Watch this: Using Compressor in FCPX








If you don’t already use the audio filter Compressor in your video or audio editing application, then you are missing out on the key ways to make your dialogue sound better in your productions. Here is an excellent video tutorial from MacBreak Studio’s Steve Martin and Mark Spencer who show you how to apply a compressor filter to a clip and adjust the parameters in Final Cut Pro X. The key thing to remember when applying the filter is the 4:1 ratio. It will make your dialogue clearer–much like applying a unsharp mask to a photograph .

Get creative with your video camera

As newspaper still photographers transition to shooting more video, they can get overwhelmed by all the non-creative tasks they have to do. With white balancing, audio monitoring and sequencing chores at hand, many new videographers forget to be creative with their video cameras. Here are some of the techniques I use to add a little visual variety to my videos:

  • Get on your knees or climb a tree. Take the viewer to a place they wouldn’t normally go. I love putting the camera on the ground to get that unique perspective. The ground also serves as a decent tripod. Shooting high will give you that overall establishing shot that you know you need, but like me, sometimes forget.
  • Don’t just shoot a tight shot. Instead, go super tight–as tight as your lens can focus tight. These shots are gold because they are as visually jarring as they are visually interesting. They also make for excellent transitions between scenes. I learned this from master TV news shooter Dave Werthelmer. His favorite line is: “Don’t shoot the donut, shoot the donut hole.” I try to remember that line each time I start shooting.
  • Look for that subject perspective shot. An example of this would be a shot following the feet of a mailman trudging through snow, or following a toddler around from their low perspective. I think too much of what we shoot tends to be tripod or eye-level. You just have to anticipate when to drop the pod and move with the action.
  • Which brings me to rule number 134 from the manual of good video shooting. Let the action leave or enter your frame. Doing so allows you to compress time in your video.  You can quickly transition to a different scene after the subject leaves the frame. It also helps you with sequencing, allowing you to edit together a wide, medium and tight shot of your action.
  • Turn off your autofocus and try a manual shift-focus shot. Try starting with a blurry shot, and then quickly bring your subject into focus. Or try racking your focus from a foreground subject to a background subject. It is pretty effective when done right. Just make sure you are rock solid on a tripod!
  • Layer your shots with foreground elements, just like you would as a still shooter. They are more complex to see, but done well, they  really ratchet up the visual variety of your video.
  • I don’t do this often, but at times it can be effective. Use a slow shutter speed to blur movement. I’ve used it on people dancing and it gave the video clip an interesting romantic look, especially if I followed the action in time like a pan shot with a still camera.
  • Try speeding up the action or slowing it down either in camera or in your video editing program. Here, I am careful how I use this. Like the slow shutter shot, it has to be done for a reason. Don’t speed up the action just because it is cool. Do it because it adds something to your story such as compressing time. Over and under cranking your video is already overused, so be selective.
  • Shoot more telephoto shots. One thing I’ve learned since I got the tripod religion is that a solid, tight telephoto shot will fill your frame with intimacy. Because video cameras have so much depth of field, anytime you can make the background go soft so that our subject pops, you should do it. While tight on your subject, don’t forget to pull out and shoot a medium and wide shot. It’s an instant three shot sequence.

What do you do to get creative with your video camera? Please share.

Opening your video: How not to lose viewers

Finding a good opening to your video is critical.  Far too often, newspaper produced video fails to quickly grab the viewer’s attention. Online viewers are a fickle bunch, where the click of a mouse button will lead them to some other cooler destination. The key is to smack ‘em upside the head and wake them up. Your first 15 seconds better be good or they won’t stick around long. Here are some of the things I do to let the viewer know that my video is worth watching:

Finding the Frame


Here’s another easy way to add multimedia to your newspaper website. 

Shortly after the program Soundslides came out in August of 2005, I looked for an interesting way to use this Flash-based audio slideshow tool to tell different kinds of stories. One day in the photo department, as I passed the intern’s desk, I spotted a cool print of a guy reading a fashion magazine in a coffee shop. The way the top of the subject’s head matched up with the head on the magazine cover was eye-catching.  I asked photographer Kathryn Stevens how she got the shot. She launched into this passionate narrative about seeing this great moment lining up in front of her. How she rushed up to the subject and fired off a few frames on her digital camera just before the fleeting moment passed.

That’s when the light bulb went on above my head. I asked Kathryn to come into editing cave where I sat her down and recorded her telling me the story behind her photo. I edited the audio into a thirty-second clip. I then uploaded it and the photo into Soundslides and voilà – a great little piece of multimedia that took less than one hour to produce.

I called this audio slideshow feature Finding the Frame. It got an instant response from viewers who wanted more. Since then, when I see a great photo produced by the Spokesman-Review photo staff, I whip up a Finding the Frame. They have gotten a little more advanced over time as I’ve added other photos and a .pdf of the newspaper page that the photo ran on.

My other ulterior motive for doing these was that I wanted to educate readers and viewers about the creative process that a photojournalist goes through when making an exceptional image. Too many of our readers, in this age of Photoshop, think photographers alter the pictures that appear in the paper. This is my way of helping change that perspective. Finding the frames also go a long way in helping non-visual people understand that newspaper photojournalists are not button pushers as some have called them, but skilled journalists and storytellers who have a unique view of the world around them. 

Here are some of my favorite Finding the Frames:

Looff Carrousel, Chasing a Comet, Airmen Return, Tired Fireman, Demolition 

Your photo archives can make great multimedia content



Here’s a quick way web producers can add multimedia content to their newspaper websites. I recently teamed up with Spokesman-Review writer Jim Kershner and together we have produced a half a dozen historical multimedia videos made up of photos from our in-house photo archive. Themes such as: The Evolution of Transportation in the Inland NorthwestHobo History and  Felts Field: A High Flying History were put together with local archive photos. This is really a no-brainer when it comes to creating visual driven multimedia content for your website.

Most papers have extensive photo archives that could really be put to better use. We have so many great pictures that have not been published since the Great Depression. I have found from feedback that viewers really like these historic video slideshows. It is important to note that this type of content has a long tail. The videos continue to gather hits over time– as long as people can access them on your site.

A recent blog comment on a historic show called “Remembering the Snow,” produced by Brian Immel, our new multimedia producer here at the Spokesman summed it up nicely:

“Great video feature for us Internet readers of the Spokesman Review. It’s features and stories like this, I believe, will define the future of local Internet printed news in the future. Is there any question where the future lies for the Spokesman-Review. Keep up the good work Spokesman.”

Getting comments like these puts a smile on my face; knowing that our viewers are finally starting to notice the changes we are making in the way we deliver multimedia content.

The workflow on these video slideshows is fairly simple. Our newspaper photo archive dates back to the turn of the century. When Kershner has an historical story idea, we research the archive and select the photos he feels he can write to. If we need other photos, we’ll make a trip to a local museum that has a huge archive of regional historic photos. I use my digital camera to photocopy each print thus creating a digital file that I can tone in Photoshop. Kershner then writes a whimsical script and I record him voicing it. Total turn around is about a day or less. I produce it in Final Cut Pro, adding motion to the photos where needed. Sometimes I will add a music soundtrack.

Producing these videos is a great way to learn Final Cut Pro. Arrange your photos on the timeline, add motion to the pictures where needed, then add audio narration and music. Post it prominently on your website and watch the hits roll in.

Sequencing video

On Tuesday, I am running a two-day in-house training on video fundamentals and Final Cut Express for my newspaper’s MoJos, photojournalists, and web producers. I only have three hours each day to get to the point. Trying to use the time wisely and not overwhelm people is paramount for me.

Yesterday, Liz Kishimoto, an assistant photo editor, came up to me holding a shinny new Canon HV-20 HDV video camera. She has never shot video before. Liz is taking my mini workshop to learn how video is produced. I think it is hugely important for department editors to understand the time commitments and challenges of video production. Doing so will help them better manage these new workflows that are now affecting every department.

I gave her a quick tutorial on the camera. We got into a discussion about how still photography and video storytelling are alike and different. When talk turned to sequencing of video, she had a perplexed look on her face. I had just completed a video on how people in wheelchairs have a difficult time getting around in the snow. I showed her the edited video sequences I had assembled for the story. One sequence of a para-transit driver loading and unloading a client in a wheelchair, featured the proverbial wide, medium and tight shots. I tried to explain the concept of compressing time to her. That a video sequence takes something shot in real-time and compresses it, using a variety of shots, into something much shorter. I impressed the importance of how the viewer understands and accepts this time compression, because it has been ingrained in them through years of watching TV and movies.

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Digital Juice

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.