Back in the day, broadcasting live video around the world involved massive cameras and a team of experts, not to mention access to a communications satellite and a television network. Those satellites were launched into the skies with catapults, and the televisions that picked up their signals were powered by steam. OK, just kidding about that last part. But seriously, times 👏 have 👏 changed. Today all it takes to broadcast worldwide is a smartphone with a data plan.
You have in your pocket the ability to reach viewers worldwide in real time through live video.
In this article, we’re going to break down some additional tech tips that you can use to take your live videos to the next level. But it’s important that you see tech and tactical know-how as an add-on, not a barrier to entry like a satellite once was. If you want to try livestreaming before bothering with any gear or planning, go for it. If you want to step up your live video game, however, this article is a great starting point.
(If you’re more interested in the marketing strategy behind planning your video content than on the technical aspects of streaming, check out Live Video Content Strategy 101.)
As we have established, the only camera you really need is your smartphone or tablet. (If you’re using Switcher Studio to live-edit your stream, your camera needs to be an iOS device, so that’s what we’ll refer to moving forward, although this article is still pertinent to those streaming without Switcher.) If you want to do a multicamera stream, you’re going to need additional iPhones or iPads plus a switching device. Alternately, it’s possible to create a dynamic video with only a single camera.
If you’re trying to choose between iPhone cameras, check out this comparison of iPhone video quality. It puts everything from the iPhone 5 to the iPhone XS to the test and shows the same shots, filmed on different cameras, side by side. If you’re trying to choose between tablets and phones, here’s a comparison of the pros and cons of filming on iPhones versus iPads.
In addition to gathering or choosing cameras, always make sure the batteries are charged (and/or that you have external batteries if you’re doing a long stream) and that the passwords are at hand.
Once you’ve chosen your cameras, you may want to get corresponding tripods. Tripods not only free up your hands but also stabilize your shot, vastly improving the quality of your video.
Tripods vary greatly in terms of size, expense, and use case. For a breakdown of different varieties, check out our post enumerating options: standard smartphone tripods, tabletop tripods, and handheld tripods, which can go almost anywhere.
That post also covers ways to reduce shake even when you’re streaming on the go. We recommend gimbal stabilizers that robotically balance your smartphone.
Another way to improve the quality of your video is by adding a lens to your iOS device. As we further break down in that linked post, zoom lenses let you get a closer look at your subject (useful for events or situations in which you can’t get physically close to the subject), and wide-angle lenses let you fit more into your frame (useful when you can’t back up or don’t have a lot of space).
Although the data on your phone is pretty amazing when it comes to letting you stream Spotify or Netflix from just about anywhere, you may need a network that’s more reliable when you’re streaming (read: uploading) your own live content. And depending where you’re streaming from, you may want something even more reliable than an open or public wireless network. (Just think how hard it is to post an Instagram photo at a college football game — there’s often too much traffic on the network.)
For livestreams, we recommend a 5GHZ router (or an ethernet cable) near your video setup — ideally without walls or other impediments in the way. If you’re streaming in the wild (i.e. outside), we’ve had great success with the Netgear Nighthawk and a data plan, which make mobile streams a breeze.
This is not to say your phone’s data or public Wi-Fi is always insufficient. We’ve run streams on iPhone hotspots alone, but be sure to test the connection and stream quality ahead of time, and if the area will be highly trafficked, secure your own network.
Lighting is so basic that it’s easy to forget about. But getting good lighting is key to capturing high-quality video — just ask any photographer what makes a good shot. Lighting also sets the tone of your stream and ensures your subjects are easy to see.
Lighting can come in the form of natural light or electric light. (We’re just going to assume you’re not streaming by the light of a candle — although that would be super cool.) To achieve the right amount of lighting from all the right directions, you may want to block some lights and/or add others.
Here are some lighting terms to be familiar with as you choose and set up your lights:
Three-point lighting is the tried and true standard for arrangement of lights. It entails positioning a light in front of your subject (key light), a light beside your subject (fill light), and a light behind your subject (backlight). Ensuring your subject is lit from these angles gives a three-dimensional look to a two-dimensional medium.
Other factors to consider as you set up your lighting are quality and color. Quality, described as hard or soft, refers to how the light hits a subject. Hard light tends to cast crisp shadows, whereas soft light wraps around a subject. In general, smaller (or closer) lights are harder, and larger (or farther) lights are softer. Soft light tends to be more flattering.
Color, described as warm or cool, refers to whether a light leans more red/yellow or blue/white, respectively. Warm light tends to be flattering and relaxing, whereas cool light tends to be stimulating. Keeping this in mind will help you choose the right lights and bulbs for your productions.
Now that you’ve given some consideration to the quality and color of your lights and where they should be located, you can decide what types of lights you’d like to go with, whether simple on-camera lights, perfect for on-the-go shoots; ring lights for easy multi-angle lighting, or a studio light kit. For recommendations on specific types of lights, check out our post on the basics of lighting your live videos.
Capturing clear audio is a crucial part of streaming a live video. Doing so may entail adding external mics, or it may just mean being strategic about where you place your phone to give its built-in mic a leg up.
As you decide how best to capture audio, there are a couple of types of sound you’ll want to consider: direct sound and diffuse sound. Direct sound is pure, unadulterated sound directly from the source. Diffuse sound is the reverberation of that sound off walls and objects, mixed with other sounds in a space. Whereas diffuse sound might feel immersive for a livestream of a concert or a sporting event, it would feel unnecessarily distracting for a livestream of an interview or an educational event. The closer a mic is to a subject, the more direct sound it will capture. The farther away, the more diffuse.
To get your mics at the right closeness to your subject, you have a few options, including the built-in mic on your device and wired or wireless microphones. Some can be affixed to your camera, whereas others are handheld or clip onto collars to be at the closest proximity to direct sound from a subject. To choose the right microphone for your stream, check out our posts on fundamental livestreaming gear and audio basics for live video.
As you set up your tech — cameras, lights, mics, etc. — it’s important to consider not just what gear you’re using, but also where you’re putting it. The angles and distances at which you place your cameras in relation to your subjects can affect the quality of your video. Certain placements are more flattering to faces. Others help you demonstrate a process on camera. Others, still, work well for interviews or monologues. Wolfcrow has a great article on basic camera shots, angles, and movements for beginning filmmakers, and much of what they cover applies to beginning livestreamers as well. Here’s a brief summary of the highlights:
If you’re shooting with multiple cameras, you’ll likely want a variety of shot sizes. A close-up shot can show an individual subject’s face, whereas a medium shot could show multiple subjects, and a long shot could show your entire setting.
Varying angles also add interest to your video. Eye-level shots, angled straight ahead and level with a subject’s face, convey neutrality and are great for interviews. Low-angle shots, which point up at a subject, can convey dominance or authority. High-angle shots, angled from above, and over-the-shoulder shots, angled from one subject’s perspective, can add context to your video. If you’re demonstrating something with your hands in your live video, for instance, you might use a low-angle on your own face, coupled with a high-angle on the process, to convey your own authority while giving context to your demo.
You can also use zooming, panning, and tilting, to easily add production value. Zooming lets you get closer or farther from your subject without moving your camera. Similarly, panning and tilting refer to when you turn a camera to the side or up/down, respectively, without actually moving it. It’s possible to pan and tilt even while keeping your devices on tripods, and devices like the aforementioned Gimbal help you pan and tilt super smoothly.
There are plenty of instances in which you can go live without a set — for instance, if you’re covering a public event, streaming a walking tour, or going live on the fly. But if you’re streaming an interview, talk show, demonstration, or other structured video, you’ll likely want to give some consideration to the background, foreground, seating, decorations, and any other set components you may need.
These items — your live video set — will serve as a glimpse into your brand’s image and personality. Your set can also provide a pop of color or visual interest to grab viewers’ attention as they scroll through the internet.
Contrast, cleanliness, and color are the keys to a strong set. If your subjects will be wearing light colors, use darker colors in your set, and vice versa. Similarly, create an appealing setting by keeping surfaces and backgrounds tidy. That means tucking away cords, relocating piles, and removing any other clutter that we become blind to in our regular spaces. Lastly, bring in accessories in branded colors — whether that means you’re wearing a shirt with your logo on it or using a tablecloth or mic or background that matches your brand’s color palette.
For more specific how-tos, check out blog post on designing a set for your live videos. As it explains, having a set ready for your streams also makes livestreaming even easier — no setup or teardown is needed.
Even a livestreamed show needs a pre-planned structure, much in the same way that a live TV or radio show needs a pre-planned structure. Of course, most live videos will include some extemporaneous conversation — especially if you’re engaging with live commenters — but it’s still a good idea to go into your show knowing what you plan to talk about.
For this reason, at some point before your stream, you should make a list of segments, topics, or items you’d like to cover in your live video. Include any major talking points or sources you need to mention. Depending on the number of topics and the length of your show, you may also want to denote how many minutes you’ll spend on each item to create a full timeline for your production.
Keep in mind the goals established in your live video content strategy. Your show’s written structure should include the points at which you’ll state or display the calls-to-action you’ve chosen for your audience. CTAs are crucial for getting your viewers to take the actions necessary for you to reach your business goals. You may want to print a copy of your show structure or have it accessible on your phone or tablet for reference while you’re live.
Additionally, if you have multiple hosts, guest callers, or other subjects, prep them on the topics and timeline before the show so that they know what to expect. If your video will include an interview, you may want to give the interviewee a heads up about the types of questions that will be asked so they have time to prepare.
If you’re streaming with a live video-editing platform like Switcher, you should also gather any assets you need related to each segment or topic. Do you have graphics, videos or openers, audio clips, or slides you’d like to roll into your show? Prepare these ahead of time, and add them to your switching device for easy accessibility. If you’re looking for a way to make these assets, we’ve written extensively about how to make live video graphics with tools like Pixlr, Shutterstock, Canva, and Over.
Assuming your live videos are part of a marketing campaign, you also need to have any complementary content prepared before your stream. If your CTAs will be driving traffic to a specific page, make sure it’s set up and that you have a tracking identifier established to help you determine how much traffic you drove. If viewers are called to join an email list, make sure you have a trigger set up to send them a welcome email right away.
You may also want to prepare show notes (or produce them after your stream) and make them accessible on your website or social media channels so viewers can easily access more information about everything you talked about on your stream.
You’ve prepped your tech, your set, your script, and yourself, and now you’re ready for the stream itself. Believe it or not, this is the easy part. Check out our step-by-step guides to livestreaming on Facebook and YouTube if you’re unsure how to go live on either platform. (We also have an overview of how RTMP works if you’re streaming with RTMP.)
One of the beauties of livestreaming is that it humanizes the subjects, so don’t stress yourself out about saying everything perfectly on camera, especially when you’re first getting started. And remember, you have your show structure on hand to help you keep the show flowing smoothly.
Another beauty of livestreaming is that it eliminates post-production. No longer do you need to painstakingly import, cut, edit, craft, export, and upload your video content.
On most livestreaming channels, your live videos will remain accessible on the site indefinitely, serving as evergreen content viewable at any time. (Instagram is an exception — it requires you to share a live video as a highlight in order to make it accessible after the initial 24-hour availability period.)
That said, it’s definitely possible to repurpose your videos after a stream. One obvious way to reuse your live videos is to cut clips to create an opener for future shows. Additionally, you can use the structure and talking points you developed to write a quick blog post covering the same topics, or you can take the audio from your livestream and share it as a podcast file. You can also upload your video to other video platforms.
The comments left by viewers can be repurposed into future content as well. Add answers to commenters’ questions to your site’s FAQ section, or write a blog post answering them. Better yet, work their questions into your live video content calendar to serve as fodder for your future streams.
However you repurpose your live video content, don’t forget to keep tabs on your analytics. As explained in Live Video Content Strategy 101, you should always evaluate your videos’ performance in light of your goals in order to inform your future live videos.
As with most things, the more you create live video, the better your content will get — both in terms of value to your viewers and in terms of value for your business. And in the process, you’ll certainly have other questions about streaming, so be sure to send them our way.
Until then, happy streaming. And don’t forget to catch us on our own weekly Facebook Live show about all things live video.