BERKELEY, CALIF. — After our long storyboarding sessions, it’s now time to move into more hands-on training and seminars on doing video shooting, audio recording, digital photography and using Macintosh computers.
So far, there’s been a good mix of lectures, discussions and collaborative work on storyboards for our projects. The group is very inquisitive, and the instructors have done a great job of imparting their knowledge but also including the group as much as possible. (I am banned from using the term “unconference” by Paul Grabowicz; it’s a term he is very tired of hearing.)
First up is a Videocamera Instruction led by Ellen Seidler, photojournalism lecturer at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism. Each group gets a high end Sony DV camera and tripod to try out.
Ellen Seidler: We used to have analog video, and now it’s digital video. The difference is that with analog, it’s a continuous signal, and with digital, it’s a series of 1s and 0s. You can copy it and copy it and copy it, and you don’t lose any quality. When we copied analog, each copy degraded it more and more with each copy. With digital, once you have that video, you’ll have that quality in every transfer and copy.
We’re in the digital age, and it’s opened up a lot of amazing opportunities. Equipment that cost thousands of dollars a few years ago now is completely affordable. This tutorial is available online on the Knight website as well.
Organizing equipment and doing a checklist before you leave is an important thing. We’re using cameras here that are rather nice. They are about $3,000, and are DV cams. (They are Sony DSR-PD170 cameras.) When you look for cameras, go to B&H Photos and look at consumer cameras, with the median price point at $1,000.
The things that differentiate each camera’s price are:
> Chips: The charge couple device (CCD). With a three chip camera, there’s one chip for each main color — RGB (red, green and blue). A single chip camera has sections for each color. For web work, it’s primarily irrelevant. But if you’re working with content that might go on broadcast, then you will need to get a three-chip camera.
> Auto-functions: You have point-and-shoot cameras for people to shoot baby’s first steps and they’re not for journalism. I don’t recommend getting a camera with auto-everything. You may need to override it at some point.
> HD video: We’ll be talking about HD video a bit later.
The first thing you need for each camera is something to power it. We call these batteries “the brick.” You want to make sure your battery is fully charged and that you have a backup. The camera bag also includes an AC adapter to plug it in. With these cameras, you have to use Sony mini-DV tapes. The Sony camera is the best way to go. If you use an off-brand tape and record with it, it can clog the record heads. We always insist you use Sony tapes.
What about cameras without tape? They record onto small hard drives, or mini-discs. They could be the wave of the future, but for now, I would stay away from them. They add more steps to the process, and you can’t archive it as easily. If you have to archive on your computer, it becomes a nightmare, and with tapes you can just put them on your shelf.
Check out the video tapes themselves. The first thing you need to do is write the story slug (description in a word or two) and the number 1, then number 2, etc. We’ve had people lose tapes because they never labeled them and they got mixed with other tapes. Make sure to label your tape clearly.
(She now goes through the basic parts of the camera: the lens, viewfinder, power button, LCD pop-out screen, manual focus, etc.)
Auto-exposure can be a problem when there’s someone in front of a window and there’s light behind them. To override the auto-exposure, turn off the “auto-lock” button, and then use the manual iris, so you can regulate the amount of light. The F-stops refer to the amount the iris is opening in the lens. The lower the number, the larger the iris is, and the more light is let in. If you leave it on auto-exposure, the camera will keep hunting for different exposures and the iris will change a lot — so I don’t use auto-exposure.
Audio is an integral part of video. It’s flat and dead without it. From the get-go, learn to acquire good audio with the video. In these cameras, there’s a built-in microphone, a “shotgun” microphone. They vary on their “pickup pattern” — the line of how they pick up audio, whether it’s straight or more broad. The closer you are to the subject, the less outside noise you’ll capture.
It’s better to use external microphones, than built-in microphones. Hand mikes are workhorses in TV news. It doesn’t require an extra battery, and you should use a wind buffer. They run about $140, they’re not that expensive. I like the RE-50. For the lavalier microphone, it attaches to a lapel, and requires a AA battery. It attaches with an XLR cable.
Learning to do video right is like learning to write sentences and do grammar. When I look at videos on the New York Times site, I am amazed that they allow people to shoot videos like that. They would never allow that quality of writing into the paper, so why allow videos like that online? They have got a bit better, but I never watch videos at any of the newspaper websites.
I had to leave the day’s sessions early today, so luckily Jessica Goldfin, a fellow in the boot camp who works as a journalism program associate at the Knight Foundation, agreed to take notes for MediaShift. The following is taken from her notes from the “Video Shooting Techniques” talk by Ellen Seidler.
Ellen Seidler: Before you go out and shoot, you want to plan your shoot. What visual elements will help you tell your story? Have a conversation with the reporter on the way to the story, “What kind of pictures, in an ideal world, do we want?” You will probably have to adjust when you get to the location, but it is nice to have a shot list in your brain.
Also, when you stick a new tape in your camera, let 30 seconds roll by. Check your audio and wear headphones throughout the shoot. It is also not a bad idea to have a little checklist when you are starting out. This will eventually become second nature, even though it is overwhelming at first. Become one with the camera.
Next thing that’s important: shoot selectively. One main reason being that it will take you that much longer to get to the good stuff, so don’t commit to taping anything you don’t want seeing the light of day! Stop the camera to get the good shots. Start the editing process before you even shoot. Don’t shoot garbage…develop good habits.
Second thing is to “shut up when you shoot!” If you are rolling tape, don’t talk. The sound of cars going by or wind will be poisoned by Joe asking what you want for lunch. You can’t separate the bad from the good when it comes to audio editing.
Paul Grabowicz: Also, don’t “uh-huh” in response to interview answers because you will have a whole roll of that.
Seidler: People have this notion that taking video is like taking slow shots. No. Think of Thanksgiving Dinner when you take photos all down the line at the table. You can’t do that with video! Hold your shots instead, for 10 to 15 seconds.
It is easier to take a 10 second shot and cut it down to three seconds. Not so easy for the reverse. When you are shooting action, anticipate ahead. Have a few seconds buffer before and after. Holding shots gives you options in the editing room.
The next thing is to not zoom or pan. Why? Well, imagine if you wrote a story and everything ended in an exclamation mark. It would drive you crazy. Use zoom or pan for emphasis. Get your camera and frame it on something. Don’t feel like you have to follow the action. Let things happen within your frame. Once it happens, stop, follow the action, reframe and shoot again. There can be times when it is helpful, but don’t overuse it.
If you are going to zoom or pan, then use it with the “holding your shots” rule in mind. For example, you want to do a story about a beautiful park, so you start with a wide shot. Hold for 10-15 seconds. Zoom in to ducks on lake and hold for 10-15 seconds. Then, when you get into the edit room, you have tons of options for nice static shoots.
Movement on the web sometimes doesn’t work so well. Movement requires more compression. Sometimes it doesn’t translate very well.
One of the hardest things to learn is shooting in sequences, which is like Hollywood moviemaking on the fly. Gas prices, for example, a story about gas over $4. Go to a gas station and you have a 20 second spot to fill. You could stand outside and get a 20 second shot of the station, but that is pretty boring.
Instead, think of the parts. Start with a nice wide shot to establish place. Then, focus on the parts. Maybe there is a guy pulling in? Get a shot of his feet stepping out, or maybe a close-up of his hand pulling the nozzle out or unscrewing the gas cap. You could get an extreme close-up of his eyes, and then a close-up on the numbers going by. Then an over-the-shoulder shot…get lots of angles to get different components that will build the whole visually.
But don’t let the camera roll continuously. Turn it on and off. Only shoot when you are ready to get something you potentially want down on tape. The other thing to think about is to not to shoot everything from the eye-level perspective. In this case, you can take video to more interesting places but leading their eyes to different angles. Remember this is for the web! The stuff that is really going to resonate are the close-ups. The wide stuff is going to get lost.
In journalism though, you have to be mindful of manipulation. You don’t want to give the sense of something that isn’t…especially if you are splicing together and editing shots. If you want to be a photojournalist, you want to be up in the action. You can’t shy away. Take advantage of foreground and background to get a sense of depth.
It is also interesting to layer different audio experiences to create more richness. Variety in perspectives, angles and details has the same effect regarding the richness of a piece. Today, quality has diminished, but YouTube has kind of made that acceptable. It is difficult since instead of a two-man team, one person does everything.
When framing people, get head and shoulders. You want the eyes to be on that “top third” line. It is a compositional thing and serves very well to define a shot.
When you are doing an interview, remember to have the camera at eye-level. Good framing is very important. You don’t want too much empty, useless space. Remember the “rule of thirds,” with the eyes on the top-third line.
Generally, you do “talking head” interviews a lot in news. Have interviewee and reporter face-to-face and the camera is to the side. If someone starts looking at the camera, tell them not to since it is distracting.
If you are shooting by yourself, without a reporter, you should sit across from the interviewee and maintain the eye contact. Keep audio in one ear though. This is tricky since you have to be responsible for everything, so develop a routine.
Microphones in interviews: You want the lapel mic to be as unobtrusive as possible and clipped facing the same direction as the person is speaking. If you are using a hand mic, frame it outside of the shot. I know this is obvious, but remember to point the mic at the source of the audio.
Set-up shots are important. Shoot 15-20 seconds from over the reporter’s shoulder. Then get the same shot from the other side (reverse shot of the reporter). Also get a cut-away shot of the reporter listening. This gives you shots to cut with in the editing room. You might not need to use this, but it is always good to have. You also need to keep the camera on the same side, the “180 degree rule” to keep consistency within the segment.
Also, think about three point lighting: key light; fill light; back light. Key light is the dominant source of light. Fill light is the half light that fills in shadows. You can be creative. Often in news, you don’t have time to set up this traditional lighting setup.
Think of Picasso. He learned classical figure drawing first, then experimented. Take that lesson with you into camera work. Get a strong foundation and then branch out.
Your editors will push for you to do video, but push back for having it as good as it can be. Video for the web is part of a larger piece, not as a stand-alone. It needs to fit into the overarching storytelling, but quality is still important. This is evolving everyday. I see stuff online just so they can say they have video, but to me, it doesn’t add anything to my knowledge. Video content should provide information that is compelling and gives a perspective that print can’t.
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