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How to Create a Screencam-Based Video Lesson

Your guide to the best gear, strategies, and techniques for creating video lessons for work or school

Capturing Audio and Video

Most screen capture programs can capture audio from a microphone as well as system audio from the applications on your computer. If you have multiple audio sources attached to your capture station, you'll have to choose the audio device in your capture software. You can see Camtasia's Audio device selection in the middle right in Figure 5 (below), set to the Logitech USB Headset. You can set levels here in the slider below the Audio device selector or just before capture, as shown in Figure 6 (below Figure 5)

Configuring an audio device

Figure 5. Configuring the audio and video capture

Figure 6. Setting microphone levels using the volume slider to the right of the microphone selector

In Figure 5, you can also see that Record system audio is selected, which is necessary when the content you're working with has an audio component. If you're recording system audio, remember to disable other system sounds, such as those from incoming Slack or email messages, because these would be captured as well. 

I mentioned that I typically don't record video with my screencams because it adds recording and editing complexity and because for most of my lessons, learners are there to see what's in the application or presentation, not my face. If your projects would benefit from video, use the webcam selector and video configuration on the right in Figure 5, along with camera controls on the left, which you access by clicking Device properties. In Camtasia, video is captured as a separate content type that you can edit independently from the screencam and audio. 

The final step before capture is setting audio levels. You do this with the slider located to the right of the microphone selector shown in Figure 6, which is within a levels meter. As you can see, the Camtasia meter turns yellow at just slightly before 50% volume and then starts turning to red at about 75% volume. Any audio captured in the red will be “clipped,” which can cause audio distortion. Try to keep the maximum volume in the yellow, and you can boost the audio volume during editing if necessary. 

If you look at Figure 7 (below), you can see that the audio on Track 2 is well below 50% volume, which I would typically boost in Audition later in the process. 

Figure 7. Camtasia's editor

Choosing a Recording Strategy

Figure 7 shows a recent project in Camtasia's editor. Briefly, the Media Bin on the left displays all of the separate captures involved in this sub-8-minute project. This highlights that you need a recording to simplify the editing process, whether you're producing a rough cut to edit elsewhere or the final version. More specifically, if you are narrating and recording simultaneously, you're going to eventually flub and have to make a correction. 

What I used to do was simply wait a moment, say “again” to alert myself that there was a repeat coming, wait another beat, and restart recording. During editing, however, you might edit 30–60 seconds of audio, then hit an “again” and find that the section of video you just edited was being updated, wasting the associated editing time. 

Now if I flub while I'm recording a PowerPoint presentation for a lesson, I stop the recording, drag the associated media file into the timeline, trim the end to the last good slide, and start recording the next slide again. I don't try to piece components of a single slide together; I only insert full slides into the rough cut. Then, I export an MP4 file to insert into Premiere Pro, where I clean up the presentation, shorten any delays, cut any "umms" or "ahhs," replace any botched segments I didn't catch during recording, and finalise the audio. 

The strategy you choose will depend on multiple factors, including the content you're capturing and your tolerance for noticeable discontinuities. For example, if you're showing how to complete an operation in a software program, you want the video to look like it was all captured in a single take; you don't want any cursor jumps or screen discontinuities. 

For 1–2-minute videos, the best strategy might be to capture multiple times until you get a perfect take. For longer videos, your capture strategy has to incorporate the ability to merge multiple captured files into a smooth, completed presentation, with no glitches in program operation and minimal cursor jumps. This means that when you flub, you edit your rough cut to a point at which it's easy to restart the capture without an obvious jump. For example, if you're showing different applications in different browser windows or jumping from one application to another, these change points would be obvious edit points. 

Ultimately, you'll find the capture strategy that's best for you and your project. The smartest way to do this quickly is to capture, edit, and finalise a video or two rather than capturing all of your content, then editing and finalising. Figure out the optimal workflow early, and then go into production.

Editing Your Lesson

Camtasia's editor, shown in Figure 7, has the same basic components as all other editors: a Media Bin on the upper left, timeline on the bottom, preview window in the upper middle, and properties window on the upper right. Here, you'll assemble the various recordings of your lesson into a cohesive whole, perhaps adding some of the transitions, animations, behaviours, titles, and other effects shown to the left of the Media Bin. 

Like most editors, Camtasia's has a Split function that allows you to cut clips on the timeline and a Trim function you can use to grab the starting and ending edges and drag to delete any unneeded frames. You can definitely finalise your project in Camtasia's editor; I just find Premiere Pro faster and easier to use, and I think the audio filters that are accessible from both Premiere Pro and Audition are better and more configurable. 

Finalising the Audio

In general, if you're diligent, you should be able to create a professional-looking video in a reasonable amount of time. Audio, on the other hand, can be absolutely vexatious, and you'll get the absolute best results in the shortest period of time if you buy decent-quality gear and record in a quiet environment. 

If you record a little low to avoid clipping, you'll have to boost the volume during either capture or editing. Camtasia has an auto-normalisation option that can boost audio levels during capture, or you can use a manual Gain function in the Properties window. 

One problem that I consistently encounter is slightly weak audio from a voice that gets reedy after lunchtime, making the narrations sound anaemic. I fix this in Audition via the Audio Compression function, which reduces the volume of louder regions in a waveform and boosts the softer regions to make the audio more uniform. (See the tutorial, with samples, at Camtasia has an Audio Compression filter in the Audio Effects tab, as you can see in Figure 8 (below)

Camtasia audio compression

Figure 8. Camtasia has both Audio Compression and Noise Removal effects.

If you encounter the same problem, you can try that effect. Also notice the Noise Removal effect, which you can use to remove background noises. However, you'll almost certainly get much better results using a third-
party program. 

Whatever your audio workflow, you can export your video via the control shown in Figure 9 (below). Note that when you start capturing your lesson, the editor inserts the first captured file into the timeline and then sets the project resolution to the captured file's resolution, which is almost always what you want. By default, Camtasia produces the output file at the project resolution, which simplifies using the same resolution for capture, editing, and output. 

Figure 9. Outputting the video

So that's it. Hopefully, you have a good idea about the production decisions you have to make, the hardware and software you need, and how to find the optimal workflow for your lessons.