It’s called death watch…

…the stories you go on “just in case”…

Routine almost to the point of boring.   Hop on over to Amanda Emily’s The Dope Sheet and check it out.

Addendum April 13, 2014. Just noticed how many folks are clicking through on the link above and think I’d better explain a bit. A lot of times news crews are given routine assignments that may or may not end with something on air/published. The intent is more to be present just in case something happens. There are crews routinely assigned to follow and travel with the President and other world dignitaries. Some days the images captured never go anywhere…but the crews are still there. Just in case. Think of past attempts to take down the President…those are the times having a crew on scene paid off. Think about the Hindenburg…crews on scene captured that tragedy. It’s a bet…a gamble…one you don’t even want to come true. But. Crews are there.

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!

Three way light face-off…

I’ve been wondering what the difference in color temperature is between a good tungsten light head, a good LED head, and a cheap LED head. The video is below.

Judge for yourself, but from what I see the tungsten is spot-on for good vibrant color. I used my little Lowell Prolight/cost around $120 but the lamps are fairly short-lived. Second up is the Flolight with 128 LEDs at a cost of around $260/runs cool with extremely long life. The Neewer, which comes in last, has 160 LEDs and cost only $30.

In the first test the Neewer is obviously green. This test was shot with my Panasonic AG-HMC150 on auto white. The Flolight looks pretty good, but is cool in comparison with the Prolight. Take a look at the upper right color square, which is an intense pink to see the difference.

In test #2 the Flolight comes even closer to the Prolight. In this test I white balanced each light on a white card. You’ll have to excuse the exposure here on the Prolight…it’s a bit dark. But you can see the obvious difference in the pink again in the Neewer.

In test #3 I white balance the Prolight on the white card. Then balanced the two LEDs on a warm card, which is intended to shift the color balance away from blue and towards a warmer hue. In both LEDs the reds are off and you can see the warmth in the grey scale at the top, compared to the tungsten card.

In the fourth and final test I used the Prolight white balance on white card and then shot using each of the LEDs with that same set white balance. This is where you see blatant differences between the full spectrum tungsten light and the LEDs, which shift to blue and totally lack warmth. And if you look closely you can see the greenish tint is more apparent with the Neewer head.

What does this mean to you? Well, this test was shot in a dark room with no other light invading…so you need to keep in mind if you decide to shoot with your LEDs in the dark there will be issues with accurate color. However the good news is if you shoot and use the LEDs for fill only AND if you white balance, the full spectrum lights will overcome the deficiencies of the LEDs. And I will say that being able to operate off batteries for extended periods with LED lights has given me a freedom I never had with the hotter tungsten lights, which are battery vampires.

Update from b-roll buddy Bobby Alcaraz. If you’re gonna use LEDs, make sure they’re all by the same manufacturer so they match. If you start mixing different (especially bad and off color) lights you are asking for trouble. At least with them all being the same you stand a better chance of getting somewhat usable color.

VJ workflow…

VJworkflow

Ah workflow…what you do and when you do it and in what order you do it.

Now in the wonderful world of production, there is a pretty set plan.
One. Pre-production. This is conception of the idea, be it a TV commercial or program, to the research and scripting and choosing talent and much much more. Choosing crew, cameras and other gear. Venues, costume. The list is endless.
Two. Production. Shooting.
Three Post-production. Editing, FX, trailers.

And then. There is news.

A wild and furry beast that defies description.

Now all of the elements are there – but kind of jumbled up and thrown together to make a monster of a mishmash that somehow seems to work.

Generally you do get to either get an assignment or come up with an idea for a story…and then, depending…you may start shooting before you have time to do any research or even get a grasp of what you just got into. You might see smoke and be in the middle of a fire scene, trying to figure it out as it happens. Pre-production and production run into each other and duke it out with you caught up in the chaos.

Or you might be given a few minutes or an hour to track down interviews and set up b-roll. But during the day you will most likely still be doing research and gathering information while grabbing interviews and b-roll.

The only part that is guaranteed is that editing will come last. Unless of course you go live, then forget about that.

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.

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.