Crushing dreams for being realistic?

We all have dreams. A better life. Being thinner, richer. Sometimes material things. Sometimes something else. Hopefully though we all have a way to balance our dreams with the real world and not spend life wallowing in regrets.

When I look back at my life I see that many of my dreams never materialized through either my own poor judgement or circumstances, but I don’t let it bother me. Much more than a twinge…and then I move on. I’ve been lucky enough to have two careers that totally absorbed me. Three girls who have grown into women I could never have imagined…like me they forged their own paths. And a husband who is so much a part of me that I can’t imagine life without him.

Enough about me though…here’s the rub. How do you explain to the upcoming generation how to balance reality with dreams?

I’m a cheerleader for our young people. Volunteer with high school and college age students, nudging them to excel. Mentoring more young people via the Internet, again nudging them to think about their choices. And I like to think I’ve never told a young person that they can’t do something. All things are possible. If they prepare themselves.

Now in the case of the high school students my advice is primarily take the right courses and focus on passing with a good enough grade they can move on to college and a career. In some cases I’ve actually told students they can flunk. Harsh? If you take a student who has flunked English or math or science from middle school forward pep talks don’t work. Tutoring can help but not with every student, especially if their life and home situations place barriers to becoming better. So I give them permission to flunk with the following advice.

Sure – flunk English. But you want to be an auto mechanic (or warehouseman…or beautician)? Then learn how to write a solid resume, learn how to write a business letter. Pick up a good solid workplace vocabulary…know the language of the career path you have chosen.

Sure – flunk math. But learn how to add up services and products to write a receipt. Don’t forget to include tax (a percentage of the total). Know how to write an estimate for repairs. Understand how to read your paycheck…not just the total or amount after taxes. Have a handle on all those niggling little details like FICA and state and Medicare (how big a bite those deductions take out of your hard earned money).

And now. On to college.

There are students who you know just naturally are gonna make it. They may struggle with this course or that course but they are willing to give it their best shot. Take the core hard classes and go into class with the intent not just of passing but learning. I am very proud to be acquainted with a number of these golden youth.

And then there are … the others. Those with a dream, but unwilling to be realistic. Those who just know they are going to be great but are unwilling to put in the time and effort to pay their dues at the bottom in order to earn their way slowly up the ladder to success. (Success by the way, as defined by me, is not money…but happiness in both your career and life paths.)

I run into them both on campus and the Internet. Had a discussion with a young man from India (much) earlier this morning. He tried to join a professional site I moderate which doesn’t allow students…after explaining that to him, he told me he really wanted to learn how to be a travel journalist…and after more probing, a travel cameraman. One – he is studying to be an engineer. He has no background of any kind in any phase of journalism. Not insurmountable, but his dreams are not going to happen soon.

And then more…he desperately wants to get away from home (and possibly his down-to-earth parents), travel to a foreign county (Europe or the US) and go to journalism school. And become a glamorous travel journalist/cameraman.

The implication that all a cameraman does is point and shoot. Anyone can do it. I heard that so many times over the years from folks with a home handycam…”Hey, I’ve got a Sony too. Bet I can do your job. How to I apply?”

Not. Gonna. Happen.

So more guiding…and explaining the complexity of the job. Shooting, research, scheduling, logging, transcribing, writing, logging, editing…all with the intent to pop out a concise visual story. He is much subdued but listening to the advice to consider going into engineering and working on his passion weekends. A paying job and a dream to work towards.

Meanwhile the on-campus students. The students who don’t “do” tripods. Or want to know manual controls. Just pick up a camera and wave it. Or sit in front of said camera (maybe with a shaky friend holding it) and pretend to be a celebrity interviewer. Forget about light, audio, exposure, sequencing, framing, writing, editing. It’s all in the moment.

Unfortunately that moment isn’t even their fifteen minutes of stardom. It is a momentary flash seen only by themselves and a few friends.

Yeah…the terminal termagant is crabbing today. Again…I never tell students they can’t. But also never lie to them and say they can…

Dreams are flights of hope and passion…but making them real takes dedication and work.

Afterthoughts added later…
Getting into a job as a videojournalist takes time and talent and work and to some extent luck. My crabbiness comes from seeing and listening to young people who think “anyone can do it”. Truth be told, anyone CAN do it. But to do it professionally (for pay) and in a style that compells people to actually WANT to watch you work (meanings strangers, not just friends and those who love you) takes more than a shaky hand, a dream, and being clueless.
And the journalist part is just as challenging. Knowing and understanding your legal rights. Being able to write in clear, concise English (or whatever language you own). Knowing what facts are and not “expanding” or “enhancing” them to make the story better.
Sure, I was a dreamer once. But I sweated blood and tears some days to even get in the door (which btw was pretty much closed to women in 1972 when I forged out into the work world).
Just remember all you need to do is work until you can’t move, learn until your head hurts, and aim for perfection.
Now that’s not too hard, is it?

How do I choose a camera?

Panasonic AG-HMC150 and Samsung NX-1000

Panasonic AG-HMC150 and Samsung NX-1000

Dangerous ground…especially if you don’t know enough to know what you should be looking for.

This blog posting is for those who want to stretch their knowledge and move beyond simple P&S (point and shoot) folks who just use their cameras to take family photos or video or LAMIGABEC! (Look at me – I’ve got a big expensive camera!) types who are all about impressing folks.

This blog posting is for those of you who just know somehow you’re missing out on the real secrets of shooting and editing video…what makes the magic. As mentioned in a previous posting, it’s not the wand…it is the magician waving the wand that makes the magic. But you do, after all, need a wand…and right now it seems you’re ready to move up to a more powerful one…

Before anything…you must consider what you will be using the camera for. Are you into news video? Documentaries? Movie-making? Event videography? Although this may not affect your decision a lot, you should have some idea of where you want to take your journey.

Next – budget. Don’t even think about buying gear until you have a rough idea of your budget. The low end is not the problem – it’s the high end you need to set. And set it firmly. Once you start shopping you may find yourself wanting to stretch that budget “just a little bit more” for a slightly better camera…and then want to stretch it again…and again. I went through the same throes about three years when I set a camera budget of $3000 and found myself looking at $10,000 cameras. A quick reality check and I had to back off. Finally got a Panasonic AG-HMC150 for around $2700 and had enough left for spare batteries and cards.

Part of the reality check includes a few things you will need to budget for in addition to media and accessories. Media tops the list after the camera. Hopefully you’ve already picked up a (somewhat workable) tripod somewhere. You can get by with one battery initially. But you will need a microphone other than what’s built-in to the camera. And you WILL need to pay taxes and shipping (which can run you over budget if you’re not thinking).

Now…on to choosing the camera. Fist, think about form. The choices are pretty simple: DSLR, Micro 4/3 – basically still cameras and camcorder/video cameras. If you’re serious you want a camera/camcorder with a microphone input, headset out (to monitor audio) and some way to manually control aperture, shutter speed, ISO.

Video cameras are meant to shoot video. Prices for a camera with the features mentioned above generally start at a higher price point than the still camera choices. On the low end they have attached lens and controls accessible by menu. On the higher end the controls are located where you can see and access them on the camera body. The camera itself is meant to be hand-held (or tripod-mounted). You can monitor your visuals through either the LCD or a viewfinder (for shooting in bright sunlight). The camera has a built-in microphone/usually a shotgun or directional mike. But you can also plug in an external mike through either 3.5mm/mini-jack inputs or XLR/professional connectors. On the lower end of the price range the lenses are part of the camera…as you hit mid-range pricing (say around $3,000 to $4,000) you can get cameras with detachable lenses, giving you more options for shooting extreme wide angle or tele shots.

Still cameras are meant to shoot still photographs, but many today also shoot video. Again, you want the same features if you’re serious. Mike input, headset out, manual controls. One of the primary advantages of this category of camera is that even with the lower end cameras you can get detachable lenses or buy adapters and use old film lenses and get shallow depth of field – meaning you can selectively choose what is in focus and what is not. Although the same effect can be achieved with camcorders, it takes more knowledge and is not always as effective (until – once again – you get into being able to detach and choose lenses). The form factor of still cameras does not always lend itself to handheld…these cameras are designed to be held while following and shooting stills. It is more difficult to hold them steady for video clips. So you may need a rig – a contraption that helps you hold the camera steady while hand-holding. The built-in microphones on still cameras are not as effective as those on video cameras. You need to search and make sure you purchase a camera with both an LCD and viewfinder…preferable an orientable LCD so you can slap that camera on the ground or hold over your head and still be able to monitor your images. Still cameras with mike inputs all use 3.5/mini-jack inputs. Or (if your budget is low) there may not be an input for an external mike at all. So…more choices. If no mike input, purchase a digital audio recorder…something you can place or hold out to get clear audio. Of course you’re going to have to synch the audio and video up in editing, which adds to your production time. Next – purchase microphones with mini-jack terminals. Third, get an XLR adapter so you can use professional mikes. Regarding manual controls…still cameras tend to be menu driven, although at the higher end there are more options for external control.

Now I’ve shot with both video cameras (a lot) and a micro 4/3 (a bit) and the images are stunning on both. The micro 4/3 I have does not have any mike inputs so I’ve had to resort to holding a little DAR/digital audio recorder out the same way I would hold a stick mike to do interviews. It works fine…and for around $280 for the still camera vs. $2700 for the video camera…I can do that.

If you’re on a learning curve…look at all of the alternative affordable options and work your way up the food chain of cameras.
Happy trails!

Victim or perpetrator?

I follow Carlos Miller’s Photography Is Not a Crime blog for a reason. Ninety-nine percent of the time photographers are harassed due to either ignorance about First Amendment rights by law enforcement and other agencies or at times those agencies or employees deliberately ignoring the rights of media and citizens.

First – the media has no more nor less rights than any citizen of this great country. So if a videojournalist is pushed back and locals are allowed to stay near a homicide scene that is wrong – illegal. Journalists can, however, be allowed closer and are even protected under some state laws so they can have access to disaster and other areas closed off to the general public for safety reasons.

So all of this leads to what appears at first glance to be yet another case of cop v. citizen caught on a cell phone. Take a look at the videos here and then let me explain my take on it.

If you watched all nine videos you’ll note some are extremely short, which I’ll attribute to Ikhinmwin possibly either having difficulty uploading or editing or both (those are the one or two second clips).

I went to her youtube channel fully intending to support her and find fault with the police…and after watching the videos and reading the comments, I find fault with both the police and her.

The police could have ignored her…but they did have a point in the fact her bike was legally on the street/over the curb. You can even see that in her own video. And refusing to move a bike because you don’t want the tires to get dirty? Hmmmm…

This is a case that (at least to me) is up in the air – still out waiting for more information. If Ikhnmwin shot this as one clip, it has been edited. It is possible she shot multiple clips…and I for one would like to know which is the case because what is posted does not bode well for her. Her own video shows her bike was on the street and her reason for not moving it seems rather petty. I do think the officer came after her too harshly…and between the two of them, the situation escalated. And the officer is the one who should have been professional enough to let it go. But – there was absolutely no cooperation or courtesy from Ikhnmwin either.

Final score? The cops came out smelling worse but the so-called victim doesn’t come off much better. And if the court of public comments has anything to say (and be warned some of them are pretty nasty) simple courtesy might have averted an arrest.

Thought for the day…

…picked this up from Dieter Melhorn over on b-roll.

…it’s not the wand, it’s the magician waving it…

that makes the magic. So for you myriad producers, wanna-be’s, and everyone else. No matter which camera you use, the person behind the camera is who makes the difference between crap and creativity. They have the technical chops to know how to use whatever camera they’re given and the aesthetic and practical workflow knowledge to squeeze the most out of said camera.

Once again…a pricy camera in the hands of an idiot produces high quality crap. Hire for experience and brains, not because someone happens to have access to a dream camera.

The International community is coming together…

…on facebook. Inevitable.

Michael Mandela/Kenya

Michael Mandela/Kenya

Like seeks like…and I like a number of pages that allow me to communicate with those with similar interests. They include everything from BEA/Broadcast Education Association to videojournalist (thanks Ruud Elmendorp) to Global VJs and then find a journalist…around the world (which I help administer) and others.

I learn so much about how news is covered in other countries and by other cultures…the similarities in the process and the varying struggles with both gear, law, and ethics.

Suparna Gangal/India

Suparna Gangal/India

But the grand thing is the open discussion among professionals with a passion for storytelling. Interestingly enough gear is the least discussed. Where and how to find work tops the list…followed by a need for comradery and a willingness to help each other. And the need to keep it professional and focused on providing genuine journalism…real stories. Stories that allow those elsewhere to glimpse lifestyles which draw us together as a world community.

Ruud Elmendorp/Nairobi

Ruud Elmendorp/Nairobi

…and to be called friend – as in a real friend – by videojournalists I have never encountered in the flesh…is meaningful.

The domino effect…

SAMSUNG CSC …is how I once got a job. Had applied for a shooter position at KPIX in San Francisco and got a call one day from Harry Fuller (I think but can’t accurately remember if he was the AD at the time), who proceeded to tell me I was his second choice for the job. And I’m thinking, “Second??? Then why the heck are you calling???” Fuller went on to tell me that he’d hired a cameraman from KQED…AND that there would be an opening there within the next few days.

Domino effect.

When one job is filled, more than likely another will open when the new hire moves into his or her new gig.

And, depending on how little experience you have and how desperate you are, you can follow that string of dominoes back quite a way. Good luck and you’re welcome.

BTW – I got the job at KQED.

Paying it forward…and back…

…to the next generation. Truth is I’m nearing the end of my career. Went from shooting production stills to news film and video to teaching broadcasting to retired and working part time with high school students and freelancing as a camera/shooter/videojournalist. Within the next year all of this will slow down…but never really stop. (I view doing nothing as the beginning of death.)

A friend and I did a presentation some months ago for the the local community college video production class. Now this is the place I graduated from decades ago when it had one of the best photography departments in the state. Sometime (I’m guessing in the 80s) it developed an RTV (radio TV) department that never quite got off the ground. Classes were offered and yes students learned but it always seemed to lag somehow. I know it wasn’t for lack of instructors trying…could have been lack of support from the admin or a plethora of other issues. But it seemed more like a holding cell than a jumping off point.

In the last year things started clicking though.

There’s been a move to regain the license for the radio station…adjuncts were brought in with a wide variety of skills and experience. And the student showcase “TV” program went from zero to a kazillion in the past semester.

All of this piqued my interest.

So I went back a second and then a third time to check things out. And may have found a new retirement gig. Mentoring the up and coming video-gen. Specifically those interested in news shooting and editing.

What is making this extra-enticing is that not all of the youngsters fit the suit and tie Ken and Barbie mold of the past. They remind me of the Viet-Nam era gang on campus back in the late sixties. Everything from quiet and middle class to bright and bold to right off the street and gangbusters going forward.

I’m heading out in a week with the latter…a musician with a personality too big to fit in a suit with a flair for what is important in his world and his city and his people and a vision to open people’s eyes up. We shall see where this takes us…whether he can tame his inner beast and funnel it through into a viable version of storytelling that has the potential to explode and open up news to an entirely new style. Or not. I’m hoping for the former.

Rant. (period)

OK folks…I get that you like to read these posting and even learn from them. But do me a favor.

DO NOT BUY THE GEAR I HAVE.

No. Really.

Cameras, mikes, tripods. All are very personal choices. I research and buy what I know will work for ME. When I make the purchase I may have spent months checking out the offerings…and then winnowing it down based on my personal choices, experiences and my budget.

You are you.

I am me.

So get out there and first: figure out your budget. Know what you are comfortable with and how far you can push the budget without flinching.

And then know yourself. What do you already know and what are you willing to learn. A master tool in the hands of a master crafts(wo)man can create magic. That same tool in the hands of an aspiring storyteller can create visual chaos.

Begin simple. Don’t try to impress others (or even yourself) with the latest flash gear. Do what I did…after nearly thirty years working with multi-big-buck cameras I went out and bought a bottom-of-the-line Canon ZR10. And taught myself digital on it. And yes, it did hurt…both my self esteem and image. But I got over it because it ain’t what others think of you – it is what you think of yourself.

Once you’ve mastered the simple things then consider a move up.

But even then – don’t buy my gear. Buy your own. (Besides my gear is already wayyyy outa date.)

Oh my aching head!

There are few things that make my head ache. Computer woes top that list though.

Among the many (many, many) bits of far flung knowledge a VJ needs is a basic understanding of how their computer works. What are the parts and how does each piece of the internal puzzle that makes a computer hummmmm happily tie in with other pieces.

In case you haven’t guessed already…it seems to be time for my annual battle to keep my laptop in top working status.

Last year it was a mishap with some spilled liquid that took down the motherboard, leading to some very confusing communications with Dell (manufacturer of choice) that eventually lead to a renewed and working computer.

Crucial-CT51264BC1339-DDR3-RAM-SO-DIMM-PC1333-4GB-20032012This year it appears that a RAM card has gone south (Yank lingo for “died”).

It all began a month or so ago when I began to notice the occasional hick-up when editing. Developed slowly…then faster…to a point where last week the old gal just began randomly shutting down. For. No. Known. Reason.

So it was time to go online to the Dell diagnostics center and begin the task of winnowing down the possibilities. A complete system check lead to a litany of failures, none of which made sense until I ran a Google search on the terms “walking right test”, “walking left test”, and some other nifty file names. All pointed in one direction: to memory.

So time for the hardware/memory test – which shone the spotlight on the RAM (random access memory cards).

Then it was time to shut the computer down, pull all but one card, and reboot and test each card individually. Third card in was the culprit. Of course I tested all four (my gal holds four 4gb cards) to be sure there weren’t two miscreants.

Crucial, the company I got the cards from several years ago, has a whiz-bang replacement program. I just had to register to get an ID number and then send it in. Expecting the replacement sometime this week.

So…above is a good reason to know your way around your computer. Sure, I could have paid someone to do all that and just gone out and bought another card. And I might have if there’s been a big-bucks client breathing down my neck. But in real life not all of us have that kind of money. So knowing (see below) the parts of my computer and what each does plus having good support (thank you Dell) to help diagnose the problem made my life a bit simpler.

Here, in brief, is the Videot’s Guide to Computers.
Monitor – The big screen you see things on
Keyboard – Where you type and input data.
Mouse – A sleek plastic maneuverable control device which you use to move your cursor around the screen to pick and choose your tasks
Processor – The brain of your computer…the processor literally processes all of the activity you direct the computer to do. How new/old/slow/fast your processor is determines how efficiently you can get work done. A solo processor is slower than a dual is slower than a quad and so on.
RAM – Kind of the task manager…RAM or random access memory is what allows you to multi-task, to have multiple and complex programs running simultaneously. So when my RAM went south, my computer’s ability to allow me to run my editing program, be online, run Dragon and Word together to transcribe…all of that shrank down to a slow drag. Hint: whenever you can, max out the RAM in your computer.
Graphics card – Just what it sounds like/handles graphics or images. An editing computer needs a good graphics card to handle the video files. If the Processor is the frontal lobe of your computer (brain), then the graphics card is the occipital lobe (responsible for visual processing).
Hard drive – Your storage space…for programs and files. More is better. Video files can be enormous. And if you’re like me and many others, editing in the field on the fly, then removable portable drives are the way to go…where to put your media from your projects.

In. A. Nutshell.

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.