In this episode, we're continuing a series on building a home studio for video and podcast production. We're going to talk about camera angles and set design for your home studio so that your videos look professional and highlight your brand.
Deciding on the different camera angles and shot types you want your studio to support is an important decision. You may select furniture, backgrounds, lighting and support equipment based on these choices. It may be difficult or costly to change them later so you want to get them right the first time.
For me, I have gone through a few iterations and now that I am moving back into my home after having had to evacuate due to a forest fire, I have the chance to refine my studio layout once more.
What I'll talk about in this episode applies whether you are going with a simple webcam connected to your computer all the way up to an elite level studio like I have with multiple cameras and high-end equipment. The principles are the same.
Let's cover camera angles first, then set design.
In this episode you'll learn:
- Determining the content and shot types you need
- Figuring out how many cameras and angles you want
- Diagramming your studio layout
- Determining how many sets you want
- Designing your sets (furniture, backgrounds, props)
- Testing your shot types and sets
- Document your planned content types
- Decide what camera angles you need to have for each content type
- Consolidate down to the fewest camera angles that support all your content types
- Determine if you can get by with just one set
- Design and setup your set
- Test your camera angles and set design
Links and resources mentioned in this episode:
Transcript DownloadDownload a PDF of the Transcript
Home Studio Design: Camera Angles and Set Design
As you work through designing your home studio, make a simple diagram of your studio layout, especially where the cameras will be and where they’ll be pointing and recording. Here's how to get started.
The camera angles that you need to support are determined by the different content types you want to record in your studio. Those determine where your cameras will be located and what set or scene they’ll record.
To make the decisions for your studio layout, a simple three-step process can help. First is to determine your content types.
Step 1: Define your content types
Thinking about the content types you want to record is critical. Think about your immediate needs, such as the one format you’ll be focusing on initially, but also think about what you might want to grow into over the next year or so. Don’t worry about anything beyond that as it will get complicated and slow you down, but you do want to think past the first couple of weeks.
What you want to capture is how many camera angles you want for each shot, where you want to be positioned in your studio (sitting, standing, multiple positions), and what you might want your set (background, furniture, props) to look like.
Remember that each camera you add basically doubles the amount of complexity that you have to deal with both during recording and then especially in editing where you cut back and forth between the different angles.
If you’re just starting out it’s going to be a lot simpler to just go with one camera angle and then add more in the future as you get comfortable with being onscreen and with the tools that you’re using.
Here is what my content type list looks like:
1. Weekly live streaming show
- Cameras: 2
- Position: Sitting behind desk & computer
- Background: Home office
2. YouTube videos & online courses
- Cameras: 2
- Position: Standing
- Background: Various
In both of those content types, I also want to be able to vary the background. In some cases I want to be in front of a solid color background, and in other cases, like the live show, I want my home office in the scene behind me because it’s basically an interesting background and adds a little bit of flavor and variety to the shot.
3. Ad hoc webcast:
- Cameras: 1 (screencast ability)
- Position: Sitting behind my desk in my home office
- Background: Various
Again I want to have that option of having either the real office background or a green screen background for this content.
4. Remote video:
- Cameras: 1 (portable)
- Position: Various
- Location: Can be anywhere in my home or office or even outside for different types of shots
- Cameras: None
- Position: Sitting behind my desk in my home office. Pro-microphone and access to my mixer, processor and computer
My studio requirements are fairly complex because of those two main content types and the supporting ones that I just outlined. It’s a pretty large number of different setups, especially when you want to do two camera angles in most of them, so the questions is, “Why bother with that? Why add all that extra complexity?”
For me, the answer is that videos are getting increasingly competitive and maintaining your audience’s attention is more difficult than ever. It requires great content, but also great presentation. Many of the techniques used in movies and television to keep our attention such as changing camera angles frequently, adding motion to scenes, interesting backgrounds and so on make a big difference.
Luckily for us, many of these techniques are available to solo entrepreneurs and online business owners at a relatively low cost. The complex requirements that I outlined above could easily be met by just two inexpensive webcams, a USB microphone and a budget background set that you can get right off of Amazon. At the higher-end, these could be dedicated DSLR studio cameras with high-end microphones, mixers and switchers. Start just with what you need and then grow from there.
Step 2: Determine your studio layout
The next step is to look at your list of content types and number of cameras, then determine how to arrange them in your studio. If you just have one content type, or if you have a couple of content types that can be supported by a single camera and set, then the layout will be quite easy.
If you are doing multiple camera angles or multiple sets, you'll need to figure out how to fit all of that into your studio.
If you’re going with multiple cameras, see if you can arrange your cameras so that the same camera or cameras can be used for multiple shots. In the diagram of my studio set up you can see that my two main cameras support both of the main content types that we talked about.
My studio is arranged basically in an L shape, where each of the elements of the L is one of my desks or tables. In one case, the cameras will be facing towards one table and then in the other shot all I have to do is rotate my cameras so that they point at the other desk. In both cases one camera is the primary face to camera shot, and then the other is a side angle shot where I can either use a wide view for an establishing shot, or zoom in to whatever I have on my desk.
So two cameras support two entirely different sets, two angles each, and I don’t even have to move them. It’s really just about putting them in a particular spot where you can rotate them to switch between shots.
Once you've decided on the camera angles and layout for your studio, capture them in a diagram.
Once you’ve experimented and you have an idea of where you’ll be recording and the camera angles you’ll be using, the next step is to design your sets. The set is everything that will be recorded in addition to your subject; this includes your background, any furniture, decorations or props that are going to appear.
It’s not necessary to go overboard here. Many people film their videos just straight in their living room, home office, or bedroom without any changes. But since we’re trying to design a dedicated home studio space here, investing in a set that represents you or your brand is recommended. Again, this is something that will separate you, and your content, from your competitors.
The first thing to think about is whether you’ll be sitting or standing behind the desk. You thought of that a little bit earlier when we talked about the content types. Then you can start choosing and locating your desk. We covered this a bit in episode 28 when we talked about how to build an adjustable standing desk, so that you have the option to both sit and stand with the same piece of furniture.
The next thing you want to think about is backgrounds. You can have any background you want these days thanks to how cheap it has become to print at large-scale on vinyl material.
If you go on Amazon and search for portrait or photography backgrounds, you’re going to see thousands of different options, ranging from just solid colors to basically any scene you can think of. It can be anything you want at an affordable price.
Caveat: At this point, one thing I will warn you against is the fake brick background. You see this in a lot of online videos today because some early influencers used that as the design for their sets. The brick is cool because it adds a lot of texture and an interesting look to your videos, but so many people are using it that it’s basically become cliché at this point. That’s one that I would probably stay away from.
Another option is what’s called a green screen or chroma key background. This is basically where the subjects and the scene that’s being recorded are all shot in front of a giant green background. Then later in the editing process, that background can be replaced with anything you want.
If you’ve ever watch the evening news where they’ve got the weatherman standing in front of a large map, that’s the way it’s done. They’re standing in front of a green screen, and then in post-production, the background is replaced with whatever they want.
Now this may sound complicated, but it’s actually pretty easy to do. Some new webcams are coming out with this capability built into them, and certainly the higher-end recording software like Wirecast make this very easy to do.
Green screen background kits can be found for very reasonable prices.
Real world objects
Your final option is for your background to be made up of real-world objects. It could be just your wall, or a furniture, or anything else that you might be filming in front of. In my case, I set up a large storage system behind my desk, which has a lot of different cubbyholes and things like that. Basically, what that lets me do is put any kind of props, branding elements or other items of interest in there.
If you watch any of my videos on Facebook or YouTube, you can see that in some cases I’ve got some Star Wars stuff, I’ve got different scotches, bottles and things like that that I like, just something to add a little bit of personality. Sometimes I move these objects around, put new ones in there or different ones, just something to add a little bit of extra curiosity to my videos.
Multiple choice backgrounds
Now if you remember back to my requirements for these different shot types, in some of them I said I wanted to have a green screen background, or I wanted to have a solid color background. How can I do that without having to revamp my studio every time I want a change?
Well, basically what I’ve done is hung large paper background rollers above both walls behind each of those shots. These are basically large rollers that you can fix right onto your wall or ceiling. Each fits 6-foot to 10-foot wide paper rolls.
For the paper, you can get photography background paper which will fit onto those mounts. Behind the standing setup that I have, I have three rollers that I can roll down. One is a green background for green screen, then I have both solid gray and blue background colors. You can get any color you want so it’s an easy solution if you want a simple color background.
I did the same thing behind my sitting set up, although there I just have a green screen roll. When I’m done using it and I want to go back to my normal background, I can just roll the paper up. That transition only takes about a minute or two to do in my studio in either of those angles. To do all that cost me less than $200, but it tripled or quadrupled the number of shot types that I can film.
Studio Props and Final Testing
The final step in your set design is to think about any other items that you’re going to include in your camera shot, such as your computer screen, objects sitting on your desk or in the background or anything like that.
Once you’ve done all these steps, it’s time to test your set design. Arrange all of your set elements as if you’re planning to record, place your camera in the location that you defined earlier, hit record and then go sit or stand as you would be while delivering content. Move around a bit as you would during recording. Don’t worry about lighting at this point, we’ll cover that in the next episode.
Once you’ve done the test, review the recording and then make sure you’re in frame and in the right part of the camera shot (centered or off to the side) depending on the style you’re looking for.
You’ll also want to look at your background and everything else that’s visible. Make sure there’s nothing there that you don’t want seen and check for distractions. Obviously you want to make sure you remove anything that might be distracting to your viewers. If you’re going with multiple sets or camera angles, repeat the process to verify all of the different angles.
The reason for doing this now is that it locks in the environment and the camera angles of your studio. These are the elements that you’re going to design your lighting around. You want to make sure you’re set up is polished and final because once you’ve placed your lights it gets complicated to change things. If you’re happy with your results at this point, update your layout diagram with the final set up.
At this point in our series, you’ve purchased or built your desk, you’ve soundproofed your studio location, and you’ve designed the sets and camera angles that you’ll be using. Next up will be the all-important topic of lighting your studio without breaking your budget.