Fantastic Streams and How to Film Them

I'm not a professional streamer. I don't know if I ever will be, assuming that "professional" means anything other than "I stream on a somewhat regular basis because I enjoy doing it and once in a while people toss me a couple of bucks on Ko-fi. I'm completely fine with that, but I'm the type of person who likes to put the extra effort into any project regardless of profitability, popularity, or anything else.

In the past, I streamed mostly for Extra Life, a charity gaming marathon where participants stream for 24 hours and supporters donate funds to benefit Children's Miracle Network hospitals. I didn't know much about lighting or sound outside of its theatrical applications, so my "streaming rig" consisted of XSplit and a secondhand webcam. I used a gaming headset and whatever lights happened to be on in the background and that was it. It did the job, but it wasn't the greatest viewing or listening quality. I tried a couple of times to research what it would take to set up proper lighting and audio, but the handful of tutorials I could find involved a ton of effort and available space, or were unclear about where to obtain the items mentioned, e.g. all the articles mandating key and fill lights, but no real recommendations as far as how to set them up or what types of lights to use. They talked about green screens and softboxes and just seemed far too complicated for my budget or free time.

After leaving Blizzard, I found myself with lots of time on my hands for a change, and I'd saved up a decent amount with which to get myself started on some projects, including streaming more consistently. I wondered if, based on the information already available out there, I could glean enough to get myself set up for a decent-looking and sounding stream that wouldn't cost a huge amount of money and would fit in my current space, which is the corner of my average-sized bedroom. It would need to be easy to set up due to my health issues, which often leave me too tired or in too much pain to spend hours putting a studio together by myself. Since I don't drive, I wanted to find it all online without ever having to leave the house. Bless you, Amazon Prime.

Verdict? Totally possible. Behold, my incredibly messy, but still somehow effective workspace:

Again, I'm not a professional. I'm a beginner. The whole point of this is to put together an effective starter kit for the streamer on a budget who isn't yet an expert on the ins and outs. 

And now for the breakdown.

I'm using the Logitech C922x Pro Stream Webcam for video. The quality is pretty good even without the lights, but... eh...

I'd rate it a solid so-so. I'm committing a bit of a lighting sin here by not having that window covered to begin with, but with space being a consideration, I can't move my desk away from it, and being in an apartment means hanging curtains is a pain in the butt. I kind of blend into the background, which is just my bedroom -- heck, I think the bedsheets stand out more than I do. My skin looks really muddled.

That's where the two super-cheap swing-arm lamps you'll see in the workspace photo come in. I chose white ones partially for a stylistic choice and because white doesn't affect the coloring or brightness of the lights themselves as much. The TMS brand I went with work fine, but any halfway decent lamp should do -- I liked these because they were very inexpensive and they came with a C-clamp that made mounting them on the edges of my desk quick and easy. No sacrificing valuable floor space here!

For bulbs, I wanted something bright and clean that wouldn't jack up my electric bill any more than it already is during the SoCal summer. The consistent recommendation is to go with the highest color temperature you can find, which are better known as daylight bulbs. The high CRI, or color rendering index, that goes along with color temperatures of 5000k or above will ensure a well-lit subject while still maintaining the purest color representation possible (if you're a science nerd, check out this article about CRI and visible light spectrums because it explains the concept way better than I can). This 4-pack of energy-efficient 100w Philips bulbs boasts a 9.1-year lifespan and a color temperature of 6500k. Daylight deluxe, my friends.

Other than the fact that I'm bare-faced for this test image, thus causing the "hot spots" on my forehead and cheeks -- woo, oily Mediterranean skin -- you'll note that the blast of brightness from the window which really should still be covered up is lessened and the background is no longer the most prominently lit thing in frame (although this can and will change as the sun changes position in the sky throughout the day). My hair and shirt no longer blend together. One light is positioned to shine on my face at an angle behind the camera, and the other is shining from the side. Both are necessary to cancel out any harsh shadows on my face. The light itself could be softened more if needed by adding a diffuser to one or both lamps, which is easily made in about 10 minutes if you follow Carleyy's excellent tutorial. I could also adjust the brightness in my camera settings. There's lots and lots of options to tweak things depending on how much of a perfectionist you are, and all of them are exceedingly cheap or free. The best!

My lighting kit is technically still not complete, as I need to add a backlight behind me which will help pop me out from the background even more, and once I get more space, I'd like to set up a cheap green screen or at least a folding screen to separate me from the rest of the room; for now, though, I think this is already a noticeable improvement.

Bonus section on makeup: Foundation and pressed powder will take away any shininess on your face. Smashbox has an excellent Camera Ready line of color-correcting primers in case your skin tone doesn't look quite right on camera if you're really finicky; remember that green cancels out red, blue cancels out yellow, and cyan cancels out magenta (and vice versa).

So things look good now, but they need to sound good, too. Enter the beast known as the Blue Yeti!

Blue microphones -- that's the brand, not the color -- are some of the best USB mics around. Whether you go with the Snowball or the Yeti, you're in good hands. I chose to go with the Blue Yeti USB microphone based on recommendations made to me by a few friends who stream and record regularly. If you're big into aesthetics, it's available in several different colors.

The Yeti comes with a desk stand, but since my desk isn't that big to begin with, and having the microphone right on your desk can result in lots of background noise as it picks up "hits" from keyboard strikes and mouse clicks that vibrate through the desk. The solution is a shock mount that can then be attached to a scissor arm or boom. I went with this one from Auphonix with an InnoGear scissor arm, both of which were very inexpensive and sturdy enough to support the weight of the notoriously heavy Yeti. The arm uses a C-clamp like the lights to attach to the side of the desk and can be swiveled around as needed to make sure the microphone is in the best position to pick up your voice.

As a side note, the default positioning of the load-bearing screw on the scissor arm was set for a much lighter microphone. The instruction booklet came with a very clear how-to on how to move that screw to a different hole in the arm itself for the Yeti and other heavy mics, a process which took all of five minutes and a standard-sized Phillips head screwdriver and made a huge difference.

Attached to the microphone and mount is a DragonPad pop filter, which helps to cut harsher sounds like "P"s and "T"s while you're speaking. Like the microphone itself, it's available in a variety of colors to match your decor or personal taste. Over the top of the microphone where you'd speak into it is a windscreen to limit the amount of background noise that gets picked up during transmission, like the air conditioning kicking on or the sounds of typing and clicking. Any brand will do, just make sure it's sized to fit larger microphones like the Yeti -- it slides right on and can easily be removed if needed.

The microphone is arguably the most "complex" part of the rig, but it's deceptively easy to put together, pretty inexpensive, and gives a great end result.

An advantage of the Yeti is that it allows you to quickly switch between multiple recording modes, controlling the direction in which the microphone picks up sound. An omnidirectional mic will capture sounds in a 360-degree circle around the microphone itself, which is great if you're trying to record nature sounds or an orchestra playing, but not so much if it's just you talking while you stream. A cardioid recording pattern picks up only sound from in front of the microphone, which is preferred for any kind of solo voiceover work or vocal recording -- podcasters, this is also perfect for you!

You may also need to manually increase or decrease the microphone's gain, or sensitivity. Start off with the gain set to a value right in the middle and lower it for less sensitivity or increase it for more. Depending on how loud your mouse and keyboard are, you may need to adjust this even with the shock mount and windscreen, but it's important to note that most people I've spoken to have pointed out you likely won't be able to completely eradicate this noise, especially if you're using a mechanical keyboard; the goal is just to mitigate it so that it's not taking center focus in your stream. It's also good practice to try and avoid typing while you talk anyway, which helps this be less of an issue.

If you were feeling lost when it comes to setting up your own streaming space, I hope I helped to point you in the right direction! And if you've got your own tips, tricks, or anecdotes that might help, please leave them in the comments.

1 comment:

So? Whaddya think?