How to shoot instructional videos

Date:16 November 2017 Tags:, , , ,

Video has changed the way we learn how to build, repair and put things together. Vague directions in 12 languages and not-to-scale drawings have been replaced by hundreds of video guides for any job. The problem is, many instructional videos are terrible. We searched for the best.

These interview are part of our VIDEO series, proudly brought to you in association with Canon.

First, some rules for instructional videos

Until very recently the joke was always about the foolhardy man who didn’t bother to read the instructions. Now, it’s about the plodding sap who does. When you can go on YouTube and find amateurs and professionals to walk you through just about anything, it’s hard not to wonder, why the bother? Well, there’s a catch with YouTube: it’s a howling wilderness of subject matter, where the competent, the incompetent, and the outright dangerous vie for your attention.

Allow us to blaze you a trail of useful instructional videos. We’ve written, read and watched our share of technical information; and what we can say with certainty is that technical instruction is tricky and video is no different.
A good video is a gift. A bad video is less useful than a well-written explanation accompanied by neatly drawn illustrations and proper photography. So before throwing out your instruction manuals (if your tools still come with them), consider these four rules for high-quality DIY/instructional videos.

Step 1:

It’s not about the narrator; it’s about the information he’s trying to convey. Beware the Kardashianite instructor, who is more interested in you being interested in him than in his subject matter.

Step 2:

Sometimes action is best viewed from directly above. Other times you want a front view, or an oblique view. So multiple angles are best – so long as they don’t include classics like “your butt is in my way” or “I could see it before you put your head in my light”.

Step 3:

Wind, traffic and barking dogs drowning out instructions or telltale auditory cues can destroy an otherwise well-shot video’s usefulness. And if someone can’t be bothered to re-record their sound somewhere quiet, they probably don’t measure twice.

Step 4:

It shouldn’t be 10 minutes of rambling and guffaws before you remember why you queued up the video. The objective should be stated and addressed quickly.

One final point:

Just because a video is well produced doesn’t mean its information is reliable. How do you know? Watch more videos from the same source. Does the host generally seem to know what he’s talking about? Be suspicious of anyone whose advice seems unsafe, who contradicts the instructions of a manufacturer, or who violates a warranty or a building regulation. Or, save yourself the trouble and simply consult our list.


Quick home-repair advice: Fine Homebuilding
instructional videos

Fine Homebuilding’s video library includes plenty of long, intimidating project videos. But they’ve also got a supply of video courage: The ‘Mastered in a Minute’ videos explain things like how to join PVC pipe in just a minute or two; and, for stuff you already know how to do, the ‘There’s a Better Way’ series points out places you could be working more efficiently.
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The user’s manual for the home depot: Home Depot
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All the subject matter expertise you’d expect from The Home Depot is present in their video library, which is well-organised in an online video hub. One nice feature: for complicated jobs, there’s a separate ‘overview’ video that acquaints you with the project before you dive in.
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Simple solutions to confounding problems: Life Hacker
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The quest for hacks on this channel, which covers everything in life, presents a trade-off. On the one hand, you’ve got to sift through a lot of stuff to find the videos that you, specifically, need. On the other hand, the videos are all short, simple and useful.
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3 000+ major appliance repairs: Repair Clinic
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On their YouTube channel – which is easier to use than their clunky website library – Repair Clinic’s videos are organised first by type of appliance, then by brand. So you can find a playlist of possible repairs for, say, LG gas stoves. That’s pretty helpful, given how different configurations can be across brands. As a bonus, several videos offer quick-and-dirty explanations of how different appliances work, which helps you figure out what needs fixing in the first place.
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Get the most out of your chainsaw: Stihl
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The ‘Chainsaw Safety, Operation, and Maintenance’ series is 11 videos long. It’s a hefty investment to watch them all, but if you’re about to embark on a chainsaw-heavy task – clearing the woods on a new parcel of land, say – it’s a small price to pay for getting the most out of one of the most useful – but also most potentially dangerous – tools in your arsenal.
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The jobs that keep your house looking young: This Old House
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The first show most of us ever watched about how to make stuff around the house is still an excellent resource, with a vast YouTube library of videos, all of them hosted by the guys you know and trust, and produced with the easygoing clarity of the show.
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Home renovations and upgrades: Today’s Homeowner
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Contributing editor Joe Truini and the team at Today’s Homeowner host a massive library of videos covering jobs inside and outside the house. There’s a transcript for each video – handy when you’ve watched a video, got to work and need to jog your memory but can’t hear your smartphone over your neighbour’s leaf blower.
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How to have the sexiest car on the block (and keep it running): ChrisFix
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There are two kinds of mechanics. To one, you’re an illness that’s slowly killing your car, and what they fix is just a symptom. To the other, you’re a co-parent, helping the car age with grace. ChrisFix is the second kind. His videos go step by step, and he explains his thinking throughout, so you know why he loosened a bolt now even though he doesn’t remove it until later, or what’s at risk if you don’t prop up a calliper while dealing with the pads. And he’s got an enthusiast’s sense of the less urgent jobs that still matter: keeping the paint nice, making the tyres shine.
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Practical tips from an old-school mechanic: Scotty Kilmer
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DIY car repair with an emphasis on finding the quickest, cheapest ways to make repairs that will actually last. (Kilmer’s distaste for expensive products that aren’t worth the money is palpable.) The camera work won’t win any awards, but Kilmer is exuberant enough to hold your attention from the burnout that starts every video until the job is complete.
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The most precise cooking tips ever: America’s Test Kitchen
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America’s Test Kitchen’s dogged studies of kitchen quandaries reach peak video form in their ‘Super Quick Video Tips’ and ‘Learn to Cook’ series, both of which offer crisply produced, characteristically precise, heavily visual guides – the former short and sweet, the latter more expansive. Also worth a look are the ‘Ask the Test Kitchen’ videos – they are essentially Ask Roy, but for chefs.
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Comfort food – the viral approach: Delish
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By now everyone is familiar with the contagious 60-second recipe videos that Delish traffics in (and perfectly executes). They’ve also applied the same approach to re-creating favourite store-bought dishes and to trying alternative cooking techniques, like making cinnamon rolls over a campfire or microwaving omelettes in mason jars.
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Comfort food – the scientific approach: Serious Eats
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The Serious Eats YouTube channel, but the main draw is The Food Lab, J Kenji López-Alt’s science-driven consideration of everything in the kitchen. If you Google “How to ,” The Food Lab is usually the top result. There’s a reason, and it’s not just that their advice tastes good. (That, too, though.)
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How to pop the hood of your smartphone: iFixit
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Fixing smartphones – the focus of many of iFixit’s videos – requires a pretty unconventional tool kit, including prying tools, suction cups and warming tubes that soften adhesives. Luckily, iFixit sells tool kits, and if you buy one it has a positive side effect on your experience watching their videos: if you’ve bought from them, you have exactly the same tools they do. Your repair with your tools will look exactly like their repair with their tools – which goes a long way towards preventing mistakes. Pretty nice when you’re working on the most indispensable thing you own.
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Learn to use sensors and microcontrollers: Sparkfun Electronics
instructional videos

More how than how-to, SparkFun’s ‘Adventures in Science’ video series explains concepts such as voltage, current and batteries – things you need to understand to find your way through any electronics project. Then there are videos covering the basic tools you’ll need to master, including classics such as the multimeter and a standard of modern DIY electronics: Arduino microcontrollers.
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Brief questions to common tech questions: Techquickie
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Fixing a slow computer is a lot more complicated than fixing a slow drain – there are infinite combinations of computer makers, software installations, memory configurations, etc. Which is why Techquickie’s infinite scroll of explainers of tech products, technologies and concepts is so useful.
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Everything concrete: Quikrete
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What Quikrete has assembled is an exhaustive look at all the things you’d conceivably be interested in doing with concrete and masonry.
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A complete guide to painting a house: How to Paint a House Right
instructional videos

Professional house painter and memoirist (of house painting) John Burbidge’s videos are split between tips and exhaustive series on interior and exterior work. Before you repaint your living room, settle in for the interior painting series, which is full of useful procedural tips, including the best explanation of how to get a neatly painted seam between contrasting walls and ceilings we’ve ever seen. Also, two words: spackle ghost.
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Everything, made from wood: Make Something
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An aptly named woodworking channel: projects include the expected (table legs), the unexpected (classic wooden record boxes), and the whimsical (a wood TV remote).
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Furnish your house with plywood and concrete: Homemade Modern
instructional videos

Ben Uyeda started his primarily plywood-and-concrete projects after a friend complained about how difficult it is to make affordable furniture. Uyeda’s projects have a distinctive aesthetic and can be quite involved, but if you’re into the simple, clean look of modern furniture, it’s hard to beat achieving it with two of the most affordable building materials available.
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Modern electronics meet classic shop skills: I like to make stuff
instructional videos

In addition to woodworking, ILTMS is a repository of stuff to make with new standards such as 3D printers, CNC machines and Arduinos. There’s
also a strong strain of nerd: sections on props and costumes and arcade projects.
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Plumbing Basics: Howcast Plumbing

Howcast’s small library of plumbing videos, hosted by master plumber John Wood, are beautifully simple. On a plain set, Wood uses whiteboard diagrams and representative parts, rather than demonstrating on a random sink that may be nothing like yours.
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Welding instruction for every skill level:

Though some of the videos can be a bit dry, the sheer volume and depth of the content available on’s YouTube channel makes it worthwhile – and they put up a new video every Monday and Friday (at a minimum).
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Make the most of your garage woodshop: The Wood Whisperer
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Aside from excellent technique and project videos, Marc Spagnuolo – who during his time hosting The Wood Whisperer moved from one home workshop to another – has a handful of videos on offbeat but useful topics, like what should be in a woodworker’s first-aid kit and what he learnt from the location swap.
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Woodshop for beginners: Woodworking for mere mortals
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For a one-man show, Steve Ramsey’s videos are among the best produced we’ve seen. He uses clear narration over the right footage: close-ups, process shots, the occasional joke. His ‘Woodworking Basics’ and ‘The ABC’s of Woodworking’ videos help you get started, and more advanced tips – not to mention a huge library of projects – get you the practice needed to advance your skills. No matter where you start, you’ll never feel out of your depth.
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