COVID-19 Audio Visual Setup

Recording, made easy. Well, easier.

COVID-19 Preamble

I’ve got a bunch of technical posts to help people during COVID-19. Click that link to see all of them.


During COVID-19, many of us are finding we need to record videos of ourselves for broadcast or upload to YouTube, Vimeo or similar. Wenty Anglican is pre-recording content for church each week, to be uploaded to our YouTube channel.

Suddenly, we all need to be able to record a video of ourselves which is good enough for YouTube. Admittedly, that’s not exactly a high bar to clear, but we want to do a decent job of it.

I’ll admit to being in the “learning really quick” boat on this one. I haven’t done much video recording. But I have done plenty of photography, weekly live shows (church), and some post-processing. Recording a video of yourself can’t be that different, right!?!

And if a bunch of kids can do it (and get famous in the process), you (and I) can too!

The Golden Rule: Just Try it Out!

Just try it out!

Whatever setup you’re planning to use, set it up, record 30 seconds of whatever, then watch & listen to it on your computer. And show it to a friend, spouse, children and ask for feedback. We’re used to watching high quality productions on TV, Netflix and so on, so anything really bad will be pretty obvious. So think about how you can make it better, with the materials at hand, and try again.

It won’t take many attempts before you have something passable.

And if you’re struggling, read on!

Just Use Your Smartphone!

The first video I recorded was a church announcement about property and finance just after churches were told not to meet due to COVID-19. I’d never done a serious video before. No vlogging, no YouTube, nothing with me front and centre.

So I stacked the kids toy boxes up, stuck my smartphone on top (balanced against some books), asked my wife if the background was tidy enough (it wasn’t until she’d moved several things out of shot) and did my recording. I used the earbuds that came free with my phone as a microphone. My phone was propped in front of a window such that my face was lit by natural light. And had my laptop right next to my phone, so I could read from a script.

Phone for recording (propped against printer), laptop for script, open window for natural lighting. (Photo for illustrative purposes; my actual recording used a different phone & laptop and no printer)

And here’s a frame from the video, plus a short exerpt.

Here's how my first video turned out.

Total cost: $0.

Total setup time: 30-45 minutes.

Total recording time: ~30 minutes (I did a few takes).

Total post-production time: ~2 hours (learning as I went).

Then I did some very basic editing & sub-titles using the built in Windows 10 Video Editor app. It wasn’t the greatest video editing app, but it got the job done.

Let’s face it, when professional journalists are using an iPhone to record live segments, your smartphone is good enough for 99% of COVID-19 related video. Paul Kennedy has a fancy light and a tripod, but otherwise his setup is pretty similar to mine.

I usually catch Paul Kennedy's sport segment each morning around 7:30am on ABC News Breakfast. Here's his home setup with an iPhone. (Credit - ABC News: Pat Rocca)

Basic Recording Tips

Here are some tips to improve your improvised setup.

  • Audio is king! You can get away with poor visuals if you’re clearly audible. But a top quality video that you can’t hear just doesn’t work. Try listening to a TV show blind vs watching it with no sound. So invest your time and money in sound quality before video.
  • Record in a quiet environment. Shut your dog outside. Stick headphones on the kids. Close the door. Keep background noise to a minimum. Unplug appliances you know make noise. Just keeping things quiet can make a big difference.
  • Your camera should be at the height of your face, or slightly higher. If it’s lower, your audience will end up looking up your nose. Trust me, that’s bad.
  • Ensure your face is well lit, and there aren’t bright lights behind you. Otherwise you’ll be a dark shadow in the video. You are the main event, so make sure you’re visible!
  • Always record in landscape orientation. That is, your phone should be sideways, not up-and-down.
  • Don’t forget to look at the camera, not the screen. Your viewers are in the camera, not the screen. Having said that, it’s OK to look briefly away, just not for long.

Going back to my basic setup, my wife and kids were banished from my recording “studio” (which was the living room) to keep the noise down - enforced YouTube time worked a treat! And I used an external microphone, even if it was just my earbuds. I was seated during the recording, but even then I needed to raise my phone using Ikea toy boxes. And my lighting was the sun streaming through a window.

Kodak have a basic smartphone kit which has a tripod, portrait light and other nick-nacks. No idea if its in-stock at the moment, but it has enough to get you started.

Upgrade your Audio

OK, so you’ve got your smartphone ready to go but need to improve audio quality, what can you do?

I’ll admit to not having much experience here; photography was my hobby years ago, not music or audio.

Check for background noise! Then check again. Record 15 seconds of silence and play it back through headphones on a high volume. Then work to remove the noise.

My first recording went pretty well, but it had a few cars / trucks driving past (nothing I could do about that) and a sort of whirring noise in the background. Took me a while, but I realised that noise was from my servers, which were sitting right next to me! The proximity to servers I wasn’t willing to turn off meant I moved my recording location elsewhere.

Servers are noisier than I thought.

Purchase an external microphone. This can be as simple as your earbuds (which may have come free with your phone, or you can buy some for $15 at the supermarket). Or, you could buy a lapel mic (which you clip on your top, just out of shot), or a directional mic (again, which will sit out of shot), or a USB microphone to plug into your laptop.

In Australia, StoreDJ sells lapel microphones starting from $70, directional mics for smartphones from $80 and USB microphones starting from $110.

And there are entire websites dedicated to reviewing microphones. Check them out!

Upgrade your Visuals

You’re using your smartphone or laptop to record video, but the quality isn’t quite up to scratch, what can you do?

My biggest issue with my first recording was where to put my phone. Getting the right height, while being steady with decent lighting really limited my options. A tripod would have made my life much easier, and opened up several other places in my house for recording!

You can buy attachments that let you put your smartphone in any tripod. Or, you can buy tripods dedicated to smartphones. Once again, there are websites dedicated to tripods.

Improving lighting, particularly on your face, can make a really big difference to video quality. Generally, you want a couple of dedicated light sources, from a couple of different angles, a little higher than your head, that focus evenly on your face - after all, you’re the centre of attention. Bright lights behind you (eg: windows or ceiling lights) are a big no-no!

Now, unless you have dedicated equipment, that’s a tough ask. But here’s a simple light source most people will have around the house: a desk lamp (ideally with a bright LED globe), or in a pinch, a bed-side lamp. Put it on a shelf next to your camera and aim the globe at or across your face - its annoying having a bright light shining in your eyes, but that’s how movie stars feel.

A cheap desk lamp with a 5.5W 470lm globe makes a difference.

I had something a bit more powerful hanging around: a 25W LED flood light. This baby is rated at 2250 lumens and is capable of lighting up… well… an entire room! Unfortunately, its way too bright to aim directly at my face (temporary blindness is a real worry), but I borrowed a photography technique and aimed it at the ceiling. The effect is less bright, but more diffuse.

Here are some pictures to illustrate good and bad lighting:

From my webcam with windows open - I'm just a shadow.

Just closing the curtains makes a huge difference!

And this is with the 25W floodlight. Its actually a little too bright!

And here’s the floodlight in action:

The floodlight is pointed at the ceiling, so the light difuses around the room.

The floodlight sits next to my router and pi-hole, propped up with some books.

Consider a backdrop behind you. If you can record yourself against a plain white wall, or hang a white sheet behind you, most video editing software (and even Zoom) can put a fake background behind you. Think green-screen from movie sets.

If you’re not going for a fake background, then a plain wall is bad. Have something behind you! A book case, a closed window, a poster. Anything!

This example is from a Quiz Worx kids video. The background is plain, but the coloured sheets make it much better:

A frame from a Quiz Worx video - backdrop is plain, but better than plain white.

Finally, getting a dedicated webcam rather than using a built-in laptop camera should give much better quality. Cheap laptops have cheap cameras - they’re good enough for a Skype call or a Zoom meeting (where your face gets squashed down to a postage stamp). But pretty much any external webcam will give better picture (and sound) quality. On day 2 of the Australian lockdown I bought a Logitech C922 Webcam which is much better quality than any the laptops in our house (although I find it a little too wide angle). (Note the C922 appears to be out of stock across the world when I wrote this).

And, if your’re a photography buff, you may already own a DSLR camera, which can take HD videos. A dedicated camera will be better quality than a phone (although not by as much as you may think).


If you find you can’t resolve problems above, you can try to fix them in post-production. This gets… interesting. Because you certainly can fix any number of issues in software after the fact. Equally, you can only be as good as your source material. And the ugly side of post-processing is that it can take hours to save a few minutes of video - sometimes is quicker to just try again.

There’s two sides to this: editing & graphics. Editing I’ve done in the past, still graphics (photos) I’ve done in the past, but video graphics - not so much.

If you’re a novice, best to stick with the basic tools that come with your computer: “Video Editor” for Windows and iMovie on Mac. Otherwise, I have a few tools I’ve used in the past.


Editing includes snipping the start and end of a video, cutting and splicing sections in the middle, or more complex things like frame-by-frame photoshopping. For our purposes, we’ll stick with simple.

I’ve used Avidemux to trim or concatenate multiple videos (eg: from a camcorder which records multiple 1GB files). And also to re-encode things like missing audio channels.

Another post-production thing is down sampling or re-encoding. I’ve used Handbrake for this - it’s very good at going from 1080p to 720p or 360p, so the final video is much smaller. However, if you’re going to upload to Vimeo or YouTube, you should always upload the highest quality version (4k or 1080p) - they will automatically re-encode smaller versions.

Finally, if you want to edit the audio (eg: for automatic noise removal), you can use Audacity. You’ll need Avidemux or ffmpeg to extract the audio and re-integrate it after you’ve edited. BIG FAT WARNING: be very careful to sync any edited audio perfectly with the final video - even two or three frames out of sync and your audience will hate you (because the sound won’t match people’s lips).


Graphics are things like sub-titles, special effects, cuts and fades between scenes, clipart, and so on.

I’m going to take a pass on this one. I’ve done it once with Windows Video Editor and it was painful. I’m sure other software does this better, but I have no experience with video graphics, so won’t make any recommendations.

A Helper (Person)

Having another person on hand makes lots of things easier. I prefer to record alone, but that means I have to do everything myself, and it takes longer to get feedback. If I ask my wife / friend / kids to help, they can point out quickly when something isn’t working and we can fix it. Just by myself, I might not notice anything wrong until I check the recording. And then I get to do it all again. And that sucks!

A Script (or at least a Plan)

Definitely for the first few videos, have some kind of script to follow. As in, plan out what your video will consist of. In writing. Possibly, word for word (although I generally recommend against that when speaking in public). And, have that script / plan in front of you while you record.

If you’re a bit creative, you could use an iPad / laptop act as an teleprompter. Find a way to have it sit just above or to the side of your camera. You may need a helper to move through your script using an external keyboard or mouse.

If you’re planning some more complex graphics, you may want to consider storyboarding your video. (I’m no where near that level though).

Other References

Here are a few other articles which may help or provide additional information:


I’m learning the world of video as fast as I can, and a little background in photography helps immensely. With a smartphone and some common house hold items, anyone can record a decent video. And spending $100-200 can get your recording up a level.

Then we will broadcast with the other million YouTubers out there!