Producing sign language videos

Recommendations for producing sign language videos

Silvana Veinberg
Sign Language Recording session in Nairobi Kenya
UNICEF/2018/De Barbeyrac
05 July 2019

Producing sign language videos

Using a deaf-centered production team that has responsibility for ensuring compliance with the necessary requirements is key.

Skills and general requirements

  • The team should be comprised of people who bring together the following competencies:
  • Fluency in sign language and native knowledge of the local sign language, recognized by the deaf community as role models and references in the areas of education, leadership and the knowledge of sign language;
  • Fluency in written language with training and experience in general linguistics, language teaching (e.g., Spanish), translation and interpretation, preferably with prior experience of working with the deaf community;
  • Knowledge of the deaf culture and the deaf community;
  • A propensity to interact periodically with members of the deaf community;
  • The ability and experience to translate written materials into sign language and vice versa, preferably with knowledge of audiovisual production, design and editing; and
  • The skills to control, validate and follow up on the final result, with training and experience in social projects, social science research and/or linguistics, and preferably with prior experience of working with the deaf community.

The narrator will be responsible for transmitting the message in sign language in the video and presenting the content clearly. This team member will also participate in the validation and linguistic adaptation of the material. The narrator must be deaf or hard of hearing, be fluent in the local sign language and have experience in teaching in sign language, as well as be fluent in reading and writing the local language. If these competencies are not available, priority should be given to the deaf person's fluency in SL with the assistance of another person who is not as fluent in sign language but knows both languages.

It is highly recommended that the narrator be a deaf person, which will ensure that the content is not just transmitted in a linguistically effective way, but that it reflects a way of understanding the world and important visual behaviours. This is especially important in places that have no associations for the deaf or groups of deaf adults who can serve as linguistic role models. The team should include another deaf person who can provide live feedback to the narrator during performance, which is often called ‘sign language coaching’. The project manager should ideally be deaf, and the narrator/production team should have a say in who is selected for the interpreter role.

The interpreter should be approved by the multidisciplinary team’s deaf members as his/her role is to facilitate teamwork.


Technical recommendations

Camera format

  • The person behind the camera should know sign language.
  • A digital camera should be used because of its superior usability, quality and edition.
  • The camera should have sufficient storage to record 60 minutes of video.
  • The camera should be able to film in high definition. The exact quality to be used is decided in post-production but, for editing purposes, filming of the highest quality is crucial.
  • The camera should preferably allow the aperture and exposure time to be configured manually.
  • The camera should preferably have an optical zoom that also allows manual focus.
  • The camera should preferably allow white balance to be set automatically or manually.


Sound (optional)

  • Sound should be handled by a sound support person in the production team.
  • The voice-over recording should be in WAV format, which provides the best audio quality.
  • The recording should take place in a recording studio or in a controlled environment that is acoustically desirable and isolated to reduce background noise.
  • The microphone should be a high-sensitivity digital microphone, preferably unidirectional.
  • The voice-over person should have closed or semi-open headphones.
  • A microphone stand should be used to make the work easier and to help avoid vibrations.
  • Editing software, such as Audacity, should be used.



  • In consideration of low-vision deaf individuals, wearing solid clothing that contrasts with the skin tone of the narrator (or of the person providing the voice-over) is recommended: either dark colours (e.g., black, brown, navy blue, dark green) or light colours (e.g., off-white or peach). The clothing should also have no stripes or patterns (e.g., polka dots) and no low V-neck or scooped neckline. Long sleeves are preferred, ending exactly at the wrists.
  • Hair style, jewellery and clothing should not obscure the face and hands, although this requirement can be adjusted to reflect sensitivity to various cultural contexts.


  • When filming, special attention must be paid to the shadows from the screen or from the presenter, which should be kept to a minimum.
  • The light should be sufficient to generate contrast between the screen and the narrator.
  • Making the most of natural light is recommended, while paying attention to the shadows that may appear.
  • When using artificial light, there are two methods:
    • Three-point lighting: A main light is positioned about 45 degrees to the right or left of the subject and 45 degrees downward, pointing to where the face and torso are located. A filler light is placed behind and opposite the main light, at the height of the camera, and a rear light is positioned slightly above the subject, shining back to the screen.
    • Flat lighting: Two lights are positioned behind the camera, in opposite directions, to cover the entire surface and eliminate shadows.

Studio and equipment

  • Film studio
  • Recording studio
  • 1 digital professional camera
  • 1 tripod
  • 1 professional microphone
  • 1 set of professional semi-open headphones
  • 1 microphone stand
  • 1 audio recording studio or other adequate location
  • 1 computer
  • Audio software
  • Editing software
  • Video compression software
  • Screen, green or blue colour
  • Map of the studio showing the necessary distances between the camera, the presenter, the reflectors, the screen, etc.

Recording and filming

  • The camera should be at eye level so the narrator is directly signing to the person who is watching the video.
  • The signs should not be cut off by the camera; the narrator signing upwards, downwards and to the sides must be visible.
  • The camera should not be moved; it should remain in the same position.
  • An indication of the space the signer can use must be provided.
  • The correct position of the narrator should be marked on the floor.
  • If possible, it is best to disable automatic focusing as it reduces the filming quality, and to use manual focusing on the face. Either a manual zoom should be used or the camera should be placed at the correct distance.
  • Minimum space (less than 2 meters) should exist between the screen, the narrator and the camera.
  • The presenter must be natural and should not look towards the assistant or stop signing in the camera. Sign language coaching should be included in the process, led by a deaf person fluent in signing.
  • As the specialist may not be present during filming, it is essential that the presenter practise the material thoroughly and fully respect the script. The translation team should focus on a conceptually accurate translation into sign language, not on a word-for-word translation. It is preferable to record small sections at a time to facilitate the editing and keep it natural.

Selected tasks

  • Make sure that the studio is clean and available.
  • Make sure that the camera is charged or can be plugged in during filming.
  • Check that the lights are working and that the necessary cables are available.
  • Convene the technical coordinator, the linguistic adviser, the cameraperson and the presenter.
  • Arrive at the studio one hour before filming starts to prepare the equipment.
  • Film short test clips before starting the real shoot.