Looking Back

I’ve mentioned previously that video is a genre I’ve dabbled with on and off several times over the years. Indeed, if you go back forty years you will find me with a film cine camera “spraying and praying” as the saying goes. In the 1980s I had two slide projectors and went through agonies trying to synchronise the two together with music to produce slide shows with dissolves and transitions – all manual of course and only the most skilled could really do it justice. Being a completely manual process meant that no two performances were exactly the same. Heady stuff but also clunky, time consuming and needing true devotion to master the craft. This impatient teenager never stood a chance in hindsight!

In this, my longest video to date, I think back and reflect on my various forays into the world of video. Using previously unseen footage from 2012 and 2016 together with some iPhone footage I shot this week I consider some of the things I’ve learnt recently and share some of the truly terrible handheld footage from my venerable Canon 5D MkII (RIP).

Not one for the faint hearted!

To iPhone or not …

© Dave Whenham
Hull Old Docks – no longer there I’m told

How do these folk on YouTube who post a daily blog find the time? Not exactly of earth-shattering importance but an interesting diversion from the tedium of infantile pseudo-political nonsense filling the ether at the minute.

I know that with experience comes greater speed of editing, production and the rest of it and that to some degree many are formulaic which again helps I’m sure. Many are delivered to-camera, often on the hoof, which can fill many minutes without the need for quality footage. But many also have some decent footage, even if it is just used as B-roll to accompany the main narrative.

I totally get that I have a huge learning curve, that the style of video I am choosing to try to produce is probably more time consuming than a face-to-camera Vlog but nevertheless how do they find time EVERY day? I no longer have a paid job but in a typical day I rarely get more than an hour to myself on a week day. I don’t know the answer but it will give me something to think about whilst I’m sorting the washing or sweeping the stairs later today.

I am away for a few days at the end of the month and will not have room for much in the way of photographic kit so am planning on taking just the Fuji X-T20 with a single lens and the drone. I can use the Fuji for video but will use it mainly for stills I suspect so having just acquired a shiny new phone I’m thinking of using that for B-roll footage.

The snippets here were shot hand held on the phone just to see if it works OK and I think that it will do very nicely for a short online video update for my blog. Whilst it is all totally handheld it is reasonably steady although I’m debating whether a smartphone gimbal might not be a worthwhile purchase. I can see the video facility on this phone being used too when I’ve got the drone out and I’m not wanting to carry a digital camera too.

Music: Procession of the King Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com). Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

My Back Yard

Hi and welcome to the latest edition of my video blog.

Aspiring writers are often told to write about what they know. So why shouldn’t the same advise apply to new videographers I thought?  Now, I’ve often shared images on my blog that were taken in my front or back yard and it’s an area I know intimately so what better place to start than in my own yard?

EQUIPMENT USED IN MAKING THIS VIDEO

Go Pro Hero 3+ Silver edition, timelapse sequences created in GoPro Studio

Main footage shot on Fuji X-T20 using 23mm f2, 18-55 and 55-200 lenses

Ambient sounds, apart from rain sequence,  recorded by me on a Zoom H2n and edited in Audacity. Rain sequence was captured in-camera and is unedited.

Voiceover created using the wardrobe method – https://davewhenhamphotography.com/2017/05/16/of-wardrobes-and-plastic-boxes/

Everything brought together thanks to Final Cut Pro and copious amounts of caffeine

Music Credits

“Vortex”, ”Ascending the Vale”  and ”Easy Lemon” Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License

http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/

Pre-flight Nerves

We all get pre-flight nerves don’t we? I’m most definitely not the most comfortable flyer in the world it has to be said. The wait in the departure lounge also adds to the pre-flight nerves I find, and I daren’t have an alcoholic drink in case I have to fly the plane at any point.  Whilst I usually end up enjoying most of the flight I do struggle with take-off and particularly with landing. The speed at which the land rushes up towards the plane puts the heebie-jeebies up me.

But yet – what if instead of being a passenger I WAS the pilot? Doesn’t bear thinking about does it?

Or does it?

© Dave Whenham
West Vale from the air

I went to investigate a GoPro compatible drone recently … long story … short version … I bought a DJI Mavic Pro. Which is how I came to photograph West Vale from the air (above!)  this morning.  This purpose of this blog is just to put a marker in the ground; as with most of my blog posts this is primarily intended as a memory bank for me to look back at in a few months time and see how I’ve fared. It’s been interesting looking back this week at August 2016 when I last had a play with creating videos for example.

I was very apprehensive, having never even driven a remote controlled car before,  but after an hour and a half flight time (over a couple of sessions) I’m ready to share my initial thoughts.

I am still very nervous is probably the first thing to say here.

Seventeen take-offs and seventeen landings have given me a degree of confidence in the technology and in my ability to handle it. I have deliberately kept it in beginner mode figuring I can work with the distance and height limitations for now. What is important is getting to know how to handle the craft and how to get the best from the camera. Multi-tasking is never easy when both tasks are totally new but I’ve been impressed with how the system works together.

The guide that comes in the box is pathetic; it probably doesn’t even warrant being called a quick start guide. I found how to format the SD card for example by playing with the App on my phone which works with the controller to aid flight and operation of the camera. Prior to my maiden flight I read a lot of articles and read parts of the online manual which thankfully is a bit more comprehensive although it is very, very poorly organised; DJI could surely afford to produce professional documentation at this price point?

The best advice I received prior to my maiden flight was to watch some of the many “newbie” video tutorials before turning the machine on. These turned out to be very helpful in giving me a visual reference for when the drone was on the ground in front of me with flashing lights and whirring blades.

I will write my initial thoughts after a few more sessions with the Mavic but I get the feeling that I am going to enjoy this latest addition to my photographic arsenal.

Cogitating …

At the end of my “Something Different” blog last week I said I was off to do some cogitating. Well I’m still doing it – cogitating that is!

One thought that did come to mind was: What is the correct way to go about making a video. Or should I say “correct”?

Last week, I put together three videos in as many days using existing material, video and stills, from my files.  The audio was recorded as I went along and together with sound effects was the only part created specifically for the three videos apart of course from the tea-making sequence.  One thing I realised was that the oft-heard advice that the only way to improve was to get making videos was sound. After three days I had remembered most of what I’d forgotten about using the software and I think that the same will be true of shooting footage. I’ve dipped my toes in and out of video-making so often over the years that I invariably end up having to relearn things I’d already covered and therefore each attempt is no better than the last.

© Dave Whenham
Nine months since my last dabble in video creation

Making three videos in as many days, all using the same approach meant that each time I was able to build on the learning from the previous one. I genuinely believe each is better than the previous attempt and can say without fear of contradiction that putting them together in the software definitely got easier. Not easy … easier!

The first video, Something Different,  was built around a narrative and is something I was originally going to produce as a normal written blog post but given that it was about video making I thought it made sense to create a benchmark video. The visuals were selected to provide something interesting to look at rather than move the narrative along and I surprised myself by how much material I have lurking on my hard drives!

Video two, Something Different – The Sequel, has a definite theme. Again built around a narrative but this time the imagery relates directly to the subject matter.  I also found that I had material I would have used in the first video but omitted because I wanted to keep the running time to around three minutes.  The secondary aim of that video was to incorporate some drone footage that a friend of mine had shot and I was keen to use.

© Dave Whenham

Which brings us the the third, Black & White Landscapes. This has a definite concept, black & white, and the opening sequence was shot specifically for the video, in black and white. Like the first two videos it is narrative-driven, but this time I added something of myself (the opening sequence) as a way of appearing to be speaking directly to the viewer and the words themselves are perhaps more personal speaking as they do about I how think.  The main body of the narrative was adapted from a blog post from 2016 as I wanted to see if I could present the same material in two different mediums. Again I used existing material for most of the visuals apart from the specially shot opening sequence and I created the voice over on the day.

So, this trio of offerings are all built around a narrative with the images supporting the words. A bit like a composer writing the music to fit the lyrics I guess.  But some lyricists add words to music and some composer/lyricist teams evolve words and music together. Each approach works so I would conjecture  that the same can be true of video making?

One of my biggest stumbling blocks in terms of video production has been coming up with the initial idea. I’m beginning to realise that I already have the ideas – I write them regularly in this blog. Viewing these latest three attempts at video making, especially the third, I am starting to think that I can use this approach to present some of the ideas and topics that I’ve been writing about for some time now.  In doing so the mechanics of which comes first, words or images, becomes less relevant. What matters is how the thoughts evolve and how best to translate these into a finished piece.

Some things will need to be done differently that’s certain. I love writing, always have done, and enjoy playing with words and constructing sentences. I found when recording the voice overs that some of these sentences do not work as well when spoken aloud. Long sentences in particular.  Which means that the narrative will need to be written in shorter, tighter sentences. Without appearing clipped.

I will also need to think about what video sequences I need and make sure I shoot specifically for future videos to keep everything fresh and relevant. If for example I want to talk about the role of chance in photography the visual subject is not as relevant as if I wanted to discuss street photography for example.  However, taking that first example, I think it would work better if I took a specific example, say the Bluebell Woods, and shot footage specifically for the purpose. As I’ve already shot the stills that will mean returning on a suitable day to capture the video footage.

Everything needs to be more considered and deliberate, I can’t rely on somehow having suitable footage but need to plan ahead and capture it specifically. If I’d known at the time I would consider a video on the subject I would have shot video footage whilst working in the bluebell woods for example.

I also need to be more patient but that’s a whole new skill set for me to learn!

Black & White Landscapes

I know that black and white is not to everyone’s taste but I started photography with rolls of Kodak and Ilford black and white films so its a natural thing for me. So I wasn’t surprised when I woke up yesterday morning and decided I would like to try to produce a video (should I call it a VLOG?) in black and white.

I don’t know about you but I can’t function properly in the morning without at least one mug of black coffee and another of black tea and in order to get started as soon as possible I decided to record the operation .  I filmed the sequence on a tripod-mounted Fuji X-T20 using the Acros film simulation with a yellow filter. That kettle is actually bright red and the mug a nice shade of blue but it was noticeable how close in tones the two were in black and white. It’s that sort of understanding that is one of the keys to successful black and white imagery I think.  After putting together the tea sequence I stayed at the computer and ended up pulling together an entire sequence using an old blog post for inspiration and a hard drive full of unused video clips, time-lapse sequences and finished black and white images.

The Romantic artists and poets of the late 18th century were inspired by the forces of nature to create an art of the sublime. Photographer Michael Freeman described it as ‘how to enjoy a perfect storm’ and that was very apt stood on the beach at Elgol in November 2015 as the rain lashed down and the wind whipped with such fury that I genuinely feared that even someone of my size might just be blown away by the force.

Joseph Addison wrote in 1712 about scenes that were “… at the same time, as Dreadful and Harmless; so that the more frightful Appearance they make, the greater is the Pleasure we receive from the Sense of our own Safety”.  I’ve rarely been as pleased to retreat to the safety of the van that’s for sure.

For me, black and white is a far better medium for portraying this sense of drama, especially when you consider that, digitally at least, the photographer can get away with adding a level of contrast in a black and white image that would destroy the integrity of the individual colours if he wasn’t working in shades of grey.

Modern digital cameras do make black and white photography more accessible I think. Shooting with film requires an understanding of how different colours will render in shades of grey, think back to the red kettle and blue mug. By setting a black and white picture style on the camera the user can instantly see how the scene will reproduce without any colour.  I shoot in RAW which means that whilst I can view a black and white version on the camera, the image file retains all the colour information too so I can make my own conversions later. I prefer to do it myself rather than rely on the cameras algorithms to do the work, although I must confess to a weakness for the Fuji Acros film simulation on my X-T20.

Black and white isn’t just something that can be used for making dramatic landscape photographs though although it is pretty good at it! I use black and white a lot for many different subjects, for portraits, street scenes, urban photography and some days it’s all I shoot.

Of wardrobes and plastic boxes

I had an interesting hour Monday morning which culminated in me sitting in the wife’s wardrobe chatting to myself.

Pause for dramatic effect …

No, I’ve not lost the plot, well no more than usual anyway. I had been recording the voice over for my second video blog (yes a second) and whilst I was able to use the spare bedroom on Sunday, the main road outside on that side of the house is a lot busier in the week and waiting for lulls in the traffic is not an option.

I watched a ton of videos before heading towards the wardrobe mind. And there was method in my madness.  I will try to explain. Many of the videos I watched talked about putting acoustic tiles on the walls, eliminating extraneous sounds etcetera. All well and good for a professional or serious enthusiast but the casual blogger? Nah! Which explained why one vlogger I watched recorded her commentary sat in a cupboard and another under the stairs surrounded by coats and other outdoor items.  Not much good for voice to camera or talking heads style recordings I guess but for voice only it seemed workable.

© Dave WhenhamSo I looked about this house -no cupboard under our stairs, just the steps to the cellar and nor are there any handy cupboards with sufficient floor space for a six-footer like me to squeeze into. I settled on my wife’s walk-in wardrobe (except you can’t walk-in because of all her shoes).

By opening the double doors and draping these with dressing gowns I had a type of acoustic-cubicle when taken with all the clothes behind (sorry, should explain, clothes absorb stray sounds). I placed my microphone in an acoustic foam-lined plastic storage box on a chair, attached the recorder and then knelt as in prayer in front of the microphone.

With the bedroom door closed and draped in even more dressing gowns (how many can one woman wear!) and the floor length curtains pulled at the window I was as acoustically set up as I was going to be I figured.

Having used this makeshift sound booth for a few days now I can confirm that it does what it is intended to and I’ve recorded two complete narratives using this makeshift set up. It is also very quick and easy to set up, especially as I keep deciding to record just one bit more shortly after putting it all back to normal.  It wasn’t that comfortable if I’m honest, kneeling is no fun at my age I can tell you! The other problem was the floorboards, every time I shifted even slightly the microphone picked up the squeak of our ancient woodwork.

For now it works, if I end up using it on a regular basis I may have to think of a slightly more permanent arrangement – I can’t spend my life in my wife closet after all!

 

 

Something Different – the Sequel

Firstly, my thanks to the Postcard Cafe for pointing out that I had comments turned off on my blog – no wonder I wasn’t getting any feedback from my readers (there’s at least two of you I now know!).  I’m not going to go back retrospectively and change every blog post but I’ve now enabled comments for the last couple and for all new posts thanks.

Anyway, Mr C at the Postcard Cafe took the trouble to get in touch to say “I enjoyed watching today’s ‘Something Different’ and how you are happy to show us a work in progress”,  for which I am very grateful.  I have to be honest I hesitated about letting something so “unfinished” out into the wild but at the end of the day I do not profess to be a videographer; I am just a stills photographer intrigued by a medium that is now much more accessible than ever before.

I’m working on what I might do for another video blog post which in my head I have scheduled for sometime in June but in the meantime thought I’d share the sequel to Something Different which uses material I chose to omit from the first video. Had I used all the material I’d have had a six minute video, something I wasn’t ready for just yet!

I am now going to sit down, rewatch both videos and think about how I improve things for the next video.  As one of the purposes of my blog is to share my experiments and blind stumbling in this creative world I will no doubt share some experiences in the meantime.

I hope that you enjoy this one Mr C, it’s dedicated to you!

Something Different

You have to keep pushing yourself I always think in order to be at your creative best. That means never resting on your laurels and always being prepared to try something different.

I have dabbled in video in the past, but never really achieving the quality I was after and therefore after periodic bursts of activity the interest waxes and then wanes.  It’s an itch that never quite goes away though and so in a moment of weakness  I thought I’d have another try this week.

I can’t imagine I’m gonna trouble any YouTuber or Vlogger out there with my efforts but nothing ventured nothing gained I guess.

I think one of the issues I have is that I think like a stills photographer and not a film maker or videographer. I see the world in stills, sometimes a series of stills, but not necessarily in combinations of movement and sound. However,  this I believe can be learnt through practice and a bit of effort – surely? I watch enough Vlogs etcetera on YouTube every week not to mention other online tutorials and videos. Academically at least some of these ideas must have lodged in my brain somewhere even if they’ve not yet taken shape creatively.

The video footage presented here is not new, it is a compilation from various aborted projects from 2016 – not enthralling but a benchmark of sorts I guess.  For me video is a combination of the moving image, the stills, the audio, ambient sounds and voice-over – a lot of different skills for the average Joe to assimilate.

I read recently that the only way to get better at this medium is to make them! However bad the first they will get better and there is no substitute for practice, practice, practice.  I approached this one with a different mind set to previous efforts and I am already considering a second issue for June.

It remains to be seen if the practice does result in better videos – but at least my reader will be able to judge it with me!