Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Video: Call Ripken's Hall of Fame Send-Off

Having been asked by the bosses to return from vacation early to cover the pre-game ceremony of Cal Ripken who is the most recent inductee into the National Baseball Hall of Fame museum in Cooperstown, my brain cooked for some ideas to deliver a decent package.

Getting into town the night before, I attempted shooting some B-roll of Cal's poster as it hung from the east wall of the warehouse, facing the inner harbor. Dissatisfied with the results, I woke up early Tuesday, just before sunrise, taking the Sony camcorder and shooting some shots. By mid-afternoon, I sat in front of a workstation, searching for archive photos of Ripken during his career with the Baltimore Orioles, burning a CD of some images taken by a host of former and current staff photographers.

Rush hour traffic was harsh, since so many people decided to get to the ballpark early for the 6:30 ceremony and speech, and I began rendering the photos, sizing them for a horizontal widescreen production. The video, which is interlaced, had to be processed as well, taking a decent amount of time to not only upload the footage, but process the files through Mpeg Streamclip, which removes the video jaggies.

With the time reaching 6:30, I scrambled to the field to get into position, using a monopod as my camera support. The event started late, because Ripken had also gotten held up in traffic. Finally, the dignitaries, including Mayor Sheila Dixon, as well as Hall of Famers Brooks Robinson, Earl Weaver and Eddie Murray took their cues to appear, and finally Ripken was introduced.

Using the external shotgun microphone to record audio, I pointed it behind me to capture sound, since the speakers hung from the upper level seating areas, instead of a central speaker system in the outfield, like the old Memorial Stadium. Unfortunately, the moment Ripken was introduced, a shrieking scream of an adoring female directly behind me, overpowered the usual applause and cheer. She sounded more like the victim in an underground horror flick.

Ripken's speech lasted around 10 minutes or less, and we headed for the editing room in the lower press box. Processing the interlaced video seemed to take forever, and the game was already in the second inning before the new progressive videos were completed. Dropping the main speech into the sequence window, I added a little B-roll footage and then played and marked the clip for places to consider placing the file pictures. Starting with a picture by staffer Paul Hutchins from 1978, I tried placing images along the speech to help break up the monotony of a podium shot. By the time the editing was finished, I had used every file picture, and added a neat clip of the outside of the warehouse, with Cal's large photo being reflected in a mirror that traffic uses to watch for the light rail trains crossing the stadium drive. It was strategically placed at a point early on, when Cal talked about reflecting on his career.

At the very end, a shot taken as Cal's last game celebrated his accomplishments was used. The shot was a vertical image, and fireworks shot into the air beside a large U.S. flag. Dragging the image to the left portion of the screen, I added the photo credits of all the staff photographers whose pictures were used.

Returning to the office, I discovered that there had been an internal server problem, and that the video couldn't get uploaded, so I went back to a Macintosh G5 desktop and tweaked the video, splicing some of the cheering to remove that screeching and irritating cheer by that fan (she can be seen holding a sign, and watch how at least one irritated fan turned her way several times). I also made a slight change to let the photo credits fade and keep the still image up for about 3 seconds longer, before allowing it to fade as well. Finishing the video was done in plenty of time; the server hadn't even been fixed, so the video had to wait until Wednesday morning for posting.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Video: Polar Bear Popsicle

Polar Bear Popsicle

This is a quick and painless video of Alaska, a polar bear at Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, taken with my newly-issued Sony DCR-SR300 camcorder, for a hot weather clip. The cameras will stay in our hand until another upgrade. This camera has those "jaggies," which is interlaced video. With the Macintosh, MPEGStreamclip wipes the jaggies out and makes it more manageable. I like to keep the camera set on manual mode with the light settings, and you can see that I haven't quite gotten the hang of it; some of the scenes are properly exposed while others are dark. It was my first workout with the camera.

I'm going to turn on the zebra bars (if it has that). "Zebra bars" are white and black diagonal stripes that show where the highlights are blown out in the shot. With the Panasonic HVX200, I can quickly gauge the proper exposure, but with any new gear, there's a period of time when the user has to learn the camera's method of recording, in order to get the proper exposure. Some might wonder why I don't use the auto setting; that's because I like having control over the exposure.

With bright subjects, the camera can open and close its aperture, causing the video to alternate between light and dark. I want the camera to remain constant. It's a decent camera in shady conditions, but in bright sunlight, it seems as though the Sony over-exposes. I like knocking the exposure down, just enough so that the footage looks pleasing and vibrant. While the SR300 has settings to adjust for color and saturation, I'd rather keep those normal.

As for the production, the video's need to be converted by MPEGStreamclip added some time. But from the conversion of all the files, to editing and packaging, it took about an hour.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

The Videographer as Chef or Cook (With Video)

I feel as though I'm a caring parent, giving life to this child - a video story - that I want to nurture, groom, and prepare for the big world. But at some point, the passion I pour into the project simply must be finished and set free, to let it stand on the perch to release it into the wilds of public view, and let that baby fly. Every once in a while, I latch onto editing a shoot, wanting everything to be perfect if it went much better than expected. The sound was captured well; the subjects expressed themselves; the moments captured on film sang; and everything mixed together like a recipe, filled with the perfect ingredients.

When that happens, your choice is whether to prepare the project as a cook, or a chef. The grocery store is your assignment location, so let's pretend that it's a target-rich environment: You feel as though you're shopping at the trendiest spot, with various qualities of cuts, produce and dairy products. You can grab the top-shelf items, or pick the basic stuff that's ten for a buck, depending on how you approach the subject. The interviews, B-roll and audio become your ingredients, and your recording equipment is the grocery cart. While not being too picky, get enough for your dish, and get some extra stuff so that you won't have to return; the store might be closed by that time!

Returning to the kitchen (your workstation), your tools for measuring the ingredients come from your own instincts. Do you want it to be short, or extended? Bland, or spicy? If you've done a thorough job, you'll have enough to create a few different styles of videos, but always remember that it's a blank canvas. Other than basic editing and continuity skills, your imagination dictates how the project will shape up. If your way of shooting and editing doesn't agree with someone else, keep in mind that not everyone enjoys lobster with drawn butter.

With that in mind, the video I've finally finished was created at Stemmer House, on Caves Road in Owings Mills, MD. The backbone of the clip is the amazing insight by gardener Barbara Holdridge, who has taken care of the grounds over the past 34 years. Experiencing her passion lit my fire, and I was determined to create the most compelling video that I could, as a tribute to her love of the soil. That, and a short ballad that she sang, patiently waiting for me to set up my gear. Ms. Holdridge talked thoroughly about her joy in getting her hands into the soil, so that if we ever would like to create a different type of video, it can be done with no sweat about lack of footage. Please enjoy it half as much as I did, photographing and editing the piece.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

SONY DCR-SR300 Smooth Slow Motion

Here are 3 clips taken with the SONY DCR-SR300 hard disk drive camcorder, using "smooth slow motion." The files, shot of bumblebees in flight and a hard rain, are recorded with audio, and other than rotating the one clip to vertical, all the videos have post-processing only to get them posted online.

The SR300 only records 3 seconds of footage on its disk; an audio track is also recorded and then the complete file gets placed on the camera's drive, using a buffer, so it won't be able to record for a few moments after each slow motion clip is recorded. The footage seemed a bit blurry, so I also added a comparison with the Smooth Slow Motion in the top portion and the SR300's regular footage in the lower portion.

YouTube Hits vs Local Video Clips; "The Phallic Tomato" (Video)

I'm beginning to understand about what people mean, when they suggest that the audio is the most important part of a video. We're not talking about the 15-second gag on YouTube (even though good audio still helps), but the focus is on the 2- to 3- minute feature clip, which is a full-length movie these days, with regards to video production. I'm certain that the average homemade clip is around a minute or less, and so the longer videos have to have some kind of appeal that would make a stranger want to watch the whole thing, and then want more. That's because boredom is the curse of video. The longer a clip lasts, the less that people remain engaged.

How does one effectively trim a video clip to make it more appealing? If you have subject matter that yields interest, half your battle is won. Usually stupid human or pet tricks, as well as breaking news can do the trick. As I write this, most of the video I have to shoot deals with very specific subjects, like the video of the Stemmer House gardener, which I will upload soon. It's simply not something that will make the top ten videos, yet looking at some of the recent top clips, I wonder what people find interesting, when hundreds of thousands (or even millions) will play a clip of yet another wannabe singer belting out an off-key tune. Perhaps its just that people identify with ordinary people more often?

For instance, the shortie I just posted. With all the editing and production of 3-minute videos, I had to post a really quick and "dirty" post of the phallic tomato, growing in my father's secret garden. "Look at what we have growing," I was told as I visited the homestead for the Fourth of July. What would you think it might look like, if Dad actually used Miracle Grow, the Viagra for plant food?

Sunday, June 24, 2007

"Our Secret Garden" (Video, Still Images)

Another project of monumental proportions (post-production time-wise), since I'm still learning how to create multimedia short subjects. Proper training would have been a good thing to help save time, instead of working through trial and error.

Somehow, the thought of capturing my father's floral garden dropped in my head, as my older brother and I helped Dad with work on our homestead. As we trimmed back the branches the orchard trees, I was attacked by a band of yellow jackets. Thinking about keeping my Lumix TZ1 close by, in case I was stung, thoughts wound up focusing on the flowers, which Dad grew to appreciate by grandfather's love of gardening.

Between chores, I paused to shoot some footage, trying to capture the butterflies that visited. Somewhere between chasing a butterfly with my camera rolling, and not wanting to help with discarding the large prickly holly branches, I started grabbing some images along with the video. I worked into the dark, using a digital Olympus DS-2 voice recorder and a Sennheiser K6 shotgun microphone, recording audio of the birds and insects around the home. Audio recording can be a struggle if one needs to capture sound near an interstate and along the flight path of an international airport.

Last night became this morning, with very little sleep as I worked using iMovie HD to help with the "Ken Burns Effect" of adding motion to still images, since I haven't yet mastered it in Final Cut Pro. Since the TZ1 can be set to capture images at the same resolution as high definition video, working with the footage in iMovie was a no-brainer. After finding some unobtrusive and excellent piano clips by Herbert Boland in the Freesound Project website, through, the costruction of the short was finally complete.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

"Stormy Flight" (Video, Timelapse)

"Stormy Flight" (Timelapse And Video) - More amazing videos are a click away

I guess I never should have expected that I'd take any time off without shooting and editing some kind of footage. This one was borne out of pure boredom, along with a volunteered bump.

With a freeze of flights into the east coast, I didn't get on the return trip home until past sunset. That's when I decided to try shooting time lapse pictures of the jet's take-off. At first I felt a bit steamed since we got airborn several minutes past sunset. And I sat on the left side of the jet to try capturing some footage. A storm, which had caused delays in the northeast corridor, still had some energy, with flashes of lightning ripping through the cloud deck below the plane. I set the camera on long exposure of one second, holding the trigger so the camera could capture images as quickly as it could.

Adding a mix of video footage whenever I could, I sat on the shutter button as the plane landed. Just now, I finished adding audio from iMovie HD, the software I used for editing, and a tune was added from the Internet Archive, which had a nice track by Pablo Reche that fit well at the end. The clip became a very foreboding piece with the lightning all over the area, and some of the ambient sound effects helped add that ominous dimension.

This was all captured using the Panasonic Lumix TZ3 hybrid camera, shooting with continuous mode (takeoff, landing, taxi scenes) and video mode (some of the airplane wings in flight; it simply looks like straight-shot footage). All scene editing and sound processing was done in iMovie, except for a little post-process tweaking of the titles in Final Cut Pro (I could have kept the titles in iMovie, but liked Final Cut a little more).

Below is the upload in Brightcove.

Monday, June 18, 2007

"Welcome to Baltimore" Video - Music by Igneous Flame

Welcome To Baltimore - The most popular videos are a click away

Take a setting in which you can't move, and try capturing it from as many different perspectives as you can. Given some time and a little creativity, you can start discovering some more creative ways to watch the world go by. I played with my own vision as I started recording the sights as the jet returned to BWI-Thurgood Marshall Airport from Manchester. Having grown tired of reading the in-flight magazine (which is usually the very same one that I had read on the way out), I started capturing some footage of the sun and clouds on an overcast day, while the plane began its descent.

Taking advantage of my Lumix TZ3 camera's 10X optical zoom lens, I tried finding some nice shots, and what I captured was because of the mood I was in at the time. By the time I got home, I wanted to piece it together. Some of the footage might be redundant, but I didn't want to trim too much. As I finished the clip, some music that I purchased, by Igneous Flame, kept going through my head. So I placed the track, "Lustral Sheen," from the album "SATU" into Final Cut, and the timing fit really well! The "darkly luminous" music couldn't have been more fitting. Igneous Flame (Pete Kelly) is right here, on MySpace as well. You should swing by and check the music out. If you like the track in the video, you must get the album.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Follow-up on Cheap Lens Filters

After reading some comments about those looking at alternatives to the pricey filters, such as the circular polarizing filter I had just reviewed in a video, I decided to make a follow-up post about my own feelings on using inexpensive filters. I tend to disagree with such a broad statement, that one might consider cheap filters as "acceptable." I'd rather want "desirable" results instead, when it comes to image quality. If a manufacturer has made a nice filter and yet isn't consistent with a good majority of the samples, I wouldn't touch it with a 10-foot pole. Case in point, my OEC filter I got through eBay. I had read that there were plenty of good feedbacks, so since the thing cost $40, we tried it. But if you look at the results of the video review I just posted at would you ~really~ trust putting such glass on top of a sharp lens and gamble with the possibility of distorting your image? I've heard arguments all over about cheap polarizers (other filters and lenses as well). People simply shouldn't gamble too much over what they put on a sharp lens.

The problem is that what lies on top is what will be the best you can get from an image. If the filter sucks, you could have the most quality glass on the planet, but your results will suck raw eggs. And once you shoot images using inferior equipment, you're ultimately capturing history that cannot be revisited, but for the images you've frozen in time. I was shocked to see the results that the video showed as I turned the polarizing filter. Watch how the filter I got distorts everything. We feel passionate about our images. Don't compromise too much by using bad filters on good gear.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Your Lens is Only as Good as Your Filter!

Field Report:
OEC Circular Polarizing Filter

The OEC Circular Polarizing Filter, which can be purchased for between $20 and $40 (for a set, with a UV and ND filter). But are these inexpensive filters worth the price, are they cheap, or should you save your money? Let the video be a guide to whether you choose to purchase an OEC brand polarizing filter:

Motiono by daterace

I really don't have much more to write about it, except that the OEC polarizer in 82mm size isn't fit for being placed on any good lens. And it'll make an average or fair lens that much worse. Here's the second part of the video, below:

Motiono by daterace

The problem that I encountered was first recognized when I had to shoot a horrific fire, one of the deadliest in the history of Baltimore City. Trying to focus on the victims, I simply couldn't lock focus, even with the focus-assist box on the HVX200. It made things difficult to get a decently-sharp image from the high-resolution footage for print. At one instance, I noticed that the edges of some things in my viewfinder rotated as I tried using the CPL filter, and it turns out that the OEC filter was the sole source of the lack of sharpness in the footage. To have equipment issues that cause your image quality to suffer on something so historic is terrible; you can't take the footage and return the image quality when that happens.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Keep 'Em Charged!

Monday mornings sometimes bring surprises at work. So was the case, when I arrived to learn that I had a job, one hour later. It was called "Build Playground Day," at Collington Square School in northeast Baltimore, in a neighborhood that's been forgotten and neglected. The Baltimore Ravens, along with Kaboom! and volunteers through the community and a host of organizations banded together, building a playground in one day.

Reaching for the Firestore FS-100 external recordable drive to mount to the HVX200 camcorder, I noticed that it faced the other way. Plugging the unit into the charger, I knew the battery hadn't been charged. With the prospect of having to shoot a great amount of footage over 5 hours of construction time, I decided to use the Lumix DMC-TZ1 and it's slightly bigger sibling, the Lumix DMC-TZ3 cameras as my visual arsenal.

Gaining access to the roof of the school, I clamped down a Nikon D2Xs camera outfitted with a Sigma 10-20mm zoom, to get as wide an aspect as possible. Calculating the frame rate of a movie against the time I had to shoot, I figured on setting the camera's interval timer to fire an image every 30 seconds, which yielded about 20 seconds of footage. At several stages, I clamped the small cameras onto different objects, gathering some interesting POV shots! You can't do that with an HVX200.

Starting the camera around 7:30 A.M., I returned to ground level, grabbing 5- to 10- video clips and switching on-the-fly to shoot still images for the web updates and for print publication. By 10 A.M., I started sending still images, then returned to the field to gather more footage. Gathering more still images for a picture package for the web by noon, I finished most of the ground-level recording just in time to return to the roof and take what was shot with the Nikon camera.

The nurse's office became a multimedia center, as I created a Quicktime movie, sent more images and the 20-second time lapse clip, and edited the main package for today's web update. Oh, working on the Macintosh platform is great in my eyes. While I write, Groove Salad cranks out tunes in my headset, while Magic iDVD creates a cool DVD disk of the whole project, for the school, complete with animated menus and a hip audio track.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Brightcove Posting, B-Roll Cameras

This is a Brightcove Post

I've found a website that can better display the video that people share. I found, while searching for some video of a singer throwing a boy off a stage and loved the quality and options of being able to view the video in full screen. While you can see some pixelation, it isn't nearly as bad as the popular video sites such as Youtube and other video sites. So I'm returning to resize the prepared videos and upload them to Brightcove.

I've also purchased two Lumix cameras. The TZ1 and big sister, the TZ3, are great little cameras to shoot B-roll. I've used it to capture alternate angle shots of Cal Ripken and also placed them on the ground at a dangerous crosswalk in east Baltimore, giving me the luxury of focusing my attention on shooting with the HVX200. Both TZ cameras shoot in widescreen at 848 x480 pixels, which is the same format as high definition video. The TZ1 shoots at 5 megapixels, while the TZ3 captures at around 7 MP, and also has a larger LCD view screen.

The videos they shoot now can be seamlessly integrated with Final Cut Pro 6, which we're upgrading to, at work. There's a setting that allows the user to import footage from various cameras without that rendering red line, which kills any chance to output a finished product with efficiency. At least, that's what I'm told.

Saturday, June 9, 2007

Finally, I Can Post Again!

Blogger and I had some miscommunications, and they've finally been resolved. So I'll be back up and posting soon!