Education, Tutorials

How to Shoot a How-To Video


You may think it’s easy to teach someone how to do something with a video, but if you’ve never done it before, you may not realize just how much goes into making a how-to video. You need to include everything you feel is important, while at the same time making a concise video that keeps your viewers’ attention for the entire duration. That said, once you get the steps down, you’ll be able to minimize the effort and maximize the quality of your video.

*The unofficial first step of any tutorial video is to research the topic. Even if you’re an expert on your subject, a refresher to keep yourself up-to-date is always a good idea.

Step 1: Choose a Video Style

If you’re a reader of the Pond5 blog you’ll see that we have many how-to videos with different styles, like how to shoot high quality video and color correction basics to name a couple.

If the thought of being on-camera makes your heart start racing, then a screen recording might be your preferred option. Another style, which is the most time-consuming option (at least for me), is to make an animation using motion graphics.

Unless you’re really proficient at motion graphics, I suggest another style. Either that or give yourself plenty of time to work on it.

Finally, another style is to simply place text on the screen for each step and show footage that demonstrates it. This may be the easiest option, and doesn’t require your voice or face to be in the video, which you may like best.

Step 2: Make an Outline or Script

Unless you’re a politician or a frequent interviewee, you’re not likely to have perfectly-worded and concise sentences just floating in your head. You’ll need to do the work up front to create a script, or at the very least an outline from which to draw your talking points. It’s okay to include everything you think you’ll need, because you can edit it out later if it doesn’t work. Just make sure you get every angle you can think of covered.

*Tip: when writing your script, you need to remember that you’re making a video for people who are learning, so cater it to your audience. If it’s a basic tutorial, start from the very beginning and use basic ideas so that neophytes can easily follow. This includes avoiding slang terms and abbreviations when necessary. If you’re doing an advanced how-to video, be sure to communicate that you assume everyone has already learned the basics and start from somewhere beyond that point.

Step 3: Get the Steps Down

From my experience, breaking down your talking points into simple steps keeps everything condensed into easily-digestible pieces, and lays out a beginning-to-end structure that helps viewers follow along easily. It will also give your audience time to take a breath when you take a moment to segue into the next step. Typically, these topics contain some easier steps and some more difficult ones. Be sure to make your audience aware of the particularly tricky steps, taking time to communicate why it’s so difficult and really emphasize how to best overcome the challenge and achieve success.

*Tip: Does your topic require any items or tools? It’s e a good idea to include what’s necessary to achieve the project up front. Listing the required software, tools, people, items, etc., at the very top of the video will help the viewer avoid the frustration of learning about these hurdles further own the road.

Step 4: Less Talk, More Action

Since this is a visual tutorial, you want to use as much visually informative footage as possible. This means use more b-roll than a-roll. A person is watching your video because they want to learn by watching, so when they click on your video about, say, how to make an oil painting of Raúl Julia, they want to see you actually painting and see your technique. If you spend all your time talking about what you’re doing but never show it, it’s hard for them to learn anything.

*Tip: get into the steps right away. The difference between a serviceable how-to and a great how-to is that it doesn’t waste any time getting to the meat of the piece. The title of your video says “how to”–do you really need a title slide at the beginning saying the same thing? Take a quick moment to describe the subject and what you’re going to cover in your video, then dive in. Your introduction should be no more than 10% of your overall piece.

Step 5: Keep It Short and Concise

I’m not sure if you’ve noticed, but I’ve said this 3 times already in this piece. Most people don’t want to spend 15 minutes watching you painstakingly narrate every detail of you weaving a basket if it can be done in 2 minutes. There’s a reason that the Howcast channel on YouTube has almost 5 million subscribers (as of this writing); they’re short (4 minutes or less), easily digestible, and entertaining.

Woman Vlogging Hiking Trip by pressmaster

Step 6: Use Graphics and Text If Necessary

Sometimes, talking out a step to the camera or showing the step being done doesn’t really work, like if you’re using math or talking about something that’s abstract or fairly complicated like a Prusik Knot. This is where a graphic or text can really help you out. You can cut in a graphic or text slide that shows a better example of your idea or talking point, and it saves you from having to fully explain it, which can cut down on the duration of your piece, which is what step 5 is all about.

Step 7: Failure is Entertaining

This isn’t always a given when you’re making a how-to video, but it does help humanize you and keep your content on the lighter side when you include your mistakes and failures in your video. It’s a style choice, of course, because if you want to keep all of your mistakes out of it for a clean and polished video, then that’s up to you. However, it can be a great thing to show your frustrations and challenges and expose viewers to what they will encounter when they follow along with you in the tutorial.

Step 8: Editing Techniques and Style

Always follow the basics when shooting your video (read our blog about high-quality video here), and when editing, the most important thing is to keep things moving so the video flows nicely. Shoot more b-roll to cover up your cuts or speed up your footage to avoid long areas of little action.

Avoid cross dissolves and use cuts. Cut in your graphics and title slides and hold them so that they can be read at least 2 times through. Add in an upbeat music track to keep it fun and swift, or use a more mellow track if that’s the video’s tone. Match the music to the mood you want to evoke, essentially.

If you plan on shooting your video vlog style or POV style, it is very important that you make the video as steady as possible. Not being able to understand what is going on is going to be the first thing that turns people away.

*Tip: Avoid doing your video all in one shot. Cut away to what you’re talking about instead of turning the camera toward it, then turning it back on yourself. It’s always better and easier to follow.

Keeping this basic plan when you’re making your how-to video will lead to a much more streamlined and interesting video in the end, and when you keep the viewers’ interest, they’re going to want to keep seeing more from you.

Have experience creating tutorial videos? Share your experience with us in the comments below!