This is the “before” image of my desktop workspace. Next month, I’ll unveil the “after” shot, showing how I improved, organized, streamlined and expanded my desk space for a live streaming, multi-camera studio.
I came to a sobering realization recently—my desk is a mess. Not just with clutter, but in the way that my desk works for me. I’m a producer, writer and DP, and I occasionally edit video. I use my desk in a number of different ways. I write at it quite a bit. I now Zoom and WebEx from it almost daily since the quarantine. I’ve also been editing a lot more videos from it than I used to as budgets are lower and I end up editing more projects myself instead of hiring my editor friends.
My desk is nothing fancy. An old table from Ikea that I bought in the late ’90s, a few cheap wooden boxes to place my studio monitors on to get them to ear height (Genelec 1029as with a Genelec subwoofer in the floor). My 27-inch iMac rests on an old Oxford English Dictionary, once again, to raise the screen closer to the height it should be to be ergonomically correct. My desk is littered with drives and I also have to have enough room for two four-drive RAIDs. I use a small Makie 402 VLZ mixer to route audio signals out from my computer to the monitors.
My Use Case
Something has been bugging me, though, and it’s the fact that my desk and setup hasn’t evolved as my use case has. I’ve been using this same basic setup for close to 20 years now. The computers and drives get changed out every few years, but nothing has changed about how the desk works for me. It all changed for me when just a couple of months ago I purchased a Wali VESA monitor arm for mounting my Fujifilm X-T3 straight overhead for shooting tabletop footage. When I initially searched for it, I found that there’s an absolute plethora of different arms and mounting systems available. I always knew in the back of my mind that there were systems available for mounting two, three or more monitors on arms for people who needed that, but it never occurred to me that I should look into this technology.
Reducing Clutter, Increasing Function
Purchasing the Wali VESA Monitor arm has really made me reconsider how my desk is configured. It’s very cluttered up with gear. How much of this gear could I relocate off of my desk? How could I reclaim the space I have and make it more organized? To make things even more challenging, I’m setting up a multi-camera live streaming studio at my desk. I’ll have a camera aimed at me for live streaming, Zoom and Webex, but I also recently added a Blackmagic Design ATEM Mini Pro that will allow me to introduce a second camera for the rare times when I have a live stream guest and want to use two or three cameras.
Even without a guest, I’d like to use a second or third camera as an overhead camera for me to shoot products with as I review and talk about it. Even if you’re not live streaming, the ATEM Mini Pro has a multiview function that allows you to view the shots that all three of your cameras are shooting, as well as a fourth source that could be a laptop, iPad or phone or even a fourth camera source. In order to use the Preview function, you need a separate HDMI input video or computer monitor. I knew I had to convert my desk from a single monitor to a two-monitor setup to use this. Suddenly, the VESA monitor mounting arms were beginning to look very interesting.
Trying to put all of this together led me down the rabbit hole of browsing on Amazon for various ways to mount things. I discovered that being very audio-focused, having good sound when live streaming is important to me. While I know that there are a lot of great USB studio-style large diaphragm microphones, the downside of those great sounding mics is that they need to be located very near the talent’s mouth to be effective. I don’t like seeing a giant microphone in the frame, which makes it feel more like a podcast with a camera than an intimate conversation with your viewers. So besides mounting my A camera on an extension arm, I also found a studio style, inexpensive swiveling microphone arm that I can use to mount my Audix SCX1-HC hyper-cardioid microphone on that will keep it close enough to me to sound good but far enough to be out of frame.
Lighting My Desktop?
The key to making a desktop shot look good, like with every other type of shot, is lighting. You need a large soft source as a key, some fill light source, possibly a hair or rim light depending on the look you’re going for and you might need to light up your background. I decided that mounting a roll-up fabric light mat (Falcon Eyes RX-18TD) might be a good choice since they’re fairly lightweight, and I conceived that I might be able to also mount the light on a swivel arm so that I could easily position it where I wanted without the aid of a light stand on my desk. In this way, when not using the desk for recording or live streaming, I could simply swivel the light and microphone arm out of the way.
Assembling The Pieces
With a lot of browsing on Amazon, a good amount of asking friends and colleagues, and looking at what various YouTubers are doing, I began to assemble the mounting gear needed to get almost everything off of my desktop so I’ll have the room to set up a small overhead camera area as well as a convenient place to locate the ATEM Mini Pro itself so I can switch cameras myself while speaking on camera. I’m still waiting for some of the pieces to arrive. If you haven’t noticed, items that pre-pandemic could be sitting on your doorstep overnight are now taking weeks, and in some cases months, to arrive. It’s been an ongoing process, but I now have enough of what I think are the critical mounting components to assemble my dream desk configuration.
Stay tuned next month for part 2 to see how my quest to “get it off my desk” ends up for expanding my workspace to a full multi-use desktop live streaming studio while keeping the same functionality for when I need to write or edit video.