In this episode, I’m going to talk about getting started with doing video. Or at least my experiences as someone who’s doing that right now.
For a bit of back story, I’ve been trying to do this since I got a 5D mark III back in 2012. And in that time, I haven’t been able to get anywhere with it.
In thinking about it, I’ve realized a big reason for that is that I got seriously bogged down in details. Details, that while ultimately important, are ultimately are optimizations not fundamentals.
Of course, when you start researching video production from scratch, the optimizations are what most of the people writing and doing videos on the topic are focused on.
All that said, ultimately, there’s a big difference between reading about how to do something and actually doing it. And when it comes to video, I’m finding there’s no substitute for actually doing it.
That said, the other part of the problem I’ve run into is that there’s a tremendous amount of ground to cover.
You have all of the aspects of photography, such as lighting, exposure, and composition. But on top of that you have entirely new areas like sound. And a massive new swath of technical stuff, that in many respects is substantially more complicated simply due to the nature of the beast.
The question then, is what is important from the start?
What do you need to focus on most in the short term?
And what should you ignore until way down the road?
Personally, I think the most important thing is content. It’s always been king, and it always will be.
Whether you’re telling a story or providing information, video has to communicate something.
Moreover, if, like me, you’re coming to this from still photography, we’re talking about a story that’s substantially more complex than what you’d convey in a single image.
On top of that, you have to figure out how efficiently and effectively convey whatever it is you want to say.
At least in my experience, video poses an interesting challenge that’s different form written communication or even podcasts. It imposes a real demand for the viewer’s time and attention.
You can’t effecively skim video, like you can a written article. Likewise, the use case for watching video is typically different from that of a podcast since you’re not just listening to it.
Unfortunately, I think some presenters forget, or never really understood, this in the first place. And ultimately I get frustrated when a video’s presenter doesn’t seem to care about my time as the viewer.
In fact, this video is a prime example of my philosophy. This is my second “take” at recording this episode.
The first time through, I tried to do it extemporaneously with some talking points in a keynote presentation.
As a result, I spent almost 30 minutes rambling and stumbling along through what I wanted to cover. When I finished, I realized how disjointed and wasteful that ended up being, and that simply wasn’t good enough. So I scraped the video.
This time, I’m working from a script, and it cut the video down to a bit over 10 minutes.
I’m still hitting all the points I wanted to hit, but I’m doing it much more effectively.
This leads me to my second point, production and presentation. They’re both important, but they also only improve with practice.
You can’t read and reason your way though extemporaneous speaking in front of a camera. You need to do it to get better at it.
If you find yourself struggling, like I do, you may want to focus on working from scripts until you get more comfortable in front of the camera.
Personally, I find it’s far easier to get my thoughts together when I’m writing instead of when I’m on the spot and talking. It’s not happening in real time, and I can spend time rereading and editing it.
Moreover, as I work though the script a couple of times, I get more familiar with what I’m going to say and in what order.
By the time I’m ready to record this script, I’ll have read through it 3 or 4 times due to writing and editing it. I won’t have it memorized, but I’ll know it reasonably well.
The bigger benefit though, is that I’m reducing my workload when I present. When the camera is rolling, I don’t have to worry about what I want to say or try to organize my thoughts. All of that is already taken care of when I wrote the script.
After content, I would say the next thing you need to consider is sound.
Though again, there the theme is to start first, then worry about making it better.
As I said, I’m coming to video form still photography, and especially wildlife photography. In the world of light, I can easily put a telephoto lens on the camera and zoom in on something far away, and get an image that’s just as good as if I was much closer.
In the world of sound, there isn’t an analog to that.
Yes, there are directional mics. But these don’t let you “zoom” in the way a camera lens does.
Ultimately, what this means is that for the best quality audio, you need the mic as close to the speaker as possible.
This doesn’t have to be terribly expensive either. You don’t need a stand alone audio recorder or an expensive XLR mic. You can do this with some pretty low end gear.
I’ll be doing another view on the beginners perspective on audio in a few weeks where I’ll dive into this in a lot more detial.
After audio, I think lighting comes next on my list.
Sure, you can start with just ambient room lighting. Or use the old portrait photographer’s natural light trick of a sitting next to a large north facing window.
But at some point, you have to start messing with lighting.
Again, the name of the game here is to start with whatever you can and build into more sophistication over time.
For example, my lighting setup here is a collapsable hotshoe softbox with a 50 W photo grade CFL stuck in it, and a $40 Chinese LED light for fill.
I don’t think the results are great. And it’s a real pain in the butt to get balanced and adjust. But it works well enough that you can see me.
With the important things touched on, I want to take a moment to talk about the things you need to not worry about at all. At least not for a long time.
Fortunately, or unfortunately as it may be, this is all the technical stuff that so most videos and articles cover. I’m talking about things like color spaces, and chroma subsampling, ALL-I versus IPB, compression algorithms, bit-depth, log gamma curves, and color grading, and most advanced audio topics.
That’s not to say that this stuff isn’t important. It is, eventually.
But all of this stuff is also essentially optimizations that make things better. However, the need for them comes long after you’ve already got the basics down pat.
This is where I really ran into trouble, and arguably still do to some extent. My background is in engineering, and not trying to do things optimally is really hard for me.
I can get endlessly sidetracked on minutia trying to make the “optimal” decision, all the while forgetting that I’m not moving forward producing something.
In photography I’ve found myself often point out to people that taking a picture with a “technically inferior” camera is still better than missing the shot with a “technically superior” one.
This is a big part of why I’ve struggled so long with video. I spent years, trying to figure out what the best settings were, and worrying about color balance, editing, and so on, while not actually shooting.
It’s high time I eat some of that advice.
The final thing I want to touch on, is finding a workflow that works for you. I expect, I’m going to be talking about this a lot in future episodes.
One of the things I’ve discovered in this is that there’s no free lunch here either. If you skip out on preparation, you pay for it in the presentation and especially in post production.
This is one of the things that killed me when I was doing a regular podcast. I didn’t want to write scripts, so I just went about it extemporaneously. Then I ended up spending 2 hours cleaning up a 30 minute podcast in post production because I wasn’t prepared. Then I didn’t want to deal with doing the podcast.
For these videos so far, I’ve spent a couple of hours writing a script. But I almost always get the video in one or two takes. And I generally can avoid spending any real time editing out issues in post production.
Is it prefect? Not by a long shot.
But it’s good enough that I’m comfortable posting it. More importantly, it’s good enough that I can continue to practice, and improve.
That’s it for episode 2.
In the coming weeks I’m going to be diving into the topic here, and a bunch more, in much more depth.
My goal is to be able to produce something that’s substantially more complicated than just monologging to one camera. This is, in part, the platform to get there.
If that’s sounds interesting, please subscribe and stick around.
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For more written content on photography, travel, and deep dives into camera gear, visit my website at www.pointsinfocus.com.
You can also find me on twitter at @pointinfocus.
Thanks for watching.