As you know, video has become somewhat of a phenomenon since the internet became the main delivery vehicle for visual content. Up to now, many corporate, wedding, and family videos were created and viewed (mercifully) by a relatively small group of people. With the marriage of digital capture for both stills and moving pictures, and the ability to deliver visual content easily to a worldwide audience, a video can literally be seen many millions of times. It is predicted that within three years, over 70% of all internet traffic will be video content. Accordingly, many photographers are now beginning to explore video as an adjunct to their still photography, and indeed many clients are expecting photographers to deliver both mediums upon request. Not surprisingly, the video market has exploded in terms of equipment, software, and educational offerings. Digital video capture can be achieved with a high end Red cinema camera, or with a very inexpensive GoPro or Sony camera that literally fits in the palm of your hand. The technology is advancing so fast that now it’s possible with the new GoPro Hero3 camera to capture 4K video, which has 4 times the resolution of 1080p. Black Magic, a California software company announced this year their first hardware offering, a digital camera that captures RAW 2.5K video with a dynamic range of 13 stops, for three thousand dollars. Consequently, there is already a waiting list for this camera. Of course, many digital SLR’s now capture HD video as well.
So, where to go with this flood of technology? Having thought about it for a few years now, and not having the extra capital necessary to invest in a completely new set of equipment, I decided to wait. But I believe the time has come to begin learning this new means of delivering visual content to an ever expanding market. One word of caution is in order though. I’ve heard it repeatedly said that it’s a mistake to make this business decision if you have no desire or ability to tell visuals stories. While a still photo has the power to silently capture a viewer’s attention for a few seconds, a person viewing a video has a much different set of expectations, both aurally and visually. It requires a completely different thought process as well.
With the ever advancing tide of technology, I decided this fall that now is a good time to get acquainted with video. I’d heard about the small video camera that Sony introduced to compete with the GoPro cameras, and bought a couple to learn with. As it happened, a good friend and aerobatic pilot, Larry King, was to soon be flying in his last show of the season. I volunteered to make a video for him, as a way to learn the visual and audio techniques, and the software necessary to create a tightly edited piece. He readily agreed, and plans were made to meet on show day at the new Paulding County Airport, outside of Atlanta.
My chance to try out the new Sony Action Cam HDR-AS15 came on a very bright, sunny afternoon in October. Having only received the cameras two days earlier, it was a bit of an experiment as to how they worked, even having read the instructions. We didn’t even know how solid the suction-cup mounts would be, but we decided to go ahead anyway, since there was only one way to find out. Tapping into the aircraft audio system was an educated guess at best, but it appeared feasible. A splitter and 5 foot cable for $12 at the local audio store was all it took to record the radio transmissions. The sound quality was perfect by the way. The camera’s stereo microphone also did a great job of picking up the ambient crowd sounds on the ground, especially when the canopy was open.
One camera was mounted on the outside landing gear strut’s flat upper surface, and the other was mounted to the inside of the forward passenger compartment, facing rearward. With a 16gb micro SD card ($15 at Staples!), the camera would record about 2 hours and 10 minutes, so the length of the flight program was not a concern. Likewise the card in my Zoom H4N digital recorder was large enough to last throughout the program, especially with new batteries. It was suction cup mounted to the carbon-fiber front seat. When the canopy closed there was more than enough clearance.
Larry was soon alerted that he was next, and the cameras and sound recorder were started. The RAM suction cup mounts worked flawlessy, so much so that Larry didn’t even notice the camera, once he began his routine. Likewise, the sound splitter proved to work without a hitch.
On the first run, I had inadvertently set the camera to record JPEG’s, which it will do at intervals of 5, 10, and 30 seconds, and one minute. The files are about 2mb in size, and while probably not big enough for most print uses, they are more than adequate for the web. The image below is from the first run, and while a jpeg, it appears to have great color, contrast, and both highlight and shadow detail, especially for bright sunlight.
As with any new camera system, once the kinks are ironed out, you can begin to employ it creatively. I showed the finished video to a friend who has been a long-time videographer, and he couldn’t believe the quality, or it’s small size. In fact, in one shot, the camera was mounted to the inside of the canopy, so that when the canopy was open the image appeared to be on its side. When Larry closed the canopy, the camera moved along with it, so that it became oriented in the normal vertical position. This allowed us to record the closing and latching of the canopy, from inside the cockpit, a perspective I don’t think I’d seen before. In another shot, the camera was mounted down low, inside the cockpit, so that when he’s buckling in, the sky served as the background. Again the small size of the camera allowed us to “play” a little, and to try things that one probably doesn’t ordinarily think of. I think this will encourage me to be a bit more creative with my still work as well.
I cannot encourage you enough to get the files downloaded, organized, and backed up as soon as possible after capture. It helps if you can remember the day’s events, and label them accordingly. Remember, the files will be in “chunks” initially, but will be broken up into much smaller “bites” in the editing process. Well organized files greatly help in later finding that little gem that will add the right visual or sound touch, at the right time.
By far the most demanding aspect of the project was the editing in Final Cut Pro X. While the software basics aren’t difficult to learn, the more you know, the more you realize how many options you have. Many decisions are required to create a cohesive sequence that logically tells the story. While it’s not “hard”, it is very time consuming, especially while learning the software. Fortunately, FCPX is non-destructive, so it’s easy to scrap a segment (or the whole thing if you like), without damaging your source files.
Sound is a component that should not be overlooked. It’s importance is critical to the success of your video. The visuals can occasionally be of marginal quality, but if the sound is clear, then most won’t notice the poor visuals. However, if you have bad sound (and you know what that is when you hear it…), it becomes a frustrating experience. Learn all you can about good audio capture, and you’ll be far ahead of your competitors who overlook it. Music can also add a great deal to a video, and there are now many outlets on the web that cater to videographers. If necessary, pay to license the music, especially if it’s to be used commercially.
Similary, learn all you can about titles and credits. While a small part of the overall whole, it can go a long way towards giving the video a professional appearance, or making it look “cheesy”. Remember it’s your call. Don’t forget to give Thanks! where it’s due in the credits. Video can be very much a team effort, so don’t overlook anyone’s contribution, however minor. Everyone will appreciate it, and you’ll look like a hero. Be that guy.
Keep in mind how the video is to be viewed. There are a whole host of decisions to be made as to the final output, depending on where it will be seen. Compression of the file can have undesirable side effects, so it’s important to pay attention here as well.
Lastly, I’d say give yourself some leeway while learning this process. A tremendous amount of time can be spent pole vaulting over minor details that in the end will have little effect on the finished piece. When you get to the point of diminishing returns, make the best decision you can, and call it a day. Any film can probably be improved with enough time or money, but in the end, it is a transitory piece of information. Do the best you can, learn from the experience, and incorporate those lessons into your next project. Have fun with it too!