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March 2020 changed a lot of things for libraries, but especially so in the children’s department. All of a sudden, we were being asked to record virtual storytime videos and programs for kids at home to follow along with little to no guidance. Here’s a few tips about planning, filming, and editing a virtual storytime video.

Prep Your Storytime

While not all of these steps will be necessary to everyone, this is what helps me feel less stressed when recording my virtual storytime video. It also helps cut down on my recording time because I’m not wondering what’s next in the storytime.

1. Write a Script

If you’re more of an off-the-cuff kind of person, then I’m very jealous and please teach me your skills!

I tried, like really tried, recording my virtual storytime video this way the first few times and while they weren’t bad, I was not comfortable recording my videos like that! It usually took me so much longer to get through my storytime too.

Getting a script ready ahead of time means I can prep my introduction, songs, transitions, information about my picture book, more transitions, flannel stories, and the closing of the video. If you want to see what my script looks like, check out this Voting & Women’s Suffrage Storytime post.

For me, transitions are the hardest to nail down on-the-fly so writing those out really helps to shorten my recording time. Having a pre-defined flow to my storytime also means I know exactly where I stopped if I have to film in multiple segments, which happens often since my partner and I are both working from home and there are many meetings and phone calls.

It’s up to you to define what a “script” looks like. For me, it tends to be a typed two-page Word document that I will sometimes print and sometimes just show on my computer screen. For you, it might be more of a bullet point outline, or maybe a hybrid of the two.

2. Gather Your Picture Books

This is something that I still forget! And it’s so annoying!

I have, of course, put my picture books on hold weeks in advance of my virtual storytime. I’ve had time to preview them and to go over any pronunciation questions with my husband (English is my second language and I occasionally need help with specific pronunciations). I might’ve even done a quick out-loud reading to test out the flow of the picture book, as well as choose the places where I may ask questions to the virtual audience (“how do you think she/he feels?”, “wow, did you see what he/she did?”).

3. Practice Flannels / Songs

Like with the picture books above, it’s also a good idea to practice your flannels and make sure there aren’t any changes needed for the video recording. I once tried using a flannel before I realized it was way too big for me and my set-up.

If you are trying out a new flannel or song, it’s a good idea to practice it a few times (maybe even do a little recording?), before using it in your virtual storytime video to make sure you’re familiar with the words and to make sure you actually have all the pieces!

My husband gets a kick out of watching me practice new songs, especially the tongue-twisty kind, because I am sooo bad at them the first few times! So you can bet that I practice these flannels and songs many times before recording, even though I still mess-up when recording.

Create Your Recording Environment

When recording a virtual storytime video, the environment is super important. Most people tend to focus on just what is showing up on the screen, but paying attention to what is near your recording area is also important. Let’s take a look at what should be included in your recording set-up.

1. Soft Lighting

Lighting is super important to establish. For most recordings, it’s best (and easiest) to use natural light. Just take a few days to track the lighting across your recording area and figure out the hours for the best lighting. If the lighting is too harsh, try to diffuse it with light or sheer curtains, or wax paper.

But using natural light isn’t always possible. That’s when you have to bring out your lamps! Here’s the difficult thing. Most people tend to have different types of light bulbs around their home, some are warmer, some are cooler. Try to gather lamps that have all the same color tone or temporarily switch out bulbs for your recording. You also want to make sure you spread out your lighting so your whole recording area is as evenly lit as possible.

2. Simple Background

While I would not recommend a completely blank wall as a background, it’s definitely best to have a background that allows you and your storytime to shine, and isn’t distracting. The easiest way to create a background is to add a few pieces of simple artwork or to add a plant or two behind you.

Basically, you’re trying to differentiate the background from you but not in a distracting way. You want to add depth and interest without adding competition to you and your picture book. It can also be helpful to keep a defined white space in your background, in case you want to add text in your video (for example, song lyrics).

Video Background Ideas for Recording a Virtual Storytime Video | Sincerely Yasmin
P.S. I don’t normally stand this close to the camera, haha, but I needed to block off my work logo from my t-shirt. I usually aim for the bottom of the frame to be mid-chest and to have a small amount of negative space between my head and the top of the video.

As an example, this is what my video background looks like for most of my virtual storytimes. The three pictures on the left are my personal collection of wall art and the two purple frames on the right were purchases I made specifically for my storytimes. As you can see, they feature pictures of women holding books! If you’re looking for similar pieces, check out this list of Society6 art prints that are book-themed!

3. Clear Audio

The easiest way to improve your virtual storytime video is to make sure your audio is strong and clear. My biggest hurdle is decreasing background noise. Since my partner and I are both working from home, you can sometimes hear keyboard clacking from my husband in the background of my videos. Oh, and our cat also likes to chime in during my recording sessions.

The best way I’ve found to reduce these noises is simple but also very hard: you just have to schedule it out. Which sucks. Majorly. I hate scheduling out my recording sessions because what if I’m not in the recording mood?! Too bad. If my partner and I agree that I will record on Tuesday from 1-3 PM because there’s no phone calls or meetings happening during those hours, then that’s when I record. Because there is a lower likelihood of extra background noise (except for that pesky keyboard typing, ugh).

Another big part of getting good audio is to make sure that your surroundings are soft and fluffy. This probably sounds very ridiculous but it’s so true! If you are surrounded by lots of hard surfaces (think: wood floors or little furniture), then your sound has plenty of space to echo! And that’s the last thing we want. So bring out those blankets you’ve got hiding, bring out all of your seasonal decorative pillows and hang them around the space you’re recording in. These soft items will help reduce echo and reverb in your space and will help improve your audio.

Though a little longer than necessary, this video explains and shows the change in audio after using moving blankets in the recording space.

This next video covers ten tips about improving audio but the part that will be most helpful happens from minute 1:00 to 2:30: this is where they explain reverb in a space and how you can use blankets to reduce the reverb and improve your audio.

4. Solid & Contrasting Colors

Have you ever taken a close look at the fashion of (female) news anchors?

I’m not looking at the men’s fashion because, unfortunately, this tends to include suits which means there’s some layering going on and, uh, I don’t think most of us are layering t-shirts for our virtual programs!

So, have you noticed a pattern? They tend to wear lots and lots of solid colored items! One of the biggest moments where this was made crystal clear to me was in the movie Bombshell. If you haven’t seen it, check out this article from Refinery29 about the movie and take a look at the pictures. Though I do not expect you to wear a dress for your storytime (unless you really want to?), wearing solid colors for your storytime provides a better visual experience. Additionally, make sure the colors you’re wearing contrast with your background! You don’t want to blend in with the colors behind you.

Want more information about this? check out this article about colors and dressing for the screen.

5. Recording Device

Though it might go without saying, you want to be familiar with your recording device.

Whether it’s a phone or separate camera, it’s important to test out the default video settings and see if you need to change anything. I recently learned this lesson the hard way.

My SD card became corrupted while I was transferring my files and I had to go out and buy a new card. In my panic to not have this happen again, I (unnecessarily) messed with some video settings and went straight into recording instead of doing a sample test. And guess what? Those settings I changed really reduced my video quality.

Thankfully, I’ve already changed those settings back for my next recording but I should’ve tested my new settings before going straight into recording. I will also suggest that you watch these sample recordings on your computer and not just on your phone. While many of your families will probably watch your storytime on phones or other small screens, it’s a lot easier to catch quality issues on your computer (or wherever you edit).

However, it is very rare that I will remember to grab my picture books on recording day and bring them with me to my little recording corner. Without fail, I will be recording my song and transition into the picture book reading and realize that the book is not anywhere near hands reach!

So don’t be like me. Grab your picture books (and other materials, like flannels and other props) and bring them to your recording space. Since I record standing up, I have two stools that I keep near me to hold my materials so that I don’t have to bend down out of the camera view.

Editing

Editing definitely feels like the most intimate part of this whole process, at least to me! The way things are cut up, the graphics added, plus you’re just watching yourself over and over and over again!

The intimacy!

Anyway! Let’s talk about how to edit your virtual storytime video!

1. Rough Editing

If you’ve never heard of this term, it’s gonna change your life! But also maybe not, because I forget about it half the time since I’m such a detail person. So! Rough editing is basically when you go through your video and do simple basic edits and cut out the stuff you don’t want. For example:

  • the quiet moments when you forget what you’re saying
  • or maybe you’re grabbing an item you forgot but the camera is still rolling
  • or if you stated something twice, delete the one you don’t like and keep the “good” version

I record my audio and video separately, mostly to help reduce background noise, so this is when I will sync the audio files with my videos files. In case you’re interested, I use a Rode VideoMicro to record my audio and I connect it to my phone (using a separate cable) since my camera doesn’t have an audio plug-in. My camera is a Sony a6000 and I enjoy using it but the screen doesn’t come all the up so keep that in mind when looking at recording options.

Rough editing is basically like writing a rough draft of a paper. You want the basic idea on paper while also not getting too bogged down in the details. While making these cuts, I also like to keep a piece of paper in front of me to write down any extras I will need to make. Let’s talk about that in the next section!

2. Graphics & Other Extras

While making rough edits, I will keep a paper list of things that I want to add to the virtual storytime video. It’s usually just a list of graphics or titles that need to be added in specific spots. But it could also include b-roll shots, pictures of books or library locations, or other video elements.

After finishing the rough edits, I will then take the list and start designing the graphics or titles. I usually use Canva to create these graphics. Since I know our library’s branding font and colors, I try really hard to stick to those elements in my graphics. I’ve previously used some of Canva’s free picture elements to help tell my flannel stories digitally, instead of using physical flannel items. It was a little hard to film because I had to think through my movements a little bit but I think it came out really good!

If you’re interested in signing up for Canva, you can use my referral link to sign-up!

I usually have a script made for my storytimes, so I have any book info or flannel lyrics already gathered. Since this is information I already have, I want to start including more lyrics in my videos.

3. Final Edits

After prepping the graphics and having the rough cut of the virtual storytime video, I like to make a cup of tea, grab my headphones, grab a blanket, and just settle in for the editing process. For me, it usually takes anywhere from two to three hours of editing my videos.

This is when I will make more specific cuts to videos and make any transitions smoother. I will also add any graphics and titles to their appropriate spots. If there were any drastic lighting changes, I will go in and do a little bit of color grading/editing to make the video clips match a little better. I will also make any changes to the audio, if needed. For example, if there’s a voice squeak or if the pages flipping are too loud, then I will go in and adjust that particular section of audio to be quieter.

When editing my virtual storytimes, I use Filmora to edit the videos and it’s been great so far! It’s super easy to use all their tools to do all the things I mentioned above (creating transitions and titles, color grading/editing, and adjusting audio). I also love that they have their own YouTube channel because they provide lots of detailed tutorials about how to create different types of trending video styles, as well as provide explanations for the various tools available in their program.


Recording a virtual storytime video is intense. It’s time-consuming and requires some prep work. I hope this post was helpful in breaking down the steps for planning, filming, and editing a virtual storytime video. Let me know if you still have any questions about the process, or if there are more specific details that you would like about the process!

-Yasmin

This is a storytime post about
How to Film a Virtual Storytime.

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