Audio for ‘dem DLSR shooters…

Ah history. It has a way of repeating itself. Back in 2003 or so I coordinated some video workshops for a local pro shooter’s group and the first year a couple of still shooters turned up. The next year the workshop was stuffed full of them.

Fast forward a decade and it’s happening again – but this time I’m getting queries from DSLR shooters who need to know more about audio for video. They know those not-quite-video-cameras come with an internal mike. And most of them know they need to add on an external (shotgun) mike for better audio. But they also notice that somehow their audio is not as pristine as that of, well…real video shooters. Folks with dedicated video cams.

Now I can’t fault them…there is a kind of look to DSLRs and they can be a whole lot less expensive. But as with any camera, there is a learning curve…and to make a DSLR (or Micro-4/3) camera work as well as a dedicated video cam you need to do some add-ons. And you really really should test your gear to see what is and each separate component are capable of.

So to save time and trouble (for me) I’m just gonna cut and paste a recent facebook conversation. Follow along and learn.

Me:
I’d be glad to advise you regarding video cameras and accessories. Specifically what will you use them for – in-studio shooting, video production, news? What kind of budget are you working with? Will you shoot interviews or just b-roll (cover shots)?
Here’s a link to a blog posting I did (and there are additional links to older related postings within the article): http://cyndygreen.wordpress.com/2013/01/06/choosing-a-camera-4-0/
Cyndy Green
Choosing a camera 4.0…
cyndygreen.wordpress.com

From the DSLR owner:
I run a budget news website that doesn’t generated revenue yet and I got a Canon Rebel T3i camera to use for interviews and other footage. What I is accessories to enhance the picture and sound quality.

Me:
Ouch (I’m more of a straight video format camera person myself). There are a couple of options.First – just get a small size shotgun or directional microphone. This will enhance your audio and allow you to more cleanly pick up sound that is happening where-ever you point the camera.Unfortunately unless it is detachable with a longer cable it may not work well for interviews.Here’s an example: http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/744768-REG/Rode_VIDEOMIC_PRO_VideoMic_Pro_Compact_Shotgun.html

Rode VideoMic Pro Compact Shotgun Microphone VIDEOMIC PRO B&H
http://www.bhphotovideo.com

Him:
This is useful. Thanks

Me:
Next option would be a wireless system like this: http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/553684-REG/Sony_UWP_V1_4244_UWP_V1_Wireless_Lavalier_Microphone.htmlI do not specifically recommend either of these mikes – they are just examples.For much less you can also just add on a single lavelier/clip-on mike: http://www.amazon.com/Audio-Technica-ATR-3350-Omnidirectional-Condenser-Microphone/dp/B002HJ9PTO/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1389276891&sr=8-1&keywords=audio+technica+lavalier+micThe most important thing is to know what kind of mike jack is built in to your camera (with the T3i it is a 3.5mm or mini-jack) so when you purchase audio gear it will work with the camera.You can also (I know, way way too many choices) go with an add-on adapter that allows you to plug in more than one microphone: http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/962864-REG/beachtek_mcc_2_2_channel_audio_adapter.html

Beachtek MCC-2 2-Channel Audio Adapter and Bracket MCC-2 B&H
http://www.bhphotovideo.com
With the latter you can plug in two of the lavelier mikes.Disclaimer – I’m only using the B&H website because it is convenient. I don’t work for them and you may find better deals elsewhere.Hope this helps. There are other accessories you should also consider. Tripod is at the top of the list. A simple reflector (you can use a sheet of white cardboard for soft light and glue crumbled aluminum foil to the back for a more intense reflection.

One final note: proximity. The closer the mike to the desired sound source, the cleaner the audio. Two feet or less is preferable.

Addendum: One good way to get to know your gear is to test it. Each time you add something to your kit, test it thoroughly. For example – with mikes. Begin with your on-board mike and start the ole camera rolling. First setup should be in a quiet room or area. Stand three feet away and talk…then (still rolling) back up another three feet and talk in the same tone. Keep that up til you’re twelve feet away. Do this with each mike – those that fix to the camera (shotguns) and those that plug in you can carry or pin on to someone. Do this both in a quiet venue as well as an extremely noisy one. And then listen to the results. And learn.

The intricate choreography of the scrum…

Ah dancing. The ability to move with your partner through a series of delightfully light-footed and pleasing movements…knowing all the while eyes are on your every move.

Not quite what I had in mind though.

Dances with cameras is more like it.

Running with the pack and packing it in with the scrum is something battle-worn shooters are intimately familiar with. Sure – it looks easy. Just grab a camera and move in and get your shots. But beware…playing with the big boys and girls can be downright dangerous.

At some point in every newbie’s life they encounter a gang-bang. A hoard of newsies all wanting the same thing – the same interview and the same b-roll and the balance of those wanting and those offering (or alternately running away) is way off. In a regular news situation you’ve got your videojournalist or crew of reporter and cameraman and the interview subject. Grab the interview and then shoot the b-roll.

But at a major story you may have a ratio of 10 or 20 or more shooters and reporters from all reaches of news pursuing one or two potential interviews. And pursuit is the name of the game. Mike-holders create the inner circle, vying for good sound. In the outer circle are the camerafolk, circling and angling for the best light and shot. And somewhere in the dust or SOL are those who came late or don’t understand the dance.

I’ve danced this dance many times…and the trick is to work with your competition. Try to take as little room as you can to ensure you get your shot while giving just enough to allow three or four or more of your best buddies to do the same. Moving in time, down the steps of the capitol, across the PD parking lot…moving to the front and fading back as the pack passes and running ahead to rejoin the mobile mass. But generally it is a tightly packed pack moving in synchronized time to the beat of flying Q & As. I’ve been in situations where the body count is so high and dense that I’ve been able to take both hands off the camera – both it and I were wedged in so tightly.

A newbie who enters the fray gives himself away every time by trying to hog the shot – staying in front and blocking others. The end result of such boar-ishness is a downtrodden shooter lying on the ground wondering where the herd of elephants came from. Now it’s not that the stampede was aimed at taking said newbie out – the instinct in seasoned shooters is strongly tuned to combining cooperation with ruthlessness. And the sure knowledge that if anyone steps out of line, it may be the last time they can even enter the scrum. Oh, sure, I may cut your throat in a back alley to beat you to a story…but in public and knowing I’m gonna have to work alongside you again in the future, I’ll play nice. For now.

A shot visit to my roots…

…as a teacher. I never actually left the land of video but have been retired from teaching for some three plus years now.

Last month I returned to Middle College High School where I went through the horror of learning how to teach. That was a truly tumultuous journey…from a single Digital Video Production class to English and AVID (the college prep course, not the editing program) and more. Former co-worker Michael Kennedy honored me by asking me to take over his workload for a few weeks.

Now the English 12 classes went well since he laid the groundwork and made lesson plans. He’s also got AVID 12 in hand…all I had to do was follow his notes – which meant I let the kiddos research colleges and complete applications.

The fun stuff was his other classes. AVID 10. Journalism. The former went from kinda chaotic to totally out of my hands when the AVID tutors arrived. Talk about discipline…they entered the room and took over. My job went from teaching to taking roll.

And…journalism. A small class…minuscule by the standards of a comprehensive high school. Eight – yeah right, count ‘em – 8 students. All mine to toy with and teach. And Michael let me have my way with them so I began with having them read the Five Pillars of Islam, the Ten Commandments, and the Eight Fold Path (of Buddha)…and then both the JEA and NPPA Ethics Codes. Final product – a compare and contrast paper which was supposed to lead them into understanding how the Mind of Man works. Why do all societies…all cultures…have similar principles?

20131014_134954Had them write what they wanted to learn from me on the board – and it was all good. Our Editor-In-Chief wanted to learn how to run the school website effectively. And the rest dovetailed into my plans – shooting and editing and writing visual stories.

Problem was that the computer lab the class was taught in was a terror. Every day everything they worked on disappeared – total erasure. And all they had to work with was Moviemaker. And one student’s personal video camera. So I brought in my arsenal of el cheapo cameras – from two Kodak Playtouches to a low end Samsung camcorder and my NX1000 and put them to work shooting the Seven Basic Shots. Then editing it.

How to deal with the problem of gear? Lucky find – a Flip camera in a second-hand store for $9. I guess the owner got rid of it because it wouldn’t allow any video to be recorded. Here’s the solution – plug into a computer and reformat it. Totally cleared up all of the gunk and it worked just like new. And while it shoots SD, that’s a good thing considering the computer situation. SD is oh so much easier to upload and edit than HD.

Next – how to handle the erasure of all projects. A simple solution, one that cost a few more bucks. I donated a 500gb portable hard drive. All raw media is loaded onto it and students were instructed to start a Moviemaker project then immediately save it on the hard drive and close and reopen it from the hard drive. That way all files they imported were linked to the hard drive copy. Kind of weird but a working workaround.

Final project (we were running out of time here) was a group shoot. They needed to learn how to shoot, log, write, and edit a real story. So off we went to the freshman AVID class where students were getting their Secret Penpal letters for the first time (written to them by the sophomores). Each of my J-kids was told to pick a freshman and shoot them as they got and reacted to their letters. Then we snagged a few and took them outside where each J-student had the opportunity to run my good camera and to hold the mike and get an interview. The next class meeting we logged the interviews and wrote the script as a class. My videots did the edit on my laptop and the E-I-C posted it. So now they had a foundation…and it will be interesting to see where they take it.

(I did check up on them a week or so later and the quiet junior girls had done some MOS interviews (man on the street) which nearly floored me. Perfect composition…good light…good quality audio. Fast learners all.)

Know your rights…

Churchill County CourthouseBad experiences teach valuable lessons.

And one of these stems from the question of who owns your video. If you don’t keep track of who hired you and who you sold it to and the terms of agreement you may be SOL (somewhat to extremely out of luck). The following is over-generalized and meant only to serve as a warning for VJs to stay on top of their property and their rights. Obviously you should consult with a lawyer to get airtight advice.

First – if you work for an employer (TV station or some other company) whatever you shoot belongs to them unless you’ve made some kind of personal arrangement. You’re hiring your brains and body out for a steady paycheck and benefits and turning all rights over to your boss as part of the agreement. Same may be said for for “work for hire” when a client hires you to shoot…but even then it is murky.

If you work independently as a freelancer, the rules change. As the artist/the shooter/the cameraman any video you shoot on your own belongs to you. You saw and created it. That includes raw clips and finished products. (Remember, this is when you are working on your own.)

The tricky part comes into play when someone else enters the scene…be it a client, a distributor, or anyone who wants what you got.

On the most basic level, let’s say you shoot an accident. You give a shout-out to the local stations and they bite. Each station wants a copy and you oblige and ftp them or drop them off. BEFORE you do that, you need to get straight in your head what you are selling. Don’t assume anything. Station A may have an unstated or stated agreement with freelancers that they are buying rights in perpetuity to use the video anyway they want in their market. Station B may state that when they pay you, they can send it worldwide and they own all rights everywhere. Station C may not have a clue and may do whatever they want until you rein them in.

Don’t let the rush of possible cash click the “off” switch of your logic center. You should always make contact with potential markets before you work with them to find out what their terms are and negotiate as much as you can to either keep as many rights as you can or raise the ante for any potential income. Or at the very least know what you’re giving away when you send them a file.

Let’s take a quick look at what you are actually giving away when you sell your video. Rights mean who owns the rights to use or sell something. We’re talking about something solid here – video – not intellectual rights, which are a different ballgame in many ways.

First – as an independent Videojournalist you own all rights.
You may choose to sell some or all of these rights to one or more entities.
You should know exactly what you are selling…and price your product accordingly.
You can sell one-time rights to use your product in a specific market.
You can sell rights to use only on a news program and then resell to the same station for public affairs or other programming.
If you have a produced final project you can offer it up to a distributor who will attempt to find a client for you…but even here watch what you sign. You may be handing your hard work over to a company that does little or nothing to market your video. And some of those sites slip in a clause that will not allow you to regain your video even if they don’t work to rep you.
If you sell the completed project you can sell the rights to the project but not the raw footage.
You can upload to a stock site and sell there but maintain rights to everything.

Are you beginning to get the idea? And yes, it is confusing. The nugget of advice you should have gained from reading this is to read all contracts carefully. Don’t do hand-shake deals (they can go sour). Make decisions about your work based on knowledge, not lack of knowledge. Yes, go ahead and sell that video of the accident to the local station for a hundred bucks…but make it clear you retain the right to sell it to the lawyers or stock footage site. Or just take the money and walk away. It’s all good so long as you know what you’re doing…it’s your decision.

Sans tripod…

This posting sprang out of a conversation begun over on the globalvjs facebook group. Someone asked which was the best camcorder for under $500 and I entered the discussion by showing off a video shot with my Kodak Playtouch. A simple P&S camera which I carry everywhere. No zoom, not much in the way of manual controls but it does have a mike input and decent quality.IMG_1191

The response to the video was not about the camera but about how smooth the video looked…

moving around with a camera – I have a cannon eos 603, without a bulky-tripod, brough this quality? the Kodak Seems smoother in movement.

So another “duh” moment on my part where I forget that I know what I know. My first thought was the built-in stabilization in the little play camera. But no – that wasn’t it.

My second thought was more right-on. It was me. Well, not me really. Decades of experience in being a human Steadicam. When you’re paid to beat the streets, shaky is not an option. News video MUST be rock steady or as near to that as possible. First option is always a tripod.

But there’s more, even with a tripod. Too many newbies place camera on tripod and then hug or hold tripod closely. Mistake #1. You live and breathe, therefore YOU are not a stable platform. And by giving your tripod the death hug, you transfer your jitters to the pod and the camera. So – once you hit that record button, un-hand the tripod and let it do its job.

Gotta pan or tilt? Please don’t, but if you have to, use a light touch. For pans just loosen the pan lock on the tripod head and literally push it along with one finger. But wait! There’s more! In addition to pushing with said finger, hold your upper arm against your body and using your hips as a swivel point, slowly move the tripod head in a pan. Even your arm can be shaky if held away from the body. (And yes, I will shoot some videos and get them up tomorrow to illustrate.)

Tilt is pretty much the same. Lock down the pan function. Hold the tripod grip/handle. Push gently for up, pull gently for down.

That’s it for Tripods 101.

Now for Human Tripod 200. As I told my students, you are alive and breathing. The only way you can hold a tripod rock solid steady is if you are not breathing – if you are dead. Not a good option.

But here are some good options. The best tripod ever: the planet Earth. Place your camera on a tree stump, a rock, a table, a wall. Get down and dirty and put it on the ground. You can pile up dirt or pebbles to achieve the framing you want.

Kathy Newell

Kathy Newell

Lean against a wall…use the weight of your body and wedge yourself in good and tight, holding the camera up against your head or chest. By extending your arms you are increasing the odds your shots will be shaky, so keep it up close and personal.

The Human Tripod pan and tilt head is your hips. Again, keep that camcorder close and personal by folding your arms to your side and creating a human tripod. Your two arms become two of the legs and by placing the camera up against your face (hopefully you have a viewfinder) there you have it. Human Tripod. Now swivel your hips slowly and you have the pan function. To tilt, bend gently up or down at the hips.

And finally: Human Steadicam 500 for advanced students. Way back in the dim dark reaches of my adventure in shooting news I stumbled upon a Tai Chi class held at daybreak in the Panhandle of Golden Gate Park in San Francisco. The agonizingly slow movements of the participants intrigued me and pretty soon I was out getting my feet wet in the misty morning fog. I learned to stretch and slow down and lose my mind in the blank beauty of mindless movement. Oh – and I learned how to focus on centering my mind and body on my hips and hip movement.

Fact – the lower your center of gravity, the more stable you are. Center too high/walk with your head or shoulders and you bounce. Center too low/your feet and you drag. But center in that smooth jointed hip area and you glide. I learned over the months to walk without bouncing up and down…how to walk in a controlled smooth pace. It became a habit, so much that I still find myself slowing down and centering myself whenever I pick up a camera.

Those Tai Chi stretching movements lent themselves to jib-quality pans and tilts. Coupled with the lessons in Tripod 101 and Human Tripod 200, Human Steadicam completed my mastery of getting a stable shot.

Final hint. You don’t get good without practice. Somewhere up there I mentioned months to learn the basics of Tai Chi. Decades of shooting. You need to handle that camera daily…and for more than minutes – for hours. You need to train your body to control itself and the camera, until the camera becomes an extension of your body – freeing you to see the story while operating the camera goes on in the back of your mind.

Timeless advice…

…it never changes.  The process of creating a visual story that is. But then – what should appear online but some helpful hints for visual shooters.

Trouble is – they’re more than ninety-five years out of date.

Or are they?

Thanks to Amanda Emily, here is a list of hints written by Pathe’ News editor Paul Hugon in 1916 – during the birth of the movement of newsreel shooters. Let’s see how those tips stack up.

Right off there’s this advice. Still applicable today.

The object of motion pictures is to show motion. Only things in which there is motion are worthy of the cameraman’s attention.

Then there’s the highly technical advice on exposure using a hand cranked camera.

For each turn of the handle, eight pictures are exposed. The handle is turned twice in one second. Therefore 16 pictures are exposed in one second.

Translated to today’s terminology, most cameras set on auto expose approximately 30 pictures per second. And you don’t have to keep turning the crank to keep exposing new pictures.

Use a tripod (dammit).

It is essential, to preserve the illusion which is the basis of the film business, that the pictures should be absolutely steady.

We’re in agreement on tilts and pans too! It is better by far to visualize and shoot what you see in several strong shots rather than taking the lazy route and panning or spraying the scene.

There should never be a panoram, either vertical or horizontal, unless it is absolutely essential to obtain a photographic effect, and in any case the panoram should be, not from the main subject to others, but from others to the main subject, where theattention will finally rest. It is very much better to take two scenes than one panorammed scene. Panoraming is the lazy man’s remedy.

There’s a lot more there and most of it pretty darn good. Shoot pretty subjects, striking effects of light and shade. A hefty dose of technical advice on iris and shutter. Ummmm…you can skip the sections on protecting the negative and shipping (by slow boat to China in those days).

And the conclusion is his Golden Rule…

Make as good a picture for others as you would like others to make for you.
Nothing but the very best is good enough. Think, and think hard, how you can make the best picture. Put it all down in writing; plan your scenes…
There is plenty of room at the top of your profession, but you will not get there by standing about or just grinding away. Brain work is ultimately the only way to big money. And the money is there waiting for you.

(well maybe those last few lines don’t apply anymore…)
For full text, go to the original article on Amanda Emily’s site.