Grant Shaddick
October 21, 2020

Tips to improve your home video setup

At Tella, we're trying to make it easy for people to share their ideas, expertise, and stories using video.

So while Tella takes care of the video creation, what happens outside of the app and off-camera is also really important to making a great video. In this post I'll share a few tips to help you optimise your home recording setup so that you can look sharp and sound great on screen.

Before we start, I think the best general advice for getting a great home recording setup is to follow the streamers. Yup, gaming streamers. This lot have been doing the whole record-video-behind-a-computer-in-a-dark-bedroom thing for yonks. On YouTube you can find endless gear reviews and setup tips by the gaming community. The rest of us have spent 2020 cobbling together home offices and makeshift studios to look pretty on Zoom, but the gaming community has been tinkering with this stuff for years. Here's a couple of YouTube channels that I've found handy for learning about recording/streaming/podcasting/YouTubing setups:

Alpha Gaming



📷 Camera

Stock webcams don't have a great reputation. So, if you've got the budget, then you should consider upgrading to an external webcam.

If you don't have the budget the best thing you can do with a stock webcam is to set it at eye-level. This means the camera isn't looking up or down at you, but rather straight on. Elevate your laptop by putting it on a box or a stack of books (I use an empty flowerpot sometimes — perfect height 🌷).

Given we're all going to be working from home for a lot longer, it's probably worth making the budget for a better camera. Even if you're only making videos occasionally, a good camera will improve all those Zooms, Hangouts, and BlueJeans (What. A. Name.) that you'll be doing in years to come.

When it comes to upgrading your camera, there are two main categories:

  1. An external webcam, designed solely to be used as a webcam, or...
  2. A digital camera, adapted for use as a webcam

For a quick and cheap upgrade to your camera, go for the webcam. You can find plenty decent options for less than 100 dollars. Here's a decent list to start with.

But, if you want a picture that viewers will admire, with that blurred background look and brilliant colours, then you'll want to get a proper digital camera. You can find very decent digital cameras for webcam use starting at 300 or 400 dollars (I use the Sony a5100—it's been great). At the top end of the spectrum you can buy some serious pro camera gear and hook it up to your computer too. A lot of popular YouTubers and streamers use top of the line Canon and Sony DSLRs as their "webcams".

Before you go out buy a digital camera for a webcam, it's worth noting that you're not going to be able to use it right away. There's a couple of extra accessories you'll need before you can properly use a digital camera for recording—I touch on these later.

Also, if you've got an old digital camera lying around from that street photography phase you went through in the mid-2000s, try that out (mid-2000s might be too old actually 🤔). If you can find your old camera on this list, then there's a pretty good chance you can hook it up to your computer as a webcam.

Also also, one could argue that using your mobile phone as a webcam is a viable option. But that means you can't use your phone while recording and the apps required to enable such a setup aren't great (yet). No doubt this will become a better option in the not too distant future though.

🎙 Microphone

Good audio is one of those things that just makes a video... better. Avoid using the small, tinny sound of headphone or laptop mics and you'll already give your video a more professional feel. Your camera can be average and your overall video can still be really good. But if your audio is bad, then it's much harder to make your video come across nicely. I think the world is just much less forgiving of bad audio that it is of bad picture. There's probably some science to this. 🤷🏻‍♂️

As ever, you can stick with the default on your computer or your headphones, but I'd highly recommend upgrading to a proper external mic. Just like a webcam upgrade, a good mic will serve you in other facets of working from home, far beyond creating in Tella.

For good sound, the bar does start quite high though. I use the Blue Yeti—a great quality, entry level mic which retails for 150 dollars. This is a pretty comprehensive and up-to-date list of mics for streaming and podcasting.

🛋 Lighting

Lighting is fun. You can get away with using an average camera if you can arrange a nice lighting setup. In the end, what makes a good camera a good camera is its ability to manipulate light. So without a good camera it's on you to do the light manipulating.

Some lighting tips that will cost you nothing (usually...?):

  1. Record in a well lit room. If you can't record during the day, make sure you room has enough light to see the room's contents pretty clearly. If you're can't find a well lit spot, then you'll have to rely on some kind of key light (this is fine, but it's just more work that being in a well lit spot to begin with).
  2. Don't record with a light source behind you (e.g. a window in the middle of the day). This will create a silhouette effect and no one will see you. Even if there's decent lighting in front of you, it's not easy competing against glaring beams of sunlight.
  3. Record with a light source in front of you—something that illuminates your face nicely. But not something too bright—you don't want to be squinting. For a long time I did my recordings in my living room, facing the window, in the middle of the day: the light was nice and looked natural.
  4. Don't be afraid to grab a few lamps from around the house and use them to hack a custom lighting setup together. The tips shared in this video can be applied to your own DIY lighting setup.

As for gear, the only thing that I'd really recommend purchasing is a ring light. You can get cheap ones and they'll do just the trick. It won't matter what time of day it is, or how bad the lighting is, with a ring light set up the camera will be capturing your face fully illuminated (something along these lines). If you get a smaller one, then you can travel with it or move it around your house easily.

And if you do want to go all-in on lighting, then this is a good video to start with. It covers the gear and the techniques that should help you get started.

🖼 Background

Set up somewhere that doesn't have a busy background. The focus of the video is you, not your home, and messy shelves will distract viewers. Find a spot that has a decent amount of clean wall in it. If you can get a spot with a corner, where two walls meet, that's even better. Having corner behind you will create depth, which always looks more appealing than a one dimensional surface.

But if you take this too far — by searching for the only blank corner in your house — it'll look like you're sat in a box. Sitting with a wall right behind you can create harsh shadows. So keep some distance between whatever is behind you. And don't be afraid to show some personality in your frame. Viewers know that you're at home, so there's no point trying to completely block out where you live and work. Pictures, plants, and tidy furniture will make your space more human and friendly, without being distracting.

🧰 Extras

  1. Cam Link: This is an HDMI to USB adaptor. These are essential if you want to use a digital camera as a webcam. Without it, your computer won't be able to receive the video feed from your camera. They've been in hot demand recently; sold out in many locations. But it looks like stock is catching up.
  2. Tripod: Again, if you're using a digital camera, this is essential. You can slap your new digital camera on the top of your laptop or monitor unfortunately, so a tripod is probably the way to go. You can get really cheap ones in all sizes. Before you pick one of these up, work out your setup at home first and use that to determine what kind of tripod you need. If you don't have a lot of space on your desk, then might want something compact. If you want your camera above a large external monitor then you'll want something with long, sturdy legs and a narrow base.Bonus tip to get a mini or portable tripod so you can use your nice camera from your Airbnb.
  3. Boom arm: With this you can attach an external mic, move it all around, and pretend you're Joe Rogan (actually no, don't pretend you're Joe Rogan). You could go even further and get a full rig to attach your camera and lighting. Not necessary, but it definitely looks cool 😎.