Tales of a First-time vlogger

With a rare free afternoon recently and none of the usual domestic responsibilities as we were away from home I headed off into the Wiltshire countryside; we were visiting family down south and I wasn’t required that Friday afternoon! My aim – to shoot my first video clips with the Fuji X-T3 and more importantly to stick myself in front of said camera. In other words, and despite the denials forming in my mind, it was the creation of a vlog that was vaguely running around my head. I have in the past compiled a few mixed stills/video pieces with the Fuji X-T20 using voiceovers rather than talking to camera. I think my hands featured a couple of times in these efforts (operating the tripod-mounted camera) and on one memorable occasion I ambled into shot, put a filter on the lens and shuffled off again!

So what I was planning was, for me at least, rather heady stuff!

To skip to the conclusion, the end result is OK I think and I enjoyed the whole process BUT there is tons of room for improvement. So what were the key take-outs from this first vlogging experience?

  • Script – use one
  • B-roll – shoot loads then shoot some more
  • Chose locations for taking to camera more carefully
  • Syncing audio is the way to go
  • Try not to start every sentence with “So”
  • Look AT the camera
  • Shooting both stills and video is challenging

Script

Despite what I’d read previously and indeed written in my free writing sessions I did not prepare a script. I do reference this omission in the vlog as I realised ten minutes in that despite having a vague idea in my head the lack of any sort of prompts meant I rambled at times and found it difficult to hold a train of thought. Luckily I was able to remove some of the talking and leave it on the cutting room floor, but there are a couple of occasions when I repeat myself and even niftier editing wouldn’t have been able to save me. The loose idea in my head was to record the elements for the vlog whilst chuntering in real time about my experiences. In the end one entire idea got cut because I wasn’t happy with the flow of words. So, a script, even one comprised of just bullet points would be useful. Personally I like the idea of writing a full script, even if I don’t deliver it verbatim, as this will also give me the raw material for my blog. To be fair though, the loose aim was to reflect as I experienced my first vlogging session so at least what I have produced is reflective of my original aims.

An opportunity just as I was leaving for some drone footage was a godsend in terms of B-roll

B-roll

What can I say? I did not record anything like the amount of b-roll footage I needed. This meant that what I did shoot had to be stretched out more than was ideal for the free flow of the visuals. Thankfully I was able at the end of the session to get the drone out which gave me some B-roll but even then I was scratching around as I did no want to overdo drone footage of rapeseed crops. So, shoot some b-roll, shoot some more than shoot some more again!

Locations for recording to camera

I had my locations sorted in my head before I set off, but three of the four I chose were by the roadside. Initially I hadn’t anticipated this as an issue as I knew the roads quite well, they were all B roads and typically when I’ve been there in the week they have been quiet apart from when folk were going to or from work. For some reason it was like Piccadilly Circus last Friday! I have lots of discarded A-roll where I am either waiting for vehicles to pass or being drowned out by them. Nothing more to say really, except be a little more choosy in future!

Zoom H1 and Rode Lav mic

We will gloss over the shameful scenes at the first location when I forgot to put the lav mic on. Again, I do confess to this in the vlog. After setting both the camera and the recorder running I clapped my hands together sharply providing both a visual and an audible cue for later syncing in my editor. The resultant spikes on the waveforms enabled me to extremely quickly line them up and replace the cameras audio with the external track. I cannot imagine doing it any other way after this experience.

Watch your words

Years ago on a business leaders course I was video recorded for the first time. On viewing the resultant footage I was horrified at how often I said “um” especially whilst thinking of what to say. Well, I am pleased to say that I have largely cured myself of that these days. BUT. There’s always a but isn’t there? I have a new verbal tic. So, can you guess what it is? It will be obvious if you’ve watched the vlog – at one point I started three consecutive sentences with the word “so”.  I had to comment via a caption – another learning point identified.

Eye contact

If talking to the camera was weird, and I mention that too, then looking at it was even weirder.  Fortunately none of the clips are too close-up on my face so it doesn’t show quite as much as it might have done and there is actually one sequence when I managed it quite well but it is definitely something to be improved upon.

Mental gymnastics required

I am a very experienced stills shooter and a very new video shooter. One of these I can do without conscious thought and the other needs 100% of my attention. I found that because I was concentrating so much on how to record the video and set the camera for that aspect then I basically forgot to take any stills or those that I did take were rather hurried. I have no true keepers from the day even though in those conditions I should have been able to have come away with at least half a dozen, especially in the woodland or rapeseed fields. This will get easier with practice I’m sure but I am also going to see if taking two cameras will help. Using one for video and one for stills will hopefully help with the mental adjustments as I won’t have to make any physical adjustments to camera settings. I have a lot of stills taken at 1/50th second for example!

So, in summary, this is only my first experience of recording and producing a vlog and there were other things that cropped up either on the day or in post production. These points here however are the key ones and give plenty of food for thought.

Overall, I enjoyed the experience and got some satisfaction watching the vlog grow on the timeline. I have identified lots of room for improvement (and some not documented here) but I am looking forward to addressing each area as I move forward and also to identifying further ways in which to improve my vlogging skills.

As Arnie said: “I’ll be back!”

Smoothing things out

So, having achieved a basic level of competence at flying the drone I am now able to concentrate a little more on the photography and videography side of things. Little things help, like knowing how to quickly change shutter speed whilst in the air and knowing how to clear all the information from the screen with a single finger when trying to fine tune a composition. As I was discussing with Richard this afternoon, once you’ve got your head around the flying bit then, and only then, can you give the photography side some real focus (pun intended).

© Dave Whenham

I took the Mavic out this morning specifically to try some new settings. These were geared towards videography and included adjustments to the gimbal and the way the drone handles as well as a tweak to the video settings.  For those who may be interested I set the video to 25fps at 4k and the style to D-Cinelike with custom settings of +1,-1,-1. Looking at the advance Gimbal settings, the pitch was set to 11 and smoothness to 15. Finally, I changed the Sensitivity settings – Att 100, Brake 130 Yaw Max 50.   I’m not qualified to explain all these but you can’t move on the Internet for videos and blog posts explaining it all in great detail – and some of it is accurate too!! I made the changes in an attempt to produce smoother video footage and start to take more control of things.

Watching back the first clip from this morning’s trip (see above) I can see a marked improvement in terms of the smoothness of the ascent and the movements are also cleaner. This was not shot in Tripod mode but achieves a good level of smoothness none the less I think, especially compared to earlier efforts.

 

52 seconds of video

Over the last ten days we’ve had quite a few mornings when the weather has been relatively benign so I’ve been taking the opportunity to get some flying practice in. Being a photographer first and flyer second though I have managed to grab a few shots as well!

© Dave Whenham
The weir on the River Calder near to the site of the old Elland power station (that open ground top right).

I’ve been talking “drones” with Richard recently as he has just himself acquired a Mavic Air and is getting ready to launch (pun intended) himself on this fascinating branch of our mutual hobby – photography. As I’ve been responding to some of his questions, I’ve started to think more about the settings on my Mavic Pro. I’ve largely been flying using the default settings and also shooting video using default settings although the stills camera is set to manual and has been almost since I began.

© Dave Whenham

I’ve read a lot and also watched a lot of tutorials which recommend adjusting the responsiveness of the sticks and gimbal to help with smoother flight. The more I read/watch however the more I realise that from my perspective this is largely irrelevant as I mainly shoot stills for which I have the drone hovering as I compose and then take the image. With practice I can now make small, slow movements to edge myself into the “best” position and the jerkiness as I raise or lower the camera is not a major issue; the drone will be still when I take the shot.  It seems to me that the main benefits of smoother stick and gimbal action is for video footage whilst the drone is flying and as I don’t shoot much video I’ve never really bothered too much with this aspect.

Last night however I made a few adjustments to the gimbal settings and to the Mavic’s Gain and EXPO settings and so was glad to get the chance to try shooting a little bit of video this morning to see if there were noticeable differences. I haven’t noted my settings here as I’m no way qualified to share but what I can say is that it made an appreciable difference to my ability to shoot smooth(fish) footage without using one of the advanced modes. Based on this experience and some more research I have noted down a new set of settings which I will try next time I get out for a flight.

Recce: Park Wood

It is an absolute age since I produced a video from one of my recces. Indeed, it’s a while since I did anything relating to video at all. So, this is overdue and no doubt suffering a little from lack of practice. Perhaps this should be called the “rusty” cut!

I have been aware of Elland Park Woods for many years and drive past them regularly but despite them being very close to home had not  paid them a visit until last weekend. I haven’t yet full worked out the access points for the woods, but this time last year I saw an advertisement for a bluebell walk through the woods and noted that the meeting place was the crematorium car park. I was too late for that year but made a mental note which is why I was parking in the crematorium car park at 8.20 on a Sunday morning.

As you will see the bluebells are not yet out in force but [spoiler alert] the woods offer a lot of potential for me over the year in all sorts of weather.

Drone footage

A quick follow-up to the Drone update blog post where I reflected on almost a year of drone ownership. I mentioned that the area that needs the most work now is video footage but promised to share some simply to put a marker down to assess progress in twelve months time.

Firstly, a very short sequence from Anglesey on a short break over there in November 2017.

I haven’t done anything with the Newborough footage as yet, mainly through lack of time, but put this very short sequence together for Richard who accompanied me on the walk that morning.

On most of my trips out with the drone I tend to focus on capturing still images, it was what I purchased the drone for after all.  Video footage seems to be mainly an afterthought which means that I sometimes collect some interesting snippets but they don’t work together as a coherent whole.

This was certainly the case earlier this month when I had a couple of early morning trips to the beach at Hunstanton.

I think one of the reasons for this lack of focus is that I tend to see the shooting of video as something to occupy myself whilst flying the drone into position for the next still image rather than as part of a broader narrative. I used some drone footage within various blogs (should that be Vlogs?)  last year but each sequence was  part of an larger overall piece rather than a standalone drone video and these inserts worked much better. The recce at Ringstone Reservoir in July 2017, produced not long after I got the drone, is a good example of this.

The final short sequence here was created for this blog. Unfortunately, I didn’t choose the best conditions for shooting video so poor light combined with mediocre skills hasn’t made the most exciting footage. However, as the purpose of this blog post is to put a marker in the sand then for good or bad here it is.

I need to work on collecting footage to tell a story but more importantly I need to up my processing skills considerably to get the best from my drone.

A window sill time-lapse

A frustrating month was December as I’ve already mentioned several times. The only decent snow flurry of the Winter thus far and I’m under virtual house arrest!

I managed to have a little play but have to say being restricted to the window sill of the front bedroom was rather inhibiting! For what it’s worth though, a short time-lapse complete with a few minutes video footage taken simply to check I remembered how 🙂

Frustratingly Yours

I set myself quite a few photographic challenges in 2017. The 63-2017 Challenge occupied the final two months but prior to that I’d embarked on audio-visual, video and drone photography and was I felt making some good progress in all areas.

6.30am on a cold October morning saw me in the car heading out to shoot the video diary for that month. I’d planned to shoot a sunrise and combine the shoot with a video of me talking through what I was doing and why, sharing my thoughts about the composition, the technical considerations and even perhaps some personal thoughts on what the hobby means to me.

© Dave Whenham
Buckstones Edge

What actually happened was that I arrived at the location well before the sun was due to rise to find myself in wall to wall greyness. I’d planned to photograph the rising sun glancing of the rocks and grasses along the edges and had even pre-planned some compositions earlier in the week (see above) were the sun should have been rising in the top left quadrant of the frame, illuminating everything else in front of the camera.

Watch on to see what actually happened!

 

Whilst I downloaded the files immediately upon my return home, old habits etcetera, I did not actually view the images or start compiling the video itself until well into December, by which time I was quite ill and the whole process took a lot longer than it might have done. Plus I’d forgotten most of what I’d recorded by way of narration and could not quickly visualise what video footage I had captured. Even after I completed the post-production it was several weeks before I uploaded it to YouTube where it currently resides as an unlisted video!

“Sleep and Then” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/