Think about today’s video viewing experience. Thanks to HD video, stereo sound, and high-pixel displays like the iPhone’s Retina feature — not to mention ever-higher bandwidth — entertainment and news video and audio is exceptionally clear, even for the lowliest smartphone or tablet.
Now, take that audience of viewers, accustomed to the very best HD video and deep stereo sound, and place them in front of a live streaming event that doesn’t have the same production values. Dark, blurry video and muffled audio won’t hold their attention, especially when you consider that online video drop off rates can run as high as 20 percent in the first 10 second of a video.
The good news for creators of live video is that even without a team of directors or a state-of-the-art video studio, it’s possible for organizations to up their game in terms of production quality. According to Jeff Irwin, customer success manager for IBM Watson Media, a few simple fixes and some strategic and affordable equipment purchases can make any live stream look and sound better. So read on to learn how to make a live video look professional with these 4 proven methods. If you find this article useful too, be sure to check out our 5 Pro Tips for Live Video Production guide as well.
“Lighting is the one thing above all else that can improve the quality of streaming video, Irwin says. Three-point lighting is key and is the standard for both still photography and video. The idea is to have one light, called the key light, that illuminates the main subjects of the video (the interviewees); a second light, or “fill light,” which lights subjects from the side and prevents shadows; and a third light, or “back light,” which lights subjects from behind and separates them from the background.
This lighting setup – which places the subject in the middle of a triangle of lights – “makes a huge difference in how a studio looks, and takes advantage of the space,” Irwin says. Without multiple lights, the live stream will appear flat, as there won’t be depth between subjects and the background. Also, “a single source of light is a moody look – you’re going to add an impression that you don’t want,” Irwin says.
The walls and windows of a conference room don’t offer opportunities to add depth to the image — nor do they add visual interest. A better idea is to add images to a wall, which will create the necessary depth — or even better, use a professional backdrop. Paper and fabric backdrops also add a professional appearance to a live stream, and they’re inexpensive. They’re a big help if the “studio” isn’t much more than the corner of a conference room or a single cubicle
“Investing in background decoration can make a big difference,” Irwin says. A monochrome backdrop is fine, Irwin says, but the subjects will need to be placed far forward of the background to create depth. Irwin suggesting following the “rule of thirds,” which involves placing points of interest (like the speakers) into a grid (read an easy-to-understand explanation here).
Clear and carefully mixed audio
“Nothing says ‘amateur’ like poor audio,” Irwin says. Upgrading microphones is an affordable proposition (see this DIY Video Studio Setup on a Budget post for more tips on basic live stream studio equipment). The best thing to do, Irwin says, is have mics of the same type and quality for every speaker. This makes it so live stream managers can avoid the rookie mistake of some mics sounding louder than others.
“If you can afford it, a basic mixer can help equalize the sound so there’s a uniform audio signal going out for the live stream,” Irwin suggests. Such mixers only cost a couple hundred dollars. Even a novice sound person should be able to understand the basics of mixing sound, Irwin says, like audio signals in and master volume out.
Practice, practice, practice
Doing a test run of sound and lighting, as well as placement of the on-camera talent, will yield its own type of dividends, Irwin says. “Most people don’t do enough dress rehearsals,” he says. Make sure that the team of hosts, interviewees, and technical staff know where they’re supposed to be and when, and which equipment needs to be in place for each segment. “There will be always be rough spots, especially when you bring someone new to the team,” Irwin says. “Do two or three run-throughs just to make sure all the cues are right.”
What’s more, getting all of these details right will mean nothing if the video quality is poor or the stream cuts out at any point during the video due to bandwidth issues. So day-of, teams should ensure they test their connection (having a dedicated network can help). That way, viewers will see all the great content a stream contains, uninterrupted.
The bar is set incredibly high for production quality. However, most company run studios, or even small independent media studios, may not have the budget for the latest tech to power their live stream—but that doesn’t mean quality has to suffer. Making sure the stream is well-lit, has a backdrop that’s easy on the eyes and uses a good microphones (and rehearsing before the stream, of course!), your live stream can look polished on a budget.
Ready to make your live video look professional? If so, also check out our Getting Started with IBM’s video streaming services webinar as well. This will help you start to execute on doing your broadcast, while also demonstrating some of the latest enhancements to live streaming platform.