Many of may old posts that deal with tips about how to do video storytelling and audio slideshows get linked on a lot of blogs used by college professors who teach digital media classes. Most of these posts are buried amongst my pontifications about the changes facing the newspaper industry. So for anyone interested, here is a roundup of my best multimedia suggestions and useful tip posts in one place…
One of my great frustrations as self-taught newspaper video storyteller is that I have not been able to find much help in taking my editing beyond the fundamentals. Sure, I’ve mastered the skill of editing wide, medium and tight shots into basic sequences. But when it comes to really understanding the “why” of a video edit, I still feel a bit unsure as I blade and trim on my timeline. Terms like matched edits, pacing, writing to my video, are skills I sort of understand, but know I really need to improve on.
I stumbled upon this blog called The Edit Foundry tonight as I was cruising through the forums on B-roll.net. The Edit Foundry is written by two-time National Press Photographers Editor of the Year, Shawn Montano. Montano, who has edited news video for most of the TV stations is the Denver area, is a master editor. At last year’s NPPA national convention, I heard him speak and was impressed at how he is able assemble someone else’s video into a well-paced engaging story.
In his blog, Montano takes a story he has edited and deconstructs it by breaking down the sound bites, narration, transitions and sequences. His finished stories are linked on YouTube. I can’t tell you how helpful it is to see it the edits visually. More important, Montano tells why he made an edit, or added a transition etc. to his story.
I have said for a long time that newspaper videographers can learn a lot from TV news shooters and editors. Sometimes we ink-stained types strive so hard to be different, that we never learn the fundamentals of shooting and editing a good video story. The old adage holds true here: You can’t break the rules until you know what they are. For the hundreds of struggling newspaper videographers who could use a kick of editing inspiration, then go visit The Edit Foundry and get schooled.
For anybody who has edited video in Final Cut Pro, you know that there are many different ways to perform the same tasks. Recently I watched this free Apple seminar on how to rapidly edit news and sports packages. This tutorial is geared primarily for TV shooters and editors transitioning from tape-tape and into the world of non-linear editing. The video seminar is taught by long-time TV news shooter and editor Joe Torelli, who really knows his stuff.
I found the most useful information comes in the second video where Torelli shows an interesting way to edit clips on the timeline verses setting in and out points in the viewer. His techniques, geared for deadline productions, are something I will try when I need to edit something in a hurry. As newspaper websites use more and more video, learning to edit efficiently will only become more important.
I think it’s time for everyone to banish that ugly black bar used to display lower thirds titles in Final Cut Pro/Express. For the longest time, I struggled with what to do with white text on a light background. I usually ended up using the standard black bar, which is so wide it usually lands across the speakers chin.
Experimenting, I learned to change the bar’s color by using the color sampler. I also tried lowering the bar’s opacity until it was almost transparent. That lipstick didn’t help. It was still an ugly bar mucking up my shot. I’m not a fan of motion titles—they’re distracting and look too much like the snappy graphics in TV. So what to do?
I finally discovered that by clicking the motion tab when my lower thirds title generator is loaded in the viewer, I could add a drop shadow to my text. It was one of those “duh” moments, that I just couldn’t believe I didn’t connect the dots earlier, Now my lower thirds text floats and are much more readable. Make sure you click the drop shadow check box and click the triangle for more settings. Here’s the numbers I use —1.5 to 2 for inset. Softness, 20-30 and opacity 90.
Want your videos to have that polished professional look to them? Of course you do. When I view a video produced by someone inexperienced, I see all the little things they could have fixed before they exported. Since I seem to be fond of top ten lists, here is my How to final cut your video before you compress.
It really is the final small fixes that can make or break a video. I often find myself, after posting a video, going back several times to fix things that bug me. A dissolve that’s too long, an audio level that’s too low or high. It is a perfectionist curse that I live with. It’s best, though, to fix your video before they’re posted.
- Start by listening to your completed project with your eyes closed. Hit pause when you come to something that doesn’t sound right and fix it. I find, by not looking at my time line, I’m much more able to spot (hear) audio issues.
- When you’re listening with your eyes closed, do it twice, once with headphones and once with your computer speakers. You’ll be amazed at the difference in the subtleties of what can be heard between the two. Music is a case in point. A subtle music sound bed might sound great with cheap speakers, but be overpowering with headphones on. You have to find a balance for both ways the viewer will be listening to your video.
- Watch your audiometers— Yes, with your eyes open now. You want each edited clip to peak between –12db and –6db. Adjust accordingly.
- Have an audio clip that has really low levels? Don’t jack the audio levels up to the point of hearing hiss. Instead highlight the clip and duplicate it, several times if necessary, until it builds the sound back up to a decent level. Try it! It really works.
- Use lots of audio cross fades. I can always tell the iMovie productions because the bumps in audio between clips. Cross-fades work much like an video dissolve does by blending the outgoing clip with the incoming clip. Fades work best between clips that have consistent audio sound. An example would be an outgoing clip of traffic noise transitioning to a clip of crowd noise. Because you can get cross talk, be careful of cross fading dialogue.
- Always use split edits. The split edit separate the professional editor from the amateur. The way I define a split edit is that you want to hear the person before you see them. Split edits, also called L-cuts really make your video flow smoothly between a-roll and b-roll. Just watch a video where a person appears and starts to talk. It can be jarring to the viewer. You can fix it by unlinking the video and audio track, roll the talking head video back about four seconds, then tuck the exposed audio on a separate track under the outgoing b-roll clip. You now have a smooth transition viewers will hardly notice. There are a half a dozen ways to do a split edit. Find the way that works best for you.
- Using photographs in your video? Try to fill the canvas window so there isn’t any black bars above the and below the image. It just looks better, especially if you’re adding motion on the photo. What I do is drop the photo onto my timeline and load it into the canvas. With wire frame enabled, I hold my option key down (to constrain proportions) and grab a corner of the wire frame and scale up the photo until it fills the frame.
- My personal preference is to fade up a video at the beginning and to fade out at the end. Many videos I see just start, which I find jarring. I like to use Final Cut’s video transparency feature. This is that black line on the top edge of video clip. You can key frame it just like audio. If not, just use a cross dissolve. Also, try an audio cross fade on the opening audio clip and have it fade up with the video. It will be smooooth as butter.
- Speaking of cross dissolves, ask yourself if you really need one. I find editors who use too many dissolves are the ones who failed to sequence their video with wide, medium and tight shots. Remember, a dissolve is best used for transitions of time or place.
- Color correct your video. It’s really simple to do in a professional video editor like Final Cut Express or Pro. It is the last thing I do before I export my video out of Final Cut. The easiest thing to do with the color correction filter is to use the highlight eyedropper. Click a neutral white in your video and presto instant colorcast correction. Usually that is all I have to do to a clip. It’s a great way to take a cool color balance and instantly warm it up. Bad color in your video makes it look like a You Tube production.
After buiding our Storm Stories and Help Your Neighbors maps, I’ve heard from a few people wondering about how they might build a mapping app for their own sites. I’m by no means an expert on this — but that’s one of the reasons why I enjoyed this project so much. I learned a ton while doing it. So I’m more than happy to share what I do know.
Our approach at the Spokesman was to use our own database and do everything ourselves, but not everyone has the server access and/or development time to tackle a mapping project that way. The nice thing is, there are definitely other ways to get the job done. Here are three:
You could use Google’s MyMaps feature
I’ve played around with this myself for use on a couple simple projects, and it’s a pretty slick way to allow non-technical people to get data onto a Google Map, which you can then embed on your own site. You need to have a Google account, and then when you go to maps.google.com, you’ll see a “My Maps” selection in the menu at left. This lets you create a custom map, clicking or entering addresses to add points, and typing in the description text for each. Once you save the map, you can grab the link to the KML file (which is XML describing the points you’ve created), and call that data into a simple map template on your own site. There’s a really good writeup on doing this type of project at PostNeo.
The downside is that this really isn’t open to the public to add their own points to the map. But it’s pretty darn easy if you’re just looking to map some information that you already have. The nice thing is, once you’ve embedded the map on a page on your own site, the KML information you’re calling in is dynamic. So if you log into Google Maps and add new points to the MyMap you’re working from, they’re automatically pulled into the map on your site.
You could use a combination of Google Spreadsheets and Google Maps
I don’t know how much you’ve played with Google docs, but within the past week or so, they added submit-by-form functionality to Google Spreadsheets. So you could go in, create a new spreadsheet with the fields for a mapping app (i.e. Name, Description, Street Address, City, State, ZIP, lat, lng), and then use the share via form functionality to create a web form to collect data from your reporters, users or whomever. Once the data is in, you need to 1) geocode the addresses in each record, and 2) get the data from the spreadsheet into the map. Basically if you walk through the 3-4 steps described here, you’ll see how that could work:
The advantage here over MyMaps is that you get the opportunity to collect data from your users. You’re adding some time and complexity to the project, definitely, and you’re signing up for some maintenance on the data (you’d end up needing to run the geocoder regularly to catch new input, for example). But depending on the product you’re shooting for, it might be worth it.
You could build your own database-driven map
Although we’re in the process of moving to a new framework, our current site runs on ASP and SQL Server, so that’s what our Storm Stories mapping app was built on. Getting it up and running required:
- building the data model and database table in SQL Server
- creating the forms for internal admin of the submissions
- creating the forms for people to submit posts to the map
- building map pages that pull records out of the database and plot them via the Google Maps API
There are plenty of scripting languages you could use to do something like this, if you have access to a server that will run a database and can write some PHP, Django, etc. Personally, I like the control you get with doing a project from beginning to end, without having to rely on external services.
And I’m also aware that there are a ton of people out there who are better at this mapping thing than I am, so I looked at this particular project as a good excuse to build a few skills. And I learned a TON about mapping over those couple of days. Describing the forms/admin/database work is probably beyond the scope of this writeup, but at its most basic, you need an admin page to list published/unpublished records, an admin form that displays the detail information on any given record, and a set of SQL statements to pass the form data through to handle the traditional Create-Read-Update-Delete functions. And you need a form for users to Create a new record.
As for the mapping, here are a couple tabs I kept open pretty much all the time:
Google Maps API documentation
Google Maps API tutorial
Between those two resources, you’ve got all you need to get the mapping working. But when you get stuck, the classic “view source” on a similar implementation (like this Detroit driving map for example) is also a lot of help.
During my vacation last week, I found this website that consumed an entire evening of my time. At first glance, I thought the Digital Juice website was just a business selling motion graphics. After further exploration, it turned out to be so much more. Intermixed amongst the motion graphic ads are some killer video and audio production tutorials. In his Cutting Class video editing series, producer Chris Gates shows you the ins and outs of video editing. There is also a powerful series of motivational videos by Chuck Peters called Field of View.
Each of Chris’s videos is about finding the passion to do your video production right. He is a great teacher who pushes you to look beyond the equipment to tell a story right. The videos are geared mostly for the commercial video producers, but I found them to have lots of relevance to what I do with video at my newspaper. It’s all about getting it right the first time. Go back a year in the Juice archive to work your way forward. It is a good bookmark to have handy when you need a little inspiration.