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Monday, March 29, 2010


© 2010 Simon Hucko

If you've been paying attention you'll have noticed that video is starting to creep its way into this blog. If you follow me on twitter, I'm sure you noticed the videos I posted and some video related links in my feed. So what's the deal?

Long story short, I had the opportunity to do some taping at an event a little while back, and there's talk about me becoming the "videographer" for similar events in the future (I'm being vague on purpose because this isn't anywhere near a done deal and I don't want to cause problems). Considering I have no background in video, I realized that if I was going to do this I'd have to get up to speed pretty quickly. I tend to be one of those "read/watch everything you can before attempting something" kinda guys, so I dove into the wonderful world wide web and started searching for anything and everything about learning to shoot video. Online video resources are nowhere near as prevalent and complete as online photography resources, but I think that's changing more and more as video gains popularity. Here's a few things I learned along the way:

- Video gear is expensive. If you think buying stuff for your camera was ridiculous, just you wait. It's also big and heavy and bulky, and was not designed with consumer comfort in mind. This is changing a bit as companies are starting to cater to the hybrid/crossover crowd (such as Redrock Micro and Zacuto, among others), but it's still not cheap.

- Stable shooting is king. The reason video gear is so bulky and expensive is that it's rock solid to shoot from. Nothing screams "amateur video" like shaky camera work, and these products help you get that nice smooth look that your video needs. Yes, I said "needs." If you expect to do anything more with your video than show it to grandma, this is the number one requirement.

- Audio is king. I know, I said stable shooting was king, and it is. But clear audio is just as important, if not more. Nothing makes people stop watching your video faster than bad audio. If you're going to include ambient sounds or people talking in your video, you need to learn to use a separate audio recorder and microphones that will allow you to set levels. Get a good windscreen for your mics and use it.

- HDSLRs (also called HD DSLRs, hybrid DSLRs, video DSLRs, etc.) are amazing. The quality of footage from one rivals professional video cameras that cost way more. Ergonomically, they're not designed well for shooting video, but there are plenty of solutions out there for beefing them up to behave like a serious video camera. What this means is that you can now get a video setup for around $5000 (HDSLR, a few manual focus primes, tripod with fluid head, rails system, some sort of steady/glide cam) and produce video that looks like it could have come from a $50,000 setup. However, they have lots of limitations too. They're designed for shooting video in short bursts, and aren't well suited for recording long takes (like shooting a concert or something). They also don't support audio well, so separate audio recording is basically a requirement. Finally, the CMOS sensors use a rolling shutter that can cause issues with movement (both camera movement and subject movement).

- Video is experiencing a boom like photography did 5 years ago. Like I just said, the barrier of entry to shooting professional quality video is now a lot lower. There is also an ever increasing demand for web content, especially with new devices like the iPad on the market. Every new DSLR being announced also shoots video. News agencies and magazines like National Geographic are no longer sending separate crews out for photography and videography - they're expecting one person/crew to produce both. Photography isn't dead, but if you want to be marketable as a professional event photographer in 5 years you're going to have to shoot some video as well (or have someone on your team who can). I'm not saying this to scare anyone, but if you're still ignoring the whole "video" thing it's time to do some learning.

- There is a lot of crossover between shooting stills and shooting video. Basic things like exposure and composition are the same (except that you're stuck in a horizontal 16:9 ratio most of the time). You're still trying to tell a story with your imagery, but now instead of capturing a "decisive moment" you have to let the story unfold over time. You don't have to write a script or anything, there are many amazing videos out there that just capture small vignettes and string them together in a meaningful way. This is a great style for photographers moving over to video, and can be extremely effective when done right.

- There is a lot to learn when moving to video. Audio is probably the most different, because you don't even have to think about it when taking stills. Effectively recording video so that you have good starting material for your edit can take some getting used to as well. People tend to cut too early or not start rolling soon enough and miss some natural buildup/release in a shot. This makes your edit look a little choppy and forced. (Once you edit your first video you'll see what I mean, and your next time out with the camera will be a lot better.) Then there's things like frame rates, compression, codecs, and all the other stuff that you have to figure out (check out this article from about compression).

So there's a quick overview on my thoughts about video. This is still primarily a photography blog, but I'll probably put up more and more video related posts as time goes on. The stop-motion video I posted above was my impatience for having a video camera getting the best of me. I decided to shoot with my DSLR in burst mode like it was a video camera, playing with focus pulls and camera movement. I was pleasantly surprised with the results, and will definitely make more of these in the future (hopefully better exposed and with more planning on what shots I want). I stole the idea from someone else, so feel free to do the same and play around with this on your own. I edited mine together with iMovie, but there are plenty of programs out there to do this (search for stop-motion or time lapse software).

Before I throw out some links, I'm going to make a prediction: It's only a matter of time before Canon or Panasonic (or possibly Nikon, but I doubt it given that they don't make camcorders) is going to take their HDSLR chip and lens mount and put it in a more video-friendly body. That might be the day I switch systems away from Nikon. Just sayin'...

edit: Did I call it or what? 2 weeks later, Panasonic announces plans for a micro 4/3 mount camcorder, slated for late 2010. Press release here.

Video links:

Vimeo - Flickr's video cousin. Really nice video sharing site, complete with groups and forums.

Take Zer0 - A blog/vlog started by a pair of film students. I think they have their own studio now. Go back to the beginning for the "how to" kinda stuff, and see how they apply it in their shorts. (short movies, not short pants)

A list of music resources - Sure, you can use stuff illegally from iTunes, but there's a lot of good free (as in beer) music out there ready and waiting for you to download and add to your videos. Make sure you follow the guidelines for attribution (we all want credit for our work, right?).

The $14 steadycam - nice steady shots on a budget. Requires a trip to the hardware store and some tools/knowhow, but the results look great.

Questions? Thoughts? Comments? I'd love to hear 'em.


[title of blog] on flickr

1 comment:

  1. Dude, cool video. You definitely captured the feel of Cornell, at least what I felt of it the times that I visited. Nicely done!

    (Also, funny, my friend Albert founded Optix Productions at Cornell, which is an event coverage company designed to serve the university. I wonder if you're helping them, or "the enemy." :P Not that it really matters one way or another, it's just a funny small world!)