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.

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):
Cyndy Green
Choosing a camera 4.0…

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.

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:

Rode VideoMic Pro Compact Shotgun Microphone VIDEOMIC PRO B&H

This is useful. Thanks

Next option would be a wireless system like this: 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: 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:

Beachtek MCC-2 2-Channel Audio Adapter and Bracket MCC-2 B&H
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.

And now’s a good time to throw in a plug for Larry’s and my book, The Basics of Videojournalism, which will have more detail on everything you newbies (and intermediates) out there want to know.

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.

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.
(Stay tuned to The Basics of Videojournalism, which will cover this information more thoroughly when it comes out.)

Shameless self-promotion…

While I’ve got your eyes and ears, let me plug the book Larry Nance and I have been laboring over for the past several years.

The Basics of Videojournalism.

This is a hands-on book written by two experienced pros that focuses on what you need to know to tell visual stories. Critical are knowledge of law and ethics. Without those two, you’re just another wanna-be with a camera.

Our second section walks you through the parts of the camera, types of mikes, computers, software overview, tripods, lights, and other goodies you need to know about. We don’t tell you what to get…but try to give you the knowledge so you can choose wisely.

Third section is the “how to” part of The Basics of Videojournalism. How to use the camera, the tripod, the mike, the lights. How to conduct an interview and do a standup. Some hints for quick and dirty cover-the-story-and-get-it-to-the-audience. Scripting, logging, editing basics. Concluding with a catch-all section on random other stuff every VJ keeps in his or her bag of tricks.

And for you instructors…our Teachers’ Supplement is already out and on sale at the JEA Bookstore.

So like us on facebook and visit us at our website. Start up a conversation, ask questions. We’ll try to answer them and look forward to your support.

It. Has. Begun…

…got butterflies in my stomach. A big move today…the facebook page for The Basics of Videojournalism is up. It has become too real.

Obviously this is part of our marketing plan…co-author Larry Nance and I know this book is good. That it fills a need for educating the new wave of visual storytellers in everything from ethics to law to technical and aesthetic aspect of the craft. We’ve labored long and hard and continue at this point to work on finishing up the image acquisitions necessary to illustrate the book.

You won’t see the first edition – an ebook – for some months. We’re working our way to that goal and can see the finish line.

So, loyal audience…please check us out and friend and like and even love us. As we love visual storytelling…knowing that both you and we want to ensure that those to come learn it properly.


Lesson Plans Available!

OK…so this is totally shameless self-promotion.

Larry Nance and I have completed the first edition of the Teacher’s Supplement to The Basics of Videojournalism.

This 90 page coil bound book will soon be available at the Journalism Education Association Bookstore.

Contents include more than thirty lesson plans for teachers to instruct budding VJs, as well as suggestions for setting up and teaching a class, forms (Syllabus, Equipment Liability Waiver, templates for scripts) and sample rubrics.

But don’t wait too long. This is limited (at this time) to the 25 books that are being hand delivering to the NSPA/JEA conference in San Francisco tomorrow morning. So pick up your copy there or hop online to order.

Timeless advice…

…it never changes.  The process of creating a visual story that is.  Larry Nance and I are merrily working on our tome, The Basics of Videojournalism when 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.

And some advice we’re giving in the book. 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.

What’s old is new…

…again. Retro can be all the rage…and if you haven’t skidded over the 30 year mark, then either sit back and enjoy the ride or skedaddle. If you’re looking back at fifty, enjoy the memories.

It’s happened again.

There’s a whole generation now who have not lived without something I could never have conceived of at their age.

I was the generation that thought transistor radios, cars and TV were just, well, ordinary. (My folks saw them as a foothold to the future.) But then man landed on the moon and we all saw stars and beyond. The universe was ours.

Next thing you know we have a generation who ho-hums space exploration. In fact, they see it as something their parents and grandparents did. None of that stuff for them…they’d rather send out the robots.

Today co-author and friend Larry Nance sent me a link to something from our past…from the early days of visual storytelling.

Back in the day we shot on something called film. Kind of a bendable plastic coated on one side with a thin veneer of silver hallaide embedded in a gel. (I’m hoping here that the lesson of silver tarnishing in reaction to sunlight hasn’t been forgotten.) The film came in various sizes to fit different cameras (think SD or compact flash cards). Sizes ranged from 8mm to 16mm to 35mm and upwards. While the upper ranges belonged to the pros (and were prohibitively expensive), the smallest sizes (8mm and super-8 primarily) were affordable enough for home movie-makers.

Unlike today’s memory cards which just sit there and absorb data, film was mechanically pushed and pulled through the camera. On a still camera it was frame by frame…one shot per frame, then push the crank to advance. In “movie” or “film” cameras it clattered through at 24 frames per second. To make things even more fun, if you had a camera that could shoot audio (aka single system sound), then the audio was recorded 28 frames BEFORE the visuals.

How do I know all this? Years of shooting news with a single system sound 16mm camera. Years of threading said film into said camera. Years of editing A, B, C roll (and beyond!).

So what is this vision from the past that is sparking this posting?

Bolex_D16_SimplifiedWhy the Digital Bolex of course.

In days of yore Bolex made some pretty nifty gear…small handheld numbers with a handle on the bottom for ease of use. And the new DB (Digital Bolex) has the retro look of its grandpappy. But with new guts and interchangeable lenses from what I can see.

So no more threading film…no more messy chemicals…just pop in the CF card and you’re out shooting in the style of yesteryear. It even has a 16mm mode (I gotta get me one of those!).

Either I’m damn good or…

…there’s no competition out there anymore. Who knows, but twice in the past month unapplied for accolades have come the way of this blog.

(Don’t know if I’m at the bottom of the lists due to “V”s place in the alphabet or because I just slid in under the line…)

The Basics of Videojournalism

Haven’t updated this in a while, but the book co-author Larry Nance and I have been sweating over is getting closer to publication. The Basics of Videojournalism is two chapters closer to completion. Law and ethics are done and we are moving into our final chapters…mostly dealing with post (organizing, writing, editing, exporting).


Photo courtesy Kathleen Newell (

Heads up – this is a “shameless self-promotion” posting. My visual storytelling business is up and running.

While small (with intentions to stay that way), I have plans to make it big – in quality. Although I’ve dabbled a bit with video production and its many challenges, I find my love of news and storytelling is leading me back into news – both feature and general.

So…if you want to keep up, check me out at the following sites:
My visual storytelling business site.
thinknews facebook site
twitter account

Just FYI: work is progressing on The Basics of Videojournalism, although life is getting in the way some days.

And I will continue to post from time to time here on this blog – my first and favorite. Thanks for dropping by.