Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Five myths about shooting video

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on January 27, 2010

Lets start with some truths: video is going to play a huge part in the future of journalism; it is more popular than blogging and social networking; according to the Global Web Index of May 2009, 70% of web users watch video online.

And here’s some more truths: 20 hours of video are uploaded to Youtube every minute; (and that was in May 09, so it’s probably closer to 22 or 24 hours). That’s the equivalent of 86,000 Hollywood movies being released every week of the year.

Despite this, there are still some myths surrounding video and film making; myths which stop some print reporters, journalism students and hyperlocal bloggers from trying it, and mean that those who do produce mediocre content.

Time to blow them myths wide open.

Five myths about shooting video

01. shooting video is expensive

It really is time to put this myth to bed. Yes, TV programmes cost £100,000 upwards per hour; Hollwood movies $45,0000,000 is more like the average.

But you don’t need a £20,000 camera to achieve broadcastable results. In fact, you can make high quality, high definition video for as little as £100. It’s not the kit, but how you use it.

Not convinced? Here’s how I kitted myself out with camera, tripod, sound gear and a full editing suite for £500 ($900). And watch how the Kodak Zi8 (£150) can get professional results.

02. shooting video is only for the professionals

There are lots of people who’d like you to believe you need to spend years in film school and thousands in training courses to produce professional looking video.

These are the people who have spent years in film school and thousands on training courses, and fair play to them. To an extent they’re right. If you want to produce a pitch perfect visual masterpiece every time you take out your camera then this may be the answer.

But to produce video journalism, to cover everyday news events, to record interviews, to tell exciting video stories…well, there are some basic tricks anyone can learn. White balance, framing, sequences – these three basics of visual grammar will elevate your production in no time.

Here’s how I’ve been teaching journalism students at Kingston University, London how to shoot video:

03. shooting video requires lots of talented people

Even today there’s a lot of resentment towards video journalism. Jaded hacks hate the idea of being asked to hold the camera and ask questions at the same time. They argue having a camera-person (and ideally a producer) with them means the results are better.

Now I believe in collaboration, don’t get me wrong. And two heads are better than one. But are they always necessary? No. The evidence of this comes in the scores of excellent films produced single handedly.

So don’t feel inadequate when you pitch up on your own. It is possible, and indeed not that challenging, to master your video and your sound and your lighting and your framing, and still have time to ask the questions. You will need one thing, and one thing alone to achieve this: practice.

04. shooting video is a luxury

I’m sure there are lots of journalism students, and lots of hyperlocal bloggers who would love to have more video on their website, but see it as a luxury they can’t afford. Well, I’ve already shown you it doesn’t necessarily have to be a financial luxury.

But don’t think video is the icing on the cake; the thing which makes your journalism look a bit prettier. No, the statistics at the top of this page show the audience is demanding more and more video. They don’t just want to read about an event, or see a nice photograph. They want to watch it, they want to hear the interviews.

In a short number of years video will become core to our audiences’ consumption of storytelling. So it needs to become core to our production.

05. shooting video is easy

And on the flip-side, the final myth of shooting video is it is actually easy. Well, the professionals make it look that way don’t they? Trust me, from years of frustration, anger and despair, the one thing I’ve learned is shooting video is actually ruddy hard.

At least getting it right is.

First there’s the guaranteed technical hiccups. Your camera’s battery is low; there’s interference on the mic; the tape has corrupted; the edit software keeps crashing; your video exports sound and video out of sync…all of these have happened to me at one time or another and it drives me crazy.

And secondly getting every shot right, getting the soundbite, getting a perfect sequence, getting your framing right…these are all simple to read on paper, but difficult out in the cold with an impatient interviewee.


Now it’s easier to get professional shots with a Minicam!

Posted in Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on January 10, 2010

After testing out Kodak’s HD minicam, the Zi8, on this very blog, I have been able to use it for professional work myself, mess around with it, and recommend it so several friends and colleagues.

With its external microphone input and double lens function it is (at the moment) better than the MinoHD Flip cam. But, as ever, there’s lots moving in the world of camera technology, and I’ve got three big improvements to share with you.

01. Get the Firmware upgrade for the Zi8

If you have a Kodak Zi8, they have a firmware upgrade which vastly improves the camera’s zooming capabilities, and audio recording quality, among other things. To find out if you need it, switch on your Zi8 and go to the settings menu; moving to the “i” sign will tell you the current version it is running. If it is anything less than version 1.06 then click here to upgrade it! You loose a little bit of recording space, but the optics are much improved.

02.  A steadicam for minicams?

Yes it’s true, if you prefer the iPhone 3GS to a Flipcam,  you’ll soon be able to buy your own rig to achieve the smooth shots Hollywood studios pay thousands for. Smaller steadicam rigs, including the Merlin, have been around for camcorders for some time, but aren’t able to carry something as small as an iPhone or Flipcam.

The Steadicam Smoothie is weighted to provide counterbalance for really small cameras. Check it out, if just for fun. No word yet on how much they’ll retail for.

(Thanks to @EdMoore for the tip)

03. Awesome vintage shots

Need a retro vintage feel to your footage? Well, it’s possible to do it in post production with most software, but someone’s gone and made a camera which does it for you. It’s called the Harinezumi Digital 2.0, (or Zumi for short) and it appears to have been designed to be less-good on purpose. It has no viewfinder, so you can’t really see what you’re filming, and it’s sensor is designed to produce faded pictures with a vignette edge. It also has a macro lens setting (like the Zi8) to create elegant depth-of-field.

I’d be dismissing it right away if the pictures didn’t look so fantastic, and if vintage/retro wasn’t a-la-mode in design circles. The latest version (Zumi 2.0) can now record sound.

Kodak Zi8: the tool to change video journalism?

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on November 20, 2009

Broadcast quality video cameras are only doing one thing: getting smaller.

But the smallest one, the Mini-HD camera, has so far been largely shunned by professional video journalists, chiefly because of their shaky footage and poor on-board audio.

Now though, there’s a new camera on the scene which threatens to change all that- and it weighs just 110 grams. It’s Kodak’s latest MiniHD cam, the Zi8, and now has an external microphone input for high quality sound recording.

I’ve put together a quick run through explaining its features…

Now I think if used creatively, it’s possible to produce a high quality film with the Zi8. If so, the potential for citizen journalism, hyper-locals and other smaller news enterprises could be profound. Michael Rosenblum has already written about the potential of giving cameras like these to large numbers of people.

And you just have to watch this film by PNW Local (previously featured on this blog) to see the potential. It was shot entirely on the Zi8’s predecessor the Zi6. Elsewhere Cisco are now promising wi-fi with their next FlipCam model, but unless its’ got better audio I think it won’t rival the Zi8 for professional use.

I’m going to keep filming and experimenting – all the results will appear right here!