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Filming a Presentation with Slides

Well-lit Slide Presentation

Recently, I sent one of our videographers to film a presentation about an artist and her designs, which included slides of her work. The videographer did a great job with the filming, but the edit was a nightmare.

I realized afterward this was really my fault, as we hadn’t strategized in advance how to handle presenter's slides. Hence this blog article.

Options for Slide Presentations

Exposing for Slides

Presentations that involve projected slides or video or a monitor screen in the shot are challenging, especially for those struggling with budget. The primary reason is that rarely are the presenter and the screen lit separately. If there is no lighting on the presenter, the screen will be much brighter. The videographer will have to choose one or the other — either the presenter or the screen will look good, but not both together. Monitor screens can also be a different color or have flicker issues.

The primary options for filming slide presentations are listed below. Most involve more editing time and thus will be more expensive. Make sure the client understands and agrees with your choice:

  1. Film the presenter and the screen with separate cameras. An editor can then cut back and forth between the presenter and the screen, or display one as a picture within a picture so the audience can see both at the same time. This also applies if secondary screens are set up for viewing at a large event.
    Picture in Picture - Presenter & Slide
  2. Lock the camera on a wide shot of the presenter and the screen, adjusting exposure for the presenter. Don’t pan, zoom or otherwise move the camera. This will allow the slides or video to be easily added during the edit. Occasionally the editor will be able to adjust just this portion of the screen so the slides are visible.
    Lock-Down Shot of Slides
  3. Film the presenter close-up, get a copy of the slides or video, and cut back and forth between the visual of the presenter and the slides/video during the edit.
    Switch between presenter & slide
  4. Choose to ignore either the presenter or the slides, adjusting the camera and filming for whichever you’ve chosen. For example, you could see the slides and listen to the presentation, or you could watch the presenter and the slides could be provided as hand-outs.

So why the nightmare edit in our starting example?

We failed to choose an option in advance. The videographer filmed organically, panning and zooming as natural to cover the substance of the presentation. The projection screen covered most of the shot during the time the artist was talking about her work.

During the edit, the screen part of the shot was so blown-out, it was impossible to adjust the brightness of the slides so they were visible and looked good. It was also impossible to add the slides during the edit because the camera was always moving.

To solve the problem, we did the basic edit first, then I brought the project into After Effects to motion track the screen and add the slides in there. In addition to my time, After Effects took ~8 hours to motion track the 1-hour presentation, then another ~10 hours to render out the finished video. Our non-profit client had agreed up front to pay for 1 hour of editing, so the rest of our work was free. But — the finished video looked nice, and the client was happy!

Additional Tips for Filming Presentations

When filming any presentation, whether you are a pro or just covering for social media, here are some general tips:

  • Arrive early to set up, meet the staff, figure out where to put the camera, etc. We usually aim for about an hour. Ask the client about what shooting style they’d like and whether there are any surprises you should know about. Stow your cases out of sight and tape down any cords and cables.
  • Use a tripod and put the camera in a good location. Typically, you’ll be near the back of the room, so there is a danger of audience heads appearing on camera. Set the camera up as high as possible to avoid heads, and use a riser, case or box to stand on if necessary.
  • Use an external audio source, not the camera microphones.
    • The best audio will be from the sound system in the room.
    • If there isn’t a sound system or you can’t connect with it for some reason, place a wireless microphone on speaker or the podium and have a second microphone on the camera as back-up and to capture audience questions.
    • If there is a sound system but you can’t connect, one option is to ask the sound engineer to make a recording, which could be added in during the edit.
  • Use manual settings on the camera — don’t leave everything on “auto”:
    • The focus should be locked on the presenter(s), not straying to a unexpected head that suddenly pops up. Occasionally use the “push auto-focus” button, if available, to make sure the focus is sharp.
    • Set the brightness (iris and ISO/gain) to make the speakers look good. Speakers with dark skin will need to be brighter so their facial features are visible. Speakers with very light skin will look shiny and washed out if the brightness is set too high. Auto-iris can cause any speaker to look too dark if they move near a projector screen or other bright area of the room.
    • Manually adjust the volume so the sound is balanced and not too loud or soft. Camera "auto" volumes are getting better, but you still risk having the volume become unnecessarily loud when the room goes temporarily quiet.
  • When working with a client or as part of a team on an event, budget a little time for editing:
    • Audio: A well-filmed presentation often has several audio channels. These should be balanced during the edit so the best one is used, distracting sounds cut out, and the overall volume adjusted.
    • Eliminating dead space: Typically, a videographer starts filming a little early and records a few extra seconds at the end to avoid missing something. During an edit, these extra minutes can be cut out, along with mishaps, such as a speaker arriving late, a drink being spilled, or a microphone not working.
    • An editor can also brighten a too-dark video and tweak the color if things look too blue.

Jacquie Greff, author