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How To Start Vlogging

Vlogging is the next evolution in journaling. But how do you start a vlog? Abt has a few tips and tricks for beginners to consider before launching their channel.
illustration of various characters doing different vlog topics

In The Beginning…

Humans have been keeping personal journals since the beginning of time. Our love of chronicling our lives stretches from the very first cave paintings that depicted the day's hunt, through the revered Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, to today's social-media centric existence. And though the written word may still be the preeminent form of a journal, vlogs are becoming increasingly popular as the digital revolution makes it easier to fit a camera crew and editing bay in your pocket.
With roots tracing back to the 80s courtesy of NYC videographer John Nelson Sullivan, vlogging (short for "video blogging") typically focuses on aspects of a person's life from their point of view. Vloggers might share an opinion, chronicle a life event, or teach their audience how to do something.
But how do you get started with your own vlog? The first detail that you should address is the kind of content you want to produce. Do you plan to be a talking head speaking directly to your audience in one location? Or are you going to be taking your audience out into the field with you as you go on adventures? Once you have that sorted, figuring out your gear should be a little easier. So without getting into specific products (which have been covered in a past blog post), here is a rundown of the basic equipment that you'll need.
Woman vlogging with focus on camera

Step 1: Choosing a Camera

After determining what kind of content you want to present on your vlog, you need to have a conversation with yourself about video quality. Thanks to advancements in technology over the years, you basically have a TV studio in your pocket. Anyone can shoot, edit, and post videos with just a smartphone these days. But if you're looking to upgrade before embarking on your new hobby, then you will absolutely need a camera that isn't attached to your phone.
Our digital camera and video camera buying guides are excellent resources to consider when picking a camera. But depending on your budget, you're likely to pick one of three styles:
  • Most laptops come equipped with a webcam already, but you can also opt for an external webcam. Also, the video quality on an external model is more likely to match your cellphone camera rather than "The Blair Witch Project" or YouTube vlog pioneers like LonelyGirl15.
  • Action cameras are very compact and versatile. You can strap them to a headband, a selfie stick, a tripod, or (with the right accessories) just about anywhere you can imagine as you're skydiving, rock climbing, or any other activity that requires your hands to be freed up. The most recognizable example of an action camera is a GoPro, but more companies are experimenting with this style of camera as well.
  • Interchangeable lens cameras are fairly advanced cameras that are used for very high-quality pictures and videos. They're basically a standard in the entertainment industry for a number of camera operators, but they're also commercially available for consumer use. The price points range from $500 to $5,000 without additional lenses, but they do offer the most flexibility. From macro (close up) to telephoto (far away) shooting, an interchangeable lens camera can adapt to a number of situations and be customized to fit your needs. It might be overkill for a simple talking head vlog, but you would have the best looking talking head vlog and the option to expand into other types of content as well.
Woman using microphone to vlog

Step 2: Finding the Best Microphone

No matter which camera you choose, if it shoots video, it should already have a built-in microphone. However, built-in mics don't always provide the sound quality or directionality that's best suited for vlogging. In order to properly capture audio for your vlog without distracting ambient and background noises, you should use either a cardioid or a shotgun microphone.
  • A cardioid microphone is named because its directional sound pick-up is roughly in the shape of a heart. That means that it effectively picks up sound from the front and sides, but not the back.
  • A shotgun microphone is highly directional. It picks up a very concentrated beam of sound from whatever it's pointed at.
These microphones can be configured in a few different ways. Depending on the situation, you can mount the mic to your camera, set it up on a mic stand, hold it in your hand, or (if you have someone to operate it) attach it to a boom pole. But no matter how you decide to use your microphone, make sure that your levels are balanced. The audience will most definitely prefer to hear you rather than feedback from your equipment.
Laptop on top of desk with tripod, camera, and camera lighting in front.

Step 3: Get The Right Lights

In addition to hearing you clearly, you want your audience to see you clearly as well. Ideally, your vlog setup would include standard three-point lighting so that you're lit up evenly on all sides. But the average vlogger doesn't typically have the resources for a professional lighting kit. Luckily, a number of products are available to make good lighting accessible to the masses.
The first source is completely free: The Sun. Natural light is best during the "golden hour" in the early morning or in the late evening because of soft, flattering golden light. But if that's your primary source of light, then you would need to work quickly since you never know when a cloud could come by and interfere with your shot.
When the sun goes down, soft box and umbrella lighting can recreate natural light at any time of day. Probably most recognizable as tools for photographers, these lights live on stands and use semi-transparent material to soften otherwise harsh light. Unfortunately, they're not very compact or easy to transport.
That's where LED light panels and ring lights come in handy. These lights can often be attached to your camera, so they go wherever they're needed without taking extra time to pack up stands or cords. You basically just plug and play. That's particularly good for beginners since you just turn them on and start shooting.
Phone on tripod with vloger behind

Step 4: Which Tripod is Right For You

Now that you're well lit and your audience can hear you, it would be in your best interest to keep your shots steady. You may be taking your viewers on an adventure, but you probably don't want to give them motion sickness. That's why a good tripod is a must. When choosing one, take into consideration the following five features:
  1. Motion:

    A photography tripod is static, so it doesn't offer any motion. If you want the option of camera movements such as smooth tilts and pans, make sure to pick a tripod with a fluid head. Though many vlogs don't call for much movement, it's nice to have the option.
  2. Camera Weight:

    Your tripod needs to be able to support your camera. Check the weight limits on a tripod before you commit to one. You wouldn't want your new equipment to break because the tripod falls over.
  3. Durability:

    If your tripod does fall over, will it still be in one piece? Many tripods are made of plastic, so they can't withstand a lot of movement and will deteriorate over time. A vlog likely won't require an expensive tripod, especially if you're not moving around too much. But again, it all depends on your content.
  4. Height:

    Will your tripod keep you in frame when you're sitting down? What about if you're standing up? You definitely don't want your head to be cut off in your shots, so keep this in mind when picking a tripod.
  5. Portability:

    Talking head vlogs don't require much mobility. But travel/action/in-the-field content will require something more versatile. A number of smaller tripods will let you mount your camera in unique situations. Maybe you have to wrap your tripod around a tree branch or clamp it to a fence to get the shot you want. Or maybe the shoot calls for a monopod or a selfie stick. If you plan to take your blog on the move, remember that your equipment has to move with you. Even with all the bells and whistles, that expensive fluid-head tripod may not be the right choice for you.

What's Next?

That generally covers the gear you'll need to start vlogging. If you were looking for some specific products, you can check out our blog post about vlogging for beginners. But what comes after that?
Well, you might need to make some edits before you post your vlog. Depending on your skill and comfort level with video editing, there are a ton of programs to use. Adobe Premiere Pro, Final Cut Pro X, and Avid Medi Composer are industry standards when it comes to video editing. Although, if you're not a professional, introductory programs for consumers like Windows Video Editor or Apple iMovie are probably on your computer already. There are also a number of options in between such as Nero, Filmora, and CyberLink PowerDirector. Some of them are even free like Lumen5. But additional research and further learning is definitely recommended to find the best program for you.
Once you've edited your footage, you're ready to post your vlog. Comedians, make up artists, musicians, gamers, and enthusiasts from all walks of life prominently post their own videos on YouTube to give an audience an arms-length glimpse into their lives. Since debuting in 2005, the internet video powerhouse has become a one-stop shop for a plethora of video content. Although, YouTube is not the only game in town.
For those looking for quality over quantity, Vimeo or DailyMotion could be viable options. At first glance, they're YouTube clones, but they each have their own set of positives and negatives. For instance, while they offer higher video resolution and more artistic freedom with content, both Vimeo and DailyMotion have upload limitations and other guidelines that make the process of posting a video more selective.
Alternatively, if you don't want to edit any footage and just livestream, Twitch caters specifically to that audience. Initially a popular spot for gamers to share their streams, Twitch channels have expanded to include vlogging, cooking, professional wrestling, karaoke, arts & crafts, animals being cute, and much more. Or for more low maintenance livestreaming, Facebook Live and Instagram Live typically offer spontaneous slice-of-life content (However, with more businesses and brands getting in on the action more and more, that's certainly changing with every passing day).
No matter which site you use or how much production you want to include in your vlog, you're well on your way to being a part of the vlogging community. Maybe you'll even be the next breakout YouTube star with over 100,000 subscribers like our very own video team. Either way, the most important thing you need to do while vlogging is to have fun.

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