Vlogs are the new blogs. Vlogs are a visual medium. The only limitation is your ability to produce vlogs that are compelling, interesting and easily obtainable.
Blogs are sooo 2008! In the beginning, there was the written word. People started writing down their thoughts to share with those who cared to read them. It was called a blog because it's a retraction of the words "web log". Then came video. More than the words, video had the advantage of a visual and audio component. One day, bloggers discovered video, combined the two and soon the "vlog" was born. Before, what had to be described can now be shown. Editing in video, embedding links and special effects mean that vlogs can reach a whole new audience.
The cost to produce a vlog can be as little as zero, in many cases. Free software, free hosting sites and free distribution suggests the only limitation is your ability to produce vlogs that are compelling, interesting and easily obtainable. Vlogs also have the distinct advantage of being a visual medium. While an art audio podcast may be minimally interesting, when committed to video, it can explode to life. Images, demonstrations and techniques can all be shown to the viewer, increasing understanding and retention by a huge margin.
Deciding your topic may seem easy at first, but think it through carefully. A general topic like "Cooking" is fine, but a bit broad for viewers to wrap their head around. Most people respond better to a more specific topic. In this case, "Outdoor Grilling". Make sure you have much to say about the topic, a one-episode vlog won't go far. Or, your topic can be about something more personal: Local city politics, your favorite sports team or anything that happens to get you talking ad nauseam.
Be sure to keep the time limit to a reasonable length. A few minutes of riveting content is far better than a long, diluted rambling bore. Some of the most successful vlogs are only a scant few minutes in duration. Try a few practice vlogs to get used to speaking on camera, get the technical steps down and to explore some creative options before committing your video to the internet.
Also, it's a good idea to outline your talk or production. Even a short time spent planning out shots, editing, talking points and other elements of the vlog will pay off when it comes time to piece all of the vlog together for final distribution. During your recording, keep the notes just out of sight and subtly refer to them to keep the momentum going and the interest level high.
Toys for Talk
So, what gear is needed in order to make your vlog? Chances are pretty good you have the equipment sitting around right now. Turns out, not much is needed at all. The simplest setup would have a camera on a tripod (at eye level) focused and framed by a helper. Add a little wiggle room by pulling the frame out a little wider than you would normally like it to be. As you speak and start gesturing and really get into it, you'll find yourself moving around and you'll really need that extra space. If your camera has a flip-out LCD screen, open it up and pivot the screen so it faces you and you're able to keep yourself in frame. It doesn't matter if you shoot on tapes, cards or hard drives. You'll be ingesting the video into the computer using your video editing software.
To improve the audio quality, plug in an external microphone (optional, but highly recommended) and clip it to your lapel or set it up on a mic stand no more than 12 inches from your mouth. Test the quality before speaking by recording a short talk of a few seconds duration and review to be certain of crisp, clean audio.
Edit the video using your choice of video editing software. Even the most basic software will usually have enough features to provide a good result. Add an introductory sequence with titles and music to give your production a professional look and feel. Don't make it too long- keep it short, say under 15 seconds - because your viewer wants to see what you have to say and not a long introduction. During the body of your vlog, remember to add elements like photos, other video, titles of guest and websites and finally, a short ending sequence to conclude the vlog cleanly.
A more basic and direct way to record your vlog is to use the webcam that came with your computer. This records the video and audio directly into the computer, eliminating the step needed to ingest the video into the computer from the external camera in the first example. The video result is not the higher quality available on a stand-alone camera. It's highly recommended that you purchase a USB microphone to ensure the highest quality audio possible. Once complete, use the editing program to tidy up the vlog for final distribution.
Quite a Sight
Remember that a vlog is a visual medium and you need to think it through as one. If you were shooting a video interview (and what is a vlog but a video self-interview?), you would think about the lighting and the background. A vlog requires the same thought. Make sure that your face is more brightly lit than the surrounding background with no bright lamps or windows behind you, either. It's a good idea to turn these off or dim them considerably. Don't trust the glow of the screen to provide illumination; it's simply not strong enough to get the job done. A good tip is to plant a bright lamp, bulb or other light source just behind the camera as it points at you. Check the camera or computer screen for a quality check. Remember, the better the quality going in, the less you have to correct in the computer later.
Additionally, give a quick thought to the background. A cluttered basement or bedroom is just too much of a distraction for the average viewer. They might find themselves trying to figure if that is really a troll collection behind you or just a bunch of colorful fluff. Try cleaning up or hiding the mess. Think about hanging a blanket behind you or even go full throttle and build a background that matches the topic of your discussion. For example, if your blog is about old cars, you might want to set up the camera in the garage with a 1955 Chevy in the background. Gardening? Go outside into the tomato patch, weather permitting.
Getting it Out There
You can make all of the vlogs you want, but until someone is able to see it, what's the point? The good news is that it's pretty easy to get your masterpiece out to the public at large. There are plenty of free sites available to distribute your finished product to anyone who is interested in seeing it. One of the most popular sites is the ubiquitous YouTube. Simply follow the instructions and upload your completed movie file to the site. Write a comprehensive description with tags and make sure you tell everyone you know to go watch it.
You can also use a service that will host your vlog. Blogger.com will allow you to upload your vlog and provide you with a website that you send people to when you are ready to have people enjoy your finished product. You'll be able to surround your vlogs with written postings, photos, links, bios and other data that your audience might find useful - and all for nothing. The site makes money by surrounding your vlogs with small advertisements. Blogger.com is also filled with tutorials and helpful tips to assist you in attracting an audience. After all, the more people you draw, the more money they make, so it's in their best interest for them to help you succeed.
Who Are You Again?
So, you've got a lot to say and no one to say it to, right? Wrong. Now is the time to let the world know you need to be heard. Get the word out by going to websites, other vlogs, blogs and forums that cater to your topic of interest. Post your topic, what makes it special and where your vlog is located for those interested in what you have to say. Seek out the movers and shakers of your chosen topic and let them know you are new to this kind of media; ask them for a mention or at least a peek at your vlog. If they mention it in their own website, make sure to supply a link for easy access. Finally, be sure to regularly update your vlog and pay attention to viewer feedback. Take care of the audience and they'll be sure to take care of you.
Sidebar: What's Behind Door Number One?
A living room or guest room makes a poor and uninteresting background for your viewers. They may be looking at the wall photo of Aunt Millie instead of hearing what you have to say. An inexpensive, but creative background may be just the thing to focus their attention on you and what you have to say. A hollow core door is light, portable and ideal for painting and decorating as a background panel. Use a darker color to avoid the auto-iris feature from closing down the camera's aperture, and attach the appropriate items that enhance the quality look of your production. For instance, a fishing show background panel would benefit from a mounted trout, fishing poles and a creel hanging on a painted door. Make sure the camera is set up and the framing excludes all but the subject and the background. Once the vlog is finished, move the door back to the garage, washroom or storage area and reclaim the living room for the family.
Randy Hansen is an award winning photographer and editor and is photo chief of a TV News station.