The role of a narrator is to tell the viewers what they are seeing. Narrators allow videographers to have more control over the presentation of a video, to make it clearer. At its worst, narration can fix poor video storytelling. At its best, narration can double the amount of information your audience absorbs.

Many people try to narrate as they shoot an event, and this takes away from any potential use of natural sound on the video. A good storyteller will shoot for both video and audio, then use a controlled setting to record the narration later.

Adding good voiceover narration is relatively easy. Most of us know someone with a good voice who can read from a script well enough to add sufficient value to a video. Using an off-camera narrator allows for convenient editing of paragraphs or even individual sentences. Editing an on-camera narrator is much more challenging, since your viewers will notice the edits. There isn’t really a good solution to this problem (you can try using dissolves), but using a narrator who sometimes appears on screen is worth the effort.

Shooting on-camera interviews is a little more challenging than other types of documentary shooting. While shooting a narrator, you have to direct the on-camera talent. In the entertainment business, this is the role of the director, which, like all other roles, is complex enough to justify a career.

Ideally, when shooting on-screen talent in an interview-style situation, your set will be in a controlled studio. However, most of us don’t have a dedicated home studio, so we have to re-purpose another room in the house. Just shooting a narrator in a living room will not look particularly professional, but we can dress it up a little.

Obviously, you should find the largest room you can: a garage, a warehouse, a meeting room or whatever else you have available. Scout the location and shoot some test footage, which includes a person talking. Large spaces make for easier lighting and camera setup, but wide-open and empty rooms have crummy acoustics. This could be worse than dealing with the cramped spaces of a small room. In either a small room or an excessively large space, you can use sound deadening material to help refine the acoustics, such as fabric, carpets or foam. If you can’t find a large space, try to utilize your available space in the best ways possible. Try to maximize the distance between the camera and the back of the set. This may require that you set up the tripod in a doorway or even down a hallway. Using an on-camera narrator can make your videos more professional. It might also mean that you finally have to get out from behind your camera and get out in front of it for a change.

Matthew York is Videomaker’s Publisher/Editor.

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