Why Video Is So Hot

These days video is a hot topic amongst still photographers and has been for over a year.  But there’s nothing new about video so what’s the big deal?

For starters the camera manufacturers came out with the hybrids so as still photographers bought new “still cameras”, they also got a camera with video capabilities.  At the same time, the publishing business is changing rapidly.  Print is giving way to electronic delivery via iPhones, iPads, cell phones and the web.  So you’ve got what you call a changing paradigm.

Is video a trend – no not in my mind.  It’s just another medium to communicate in.  When you have a message to deliver that needs motion and sound – video is the right choice.  Does that mean still photography is dead.  Absolutely not and neither is print.

Will still camera manufacturers lead the way in the next wave of “video cameras” with hi res images.  My guess is no and that’s because traditional video camera manufacturers like Panasonic have already rolled out video cameras with large chips – and with good audio capture capabilities without work arounds like the hybrids.

Nobody can predict the future but I don’t think it takes a crystal ball to see that video isn’t just a hot topic for the moment or a trend, but has become a way that we get our news, our products pitched to us and our stories told.

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HDSLR in the Field – Recap of The First 70 Days of 99 Day Project Around the World (Tales of an Insomniac)

I woke up at 4 AM this morning after only a few hours of sleep – my body going through some major jet lag after over 22 hours of flying from Sydney, Australia to New York City via Los Angeles. Yesterday, my full day back, was spent taking care of essentials – like getting my gear to Canon for a full check up and cleaning,

Gear for my first go round.

and a visit to the Apple Genius Bar because my new laptop seems to have a living organism living behind the monitor which shrinks and grows depending on the climate I’m in, and of course taking care of my own personal needs.

As I lay awake in the pre-dawn hours, my mind was spinning with thoughts on what I had to get done before heading to South America on Saturday for the second leg of our documentary Opening Our Eyes. I have only 4 days to recuperate, rest up and gear up for the next leg. The bad part is, I’ve only got 4 days – the good part is, I have those 4 days, and can approach the second leg of this journey with the advantage of having a fresh experience in the field to draw from and make some changes in terms of gear I’m taking on the next leg. More importantly, because my turn around is short, I’m able to stay focused and remain in the mindset of the project.

So as I go over the gear that I brought on my first leg with lessons learned in my head and prepare for the next stint, I’ll share my thoughts with you:

• A good tripod is critical – if you don’t have a decent tripod for video, you can’t get fluid movement, so don’t even try. A locked down shot is better than a jerky shot in motion. I needed to travel light with all the flights that I faced, so I went for a carbon tripod with a fluid head that would fit in a suitcase to eliminate the need for another check on bag. So, for this next leg, I’m seriously thinking of taking my larger tripod because I don’t have as many flights where excess baggage charges could mount up.

• You can never have enough batteries when shooting with a DSLR workflow and by that I mean everything from the camera batteries (and buy lots of them if you can find them for the Canon 5D and 7D) to the expendables for the  DT454 JuicedLink audio preamp, which takes 9 volts to the Samson H4N Zoom which takes AA’s.  By the way, speaking of batteries, don’t make the mistake I made once by not powering the H4N Zoom off before changing the batteries. The manual mentions that by doing so, files can get corrupted. A couple of my audio files did get corrupted – the information was there, but it couldn’t be read.

• I’m leaving my over priced Nikon to Canon lens converter, along with my old Nikon glass at home – I never used them – never felt the need for what I was shooting.

• Can’t wait to edit my timelapse material that I shot using the Canon 7D camera and the Canon timer remote controller TC-80N3.

• I want to get more attachments for my GoPro Hero Cam because there are so many ways to use this camera – it’s amazing and I’m having a ball thinking of all the possibilities in how I can use it. The Hero cam will always be part of my gear kit.

• Always check what audio cords you’ll be needing. I embarrassed to say that I carried around my wireless kit but couldn’t use it with the Zoom because I needed a mini to male XLR cord  and didn’t have it.

• Take 10-20% more memory storage than you think you will need when you’re shooting video. Video is a memory glut. I had been warned by some people that the Lacie Rugged hard drives that I were taking with me, didn’t have a very good track record – but as I write this, my content backups from my Lacie Rugged drives ( over 2000 gigabytes (doubled) ) are transferring to my desktop OWC terabyte drives and seem to be fine so the Lacies did their job. However, they are bulky and I’m going to be getting a couple of 500 gig drives that are more compact. Any suggestions for compact firewire external drives?

• Wish I bought the follow focus with my Zacuto rig. It’s expensive but would have been a real added bonus for visually highlighting one of the beauties of these cameras – the depth of field range that they have.

• Also wish I had a portable dolly like the Indislider but just couldn’t fit it in this trip. As it was, there were some items that I didn’t need to take and will be leaving behind this next leg.

• Wish I brought more mini tools – screwdrivers, allan wrenches etc.

• My Blackberry Tour Verizon phone blew me away. Even when I was in the northern hill tribe villages of Thailand, staying in a bamboo hut without electricity and plumbing – I was able to get my email on my phone! I’m impressed Verizon – I really am. Finding electricity to charge my phone was another matter.

• I could not have survived the 30 flights circling around the world i if I didn’t have my iPod. Thanks Apple.

Feel free to comment and share your thoughts of what has or hasn’t worked for you in the field and you can save me from making potential mistakes as I take on my next leg of this Journey August 7th. We are first headed to the Amazon area of Peru and then down to Buenos Aires, Argentina – again two diverse areas in terms of culture and climate.

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Capturing Good Audio When Shooting With DSLR’s

I see a lot of confusion and misconceptions amongst still photographers as they embrace video using the DSLR camera. For many audio is an after thought which is a big mistake because audio is much more important than the visual. Unless you’re just laying down still images or video clips to music then you have to be able to capture good sound. Some things to consider and remember.

1. You’ll never get good sound with the camera microphone – only use the camera mic for reference audio.

2. Don’t buy a camera that won’t let you use external microphones – unless you will be capturing your audio separately and syncing it later in post.

3. If “running and gunning” – you can probably get away with using a mic mounted on the camera as long as you are close to your audio source. You can either use a mic with a mini plug and connect it to the camera OR you can run the mic via an xlr cord to a mixer like a JuicedLink or a Beachtek, which is much better, rendering a cleaner audio capture.

4. For interviews, most likely you won’t want your camera to be extremely close to your subject. So you won’t want to use a mic mounted on the camera – it’s too far away. I rig a shotgun mic on a boom stand and I also use a lav on the subject and run both into my camera if I’m using a traditional video camera or into my JuicedLink mixer if I want to capture the sound on the same card as the audio.

5. When using a DSLR camera, capturing your audio separately with a digital recorder is ideal. I use a Samson H4N Zoom that not only has a built in dual stereo mic but two XLR inputs. I run my shotgun mic and lav mic into the Zoom and then sync the sound later in post with software called Plural Eyes. Make sure you keep the audio on in the camera as well to use as a reference for syncing later on.

6. When using a device like the zoom that has a built in mic – remember that even though this is a quality mic – you MUST get the mic in close to your sound – no more than a foot away. I prefer not to use this mic but rather a shotgun because a shotgun is more focused and won’t pick up a lot of the ambient noise.

7. Use headphones. Don’t just look at your meters – wear headphones and make sure that you are getting quality sound. You could be picking up interference or static.

8. Always consider your audio even for your b-roll – you need some audio – even if you only intend it as ambient background sound.

9. I only use a wireless system when I need to. In cities like New York you can get a lot of interference on the frequencies. Always go wired if you can. And if you find yourself needing a wireless system, spend the money to get a system that has a good range.

10. Be quiet and tell your crew to be quiet as well. You never know when you’ll want to use the audio – even if you think you won’t need it.

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Biggest Mistakes Made Shooting Video with DLSR’s

I’ve been working quite a bit lately with both the Canon 5D Mark II and the Canon 7D, shooting video. I’ve been shooting video with traditional video cameras for the last 11 years so I wasn’t in the dark as to how to shoot motion. But I’m not ashamed to say that I’ve made my share of mistakes with these hybrids.

Here are a few to watch out for:

  1. Don’t forget about audio. So many still photographers forget the importance of audio and then what they are left with are a bunch of video clips with lousy or unusable sound.
  2. Don’t capture audio with the camera mic. You’ll never get good sound if you do. I also stay away from plugging in an external mic with the mini stereo plug.
  3. Don’t turn off the camera mic when using an independent audio recorder. It’s always good to have the audio recorded to cards through the camera to use as a reference when syncing the sound later in post.
  4. Don’t discount reading the manuals. A lot of shooters think since they are coming from a photographic background, they don’t need to read the manuals. There are big differences when shooting video – make sure you read the manuals about some of the nuances and avoid making stupid mistakes.
  5. Don’t shoot video like a still photographer. Remember video is time in motion – so let motion play out in the camera. Let subjects move in and out of your frame. Let the camera roll – don’t shoot moments in time.
  6. Don’t forget about the story and sequencing. I usually see the big picture when I’m shooting. I think about the finished completed movie in my mind’s eye so when I’m shooting I’m always thinking about what is coming next – where will I go from this shot – where did I come from. If you don’t think like this then you’ll have a disconnected mess that won’t be easy to edit.
  7. Don’t be sneaky. These cameras look and are still cameras. Don’t deceive people into thinking that you’re not shooting video and/or sound.
  8. Get it right in camera. Unlike still photographs, video doesn’t do as well when it’s over manipulated or corrected in post, especially when trying to crop or enlarge the image.
  9. Don’t skimp on you shots. When shooting b-roll video – you’ll need lots of it to tell the story in post. Shoot different focal lengths as well as angles for variety to cut to.

10. Don’t shoot verticals. I know, I know there will be some of you that will disagree with me but if you want a vertical – don’t turn the camera sideways – crop the vertical in post. A contradiction perhaps to #9 you say. Well there are always exceptions.

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Photographers and Video

I’ve been reading a lot of the still photography forums over the past few weeks and I’ve seen a lot of questions about capturing sound with the hybrid HDSLR’s.  I’ve also seen some misleading information so I’ve decided to take a few minutes to clear up some misconceptions.

First – Audio is everything in video.  People can tolerate a mediocre image but if they can’t understand or hear the audio – they won’t watch.  See for yourself – turn the sound down on your TV and see how long you stay interested in the program – even if the image is stunning.

Second – You have many options of capturing audio with the HDSLR’s depending on what you are shooting.  I think many still photographers assume everyone is going to be shooting “indie films” with crews.  One of the things I find appealing about some of the new technology is that you don’t necessarily need a large crew and a Hollywood budget.  And sometimes, if discretion is in order, you’re better off with a small crew.  With that said – you should know how to capture good audio.

Third – NEVER use the camera to capture audio – it just isn’t good enough.  And I would probably say that you shouldn’t plug an external mic into the camera via the mini plug.  I don’t think the audio quality is good enough, especially for an interview.

Fourth – Either use a pre-amp with XLR inputs like a Beachtek or JuicedLink and an external microphone.  Make sure you get the mic close to the audio you want to capture.  And most importantly monitor the audio through a good set of headphones.

– Capture your audio independently with a good quality digital recorder like the Samson H4n Zoom and sync it later in post.  Syncing sound in post is a snap with a great software application called Plural Eyes.

Lastly – Audio is everything!  And remember as you add video to your skill set, you’ll be using your ears as much as your eyes.

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My DSLR Kit for a Three-Month Road Trip

For those who have been following this blog you know that I’m getting ready to depart for a 3-month trip around the world creating a documentary with my daughter – Opening Our Eyes.  Here is what I’ve managed to fit into two backpacks – it just fits.  Thank goodness there’s two of us.
Please follow our journey http://www.openingoureyes.wordpress.com

Canon 5D Mark II
Canon 7D
Canon 16-35mm 2.8
Canon 24-70mm 2.8
Canon 70-200mm 2.8
Canon 70-300mm 4.5
Canon 1.4X tele extender
Canon 2X tele extender
Nikon/Canon lens adaptor
Nikkor 14mm rectilinear lens f2.8
Nikkor 50mm 1.4
Nikkor 85mm f2
6 Batteries for Canon
1 Battery grip for 5D
3 Battery chargers
Remote control for Canon
AC adaptor for Canon
Rycote Hot shoe extension
4 – 16 GB flash cards – all cards – Sandisk UGMA
4 – 8 GB flash cards
2 – 8 GB SDHC cards
2  – 4 GB SDHD cards
Neutral density filter kit
Epson P6000 digital wallet
Zoom H4n digital audio recorder
JuicedLink DT454  audio preamp
Rode shotgun mic
Tram lav mic
Sennheiser Transmitter/Wireless kit
“Dead Cats” (windscreens)
XLR cords
HD Hero helmet camera with attachments
Flip HD
ManfrottoTripod and fluid head
Small Matthews boom stand for mic
Zacuto Z-Finder

Zacuto Striker Rig
Flex DSLR remote
Lacie Rugged Hard drives – 4000 GB memory!
Firewire and USB cords
3 – card readers
2 MacBookPro Laptops
1 extra laptop battery
1 extra AC adaptor for laptop
Blackberry Tour
2 Scotte Vests – with 22 pockets in each

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Mistakes Still Photographers Make When Shooting Video With a DSLR

  • They don’t understand the importance of audio and don’t use external microphones. Audio is everything in video.
  • They think in “moments in time” and start shooting video too late or stop shooting too soon. You need to let the camera linger longer.
  • They don’t shoot sequences with a beginning, middle and end.
  • They don’t think in “storyboard mode” – You should ask yourself  “How will I get into and out of a shot and what’s next in the story?”
  • They don’t shoot enough B-roll with variations in angles and focal lengths – very important in the editing process.
  • They move the camera instead of letting the motion take place in front of the camera.
  • They turn the camera vertically. There aren’t too many vertical TV sets and monitors.
  • They don’t use a tripod forgetting that video is “time in motion”.  It’s one thing to hold a camera steady for 1/60th of a second and quite another to hold the shot steady for 10 seconds.
  • They don’t consider the frame rate and how that will affect workflow and editing.
  • Aren’t careful keeping their sensors clean from dust.  Retouching video is a lot more involved than spotting still images.
  • They “throw” some video clips in with the still photography job, not putting an added value on them and thus setting a bad precedent with clients.
  • They don’t consider the output and the type of file to be delivered.  There are dozens of formats and codecs in video.  Choose according to your target audience and viewing platform or device.

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Tips for Shooting Better Videos

1.    Figure out your “story” before you get into the editing room.
2.    If interviews are needed – make a list of good questions that will lead to insightful answers and concise sound bites.
3.    Always think about your “audio” – listen to your room sounds.
4.    Capture your audio with external mics – not the mic in the camera.
5.    Wear headphones – camera meters only indicate that you’re getting sound – but it may not be good sound.
6.    Shoot and move – getting wide, medium, tight and close-ups from various angles.
7.    Anticipate what’s coming next and be in the right spot to get the shot.
8.    When shooting, think about how you will “get into” and “out of” a shot in the finished piece.  Play it out in your head.
9.    Shoot action and reaction – both points of view.  Example:  Teacher and student’s reaction
10.    Don’t talk over your video – even if you think you might not want to use the audio – because you never know.
11.    Use a tripod for long lens shots.
12.    Get lots of close-ups especially if the finished piece if for the web.  You’ll be happy you did when you get in the editing room.
13.    Have a plan but be prepared to be spontaneous and let serendipity happen.

Mistakes Still Photographers Make When Shooting Video

Short but to the point – common mistakes still photographers make when starting to shoot video:

1.  They break timecode (only applies when shooting to tape)

2.  Bad audio – audio is everything in video.

3.  They don’t turn the camera on soon enough.

4.  They turn the camera off too soon (thinking in the “decisive moment)

5.  Use auto – focus.

6. They don’t shoot sequences – beginning, middle and end

7. They don’t shoot in “storyboard mode” – “How will I get into and out of a shot and what’s next?”

8. They pan and tilt and zoom in and out – too much – the motion should come from the subject matter – not necessarily the camera.

9.  They don’t shoot enough B-roll with variations.

10.  I’m open to suggestions as to what #10 should be – feel free to chime in.

Shooting Great Video Interviews

Whether you’re doing a multimedia piece or a video you will no doubt be doing interviews. So this entry will provide you with some tips for getting better interviews.

Number one rule of course is that your audio capture must be good. Make sure your microphone is no less that a foot from your subject. Make sure you monitor the sound or at least your sound check by wearing headphones. You might think you are getting sound by looking at the meter on your camera – but you don’t know if it’s good. There could be a buzz or interference that without monitoring through headphones – you’d never know.

Pick a suitable location – sitting someone next to a fountain for instance would quickly make your viewer head for the bathroom.

Make a list of questions – but don’t be afraid to depart from that list. Many times my best questions were sparked by an answer that my subject had just given. For instance if my subject has just mentioned that there was a tragedy in their family that turned their life around – your next question should be a follow up to that.

Don’t ask questions that have yes and no answers.

Many times you won’t use your voice so the audience won’t hear the questions. Instruct your subject to paraphrase the question while giving their answer.

Keep quiet – direct them by the nod of your head – instead of giving verbal recognition.

Don’t step on your subject’s line. Give a pause after they finish answering a question. That pause will give your some “air” and will help you in the editing room. But more importantly, people are uncomfortable with pauses and tend to keep talking. Many good soundbites have come from me waiting.

Like my dad used to say – let your ears do more of the work.

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