It's All About The Prep: 8 YouTubers Share Their Must-Know Set Up Hacks

For many YouTube creators, filming is the easy part.
The harder, more time-consuming part of the process is what comes before pressing record: Deciding on an idea, writing a script, and getting all the equipment set up and ready to go. Take, for example, comedian Evelyn Ngugi's hilarious YouTube videos, for which hours of prep work take place well before the shoot.
The more time you spend on camera, the more comfortable you'll become, and that same ethos applies to preparing for a shoot. There are ways to become more efficient over time, taking set-up shortcuts and learning how to spread your prep over multiple days, weeks, and even months.
To speed up the process, Refinery29 asked eight well-known YouTubers how they master the art of prep. Click through to see what equipment they have on hand, how they choose a location, and where they get inspiration in the first place. Because if there's one thing almost all YouTube creators can agree on, it's that behind every good video is a lot of very good prep work.
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Photo: Courtesy of Evelyn Ngugi.
Evelyn Ngugi

Channel: Evelyn From The Internets

Category: Comedy

Subscribers: 150,000+

Finding inspiration: "I talk to myself a lot — in the car, in the shower, at a cross walk, and while grocery shopping. My video ideas come from stories I tell myself, things I notice in pop culture, conversations I've had (or wish I had), both in my head and out loud. Sometimes I'm directly inspired by existing works. This video, for example, was inspired by Kevin Hart's Nike ads."

Pre-planning process: "I'm more of a 'when inspiration strikes' type of person, so once I have a video idea, it's made within the week. There are some ideas I've sat on for months or even years because I don't know how to execute them well enough yet to do my magical idea justice. (I'm totally not a perfectionist.)"

Prep time: "I don't suggest going from idea to writing to filming all in one day because you'll never have a life, but it would take me about 5 to 6 hours to prep for a shoot like that. Writing out the idea is the most work."

Must-have equipment: "I always have a device to record audio separately instead of relying on my camera's internal audio. Sometimes I use an H4N Zoom, Zoom H1, or my iPhone's voice memo app. Press record on both your camera and audio recording device, clap once really loudly to help yourself sync the audio to the video when you're editing, and yap away. I think having some fancy background or decorating your room to be glamorously 'YouTube ready' is optional. Just make sure your space is clean and not too distracting and you'll be fine."

Picking the location: "I shoot storytelling 'vlog' style in my bedroom, because that's all I can manage with a team of one. Most of what I do is born from restrictions and resourcefulness."

Take away hacks: "Great audio is more important than good visuals. Record audio on a separate device. If there's a siren outside, stop talking and start over — people appreciate that attention to detail. Also, script your videos. It could be a simple as a list of bullet points, but it ensures you won't waste a lot of time rambling on camera, or create a ton of footage to sort through and edit. It also helps you caption your videos so they're more accessible to hard of hearing people, those who don't speak the same language as you, or even people watching on mute when they should be working."
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Photo: Courtesy of Laura Vitale.
Laura Vitale

Channel: Laura In The Kitchen

Category: Cooking

Subscribers: 3 million+

Finding inspiration: "I usually focus on what's in season, which holidays are coming up, and what people are asking for. I also communicate with my followers through social media to find out what they are looking for and work from there."

Planning process: "I typically plan my videos about a month in advance because I like to have plenty of time to test each recipe and perfect them before shooting."

Prep time: "I always shop and do most of my prep work the day before so that everything is ready to go on filming day."

Must-have equipment: "It’s important that camera batteries are charged and mic batteries are new — I never want to run into a situation where something dies half way through an episode because there's no fixing that unless you re-shoot. Unlike traditional TV cooking shows, I film with a single camera and do it in one take.

"In terms of ingredients, I make sure all of my basics are stocked, like oils, seasonings, baking basics and things like that."

Picking the location: "Since my show is a pretty simple how-to cooking show, I actually built a studio kitchen in my home and set up all of the lighting so that all I have to do when I film is flip a switch and everything is ready to go. I also built a burner for the top of the island because originally there wasn't one and it was quite difficult to film on the back stove."

Take away hacks: "Preparation is key to successful filming days. It will make the process much easier and smoother, and when everything is ready to go, you can just focus on your performance."
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Photo: Courtesy of Taylor Behnke.
Taylor Behnke

Channel: It's Radish Time

Category: Storytelling and social change

Subscribers: 13,000+

Finding inspiration: "My videos are based on stories from my life, so when I'm deciding on a new topic, I will look through my journals, or write about a story from my past that has been on my mind — Lynda Barry's What It Is is a great read if you want to learn to tell personal stories well. I also read a lot and watch a lot of YouTube myself, so sometimes one of my friends will have made a video that resonates with me, and I'll want to build on it and respond to them in my own video."

Planning process: "I upload once a week, and I'm usually planning out videos one to three weeks in advance. In an ideal world, I have three videos in various stages of production at all times: one video I'm editing, one video ready to shoot, and one video I'm writing."

Prep time: "The longest part of prep is writing my script, which I will do over the course of several days. On a shoot day, it usually takes about an hour to set up my camera, lights, and microphone, do my hair and makeup, and make sure my batteries are charged. Always keep extra batteries around, and make sure they're charged!"

Must-have equipment: "My most minimal set up is a DSLR camera, an external mic (a Rode VideoMic Pro), and a window with natural lighting — that's all I used for the first few years I was vlogging. Now, I have an LED panel for lighting, a nicer mic that I plug into an external recorder, and an external monitor for my camera that I set up as well. For a really big project, where I have a budget, like my YouTube Creators for Change series, I might have multiple cameras, and bring in another shooter to help. But I didn't have any of those things when I started."

Picking the location: "I live in a studio apartment so that doesn't offer me a lot of options! But when I was starting out and didn't have a lot of equipment I would shoot wherever I could get the best natural light and a simple, non-distracting background. For awhile I was living in a house that didn't get much light anywhere in the house, so I would shoot outside in the backyard."

Take away hacks: "Always shoot with a script, or at least a detailed outline of what you want to say. It will take you a lot less time to film, and a lot less time to edit because you know you have every line you need, and don't have cut out a bunch of rambling before you get to your point. But in addition to saving time, it also makes you a better creator. I think a lot of people who are starting out focus so much on what equipment they should be using to up their production value, but I think practicing your scriptwriting and being really intentional about what you want to say is the best way to make your videos better."
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Photo: Courtesy of Jenny Chan.
Jenny Chan

Channel: Origami Tree

Category: Origami

Subscribers: 78,000+

Finding inspiration: "I draw a lot of inspiration from upcoming holidays, events, and kids' films.There are so many fun national days that you can get creative with as well — everything from National Bubble Wrap Day to National Donut Day. My daily commute in [New York City] is known to spark creativity, too. There’s just so much to see and do here and the experience is never the same."

Pre-planning process: "When things are going smoothly, I typically plan one to two months in advance. When things get busy, especially during the holiday season, I sometimes design, shoot, edit, and publish all in the same day."

Prep time: "As an arts and crafts teacher and designer, most of my prep work is focused on design, from finding the right materials to deciding on color schemes and dimensions. There are a lot of questions that I ask myself prior to filming, including 'what is it that I want to create?' and 'how do I go about creating it?' And once I have those things figured out, I ask myself 'how can I make the design even better and simpler?' and 'what is the most effective way to teach it?' All of this can take a few hours, or even a few months, especially if a project needs to be rethought at a later date. One of my favorite designs of all time is an Origami Snoopy. I probably went through two dozen designs over a course of a few months to get it to turn out the way I wanted."

Must-have equipment: "Paper, scissors, markers, and glue are my best friends. Depending on the project, I may need additional supplies, but these are usually my must-haves. Little knick knacks to decorate the scene are fun to have around, too."

Picking the location: "The majority of my videos are shot in my home studio. So, lucky for me, the location doesn’t change very often. Instead, the focus is on changing set colors and backgrounds, while sprinkling in fun elements like artificial flowers, string lights, quirky office supplies, and confetti."

Take away hacks: "The less you have to adjust your equipment, the quicker your shoots will go. I have one of my studio lights permanently strapped to a bedpost, for example, so when it’s time to film, I only need to make minor adjustments. Get yourself organized so that everything in your space has a home and your equipment is within arm's reach. This will definitely help to keep you sane if you are a 'one man show', which most YouTube creators are. Lastly, a bit of advice on filming: Always have extra batteries on hand, format your memory cards, and double check that your microphone is turned on."
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Photo: Courtesy of Amber Whittington.
Amber Whittington

Channel: Ambers Closet

Category: Vlogging and LGBTQ content

Subscribers: 640,000+

Finding inspiration: "I usually make videos based off of things that happen to me in real life, my friends’ lives, things that are happening in the world, or ideas from my subscribers. I love to ask my audience what they want to see and then create it."

Pre-planning process: "Most videos I do the day of or the day after I come up with the idea. I tend to only do videos that I am in the mood to do, so if I don't jump on it, I may not film it."

Prep time: "It can take anywhere from 15 mins to an hour. I don't do too much preparation because I like to go off my initial feelings. Also, I have a very simple lighting and camera set up."

Must-have equipment: "I try to use natural lighting. If [there isn't any], then I use at least one light, along with a camera, camera stand, extra camera batteries, a mic, and my phone for notes. If I reference something, I usually add an image or video of it."

Picking the location: "I usually record most of my videos in my closet, hence the name 'Ambers Closet' but other than that, I usually choose it depending on the theme and how many people are in the video."

Take away hacks: "Have an area set up for you to film in, and create a backdrop that goes with who you are or your specific niche. This makes it easy to just turn on the camera and go. Also, get a ring light with an attachment to hold your video camera — it saves so much room!"
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Photo: Courtesy of Judy Travis.
Judy Travis

Channel: ItsJudysLife, ItsJudyTime, ItsMommysLife

Category: Lifestyle, Beauty, and Parenting

Subscribers: 3 million+ across channels

Finding inspiration: "For my daily vlog channel, I simply record my life. Once I'm done editing, I go through my footage and choose the highlight of the day, then that becomes the title and thumbnail. For my beauty channel, I like to review products that are brand new, unique, or innovative."

Pre-planning process: "I've been vlogging on my 'ItsJudysLife' channel daily, and none of that is planned in advanced. As for my beauty channel 'ItsJudyTime' and 'ItsMommysLife' I'll usually film what I feel like at the moment. Honestly, I'm not much of a planner. I'm an impulse filmer. I like to just let the content on those channels come to me naturally."

Prep time: "It doesn't take me too long anymore. My husband Benji helped me with the video setup, and all I need to do is make sure the microphone is on and press record. There have been a couple times when I've recorded an entire video without turning on the mic — that was a painful mistake."

Must-have equipment: "For my vlog channel I use two cameras, a Canon PowerShot G7 X for regular vlogging and a Canon PowerShot S120 for when I'm recording B-roll that I'm going to speed up. My iPhone is great for shooting outdoor time lapses. For my beauty channel I use a Sony A7S because it has great auto focus.

Picking the location: "I love filming in my makeup room since all of the camera and lighting is already set up there. But sometimes for my mommy videos I like changing it up and sitting on the floor with my girls to keep things casual and fun."

Take away hacks: "If you have the space available, try to have a designated filming space set up where everything you need to film is readily available. Any tripods, backdrops, or batteries you need to have charged up should be ready to go for those moments when you get inspired to film. Also, take advantage of natural light — it's the best for video quality and it's free!"
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Photo: Courtesy of YouTube.
Bec Susan Gill and Jayde Lovell

Channel: ScIQ

Category: News and science

Subscribers: 39,000+

Finding inspiration: "Our videos are usually tied to the news. We don't do daily content anymore — although we did originally kickstart our subscriber base by doing that — so it's not necessarily what's happening in the news that day, and more about what are big issues at that moment in time."

Pre-planning process: "We plan our videos about a month or two out, depending on what style they are. We make two types of videos — explainer videos and interviews. Interviews take less time to produce, since they're a more organic, conversational format. Explainer videos need a full script and they also need lots of overlay graphics, so they can take us months to make. Of course, at the same time we are working on lots of different projects."

Prep time: "It's hard to quantify since there are so many elements and moving pieces, but we will be prepping on and off for a few weeks. That involves organizing a crew, talent, studio space, and booking equipment."

Must-have equipment: "The camera equipment and tools we have are usually use are a teleprompter, tripods, Canon XF305 camcorders (they have a XLR input for good audio recording quality), Lectrosonics lav mics (these are wireless and give perfect audio all the time), headphones to monitor the audio board, and a clapperboard.

If we are doing a smaller shoot - like a vlog, we will forego a lot of this stuff. But if we skip on good audio or visuals - our viewers always let us know we're not up to standard!

Picking the location: "The main thing that plays into choosing a location is date. We usually have about three days when we can potentially shoot and we will go in and see what's available on the YouTube booking system. If there is a larger studio free [in the YouTube Space] we will book that. However, some of the smaller spaces at YouTube Space New York, like the Hangout Room, are also great to shoot in, since they have books and things that work for our science theme. If it's a smaller space, we just have to plan our equipment carefully to make sure it can all fit."

Take away hacks: "For those doing news and science content, I definitely recommend mastering the art of the teleprompter. We spent a long time trying to memorize lines, until our friends at PBS Digital — Vanessa Hill of BrainCraft and Joe Hanson of It's Okay To Be Smart — told us to try the teleprompter. It takes a while to set up and get the hang of, but can really up your level of production and [make you more] efficient."

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