How to Make a Pro-Looking Video (When You’re Definitely Not a Pro)

How to Make a Pro-Looking Video

2014 UPDATE: Lots of folks have asked about my setup for my free training videos for A Course About Copy:
A Course About Copy







These are definitely an upgrade from my garage videos, although there’s still plenty of room to improve!

I don’t talk about hosting below, but I’m using Vimeo Pro to host my course videos. (Didn’t work out so well when they were attacked, so I’m creating a plan B with unlisted YouTube videos if it happens again.)

Nik StudioHere’s a snapshot of what my “new” studio looks like.

I’m indoors now. The big time. (And YES, that’s a pashmina shawl I’m using to filter that light on the right. Because it’s classy.)

All other tweaks and new equipment are listed below (and noted with this “2014 UPDATE” text).

Now back to the original (July 2013) post…


I spent the past weekend galavanting around Oahu with my hunky husband and a crew of delightful dudes, filming an episode for a new reality TV show set to air this fall. It was kinda crazy.

47824_175804905932929_690256047_nIt was also pretty sweet to see “behind the scenes” of a professional video shoot – all that goes into getting the audio, the lighting, and the story just right. Even though the show itself has nada to do with my business, it totally inspired this week’s blog post on how to make a pro-looking video (when you’re definitely not a pro).

I’ve been meaning to write this one for a while. Since sharing my first “pro” videos, I’ve had several people (fellow video newbies) ask about my set up. How did you get the background to look white? What mic did you use? What camera did you use?

I’m happy to share the secrets! But please let me clarify this before I spill the beans: I’m NOT a video pro by any stretch of the imagination. My first (what I call) faux-pro attempts are far from perfect.

I’m just a Googler with a dream…to put out videos that look like they took some effort. I imagine you’re the same.

So if you wanna know how to look pro (without actually BEING a pro), read on.

Behind the Scenes

Thanks to the dreamy day job I’ve had for the past few years, my first “pro” video was this “Welcome to Pearl Harbor” introduction that kicks off the USS Arizona Memorial program. It’s been playing for 1.8 million folks over at the Pearl Harbor Visitor Center since December 7, 2010. (More about my life as a “Digital Park Ranger” in another post!)

When it comes to videos for MY biz, however, I’m just scratching the surface. I’ve only made a few, and I learn a little more each time. One day I’ll look back and chuckle at ’em, I’m sure, but for now I’m content to go faux-pro with my bootstrapped setup :)

In case you haven’t seen one, I’d like to show you a sample before we get into the nitty gritty deets. It’s the main feature on the first draft of my home page. The yellow “hot spots” are outta CONTROL, but it did the trick (doesn’t need to be perfect, right? ;)):

OLD video hot spots


Here’s what my garage “studio” looked like while recording it (the back lights were too close to the backdrop, hence the yellowy hot spots):

Photo credit: My sister’s iPhone.

My only regret is that you can’t see the Diaper Genie II Elite that’s juuuuust outside of the frame here.

(We’re talking GLAMOUR, friend!)

Now let’s get to it.

The Shopping List

If you’re like me, you don’t want suggestions and options. You just want to know exactly what to get and exactly how to use it. Period. (Oh, how I love that about you.)

That’s why I’ve included all the details here, links included. (NOTE: Many of these are affiliate links, so if you make a purchase through one of them, Amazon will send me a little referral bonus. Thanks for that!)

Thought about using my iPhone or even our little snapshot, but I wanted a camera with an external microphone jack. When my biz took off unexpectedly, I decided to spring for one. It’s definitely a big girl purchase, but I knew it would be worth the investment in the long run. (I love this one in particular because it has a flip screen so I can check myself before I wreck myself. Much easier for solo setup.)

Canon EOS Rebel T5i 18.0 MP CMOS Digital SLR with 18-55mm EF-S IS STM Lens

Manual video settings for my particular garage setup: ISO 400, Shutter Speed 50, Av (Aperture) 4.0. NO idea what all that means. One of these days….

Gotta have a tripod to keep that camera still and at eye level! Very happy with this one, which even came with a mini version as a bonus.
Ravelli Professional 65″ Ball Head Camera Video Photo Tripod

We have a textured white wall, but what you see here is actually a giant sheet of white paper stapled up to our garage wall. My photog friend let me have a snip from her Texas-sized roll!

Here’s something similar: Savage Seamless Background Paper

2014 UPDATE: I’ve moved outta the garage! Too hot and echoey for my taste :) For my A Course About Copy videos, I’m shooting in a carpeted room with blackout curtains, so the only light in the room is intentional. (That’s key!) I’m using a super-sweet collapsible background I got for under $50 on Amazon.

Check it out (and get yours!) here: Fancierstudio Collapsible Black + White Backdrop (5′ x6.5′)


Trial and error, mixing and matching. Bought this guy from my home state of Texas:
CowboyStudio Photography/Video Portrait Umbrella Continuous Triple Lighting Kit

In my  garage, the  CowboyStudio lights weren’t bright enough to do much of anything (once I put the umbrellas in front of them). Time to improvise.

To light the white backdrop, I used clamp lights sold at Lowe’s, paired with daytime CFL bulbs. I clamped those lamps onto the two taller light stands from the CowboyStudio kit, and I used the little backdrop light – so three lights total pointed at the white paper.

For the lighting on ME, I used an average Joe work light, borrowed from a friend and easily available at Home Depot or Lowe’s. Careful: It gets VERY HOT (like the sun), VERY QUICKLY.

To diffuse the light a bit, I only turned on one lamp. Then I propped one of the Cowboy umbrellas in front so it wouldn’t be so harsh. One day I’ll see if I can get bulbs that aren’t as yellow, but this setup does just fine for now.

In these first videos, I used the Audio-Technica ATR-3350 Lavalier Omnidirectional Condenser Microphone.

The “lav mic” (as the cool kids call it) works well enough. It’s still a bit echoey since I’m in a garage. The key  with this little guy is to remember to turn it ON, and then remember to turn it OFF. There’s no indicator light, so that’s actually easy to forget.

Learn from my mistake! I did an entire take that I felt GREAT about, only to realize there was no audio because I forgot to turn the mic on. Oops.

2014 UPDATE: In my A Course About Copy videos, I’m using my Rode VideoMic Directional Video Condenser Microphone w/Mount. Using this guy in a carpeted room is producing much better results. (Still important to remember to turn it on!)

For the Powerpoint portions of my videos, I’m just using my iPhone headphones/microphone…in a carpeted closet. HA! I could probably get the same effect not being in the closet, but it feels more intentional that way, and I don’t have time to experiment at this point ;)

True to communication stylist form, I wrote a rough draft outline and practiced out loud for at least an hour while walking around the block with my little one in his stroller :)

Even for those who seem to be “naturals,” the key to great, conversational delivery is PRACTICE + PREPARATION! You’ve gotta be totally comfortable with the words so you can focus on how you’re actually delivering them.


To put it all together, I used the very basics of iMovie on my Macbook Pro. Nothing special there! Just cleaned it up so it would move faster (one take is great for some parts, but after a while it gets boring). I also added title captions and some light music for the shorter videos to add interest.

2014 UPDATE: I heart Screenflow! Makes so much more sense to me than iMovie. Learned how to use it in less than 90 minutes thanks to a great course called Screenflow Hero. (Highly recommend it.)

DIY Video Best Practices + Lessons Learned

There’s a whole lot to say when it comes to video, and while the actual setup may not be my specialty, delivery certainly is. I’ll share more about that in future posts and videos. In the meantime, though, while you’re in the mood for ’em, here are four key lessons I learned from my first few “pro” video attempts:

  1. Step it up a notch! Don’t be a total cheeseball, but DO turn up your personality a bit. Even though you actually ARE in a room talking to yourself, you don’t wanna look like it. Get a little cray cray. Laugh it up. Do what you gotta do to ensure your energy translates through the lens!
  2. Pause more: Take a breath between sentences. Sometimes I wanted to trim for effect, but it was tricky because I rolled too quickly from one sentence to the other.
  3. Keep rolling: Instead of starting and stopping, getting frustrated stuck on one line, run right through the whole script, all the way through. Watch it back so you can see what you like, what you don’t like, and what you want to do differently. Adjust accordingly.
  4. Don’t move: Okay, you can move. But if you change the lighting, your hair, or your lip gloss even a teeency bit between takes, you’re going to have mismatched clips to choose from. No bueno. Keep your physical appearance as consistent as possible for each take.

No matter WHAT else you do, whether you’re using your laptop camera or a full-on fancy pants setup: Have fun with it!

The whole point of video is to give your audience a TANGIBLE way to relate to you. To see what you’re like “in real life.” Be YOU, baby!  And PLEASE – don’t be too hard on yourself. Each time you go back and try again, you’ll be closer and closer to what you’re going after.

That’s what pros do.

Like this post? Go tell it on the mountain! No, really. Use the links below to share it on Facebook, and click here to tweet about it!

Then, in the comments below, tell me: Am I missing anything in my behind-the-scenes tour? What are your best tips for creating pro-looking videos?

Also, if you have more Qs about products, programs, and pros I recommend, check out my Resources page.



  1. Anne Hayman

    Love it! Thanks for sharing, I need all the help I can get! Xx

    1. Nikki Elledge Brown

      I totally get that, Anne! Exactly why I felt compelled to share.

  2. Sophie Boselly

    This is fab! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Catherine Cerulli

    Thanks Nikki. Truly a great post for video virgins. You make the process seem much less daunting. I so appreciate your generosity in sharing your insights, advice, and giggles.

    1. Nikki Elledge Brown

      And I so appreciate you taking time to comment, Catherine! So glad this is helpful to you. I googled and googled but just couldn’t find a tutorial that covered all the bases (in a way that made sense to me, at least!).

  4. Reba Charleston

    Thanks for the advice, Nikki! I don’t know if you remember me mentioning this to you before, but I’d like to share one little tip I’ve used for a couple videos, which I know won’t always work, but it did for me as a first time newbie. First I wrote out my script, read it to be sure it sounded natural and captured my personality, and then recorded it on the notes in my cell phone. I then plugged my ear plugs to my phone, put a bud in one ear, and hid the wire behind me so no one could see. Then I listened and repeated the script into the camera as it was being recited to me from my recording. It works brilliantly, as long as no one notices the plug in my ear. Almost like my very own audio teleprompter! ;o)

    1. Nikki Elledge Brown

      That’s right, Reba! Totally forgot, but that’s an amazing idea. Thanks so much for sharing!

  5. Kim Greco

    I just made my first video not too long ago with the help of a friend who is a pro. I thought it turned out ok, but your video will help when I make a video solo! Thanks so much! My first video is here:
    What do you think?

    1. Nikki Elledge Brown

      Congrats, Kim! Looks great. I love bloopers. They’re a sneaky way to see the “real” (AKA less formal) personality behind the script. That’s the real trick of more official presentations like this – to be as YOU as possible, even when you’re following a script!

  6. Ritu

    Great tips! I use a Rode mic and I LOVE it but I record in my bedroom so there is no echo. Practicing the script beforehand is SO KEY! I need to do that more. Also the tip to not move… you are right, it’s so important! I always forget in the moment. How can I remind myself to not move or fidget while filming?? Also, what are your thoughts on a script prompter? Thanks! xo Ritu (fellow b-schooler!)

    1. Nikki Elledge Brown

      Hi Ritu! YES – can’t say it enough. Practicing out loud ahead of time..multiple times…is key to conversational delivery.

      While changing hair and makeup isn’t a good idea between takes, I DO I think you should move if it feels natural (and doesn’t blur the shot!) In my “Welcome to Pearl Harbor” video I had to have my hands behind my back. I think that’s the only way I could *not* use them!

      In my own videos (where I literally call the shots), I still gesture. Even though they’re out of the frame. I use my hands when I speak normally, and so gestures help me feel more natural.

      If your gestures are distracting and you want to tone it down a bit…you know what I’m gonna say…PRACTICE! Once you’ve got the words down, you can really be in your element and focus on your delivery – voice, tone, gestures…the whole shebang. It’s an amazing feeling to be fully mindful and in command of your delivery, and it only comes with preparation!

      As for prompters, if it helps, go for it! I had a prompter available for the Pearl Harbor video, but I’d practiced it so many times I had it memorized completely (all three minutes)! Occasionally I glanced down at the prompter just to make sure I wasn’t speaking too quickly, which was usually an issue just at the end ;)

      Hope all this helps. Please keep me posted!

      1. Ritu

        Definitely helps! Thanks for taking the time to write such a detailed reply! I appreciate it! I’ll keep you posted on my progress. In the meantime, my videos are here: Any tips are appreciated! xxo

  7. Tonia

    You’re such a rock star. I’m so not ready for video yet, but I’m gonna keep this in mind for when I am :)

    Have a super weekend!

  8. Tania

    Hi Nikki!
    Just stumbled on this post. Wow! Thank you so much for sharing all your behind the scenes and insight on creating your video! So super helpful for us who just want to know what to get. Thank you!!!! xoxo

    1. Nikki Elledge Brown

      Happy to share, Tonia. So glad it’s helpful for you!

  9. Nadia Hosko

    Thank you!! It’s sooo useful to see how you DYI’ed the heck out of this in an awesome way! Great details!! :)

  10. Kelly

    Nikki, thank you for sharing all of your video equipment “secrets!!” I’ve been shooting videos lately and while they’re ok, there’s definitely room for improvement. Appreciate you so much! =)

  11. Shannon

    Nikki you might want to check into Viddler for video hosting- it’s not free but alive heard great things from reputable sources :)

  12. Sandra

    This is helpful information. Loved your Course about Copy Nikki and hope to use the “divine breadcrumbs” analogy myself. Thank you! XOXO

    1. Nikki Elledge Brown

      Glad you loved the free training, Sandra – but that’s not the course – it’s just the sampler ;)

      Have fun with your divine breadcrumbs!

  13. Lee Irwin

    Thanks for keeping it real, Nikki! I’ve tried so many home video studio set-ups. From an iPhone clipped to the top of my laptop to a giant lightbox + Canon camera on tripod. Can’t wait to try out your tips!

    Anybody else out there need cue cards? They help me relaaaax in front of the camera. I found these direx online for using PowerPoint to turn your laptop into a teleprompter. Haven’t quite figured it out yet:

    I’m enjoying being on this journey with you!

    1. Nikki Elledge Brown

      Happy to help, Lee! We DIY’ers gotta stick together ;)

  14. Sally

    Thanks, Nikki. This video info was great and I plan to use it – some day – if I ever get caught up:O) Oh, that’s right – I don’t need to feel pressure, just keep plugging along:O) Ok, off I go!!

  15. Vanessa

    I like the advice to be a little crazy! I’ve had videos mulling around for a while in my head but never actually done them. I like knowing that I need to NOT sound like I am just talking to myself :)

  16. Szilvia

    Wow. Nikki, thanks for sharing all the techical details and your personal tips.

Comments are closed.