The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Video Recording Tips

Video Recording with Phones and Tablets

We live in a digital world. Increasingly, campus faculty and staff are asked to tell the UMass Amherst story through short, informative videos. Donors may request them; external funders and partners may require them. A good video can provide an edge in a competitive marketplace when seeking research funds. University Relations may be able to assist with these requests, but at times our resources, priorities, or deadlines may prevent us from doing so. The following guidelines for making videos with common, everyday tools such as smartphones and tablets will help ensure that your video successfully represents and projects the UMass Amherst brand.

This video, filmed by UMass Amherst staff during a research study in Nepal, is an example of what is achievable.

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Image Quality

  • For filming interviews, choose a location with bright, even lighting that does not cast shadows onto your subject.
    • If you are shooting outdoors, position yourself with the sun high in the sky and behind the camera, or shoot in the shade.
    • If you are shooting indoors, turn the ceiling lights on.
    • Avoid filming subjects directly in front of windows or other strong light sources.
  • Use a tripod, if possible, to keep your shots steady and well framed.
  • Have some matte face powder or foundation on hand, especially if you are filming in strong light, to minimize shine on the face caused by reflections or sweat.
  • Keep your subject’s entire head and shoulders in the frame.
  • Leave enough space below the neck to place a name caption.
  • Record with your device turned horizontal to resemble a television screen. If you need an adapter to achieve this, here is an example at Amazon.

Sound Quality

Audio quality is often more important than image quality. Viewers will tolerate poor images, but if they can’t hear what’s being said, they will stop watching.

For best results:

  • Position the camera within two to four feet of the subject. If you are farther away, the device’s built-in microphone will pick up room sounds such as heating and air conditioning, and if the subject’s voice is too soft, he/she will have to shout.
  • Choose a carpeted location when recording indoors, and position your subject away from hard surfaces such as windows, walls, and desks to minimize the harsh vibrations and echoes these surfaces create.
  • Be aware of the sounds around you when recording outdoors. Move away from them to avoid background noise from vehicles, pedestrians, and construction work. If you must record in a noisy location, you will get better results using a special microphone designed for smartphones. An example is the RØDE smartLav.
  • Have drinking water on hand for your subjects. Dry mouths or throats can impact their speech quality.

Interview Techniques

Video is great for communicating basic ideas in a shorthand way. However, if you try to include too many detailed points, or if you use complex language, people will tune out. Attention spans are limited for web videos, so keep your video under two minutes if possible.

  • Write a question for each point in a way that makes it easy for the subject to respond.
    • Keep your questions short and to the point.
  • Share your list of questions with your subject(s) before you shoot your video.
    • This will allow them to prepare their thoughts and practice their responses, and will save time during the shoot.
  • Avoid “yes/no” questions.
    • It is better to ask “Why do you like breakfast?” than “Do you like breakfast?”
  • Indicate in your questions what you are looking for in the answer.
  • Ask your subject to restate the question in the answer
    • “I like breakfast because . . .”
    • “My favorite breakfast foods are . . .”
  • Make cue cards with bullet points to help your subject.
    • Have someone hold them next to the camera during the recording so the subject can refer to them if needed.
    • A prompting app on an additional smartphone or tablet can be held next to the camera for the subject to read as it scrolls. This will make their eyes look slightly off camera rather than straight into the lens. One great app for this purpose is i-Prompter.

Be aware of your subject’s voice quality. Many people will talk faster when they are nervous or trying to remember everything they need to say. Speaking too quickly can make it difficult for viewers to follow.

  • Ask your subject to stop, take a deep breath, and start again. It’s better to spend time doing multiple “takes” to get good quality material rather than having to reshoot or use poor footage.
  • Ask your subjects to watch their use of “Ums” and “Ahs” during the interview. These common fluency disrupters can communicate doubt and can be distracting to your listeners. In general, they weaken your message and use up precious time.

Additional Shots (B-Roll)

For some videos, only the interview is needed, but most videos will benefit from including additional shots that illustrate the points made in the interview. Video is a “show-and-tell” medium and a viewer’s attention is held longer by a variety of related shots.

  • Film a variety of shot sizes including:
    • wide
    • medium
    • close-up
  • B-Roll shots could include:
    • people in labs or classrooms
    • equipment and processes used in research
    • related photos and graphs

Make decisions about framing and composition before you press the record button.

Record at least six seconds of each shot. Then add a few seconds more because you can’t know while you’re filming how much of the shot you’ll need to use during editing.


Mobile device software such as iMovie can be useful for the most basic edits, but may be inadequate if you want to cover the interview with other shots, add captions and music, or if your story is complex. For such projects, consider a more professional editing option.

Using Copyrighted Material

Do not include commercial music in your video. It is illegal to publish copyrighted material without consent, and if you are caught, the fines can be huge. The staff at YouTube regularly mute videos that they suspect include commercial music.

The same applies to any copyrighted material—photographs, book covers, artwork, and passages from books. Always obtain permission beforehand, which may be granted for free or a small charge. As a courtesy, you can include a small text credit onscreen for the photographer, artist, author, etc.

Many musicians, artists, and writers make their work available free of charge through Creative Commons licensing. It is worth searching for suitable CC content rather than risk unlicensed use of works.


When creating a video, you must be clear that it is a UMass Amherst production. Start and end your video with the UMass Amherst Intro and Outro graphic cards, and adhere to our brand identity standards for typography and color. Consult the general and video branding guidelines before you finish editing. Please do not overlook this very important step. If you have questions about video branding, contact:


If you plan to publish your video on a UMass Amherst web page, social media platform, or YouTube, you must provide closed-captioning for the hard of hearing. This is mandated by federal law, which applies to all public institutions, including state universities.

One company that makes closed captioning is 3Play Media, which is already a UMass vendor. For a few dollars for each minute of video, 3Play Media provides transcriptions and captions and delivers in about four days. Your departmental web designer should be able to design a video player for your page that incorporates the closed-captioned file.

If your video is to play on YouTube, you can upload a vendor’s closed-captioned file in SubRip (.srt) format, or you can use YouTube’s own captioning service. Be prepared to correct all the mistakes it makes because it is done by a computer that analyzes the audio and makes guesses about what’s being said. This video explains how to use the YouTube caption tool

Campus Resources

Digital Media Lab

The Digital Media Lab is a multimedia and 3-D print production space designed to support students working on video, audio, animation, and 3-D modeling. The Digital Media Lab is on the third floor of W.E.B. Du Bois Library.

Instructional Media Lab

The Instructional Media Lab provides help with instructional technology. Learn how to capture, edit, and deliver video or audio for your students over the web or on disc media (CD & DVD burners available). Take advantage of sensitive microphones and cameras to capture audio and video for instructional uses. Use a video conversion rack to capture clips or convert from one medium to another (VHS/PAL or NTSC, MiniDV, Hi8, DVD, Blu-Ray).

Need More Help?

Your video represents the University of Massachusetts Amherst, therefore University Relations wants you to be successful in your video communication endeavors. If you need additional assistance, please contact:

Mary Dettloff
Deputy Director of News & Media Relations
(413) 545-2500