Support from FASE's Education Technology Office

How to film in teaching labs

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This guide aims to provide some guidelines when it comes to planning and executing the filming of lab videos (see specific safety guidelines for producing content and images in lab settings). Filming on location is more complicated than self-capturing or self-filming as you are often working with multiple people and filming a complex process. Having a plan for your video - equipment needed, storyboarding, creating a shot list, practicing editing, all are important to efficiently create videos filmed in teaching labs.

Before you begin: Plan the scope of your video content

We recommend mapping out your video content as a whole. How many videos will you film? Will each experiment be one video or series of videos? Do you need to book the space in order to film them? Can you film off hours, to ensure a quieter environment? There are no wrong answers, but having a plan for your content before you begin will help ensure that you capture all the steps of the experiment as well as help to ensure that you have enough time to film your videos.

1. Review current safety guidelines for being on campus

When you go to film, it’s important to ensure you follow all current health and safety guidelines. This includes the current COVID-19 guidelines, and any lab safety protocols. Before filming, we strongly recommend that you confirm with your Department that you are following all safety protocols. For filming and images in labs, we recommend checking Guidelines for Images in Research and Teaching Laboratories frequently and regularly for updates and changes to procedures and protocols.

Lab safety guidelines will vary based on the laboratory space and experiments you are performing and should be made clear with the lab supervisor and your departmental authorities, but basic protocols can be found at U of T’s Environment Health & Safety site.

Useful reference websites are (please check frequently, as things are changing quickly):

  1. Research Continuity: COVID-19 Information (FASE)
  2. Information about Fall 2020 at U of T
  3. City of Toronto’s COVID-19 website  

2. Request permission to film in a teaching lab

As of July 29, 2020, procedures require each instructor to submit a filming request prior to filming. While filming, you will likely have to demonstrate social distancing and wear all required personal protection equipment (e.g. masks). These requirements should be considered when planning out your video.

3. Planning your video

3.1. Lay out your video shooting plan

Mapping out how each video looks and flows before the shooting day is important, as it will:

  • Minimize the time spent reshooting
  • Ensure your video stays organized and the message is communicated clearly
  • Aid you to spot potential problems that would have gone unnoticed

Other important aspects to consider in video preparation can be found in our guides,  "Prepare yourself for video production" and "Preparing and rehearsing your video before recording."

3.2. Learn about different shot types

When planning the flow of your video, it is important to consider what shot types you want to use. Shot types describe how the camera frames the subject. Many times, the topic/focus of the scene will determine the type of shot that makes sense, use that when making a decision. You might aim to have multiple types of shots to make a higher quality video, but balance this with the editing requirements that come with having multiple shots to edit together.

Generally, most videos begin with an establishing shot, before transitioning to a medium or close up shot with the subject as the focus. This creates a flow to the video, illustrating the space where the video is being filmed before the content is revealed.

A similar method can be used in your lab video, where you first show students the laboratory space where the video is being filmed, before transitioning to show the lab experiment.

Some common types include:

Type of Shot Typically used for Example
Establishing Shot
Wide shot used to show the audience where the action is taking place
Used to show the entire lab in context; if the student hasn't been there before you, you'll want them to be familiar with the lay out when they visit for the first time
Wide Shot
Contains the entirety of your subject, great for showing your subject in location
Instructor could begin by speaking directly to the camera, before actively starting the demonstration/experiment; this shows the viewer the instructor within the context of the lab space
Medium Shot
Focuses your scene on your subject, generally filmed from waist up
Having the full context can be visually over stimulating; you might want to have a closer shot, including the instructor or a piece of equipment, while you are introducing components for the procedure, etc.
Close up
Fills the screen with part of the subject, like a person’s head/face or details of piece of equipment
Use for anything that you want to focus on or draw attention to, for example a process happening over a few minutes. You typically want to shoot footage from multiple angles at one time so that you can select the best shot later (or use more than one).
Extreme Close up
Scene is completely focused around your subject, with your subject completely filling the screen
Can capture tiny but important details like showing measurements or fine details of a piece of machinery. Like close ups, you might want to shoot these from more than one angle as well.
Over the Shoulder 
Shot from being the shoulder of a subject, great for conversation shots
Use when you want to see the instructors hands in the shot, as well as the process being captured. For example, pouring liquids, operating machinery, or demonstrating techniques.

Want to learn more about different shot types and see how they look? To see visual examples of shot types, check out Filmmaking 101: Camera Shot Types.

3.3. Create a shot list

Another step in the planning process is assembling a shot list. A shot list is a document that maps out exactly what will occur in each scene. It serves a similar purpose to a storyboard, planning each shot for a scene, but while a storyboard focuses on the general look in each shot, a shot list is a detailed checklist of the items needed to achieve that look.

Filming doesn’t always happen linearly; you might film all your close ups at once, because you’ve set up your lighting on a particular piece of equipment. To do this effectively, and not miss anything, you need to have a list of all the close-up shots you need for the video. It can be time consuming to put up and take down your “set” - this reduces the amount of time you need to spend moving and setting up equipment. In editing, you put the shots together in the correct order for viewing. You might even choose to do your equipment shots one day and your introduction and overview shots a different day (or in a different location).

Typically, a shot list includes:

  • The shot number (The order in which shots are arranged in the final video)
  • Shooting location (Where the shot is captured)
  • Shot type (The camera angle, or how the camera frames the subject)
  • Shot movement (How the camera moves (or doesn’t) within the shot)
  • Shot description (The action occurring in the scene)
  • Any text/ dialogue (Any onscreen text or dialogue happening)
  • Shot duration (The length of time the shot should be)

Always film in landscape. Although social media has taught us to film vertically, if you're filming for viewing on a tv or screen, you want to make sure you're filming horizontally. If you film in portrait mode, your video will have those infamous "black bars" (known as pillar boxes). In post-production, there's nothing we can do to fix this.

Example of a shot list

A shot list is absolutely essential (especially if you will not be the one editing your video). If you’d like help editing your lab video, or in creating a shot list, please contact the EdTech Office at [email protected] prior to filming and we’ll offer as much support as we can remotely.

3.4. Using a storyboard to plan your video

Storyboarding is the visual representation of a video broken down into a series of quickly and imperfectly drawn shots (the level of artistic ability will not be judged!). It is a sequence of drawings illustrating each shot, with notes outlining important details such as shot direction, dialogue, text, and approximate screen time. The main point of the storyboard it to help you externalize your vision for the video scene-by-scene. You can ensure balance across your video, using multiple angles to add visual interest.

Storyboards also outline the general look and feel that you want from each shot,  helping you spot potential continuity issues. These are inconsistencies between scenes that might be easily overlooked. For example, if a student Is carrying a book in one scene, you want them to remain holding this book in the next. Storyboards are helpful in this regard, since they don’t only map out each shot, but each element and the environment for each scene. Below is an example of a storyboard that was used in a U of T produced video, entitled “Welcome to the Engineering & Computer Science Library". You can also see how the storyboard panel translated to the final video.

Example of how a storyboard leads to a video shot

Original storyboard:

Shot in final video:

We recognize that story boarding and planning these lab videos can take some time and effort, and that it may not be possible to complete a full storyboard and shot list given your time frame.  We still encourage you to map out as much of your video as possible before the day of the shoot to keep your videos focused, clear, and reduce confusion on the day of the shoot. If you are looking for more detailed steps to creating a storyboard, check out our guide to Storyboarding.

3.5. Confirm all video components are included

When you review your preparation work (e.g. storyboard and shot list), consider the flow of your video, and what you want students to be able to accomplish after watching it. Does your video have the components to achieve this? Does your video contain both an introduction to what the video demonstrates as well as the technical content? Students will likely be watching this videos on their own, so you want to ensure that they are self-explanatory. If you are looking for more ways to make your instructional lab videos more effective, see tips for creating effective instructional videos.

A typical video flow could be to:

  1. Start your video with an overview of the experiment, the equipment used, an approximate length the experiment should take, and step by step instructions. You might include a wide shot of the lab, especially if that would be new information for them. You might also choose to do this separately; you self-film a scene like this from your office (or another location), without a mask on.
  2. Introduce the pieces of equipment that you will be using, with close up shots. You might also review the set up process in detail.
  3. Transition to the lab experiment itself. Consider repeating each step with shots from multiple camera angles. This leaves no ambiguity to the actions you are performing and makes it clear to the viewer what you are doing.
  4. Wrap up the video with a recapitulation of what the purpose of the experiment was and what you hope they learned from it.

Film where it makes sense! Not all components of your video need to be filmed in the lab. Consider when it might make more sense to self-film a component (requiring less safety equipment). You can edit in these components, as you would the other scenes. You can indicate which are to be filmed outside the lab on your shot list, to ensure that you are still planning for all the different video components.

4. Filming tips for easier editing

It might seem odd to start thinking about editing before you’ve filmed your videos, but your editing plan and proficiency will determine the sophistication of the type of video you are planning to film. If you are running tight for time, or if you know that editing is just not in your future, you will want to do longer shots. Rehearsing might come more into play for these, but these do not need to be perfect. Think about how you are in front of a live audience - be yourself and do not hold yourself to an unrealistic standard. Students respond to seeing their professors as people, not actors.

While filming, there are things that you'll want to do to make editing easier:

  1. Use a (homemade) Director's cut board. On each, you write the scene number and the take. Simultaneously, you record which take you liked best and want to review. Hold the cut board (or piece of paper) in front of the camera for each shot.
  2. Look directly at the camera. When you have a section of your video where you are speaking directly to your students, you want to look right into the barrel of the camera. This will make the viewers feel like you are speaking directly to them, when they watch it back later.
  3. Pause before speaking. Each time you start recording, you want to leave at least 5s of total silence before you start talking or acting. This time allows you are easily transition from scene to scene and take to take. If you do not have this time, it will be very difficult to edit different bits of footage together.
  4. Review your footage in real time. You might want to set up a lap top or computer to review your footage. Watching on a phone, or on a camera viewer, does not always provide the detail you will need to ensure the footage is what you were looking for. This is especially highly recommended as you start filming and learn what works for you.

The more comfortable you are with editing, and the more fleshed out your editing plan is, the easier it will be to create a more sophisticated video with more elements. This can include adding text or shapes to your video, transitions, effects, and stitching multiple clips together.

5. Set up your location for shooting (filming)

In a perfect world, you'll be able to set up your lab for filming and then leave it set up until your filming is completed (it might take a few days, depending on complexity). This ensures that each piece of the film is light consistently and contributes to the intuitive feeling that a video is put together well. Since that is unlikely to happen, you can do a few things to ensure some consistency when filming over multiple days:

  1. Use tape to mark your equipment (e.g. tripod, lighting, etc.) set up. Marking the floor allows you to set up in the same spot each time you film.
  2. Take note of your zoom. If you are filming a close up, it's helpful to note the percentage that you are zoomed in to easily replicate that setting for future shots.
  3. Film at the same time of day. If your room has windows, the sunlight will vary throughout the day and will effect the lighting of your shots. This is especially jarring if you are piecing together close up shots and they all have different lighting.
  4. Put a sign on the door. If you are filming in a space where people might be coming and going (or are using the hallway), put a sign on the door indicating that you are filming and quiet would be appreciated.
  5. Maximize the lighting you have. Turn on all room lights and grab any lights you have to add extra lighting. If you can, light your shots from multiple angles to avoid shadows.
  6. Minimize sound and interruptions. Record in the "off" hours if possible, reducing the chance of interruptions. Eliminate as much background noise as possible by turning off unneeded machines (even computers).

6. Selecting your filming equipment

For your lab video, your main goals are to ensure that your video flows well, the subject/equipment is presented clearly, and the audio is clear and understandable. The hardware you use, as well as the techniques mentioned above, will contribute to the overall success of your video, but this does not mean that you have to spend thousands of dollars to make these videos - especially if you know that due to the PPE requirements, you will not want to re-use them from year to year.

Looking for a full kit to film with? See our guide to selecting hardware for self-filming.

6.1. Lighting considerations

While most teaching labs are going to be well lit already, since students need to see what they are doing during labs, it may be that some labs need extra lighting to achieve well-lit video content. If this is the case, a portable ring light or softbox can be used to remedy poor lighting conditions

Setting up your lighting? For some tips on video lighting, check out this guide on The Basics of Lighting in Video Production.

6.2. Audio considerations

One of the most important things to consider when filming a lab video is having clear, understandable audio. Often, the microphones built into your recording device (phone, camera, etc) will pick up all ambient noises, making your videos hard to hear. This is where investing in an external microphone can help.

These microphones are standalone devices, often suited to better capture just your voice, eliminating background noises. These microphones are standalone devices, often suited to better capture just your voice, eliminating background noises.

These microphones can either be wired or wireless. Wired microphones will generally plug straight into your recording device, whereas wireless microphones communicate wirelessly using a transmitter and receiver. Generally, wired microphones are easier to set up, but depending on how far you plan to stand from your camera, will limit the amount of movement you are able to do. On the other hand, wireless microphones tend to require a little more time in setup but allow you to move freely while capturing high quality audio. Some microphone recommendations can be found on our guide to to self-filming.

6.3. Camera considerations

Cameras are an essential part of the filming process, and the quality of your camera will often dictate the visual quality of your video. To see some of our recommendations on what cameras to use, see our guide to self-filming.

6.4. The "Use what you have" filming package

Depending on the number of videos you’ll be filming, and on if you’ll be able to re-use them, it might not make sense to invest thousands of dollars into a filming set up. While the videos will not be as polished as if you had, you can still get good quality videos using a smart phone if you maximize what you have.

We would still recommend purchasing:

  1. Smartphone tripod (UBeesize Tripod S | $29.98) - Having a tripod to hold your phone is an affordable way to get stable video, both while stationary and on the move.
  2. Lavalier microphone (BOYA by-M1 Lavalier Microphone | $26.56) - Having a microphone that plugs into your phone is a great way to get clearer sounding audio and ensure that less background noise is picked up. This lavalier microphone is affordable, has a long cable, and is compatible with any smartphone with a headphone jack (if your phone doesn’t have one, an adapter can be picked up). While your phone microphone is fine for recording your audio, but be wary of recording in a loud environment, since they will normally pick up a lot of background noise.
  3. Splurge! Smartphone Gimbal (DJI Osmo Mobile 3 Combo Smartphone Gimbal | $139.00) - A gimbal also you to move around while keeping your camera stable, producing much higher quality footage (and forgiving a lot of shaking).

Filming with your phone? For tips on getting the most out of your video shot with your phone, we recommend looking at these 8 Tips on Recording Professional Video with a Smartphone.

7. Practice being on camera

When it comes to filming the lab videos, it’s important to have a strong camera presence. This is how you appear on camera and will make a big difference in the engagement level of your video. This can feel awkward at first and requires some practice.

  1. Consider Rehearsing: While you do not need to rehearse every video, it can be helpful to rehearse so that you feel more comfortable on camera because you'll know what you're going to say and where you should be.
  2. Be Animated: If you are appearing on screen, it’s important to seem enthusiastic and passionate about the topics you are speaking about. This helps to keep students engaged and invested in the content you are presenting.
  3. Pace Yourself: Similar to public speaking, while on camera there is a natural tendency to sometimes speed up and speak too fast. This is especially true when you are comfortable with the material and know what you are talking about. Try to pace yourself - speak and demonstrate slowly. Students are watching these videos for instruction and learning, so it’s important to pace your videos appropriately.

Looking for more ways to better your camera presence? Check out 10 Tips for Speaking on Camera (and Having a Better on Camera Presence!).

8. Make a test video

Before recording any clips, record a short 30 second video and watch it back. This is important to ensure that all your equipment is set up and running properly. It is also a good idea to have a laptop nearby, so you can review your footage often.

If you'd like feedback on your video, or advice on any part of your planning process, please contact FASE's EdTech Office to schedule a consultation and/or feedback session.

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