Basic Guide to Videoing Lectures
This document is intended for users who wish to record a lecture. It is a complement to JISC Digital Media’s advice paper Audio/Video Production: Recording Lectures, Seminars and Events. In that document, we discussed the details common to any type of event that might be recorded. This document looks at issues and considerations specific to the recording of lectures. It covers everything the novice should need to know from the first step to the last.
It is assumed that the reader of this document has read the Introduction to Digital Video, the Basic Guide to Shooting Video and Audio/Video Production: Recording Lectures, Seminars and Events.
As discussed in Audio/Video Production: Recording Lectures, Seminars and Eventss, it is essential to inspect the venue well before the event. In the case of a lecture, you should find out the locations of electrical sockets and light switches that you may need to use. Depending on how you decide to record sound, you may need access to wireless mics or the PA system. You may have to arrange with a technician to get a feed from the PA, not to mention permission to do whatever is required for the recording. This may require speaking to the technician days before the event.
You should also know ahead of time if the lecturer is using video or audio examples or PowerPoint slides in the lecture. You may be able to arrange to record these materials before or after the actual lecture. If not, knowing that you will have to record these during the lecture may affect the way you set up for the event.
The most important part of recording a lecture is unquestionably getting the sound right. A recording where the picture is lost will still be usable, if not perfect, but a recording where the sound is lost is useless. As a result, enough time should be taken to ensure good sound recording.
As mentioned in Audio/Video Production: Recording Lectures, Seminars and Events, sound can be recorded with a fixed mic (probably attached to a lectern) or a lapel mic. Alternatively it can be taken from a feed from the PA system (which itself will be fed by either a fixed or a lapel mic). A lapel mic, whether taken direct or through the PA, will almost always be the preferable way of getting sound, as it is rare for a lecturer to keep a fixed distance from a mic for the duration of a lecture. Once again it should be mentioned that the camera mic is the least satisfactory sound source, albeit one which has to be used sometimes.
A lapel mic will be inadequate to record any audio examples the lecturer may playing during the lecture. If you are recording an audio feed – and the lecturer is playing the audio example of the PA system – you will be able to record any audio examples directly. Failing this, you may find that the only way to record them is with the camera mic. Remember that most camcorders will record 2 tracks of audio, so it may be possible to record from the camera mic and a lapel mic simultaneously.
There is very little that can be done to improve the lighting in a lecture theatre. Nevertheless, it is worth investigating and experimenting beforehand, if only to find the least worst setup. In particular it may be possible to increase the illumination on the lecturer without spilling any light on any screen being used, which would make it harder for students (and the camera) to see what was on the screen.
There is little choice in the positioning of the camera in a lecture theatre: it will generally either be at the side or the rear of the theatre. Things that should be considered when choosing the position include:
- What is being shot? Just the lecturer? The screen? The audience?
- What are the sightlines? Is the camera in a position where the view will not be blocked when the audience has entered?
- Is there access to mains power? To a feed from the PA?
- Is the location a safety hazard? Are you blocking fire routes? Is it possible to secure any cables that could present an obstruction?
In connection with the last point, be sure to bring gaffer tape to tape down all cabling.
As always when shooting an event, the first rule of thumb is to start sooner and end later. The media you are recording on is the least expensive element in the process of shooting this video, so be generous with it. Remember that you can always cut out unwanted footage but you can never add material that’s missing.
The framing of the lecturer is covered in detail in the Basic Guide to Shooting Video. Suffice to say here that the lecturer should be off-centre in the frame towards the side of the frame that their back is to. Perhaps the most common mistake made by amateur camerapersons is to make the subject too small in the frame: there is rarely any need to see more than the head and arms of the lecturer and often just the head will make an excellent shot. If the lecturer has a very animated lecturing style, moving about the stage area a longer shot may be appropriate (not to say useful for keeping a moving target in the frame), but a static speaker will be more likely to keep the viewer’s attention if larger in the frame.
A close-up shot like this will keep the viewer’s attention focused more on a static lecturer.
A medium close-up is a good shot to provide variety from the close-up.
A long shot should only be used where the lecturer has a sufficiently dynamic lecturing style to justify it.
It is common practice when shooting a speaker to “change the frame” from time to time, i.e. to zoom in or out slightly to change the size of the speaker in the frame. This adds a bit of variety to the video and can be particularly useful if the video is to be edited. It is important to zoom quickly between framings: a gradual zoom in or out is not a good thing to have in a video of a lecture. Not only does it make it difficult to edit the footage, it also can lend an artificial air of suspense or significance to the material being spoken which is inappropriate.
Where a lecture has AV materials of some sort (PowerPoint, video, MP3) the best procedure is always to record it separately and edit it into the video afterwards. This will result in higher quality recordings of the AV material; it will also make shooting and editing the lecturer simpler and more flexible. For details on how to record AV materials see the Basic Guide to Videoing AV Materials.
It is, of course, not always possible to record AV materials separate from the lecture. In these cases there will be no alternative but to record both the lecturer and what is being projected on the screen during the lecture.
The most important thing to remember in this situation is not to have both the lecturer and the screen in shot at the same time. If they are in the same shot, the lecturer will inevitably be underexposed and may well block important material on the screen. In addition, keeping the lecturer and screen separate will facilitate any editing of the material you may choose to do.
The lecturer almost always appears much darker than the screen. The auto exposure feature on most camcorders will adjust for this variation in brightness, but there will be a brief period when the camera pans between the lecturer and the screen when either the screen is too bright or the lecturer is in silhouette.
In some lecture theatres it may be possible to reduce this problem by shining additional light onto the lecturer without spilling any of this light onto the screen. Failing that, panning quickly between the lecturer and the screen will minimise the badly exposed section of the video. The cameraperson should not pan between the lecturer and the screen more than is necessary: one shot of the screen which is long enough to read its contents (but not less than 10 seconds) should suffice.
Including both the lecturer and the screen in the same shot results in a severely underexposed lecturer.
The correct procedure is to shoot the lecturer with as little of the screen as possible to ensure that the exposure is correct…
…and to shoot the screen separately – or to incorporate the slides into the video afterwards.
If you even think that at some point you may wish to edit the footage it is a good idea to shoot cutaways before, during or after the lecture. As described in the Basic Guide to Shooting Video, these are shots of something other than the main subject of the video which may be used to create editing points. The most obvious cutaway to shoot in a lecture is of students watching the lecture, but you should be aware that you may need to get the students in your shot to sign release forms.
If you will have shots of visual materials on a screen these can, of course, be used as cutaways. Other possibilites include a very wide shot of the entire lecture hall or a close up of the lecturer’s hands.
If no cutaways were shot during the lecture, now is the time to get them. If the audience leaves before you can get shots of them your best alternative is to get the lecturer to stay at the front of the hall and pretend to lecture while you take closeups of his or her hands.
Once everyone has left the hall you may also wish to record some atmos. Around 30 seconds of the sound of the empty hall (the picture is unimportant) should suffice.
Finally, if you have not done so before or during the lecture now is the time to record any AV materials the lecturer may have used. If you have access to digital copies of the material you may be able to bypass this stage and import the maerials directly into your editing program.
For more information about cutaways, atmos and shooting AV materials, see the Basic Guide to Shooting Video.
This is covered in the Basic Guide to Shooting Video. As always, the most important things to remember are to leave the location looking better than it looked when you came and to check everywhere for your equipment and then check again.
By following the procedures outlined in the Basic Guide to Shooting Video and Audio/Video Production: Recording Lectures, Seminars and Events and by paying particular attention to the points covered in this document, the reader should be able to create good recordings of lectures, either to use as videos in their own right or to edit.