It’s all in the mind of the shooter…

I keep hearing it. “I could shoot better video if only I had (name the) camera. My life would be so much better if… People would hire me if only…

Hate to break it to ya bro, but that ain’t it. It’s not your gear, unless you’re still trying to keep between the lines with your Crayolas. Then maybe it IS the gear.

What may be lacking is your vision, your talent, your technical chops…

I mean – if you’re bad. You’re BAD. No one wants bad.

Why this rant? Kids who come up to me and think if they had my cam or a better one they could be better than me instantly.

Hah.

Worst story ever. Mom at the school I used to work with came up to ask me about the exorbitant cost of gear. He son was applying for one of those fancy schmancy art school that guarantee you’ll be the next Ford Coppola…or at the very least be rolling in bucks once you graduate (and that’s a rant I’ll reserve for later). I told her that until he got into school a plain ole three or four hundred dollar camera would do to teach him the basics and let him get hands on. So a few weeks later I hear the kid got the (then) camera of his dreams, most likely draining the family savings to boot. All this so he could make an application video to get into the school. We’ll kinda sashay past the fact this was a family that didn’t do college and this was their first kid heading down that path…they had no idea what was expected.

My take when I talked to mom again was astonishment. Explained to her that the school was looking for his ideas…how his mind flowed…his RAW talent. The fine tuning and technical skills were why he wanted to go there.

A tool in the wrong hands does not produce craftsman quality work. It just produces high quality crap.

Now I’m no Emmy winner…always been a meat and potatoes kind of shooter. I know the basics and know how to use whatever tool I have on hand to get the story done. So here’s my third stab at proving a point. (The first stab being Wyoming Cattle Drive and the second Absailing. The former shot with an $80 ebay acquisition/Canon ZR60 and the latter a cheapie still camera with video ability/Exilim Z75.)

It ain’t the cost of the gear…it is the mind behind the grind…the wisdom whispering to the beast…that makes for good shooting AND editing.

Case in point: Refurbished Kodak Playtouch purchased on ebay for $59. Edited on one of my local library’s computers using Final Cut Pro X (and I could have done just as well with iMovie or Moviemaker). There was no zoom, so I zoomed with my legs. Used macro and wide shot settings. Kept fingers crossed and got decent white balance most of the time. Got up close and personal with my interview subject to get more or less clean audio.

So quitcha bitchin and come to terms with your bank account. If you can’t get good with a basic camera, basically you are not gonna get good at all.

Business…

Photo courtesy Kathleen Newell (http://www.kathleennewell.com)

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
Vimeo

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.

Phone-ography…

A paradigm (para-dime) is typical pattern or model of something.

One of the paradigms of visual storytelling has been a certain type of camera. For years these cameras were the domain of professionals…large, extremely expensive, totally amazing pieces of technology. It took big bucks to get one and you made big bucks if you had not only the technical knowledge but the aesthetic sense and storytelling ability to use one.

Then…the paradigm shifted in the early 2000s. The big boys still made big bucks with big gear…but suddenly there was a new class of camera…halfway between the little consumer cams and the big professional guns. The pro-sumer camcorder. It had many of the nifty features of the pro cams, such as good glass and three chips and professional audio inputs. Manual controls. Good stuff all around, although noticeably not really up to pro standards.

And these little baby-cams began to gain in popularity as more and more people began to use them for an audience who demanded more and more video. The digital explosion send shock waves across the planet with the better quality cameras and affordable non-linear editing programs brought a new technology into the hands of the citizenry.

Another paradigm shift is going on right now and we see it every day and don’t even think about it. Cell phones began sprouting up in the 1990s…then morphed into phones that could take pretty lousy still shots…then not-so-bad stills. Then by leaps and bounds these little wonders turned into do-it-all mobile devices. Talk. Text. Surf the ‘Net. Shoot stills – and video. Not just plain ole video and stills, but high def stuff.

And they are taking over. Some years back when I began this blog I did a posting on Dinosaurs Fighting or Survival. Times had changed and if the pros who shot news (both still and video) didn’t change with them, they were out a job.

But back then the pros were either flocking over to the new technology or resisting mightily. It was a threat to their way of life – what they knew and could do.

Then technology ramped up its game and the gear got so good that the definition of “professional” took on a whole new meaning as more and more folks acquired the new smaller cameras. It quickly became apparent that the size of the lens and the heft of the camera had little to do with the ability to communicate. What mattered (and still very much matters) is a sense of aesthetics and storytelling. AND knowing how to make the gear you are working with work with you to tell the most powerful story possible.

But even the pro-sumer cameras (and many consumer cams too) had the familiar look to them. Lens in front, kinda boxy and rectangular. LCD on the side. It still looked like a real camcorder.

Enter the new mobile devices…thin, flat and less than the size of the palm of your hand. No optical zoom and minimal digital zoom. A new style of shooting and storytelling came with these new devices.

No longer able to pull in a far-away shot, you now had to zoom with your feet (or arms) to get in closer. The camera is no longer part of your body (hold it close to keep it steady…tripod it, cradle it). The camera is now an extension of your arm…your hand. In order to get a variety of shots you really need to get intimate with your subject. As in, arms-length close. Or closer.

And the storytelling end has had to change too. Rather than full-blown packages (including interviews, variety of shots, lotsa b-roll) stories are simpler. One long shot of an event such as a parade or riot. An interview covered with b-roll of an event or meeting. Impressions rather than full explanation. These “impressions” are often paired on the Internet with text and more information, which together tell a full story. The audience can choose to view the video and get the background from the other resources available or just read the information or just view the video to get a sense of what happened.

I doubt very much that mobile devices are going to take over the visual storytelling world any more than consumer or prosumer camcorders took over from professional gear. What they do is open up an entirely new way and new possibilities in visual storytelling to even more storytellers.

Yeah – it’s nice to belong to an exclusive club. Been there. Done that. But the new wave of stories coming at us will open our eyes and the world even more. And can that be a bad thing?

Transparency: Co-author Larry Nance and I have been discussing how to include all levels of gear in our pending textbook,The Basics of Videojournalism. He is a big proponent of technology and not only keeping up with the latest, but staying on the cresting wave as it thunders across the ocean. So expect full inclusion of not only prosumer and consumer and DSLR…but also mobile devices in the book.

Update – forgot that an earlier posting has a number of examples of mobile storytelling (using a Kodak Playtouch). Check it out.

Epiphany…

A sudden awareness of something wonderful! And it all came about because a former reporter asked where the reporters were in the photograph of newsreel cameramen that graces my facebook page. I responded that there were no reporters…just cameramen until the late 20s when soundmen appeared with all of their apparatus.

Epiphany.

No reporters for a visual storytelling media. Wow.

Well, of course – just ask Amanda Emily of newsphotog.com – there were writers back at the main headquarters, who took in the reels shot by the field cameramen and with the help of editors turned them into fodder for the masses.

But the sole responsibility of gathering information and visuals was done by newsreel cameramen, who were looked up to heros of the day.

In fact (I’m guessing here folks – and I know Amanda WILL correct me if I’m off base) there probably weren’t any real in-front-of-the-camera reporters until TV happened along.

So those of you lenslingers, shooters, camera carriers, BPJs, one-man-bands, videojournalists out there, laboring without any apparent support. YOU are who I salute today. You can trace your roots back to a noble profession that broke ground at the beginning of moving pictures.

Now quit wallowing in your glory and pick up that fifty pounds of gear and get back to work.

What’s new is old is new again…

I remember when CNN started up in the 70s. Friend of mine (a camerawoman) came up to me one day and said, “There’s this guy from CNN who said he’d make me a star!” She was smiling and I laughed. A cameraman a star? Seemed like a podunk idea…going nowhere fast. But THAT sure didn’t happen. CNN went on to become a worldwide organization.

Well what’s old is new again. Michael Rosenblum, the alleged “father of videojournalism”, is starting up a new network. (I say “alleged” in a friendly spirit…although he didn’t create the role or coin the term, he has most definitely promoted the concept.)

Here’s what’s out: it look as if this dream of his will be based in Nashville, where he is looking for staff. It appears contributors will be based on the VJ model. Beyond that…well we all get to wait together. Been having fun speculating with friends about where this is headed (and where it might head), and while ideas abound, real facts are kind of hard to nail down.

What I will say is, I hope it breathes some fresh air into a career that is sadly lacking at times. While there are some truly great cameramen and VJs out there and some stations and organizations that truly support them, they are in the minority. If Rosenblum is willing to pay a living wage to get the best, I wish him and his cause the best. If he is willing to support quality and ethical storytelling, go for it! There is a need for something beyond the bland flash that passes for news and visual storytelling today…dare we hope this is it?

(Transparency: along with probably thousands of others, I’ve tossed my resume into the pile headed Rosenblum’s way. With caveats of course. He has his standards and may reject me. Ditto my side re my requirements. Being retired does have its perks.)

Going in circles, biting my…

…well, not fingers.  Work on The Basics of Videojournalism progresses.  The focus this week is to get the chapter on shooting done, complete with illustrations.  Those we take care of tomorrow with former McNair broadcasting student (and someday film cinematographer) Louis Martinez, who will be acting as our model for illustrations for the book.  Author Larry Nance’s son Amani will be helping out too, being interviewed on camera.  

All the while Larry is snapping the stills I will be shooting video.  Yeah, this is gonna be one interactive book.  We’ll not only show you with words and pictures how to do it, there will be a DVD (or two) with demonstration video and raw videos to show what you should be shooting (steady, well exposed, good light, etc).

Problem is…the more we write, the more we realize we need to write more.  

Shooting was supposed to be a pretty basic chapter that has now expanded, is growing, and is taking on its own life.  It seems to me that too many “how-to” books pretend to tell you “how-to”, but don’t really.  So when Larry and I say, “This is how to…” we plan to show the basics and then some. Read, look at the photos, view the video showing HOW to, work with raw video files to see how it should look. Interact and learn. One thing I learned in years of teaching is that there are different learning styles…and I suspect a lot of folks who want to learn video are visual and kinetic learners – they learn by seeing and doing.

Of course all of the above is creating more and more work and research. But taking into account Larry’s personal knowledge base (which is expansive) and all of my musings and blogs, we’re off to a pretty solid start.

The Basics of Videojournalism

…okay, time for some overinflated self-promoting grandizing.

A bud of mine – Larry Nance (no not THAT one, THIS one) and I have been working on and off for the past five or more years on a textbook on videojournalism. We kind of slowed down and resumed normal life for a while, but then decided this year to make the push and get it done.

Problem is technology has changed so much we’ve pretty much had to do a major re-write. So we’re each writing a chapter or so a week and meeting weekly to discuss what to do next.

Larry – he’s the artist, video production guy, and businessman. Me? I’m the newsie.

But between us we harbor a wealth of information and tips.

The book is becoming a reality – I almost want to say, “Slowly.” But that aint’ the truth. It is moving along at a respectable pace and (fingers crossed and don’t hold us to this deadline) may be done with the writing portion by the end of May.

What’s up next? Planning and shooting the visuals (stills) and accompanying video (examples and raw footage to practice editing). That will add on another month…and then.

….publish…???…yeah, right. PUBLISH!!!

If you want to have input, go to The Basics of Videojournalism and check out the Knowledge Base. Let us know if there’s anything we should add or delete or change. Time’s a-wastin and once this puppy is done…well I’d like to think it is done…but reality tells me we need to stay on top of it and make sure it stays CURRENT.