Gail Mooney, over at the blog Journeys of a Hybrid, shares these mistakes still shooters inevitably make after they take the leap into the video storytelling game.
Being a Nikon shooter in a multimedia world has some disadvantages. In 2008, Nikon launched the D90, which was the first DSLR with the ability to shoot video as well as stills. The camera was rife with limitations. Without an audio mic jack, you could not use an external microphone to gather quality sound. The Motion JPEG codec the D90 recorded in was a nightmare for Final Cut Pro to deal with. My newspaper bought two of these cameras on release. I played around with one, shrugged my shoulders, and went back to my Sony XDCAM EX1.
Then the shockwave hit a short time later when Canon released the 5D Mk II. With its full-frame sensor, 1920 x 1280p resolution and, hallelujah, a mic jack, photojournalists who resisted shooting video, were now intrigued. Shooters like Vincent LaForet have since built their careers promoting filmmaking with the 5D Mk II. Whole ecosystems of accessories to outfit the camera have blossomed. So what happened to Nikon’s response? Did their engineers shrug their shoulders like I did and move on to only service the consumer market? Over time, Nikon has added video capabilities to many of their cameras, but none have been able to meet or exceed the specifications of the Canon 5D Mk II.
During the last several years, I have sat on the sidelines, preferring to use my traditional video camera. I kept telling myself that I would jump in when Nikon launched its 5D killer. I’m still waiting. Last year, I talked my editor into buying me the Nikon D3s. This amazing camera is unfortunately saddled with the same video 720 x 1280p resolution and Motion JPEG codec of the D90 and the Nikon D300s.
I have stewed as the newspaper photojournalism world embraced the entire Canon line with its superior video capabilities. Last year, Brian Immel and I founded Finding the Frame, a video critique website for multimedia storytellers. I started noticing something right away. Most of the videos uploaded had been shot with Canon DSLRs. I’ve noticed something else. The visual storytelling is way better than it was just two or three years ago. I attribute that to talented still photographers taking their composition, moment, and visual creativity with them in to the realm of DSLR video storytelling.
When I started this blog in January of 2008, video storytelling at newspapers was in full swing. It was a time when video cameras were being handed out to newsroom staff like candy. Little training and cameras in the hands of non-visual word folk led to some sad results.
The implosion at newspaper newsrooms over the last three years has showcased new realities when it comes to video. I think management finally understood that video storytelling takes time; so most of the consumer-level cameras given to reporters have gone into some drawer never to be seen again. Photo staffs have been decimated too, but not the amount of work expected from them. Video is still alive and well at newspapers. The transition from videotape cameras to DSLR based video has upped the expectations for photojournalists. One camera that can do it all has made the job of visual storytelling more exciting, but infinitely more complicated and challenging.
My time to stew is over. My time to wait for Nikon to up its game is over too. No, I’m not jumping to Canon. What I plan to do is to make the DSLR technology I do have work for me. Yesterday I put in a request that was approved to purchase accessories to will allow my Nikon D3s it function as a video camera better. In the coming weeks and months I will explore on this blog my experiences as I make this transition to shooting video with a DSLR. Stayed Tuned!
This camera is one bad boy. Yesterday, I set my ISO at 4000 and left it there for three photo assignments. ISO 4000 looks like 800 did on my vintage Nikon D2h of just a few years ago.
My newspaper has always been a Nikon shop. Though I was tempted by all the low-light Canon camera offerings of yore, management never blinked or gave my informed blathering much acknowledgement to make the switch. Now I’m glad they didn’t listen to me. This camera kicks! In the past, when I needed to spin the ISO dial up to, say, ISO 3200, I would often regret the decision later. Noise in digital files looks horrible.
This camera easily handled 4000, and 6400 ISO. I haven’t needed to go higher on the account that I don’t need 500th of a second for an environmental portrait.
Take a look at this shot I did of my daughter Brenna, right, and her friend Shea.
I shot it on my living room floor with just lamplight at 6400 ISO in RAW. I tweaked the color to get the skin tones right and made just basic Adobe CS5 RAW converter adjustments. If I had shot this with my D2h, it would have noise the size of gravel.
This camera will open many new low-light avenues for me and any other shooter lucky enough to get their hands on one. I had to go through Nikon Professional Services to find one. I’m told they are as elusive as unicorns.
The next thing for me to tackle is the whole DSLR video learning curve. I have shot video for five years. My Sony Z-1U and XDCAM EX-1 have served me well. Lately, I’ve been feeling I’m on the outside looking in as the Canon 5D Mk II has dominated the video gear spotlight.
Mostly, I suspect, for the look of the files coming out of these cameras. Shallow depth-of-field is all the rage, but at what cost? Audio is a DSLR camera’s Achilles heel. The contraptions DP’s and video producers are building to make these cameras work gives me pause.
So my toe dipping starts with the limited video capabilities of the D3s. It has been much maligned for not shooting in the higher resolution of 1920p that Canon cameras do. This doesn’t really concern me. The test files I’ve shot so far look better than anything that comes out of my XDCAM. The huge full-frame sensor in the D3s makes shooting in the dark a breeze. Its 720p file size is just about right for the web-based video storytelling I do. I have to compress the hell out of the videos I shoot, so the huge files from a 5D Mk II will only slow my edit down. I’m not planning to shoot any Hollywood movies, so I’m cool with the Nikon’s smaller file size for now. Of course, in a few months, my camera will probably be rendered obsolete by the rumored Nikon D4. Such is life of a techno geek.
Finding the Frame, a website dedicated to giving feedback to newspaper multimedia producers and video journalists has launched.
My post in Mastering Multimedia last month, “Video at newspapers needs to improve,” resonated with many people. I received lots emails from producers who vented their frustration at not being able to get feedback on their multimedia stories.
After a brainstorming session over a few beers, Brian Immel, a former multimedia producer and programmer at The Spokesman-Review, graciously agreed to build a website for the sole purpose of connecting those who need feedback on their multimedia, to professionals willing to share some time and knowledge.
Here’s how it works
The plan is to have onboard as many “expert” volunteers as possible that have solid foundations in video storytelling, audio slide shows or Flash projects. This pool of reviewers will peruse the submitted links of multimedia in the “Story Pool”. If they decide to comment on a story, it will then become public on the Finding the Frame home page where anyone else is free to give added feedback.
So why do this?
While most publications have driven head first into the online world, multimedia storytelling is still in its infancy at many newspapers. Unfortunately, not all people tasked with producing multimedia received adequate training or had the financial ability to attend a multimedia storytelling workshop. Many multimedia producers are self-taught, having picked up bit and pieces of knowledge along the way.
When I judge a multimedia contest, I often get frustrated at seeing the same problems in the execution of basic video and audio production fundamentals. Many photojournalists are struggling with how to tell an effective video or audio slideshow story that is different from the traditional still picture story.
Our hope is that Finding the Frame will begin to address the need for feedback and in turn, help multimedia producers improve their storytelling. Just read some of the comments by reviewers so far–you’ll be impressed. The professionals that have signed on as reviewers are the some of the top in the industry. If they critique your story, please thank them for giving up some of their precious time to help out a fellow visual journalist.
What we need
What we need is for enough producers, multimedia editors and photojournalists who have a solid experience with multimedia storytelling to step forward and share some of their knowledge with those that are looking for constructive, honest feedback.
So if you feel you have something to offer, we would really like you to join the pool of reviewers on Finding the Frame.
So go check it out and give Brian and me some feedback. Create an account. Upload a link to a video, audio slide show or Flash project. Be patient, as it might take some time for your story to get reviewed
I am not sure how many people will upload stories, so let’s take this slow at first. It would also be helpful if non-reviewers could give some feedback to others by commenting on their work.
If you would like to be added to the reviewer pool, register your account, making sure you create a profile and upload a photo of yourself or avatar, then email me at email@example.com with the request.
This website is for you. We would really appreciate your support and feedback.
I was disappointed after this year’s NPPA Best of Photojournalism Multimedia Contest results were posted . In the News Video category, I won an honorable mention. Great! That’s until I realized my video was the only award given in the category. What gives? This is the second year in a row I’ve placed in this News Video category. Last year I received a second place, but no third was given. This troubles me. Not because I didn’t place higher, but because the judges didn’t see a video that reached a high enough level of excellence to place.
During an online chat on the Poynter Institute’s website, I asked the judges:
“Why didn’t you award first through third in news video?”
1:27 theresa: @Colin – this was a real struggle for us. Many were full of technical errors and ignored the basic principles of photojournalism. We saw lots of evidence of urgency, however we really couldn’t award anything that had technical or fundamental errors.
I stewed about this for a time. Then after helping judge the NPPA’s Monthly Multimedia Contest last week, I began to understand the BOP judge’s dilemma.
Bottom line: Video at newspapers needs to improve. Dramatically.
The problems I continually see:
Many still photographers have not transitioned their storytelling skills effectively to video. Editing a video story is different from editing still photos for a newspaper picture story. With video, you have to master the fundamentals of sequencing and audio before you can tell an effective story in video. Too many still photojournalists have dipped their toes in the video world with limited training and it shows.
Many newspaper-produced video stories are boring. The best stories have surprises sprinkled throughout the timeline, which helps keep the viewer engaged. This is mature storytelling that most newspaper video producers have failed to master.
A great video story is one that pulls you in from the opening sequence and never let’s go of your attention until it fades out at the end. Weak video jars you out of the moment, whether it’s from a technical issue like distorted audio, or from a narrative that fails to captivate the viewer. So many things can go wrong with a video story. Understanding these pitfalls is the first step to avoiding them.
You can have great raw video, but fail miserably in the edit. Pacing, narration, use of transitions, sequencing, layering and mixing audio all have to come together like an orchestra to make a video story work. Fail at any one of these and your house of cards comes a tumblin’ down.
Lots of newspaper-produced video is weak in basic journalism. Many videos I’ve watched only have one person as the subject. How many print news stories would get past an editor with only one source?
For the longest time I told myself that I didn’t want my videos to be like TV. I worked hard at telling a story by using only the subjects as my narrative spine. What you risk, doing it this way, is a story that rambles along and is not defined until long after the viewer has hit the back button. Get past the idea that narration is a bad thing. Good scripting moves a story along and serves as an objective voice for facts.
So you say you hate the sound of your voice and you don’t feel comfortable writing a script. Then get out into your newsroom and find a writer with a great voice and collaborate. I like to voice my own videos, but I also know my limitations. Some of my best work has been when I’ve worked with a reporter on a video story. I shoot and edit the story; he or she scripts and does the voiceover. We play to each other strengths. The final product, in the end, is better than if I tried to do it all myself.
When I started this blog, I wrote a post called “What we can learn from TV news shooters.” The crux of that post : TV news shooters have done video storytelling decades longer than us newbie’s in the newspaper biz, and we can learn a lot from their successes. If you are lucky enough to go to a TV video workshop, you’ll get the fundamentals drilled into your head–Shoot wide, medium tight, super tight. Shoot action, then reaction. Get that camera on sticks! Use a wireless mic. Gather natural sound. What’s your opener? Closer? And, for Christ sake, white balance your video!
These are the just the basics of video news production. Yet many newspaper video producers are still unaware of these fundamentals.
If you can, my advise is enroll in a video production workshop like the Platypus, or the NPPA’s Multimedia Immersion Workshop that is coming in May. Until you know what you are doing wrong you can’t improve your video storytelling.
A slap upside the head always comes when you least expect it.
“You have the coolest job ever,” said a hockey fan standing behind me admiring one of my photos at the Spokane Arena last night. I was on deadline preparing to transmit my pictures of a blowout Spokane Chiefs hockey game back to the paper when those six words stopped me cold.
“You have the coolest job ever.”
Up until that utterance, I’d beg to differ. It had been a long 14-hour day and I was tired. I started in the morning shooting a freelance job. I take extra work now whenever I can. It helps make up for the furlough days and pay cuts I have endured over the past year.
The economic trauma and turmoil facing my and every other newspaper in the country weighs heavily on my shoulders at times. When someone asks me why I entered the newspaper biz, I tell them it’s because I have a passion for telling stories. Like any good photojournalist, I see the world a bit differently from most people. There is a creative energy that burns inside me. When I put a camera up to my eye, life becomes my palette. I felt it when I bought my first professional camera in high school and I still feel it today…well most days.
“You have the coolest job ever.”
As I sat there hunched over my laptop, awareness washed over me. Here I was at a hockey game that I didn’t have to pay to get in, surrounded by the best cameras, lenses and laptop that I didn’t have to buy. The only thing missing was a cold beer by my side.
Looking back over the past seven days at some of what I have produced for the readers of my newspaper and viewers of our website, I realize that I can’t let the uncertainty of the future kill my creativity. Today, I put a sticky note on my computer monitor that simply says, “Try Harder.” It is my little reminder that (slap upside the head) I do have the coolest job ever!
These are some of the highlights of my past week– a mix of multimedia and stills.
Videos: Click image to view.
It has been a relaxing summer and as you can see by my lack of posts, I’ve been taking a break from blogging. When I haven’t been on vacation or furlough, I’ve been shooting both stills and video. My most recent project “Beyond the Yellow Ribbon,” is yet another collaboration with Spokesman-Review reporter Kevin Graman. We spent a couple of days at a retreat for local wounded war veterans. It was (as usual) a rush to get the edit done.
Local TV news (KXLY) showed up just after we did. They grabbed a few interviews, shot some b-roll and were gone in 30 minutes. We stayed 48 hours and shot a dozen interviews. When I watched the TV version of the story, I was actually impressed. see: Local veterans getting much needed retreat.
They defined the story quickly, gave viewers the pertinent information with context from the injured soldiers. The writing was brisk, and snappy. But as I sit here seven days later, I have not much recollection of their story. It didn’t really stick with me.
I think the narrative, from both the veterans and the reporter voiceover in my video, go much deeper. I tried to keep the pace moving by editing in strong sequences of action between the talking heads. In the end, I can’t say my edit is any better—it’s just a different way to tell the same story.
One technical note here.
I used the tiny Canon HF-10 for some of the b- roll footage. I had it on a monopod, which made it easy to do high angle shots. I recorded everything in 1920p x 1080p, so it meshed perfect on the timeline with my Sony XDCAM EX-1 footage. I am hard pressed to tell the difference between video clips from the $900.00 HF 10 and the $8000.00 XDCAM.
Things I learned on this shoot.
If you’re doing a lot of interviews, mix it up some. I shot mostly tight. Having a wireless mic on the subject frees you up to move the camera to a more interesting angle. Try the side or a wideshot, then move in later in the interview. The opening shot in my video (a side wide shot,) which was my last interview, was an inspiration that came to late. If you have a second camera, shoot a different angle of the interview, which you can edit in as a cutaway later. Also remember to change up the direction the interviewees are facing. You don’t want everyone right facing into the frame like I did. For some reason, all my left facing interviews I didn’t use.
Finally, remembering to get some b-roll of each subject you interview makes life in the edit suite go so much smoother. The one sequence of the veteran Chris Carver on the high ropes course worked out great because I had him talking about how challenging that moment had been in the interview. I would have kicked myself if I had missed shooting that b-roll!
A common complaint I hear from other video producers is that their news and feature videos are not getting the page views they had hoped for. I too, have struggled with this since I started posting video stories on my newspaper’s Web site five years ago.
Let’s take the most common reasons for lack of views off the table first.
- Your videos are not compelling enough to be noticed by a wide audience. If you’re not producing something that people want to look at, then you are wasting everyone’s time, including your own.
- Your creaky content management system is still stuck in the ’90 when all it was designed to do was show text and thumbnail sized photos. If your website viewers have to search aimlessly for a link to videos on your homepage then you might as well put your video camera back in the equipment locker as walk away.
- Your video player sucks. No full screen mode? Only 320 pixels wide? Videos have lousy compression? Inconsistent storytelling? That pretty much rounds out why many viewers don’t bother watching your videos.
So what if you are doing most things right and you’re still not getting the page views you expect?
This year, my newspaper finally recieved a new ground-up redesign of it website called Spokesman.com. I had hoped its modern CMS would help deliver increased page views to our staff produced videos. Unfortunately that did not materialize. It helped some, but missing key features like the ability to embed video ala YouTube were not enabled.
Finally, last month, a refreshed version of our video player, which added a host of new features, including embedding, was launched. This has helped our online staff to better leverage our video content using social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter. The best thing about the new player is that it now allows Google Analytics tracking, which follows the embedded player wherever it lands.
Let’s say, one of my videos goes viral and gets embedded in 100 blogs. When someone clicks “play,” Google Analytics calls back to my newspaper’s web server with all the pertinent page view tracking info. Now I can see where the video is embedded and how long a viewer stays with the video before bailing. Is it 25% in? 50% ? 100%? etc. I now even know how many clicked the full-screen button (less than I expected.)
My most recent video I produced before heading on my staycation—“In the Realm of Fairies,” became sort of a social media experiment for me. Page views started out slow—I posted a link on my Facebook page late on a Thursday night. I have about 150 friends and a few reposted it on their pages. On Friday morning I tweeted a link on my twitter feed—another 151 followers were given the opportunity to view the video. Then several people, included our online staff, retweeted my post. By late on the second day page views started inching up. Normally one of my videos will get about 500-1000 page views after the first week. With the fairy video I got 1400 in one day.
A big video aggregator, collegehumor.com, and about a dozen other sites began to push traffic to our website by either linking or embedding the fairy video. Over my two-week vacation, I have seen the video continue to receive page views–now at just under 8000 hits and growing. OK, it probably not near what the New York Times gets for a video on a slow day, but it’s eight times better than what I usually see on our video content. Was social media the reason for the bump in hits?
My Google Analytics tells me it was a big contributing factor. This video had a couple of other things going for it. It had an unusual topic, strong narration, with a wonderful ending. It continues to have great placement on the S-R homepage with a strong colorful thumbnail that draws your eye to the link.
What surprised me most is that the fairy video was long at six minutes. It just goes to show you–if you have a good story told well–viewers will watch it.
Social media can and will deliver more page views if you allow your content to be set free in the cloud. With proper tools, you can track your video content and even monetize it as it propagates itself all over the Web.
Sunday’s Spokesman-Review was a bit like the newspaper of old. Writer, Kevin Graman’s story and my photos of the Fairy and Human Relation Congress, took up most of the front-page as well as two color pages inside. What was different about this story for us two veterans—one visual and one word oriented—was how we each stretched into the new roles of being modern newspaper journalists.
My visual multitasking role has been pretty much set in stone for some time. On this story, I not only shot the still photos for the newspaper, but I captured, edited and produced a video for online.
Graman moved out of his traditional role of being a print reporter to now stretching into the multimedia world of writing words for video and doing voice-over work.
When I heard about this story of 200 people gathering in the wilds to worship fairies, I could think of no better journalist than Graman to do the story with. We have worked on several other videos together. His innate ability to write to my video brings an authentic voice the story.
Most times I am fine with doing my own voiceover work. But on great stories like this one, having someone that can write and voice powerful words (check out the last minute of the fairy video) just makes all the difference.
In the end, I think we hit a grand slam. We gave the readers of our newspaper a great print story, with strong photos—and we gave our online viewers all that and more with the added value of the video that told a different story than print. This, to me, is the future of newspaper journalism, where traditional roles are stretched but not devalued.
My week (and brain) has been filled with fairies, orbs, healers, telepaths and more fairies. Last week, Spokesman-Review writer Kevin Graman and I, headed to a scenic meadow nestled at the foothills of the North Cascades Mountains in Washington state. Here, 250 people gathered for the 9th Annual Fairy and Human Relations Congress—a workshop driven event—dedicated to connecting the human world to the fairy realm. OK, before you scoff, I was amazed at the dedication these people have towards their new age beliefs. Over four days, Graman and I kept an open mind as we attend workshops on “Getting in touch with the fairy mind,” and another on how to telepathically communicate with animals. The best part though, was the festival atmosphere. On Saturday night a grand fairy costumed parade made its way through the meadow. It ended at a bonfire with participants dancing and chanting: “Release, release, release your sexy beast.” God, I love my job sometimes.
The congress gave me the creative release I’ve been looking for. I only had two days to turn my four hours of raw video into a story. Graman wrote and voiced the narration. He has such a great voice. I keep telling him he should do voiceover work professionally. You can see the finished video here.