Video 101: how to create videos

Instructions for creating short voter-education videos to use on social media or the web

Videos can be a powerful tool for election officials to communicate with the public. They’re compelling, fun, and entertaining. Even more importantly, videos are easy to distribute online: you can embed them on your election website, and they’re perfect for sharing on social media platforms.

Along with having an effective website and an informed, helpful staff, videos are a great way to provide civic information to your community and address some of the most important questions that voters have.

Maybe you’ve always assumed that making outreach videos is too technical, expensive, or time consuming. But today, anybody with a smartphone, a YouTube account, and a little resourcefulness can produce polished videos that communicate important messages to your community.

The following instructions are for creating short, 30-second videos for the purpose of providing information to voters. If you want to produce longer videos with a different purpose or for a different audience, you can still use these instructions, but you may need to adapt some aspects of the process depending on your objective.

What you'll need

  • Computer with internet access
  • Camera (either a digital camera or a smart phone)
  • YouTube account for your election office

Table of contents

  1. Planning your video
  2. Producing your video
  3. Accessibility resources

Planning your video

We know you’re itching to press that “record” button, but before you begin to actually make your video, you need to think carefully about what it’s going to be about and how you’re going to make it.

What will be the message of your video?

The whole purpose of making a video is to communicate something, so begin by thinking about what message you would like to communicate.

If you’re not sure what message you would like to send,

  • Ask your office staff: what questions do they most often receive through phone calls and in person? Could a video address this question and thus reduce phone calls and in-person inquiries?
  • Ask your poll workers: what aspects of the voting process seem to confuse voters? Could a video clarify these issues and thus reduce confusion at polling places?

Here are some common topics to consider for voting information videos:

How to register to vote

How to mark a ballot

Voting hours

What do poll workers do

How vote-by-mail works

How to update registration information

What form will your video take?

Videos – even short ones – are made of multiple ingredients that are carefully mixed together. Think of these as content elements. As you plan your video, consider each of these possible content elements and how they can work together.

As a government office, you must make the videos that you present to the public accessible. Before we dig into the technical elements that comprise videos, let’s start with accessibility features.

  • Captions – Ensuring that the audio parts of your video appear as text means that people with hearing loss have access to your message. These instructions will show you how to add subtitles and closed captions once your video is finalized. Captions are helpful not just for people who are hard of hearing, but for non-native English speakers, too.
  • Transcript – Adding a transcript of speech in your video will benefit viewers with disabilities, non-native English speakers, and anyone who can’t listen to the video. YouTube doesn’t make a special place for you to put a transcript, but you can simply copy-and-paste one into your video’s description.
  • Audio description – Including a description of your video’s visual elements means that people who are blind or have visual disabilities have access to your message.
  • 508-compliant video player – Using a video player that can be navigated by the keyboard means that people who may not use their mouse have access to your message.

Interested in learning more about creating and publishing accessible videos? Check out the video accessibility resources below.

Film footage: Moving images are often the basis of videos. Of course, keep in mind that if you’re producing a 30-second video, this could be a single, uninterrupted shot that lasts 30 seconds, or it could be multiple shots that are edited together – for instance, 3 shots of 10 seconds each.

If you don’t have original film footage, you can use stock video provided by YouTube, which is the program you’ll be using to edit your video.

Photographs: Simple photographs can be excellent material for a video by creating a slideshow. Slideshow videos can be just as compelling as moving images, and they’re often easier to produce for people with less video experience.

If you don’t have original photos that you can use, consider using stock photography. Just make sure to observe copyright restrictions.

Script: Script allows you to communicate your message verbally. You can either prepare a script for people to deliver during filming, or you can prepare something to read later as a voiceover.

Text: You may choose to display text visually in your video. Using text in videos is especially powerful when sharing videos through social media because by default, videos are often muted on social platforms. Having text can allow the message to break through without sound.

Video showing a man casting a ballot also includes text about poll hours

Videos with text can get their message across even with sound turned off

Music: A musical background is a great enhancement for videos. Like with film footage and photographs, if you don’t have original music you want to use, you can use public domain music clips provided by YouTube.

How will you produce your video?

As you plan your video, consider the following questions to help you organize and prepare your production process:

  • How will you define roles for the process? Who will film, who will edit, who will approve the video, and who will distribute it?
  • How much footage do you need? Even for a short video, it’s better to have too much rather than not enough.
  • Who will you be filming? Are they willing and able to participate?
  • Will you rehearse? How much time will it take to do a “dry run” before you get out the camera?

Producing your video

Because there is so much variability in terms of different devices and production processes, this section does not offer step-by-step instructions but rather guidelines to consider as you prepare your content elements. Following these guidelines will help to make your production process go smoothly and will help you create great-looking videos.

General production guidelines

  • Too much material is better than not enough. You should plan to film or photograph more than what you think you’ll need. Use the same principle that you use when taking a group picture: take several shots – not just one – so that later, you can choose what looks the best.
  • Tell a story. You might not think that voting information requires a storyline, but people often process information best when it’s presented in terms of a structural narrative. Keep in mind a simple narrative structure like beginning, middle, and end. Your main message will probably work best in the middle. Before it, you can place an introduction or welcome. After your main message, you can provide a takeaway, offer contact information, or include a call to action.
  • Keep it personal. People are drawn to other people. Even though it’s sometimes easier to take photos and video without people, including them will make your information more personal and thus more welcoming, relatable, and inviting.

Video capture

  • If you’re using a digital camera, keep in mind stability. An inexpensive tripod can add stability and thus give your video a more polished look.
  • If you’re using a smartphone, make sure to hold your phone horizontally – even though you might be used to holding it vertically. This will orient your image so that it displays properly in video players.
A user films a sample ballot by holding a smartphone horizontally

If you’re using a smartphone, it’s essential to use it in horizontal mode

  • Don’t be afraid to take several shots. If you’re shooting footage for a 30-second video, you don’t need to shoot 30 seconds consecutively. Clips can easily be combined in editing, so feel free to hit the “stop record” button and begin another shot.

Photo capture

  • How many photos? If you’re planning to make a video from a photo slideshow, consider how many photos you’ll need. For instance, if you are making a 30-second video and want each image to be displayed for 5 seconds, you’ll need to have at least 6 photos that you’re happy with. Make sure you take plenty of pictures.
  • Consider using gridlines if you don’t already use them on your camera or phone. These can help you carefully frame the image you’re photographing.
  • Establish good focus. Good lighting, using a flash, and – on smartphones – tapping the screen to adjust autofocus — can help you focus your images, which will make them look their best when you integrate them into your video.

Accessibility resources

As an audio and visual medium, video requires careful considering when it comes to making it usable for people with hearing and visual impairments.

Although these instructions discuss accessibility guidelines above, you may want to explore additional resources on how you can make your videos more useful to everyone in your community, regardless of their abilities.

Table of contents

  1. Setting up your YouTube account
  2. Editing your video
  3. Sharing your video

Setting up your YouTube account 

As you prepare to edit your video, be sure to create a YouTube account for your election office if you don’t already have one. You’ll be using YouTube to edit your voter education video and distribute it to the public.

This step is important even if you have a personal YouTube account because you will want to create a new account specific to your election office.

If you already have a Google/Gmail account for your office, go to www.youtube.com. In the top right, click the blue Sign in button. Then, in the top left, click on My Channel, and you will be prompted to give your channel a name. Call your channel something like “________ County Elections.”

A user clicks on Sign in and then selects My Channel

Creating a channel in YouTube

If you don’t already have a Google/Gmail account for your office, go to www.youtube.com. In the top right, click the blue Sign in button. Then, click Create account and enter your information. Then, in the top left, click on My Channel, and you will be prompted to give your channel a name. Call your channel something like “________ County Elections.”

A user enters his or her county name to create a YouTube channel

Choosing a YouTube name for your election office

Editing your video

To be effective, your video will need to be carefully edited. Editing will allow you to delete rough parts of your video you don’t want to include, combine pieces of moving picture footage and photos together, and add supplemental elements like music and text.

The instructions in this section are intended to help election staff with little or no video editing experience to edit their outreach video using YouTube’s video editor. While there are more powerful and professional programs out there, the YouTube editor is ideal for beginners because it’s available to anyone, works on any type of computer, and it’s free.

If you have experience with a video editing program and want to use it for this project, feel free to use it. Some examples of such programs include iMovie, the Windows Movie Maker, Pinnacle Pro, Final Cut Pro, and Adobe Premier. Just edit in the way you have before, and then skip to Sharing your video to upload your video and distribute it.

Uploading your files

The first step to begin editing your video is to upload your files to YouTube. It’s best to upload files from your computer, so if you need to, transfer the files from your device to your computer and then upload them from there.

Uploading video files

To upload video files, start by going to the YouTube website and, in the top right corner, click the white Upload button. Since you’re uploading raw files, you don’t want them to be available to the public, so before you select files, click the Public drop-down box and select Private. Once you’ve done this, you can click the TV screen-shaped arrow icon and select your file.

A user clicks the arrow button to upload files and makes sure the privacy setting is set to private

How to upload your files and keep them private (for now)

Repeat these steps as needed until you have uploaded all of your video files.

Uploading photos

To upload photo files, start by going to the YouTube website and, in the top right corner, click the white Upload button. But instead of selecting files, go to the bottom right corner and select Video editor. Then, click the camera icon and, below that, select Add photos to project. Go to Upload photos and then click on Select photos from your computer.

A user selects the camera icon and clicks Add photos to project to upload images

Uploading photos to make a slideshow video

Repeat these steps as needed until you have uploaded all of your photo files.

Getting familiar with the editor

Once you’ve uploaded all of your video files, click on the Video Manager button. Then, in the Creator Studio menu on the left, go down to click the Create button and select Video Editor.

After going to the Create menu, a user clicks on Video Editor

Accessing the Video Editor

If you are making your video from photos, you should already be in the Video Editor.

The Video Editor is where you’ll be doing all of your editing. Let’s take a moment to get familiar with the editor and its functions.

The YouTube editor includes various features, including video and audio tracks and a menu of editing selections

Before you begin editing, look at the Editor’s various features

  • At the top left is a title bar. Here you can choose a title for the video you’re editing.
  • At the top left is the Create video button.
  • In the bottom right is a Zoom lever. This will allow you to zoom in and look really closely at your visual elements in order to make tight edits, and then you can zoom back out.
  • A and B are the video and audio tracks. You can drag visual and audio components to these tracks and then make edits and changes there.
  • 1: Video: Here are videos that you’ve uploaded. You can use these videos for your editing project.
  • 2: Creative Commons: Here are videos made by other people that you can use in your editing project.
  • 3: Photos: You can upload and select photos from here.
  • 4: Audio tracks: Here you can search for background music and sound effects that YouTube makes available for use in your editing project.
  • 5: Transitions: These are visual effects you can add to create transitions between video clips or photos.
  • 6: Titles: You can add text to your visual components here.
  • 7: Navigation instructions: This contains instructions for using your keyboard to navigate the editor if you choose to do so.

Assembling and editing visual components

To start assembling visual components – whether video clips or photos – click either the video or photo icon and drag the components to the video track. As you drop each one onto the video track, the editor will present you with options for making changes to the component – Quick fixes, Filters, Text, and Audio. For now, just decline these options by clicking the X below the Create video button.

A user clicks the X button to keep uploading files

Don’t worry about editing settings for now

Once you have your visual components placed in the video track, you will be ready to make edits. Let’s walk through some fundamental edits together.

If you’re using photos to make a slideshow, the steps are almost exactly the same as with assembling a video from individual clips. You can follow these basic instructions while making small adjustments as needed for using photos rather than video. Unlike with videos, photos are arranged with a default duration of 5 seconds each. But like with videos, you can change the duration.

For the sake of illustration, we’ll talk about this sample video on how to mark a ballot. For this sample, we’ve filmed an election staff member introducing ballot marking, providing a conclusion, and we’ve filmed the marking process in close up. We’ve assembled the clips in the right order – Introduction, Ballot marking, and Conclusion – but we need to fix a few things.

Adding transitions

First, we want to add transitions. When you’re putting together more than one video clip, including a visual transition helps create a more polished look as the video switches from one clip to the other.

To add a transition, select one and drag it to the video track. Carefully place the transition between clips and drop it. Repeat the process for the other transitions you wish to add.

You can also use transitions to create fade-ins and fade-outs in order to make the beginning and ending of your video smoother.

It’s best to be consistent with transitions, so choose just one transition style and use it throughout your video.

Trimming

Next, we want to trim the clips. Each of the three clips includes extra material that we want to cut, and we want the final video to be 30 seconds.

Trimming is where the zoom lever comes in handy. Select the first area that you want to trim, and, going to the bottom right, adjust the zoom lever to zoom in on the area you want to cut. If you click the video track, you’ll see a blue vertical bar appear that allows you to trim. By sliding the bar left, you can trim your clip.

A user trims a clip by grabbing the vertical blue bar and dragging left

Trimming video clips means grabbing and dragging

There were several seconds of “dead air” at the end of the staff member’s introduction, so, in the example above, we trimmed the introduction clip from 7 seconds to 5.

You can repeat this same process for each of your video clips. Don’t forget to adjust the zoom lever as you work, and while you trim clips, you can play the video to see how it’s turning out and make adjustments as needed.

In the example below, we trimmed each of our three clips to cut out unnecessary material and get our video to 30 seconds.

A user has trimmed 3 video clips so that they add up to 30 seconds total

This video has been trimmed to total 30 seconds

Adding text

Once you have your clips arranged and trimmed, with good transitions, you may want to add text. For our sample video, we’re going to add welcome text at the beginning and contact information at the ending. Text can be added two ways: you can either select the video clip you want to add text to and then select the Text menu, or you can drag and drop a title by clicking the Title icon in the main video editing menu.

A user can add text by clicking the Text menu for each clip or by clicking the Text icon for the video as a whole

There are two options for adding text

Take a look at both styles and see which you prefer. Using the Text function will give you more minimal text, while the Title function provides big, bold, and animated text. For our sample video, we’re going to use the Text function.

We clicked the video clip, went to the Text menu, clicked the Enable text box, and entered the text “Marking Your Ballot.” As you add text, you’ll notice there are multiple text display options. You can select font, text size, text position, and so forth.

A user has added the words "Making Your Ballot" to the opening of a video

Introduction text helps establish the purpose of your video

We followed the same basic process for adding contact information at the end of the video.

A user has added contact information text at the end of a video

Wrap up your video with helpful concluding text

Adding music

Do you want to enhance your video with some music? The YouTube video editor makes it easy. In the main video editor menu, click the Music icon. You’ll see that it displays a wealth of music to choose from.

There’s so much that you might want to filter what’s available. You can filter either by clicking Genre and selecting a genre from the drop-down box, or you can search for a kind of music you’re looking for by typing in the search bar.

After clicking the musical note icon, a user can choose to search songs by genre or by typing into a box

The YouTube Editor has so much music, you’ll need to sort through it all

If you want to hear what a song sounds like, just scroll over the song titles. A play button will appear, and clicking it will allow you to preview the song.

A user clicks the forward arrow play button to hear a song

What does this song sound like?

When you find a song you like, you can add it to the audio track the same way that you added your visual components to the video track: just select the song title and drag it down to the audio track.

The song will probably be longer than your current video clip, so you will probably want to trim it. Trimming audio is done the same way as trimming the video clips: click on the clip and drag the blue bar to the left until it’s the length you want.

We trimmed the audio clip to 30 seconds, so that it would match our video track.

A user has shortened a song to match the length of the video track

When adding audio, you need to match your song’s length to the visual content

A final consideration with music is the volume level. You may need to adjust volume up or down. To change the volume of the music clip, just click the audio track and adjust the volume as desired. You can change other sound settings here, too.

A user is changing the volume settings to raise or lower volume

Adjusting audio

You can follow the same basic process to change the volume of your video clips. Click the clip in the video track and adjust the volume as desired. By turning the volume all the way down, you can totally mute clips if you want.

Processing your video

Once you are satisfied with your video and feel that the editing process is complete, you’re ready to move forward and create your video based on the work you’ve done.

At this point, go to the top right and click the blue Create video button. Once you click this, YouTube will begin creating and posting the video that you’ve built.

The screen that comes up might look like an error message, but it’s not. If you look closely, you’ll see that it is processing your video, and after a few moments, it will give you updates, explaining, “Your video edits are about 30% done” and so on. Just wait for YouTube to finalize your video. It will likely take several minutes.

YouTube is displaying a message that says a user's video is processing

Now that you’re done editing, YouTube takes over by processing

After it’s fully processed, you can refresh the page and view your finished video.

Your video is still private, so if you’re prepared to start sharing it, make sure to make it public. Looking below the video, click the lock icon next to your video title and change the privacy settings to Public.

A user clicks on the lock icon to change a video's privacy settings

Once your video is ready, you’ll want to make it public

While you’re here, you can also add a description of your video. When you’re done, click the Save button. Stay on this page to add subtitles and closed captions.

Adding subtitles and closed captions

Including closed captions in your videos is an important step to ensure that they are accessible to people who are deaf and hard of hearing. Captions also make your video more usable to non-native English speakers. And they help anyone who, for whatever reason, might not be able to listen to your video. YouTube makes the process of adding captions easy.

Even if your video includes no audio except for background music, it’s still helpful to add a caption explaining that so viewers understand they aren’t missing anything.

To get started adding subtitles and captions, click on the CC icon below your video.

A user clicks the CC icon below the video to add closed captions

It’s important to add closed captions to make your video accessible

After you click the CC icon, you’ll be prompted to select your video’s language. Then, click Add new subtitles or CC and select your language again.

There are several options for adding subtitles and closed captions to your video. Because only special captioning files can be used in this program, it’s best to use either transcribe and auto sync or Create new subtitles or CC.

A user can choose from 3 options for adding subtitles and captions

Options for adding subtitles and captions

You can try both to see which you prefer and which suits your video content the best. Just select one and follow the directions for adding and placing text.

Don’t rely on automatic captioning. YouTube’s auto captioning is convenient but often results in transcription errors. If you do want to use automatic captioning, be sure to review the captions and carefully correct any errors.

Once you’ve added your captions, go to the bottom right and click the Publish button.


Sharing your video

Now that your video is done, you’re probably ready to share it with the world! YouTube is the perfect platform for doing that.

Once you’ve changed the privacy settings to make your video public, you can simply refresh the page to prepare to share. Now that it’s public, you’ll see there’s a new Share icon below your video’s title. Click it and you can see several sharing options.

A user clicks the Share button to begin sharing his or her video with the public

It’s time to share your video with the world!

Social share

As soon as you click the Share button, you’ll see a big string of social media logos. Selecting these allows you to quickly and easily post your video to these platforms. Just select a platform, follow the instructions, and post! Of course, you can do many more than just one.

Embed

You can also easily embed your video directly into your election website by grabbing the html tag for the video and pasting this into the html source in the backend of your website. To get this code, just click the Embed button, copy the html tag that displays below, and paste it into your website’s html source.

A user clicks Embed to embed his or her video on a website

Putting a YouTube video on your election website is easy

Link and email

Below the social logos you’ll see a highlighted link. This is a direct URL to your video, which you can share through email, text messaging, or any other way that you share text. There’s an additional email option that you can use that allows you to compose an email right there in YouTube.

A user clicks the Email button to distribute his or her video by email

You can also email your video

By this point you’ve planned a video, produced it, edited it, and shared it with your community. Congratulations!

Looking for additional tips and tricks for producing effective, shareable video content? Check out the helpful YouTube Creator Academy for strategies and resources.