Saturday, April 15, 2017

Some new stuff I'm learning

I'm getting ready for two back-to-back video gigs, and I am continuing to learn a lot about how to do video, equipment, techniques, etc. The learning really never ends...

iPhone in a Beastgrip tripod mount. 
On one of them, I'm actually going to be filming using an iPhone. Why? Because I'm working in the environment where I need to relatively nimble and low profile, and a DSLR rig with audio on a tripod is a bit more intrusive than I'm looking for, so I'm going with an iPhone and a Beastgrip tripod mount with shotgun microphone.

The shotgun is going to go right into the iPhone, recording the audio alongside the video. Since I'm doing this solo, this is the best option to make sure that I capture both the audio and video. I could get better audio quality if I was going into an external recorder such as my H4N Pro, but that is one more thing that I would have to deal with under challenging circumstances, so I'm trying to streamline and simplify.

There are still some technical challenges I'll have to overcome with the audio and video when I bring it into Adobe Premiere Pro, but I found a workaround using Handbrake to transcode the video.

I'm also using an app called Filmic Pro that gives me a lot more control over the camera controls on the iPhone. 

I've tried external lenses for the iPhone, and I'm not sold on them yet. Could be the quality of the ones I'm using or pilot error, but I'm going to work with them a little bit more before putting them into my camera kit.

LEDs and a CFL clamp light
I also am changing over to new LED lights. The cost on these have dropped significantly since I bought my first LED lights a couple of years ago. Probably the biggest advantage for a traveling videographer is the freakin' size of them - small!

I'm still bringing my DSLR kit with me for the other gig, but this is, to me, a great way to go light and fast.

I'll also be doing a presentation "Video (on the cheap)" at the upcoming Colorado Risk Reduction Network annual meeting. The audience is fire prevention, fire safety and community risk reduction personnel, and with fire department budgets being tight (to say the least) we're going to be talking about how they can do video inexpensively using smartphones and other tools easily available from places like Home Depot's photography department (you didn't know they had a photography department?).



Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Podcasting - How I'm Doing It

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I am getting back into podcasting. I used to host two shows for Firehouse.com, Fire Marshal's Corner and Campus Firewatch Radio but now I am now hosting and producing two of my own podcasts, CRR Radio and Campus Firewatch Radio (links below).

Podcasting is definitely seeing a resurgence, and I find it a great way to learn more about the world, a short bit at a time. I know this is my bias, but I like shorter podcasts, about 20 to 30 minutes for a few reasons. It is about the length of an average drive that I'm doing, or if I'm doing a longer one, such as driving into Boston, it gives me the opportunity to listen to several right in a row. It is also the length of a good workout segment!

Recording interviews

In terms of production, I'm doing the interviews over Skype on my Mac and using the app Call Recorder to capture them. It is a pretty simple app and when I am done recording it then splits the conversation into two tracks, one for my end and the other with the caller. This is very important for the editing process.

Production

I'll admit, I cheat when it comes to editing and use Premiere Pro, a video editing application. Why?

Well, I started by using Audacity, a free app that is really good, but I do a lot of video editing and I'm pretty comfortable with Premiere Pro and I found myself stumbling whenever I tried doing editing in Audacity because it was just so slightly different. Yes, I know Premiere Pro is not built for this (Adobe has another sound editing app called Audition), but for me it really does the job.

But I'll bet as I get more experience I'll look back and say "why did I ever do it this way?"

One of the issues with using Skype is there is a slight lag between when I ask a question and the person responds because it is going out over VOIP. In editing, I'm able to tighten it up a bit so the conversation flows a little bit better.

I have also discovered how much, umm, you know, people use what is, umm, called "word whiskers" when, umm, talking, you know? When listening to someone speaking in conversation we tend to filter these out, but when listening to a podcast recording it can, sometimes, be problematic, so I spend the time to remove these as much as I can from the conversation. It can be tricky if the person is speaking fast and the words are all tight together, but I'm getting pretty good at reading the audio waveform to identify where they are and extracting them.

I'm working on getting a better ear for sound levels. All of the research I've been doing says that you should try to have the levels at about -12db, but when I listen back it just doesn't sound right. I'm trying to avoid letting my ears guide me versus using the sound meters, but I'm starting to think I need to really bump it up a bit. I was talking with a friend of mine who has been doing podcasts for years and he said the -12db rule comes from radio, and he tends to run his a little louder, or "hotter."

Getting people to interview is something that I'm finding to be fairly easy (so far!). I use my network, but I'm also thinking as I'm talking to people, "would they make a good interview?" I have a number of interviews in the can, so now I'm working on editing them together into finished shows...it's good to have content ready to go ahead of time instead of scrambling!

Hosting

I looked around at different hosting platforms and landed on Soundcloud, and I have no complaints so far. It is pretty easy and intuitive, and I'm using the free plan for now, which gives me about 180 minutes of hosting. As you bump up against it, you have to remove the older shows, so I'll have to upgrade to the Pro plan at some point. It also gives me basic stats on downloads and how many people stream it.

RSS Feed

An RSS Feed is how you get your podcast listed on platforms such as iTunes. Whenever I post a podcast, it goes into my RSS feed which in turn makes it show up on iTunes and other hosting platforms such as Outcast. This way people can subscribe to the podcasts and get them downloaded automatically to their smartphones.

Stats

iTunes is the big daddy of podcast hosting, but unfortunately they don't give you a lot of stats on how your show is doing. I use a third-party service called Podtrac to get some stats aggregated from iTunes and Soundcloud, but admittedly it is pretty bare-bones info.

So, take a listen, let me know what you think, I'd love to hear your comments!





Episode 2: Sound

As important as you might think video is, sound is really a bigger part of your production. People are more willing to put up with poor video than they are with poor video. Watch this video to see more about capturing good quality sound.




There are a number of different YouTube videos that cover the idea of sound that I have put together in a playlist. Know of some others? Let me know in the comments box below!

Playlist of everything (well, almost) you want to know about sound

Equipment List

This is a list of the sound equipment I use. This is not an endorsement of any of it and I haven't received any free equipment, payment from the manufacturers, etc. (darn).  I picked this equipment after some online research and talking with my local camera shop.

And, I'll freely admit, I'm not an expert on this, and I'm learning what works and what doesn't by trial and error. And I still have a lot to learn about all of the features and how to get everything to play together.

  • Sound Recorders
    • Zoom H1  This is a a great, simple recorder that I use a lot. It has a 1/8" jack for the lavalier or Rode shotgun microphone, it doesn't have a lot of complicated functions, it just does what it has to do.  It is made of plastic, so, don't expect it to take a beating. I've already had to use some super glue on it. It's small, fits inside a pocket easily, and is my "go to" recorder.  About $100.
      Zoom H1
    • Zoom H4n  This is the big brother to the H1 and it has a ton more features (many of which I really don't know how to do yet). This is one beefy, metal-encased unit, designed to work in the field.  From what I am reading and hearing, this is pretty much an industry standard.  You can have multiple inputs into it, 1/8", XLR and the on-board microphones themselves.  About $260.
      Zoom H4N

      XLR are the more professional microphones, and I'm not there yet (those are the two big cables you see at the bottom of the H4N in the picture above).
      Rode VideoMic

      In case you are wondering why I have two recorders, the simple reason is for redundancy. If one dies, I have a backup. I really use the H1 most of the time because it is just so darn simple to use. I have to get better at the H4, though.
  • Microphones
  • Rode VideoMic Pro
    • Rode VideoMic Shotgun  This is a pretty good microphone. I say pretty good because it looks like the Rode VideoMic Pro might have been a better one to go with because it is easier to change some of the settings on the Pro. On the non-pro version, you have to open the battery compartment and try to reach some impossible-to-reach dip switches...what a dumb design. Here's a review by Caleb Pike from DSLR Video Shooter that I wish I had seen first.

      What I do like about the VideoMic is that it has the 1/8" connector which means it can plug into the camera or into the H1 or H4N. I use it a lot on the camera to capture sound for my scratch track. What's a scratch track? It's not sound that I'm going to use on the final product, but let's me easily sync up the sound file from the external recorder with the video. As I mentioned in the video above, recording sound on the camera really doesn't work well because a camera is designed to...well, it's not designed to record sound.

      It is has a 3/8" thread on the bottom that you can easily screw into a boom pole or, in my case, I use a monopod as a boom pole. You can also remove the head of a tripod and screw it on there, which I have done on occasion as an alternative.
    • Lavalier  I have two lavalier microphones (redundancy) and I really don't remember what ones I bought. However, I am learning that there really is a lot of difference in terms of quality and compatibility that I need to learn more about. I thought, "hey, 1/8" tip is pretty standard...it'll work on anything!"  Wrong. I have to play games between the H1 and H4N sometimes to get them to work consistently. Duh.
  • Cables  This is another area that I am learning as I go. Quality matters. I bought a cable extender for the 1/8" and I was having a heck of a time chasing down the buzz that I was getting on the recorder. Finally turned out to be a bad (cheap) cable. Test what you buy right away and if it doesn't work, return it ASAP and try something else.



Monday, January 9, 2017

Fire safety videos on a budget-You Can Do It!

I've started a new series of articles on LinkedIn called "Fire safety videos on a budget-You Can Do It!" I'll be talking about learning video (that's Part 1 that's up now), equipment, technique, all of the phases of production and more. Stop on by and check it out!

Monday, December 12, 2016

Podcasting

A client has asked me to start producing a series of podcasts for them!

In the podcast booth!

Podcasting is clearly enjoying a renaissance, primarily because of the hit series Serial. Several years ago I had done two podcast series for Firehouse Magazine, Campus Firewatch Radio and The Fire Marshal's Corner. Both were pretty successful, and the way we recorded them was that the guest and I would call into a phone number where a sound engineer would record us and then edit and upload the finished podcast. Pretty easy, from my end.

Podcasting has become even easier now. If you look at the picture above, it's not really a "booth," but my office where I have hung sound dampening materials (blankets on light stands) behind me to cut down on the echo. I also went as far as putting a towel down on the desk to help eliminate reverb as well...breaking up any hard surface really does make a difference, I'm finding. 

As a matter of fact, some podcasters record from inside their closets (lots of soft clothes to absorb the sound). One podcaster, who does much of his recording on the road from hotel rooms, actually does his sitting under the blankets on his hotel bed, kind of like what we used to do when we were kids reading books when we were supposed to be asleep!

For a microphone, I'm using my H4N sound recorder mounted on a microphone stand that I plug into the USB port on my Mac PowerBook. I had to adjust the frequency from 44 khz to 48 khz because it was coming out almost Mickey Mouse-ish.

Since I'm interviewing people for these podcasts, I call them on Skype and then use a program called Call Recorder from Ecamm to record the call. This records both sides of the conversation either 1) in a single file or 2) exports them into TWO files, one for each side of the conversation. Why, you ask?

With Skype and Call Recorder, it isn't possible to adjust the sound levels for each side of the conversation separately, so if I set it for my sound level, and then have a guest that is either very loud or very soft, this could be a problem. However, since the files get exported separately for each side, I can then adjust the levels accordingly in post production.

I can also mute one side of the conversation, so if someone is making comments such as "um" or coughing or breathing loudly (amazing how it comes through) all of that can be muted easily.

For editing, there are several popular options out there. GarageBand from Apple is one that I have never really mastered. It used to be designed for podcasting, but it seems like it has moved away from that.

The other very popular one is Audacity, a free (doesn't get much better) open source editing program. It is a very powerful tool and really does a lot.

However, I'm using Adobe Premiere Pro, which is actually a video editing program.

Why, you ask again?

Because I know how to use it from video editing and can be pretty quick with it, and it does the job for me. Probably as I get more and more into it, I'm going to move away from it, but it really seems to have a lot of the tools I need to get the job done quickly and easily. Premiere Pro is part of the Adobe Creative Cloud suite, and their video editing package is called Audition. As I'm doing more, I might move over to it, but for now, Premiere Pro is doing the trick.

I'll be posting more on this as time goes on...topics such as hosting (Soundcloud), podcast sources (iTunes, Stitcher or Outcast, for example) and more!

Take care...

Ed

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

What's all the NOISE????

Despite the name "video," audio is a pretty big part of any production. And unwanted noise can really mess up a great shoot or a great production. In this episode I talk about some of the things you can do to watch for it and eliminate, or at least reduce, it.


Friday, July 29, 2016

Lighting, without it, it's called "radio"

Lighting is pretty important to video. Heck, if you can't see anything, you might as well call it radio, right?

In this episode, I talk about how to use both artificial and natural lighting, especially in an interview setup.

If you have any questions or comments, please leave them below, and please subscribe to my YouTube channel! When I hit 100 subscribers I get to pick a custom URL!

Thanks...Ed


Monday, June 20, 2016

Audio Gear, making your videos a LOT better!

First...THANK YOU to everyone that is subscribing to my YouTube Channel! We're on our way to 100 subscribers, which means I can then pick a custom URL! If you haven't subscribed yet, please do, it helps a lot!

Capturing audio using the camera's microphones, whether it is a DSLR or smartphone is a bad idea. To put it bluntly, your audio will suck. There are other ways to do it, and this video talks about the tools and techniques that you can use to make your videos 100% better. Well, ok, maybe not 100%, but a LOT better!


Please feel free to leave a comment, either here or on the YouTube channel!

What's in my Bag?

I've had a few questions on gear, what I use, etc., so I put together this video,"What's in my Bag" to show you the equipment I'm using and how I'm carrying it.

My goal when I started was to configure a setup that would easily go into an airplane overhead compartment because I was certainly not going to check my gear, I wanted it by my side all the time to protect it!

If you have any questions, please let me know in the comments below, and please subscribe to my channel! When I reach 100 subscribers, I can pick a custom url...

Thanks!  Ed