record with your computer webcam:

  1. Open your camera program. Browse through your applications to find your native video recording software. On Mac OS, it’s probably QuickTime or Photo Booth. On a Windows PC, it’s the Camera app.
  2. Get set. Position yourself (or your subject) in front of the laptop or computer camera; make sure your background is arranged the way you’d want. Get rid of any clutter or distracting stuff, and make sure you’re lit well.
  3. Record. As you might expect, you’ll click “Record” button to start recording. In Photo Booth, this button is right in the center. In QuickTime, you’ll have to click “File” for some reason, and then select “New Movie Recording.” In the Camera app on Windows, navigate to the video icon and click the record button.
  4. Save your footage. As you save, note where your computer saves your recording file (your desktop, a downloads folder, etc.) so you can easily find it later to edit or upload.

Recording for Mac and Windows

Another way to record via computer is to record your screen, usually while you provide some voiceover narration. Some software programs (like Zoom) have an option for screen recording with audio, though many devices have their own built-in default features to capture screens with sound. Here’s how to do it on a Mac and PC:

  • For Mac: To record your computer screen on a Mac, press Shift + Command + the number “5” at the same time to bring up the screen recorder toolbar. Select whether you want to record the whole screen or use the crosshairs tool to outline a specific portion of your screen to record. Click “Record” when you’re ready. Remember to note where the file saves.
  • For PC: To record your screen on a Windows PC, press Win +Alt +  the letter “R” to instantly start or stop recording your screen. You can also record via XBox Game Bar, which is built into the Microsoft OS — just open Game Bar and click “Record” (the button with a single, solid dot). By default, these files will save in your “Captures” folder.

Note, Descript has a screen recorder that does everything the built-in features do — plus it gives you an auto-generated transcript, which you can edit to edit your video, so you don’t have to move a bulky file between apps to create your video. To use it, just click “File” and select “New Screen Recording.”

9 tips for recording video

Recording videos to upload on your social media channels or website will go more smoothly you’re prepared. Here are some very basic tips to help you capture the best video possible:

  1. Check your audio settings. If you’re using an external microphone or webcam, make sure each is enabled to capture sound. Some recording tools don’t enable access by default, and it’s up to you to configure your device to properly record and store sound. If you’re plugging an external mic into a smartphone or computer, check that the devices are compatible.
  2. Check your video settings. Before you start recording your video, make sure you’re recording in the right frame rate (like 30fps or 60fps). Aspect ratio and resolution are two video components that go hand-in-hand and ultimately determine what your video frame looks like, and the density of its pixels. Note that for social media, you’ll most likely want a vertical (portrait) aspect ratio, and for you YouTube you’ll want horizontal (landscape). The right settings will depend on your particular project and hardware capabilities, but configuring this stuff before you hit record will save you a post-production headache later.
  3. Get the right gear. Audio almost always sound better through an external microphone than it does through a phone or internal computer microphone. Similarly, handheld or tripod cameras (like a mirrorless or DSLR camera) can capture higher-quality video than most webcams or smartphones. If you have room in your budget, invest in some affordable camera gear so you can record high-quality audio and visuals.
  4. Adjust the lighting. Good lighting is a major component of high-quality video recording. When a scene is lit correctly, the audience can see everything you want them to see in frame clearly, without image-distorting shadows or unflattering shots. A few things to avoid: recording directly into light, backlit subjects, and overhead lighting. Use a ring light or softbox to enhance or diffuse your light sources accordingly.
  5. Record in a quiet environment. You probably want your audience to hear what you’re saying. But recording amid ambient noise — barking dogs, passing trains, air conditioners, fans, or nearby conversations — can disrupt your audio and make it harder to listen to. To capture the best-quality sound, record in the quietest location so you can find.
  6. Shoot in RAW. Shooting your video in RAW means capturing the original footage without any heavy filters or special features. Getting that content without extra layers will make post-production editing tasks like color correction or brightness adjustment much easier.
  7. Pay attention to posture. You don’t have to sit like a statue and stare, unblinking, at the lens to convey your interest or passion. But when you sit up straight and maintain eye contact with the camera, viewers will see that you’re present and engaged.
  8. Practice your script. It’s always good to know what you want to say before you start saying it. A well-crafted video script will help you hone your message, so you spend more time connecting with your audience and less time fumbling over your words. If it’s helpful, you can also use a teleprompter program to stay on track. Just remember to capture a few frames of silence both before and after you start recording to leave room for any necessary video or audio edits.
  9. Do a test run. The only way to truly gauge the quality of your video and audio is to test it out yourself. Practice recording yourself with your method of choice — whether by smartphone, webcam, or handheld — and study the results. Is your picture quality grainy or choppy? Is there too much static in your audio recording? Then make any necessary adjustments to your settings before the final recording session.

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Written by
Written by
Brandon Copple

Head of Content at Descript. Former Editor at Groupon, Chicago Sun-Times, and a bunch of other places. Dad. Book reader. Friend to many Matts.

Descript is a collaborative audio/video editor that works like a doc. It includes transcription, a screen recorder, publishing, and some mind-bendingly useful AI tools.
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Brandon Copple

Head of Content at Descript. Former Editor at Groupon, Chicago Sun-Times, and a bunch of other places. Dad. Book reader. Friend to many Matts.

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