Okay, you probably have some experience going live now: you know how to bring your charisma on camera, you make your live guests feel right at home, and you are a pro at engaging your audience.
But then you browse around and see those other live shows… And they look and sound so polished! The background is ever-so-slightly blurred, the picture is crisp, and the sound is magnificent. How did they do that?! And more importantly, how do I do that?
Achieving a polished look may seem like a really difficult task at first. Surely those professional-looking streams have a large crew and an equally large budget! In reality, understanding the basics of studio setup will give you all the tools you need to take the visual quality of your live stream to the next level (without spending a fortune!). Here are the three main ideas.
The first step to making your stream look more professional is improving your set. Naturally, it is ideal to set up a permanent studio in a dedicated space. However, even if you don’t have a dedicated studio space, there are some simple things you can do to improve your set.
Frame your shot and have a good look at the background. Clean up the visible space behind you, remove any distracting objects, make it look neat. Think about introducing some interesting elements into the background. It could be as simple as a pop of color (a flower, a picture frame, some marbles) or perhaps a piece of your merchandise. Refrain from adding anything too busy, noisy, or distracting.
One of the things you need in order to create that beautiful blurry background effect is to have some space between you and the background. Positioning yourself too closely to the wall might cast harsh shadows and make the frame look very flat. Keep at least 3 feet (1 m) from the wall.
Good lighting can drastically improve the overall picture. What good lighting is able to do is not just make the scene bright, but also give it depth and dimension. To get the best results, employ the standard three-point lighting setup.
The Key Light will be your main and brightest light. Position it in front of the host, a bit to the side. The second, Fill Light will also be in front of the star but opposite the Key Light. It should be less strong than the Key Light and its job is to balance out the harsh shadows created by the Key Light. The host will appear even more three-dimensional if these two lights are of different color (temperature). Lastly, a Back Light, also known as the Rim Light, is positioned behind the star, lighter her from the back. This will give a small rim of light around their head and shoulders, nicely separating them from the background.
LED lights are quite convenient to use because they don’t warm up the room, however they tend to be more costly. Regular bulb lights are fine too, just make sure to choose the “natural daylight” tone to avoid a bluish skin tone.
If you have a more sizeable budget – you can simply get a lighting kit from Amazon for under $150. If you are on a tighter budget or if your space doesn’t allow for large light stands, you can get some clamp lights from your local hardware store (about $10 each, excluding the bulbs). You may need to diffuse these lights with a paper or plastic screen to avoid harsh direct light.
When using the three-point lighting scenario, we actually recommend blocking off all natural light (windows) because it is harder to control than artificial lights. If three-point lighting sounds a bit too complex – we advise that you still try to use at least one artificial light source.
Going live using a webcam is really easy: most laptops come with a web camera preinstalled, and if not — plug-and-play USB webcams are cheap and simple to buy. However, web cameras don’t always give you the best picture quality. Using a more professional, HD video camera will instantly set your stream apart from the rest.
There are a few options for HD cameras: you can get a camcorder, a DSLR, or mirrorless camera. If you already have a digital camera for taking pictures – that may work for live video. The most important requirement for this camera is to have an HDMI out port. This will allow you to connect to your camera using an HDMI camera and capture what the camera is “seeing”.
HD camera prices start at around $200 and go all the way up to thousands of dollars. However there’s absolutely no need to get a really expensive camera to improve the look of your video. Even getting a simple camcorder like Canon Vixia r800 or a mirrorless camera like the Panasonic Lumix G7 can do wonders for your live stream. Be sure to check out this article if you want to know more about how to pick a live streaming camera.
From here, there are two options for capturing the video signal from your camera to your stream. Connecting your camera directly to your computer using an HDMI cable will likely not work. You can either use a USB capture card, which serves as an intermediary device between your computer and your camera. Keep in mind that if you want to use a capture card – you will need to have a pretty powerful computer. If your machine can’t keep up – both your video feed and your computer will be very laggy.
An easier way to get HD video is using a simple encoding device like Epiphan’s Webcaster X2. Connect the Webcaster X2 to the internet (Ethernet or Wi-Fi), directly connect your HD camera using an HDMI cable, pair it your Belive.tv account and you are ready to stream high quality video to your audience.
It’s always a good idea to securely mount your camera on a tripod. A stable video frame is half the battle!
While it’s clear that the video image quality is very important for a stream, audiences are actually much more willing to forgive poor video than poor audio. If the sound is choppy, clicky, or noisy – the viewer is much more likely to turn away, even if the video quality is top notch.
Here are a few tips on improving your audio. First of all, let’s look at where you are filming. Ideally, your set should be located in a small space, enclosed by four walls. Halls and open spaces are bound to give you echoes. It should be as quiet as possible on the set: no electrical buzzing or humming noises, no sirens wailing. Furnish with soft surfaces to further soundproof your set. Put carpeting on the floor and drape the walls with blankets to absorb any extra echoes.
Finally, improve your audio by investing in a better microphone. There are many great, affordable, and easy to use desktop USB microphones out there. Desktop USB mics are plug-and-play devices, which means you can connect them to your computer and use them to capture sound right away. A good example would be the Blue Yeti USB microphone: for about $100 this mic can give you that crispy podcast sound on your live stream.
A practical tip is to keep the microphone as close to your mouth as possible. A mic mounted on your camera 4 ft away might be a bit too far, even for a very good mic. The difference between audio captured using your laptop and that using a dedicated directional microphone will be apparent right away.
We hope these tips inspired you to take your existing setup to the next level. Just by improving your set design, getting a better camera, and tweaking your audio, you can be creating a much more professional-quality live stream. And your audience will be sure to notice your hard work as well!
Marta Chernova is the content manager and lead writer at Epiphan Video.