So you want to shoot a magic video or magic promo video but you have no idea where to start?  Well don’t worry! In this blog post I’ll take you through the basic steps you need to take in order to get started.

Let’s start!

Step One: Cameras

If you want to make a magic video you’re first going to need a camera with video capabilities. You want something that records in the highest definition possible. If you don’t an HD video camera or DSLR with video functions don’t fret because you’re in luck! It just so happens that we now live in a world where almost everyone has a smart phone with HD video capabilities!Borrow one if you have to because in this day and age there are no excuses.

While the minimum number of cameras you’ll need to make a video is one, there’s a great deal of benefit to having two cameras recording the same event from different angles. If you can, use a smartphone or any secondary recording device as a B-cam.  Having a B-cam setup will give you a more dynamic and visually appealing video as well as make editing out unwanted footage easier later on, but we will get back to editing soon!

Step Two: Lighting

The amount of light you need will depends on the type of camera you choose to use. No matter what, you’re definitely going to need a good light source if you want quality footage. Luckily there are many different free and paid options when it comes to lighting your video.

Option One: Window

If you don’t want to invest any money at all, using natural window light is a totally viable option. You want to make sure that you’re using a window that allows as much light in as possible and position your camera so it isn’t blocking any light that would be in your shot.

This is a great option because the sun is totally free and requires little work in terms of setup. However, there are some drawbacks. For example you’re stuck shooting in front of whichever windows you have available and are only able to shoot during daylight hours on a nice clear day. If that’s the situation then wake up early! It’s not the end of the world, but at the end of the day it definitely make a difference in quality!

If you want to record on your own schedule, not positioned opposing a window, here’s are some other lighting options

Option Two: House Lamps

If you gather up some house and desk lamps that you already have around the house you can make a pretty decent lighting setup. Now, depending on the intensity of the lamps you have, you may have to get the lights pretty close to your subject which can make wide angle and distance shots more difficult.

I’m currently using lamps I picked up from a hardware store for about $20 each. What’s great about the lamps which I have is that they are cheap, lightweight, pack small and have clamps built in so that can be mounted just about anywhere!

NOTE: Colour Rating and Temperature Scale

If you’re going to use your own lights and bulbs you need to be aware of their colour rating on the temperature scale.  The temperature scale of light is measured in Kelvin. Candle light has a rating of about 1900K and blue sky has a rating of about 10,000K.

I try and shoot as close to the blue spectrum as possible but it really all depends on what kind of colour temperature you want for your video. The one thing that you want to make sure is that all the bulbs you use have the same or as close to the same Kelvin rating  as possible so that you don’t have contrasting colour spectrums in you video.

Option Three: LED Camera Mounts

There are many different kinds of mountable LED lights for photography / videography. NEWER models makes some dimmable LED mounts with different colour filters for different lighting needs in the $40-$60 range. These are great little lights which provide a range of different lighting options. They pack fast and small, making them great for on-the-go shooting.

Option Four: Softbox Lights

Softbox Lights are the big rectangular lights you probably remember from photo day at school.  They range from about $100 and up online so I would only suggest investing them if making high quality video is something you are going to need to do regularly.  What’s nice about a softbox is that they provide a very wide and soft light source without being too harsh on your subject.  They work buy using multiple high-intensity bulbs and diffusing / reflecting them through a large fabric box.

There are a lot of different lighting options all of which can provide you with a great looking video.

People aren’t just going to watch your video they’re going to listen to it so let’s take a look at some options for getting great quality audio.

There is what seems to be an endless array of microphones and recording set-ups to choose from so i’m going to try and keep this as simple as possible. There are basically three different ways to record audio for video.    

Step Three: Combining Audio and Video

If you’re video is going to have recorded audio in it you are going to have to consider audio recording.

Option Number One: Work with what you have

The first and simplest way to record audio for your video is using the onboard recording system for your camera (or phone if you’re going mega-low-tech). This is what I’ve been using most often because it requires no additional set up. The problem with using your camera’s built-in mic is that you are usually sacrificing quality for convenience and cost if you’re recording on something like a smartphone or DSLR.

“I plan on recording often. What’s a good first purchase?”

Great question imaginary person!

There are cameras that have awesome microphones built in to them. If you haven’t bought a camera yet, and plan on recording a lot of footage of you talking, this might be something for you.

These are Video cameras with great quality microphones built in! If you record on something like a ZOOM Q8 or a Sony Mv1 (links below) you don’t need a camera AND a microphone. Don’t worry, you’re not tied down you still have options!

Here are the two examples that are great for shooting and getting great audio together.

Zoom Q8 Handy Video Recorder

Zoom Q8 Handy Video Recorder

Sony HDR-MV1 Music Video Recorder (Black)

Sony HDR-MV1 Music Video Recorder (Black)


Option Number Two: Single System

A single system for recording audio is one which records audio and video together on a single track. It works much like using the built-in mic with the added benefit of a higher quality mic.

Basically you’re going to position your mic where you see fit (this will change based on the kind of microphone and your surroundings) and send the signal from your mic to the built-in preamp on your camera if it has one or to an external preamp which then connects to your camera via an adapter.

The equipment you’ll need will change depending on the type of inputs your camera has, the mic your using and quality of your camera’s preamp (if any). Though your setups will vary the thing that they will all have in common when using this system is that the audio is picked up with mic and saved directly to the camera along with the video. This makes editing later a lot easier because the audio and video are already synced.

I can’t recommend any single system setups as I haven’t used any. But It’s worth looking into.

Option Three: Double System

The double system works like that single system except for one key difference. Instead of sending the audio signal from the mic directly the to the camera, the audio signal is sent to an external digital recording device like a Zoom H4N PRO Digital Multitrack Recorder.

Zoom H4N PRO Digital Multitrack Recorder – 2016 Version

Zoom H4N PRO Digital Multitrack Recorder – 2016 Version


 The drawback of using this system is that because the audio and video files are recorded to different places you have to sync them later in post. The double system is actually how films were traditionally made. Syncing audio and video is actually what the iconic clapperboard was and still is used for.

The loud clap will create a spike in the audio track which can be paired with the visual cue of to board closing making it much easier to synch the audio and video.   

You don’t need to go and buy a clapperboard if you are using a double system. You can just clap your hands or using a clapperboard app on a phone or tablet.  There are even programs to make audio and video syncing easier such as PluralEyes. Here is a video tutorial for those of you using Adobe Premier    

If you’re not using Adobe Premiere and need syncing your audio I’m sure you can find success on Google or Youtube.

With all the extra work involved why bother using a double system?

It’s probably the best option!

One of the biggest advantages of using a double system is that you can have someone monitor your audio both audibly with over-ear headphones and visual on the display of your digital recorder. Monitoring is crucial for having good audio because allows you to hear any background noise and visually see if you are recording with the right decibel range. For standard recording you want to keep you recording levels between -20dbFS and -12dbFS (decibels Full Scale).

On the scale recorders cap out at a maximum of 0 dbFS.  if you try and record something louder than that you will only record the frequencies lower than 0 dbFS and cut out everything above losing most of you sound.  This is known as clipping and is responsible for the muttered crackling  and popping sounds you hear when someone stands to close to microphone.

Once you’ve gathered everything you need to get started it’s time to shoot. 

My best advice for this is don’t hesitate.

Get out there, play around and most importantly have fun.  Your video can be anything you want it to be so get creative! Really take the time and think about every part of your composition and care about each shot. Video is a lot of work but it can also be a lot of fun. 

Step 4 – Editing

Editing your video together might end up being the most time consuming part of this process.  There are a TON of video editors out there. In fact too many to mention. The basis of editing video is combing through your footage, trimming it down and then cutting and pasting it together.

There are a bunch of free editing softwares such as Movie Maker on windows and iMovie on mac as well some pretty darn pricy ones like Sony Vegas and Premiere Pro. Whatever software you pick will have a long list of pros and a long list of cons but all will allow you to make a decent looking video. So it’s really up to you to decide what your needs as a filmmaker are and what you are comfortable learning. My advice here would be to try out a free software and see what issues you have with it before buying an expensive program. This will give you a better understanding of what you want and need before spending the big bucks.

In general if you want to create great material without breaking the bank the next few steps will help you on your journey

  1. If you’re trying to make a video once, or twice. You might want to either bring someone in, or rent the equipment. Of course cost, time and quality are factors you need to consider, but no need to overdo it
  2. If you are going to start or want to step up making content regularly definitely get a quality video camera (it’s worth it over an Iphone lens).
  3. Decide between a camera without a quality microphone (cardistry videos might not need it),  separately buying or renting a microphone, or buying a camera with quality microphone built in,

If you want to learn some tips about how to make your videos look awesome, check out this video we did with Chris Mayhew (Feel free to skip to 2 min)


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