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Posts Tagged ‘visual storytelling’

Wrapping up the video production tips and tricks, this post addresses interviewing and capturing an audio feed.

One tip: You can subtly rephrase a question to get the most pithy and clear quote for a final edit — although covering the same material again may seem repetitive for someone who is used to interviewing for print. Along the same lines, when taping a video package, I’ve been advised to gather about 10 times the amount of the final product – including background visuals and cutaways, such as the reaction shots of a listener or audience to splice between quotes.

Approaching the interview

I liked producer Chris Bauer’s advice over at KQED’s QUEST. He sometimes tells subjects, “Your goal is not to impress people, it’s to communicate with people.”

Even kids may feel pressure and clam up, so it is best to spend extra time with them. Interviews may flow better if you take someone aside to a quiet, neutral setting. Away from peers and reminders of the daily routine, a person is more likely to be relaxed and speak in clear, jargon-free terms.

Interviewees can be prepped by reminding them the interview will be like listening to one side of a phone conversation, so it is important to speak in full sentences. To check sound levels while easing into the heart of the interview, a producer may chat a bit, or ask the subject to say and spell his or her name so that detail is captured right on the footage.

Attending to audio

Recordings pick up hum and undertones known as “room tone”. So it’s important to tape 20 – 30 seconds of silence that can be used underneath edits for a consistent transition.

Sound becomes another flavor to mix into the final edit. Natural sound provides ambience, while specific noises become sweeteners or punctuation. In the field, you might tape your own feet crunching in gravel, or a door shutting, and so forth.

Indoors, being conscious of the sound environment includes remembering to take phones off the hook, posting signs to keep visitors from bursting in, and otherwise avoiding noisy interruptions.

Equipment

QUEST’s Craig Rosa recommends a few options for external mics, which are far preferable to on-camera mics for capturing usable audio tracks:

  1. Lavalier mics clip on and can be hidden on a lapel; the versions with 12-foot wires provide scope and capture sound that is less echo-y than wireless.
  2. Shotgun mics can grab sounds from the environment – if it’s windy, use a fluffy, slip-on windsock to muffle the loud whoosh of strong gusts rushing past the mic.

Dual inputs capture audio from these mics on separate tracks, which is helpful when editing.

Rosa recommends plugging an XLR adapter into the camera for better sound. The sound level should be as loud as possible without having the indicator needle hover past the red or zero line. (See more on XLR here: http://videoproductiontips.com/video-equipment/audio-for-video-how-to-use-pro-audio-equipment-without-having-a-pro-camera/, http://www.videouniversity.com/shop/xlr-adapter-and-a-dual-channel-mixer).

Altogether, he estimates that assembling a decent video kit may take about $4,000, although borrowing equipment may also be an option.

The interview

Bauer frequently starts by asking, “Where are we today, and what are we going to see?”

Producers sometimes will forewarn interviewees ahead of time that they may be asked to restate something. Or they may simply ask during the flow of the interview, “That was really good – can you repeat that?”

To obtain an easy-to-comprehend response, Bauer suggests asking the subject to summarize a topic in a couple of sentences, as if talking to a person on the street or to a fourth-grader.

To learn the upshot of a topic, he may ask, “What does it mean to the future?” He also likes to ask researchers, “What’s your most favorite thing about what you do?”

A response delivered with some fire in the belly projects really well on the screen. I once interviewed a mild-mannered scientist who did not have expansive gestures but had quiet zeal. I noticed that glint in his eye seemed magnified on the screen.

Meanwhile, for my friends who decry the state of science literacy, I will add a link to a YouTube piece from earlier in the year that presents concepts in an engaging way, all while keeping minimal, “prosumer”-oriented production values: http://bit.ly/YouTube_EcoServices.

It’s by Hank Green, speaking to his brother, John Green. Together, they formed the so-called Vlog Brothers and committed to a year of non-textual communication – leading, this summer, to organizing the first conference for what they described as smart YouTube content, VidCon.

Finally, a vision of the future – highly portable video kits, with lights and external mics – were featured at the most recent Consumer Electronics Show: http://gizmodo.com/5443853//gallery/gallery/1

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In many respects, good visuals start with seeing in a different light.

Regardless of your gear, the human eye can see a far greater range than any camera. While we can distinguish a range of about 1000:1, the range of an inexpensive digital video camera may only be 100:1.

In preparing to shoot video, the goal is to have sufficient, and relatively even, illumination. You’ll want to avoid deep shadows, but still have the subject pop out. The concepts below should help you achieve your aims within the limitations of your budget and shooting environment.

Planning for color temperature

Indoors, tungsten lighting tends to have a warm cast, while outdoors, daylight is bluer in tone. Since cameras need to be set for one or the other, it’s best to not mix these sources of illumination.

Morning and evening provide the most pleasing outside illumination. During bright parts of the day, shooting in the shade will avoid harsh contrasts and unbecoming shadows.

If shooting inside, close the curtains and turn off fluorescent overhead lights. When setting up bright, makeshift studio,  lights at a house, use outlets leading to more than one circuit so you don’t blow a fuse. An average household circuit has about 1800 watts and lights for illuminating shoots can pull more than that.

When the scene is ready, zoom in on the subject to calibrate color balance, holding a white card as close as possible to the subject.

Light kits

Producer Amy Miller of KQED’s QUEST science unit recommends a Lowel brand tungsten kit that is one step above basic, and sells for about $1,000. Since these lights get hot, she brings gloves to use when moving the lights, and face powder to keep down the sheen on subject’s faces. Her other essentials are a grip clip, voltmeter, headphones, and small sandbags for stabilizing the base of the lights. A small monitor is also great for previewing how a scene will appear on screen.

For video interviews, setting up classic three-point lighting will provide a soft, even illumination. The components and their location are:

  1. Key light – positioned about 45 degrees to one side of the subject and about 30 – 45 degrees above their head. On this bright light, use a soft box for diffusion.
  2. Fill light – goes on the other side, also about 45 degrees away, and should be half as bright. She makes hers 2 -3 stops dimmer. Moving the light back twice as far would also halve its brightness. Good choices for the fill are a V-light or broad throw light.
  3. Rim (or shoulder) light – shines from above and separates the subject from the background by defining the edge.
  4. If available, a fourth light can be used on the wall – here, an omni light would allow the angle to be adjusted.

If you do not have lights, she suggested using daylight as a key light and a reflector as a fill.

Camera position

For added definition, having the background out of focus looks best, which means setting the subject as far from the background as possible. Move the camera far away too, take it off autofocus, and zoom in.

The interviewer will sit as close as possible to the camera, so the subject’s gaze across that space will appear natural to viewers.

Framing

Have the subject positioned slightly to one side of the frame, but not all the way to the edge. This framing is more comfortable to watch than dead center, and suits both wide and narrow formats (high-definition is wider than standard). For someone watching on a cell phone, frame fairly close, with minimal space above the head.

To envision some lighting guidance, see the following online tutorials. The final installment will wrap up with tips on interviewing and audio recording.

http://www.techlearning.com/article/1162

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AcMX1RcNRYA

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gkUqBJoxZ-I

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A couple of things make producing an online slideshow with SoundSlides as easy as 1-2-3. Using the tips below allow images to evenly flow along with the audio track. At the end are links to a tutorial and embeds, as well on thoughts on when a slideshow might be a choice medium.

First off . . .

Audio will be the foundation of the finished product, so complete and upload that first. An interview of perhaps 30 minutes can be trimmed to about three minutes to capture high points and hold the viewer’s attention. If you plan to start with a title slide, the audio track could begin with a few seconds of silence to allow viewers to absorb those few words without distraction. Or, search online for free music and use some of that as a lead-in.

To select enough photos, allow about 3 – 5 seconds per slide. So, if one topic takes 20 seconds of audio track, having four or more images that support the subject matter would be a comfortable amount to start. After you have gathered your images, you can rearrange and add or subtract a few until the sequence makes sense. As with video, you may want to show an establishing exterior shot of a location or crowd, then a close-up, and possibly a graphic or snapshot of an activity being discussed.

Compiling an album

Only jpgs can be used in SoundSlides, so you will want to convert other formats, such as giff or tiff. Also, the color profile must be RGB. An image that was saved in CMYK format, for four-color printing, will display distorted colors when imported into SoundSlides.

To quickly and evenly upload images in order:

Once you have decided the order for your images, use a number or letter to start the file name, so each subsequent image has the next letter or number. For instance, the first slide is 1_filename, the second is 2_another_filename, etc.

The great part about naming images in sequence is that the program will make them fall into place automatically, at distinct intervals. Although the software makes it simple to move things along a timeline, adding more images after importing compresses the final few. It may turn out that their icon is so narrow on the timeline it can hardly be grabbed with a cursor to manipulate. For altering the final quantity of images, it’s probably simpler to renumber them in the desired order and re-import the whole lot.

The beauty of the program is that it is fairly easy to use – having been designed by a journalist for journalists. And the software itself is fairly affordable.

If there are advantages in effectiveness of slideshows over podcasts or short online video, it may be when the goal is to present a broad overview or retrospective. An analogy may be the times that someone would produce a conventional slideshow or even a simple filmstrip, for an anniversary celebration or educational purpose rather than a quick news update. Online communicators are finding it quick and easy to carry a Flip camera and shoot a short statement for uploading, and news sites are presenting fewer online slideshows. Still, a slideshow is one option for a multimedia mix – and there certainly may be times when a narrated slideshow would be an optimum way to instruct, inform, or enlighten an audience.

More on how to produce – and embed – your show

The follow links provide a tutorial and the means to embed the finished product:

Tutorial: http://multimedia.journalism.berkeley.edu/tutorials/using-soundslides/

Embed for WordPress: http://support.soundslides.com/index.php?pg=kb.page&id=71

General Embed: http://tools.soundslides.com/embed/

Looking ahead, a comment on usage today deals with homonyms, those pesky sound-alike words that may pass your spell-check while still having the wrong meaning in context. Say, for instance, foreword – the front of a book – and forward – pointing ahead. They both have a sense of being prominent in a sequence or chronology . . . and nearly sound alike, too! And that’s the final word for today.

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