In this quick start guide on how to start a vlog, I’m are going to cover everything a beginner needs to know and understand in order to make the right purchase decisions for cameras, gear, story telling and more.
Please note that there is no one camera that can do everything you want and need. In general some cameras are better for on the go vlogging, others are more appropriate for talking head shots. For getting started you could use as something as simple as your iPhone or an affordable action camera.
What is vlogging and how does it work?
Vlogging is simply living your life and sharing your story though video. The best vlogs are about something specific and have a theme which should be a unique and interesting part of your life.
Maybe you’re teaching English abroad and want so show what it’s like day to day, perhaps you’re a digital nomad exploring a place like Mongolia or Sri Lanka. Maybe you’re downsizing your life and living in a tiny home.
While the day to day may not be exciting, there are people in the world who are not where you’re from and are not doing what you’re doing. A great example is how a food travel vlogger showcases local cuisine for the world.
“Why would anyone care about this?”
To your everyday Vietnamese, banh mi and egg coffee is about as exciting as going to Walmart. But if you’re not from there it’s interesting. So what aspect of your life is unique, different or interesting? Below is an example video from my casual travel vlog.
Pick a theme, know your audience do more of what works
One difficult aspect of vlogging is to choose your niche, your theme and to stick to it at the exclusion of other topics. We are all dynamic people with multiple interests, but people and the YouTube algorithm want to box you in. If you don’t heed this advice you’re going to make a vlog channel with a lot of videos but a minimal amount of views and subscribers.
For example, you may start off as a music channel, then pivot to talking about teaching English abroad, then veganism, then being a triathlete to now current. All of these topics are their own channel and don’t flow in any cohesive manner. So pick your topic and stick with it.
Lot’s of videos and no audience
What will end up happening is that you’ll build a channel to hundreds of videos but only averages 100 or so views a day. Instead, pay attention to what works and do more of that.
It’s fine to go off topic sometimes, but if you do it too much you’ll annoy your audience and hurt your channel with regards to the YouTube algorithm. YouTube want’s to know what your channel is about. Don’t dilute your channel with random and irrelevant content.
Example channel with 500+ videos and under 10k subs that only gets 100 views a day because he does not stay on topic and creates content people don’t want.
Your style will attract a specific audience
The best vlogging topic is the one that you will naturally gravitate towards. As such, be yourself because you don’t want to become a character where you feel like you have to act in a specific way.
Also, as you grow an audience you’ll want to create content that your audience specifically likes. This may seem obvious, but what works for a young audience by being loud and crazy on camera, may not work if your audience is mostly 50 year old retired professionals.
In short, don’t think you have to act a specific way because others do. It will come off as insincere and silly. You may also need to come to terms with that you may not be cut out for vlogging, I know I’m not. I do it for fun and would rather focus on my educational content which has much more of an impact.
Inspiration – Model what works
You should take a look at other channels to see what is working for them and why. You don’t want to copy or be an echo of more popular channels, but you do want to incorporate best practices as success leaves clues.
When you find channels on a topic similar to yours use what works but also think about ways you can make your content better, different or both. What works for them may work for you. I bring this up because you don’t always need to be 100% original.
For almost any topic there are surprisingly popular channels that are making money and entertaining or helping their audience in some meaningful way. Again, it comes down to being authentically you while at the same time always striving to improve.
Create your YouTube channel and brand account
Once you have an idea of what you want to vlog on, it’s time to create and launch your channel. Creating a YouTube channel is actually very easy. All you have to do is create a Gmail account and sign into YouTube with it.
Once you do that, go ahead and create a “brand” account. A brand account allows you to use a unique and creative name instead of a first and last name. Google has a guide here on how to do it.
In general, it’s better to create a brand account because you can always change your channels name later. Using your name is more clunky as you’re a bit more stuck with it. Once your brand account is up and running, you’ll need to add a profile picture and channel art.
YouTube Channel Customization
Now it’s time to setup the branding for your YouTube channel. You have a few parts you need to pay attention to. Specifically you’ll need a profile picture, channel art and a watermark. The most difficult piece is the channel art so here are some design and branding tips.
Within your YouTube studio, you can access your branding under the customization tab:
No surprise here, a profile picture is what users will see when you comment on other videos or when people view your YouTube channel. As such, select an appropriate image to be your profile. Also, use a .png file as it will be of the highest quality.
Your picture on YouTube also must follow community guidelines. In general, family friendly images are what is acceptable.
Banner image / channel art
Channel art is a bit difficult for most beginners to make. We suggest you checkout Canva.com. It’s a free image editing service that comes with numerous templates. They have a dedicated YouTube channel art template that is the correct size for YouTube:
You can either edit a premade template or start from scratch with your own design. It will take a lot of trial and error, but it’s worth investing the time to create a banner art the represents your channel well.
When you’re done with your design on Canva you can simply download a png version of the image and upload it in the customization tab.
Last is the video watermark. This functionally acts as a subscribe button when people click on it and it helps brand your videos. It’s a small, subtle thing but it’s worth putting something as your watermark.
Get a vlogging camera
Now it’s time to get a camera and begin vlogging. I have a dedicated guide to the best YouTube cameras for different use cases. In general I suggest you use an action camera or your iPhone.
What to look for in a vlogging camera
The best vlogging cameras are small, light, easy to use and carry. This is why were such big fans of action cameras or the iPhone because they are just easy to take with you and use. Great example is how popular travel vlogger, Drew Binsky uses a GoPro for has walk and talk shots when he is in a city. Sure, he has an expensive mirrorless camera but that setup is not ideal when walking around a foreign market or temple.
So while you will see professional YouTubers using large gear like a Canon 90D, for most new vloggers stick to an action camera of your phone. Learn the basics, figure out your style and expand from there. Maybe you’ll end up being like Drew Binsky where you’ll use a mix of cameras for your vlog.
Microphones for vlogging
Audio is more important than video. People will tolerate in fact tolerate lower quality video if the audio is outstanding. So when looking at a vlogging camera, take note of it’s ability to use an external microphone.
Some action cameras like the Sony X3000 have excellent built in internal audio, the GoPro is good too and you can attack a lapel microphone if you like. For a mirrorless camera or DSLR we suggest the Rhode Video Micro as the best budget camera or the Rhode Video Microphone Pro Plus as the professional choice.
Wide angle ideally
We love point and shoots but please be aware that the built in lens on most of these types of cameras is usually 24mm with a zoom. At 24mm, it’s going to be quite close on your face.
For some this is fine, but if you’re wanting a wide angle shot, you’ll need to use an action camera, your phone if it has a wide angle mode or a proper wide angle lens depending on the camera body.
Lens selection depends on mount
One thing we want to bring up is that the lens selection for your camera if you decide to go the inter-changeable route (like a Canon M50), depends on the body and mount. One of our favorite wide angle lenses is the Canon 10-18mm. But that is an EF mount. Meaning it only works on their DSLR style cameras and not their newer mirrorless cameras.
If you get a mirrorless camera like an M50 you’ll need to purchase a speed booster which is functionally an adapter. They can cost quite a bit of money. Last, if you get a different brand like Sony, don’t expect to use Canon lenses and vice versa.
You need stabilization
Most cameras and even phones now have built in stabilization, but this is something you need to verify before you purchase anything. For example, Canon has an excellent SL3 which is their budget DSLR.
Perfect for talking head videos or online courses, particularly if combined with the 10-18mm lens, but a terrible choice for vlogging as it has no stabilization. Stabilization comes in a few different forms.
IBIS vs Digital Stabilization
Stabilization simply makes your videos when moving nice and smooth. The best form of stabilization is IBIS as it allows you to make video content that is smooth and enjoyable to watch.
IBIS is far superior to digital stabilization which uses software to make your video smooth. As such, it tends to crop in too much on your video in order to make things stable. However, having digital stabilization is better than having no stabilization.
Good audio is essential
Quality audio is just as important as good video. For most setups today, decent audio is no longer an issue as it was back in 2015 and earlier. Cameras now have better internal microphones and their are now a lot of good, budget microphones and lapel microphones you can use.
But please be aware to pay attention to your audio as some cameras still have some issues. For example, the DJI Pocket is quite mediocre with it’s internal audio, and the Sony ZV-1 while good, fall apart when you do point of view shots.
That mean when you’re talking into the camera the audio is great, you turn it away form you to show something then it sounds terrible.
While you can go out any buy an expensive camera like the Canon 1DX, it’s not particularly durable. If you drop it or tip it over when it’s on a tripod, you just broke a piece of equipment that costs thousands of dollars. Same goes for any point and shoot camera. You may get lucky and drop a point and shoot one time with no issue but beyond that you’re pushing your luck.
Action cameras and phone however are bit tougher which is why we love them so much for getting started with vlogging. Just be aware the more expensive the camera you get, the more stressful vlogging is going to be with making sure your gear does not break.
Time to start recording!
Alright, you have your YouTube channel setup and you have a camera. Now it’s time to start vlogging. Here are our best tips when it comes to recording yourself:
Get to the point of the video in the first minute
Vlogs can be fun and casual, showing aspects of your life and what not but please make sure to get to the point of the video as quickly as possible. We watched a woman create a vlog about the “G7X Mark ii vs Mark iii” and for the first 10 minutes she was rambling about her day, friends and makeup.
It was all a bit narcissistic as she gave no thought to the audience that would find her vlog which was people wanting to know how the camera is via a comparison. Instead she annoyed and bored everyone by talking about her clothes and what she ate that day.
Have an introduction, body and conclusion
Not rocket science, but when you vlog take step back and think about how you want to introduce a video, the different clips for the body and how you will end the video.
In the introduction, get right to the point of the video and deliver. The body should be a mix of clips that are engaging and entertaining and end the video with a proper conclusion and a call to action like to subscribe, click something or watch more videos.
Edit your clips and make a vlog
Once you’ve recorded your clips, it’s time to put them together in a coherent way to form a vlog. As a beginner there is not easy to way to learn video editing. You learn by doing. But again, if you followed the simple advice of shooting an introduction, getting to the point quickly, having a body of interesting clips that tell a story and a conclusion, you should be able to put together a competent video.
Pay attention to your frame rates
A beginner mistake is to shoot at one framerate and to then render the video at a different frame rate. If you shoot at 60 FPS, 30 FPS etc, make sure your frame rate upon rendering and exporting match. Otherwise your vlog video quality won’t be that good.
For an action camera or an iPhone I recommend shooting at 60 FPS as the video will look best. For sit down, talking head videos I shoot in 24P. When using your video editor to render, make sure to set the frame rate correctly.
Last is bit rate, you can have a constant bit rate which will produce the highest quality video if maxed out or you can set a more efficient variable bit rate which will render more quickly and look close to the same quality.
Simple color grading for beginners
Color grading is what separates professionals from beginners. In general you’ll want to use the “curve” function in your video editor to make the darks darker, and the lights lighter. You may also want to change the color balance of each clip to your liking.
Don’t have your audio peak
With all video editors you can adjust the sound on your time line. Your goal is to balance out the overall sound. You don’t want any clips that are too loud or too quite. You want to play back your video and make sure the sound is baance.
Also be aware of when your audio peaks. Peaking is when the sound spikes. You as someone who has watches video before knows what that is like. All of a sudden in a video someone yells or create a loud noise and it’s louder than the rest of the video. That’s called peaking, don’t do it as no one likes it.
Transitions and Pace
All software comes with a set of transitions to use from clip to clip. Use transitions in a thoughtful way and keep the pace of the video moving. This comes from skill and experience. Beginners tend to make the pace way to fast from scene to scene or to slow and boring with irrelevant clips.
To get better simply pay attention to your analytics and find out where you went wrong with a vlog.
Once you have your clips and are ready to make a vlog, you’ll need a video editor. There are a lot of options obviously. If you’re vlogging with an iPhone, iMovie is a simply but feature rich choice. You could also get Luma Fusion if you want to edit on an iPad.
For PC users Davinchi Resolve is generally accepted as the standard for semi-professionals looking to make videos. For Mac users without question you should get Final Cut Pro once you’re ready for a step up from iMovie.
Upload your vlog to YouTube
Once your video is edited and exported, you’re finally ready to upload your video to YouTube. To do so is very easy, all you have to do is click on the camera icon on YouTube then drag and drop your video to begin the upload process:
Once your video is upload you need to take care of a few different aspects of your video. Particularly you need to pay attention to YouTube SEO.
Thumbnail and title for a high click through rate
The two basic aspects of any video are a compelling title and an eye catching thumbnail. In general, you want your click through rate to be better than 2%. If it’s under 2% then you need to change your thumbnail.
For thumbnails you can go back to Canva.com and use their YouTube thumbnail preset. For titles, just like with a blog post make sure it’s titled something people are actually looking for.
No one cares about your “day in the life vlog” when you’re not well known. Instead, making think about what other people would want. A day in the life of an English teacher in Japan is much better.
A vlog like that will get views and organic traffic for keywords related to teaching English in Japan and what not.
Good description and don’t link off of YouTube
You should take the time to write a good video description of your video and the context behind it. You don’t need to write an essay, but the more content the better in general. With regards to links, try to link to playlists and other videos.
If in all your videos you’re linking off of YouTube it will hurt your videos performance as you’re ending the watch time on YouTube.
Check your analytics and improve
Your video analytics tell you how your video is performing. In particular you want to pay attention to the click through rate, average view duration and watch time.
These are your most important metrics that influence if your video will be promoted to a wider audience:
Click through rate
This means how many people per 100 views decided to click on your video. This is influenced by your video title and thumbnail. You want to aim for a 2% CTR at a minimum.
View duration and watch time
Videos with a high watch time mean that people are staying on the video and not leaving. View duration shows how much of the video do people watch. An ideal view duration is over 20% and what a good watch time is simply depends on your competition.
Key moments for audience retention
This graph is essential to understand. It shows at what point did people drop off and stop watching your video. It’s normal to see a gradual decline, in fact that is what you want to see.
But if you see a sudden dip, look at that section of the video and examine what you did wrong. Also, consider using the “car” feature to keep people on your videos. Cards are in your video settings and you can have them pop up in the right hand corner when people are on your video.
Should you start a vlog?
Last, who should start a vlog? Anyone who wants to learn how to create videos should first start with vlogging. Recording yourself on camera is quite awkward at first and learning how to edit takes time. Understanding story telling and how to use different clips is a skill that needs to be developed.
If you’ve been looking to get started making YouTube videos, perhaps you want to make films, tutorials or online courses. By first vlogging and getting through the learning curve everyone needs goes through, you’ll be able to bring yourself up to speed with the ever growing skill of making videos.
Finally, let me address some commonly asked questions with regards to vlogging on YouTube. As someone who runs multiple YouTube channels including a casual travel vlog I can help guide you on making the best decision for your situation.
How do you start vlogging with an iPhone?
With your iPhone, particularly newer models you’ll want to first go into your settings and make sure to change the frame rate and video quality. By default videos are set to 30 FPS, I find iPhone vlogs look best at 60 FPS.
Next you need to make a decision as to record in 4k or not. 4k video files are large and take along time to render and only the top tier iPhones can record 4k at 60 FPS which is quite a large video file. Last, you’ll want to use the selfie camera for talking head shots and the main camera for point of view shots.
With an iPhone you can also record with both cameras at the same time which makes for an interesting video clip. Last, every iPhone comes with iMovie to edit videos. Luma Fusion however is much better though not free.
How do you start a vlog and make money?
You start a vlog by simply making an effort to make videos regularly. Most new vlogs are quite mediocre and you’re competing against people who either have years of experience or they are or were a professional videographer.
But to gets started, use an iPhone or a modern action camera and start recording. Next, purchase video editing software and learn how to edit videos effectively. As for money, you can make money once you have an audience through advertising, sponsorships, affiliate marketing and driving traffic to a website or email list.
How do you make Instagram story vlogs?
Instagram has a new story feature and they want you to create content. For stories you’ll want to use an iPhone and record in portrait. If you’re editing a YouTube video down into a story you’ll have to render it in portrait as well.
Take roughly a 1to 10 minute clip and add a text overlay on the video so people who don’t have sound on can read what you’re saying. Last, don’t worry about hashtags as they don’t matter that much. What does matter is to use music from Instagram and to have good engagement on your Instagram story through likes and re-watching it.
How to start a vlog conclusion
So that is it for our essential starter guide on how to start a vlog. We strongly suggest you being your vlogging journey using an iPhone or an action camera. This option is fun and easy to use. You’ll actually make vlogs with this sort of setup instead of using some big complicated camera with a fluffy microphone.
As your skill develops perhaps your needs will change. But to getting started with vlogging, the best thing you can do is get to work recording yourself. Once you have your vlog up and running, checkout guide on how to get subscribers and grow on YouTube.
David UtkeDavid Utke is a professional blogger, YouTuber and a highly rated user experience consultant. He and his team create helpful tutorials, software reviews, videos and more based on real-world experience. Join over 30,000 monthly readers and 27k+ YouTube subscribers!
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