Steve October 9, 2020

Creating projects is fun, but the real value, as far as the imaginary Internet points are concerned, is how well you show them off for the clout. Taking a few snaps is fine, but if you want to produce a quality video of your project, it pays to put some thought and effort into the process.

Telling The Story

Before setting out to document your project on video, think about what you’re trying to communicate to the viewer. Are you attempting to create a step-by-step guide on how to recreate what you’ve done, or are you simply trying to show off the awesome finished product? These are two very different types of video, and will require different content and delivery entirely. It also guides how you shoot your video.

If you want to show off your build process, you’ll need to shoot as you go. This can be time consuming, but also a great way to show the reality of what goes into your work. I always like it when people convey the pitfalls and successes they faced along the way, and get people involved in the story. It also means that you’ll end up shooting a lot of footage and you’ll spend plenty of time editing it all together.

Sometimes a timelapse is all you need, and has benefit of letting you work uninterrupted!

Alternatively, you may wish to show off the end result instead. If your project is more interesting as a finished piece, you may not feel the need to show people the hours you spent wiring up an Arduino and debugging the code. Instead, you can skip to the end, show them the fancy glittery results, and just give the background information where necessary. This is great if you have limited time to edit and want to work without slowing down to shoot video all the time.

Sometimes, it’s possible to go even simpler, and just shoot a timelapse. Paired with an appropriate soundtrack, this can make for a very appealing video, particularly if you’re building something crafty or intricate. It can also guide others on your process without all the work required to create a fully explanatory how-to.

Whichever option you go for, you should think about what you want to show people, and what they want to see. Is the value of your project in the creation process and the workmanship, or is it in the shiny finished product? Identifying this will save you from wasting hours making a video full of content nobody wants to see. Doing some fancy machining to produce an intricate clock? Consider filming the build. Wiring up a bunch of LEDs to produce a stunning art piece? The soldering and wiring is probably a little dry – consider spending your time shooting beautiful shots of the reveal.

Depending on your project, a good video can be a replacement or a complement for documentation. If you’re doing something that’s fun, but perhaps not particularly novel, there may not be a great need for exhaustive documentation. Your video might just be a little overview of what you’ve achieved, and all you need to share with the world. Alternatively, if you’ve been working on an advanced new process that’s at the bleeding edge of your field, a video might serve as a nice complement to richer documentation of your project — but please still write down those nitty gritty details which help provides the deeper understanding. In these cases, a short video that hits the major points and directs the viewer to more in-depth resources can be a really useful thing to have.

The Great Camera in Your Pocket

A decent smartphone is a great way to start shooting video, especially when combined with a tripod. Source: Animoto

Shooting a great video is about having the right tools and using the right techniques. Thankfully, we live in an age where consumer electronics are cheaper than ever, and there’s a whole raft of hardware and software out there that’s ready to make your video look wonderfully polished.

You’ll want to start with a decent camera capable of shooting nice, quality video. Mid-tier to flagship smartphones are all capable of shooting in HD, if not 4K nowadays, and can serve as an excellent platform when you’re starting out. Used properly, they can put out good quality content every time.

Moving up, there’s DSLRs, long the realm of the professional photographer, these offer interchangeable lenses and greater finesse over shooting. A DSLR can be useful when shooting in low-light environments, or macro subjects, or in other cases where fine control over the capture process is necessary. Beyond that, the sky is the limit, with professional video equipment offering the best performance for those with the budget to match.

So Steady As She Goes

A tripod will make all the difference to your videos, allowing you to easily shoot clear, stable footage.

Your first purchase beyond a camera should be a tripod. Despite all the image stabilisation technology in the world, none of it can quite compete with a camera that is simply mounted on a stable footing. Even if you’re using a smartphone, buying a cheap adaptor and fitting it to a proper tripod will improve your videos immeasurably. No longer will your audience have to contend with the distraction of your shaky hand movements and poor framing. Instead, they’ll have a clear view of the action and be able to focus on what’s going on.

For shooting project videos, a photography-style tripod with a ball head will be more than adequate. Most shots you’ll want to take will be static, with perhaps the occasional pan thrown here and there. Of course, if you’re getting into filming more action shots, you may find a reason to invest in a more expensive fluid-head system. Fluid-head tripods are designed with hydraulic fluid mechanisms to help you shoot smooth pan and tilt shots, and are great if you’re looking to get more movement in your work. People who are constantly moving the camera around are know to go far beyond this, custom designing rail systems, some are portable but some are computer controlled and built right into the shop itself.

Aziz, Light!

LED video lights like the Viltrox V116T are a great portable lighting solution, particularly when paired with softening filters. Source: DSLR Video Shooter

You have to think about lighting. If you’re really looking to take things seriously, some proper lighting can make all the difference. If you’re shooting outdoors, aim to take into account the position of the sun relative to your subject and make sure you’re not losing detail in unnecessary shadows or with whites becoming overexposed. Indoors, it pays to have a good set of video lights. These are specialist lights that output a broad color spectrum and are designed to help you shoot quality images and video. Often paired with a soft box, they can make a huge difference to the quality of your final image.

You can definitely make photography lights yourself. As someone who has tried, and failed, to shoot nice quality video with workshop lights and bedside lamps, it was amazing to see the improvement a set of video-quality CCFLs fitted into softboxes made to my shoots. These will help provide your scene with bright, even illumination and show your project in its best possible light.

Go Forth And Shoot!

With good lights, a solid tripod, and a good camera, you should have all you need to shoot quality videos of your projects. If you want to push the boat out, of course, there’s more hardware to discover. You might want to score yourself a steadycam or gimbal for quality motion shots, or perhaps a motorized slider for dramatic reveals. Of course, this is Hackaday, not Buyaday, and building your own is always an option too. This is great if you’d like to customize your tools to work with the way you like to shoot.

With a strong idea of what kind of video you want to shoot, and armed with the right hardware, you’re ready to go. All you need now is a project, though we’re fairly sure the Hackaday readership is never short of things to work on. And remember — nobody knows your project better than you, so get out there and film some great content to share with the world!

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