The world has had an overdose of online meetings during this pandemic. I have had them and you probably have too. Often in large groups, camera’s off, microphones on with noisy backgrounds, people slumped in their chairs and badly lit rooms. Not the best way to connect with each other and create effective two-way communications.
Because I give online training as well as 1-on-1 coaching, I have created a flexible live stream setup that can facilitate both situations and more.
The costs? Just shy of €350 via Amazon. I guess that’s about $300 US. Not pocket change by any means, but an investment that quickly paid for itself because audio and image quality do not disturb the relationship I am developing with the people during training or coaching. Price is without the camera, as I had that already and I would suggest you use any USB camera that you may already have, before buying something else. I will share my process of experimenting with the camera’s I already had at the bottom of this post though.
The price is also without the green screen, since I was already using that as well and may not be necessary for your goal. A simple but effective green screen cloth can be had for as little as €20. The goal is to get the best audio and video quality without breaking the bank (See: how to build a runway to get your online business off the ground. It’s Dutch, let me know if you would be interested in a translation in the comments).
Below you will find all the details on the parts I have used to create this setup so you too can make the most out of your online connections with other people on your next Zoom Call, Google Meet or Teams meeting.
The products mentioned in this article contain affiliate links. This means I receive a little kickback if you decide to buy through these links at no extra cost to you. None of these products have been sponsored and I am recommending them after personal use.
The reason to create this setup was three-fold:
- Have good, predictable audio and video quality, whether live streaming during the day or at night.
- Have a mobile setup so that it can be utilized in different places in the office and easily moved out of the way when not in use.
- Semi-permanent so I don’t have to set it up and tear it down every time I use it.
During my online training, I teach (aspiring) entrepreneurs how to spot and use online business opportunities to their advantage. By live streaming these training sessions to small groups, I can show that this is a great way to create a good, personal and interactive training. The feedback I have gotten is very positive.
During a training, I am standing in front of a green screen. The computer will replace the green background with the slides, video’s, websites, and other training material I use. It then puts me in front of it and sends that out as my camera feed to the participants. For this training it is important (to me) that I stand up and that the camera and lights are at eye-level. Just like most in-person business training, the trainer stands in front of a group of people who are seated.
Besides training, I do online, 1-on-1 coaching with people. During coaching it is important that I ‘meet’ the other person with a similar posture. Most of the time, that means we sit down. My background is a real-life, house-like setup. The only time a coaching session is done standing up, is when doing an in-person walking coach session. But, I don’t see myself doing a live-stream 1-on-1 walking coaching session anytime soon 🙂
So, the camera has to be adjusted in height to be at my eye-level at any time. And the whole setup must be mobile. To accomplish this, I used this Songmics mobile clothing rack. The upper bar has two slide-out bar ends on either side, increasing the number of mounting points for lights or camera’s.
The tubes are made of aluminium, and are not particularly strong, but strong enough for this application. I would not recommend throwing this thing in a truck every day to stream on location. But it works very well for moving it around in my office.
Lights and camera are mounted to this frame using clamps and power supplies and cable management is done using tie-wraps. Velcro ties or bongo ties would be more flexible, but I did not have those on hand.
The whole rack is nice and light, so is moved around easily. But, like I said, it is not made of steal and not sturdy enough to be used on the road. Clamping lights and camera’s to this frame works very well, just don’t over tighten the clamps. Otherwise you may dent the bars.
Good sound quality is arguably more important than good video quality. Think about it: would you rather look at a crisp movie with bad sound quality, stuttering or a lot of background noise; or look at low resolution, maybe even stuttering video but be able to hear the speaker? This was a bit of an eye-opener for me. But the audio quality needs to be predictable and good (enough).
I have tried using the onboard microphone in my laptop (2015 MacBook Pro), but it creates a very hollow, muffled sound and picks up a lot of the environmental sounds as well. Since I live near a busy road, that was undesirable. A great podcasting microphone would be awesome to create that “radio voice”, but I do not want a big microphone in the frame when doing a training. So, I chose a lav mic. Also known as lapel microphone or lavalier microphone.
The one I use is the Boya BY-M1. It costs about €20 and comes with a long cable so I can move around a bit (in frame) during a training. A wireless one would be even better, but costs a lot more, plus you need to think about charging batteries, etc. This one does the job. It clips to my shirt and picks up my voice without picking up a lot of other noises.
The key to a good video image is good lighting. Seriously; a cheap USB webcam in a well lit room will create a better image than a 4K camera in low or bad lighting. So, I invested in some LED panels. The room I use this in does not have space to house big soft boxed lights, plus it would not be nearly as mobile and flexible.
So, for lighting I bought two YongNuo YN300 Air LED panels. These can be powered by standard sized video camera batteries, or 12V mains power adapters. I use the latter. These panels contain two separately dimmable LED matrices. One with warm-white color (3200K) and one with cold-white color (5600K). You can use one or both at the same time. Each color can be controlled separately. They put out quite a lot of light and since they are relatively close to me (3-6 ft. or 1-2 meters) I did them down to about 50%.
Many LED panels online come with remote controls or even an app. And they increasingly contain all colors of the rainbow. I did not choose that as I don’t need another app on my phone, a remote is handy but I loose them and they need batteries and I do not need or want RGB colors to light me during a training or coaching. The whole reason for this setup is that audio and video is not going to be in the way of the personal connection online.
These Yongnuo YN300 Air LED panels come with 1/4 inch thread similar to what is used to mount camera’s to tripods. In the box you will find a flat table stand to mount the light on, as well as some sort of selfie-stick thing. Neither of which are useful to mount to the frame, more on that later.
Like I wrote above, good lighting is more important than the camera you use when it comes to video quality. Having said that, I tried using the built-in webcam on my laptop, but quickly dismissed that as a viable option for two reasons:
- Image quality out of that potato is never going to look good (enough), no matter how much light there is
- To have the camera at eye level, the laptop would have to be on a very wobbly stack of books.
So, I experimented with some camera’s I already had;
- Logitech C920. A very popular USB webcam with good video quality.
- GoPro Hero 9 which I use to shoot video’s of my motorcycle adventures.
- Canon EOS 700D, a 7 year old DSLR with the standard kit-lens.
The Logitech C920 is a very common webcam and it’s follow-up C922 gets good reviews as well. It has the same 1/4 inch screw thread to mount it on a tripod, or in our case the clothing rack. This is definitely a great option to try first. Any other USB webcam would probably as well, even if it means you may not be able to mount it to the frame easily. Most webcam’s have pretty wide lenses though, so you are in frame fully even though the camera is only 1 or 2 feet from you. For me that was the main reason to try out the other camera’s I had in the house.
The GoPro Hero 9 was a great option, because it is small, mounts easily to the bar (with an additional GoPro mount) and has good image quality, even in low-light conditions. I would not recommend buying it if you are only using it for this setup though. It costs about €400, which is simply too much to use just for this. Also, if you do use a GoPro (which can be used as a webcam with the GoPro Webcam Utility), I recommend you use the “narrow” lens setting as anything wider distorts the image too much.
Finally, I settled on using a 7 year old DSLR. Canon’s EOS Webcam Utility allows Canon camera’s to be used as webcams using just a USB cable. The kit lens provides great image quality as long as you stay in the center of the frame. It distorts slightly at the corners. Also, it means I can move the whole rig a few feet away from me, so that camera is not in my face.
The downside is that the camera is pretty big and requires an additional external power supply to run during long training or coaching sessions. Also, the autofocus on this camera is pretty slow, so I set it once, switch it to manual focus so that it does not go hunting for objects to focus on during a live stream.
Mounting it all to the frame is done with Smallrig clamps. For the LED panels, I picked up two Smallrig 1138 clamps. These come with a double ball-joint to swivel the light into the desired position while mounting it to the frame. The clamps have a rubber layer on them to increase grip when mounting to the frame. Don’t over tighten the clamp though, as you may dent the frame.
The camera is attached using a Smallrig 2732 clamp. It has a long swivel boom thing to mount the bigger camera in the right position. If you are using a smaller camera, such as the C920 mentioned before, I would recommend to use the smaller, lighter and slightly cheaper Smallrig 1138 clamp I use to mount the LED panels.
There you have it. All the details on the mobile, flexible rig I use for live stream training and coaching. Don’t get too hung up on the exact gear you are using, but it is worth to make sure it helps you and your audience in one way or another. For me, having a neutrally lit scene and good audio quality with a camera at eye-level, allows me to better connect with the people in my training sessions or during online coaching.