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?