The Whole Enchillada…

 

Seems to me I’ve gone over an awful lot over the years about the knowledge and techniques required to be a decent VJ (or news cameraman). But one essential that has not been separated out and should have been is shooting.

Now I’m not talking about the aesthetics, the art of shooting. Or the techno-geek side of knowing the exposure triangle and the doo-dads and gizmos that make your gear work.

Nope.

What I’m talking about is the actual task of using your camera in a logical way, incorporating the steps necessary to make it one with your body so you can “see” your story rather than worry about the essentials.

So – the first step is to get to know the beast. Like – which is the front end, which is the rear end and what comes in between. Seriously, you need to be able to reach for your controls without having to look. And everything from here on is not gonna happen overnight – every step you take from here on requires so much practice that you should be doing it in your dreams.

Top o the list are shutter speed, ISO, aperture, white balance.  All of these contribute to good exposure – exposure YOU control.  Generally these days I’d say go with the auto WB unless you’re shooting under unusual light conditions or using two or more cameras that you need to match up in post.

Shutter speed (and angle) determine how long the shutter is open/how much light can  get through the lens to your light sensitive chip that converts the light into digital format.  This also affects the look of your images – a slow shutter speed can give a dreamy blurred look while a fast shutter speed can make your video look crisp and at times a bit surreal.

ISO (the International Organization for Standardization) determines how sensitive your camera/chip is to light.  A low ISO results in better image quality but may force you to set your shutter speed lower or open up your aperture.  A higher ISO will let you shoot with a faster shutter speed but may result in a grainy/pixelated image (if you go too high).

Aperture is another means to control the amount of light getting through the lens. If you have an old mechanical camera lens sitting around, pick it up and play with the f-stops aka aperture or iris ring.  You’ll see it go from completely open to a tiny pinpoint of an opening.  The wider the opening, the more light gets in.  The smaller, the less.  And trust me on this one (there’s math to back this up)…the larger the opening, the smaller the f-stop or aperture, the reverse being true that the smaller the opening the larger the number.  So f2.8 lets in more light than f22.

This online app will help you understand the relationship of those manual controls:

CameraSim

So let’s assume you’ve finally got all of the switches and dials down pretty well. Now we move on to shooting in the field. Pick an event…something visual that’s gonna be there for at least half an hour or more so you can start practicing your moves.  It can be a picnic, your kid riding their bike, a farmers’ market.

Haul out the tripod. Make sure your tripod plate is firmly attached to the camera. Now mate them up, making sure that the plate is securely attached.  Hint:  I always keep my tripod plate on the camera so I can shoot steady or run and gun.

Today your assignment is to shoot a little nats-pack (natural sound) with at least ten shots. Go wide (once) and medium (three or four) and then close-up and extreme close-up for the rest.  If you’re not sure what these terms mean, check out this video.

Keep each shot at least ten seconds long…longer if you think the shot warrants it.  Remember, you are telling a story, so make sure you get an establishing shot (usually a wide shot) that shows where you are.  This could also be a sign or anything that clues the audience into what is going on.  Remember the close-ups that draw your audience in and show them details they may not immediately be aware of.

Here’s an example from a recent trip to the zoo.  Keep in mind each of these is unedited and a few have some pretty shakey spots.  But that’s typical of raw video.

Wide shot

Medium shots

Close-ups/ECUs

And now the edited video.

In editing we went from just over two minutes of video down to forty-seven seconds.  And yes, clips were cut down…but more than that as I watched each clip I looked for movements and moments as well as listening for any useable audio.

There’s a match cut from picking up the snake to the handler showing it to the man.  The close-up of the owl is taken just as it turns its head.  The owl wideshot begins as one lady laughs and turns to her friend and the friend leans forward…and the camera pans left to the handler holding the owl.  The next shot has the owl turning its head, apparently loooking at the passer-by in the background.  Flamengos was taken as birds moved heads. Otter shot shows snuggling.  The lion looks and blinks.  The overhead shot of the snake shows it flicking its tongue out twice and then we cut to the snake (another match cut) crawling.  Fade to black.

Take a moment and look through the clips to see where you might have edited.  When shooting always look for movement, moments, and audio. And remember your raw video is just the beginning.

ADDENDUM 10.25.17:  Got to thinking some of you might want to try editing this yourself.  If so, give me a hollar and I’ll make the raw files open for downloading.  They’re not HD quality but at least you’ll have some quality shots to play/practice with.

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Archiving the past…

P2020346

Sorting through old drafts and found this from 2010.

10.12.10

I am constantly befuddled by people who say they don’t know what career they want to go into. This includes my kin and students.

I’ve known since I first got my hands on a camera at about age 12. I won the camera – a simple fixed lens point and shoot film camera – in a magazine-selling competition at my tiny rural school in Clements, California. Can’t remember what I first shot – but that lead to my mother signing me up for what we now call “distance learning” and what was called a correspondence course back then. (She didn’t just sign me up helter-skleter…but made sure I was taking a UC extension course.) Photography by mail.

My dad helped me build a darkroom in the basement and I was set. Every week or so I’d get some mimeographed papers explaining my assignment and giving background. I’d read, experiment, and return. Talk about self-paced – it was fun!

That camera was soon gone, replaced by a Nikormat with a teensie hole in the shutter fabric. I took many many photos with a trademark black spot on one side. But my appetite was whetted – I dreamed in black and white and smelled like a chemical bath most days. Brown fingertips and nails. Squinty eyes from too much time in the dark. Ahhhhh. And I will tell you that nothing – nothing smells like a freshly opened canister of 35mm film.

10.9.17

In my mind I still smell that unique odor…it’s like Mom’s cooking or the smell of freshly dampened earth after the first rain…bringing back memories.

But these days I’m digital.  Less fuss and muss but no longer the hesitant anticipation of whether the shots came out and the magic of pulling images up from the soup.

I still shoot – both stills and video now – and am currently toying with a 7 Day BW Challenge on facebook (will post them all once I’m done).  And have partially achieved my lifelong dream of shooting for a newspaper.  Not big-time but the local rag pulls me in when they need someone a few days every month or so.  The workflow is a challenge (OK, so I don’t know Adobe Bridge and PS as well as I should, but hey I am learning).  And my stuff gets published and I get a genuine byline!

The future will continue to fill my computer and hard drives with images…and one day when I finally slow down I may reach back into the distant past and those dusty boxes of images from my youth and begin the task of archiving.  And remembering anew.

Choosing a camera 6.0

Sometimes you live long enough to wade through changes you saw or never saw coming. Shifts in the reality of getting your job done. Film to tape I saw coming…and the shift to digital (much further along the timeline than I expected frankly). And more recently (on my personal timeline) the shift from a recognized body type to another…the traditional run and gun with full manual control with good zoom lens to acceptance of the traditional still camera style.

I touched on this in a past blog…and today will continue with a look at the latest gear available. To keep things simple I use this site to winnow down choices. Use your own favorite online or other store if you wish…this one works for me.

If you want to review past posts, here they are. https://cyndygreen.wordpress.com/2007/01/28/how-to-look-for-a-camera-new-and-used/
https://cyndygreen.wordpress.com/2009/07/08/on-the-hunt-for-the-wild-elusive-affordable-camcorder/
https://cyndygreen.wordpress.com/2010/05/09/my-next-camera-will-be-a/
https://cyndygreen.wordpress.com/2011/01/16/a-little-knowledge-is-a-dangerous-thing/
https://cyndygreen.wordpress.com/2012/03/25/choosing-the-right-video-camera/
https://cyndygreen.wordpress.com/2013/01/06/choosing-a-camera-4-0/
https://cyndygreen.wordpress.com/2014/03/17/how-do-i-choose-a-camera/

Didn’t expect you to wade through all of these, but if you did (even a few) you’ll see there are certain common expectations. Manual controls are one – and a microphone input. Manual controls allow you to override change in your environment (light, noises) that auto settings might ruin. And clear audio is a must for interviews and getting good NATS.

First let’s look at possible formats.

Traditional “run and gun”, meaning the camera was designed solely for shooting video.

Still camera, whether DSLR, Micro-4/3. A still camera that also shoots video.

Specialty includes action camera (GoPro and its ilk), 360 cameras and more

Smart Phones…self-explanatory.

As usual, all camera searches need to begin with a budget…and that budget needs to include not only the camera but other “stuff” you need to do the job, such as media, mikes, lights (optional for now), tripod and even protective filters for your lens. Keep these requirements in the back of your head as you look around.

So for budget I’ll go three ways – %500, $1,000, and $2500. Assuming if your budget is anything above the latter you already know what you’re doing and don’t need help/advice.

$500 BUDGET CONSUMER CAMERAS

First, the process of winnowing down.  Realize that technology and camera models will change over time, so what you see on your search may not match what is in this post.

On the website choose “Video Camera” and we’ll begin with consumer cameras.  I always choose mike input and select a price range, in this case $100-$500.  That takes us from 48 models down to 13.  Don’t be influenced by brand names…at this point you’ll just be comparing features.

Now I select pricing from low to high in order to get a handle on features from the bottom to the upper end of my budget.  The first two models up are under $200 refurbished Canon Vixias (and yes, you can purchase used/refurbished gear safely on reputable sites…but that’s another post).

New camcorders begin with the Canon Vixia HF R800 at around $250 and go up to the Panasonic HC-V770K at $448.  What’s the difference?  Here’s the comparison breakdown…and I’ve included the mid-range Canon Vixia HF R80.

First – the 770 has a larger sensor than either of the other two models, which means better picture quality and the ability to create shallow depth of field easier.

Next the 770 has a shorter zoom range than the mid-priced and low end cameras.  But I’m willing to bet it has higher quality elements that result in a clearer picture.  (Something I’d research before making a final choice though.)

All of the cameras use pretty much the same media (SD/SDHC/SDXC) and can shoot 1080/HD at 60fps, 30fps, and 24fps (higher shutter speed in case you want to go slo-mo, regular speed and what is considered cinematic film speed) as well as 720 (good for faster posting online).  Again, the 770 has twice the options for files, including AVCHD (a compressed format) and different bit rates (check out this article to understand Mbps).

And it is at this point I warn you that, as a professional acquaintance says, beware going down the rabbit hole…technology is a big part of video production and with every question comes a myriad of answers, leading to more questions and even more answers…leading you further down into the ground until you lose sight of day.

Final note of fps…the 770 also shoots at 120fps for even better slo-mo.

All three cameras have a manual option so you can control iris/aperture (how much light goes through the lens to the sensor) and white balance and all three have (mini-jack) mike and headphone ports.

In looking you’ll see a whole lot more specs that are similar or different – I’ve just reviews the basics.  And this is where I leave you to your own devices in making a final selection…your budget and preferences will drive you to a certain camera choice.

Oh – and you may be wondering why the $100 difference between the low end and mid-range Canons.  The $350 model has built-in memory as well as the ability to use cards.  Handy if you need that extra back-up.

Now that the process has been explained, here’s a quick review of the other format options.

$1000 BUDGET CAMERCORDERS

Repeat your search with a $500 to $1000 budget, keeping the mike input selected.  This time only nine models pop up, ranging from the Sony HDR CX675 at $598 to the Panasonic HC-X920 at $1,000.

Again I’ll select the low end, mid-range, and high cost models and compare.

Once again, the larger the sensor, the better the image…and the mid-range Sony AX33 and high end Panasonic X920 have 1/2.3  inch sensors compared to the low end Sony CX675 1/5.8 sensor.

Again the low end model has a better zMedddoom range (from wide to tele) than the mid-range and high end options, but research whether the optics in the pricier models is better before deciding.

Media – here’s where proprietary media comes into play.  The SD/SDHC/SDXC are commonly used and reasonably priced media.  Sony has their own version of media called a Memory Stick…which means you have to purchase their media to use in their cameras.  I’m leaving that rabbit hole for you to research:  is it worth it to choose a camera that can only use proprietary media…what are the benefits?

Skimming along not much else stands out until we get to Display Type.  Up until now the cameras seem to use only LCD screens – flip out monitors to see what you’re shooting.  Viewfinders, while small, are much more effective in shooting in bright light and also help you brace the camera for steadier shooting.  The mid-range AX44 and high end HC-X920 both have LCDs and viewfinders.

Didn’t get into Lux in the first round of cameras but will now.  Lux simplified is the ability of the camera to shoot in low light conditions.  The lower the lux number, the better the camera should be in recording an image in low light, with allowance for different shutter speeds (60fps and 30fps).  The mid-range and high end cameras show better numbers for low light.

All three models have mike and headphone inputs.  Again you’re on your own in making a final selection.

LOW END PROSUMER CAMCORDERS/$2500 BUDGET

We now move out of consumer camcorders into professional models ranging from $1000 to $2500.

Twenty-five models pop up in this range.  I’ll again select the low end Panasonic AG-AC8PJ at $1175, the mid-range JVC GY-HM200 at $1800, and the high end XF105 at $2500.  (Can’t do a direct comparison as with consumer models so will be looking at each model separately.)

AC8 – Sensor 1/4.5, Lux 1.0, zoom range 28:729, LCD & viewfinder, mini-jack mike and headset inputs, two card slots (SD/SDHC/SDXC), and camera weight around 5 pounds.

HM200 – Sensor 1/2.33, Gain (another way of measuring light) 0 through 24db), zoom range 24-354, this camera also shoots in 4K, 2 x SDHC/SDXC slots, a mini-jack headphone input and two XLR (professional format) audio inputs, weighing in at 3.4 pounds.  Oh – and you can also do live streaming (check to see what extras you might need to purchase).

XF105 – Sensor 1/3, zoom range 30-304, Lux 1.6-4.5 (or 1/60 shutter speed @ +24 gain to 1/4 shutter speed @ +33 gain), monitor and viewfinder, CF/compact flash cards for shooting video, mini-jack headphone and two XLR mike inputs, weighing in at 2.4 pounds.

STILL CAMERAS THAT SHOOT VIDEO

This time we’ll move over to the Digital Still Camera section, so choose Photography and then Digital Still Camera.  1166 choices in the first round.  I’ll leave your personal budget up to you this time but I’ll go with a range of $500 to $2000, cutting choices to 575.  The two best categories are DSLR and Mirrorless (let’s leave Point and Shoot out).

DSLR – 216 cameras and need to narrow it down, so choosing lens kit (18-135mm) and mike input, tilt/swivel LCD and 100% optical viewfinder, getting it down to a more manageable 12 cameras.  Tilt/swivel LCD chosen because if you need to shoot low or high you need to orient your viewfinder/LCD so you can see what you’re shooting.  Optical viewfinder lets you see what your camera sees while you’re shooting.

Interestingly there are really only three models here now – the Pentax K-70 and KP models plus Canon EOS 80D.  All of the rest of the selections are various kits that include these cameras.  To keep it simple we’ll compare just the K70 and 80D.

Similarities – they both have APS-C sensors (not full frame but still good), both 24mp still images, both use SD/SDHC/SDXC cards, offer manual shutter speed/ISO/aperture, and both have built-in mikes and mike inputs (mini-jack) and viewfinders/LCD monitors.

Here are the differences.

K70 price is around $850. ISO (light sensitivity) auto, 100-204800, records up to 26 minutes of video at a time.

80D runs $1500. ISO auto, 100-16000 (Extended Mode: 100-25600), offers more options for recording video, records up to 30 minutes of video at a time.

You’ll note there are limits on length of clips you can record with still cameras – this is part of a taxation situation call VAT/Value Added Tax which taxes video cameras at higher rates than still cameras.  To get the lower rate there are limits on how much video a camera can record.

MIRRORLESS – 353 choices initially.  Apply the selection of price range ($500-$2000) cuts it down to 240, selecting mike input and swivel/tilt LCD cuts it down to 105 and selecting the zoom lens kit gets us down to 54 with prices ranging from around $600 to $2000.

Note:  Mirrorless means you shoot directly to the sensor and not using a mirror that reflects the image to the viewfinder which raises up to let light through to the sensor.  There are more choices here in sensor size, which also (another rabbit hole) means that lenses will crop or show more depending on the crop factor (zoom).  Have fun researching.

Panasonic Lumix DMC-G7 – $600, Micro 4/3 (2x crop), 30 minute record limit, ISO 200-25,600.

Canon EOS M5 – $1250, APS-C (1.6 crop), 30 minute record limit, ISO 100-25,600.

Sony Alpha z6500 – $2000, APS-C (1.5 crop), 30 minute record limit, ISO 100-51,200 extended mode.

And yes, slowing down and leaving more of the research up to you.  (This has got to be my longest post ever.)

SPECIALTY

These are cameras used for action shooting (GoPro) and 360 (VR) and others.  Another day, another post.

SMART PHONES

With smart phones it’s all about the apps that allow you to control your phone camera and record video.  Again…getting tired so just posting a link to give you some idea of the complexity.  You want to be able to control aperture, shutter speed, and maybe even white balance.  You should purchase a microphone and accessories that allow you to attach your phone to a tripod (even a selfie-stick will work here).

http://fieldguide.gizmodo.com/7-camera-apps-better-than-the-one-on-your-phone-1774018659

http://www.mobiography.net/apps/best-photo-editing-apps/

CONCLUSION:  A lot of verbiage above and good for you for wading through it.  Just keep in mind I wanted to show you how to search and what might appear on a search.  I heartily recommend taking it a step further and looking at the reviews for each camera and dong comparisons through other sites/searches before making a decision.  Talk to friends, try out their gear…and if possible please support your local photography store by buying there (if you still have one) if the price is right.  Remember to include shipping and any other costs when making that final choice of where to buy.

Always think for yourself and don’t follow the herd.

 

Disengaging from being paid to work…

I’m retired…meaning not working for pay. But there’s no way I can give up doing what I love most, which is shooting and producing videos. I’ve had to come up with a plan…a philosophy…so I can continue my love without compromising my ethics…and here it is, subject to revision.

1. If you have a budget or can get a budget I can’t work for you. Sorry…there are folks out there who make their living doing video production and you should be paying them, not looking for a freebie.

2. If I am interested we’ll talk. If I say no, I mean it. This is my life and my retirement and I get to decide how to spend it.

3. I’m pretty independent…so not a fan of committees or micromanagement. We can work together if you are willing to discuss your goals and ideas and then trust me to come up with a concept and final project. Yes, you’ll get to see it and have approval rights at certain stages. But refer back to #2 if you have questions.

4. I steer clear of personal videos such as weddings and birthdays and the kind of videos you should either do yourself or pay a pro for. Again, my life, my choice of how to spend it.

5. There are a couple of non-profits and other organizations I love working with and they take priority over everything else.

Life is meant to be lived as we choose when we retire. So my retirement is a combination of personal preferences (gardening, travel with the husband), volunteering, and continuing to work on videos.

And that said, here’s the latest done for the San Joaquin County OES. Yep – they had no budget but a great need to get the word out about the flood threat continuing through July and possibly into August this year. And I had a great need to find a truly challenging project and had the good fortune to work with a department of friendly professionals who are as passionate about their work as I am mine.

When you are no longer a journalist…

Comes the day when we all have to retire…from work.  At that point are we still journalists?  Or former journalists?  Or do we morph into something else as we settle into our new lifestyle.

My life is divided into segments.  Child.  Student.  Photographer.  Broadcast news cameraman.  Teacher.  Freelance VJ.  And now retired…and no longer a journalist (although I still shoot stories and post them online for myself and area non-profits).

So I’m taking up a label my bud Kathleen used for years.  She got it right.  She was a Visual Storyteller (aka VS) which really is the same as a VJ with, I think, more wiggle room.

…let the storytelling continue and never end…

Indelible…

There are some people who pass through your life who leave an indelible impression which forever changes who you are and will become. In my case it was Delta College photography professor Edwin Schwyn, who took an extremely shy little high school girl with an unabashed passion for photography and gave her a breadth and depth of technical technical knowledge that would sustain her throughout her career. I’ve thanked Ed several times over the years but he has moved to the back of my mind in recent years. However today at the Stockton Arts Week event I was hosting who should wander by…as remarkable as ever.

Do Not Go Gentle…

…into that good night.  A poem read in high school that stayed with me…

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas (1914~1953)

The thought of growing old when in my teens seemed a remote possibility.  Almost as much as the thought of once again being young seeming even more unbelievable.  But in age I ponder how to use the time left…to do it wisely, wildly?  To strike out on new adventures or continue in a comfortable rut or find a middle ground.

Thomas’s poem seems to want the aging to rage and fight against the final night.  But the passion should be more about pushing one’s creative limits with a blinding passion that re-ignites love of life and all that make it worthwhile.  Yes, anger is an emotion – strong one.  But it is also a destroyer, not a creator.  And I choose the passion of creating.  In my case creating stories visually.

While I doubt that I can ever truly lay down my camera, I seem to use it less and less on on a day to day basis.  But I still love the art and craft of storytelling and seem to be seguing more and more into discussion and demonstration – not so much in the learn/teach mode as share and explore.  My visualization is moving from the nuts and bolts of wide, medium, close-up to a sense of light…dark…motion…feeling.  A sequence of emotions that join together in an attempt to communicate.

I have something new to play with at a pace more suited to my age and abilities that will still allow exploration of the world and its inhabitants and my first loves.  Seeing and communicating what I see so that others may share the vision.

Digging into the archives 5.5.16

Yep…I must be bored.  Again.  Decided to go back in time and start re-posting some of the oldies but goodies.  Shake things up a bit and maybe re-find my love of writing by getting some inspiration from when it all clicked.

So we’ll begin with two from 2006.  My first blog posting.

Hello world!

Plus announcement of retiring from news.

Goodbye to news October 2002

In reading (and re-reading) the latter I find myself amazed at the changes in the craft of creating visual stories over the past forty years.  From a cumbersome chemical-based process to high-tech and digital.  Wonder how an old dog would do in the modern mix at times…

If anyone has a favorite or topic they’d like to see shoot me a message or comment.

Invisible work…

Videojournalism or reporting visually can make you highly visible.  There ya are:  camera in hand, mike out.  You’re gathering news to put up…somewhere.  On the web, on TV, whatever.

So folks see you with that gear and think, “Hey, I can do THAT!”  Piece of cake.

That’s the visible part of your job.

The invisible part, kind of like an iceberg, is 80 or 90 percent submerged where no one can see it.

Like:  how do you choose a story, an angle, which questions to ask/which to keep and consider asking.  Which shots to get.  What you DON’T shoot.

And…editing.

The invisible part of the job.

From what I’ve experienced, shooting can be the flashy easy part.  And for every hour put in shooting, you may have another hour (or more) piecing together those random clips into something cohesive.

And (to the uninitiated) there are more layers.

Typical assignment.

  1. Get assignment and figure out your angle
  2. Make calls/email and set up interviews/b-roll
  3. Shoot
  4. Log – transcribe NATs and interviews
  5. Write script
  6. Edit

1-2-3 might take three or four or more hours.  Four and five maybe another hour.  And poor old editing gets whatever is left.  If you’re working with a reporter, pray that they remember to toss you enough time to edit the story together properly.  If you’re a one man band, don’t box yourself in.  Allow time to edit.

And for those who think it all comes together miraculously…think again.  An iceberg is a pretty thing, but can be deadly.  Especially come deadline time.

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