Fun and frustrations with YouTube

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Since publishing my post, back in January, about the value of a social media presence for the emerging author; since launching my campaign to increase my social media presence and attract more followers, I’ve run into problems. My campaign hasn’t stood still (in my head), but there’s been precious little visible action. The villain of the piece is YouTube.

A YouTube stripling

Back when I was a stripling of 50, I got drawn into a national campaign to find an ambassador for the Swedish hostelling organisation STF. That was when I first became engaged with the idea of a social media presence. In particular, the campaign involved filming yourself pitching for the job and posting your pitch(es) on your own YouTube channel.

I thought of myself as a stripling, but only metaphorically. Back then I had even more … girth, shall we say. But I was a greenhorn on social media, and completely new to YouTube.

Still from last STF video 2009 on YouTube
Still from last STF video 2009

STF eventually chose as their winner a slim lad in his 20s. Compared to me he was the stripling, physically and in terms of age. But definitely a whiz at filming himself. He went on to do a pretty good ambassador’s job. It was obvious that STF were looking for someone to appeal to a younger demographic and I probably never stood a chance, but I had fun.

So much fun!

During the campaign I developed an interest in making video content, but after the campaign I had no real objective. Bar a stint promoting my website with an Advent calender in 2009, myYouTube adventure ran out of steam. And my skills never developed beyond a very rudimentary level.

My YouTube limitations

This was obvious when I took my second shot at a YouTube career while we were living in Brussels. Among other limitations was my puzzling inability to talk face-to-camera and off-the-cuff. You’d think that 20+ years experience of standing in front of one school class after another would stand me in good stead, but no. Maybe it’s the technology, the beady eye of the film camera. As soon as I switch it on I become a stammering, hesitant wreck.

Still from The Supercargo's YouTube vlog, episode 1 2017
Still from The Supercargo’s vlog, 2017

So I pushed my film-maker ambitions away again to the dark and dusty back of my mind. So far into the dark and dust that I managed to forgot how serious my limitations were. Are.

Having found a new project I can use as an excuse to make videos, the limitations all woke up, brushed off the dust and came shouldering their way to the front again.

I still can not talk face-to-camera without a script. With a script it’s plain sailing, with a script I can be eloquent. But there’s a problem. In order to do face-to-camera work, I have to look into the lens. I have to try to engage the eyes of the viewer on the other side. How to do that and still read a script?

I’ve tried holding the page in one hand and reading naturally, but that doesn’t work. However well I feel I’m doing, when I come to view the footage it shows I spend most of my time with my eyes on the paper, my forehead pushed into the viewer’s face. Only now and then do I manage to look up to engage the camera lens.

Camera and script

I’ve tried varying the position of the camera. For example having it up over the top of my computer screen as I read the text scrolling up just below the lens. Again, it seems to go well enough while I’m doing it, but when I view the results I wonder, Who is this shifty-looking character? Why do his eyes keep slipping from my face and looking away? It doesn’t inspire confidence. It doesn’t make me warm to him.

Trial film for face-to-camera video 2023
Trial film for face-to-camera video 2023 (shifty eyes)

I’ve tried using cue cards, holding my script like notes as if I was standing in front of an audience. That doesn’t work either. (Especially when I drop the cards all over the floor.)

Teleprompter, did you say? Sure! Do you know how much those things cost?

I’ve looked at tips on YouTube – lots of tips – about how to build your own teleprompter “for zero dollars”. They all seem to depend on you having certain tools. (An electric drill, a sander, a sewing machine.) And knowing how to use them. And then, if you can once construct one, how are you going to get it to play nice with the camera?

The current solution is to have the camera set up at a distance of about 2 metres, with the script, large on a laptop, either just under or just beyond the camera lense. I can scroll the script with a mouse in my left hand as I read, and I do appear to be looking into the lense. At least, most of the time.

This set up brings other problems though. The fancy camera and lense I bought (second-hand) to film with, can’t focus on my face at that distance. I can use my phone or another camera, but then I have an expanse of background to crop out and the close-up is still not really sharp.


Lighting set-up for face-to-camera filming
Lighting set-up for face-to-camera filming

The second technical problem I’ve run into is how to light my face. I have one good light source, but really I need a second. The good source is my Philips BrightLight, bought to combat seasonal depression years ago and still brought out to do duty some winter days. It’s a very good daylight substitute. With that to one side of me and real daylight through a window in my face, I’m not badly served. But daylight through a window isn’t the easiest thing to achieve in a Swedish winter.

(After two months – two months – of struggling to make my first video, we are now past the Equinox. The days are much longer and the light is significantly better. So that problem is largely solved.)

Sound and Set

And then there’s the audio issue. I have a good clip-on microphone. Actually, I have two and I can connect either of them to the camera if it’s not too far away. But it has to be far away for me to be able to read my script (see above). So I have to connect the microphone to a separate recorder and match up my recorded voice with my lip movements on film. I can do all of that, I have the software, but it takes time.

Checking another set-up for face-to-camera filming
Checking another set-up for face-to-camera filming

I don’t have a dedicated studio where I can set up for filming and just leave the set up when I get tired, to come back to the following day. Every time I film myself I have to set up my camera, my lighting rig and my audio recording. I have to get the laptop to display the script. And then after I have filmed myself I have to allow time to break down the studio and put everything away.

It’s not until I look at what I have filmed in my computer I can see whether I captured something I can use – or whether the lighting was off, the camera was out of focus, or I forgot to switch on the microphone. And so on.

But I’m working on it.


The latest development, now I feel a little more comfortable with the camera set-up, is the B-roll. This is the “extra film” to cut away to. It adds more visal interest and allows for image bridges between ideas. It also allows you cover up moments when the face-to-camera film fails. (Because you forgot the smart phone will only film for 10 minutes/4GB before cutting out, leaving you with a serviceable sound file but no picture to go with it.)

Making B-roll art
Making B-roll art

I drew a blank for a time, thinking about what I could do for B-roll on this subject, but then I started getting artsy with social media logos. First it was a digital animation, the logos dropping at random onto a black screen. Now I’m having fun trying out different art techniques (also sourced from other people’s YouTube videos) to create playing cards with social media symbols.

Sometimes I wonder if I’ll ever get this YouTube channel up and running, but the longer days and the return of the light is making me feel more positive.

If nothing else, I’ve got hours of film for a blooper reel. Watch this space!

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