We’re all on camera now. Prior to the pandemic, I knew plenty of people who taped over their laptop’s built-in webcam lens, certain that its only purpose was to allow hackers to spy on them. Now, a lot of those same friends and acquaintances have dedicated videoconference lighting. Broader sampling reflects my personal experience: At the end of 2019, Zoom averaged 10 million meeting participants per day. In April 2020, it reported getting 300 million. Video has become one of society’s primary methods of daily communication. As a result, standards for video experiences have risen.
Organizations that never expected to provide video experiences of any kind — businesses, schools, houses of worship — are now regularly charged with creating engaging, interactive, real-time video.
Retailers that previously relied on in-person traffic for browsing and shopping are now finding that both pre-recorded and live video are an essential part of the omnichannel playbook. On top of it all, many of these organizations have no choice but to undertake these efforts with skeleton crews. 2020 was a rough year, financially speaking. Few organizations could afford to take on new employees specializing in video production. What’s more, social distancing requirements and strict gathering size limitations often precluded building out a large video production team, even for those organizations that could afford to hire. Increasing the size of, say, a church’s AV production team is a non-starter when only 10 people are allowed to be in the building.
The pandemic created a vast need for enhanced video production that can be executed by a small team at an affordable price point. End-user ingenuity and technological innovation has flowed into that gap. It’s easier to pull off than you’d think, given the right approach. Below, I’ll explore my four favorite video production hacks to enable affordable, high-quality video production.
1. Let the robots do it.
Robotic cameras have grown incredibly capable. Motion sync has improved so that the pan, tilt, and zoom actions of a remotely controlled camera better mimic the movements of a manual operator. Even more impressive, though, is the fact that some cameras no longer require a human operator at all. Cameras equipped with auto-follow features can follow a subject — such as a teacher, pastor, or presenter — around a predefined space, keeping them centered in the frame.
After defining a capture area with built-in software, these AI-driven cameras can find and follow a presenter as they move through the area. Computer vision algorithms can now successfully differentiate between the shot’s intended focus and other motion: The camera won’t be distracted by flashing lights or restless audience members. It’s even possible to create “trigger zones” within the capture area that initiate pre-programmed commands when the subject enters them. For instance, the area in front of a lectern can be programmed as a trigger zone so that every time a speaker steps up to the mic, a graphic showing the event title and logo pops up at the bottom of the screen.
2. Empower non-experts to assist with video production.
Video production is a nuanced art that takes many years to master. It’s also fun. Schools, churches, and even businesses often have a healthy population of volunteers who will gladly assist on video production in exchange for learning some of the ropes. Allowing volunteers to participate in the production process may seem risky, especially in a real-time scenario such as a worship service on Zoom or a Facebook Live sale, but it is possible to create appropriate technological boundaries and fail-safes.
Attention to the initial system setup pays massive dividends here, too. Using camera control software or hardware, the camera system can be programmed with presets defining the proper camera selection, position, and zoom for various scenes. These presets ensure that volunteers aren’t overwhelmed by options when they sit down at the controls — all they have to do is push the right button for the scene. Some control devices can even be locked into “safe” or “basic” mode, allowing access to presets but preventing the user from changing any settings they shouldn’t.
Many network-connected cameras and control devices also have web interfaces, which offer another safety net for volunteers. If one production lead is managing several less experienced team members, a web interface can allow them to immediately correct any mistakes remotely from their tablet or smartphone, wherever they happen to be within the space. Conversely, team members can be given access to simplified, “basic mode” controls via a web interface instead of giving them unfettered access to the control console.
3. Use one camera to do the job of many.
Most organizations don’t really need 4K video. If they are livestreaming over a platform like Zoom, they in most cases can’t broadcast a resolution higher than 1080p. However, some 4K cameras have dual outputs, allowing the user to capture two live shots from a single device. The camera captures a single, high-resolution field of view. The outputs each show a 1080- or 720-pixel section of that capture. By switching between the two outputs, the user can mimic a multi-camera setup. For instance, when filming a tutorial or product demonstration, the stream can toggle between a wide shot and a close-up.
In some cases, the camera output can also electronically “pan, tilt, and zoom” (PTZ) across its field of view. In this case, the camera itself doesn’t actually move. Instead, it sends different parts of its field of view to the output. These “ePTZ” cameras can thereby imitate the movement effects of their robotic standard PTZ cousins, especially in live video situations where HD rather than 4K video is required.
4. Take advantage of free training resources.
There is a robust online community ready to support those interested in learning more about DIY production. Free video production software tools like Open Broadcaster Software (OBS) often have lively user forums, packed with both extensive guides and documentation, as well as video enthusiasts who will gladly help troubleshoot specific issues. Equipment manufacturers can also be a wealth of knowledge. My own company, PTZOptics, offers free training resources including a detailed knowledge base, online Udemy courses, and live shows — and the skills you can pick up here can be applied to any kind of camera, including non-PTZOptics models. It’s in a manufacturer’s interest to provide rich video production resources to their end users because we want them to get comfortable with and love using cameras. The more users become the kind of video enthusiasts who are assisting others on online message boards, the happier we are.
There’s a difference between being on camera and being a video person. Those who are on camera may join a community, but video people create communities. They offer a window into remote events. They manage teams of volunteers. They create engaging content that captures the viewer’s attention. Take advantage of resources, technologies, and learning resources that have emerged in the wake of the pandemic. You can become the “video person” for your organization.
Paul Richards is the Director of Business Development for HuddleCamHD and PTZOptics. He is also the author of several books, including: “Helping Your Church Live Stream,” “The Virtual Ticket,” and “The Online Meeting Survival Guide.” As the Chief Streaming Officer at StreamGeeks, Paul teaches his audience each week about topics focused on live streaming. In addition, he leads a free online Udemy course called “Helping Your Church Live Stream 2.0,” where he has reached more than 35,000 students interested in learning more about live video production and mobile streaming.