I arrived in New York a year ago on an uncomfortably cold spring morning.
My cousin Tahoora and I ventured out in the 43-degree weather from her apartment looking specifically for turkey chili. I searched Yelp for reviews, menus and photos, my fingers numb and struggling to use my phone.
“We should review our brunch on video,” Tahoora said. “We could make it a vlog.”
A vlog sounded exciting. I loved the idea of the creative process: documenting and reviewing my day on video, editing clips and producing a short movie. I admired vloggers such as Connor Franta and Zoella for their willingness to talk about anything. I had made short montages before, but because I didn’t like the way my voice sounded on camera, I shied away from vlogging. I never considered my life worthy of vlogging – an average college student’s day just didn’t seem that interesting.
YouTube vloggers have become increasingly popular recently. Some, such as Casey Neistat, have raked in millions of followers for their daily life vlogs. If I were to start vlogging, I thought to myself, I would need the dedication these vloggers have and the confidence they exude.
Reluctantly, I pulled out my phone and recorded Tahoora. She began narrating what we were doing to the camera. Nothing exciting was happening – the two of us were only walking to brunch – yet the stories she told and jokes she made sounded so natural and effortless. I realized in this moment that a compelling vlog didn’t need to entail something exciting.
When Tahoora asked me to describe what I was eating, I turned the camera to myself and talked about my turkey chili bowl. It was flavorful and warm, just what I needed on that brisk New York afternoon.
I have never been the type of person who could come across naturally on camera. I have always been someone you would find in the corner of a room, too afraid to mingle with the group, waiting for someone to approach me and start a conversation. I didn’t mind talking to people; I just didn’t know how, and being alone made me feel uneasy about my nervousness.
Over time, I grew more comfortable with letting myself be seen on camera because, as I looked back on footage of myself during the editing process, I realized how much vlogging resonated with my personality. Although talking to the camera first seemed like a substitute for talking to other people, it gave me the confidence to start up a conversation about anything. That new confidence helped me overpower the self-consciousness I felt on camera.
My audience didn’t have to be anyone but my family and friends, and I found comfort in knowing that I could later edit out any parts I didn’t feel like keeping. I kept the camera rolling when I was stumped on what to say, which let me capture the spontaneous moments when I thought of something clever.
Tahoora and I ventured all over the city that day. We visited the American Museum of Natural History, went shopping in the Flatiron District, had coffee at a little cafe called Boule & Cherie and had dinner at a French restaurant. Our day seemed like a perfect one to vlog. We were both on spring break and on our own, hopping around a city that had so much for us to see.
While we ate crepes and sipped cappuccinos, Tahoora propped our camera up to start a segment she called “Coffee Talks.” We sat in the warm, comfortable cafe and asked each other questions about our big family, made jokes and discussed hypotheticals.
“If you had to pick a family member to sit on a bus with for a long time, who would it be?”
By now, it was clear that the audience for our vlogs wasn’t the general public but rather just our family and friends. Aiming for fewer viewers meant we could have more personal and funny conversations. We didn’t try to mimic popular vloggers; instead, here we were, Tahoora and Bilal, being ourselves.
I edited the clips and stitched the vlog together on my flight back to Los Angeles. For our first vlog, I searched for soundtracks with looping, catchy beats that could give it a playful and casual feel. When I was finished, I sent the vlog to a few family members and friends and received positive feedback.
“I liked the angles you shot with,” my cousin said.
People commented on specific parts of the vlog, and some even asked for the outcomes of cliffhangers. Did Tahoora end up buying the green purse or the pink one?
“You’ll have to wait until the next vlog and see,” I would tell them.
When I heard positive feedback on my vlogs, I felt encouraged to continue. I even brought my newfound confidence to situations off camera.
“Let me tell you all about this pasta I tried making last night,” I once said to a friend before delving into a detailed recipe and description of how it made me feel. I would never gush about something so trivial before, but here I was now, passionately describing the flavor of the fresh rosemary and the comfort I felt while I ate.
When Tahoora and I both went home to Pakistan in summer, we used our free time to vlog. Only now, it wasn’t just the two of us – we had a large family around to help out. We interviewed people with short questions, such as “What are your plans for this weekend?” We cooked with our little cousins: The salad we made was terrible and nobody ate it, but the footage of the kids learning how to peel tomatoes was a perfect addition to the vlog. We vlogged at dinner during Eid, a holiday my family celebrates.
Once, when a few of my cousins were spending time together, one of them asked, “Why do you need to be vlogging right now?”
Even though some family members hesitated when we approached them, we tried to make them feel at ease by reassuring them anything they did not want in the vlog could be cut.
“OK, ask me that again,” someone would say. “I have a better answer.”
Tahoora and I became a duo that worked well together. She brought the humor, the charisma and the questions, and I came up with creative ideas for how we could shoot and edit the clips into a movie that flowed smoothly. During Eid, when Tahoora asked me to walk around alone and interview people, I tried to mirror the confidence she brought to the camera.
When I started vlogging a year ago, all I used was the camera on my phone. But over time, I acquired tools that would help make my vlogs more interesting to viewers.
I bought a cheap, black-and-red tripod my 10-year-old brother told me about. I could now prop my phone up in places, hold it steady and shoot time-lapse videos over longer periods of time. The tripod made my vlogs more enjoyable to watch because they were less shaky. People recognized that I was vlogging when they saw me holding it. Ultimately, the tripod made it feel like I had officially acknowledged vlogging as a hobby. A friend of mine gave me a wide-angle lens as a Secret Santa present, which allowed me to capture my surroundings as I walked and spoke into the camera. I even made the upgrade from iMovie to Final Cut Pro X once I grew more comfortable with video editing and decided to look for more advanced effects and transitions.
But I’m not a famous vlogger. Unlike many, I don’t get tens of thousands of views or followers. I don’t make any money, and I don’t plan on it.
Once I felt adept enough at vlogging with Tahoora, I brought it to aspects of my life that don’t include her. I made a short video while decorating the Daily Bruin office for the holidays and created a vlog on a two-day Daily Bruin editor retreat in Lake Arrowhead, California. I didn’t have Tahoora helping me create material. I was on my own. I used previous vlogs, experiences and ideas to come up with a 16-minute vlog that people found interesting, including catchy music, funny interviews and tours of new places. I didn’t hesitate to pull out my camera and ask people questions. The worst that could happen, I told myself, was that I would end up with an uninteresting clip I didn’t have to include in the final cut.
My friends were just as hesitant as my family when I started including them in my vlogs; only now, I had some experience in getting them to open up and talk.
“Just say anything you want!” I told them.
Most of my videos get about 100 views – sometimes a meager 10 or 15. But I have never worried about that. I vlog because it feels great, and it reminds me of the progress I’ve made as a person in the past year. I can now talk about my day, whether it was spent on an adventure or simply at home, in my vlogs. I vlog because I enjoy sharing the videos. The positive feedback I receive shows me that there’s something exciting about watching someone else do unexciting things. It keeps me going, and with every vlog I am reminded of how much more I can keep opening up to the camera.
Our lives did not become more interesting or even vlogworthy in the moments we recorded. Tahoora and I were still doing the things everybody does on a mundane Tuesday. Only now, it was refreshing to make daily life seem like it was almost an art – to add a new, more observant perspective to an otherwise average day.
Today, I don’t hesitate when asking people questions as I did a year ago, both on and off camera. I am far less often that person in the corner of the room, afraid to mingle.
Now, I am unafraid of hearing my own voice. I can approach a stranger and ask to take a photo of them, just because I want to learn something about how their very average day is going – and because the lighting around them happens to look perfect. I tell them vlogging is a hobby of mine and ask about their own.
Holding up a tripod and speaking into my phone has helped me overcome the nervousness I once felt. I can walk up to whoever is in the corner of the room – the same corner I found myself in so many times – and ask a question.
Now, I can help others do the same.
“Hi, I don’t know you, but that sketch you’re making there looks really cool,” I might say. “Would you like to be in my vlog?”
“Sure,” they might reply, hesitantly.