Category: Uncategorized

5 ways to get better value video

In Britain we do love getting good value for money. However, investing for business can be a bit of a minefield. Whether or not video content is at the top of your list you can’t ignore the fact that the marketeers claim video is more crucial than ever. This is especially important where online presence and SEO are concerned. It’s true though; in an increasingly competitive world video can play a huge role in helping businesses stay ahead of the game. Simply put, they can engage, inform and entertain current and prospective customers much more efficiently than text.

 

One question many newcomers to video ask is:

How do I know I’ll get a return on investment?

The truth is, nobody can promise this. Every business investment you make, regardless of the cost and scale is a risk. However without risk there is no gain and by hiring specialists, such as a Video Production team, you can benefit from their expertise and experience in order to significantly reduce the risk and increase the likelihood of ROI.

But isn’t video expensive? 

Yes, sometimes it can be, but it doesn’t always have to be. With a well defined strategy for how your video will be used, who your audience is and by using time effectively there are ways to get exceptional value out of your video content. With a bit of knowledge and planning you can get excellent value. Suddenly you’ll find your venture has been transformed from being a costly expense into a cost effective investment.

So, if you’re still on the fence about investing in video here are a few ideas how you could get more video for your money with flyCreative:

1. Give as much notice as you can.

The more notice we are given about your project the better the end result will be. Whilst we could simply turn up on the day and hope for the best a better approach might be to help you develop your idea into a script and a story board beforehand so the filming is seamless. There are also many logistical elements that are better (or only possible!) with time too; booking a good room to film in at your premises, securing people for interviews, hiring specialist crew or equipment etc. Whilst we’re no strangers to last minute projects, the more notice we are given the better the end product will be and the happier you’ll be.

Our Alumni film below for the University of Brighton would never have happened if we hadn’t have given Fatboy Slim a little bit of notice. He’s a busy man!

https://mustard.film/portfolio/uob-alumni-film/

The bottom line: Booking a video production company is like booking train tickets, do it in advance (except we’ll actually turn up on time)!

2. Get the most out of your filming days.

When you hire us to film, you get us for the full day. Why not, if you’re not already, utilise us for the time you’ve paid for? Even if you have captured everything by lunchtime, there is often so much potential for content to be captured that may be useful at a later date you might as well get it there and then! Here are some examples:

  • If you’re getting a promotional video made, why not schedule in some testimonials too? These could be included in the main video as well as released in their own separate videos. This means more content for your Youtube channel and consequently improved SEO (you hear that Google?!)
  • Filming a 1 shot interview? Let us film the subject in their day to day work to get ‘cutaway’ or connecting shots which can be used to hide cuts (so we can take out the ‘ums’ and ‘ers’). It’s OK, we don’t need to be invasive if they are busy. Interesting ‘cutaways’ are always worth getting because using them can make content more visually interesting, pacier and ultimately increase the chances of higher audience retention. They may also be useful in future content.

Not to say that we don’t ever want to go home, but utilising us effectively will give you better value in the long run and it’ll raise the bar too.

Another one for the University of Brighton; we live streamed their graduations alongside producing a highlights video for them by capturing footage in the breaks. We just love a bit of efficiency!

https://mustard.film/portfolio/university-of-brighton-winter-ceremonies/

The bottom line: We always prefer to have the footage and not need it than the other way round!

3. Release your videos at the right time & spread multiple video releases over time.

Showing off new content as soon as it’s finished can be very tempting. However, to get the most impact from a release the timing is crucial, especially where social media comes into play. Do you think your customers will more likely notice your release on a Sunday evening or a Monday morning?

If you’re releasing multiple videos (separate testimonials or FAQs for example) then sometimes it may be more beneficial to release them gradually over time as part of a carefully planned marketing/social media strategy. A video a month or even a week will have customers coming back to your site regularly which once again is great for SEO and website traffic in general. If your content is engaging and has been produced professionally, your subscribers will value your output more and will await your next release with anticipation. Even for longer videos, a 30 second teaser could be easily produced to get your audience interested in your upcoming content through social media.

We produced a series of makeup tutorials for professional make up artist Ruby Lonsdale. Just 1 days filming resulted in numerous tutorials and is a great example of how content can be used to build up an audience over time. See one of them below.

https://mustard.film/portfolio/thebodyshop/

The bottom line: Good synergy between video production and marketing is essential for getting good value.

4. Allow the professionals to produce your video content for the entire process.

We know it may be tempting to get a student to edit your video for ‘experience’ or to just shoot it on your iPhone (sigh). However if you try to cut corners then you’ll probably end up coming to the pros anyway sooner or later. ‘If you buy cheap you buy twice’ as they say and in video production there is no exception. We can’t make your shaky, grainy phone footage look or sound good I’m afraid. By getting it right from the start you can benefit from the many years of experience and industry standard equipment that the pros (us!) can offer. Maybe your project could do with some quality motion graphics or your event could be live streamed? Services such as these can really elevate your output which will impress your current and future clientele.

Fun animation and motion graphics are great ways of impressing your customers and will really show that you mean business. Here’s one we did for King’s Education:

https://mustard.film/portfolio/kings-education-pathways/

The bottom line: show your business in the best light from the start!

 

5. Build a relationship with your video production team.

What’s so great about working in this industry for us is that it is all about building relationships. Think about whenever you pay for a service, such as when you go to get your car fixed. How often do you find yourself going back to the same provider of the service? You may find yourself even going out of your way so that you can have that service; you know what to expect and you can trust the provider to always make you happy. For us in video production it is very much like this; many of our clients come back time and time again to use our services for that very reason: trust.

How can you benefit from this relationship? There are actually many ways! A good video production team will get to know your business, your market and your target audience much better when working together long term. We may not be experts in your field but after a period of collaboration we’ll know your business much better than if you were to hire someone new and start all over. Even on a practical level; if we already have footage, logos and an understanding of your brand, it is far easier and less time consuming for us to re edit or reuse these materials in future content than it would be to pass it on to someone else. Further down the line, retainer contracts can be excellent for both parties; you can get a set amount of video content on a regular basis at a good price. You get better value and we get the security of regular work. It’s a win win situation for all.

After producing two videos for Visit Britain we followed them up with one for Visit London. Understanding the brand values and bringing them to the screen in a creative way helped us land this one:

https://mustard.film/portfolio/visit-london-summer-in-the-city/

The bottom line: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Just build on it!

Ready to increase the value of your content?

A bit of creativity and an effective marketing strategy are the real secrets here to getting better value video. Just having video content isn’t good enough this day and age; you have to stand out from the crowd. With a claim that 300 hours worth of content is uploaded to Youtube every day, there’s a lot of content to compete with. If you make good creative and marketing decisions from the outset your content will become more shareable which means a greater chance of return on investment, no matter which industry you’re in. Little things such as adding tags, descriptions and even subtitles can also help you grow your audience and improve your SEO for not much extra effort.

We may not have the secret to going viral. However we do know how to make videos that will excite, engage and entertain your audience, whoever they may be. To find out more about how we could spice up your video content in London, Brighton or further afield then drop us a line today.

 

 

Why we use external recorders to record video

It’s rare to be able to just turn up on set, take a camera out of it’s bag and start shooting straight away. With such a vast range of accessories available to shooters for all manner of shooting situations it’s hard to keep up with, let alone afford all the technology available to us. However, one tool that appears to be cropping up more than most are external recorders. In fact, they’ve been around for a little while now yet they continue to be growing in popularity. For those who may have wondered what the point of these devices is, read on.

What is the point in recording video externally?

1. Edit friendly codecs

Do you know which codec you should be editing in?

Do you know which codec you should be editing in?

This is the primary reason why anyone would record externally. Many consumer and prosumer cameras, notably DSLRs (except for a few exceptions), compress footage using codecs that are good for keeping file sizes down and easy playback but aren’t so good for editing and colour grading.

The Canon 5D mkiii for example records internally with the H.264 codec and it’s files can be opened easily on any computer. However, editing using this codec can prove troublesome, often resulting in glitchy or delayed playback. When colour grading the limitation of this codec results in a relatively small dynamic range, meaning that pushing or pulling the image a great deal will result in substantial noise and lack of ability to recover the highlights and shadows. Even with the likes of non linear editing applications such as Adobe Premiere allowing you to conform almost any type of video file to the editing timeline, the limitations of the original codec do not go away. Edit friendly codecs, most notably Apple Pro res 422 (and the numerous variants of it) are a good solution to improving workflow for those who often find themselves batch converting lots of files, being particularly useful for projects with a tight turnaround. These codecs can be found on all good external recorders.

ninja blade conference

Atomos Ninja blade mounted to Canon 5D mkiii for a conference. Extending the record time to over 30 minutes, using mains power and recording to Pro Res LT made the filming and editing infinitely easier.

2.Higher bit rates

The bit rate required for video footage can vary greatly, depending on what it is that you’re shooting. Live event filming may require lower bit rates for storage whereas commercials would need broadcast quality. Many lower end cameras however are limited in the bit rates that they offer, often not qualifying as ‘broadcast quality’ because their bit rate is too low (by broadcast quality, I’m referring to the minimum bit rate required for HD footage broadcast on the BBC which is 100Mbits/sec). External recorders allow cameras to deliver higher bit rates by using codecs such as pro res 422, as mentioned above. Without compressing and uncompressing footage, digital artifacts that can plague footage for broadcast can be eliminated.

External recorders can also help for those going through an offline and online editing process. Although you’ll need more storage space for footage shot with higher bit rates, shooting directly with them still allows you to use proxies (lower quality versions) so editors who are cutting large projects with substantial amounts of information can edit using lower quality files and then reconnect them with the higher quality files at a later date for colour grading and delivery. This is much more efficient and less processor intensive than editing with colossal amounts of high quality data from the outset. Although you still need to downscale to the proxy, you have one less job to do and the amount of time saved by not having to batch convert masses of data to a high quality codec can be better spent editing.

For more information on the pro res codec and the variants of it, including their effective bit rates, check out this useful article on the matter.

3. Monitoring solutions

No need to record externally with the Amira, however the PIX-E5 by Video Devices made a useful monitor. It c

No need to record externally with the Amira which records ProRes internally, however the Sound Devices PIX-E5 made a useful monitor for me. It could have also been used for low res recording for quick assembly edits.

Excluding the Atomos Ninja Star, most external recorders include a screen for monitoring purposes. Most of these are in fact larger than the inbuilt LCD screens on most cameras which make them incredibly useful even if you aren’t recording to them! For those situations when you can’t reach the viewfinder or see the screen, or another person needs to see the screen such as an assistant or client, having an extra screen can speed up the filming process.

Now, whether recorders are a suitable replacement for professional, colour accurate monitors or not is another topic entirely, however for the purposes of most shoots the extra screen is rarely going to be a hindrance. What’s more, inbuilt tools and scopes for exposure (waveforms, false colour and zebras.) and achieving critical focus (peaking and magnification) are usually offered in addition to the screen. Even if some of these features are included on the camera, the chances are there will be more on the recorder (and they will be much easier to use!).

4. Cost efficient & reliable media

Most external recorders store files on readily available HDDs and SSDs*. The former is more cost effective per gigabyte whereas the latter is often faster and more reliable with no moving parts. Either way, both these methods of storage are easy to find, purchase and change, unlike some storage media that can be extremely expensive (e.g. red mag SSDs and SxS cards). If you’re going to be recording hours of footage at high bit rates, affordable and reliable storage should be at the top of your list of priorities.

*The Atomos Ninja star is an exception, using ultra fast and reliable C Fast cards. This ultimately comes at a premium.

5. Compatible powering solutions

Dual batteries on the PIX-E5

Dual batteries can be a godsend

Not a primary reason for using but models offered by Atomos and Video Devices in particular are well noted for their compatibility when it comes to power and in some instances can out last the camera (5D shooters, take note!). The Atomos Ninja Blade for example can be powered by Sony NPF, Canon and Nikon batteries, as well as with an AC unit. Adding to this, dual battery slots are a common feature in most recorders and allow for continuous use on location.

 

 

 

 

Do we need external recorders for every shoot?

conference and ninja blade

A quality recorder can be a useful asset as well as a costly, glamorous add on. The question is, do you need one or want one?

The answer to this, as I would say about any other bit of equipment is no; there is always a time and a place. Sometimes it is simply easier to turn up with your camera and shoot. News gathering, weddings and sports are just some examples where it might just be easier to shoot in camera, especially if it means the difference between getting the shot or not. However, this is all relative to the camera you’re using in the first place (if you need some help choosing a camera it may be worth checking out an earlier article on how to choose the right camera for the job).

External recorders have been designed to get an extra lease of life out of cameras old and new and to make content producers’ lives that little bit easier. However despite this, we shouldn’t forget that every extra gadget needed to get our desired results is another item that needs to be powered, mounted, connected, protected in transit and supported with compatible media; all of which usually come at extra cost. Ultimately it’s down to you and what you shoot to determine whether a recorder is a suitable investment for you or something to hire on occasion.

In the case of the Sony A7S mark i, an external recorder was a solution to a camera that couldn't record 4K internally

In the case of the Sony A7S mark i, an external recorder was a solution to a camera that could record 4K video but not internally

 

Prices for external recorders can range from a few hundred to several thousand pounds, depending on the features, connections, maximum resolution and frame rates offered. Below are some of the popular manufacturers:

Atomos

Black Magic Design

Convergent Design

Video Devices

 

 

Why, when and how to use a clapperboard

“Lights, camera..action!”

This is probably the most well known phrase associated with Hollywood and film making.

If you’ve ever watched those little behind the scenes extras on DVDs you’ll have probably seen at some point a crew member using a clapperboard. Standing in front of the camera before it rolls, shouting out some random numbers and letters before hitting the sticks together and preceding to hurry out of shot immediately afterwards. Have you ever wondered what the point of this little device is? If so, then look no further.

Clapperboards are pretty fun things and they make fantastic decorations (especially if a production or director’s name has been inscribed on it!) but they are actually very important tools in the film making process. Understanding why we use them, when to use them and how you should be using them can not only help you act professionally, but potentially save you time and money, depending on your production

clapperboard close up

Clapperboards give the editor lots of information about the production which can assist in navigating large amounts of footage.

Why do we use them?

Lets turn back the clock to an age where 35mm and 16mm film were the standards for most people making movies. When the first ‘talkies’ were released way back in the 1920s, that is films that featured synchronized picture and sound, the sound was not recorded onto the film but separately (using a sound on disc system, recording to wax records). Early film cameras were also very noisy which contributed to the difficulty of recording live sound. Fast forward to the present day and in the 21st century on movie sets the sound is still recorded separately, albeit to designated sound recorders, rather than straight into camera. The primary purpose of the clapper board back in the early days and in the present is the same; to help sync up the visuals and the sound in the cutting room.

When do we use them?   

You may be thinking that in this day and age, why are we still recording sound and visuals separately? Isn’t the technology good enough to record both in one? There are actually many reasons why we still record separately. Firstly, being able to separate the camera operator and the boom operator means that the camera isn’t restricted and is free to move however the director wishes. The sound recordist and sound mixer are also free to record from multiple sources; using radio mics on each of the actors and/or condenser mics for room ambience for example. Furthermore, designated sound recorders are manufactured to record the cleanest sounding audio possible, whereas most cameras aren’t designed with this in mind.

So, we use clapper boards whenever the highest quality audio is required and when the situation allows.

using clapperboard

Tip: If clapping close to an actor it is good etiquette to do a quiet clap for the sake of their eardrums!

How do we use them?

On feature films, the 2nd Assistant Camera is responsible for the clapperboard. On a smaller production a camera assistant or even a runner could be responsible for this.

Every single scene, slate (another word for shot), take and roll is written onto the board to signify the part of the production that is being captured. Sometimes audio clip information might be included too. The production company, director and cinematographer is also written on the board along with other important information such as the date, the frame rate of the camera for that particular shot, the shutter speed or angle, scene information (whether it is day or night, interior or exterior) and finally, whether sound is being recorded and synced or if there’s no sound (mos).

Slating scenes accurately is crucial so syncing up the footage with the sound in post is a smooth process. Added to this, having visual logs for every shot allows the editor to sift through rushes quickly, knowing exactly which point of the film he or she is at, rather than having to watch or listen to every take in full. For most scenes a loud clap is required to create a noticeable spike in the audio levels, making syncing a breeze.

What kinds of clapperboards are available?

Make no mistake, there is such a thing as a professional clapperboard. Although you can find cheap ones in fancy dress shops or on eBay, these are not built to withstand the daily rigors of set life. From inexpensive chalk boards to fully digital acrylic boards with inbuilt timecode, there are many options available. Boards with timecode allow both the camera and sound departments to be perfectly synced all the way through production. You can even sync footage using an iPad with this handy app (but it’s not quite the same in my opinion!).

If you are looking to purchase a clapper board in the UK then I recommend these guys who offer a wide range of boards to suit various budgets. It’s where I got my first one and she’s still going strong!

Sometimes it's good to have options

Sometimes you have to record straight into camera, and that’s OK (although some cameras are better than others for this)

As with all tools, there is a time and a place.

Make no mistake, there are certain situations where a clapperboard is not essential. Sometimes you have no choice but to record sound directly into camera (events, video journalism, documentaries etc.) due to time, budget & personnel restraints. In some situations the effort required to record sound separately and sync it up afterwards actually gives you more work with little noticeable gain, costing you time and money. Decide carefully if a board is for you and how often you may use it.

 

An example of  a typical slating process on set when sound is being recorded:

1st Assistant Director: OK, silence please. We’re going for a take. Turnover.

Sound mixer: Sound is rolling!

Camera operator: Camera speed!

2nd AC: Scene 41, slate 6A, take 1, mark.

[2nd AC claps then leaves shot]

Camera operator: Set.

1st Assistant Director/Director: Background action! And..action!

Slating shots that have no sound

For shots without sound the 2nd AC would highlight ‘mos’ (motor only sync) on the clapperboard and when slating would put their hand in between the sticks, hold it in shot and not clap.

Syncing at the end of a take (end boarding)

For those moments when syncing at the start of the take isn’t possible then the 2nd AC will clap at the end of the take, turn the board upside down and add ‘on the end’ after they’ve marked it.

 

So there you have it. Hopefully you’ve found this information useful so that when you’re next armed with a clapperboard you’ll know exactly what to do. Now as you return to creating great work, you might just find yourself being a little more efficient. Happy shooting!

 

Tips for improving the audio in your video

The first tell tale sign of a video amateur is bad audio. It doesn’t matter how beautiful your images are, how long your steadicam shot is or how interesting your talent is; if your audience is struggling to hear the content they probably won’t give you the time of day. As sound is half of the picture it is crucial that video producers get their audio knowledge up to scratch.

So, what are some of the common causes of bad sound and how could we solve these issues?

Poor location choice

Can you rely on the natural light alone?

A thorough reccie will allow you to (somewhat) find out if you’ll be disturbed during filming

Background noise is probably the biggest problem when it comes to clean sound recording. Where ever we go, whether that be in the city or the countryside, some sort of background noise will try to interfere with our recordings. This could include traffic noise, chatter, sirens, aircraft, footsteps, air conditioning..and the list goes on.

 

 

 

Solution: If you are fortunate enough to do a location reccie, consider the audio elements as well as the visual. Filming under flight paths, by main roads, next to the staff room etc. should all be avoided where possible. If your location looks great but you’re going to be interrupted every 2 minutes, is it really the best place to film? Consider what time of day may be best to do the recording; if the office empties out at lunch time, why not film then? Also, turn off any appliances and equipment that you’re allowed to if they emit unwanted noise. It all goes back to a little foresight and planning before your shoot.

Poor acoustics

Recording in wide open rooms with hard floors and few furnishings can make your recordings sound reverberated. While it is easy to add reverb in post, it is much harder to remove it from a recording. Acoustically treated rooms sound much better to the listener, particularly if recording voice overs.

Solution: Where possible try to shoot in rooms with soft furnishings. Consider using old carpet to reduce the reverb somewhat and this will also reduce any sounds of footsteps. If recording voice overs, either use a studio that has been sound proofed, or set up carpet and pop shields close to the artiste to treat their voice as much as possible.

Unsuitable microphone choice & placement

Sometimes it's good to have options

Sometimes it’s good to have options

You can still record good sound if there is some background noise, but how manageable that noise is all falls down to your choice of microphone. Using the inbuilt mic on your camera is rarely the best option. These mics are often of lower quality, have poor bass response and aren’t usually that directional. High quality shotgun mics may be good alternatives but even those with the most directional pickup patterns can’t completely eliminate some background noise. Lapel mics can also be a good choice but if your subject moves a lot expect to hear a lot of rustling. You also might have trouble attaching a lapel on certain outfits!

Solution: Only ever use your camera’s inbuilt mic for reference so that you can get rid of that tinny sound and reduce the likelihood of any handling noise. Shotgun mics can be great on location, but consider whether having one attached to your camera is going to get the clearest recording or if you need to get it in closer to the subject and purchase a ‘deadcat’ or ‘fluffie’ to eliminate wind noise if you are on location. If using a radio mic, attach stickies and under/over covers to eliminate wind and clothing noise. If possible, find somewhere to attach your mic where there is less chance of your audio becoming muffled  – under a tie or a shirt collar for example. If you have the luxury of both a shotgun and radio mic, record using both into separate channels so you have options! Lastly, if your camera has AGC (automatic gain control), for Pete’s sake turn it off!

Imperfect recording technique

There are numerous ways that your recording technique can affect the quality (or lack of) in your recordings. Turning your microphone’s gain up so high that there is distortion and choosing a mic input when you should be using line are both suitable examples.

Solution: Different equipment manufacturers and sound recordists will have their own opinions on what is a safe level to record at. Some may recommend your maximum recording level hit -18db as it peaks, but some may prefer it to be closer to -12db or even -6db (which is a little dangerous for my liking). It’s important to remember that once a microphone distorts it is pretty much impossible to recover, whereas sound that is recorded slightly too quietly can always be amplified. However, recording as close to your devices’ nominal level is best as too low a level will result in amplification of hiss. This page from the Final Cut Pro user guide explains it well but basically you’ll want to use microphone and recorder combinations with the lowest signal to noise ratio possible. Before you buy any audio equipment do your homework first and look out for comments made by other users regarding this.

One way I found to get a cleaner radio mic recording into my C100 was to select line input in and turn up the output of the receiver quite high

One way I found to get a cleaner radio mic recording into my C100 was to use a line input in and turn up the output of the receiver

One thing to remember is that recording into a designated audio recorder rather than a camera will in most cases give you the cleanest audio as some cameras have quite noisy preamps. On location this might not always be practical but in an acoustically treated studio this is definitely the best method. Either way it is always good to test and get to know your equipment before you go out on a shoot to see how you can get the cleanest recordings possible.

 

 

Insufficient mixing & EQ

audio waveformIs the music drowning out the dialogue? Does your subject become lost amongst the layers of foley? Recording good sound at the outset is important but mixing and equalizing that sound appropriately is just as important in order to produce a product that people want to listen to.

 

 

Solution: Check your levels using the audio meters in your editing program on both your speakers and through a set of headphones. You may notice things through your headphones that you didn’t notice otherwise.  Experiment with EQ and see if you can make any improvements, continually referring back to the original audio. Maybe you’ll discover something, maybe you won’t, but there’s no harm in trying things out. Use fade ins and fade outs where possible so that no source jars when it starts or stops. Find out more about EQ here.

Too much noise reduction

Ever watched a video that sounds like it was made underwater? If so, one cause of this is too much or inappropriately applied noise reduction in post. It sounds bad; worse than most cases of background noise!

Solution: Get it right at the recording stage – do what you can to reduce the background noise. If this isn’t entirely possible, utilize noise reduction and other plugins such as high pass filters to eliminate certain frequencies. The latter cuts off all frequencies below a certain level, allowing the higher frequencies to pass through which can be good for consistent low level noise from an appliance for example. With this and any audio filter be prepared to spend time tinkering if you want the best chances of reducing the unwanted frequency without affecting the voice.

Not listening!

 filming headphones

Despite what anyone may tell you I am a good listener!

Pretty self explanatory, really!

Solution: Always wear a decent pair of headphones and be prepared to playback takes if you can to ensure you’re recording the cleanest sound possible. Other things to listen out for include unsuitable gaps between questions and answers in an interview (you need room to cut), spikes in the audio from background noise (the consistent sound of traffic may be OK but a siren will stand out) and interference.

If you have even the slightest doubt about your recording, go for another take if you can. You will thank yourself in the edit.

 

These tips are just the beginning and should only be the start of your research into sound recording. However, by taking these points on board and applying them to your productions you should start to see a noticeable improvement in your audio. Plan as much as you realistically can, be prepared for the unexpected and when scheduling allow for interviews and pieces to camera to take a bit longer so you can get it right the first time.

Light meters – do we need them for video?

It was my birthday earlier this week and one of the presents I received from my family was a light meter – a Sekonic Flashmate L-308s to be exact. This little gizmo is hardly the most glamorous gadget in the arsenal of video gear and probably nowhere near the top of most camera peoples’ wishlists, but nevertheless I decided that it was time to get one. Now I shoot quite a lot of video and you may be wondering why I would ever need a light meter when most video cameras have histograms, wave forms, zebras and other exposure aids built in. It’s perfectly valid to question why anyone would want to spend more money on an item that is, in theory, debatable as to whether it is really needed in these modern times.

In this digital age and with the rapid advancement of technology has the light meter become more of a relic from a bygone era rather than an essential video making tool? Do photographers even need to use them anymore now that most shoot digital? Do we really need light meters for video?

The short answer is yes. But it’s not as simple as that. Depending on what you shoot, the answer may actually be no. To decide if you do need a light meter or not it’s worth considering the reasons why one might have one in their kit bag. You may be surprised at how many reasons there are:

sekonic light meter

Sekonic – a widely adopted brand of light meters

1. To get the most accurate exposure:

First and foremost and the most obvious reason for owning one. I’m not discounting inbuilt light meters in digital cameras but the truth is a quality light meter will always be the most accurate way to measure exposure because that is their primary purpose. Inbuilt light meters usually feature modes that rely on averaging the exposure by taking several readings across the frame. Using an averaging mode can sometimes result in the camera been tricked into the wrong exposure because it averages the whole scene rather than taking a reading of the subject you are focusing on, meaning your subject could end up over or under exposed. Using a light meter here can allow you to expose the correct area of the frame first time round.

To control the highlight in this image a flag was held partially in front of the light source so it didn't wrap around the face too much.

The back light here was deliberately over exposed so that it was unrecoverable in post but if I wanted to I could have measured it so it was specifically 1 or 2 stops over the rest of his face.

2. It is easier to control your contrast:

Once you have established optimum exposure of your subject, a light meter can be used to balance the other areas of the frame to help create the look your production desires. For instance, you may want everything to be flat and even for a corporate video or high contrast and moody for drama. You could always judge by eye but knowing exactly how many stops over or under areas of your image are you can have confidence knowing that you’re being accurate. What’s more, if you know the dynamic range of your camera you can expose your images in a way that lets you have a greater degree of flexibility during colour grading if you want it.

Can you rely on the natural light alone?

3. You can have a more efficient location recce:

When you visit a location how do you know what equipment to bring if you don’t know how good the natural light really is? Our eyes can be deceiving and lead us into thinking the natural light can do all the work but really the only way to be fully prepared is to measure that light and then make the decision.

 

talent and lighting

Metering will improve your efficiency in setting up.

4. You can light a scene before the talent arrives (and quicker):

This is a very important point. If we could only light when the talent (or a stand in) was in shot we would never get anything done. Of course, once the talent is in the frame you may want to make some small adjustments but being able to set the exposure beforehand will help save you and everybody else’s time and money. Adding to this, if you have to run back and forth between adjusting a light and viewing the histogram or waveform this can be quite time consuming.

 

which camera?

It doesn’t matter which camera you decide to use, a light meter could assist you with exposure for any model that lets you set exposure manually

5. Video & photography skills often overlap. Embrace this:

For the DSLR video shooters out there, you’ve probably learned a thing or two about photography whilst you’ve been at it. You may have tried out long exposure and timelapse photography out of curiosity, the latter of which can certainly add an interesting element to your videos. Much of this may be a result of simple trial and error until you get pleasing results (this is certainly how I used to do it), however using a light meter can help you to reduce this method and once again save you time. What’s more, you could go further down the photography route later on and so having a greater understanding of exposure and light now could actually make you more employable in the future.

 

 

dog 35mm film

This photo of the old family dog ‘Dolly’ was taken on my old pentax 35mm film camera. Although it’s a lovely photo, if I had taken a reading off of her fur rather than relying on the inbuilt meter to average it out then it wouldn’t have appeared slightly over exposed, as being a golden lab her fur was actually a shade darker.

6. You open up the possibility of shooting on film:

Ever had that burning desire to go old school? We all have. With Kodak’s recent announcement of a new (yes, new!) Super 8 film camera you may just get tempted further into experimenting with film.

Now, many 35mm stills cameras have inbuilt spot meters, as do super 8 cameras, however, once again they may not always be the best option for you, especially if these meters calculate an exposure based on averages. Of course with digital cameras you can readjust your exposure and snap again but with rolls of film this can be an expensive thing to do so you have to be much more conservative with your shots. Taking proper exposure readings will eliminate the need for guess work and ensure you become comfortable with the format.

And finally..

7. You look like you know what you’re doing:

In other words, you look like a pro. That’s a good thing, right? Oh, and you can give accurate orders to an assistant (this is invaluable)!

So, taking these points into consideration, what kind of video shooters could benefit from using a light meter?

I believe the answer is anyone who wants or needs to light their productions to a high standard. This includes those who work in (but is certainly not limited to) commercials, drama, green screen and stills photography. Aspiring DOPs certainly need one, hence why I got one. For conferences, weddings, run and gun documentaries and corporate videos, you probably won’t need one. In these instances you can simply rely on your camera’s exposure aids and you won’t have to fork out for an expensive item that may just end up gathering dust.

At the end of the day the decision of whether you need a light meter or not is down to you and it all depends on what you shoot and/or what you want to shoot. Light meters aren’t the cheapest tools out there so, as with everything else, only get one if you really need it. If you decide that you do need one however, it could be one of the most important investments you’ll ever make in your video career.

If you would like to find out more about lighting check out this article on why good lighting can sometimes be more important than the camera and how a cheap reflector could be your most important lighting accessory (after the light meter of course!) .

Video Production Companies London

How to choose the right camera for the job

The C100's form factor and weight made it the perfect choice on a recent trip to Gibraltar

The C100’s form factor and weight made it the perfect choice for a day trip to Gibraltar

I’m terrible at making decisions sometimes. When presented with a multitude of options for anything in life it’s so easy to spend too much time overthinking which options to take that you end up wasting unforgivable amounts of time being indecisive and not actually getting anything done. The process of deciding on a camera to use is one of those tasks that I, and I’m sure many others in this field, have been guilty of in the past for spending far too long on. Many hours can be lost to Youtube comparison videos and the forums if you’re not careful. Sounding familiar? There are so many options available to us that it’s understandable why it would take so long to decide, but time is money after all and we’ll get left behind if we ‘oom’ and ‘ahh’ for too long.

And the award for most expensive wedding video ever goes to..

Lets face it – all of us techies would love to have the latest and greatest cameras for all of our projects. Wouldn’t it be great if we could shoot in 4K or 6K (or even greater) every time? Having the ability to shoot super slow motion on a full frame sensor with internal ND in a lightweight body would be pretty amazing right? Why would anyone want you shooting for them if you don’t have the most up to date technology possible?

We’d better stop dreaming I’m afraid.

Not to rain on the parade or anything but the fact of the matter is we can’t always have the most advanced technology every time. Most of the time this is down to money, but even if you had all of the money in the world to buy however many cameras you’d like, you’d probably reach the same conclusion as me eventually:

No camera is perfect. But, for each job there is a perfect camera. 

Think to yourself what your favourite film is. Why is it your favourite film? Did the choice of camera have anything to do with it?

Probably not.

You probably chose it for its story or maybe the acting. Perhaps you chose it for its cinematography, but remember the camera only did half the work. There was a person operating that camera and they would’ve probably made a conscious decision as to why that camera was the tool for the job in their current situation.

The right camera for the job

It’s very easy to get into the gear mindset and only think specs, but really if you want to be taken seriously as a professional then think of the equipment as merely tools. Cameras are obviously much more exciting than other tools in other industries, but realistically that’s what they are.  You are there to do a job and they are there to help you do that. The camera manufacturers want us to think differently, but then they want our hard earned cash! The key is finding the camera that will help you do your job, whatever it may be, as efficiently and effectively as possible whether you are buying or hiring.

So what is your situation? Do you have a short term brief to meet or a long term investment to consider? If you are stuck choosing a camera, here are some factors to consider before your dreaming becomes a money losing opportunity:

  • Price

The most obvious thing to consider. As with any other product the more features a camera has, the dearer it will be, whether you’re buying or hiring. Set yourself a budget.

  • Return on investment 

If you’re buying it’s sensible to think about how long it will take (or – gulp – if) you’ll make a return on your investment. We’d all like an Arri Alexa, but do we all earn that much in a year? Similarly if you’re shooting on a long project, would it make sense to hire a camera for that period when you could actually save money in the long run by buying?

  • Accessories

What do you actually need to make your camera perform how you want it to? Does it work straight out of the box or are there other bits required? Do these additional items cost much or take long to set up? Will these accessories remain useful if you decide to upgrade further down the line? Have you thought about which lenses you’re going to use? (that’s an entirely different subject in itself)

  • Target audience

Crucial, this one. What do you actually shoot? What are your clients asking for? Do you want to move into shooting something different? An Arri Alexa is probably going to be a bit overwhelming for talking heads!

  • Workflow

How quickly do your clients need their video? Do you need to shoot with edit friendly codecs for speed? Or do you require something more efficient for storage? Can your editing system handle 4K or do you plan to upgrade in the future? Do you need flexibility in the grade?

  • Image

It would be lovely to not have to worry about this but unfortunately in the world of business first impressions are made very quickly and this can mean the difference between landing a job or not. Whilst this is mostly attributed to personality, punctuality and presentation, the same can also be applied to the equipment you use. If your clients think you’re using cheap equipment are they likely to pay top dollar? If you shoot on a DSLR have you ever had someone ask you ‘Are you doing stills?’. What impression do you want to leave?

  • Style

OK, so we’re allowed to have a little bit of fun while we’re selecting our tools. Every camera out there has a distinct look and processes colours and skin tone slightly differently from the next. You might just simply prefer the look of one over the other, regardless of specs. Try some cameras out and see what you like. Are you Canon or Sony? Black Magic or Red?

Sony or Canon?

Are you Sony or Canon?

As you can see there is a lot to consider when choosing a camera and we would all want to know that we are making the right choice. Lets look at some examples, in this case some up to date 4K cameras, and think about when they could be used as effective tools and when they may just be a big fat waste of money:

Arri Amira

arri amiraEveryone knows that Arri is king when it comes to cameras, as was evident when cinematographer Roger Deakins commented that the Alexa was the first digital cinema camera to challenge 35mm film.

The Amira is essentially a slimmed down ‘documentary’ style version of the Alexa. With HD, 2K and 4K options, a range of Pro Res codecs, slow motion up to 200 fps, internal ND, interchangeable lenses and huge dynamic range, this camera really has everything I would love to have in a camera. Most importantly, the images it produces are superb. I mean they would have to be as this camera retails at over £20,000. Would probably be hiring this one me thinks.

20151020_093951

I was fortunate enough to spend some time recently with the Amira. An incredible camera but with the weight of accessories you might think twice about shooting on it entirely handheld.

Best for:

  • Broadcast and high end drama, documentary, commercial etc.

Worst for:

  • Event work and majority of online output (impractical and uneconomical)

 

 

 

Black Magic Cinema Camera

blackmagic_design_blackmagic_production_camera_4k_964119From my experience Black Magic seem to be a bit like marmite. Most people seem to either love them or hate them – there’s no in between. Why’s that? To start with, the specs for their production camera are very good with lots of frame rate options, huge dynamic range and popular lens mount options all within a small body. What’s more it comes at an unbelievable price for a 4K camera at just over £2000 currently. Where it falls short however is in its battery life, impractical screen and ergonomics. It sounds tempting but if you decide to invest in some accessories for it then suddenly it’s not so cheap.

BMPC: Ideal size and weight for a car rig.

BMPC: The ideal size and weight for a car rig.

Best for:

  • Low budget drama, commercials and music videos or 4K on a budget

Worst for:

  • Anytime you have to shoot quickly, as a lone shooter or in low light, i.e. documentaries & travel (impractical)

Sony A7S mkii

sony a7s iiThe A7S took the DSLR world by storm last year mostly due to its incredible low light capabilities attributed to its full frame sensor and it’s affordable price tag. Now the mkii is here and whereas previously you could only record 4K footage to an external recorder this new version offers internal 4K recording as well as some other nice features including frame rates up to 120fps and several variations of S-Log for greater dynamic range in the grade. At £2500 it is certainly an affordable 4K camera, but it may not be for everyone. As a DSLR it still lacks some features associated with professional video cameras including XLR inputs and is limited to recording no longer than 30 minutes. Its battery life is also not great and the Sony E mount offers far fewer lens options than EF or PL for example. If you decide to invest in accessories, then once again, it may not actually seem that cheap after all.

Best for:

  • Travel

Worst for:

  • Conferences, weddings and other long recordings (impractical)

C300 mkii 

canon_0635c002_eos_c300_mark_ii_1134579

A recent offering from Canon, the C300 mkii builds upon the success of the original C300 which became a widely recognised video production workhorse. The original camera was popular for broadcast, news gathering and corporate work and the C300 mkii looks set to improve on this build with new codecs and frame rates on offer, 4K recording, inbuilt ND, popular lens mount options and a form factor that makes it ideal for shooting as a single operator. But with only being able to shoot 4K at 30p, a heavier build than the previous model and a price tag far higher than the spec-tacular Sony FS7 (which is in the same league but does offer slow motion in 4K) this camera may be too much for some at £13500.

Best for:

  • Broadcast and online (anything that requires a single operator)

Worst for:

  • 4K slow motion requirements (non existent)
Video Production Companies London

The original C300 has dropped in price substantially since the mark ii release. Great if you don’t need 4K.

These are just a few examples to get you thinking and of course these are my own opinions, but as you can see it’s a bit of a minefield out there. There are so many factors to consider and what one person needs in a camera may be unnecessary for another. It also doesn’t help that new cameras are being thrown at us left, right and centre all the time and the old models are becoming obsolete quicker than ever (which hurts us financially for sure!). The plus side of this camera boom however is there are so many options available that there is something for every budget, whether you shoot HD or 4K.

Get what you need and concentrate on producing high quality work – remember it’s not just about the equipment but the people and the creativity behind it.

5 tips for shooting better interviews

Interviewing: an essential skill in video production

Interviewing: an essential skill in video production

Here at flycreative we know a thing or two about filming interviews. Interviews are the heart of many video productions and most corporate, event and documentary shoots will at some point involve someone speaking to the camera in depth about a subject. Whether the topic is eCommerce or the plains of Nebraska, it is our job as video production professionals to capture and create engaging content, regardless of our knowledge of the subject at hand. Whilst the subject may change however, our approach does not and there are some key considerations to be made whenever an interview is approaching.

Being able to conduct an interview is an essential skill for any videographer or producer, but are your skills up to scratch? Here are 5 top tips for shooting better interviews:

1. Location, location, location!

As they say in business, it’s all about location, location, location. This is important aesthetically as well as practically. Here are some things to consider when deciding on a location:

  • Background – What is it? Does it portray your subject in a positive light? Are there any brands or logos you should be avoiding?
  • Lighting – Where is the best available light? Do you need or want to bring in your own?
  • Sound – Are you likely to be disturbed? Is there likely to be music or interference here?
  • Practicalities – Do you need permission to film here? Are you causing an inconvenience to the public? Is it safe to be here?

Reccie your location in advance if possible, whether that be a day before or 10 minutes before your client arrives. Any preparation time is useful and being prepared makes you look professional. If you can’t realistically reccie in advance then ask your client to send a couple of photos of the available space. The more you know in advance the more you will be able to select the right equipment for the job – there’s no point lugging around a full lighting kit if you only have 10 minutes with your subject. Food for thought.

It was definitely worth the climb for this background.

Sometimes you just get lucky with a view.

2. Be considerate with your composition.

Make your subject and the frame look flattering. Always shoot at the height of your subject and ensure that their eye line is level. Use the rule of thirds to create a nice composition, allowing space for text if necessary and have your subject angled slightly away from the camera. If your subject is not a professional actor or presenter then you’ll probably find you’ll get superior results having them speak off camera.

Office interview

Level, uncluttered and a suitable eye line. Bob’s your uncle.

Think about your depth of field – lenses with faster apertures will give you shallower depth of field and if shooting outside you will need to use ND so you can stop down your lens and retain a nice bokeh. Don’t let your depth of field get too small however as some people can be quite animated and you’ll want them to stay consistently sharp. If you can, shoot with a high quality prime over a zoom lens for often             increased sharpness, faster apertures and nicer bokeh although there are some excellent zoom lenses out there too.

Finally if you have time, change your framing and conduct the interview again (this works best for shorter interviews and is of course irrelevant if you are shooting 4K where you have the option to pan and scan if your output is downscaled). Giving yourself the option of a medium shot and a close up gives you options in the edit and can really bump up the professionalism of the final product that little bit more.

3. Think about lighting and make time for it.

Good lighting can hide the fact that you may not have the latest hi tech camera and the results can make you look very professional indeed. Even minor lighting adjustments can make a huge difference to the final image:

  • Daylight exteriors: On a sunny day where the lighting is high contrast, consider your subject’s position carefully in relation to where the sun is. Try to avoid flare and over exposure from shooting directly into the sun as well as having your subject squint into the sun! A 5 in 1 reflector can also be useful in many situations here.
  • Night time exteriors: Utilize any lighting fixtures at your disposal such as street lights. Set your white balance carefully and watch out for those street lights appearing too warm! It would also prove useful having a decent flicker free LED (and a twin hot shoe adaptor).
  • Interiors: For interiors you may be faced with certain difficulties such as low light, a mixture of colour temperatures and tight working environments. If you don’t have much lighting equipment or time at your disposal then you can use any incoming daylight to your advantage (although if the weather changes then this may prove difficult for longer interviews). If natural light is being used for your key light then you need to think about your colour temperature and balance to daylight if you require a warm ‘positive’ look to your footage. If tungsten or interior lighting is providing most of your ambient light then consider the use of practical lights to increase interest in the image and overall exposure. If shooting in someone’s home utilize any lamps that they may have.

The key to lighting is obtaining control. Whether that be removing, changing the colour or softening a light source the point is if you have some degree of control then you can stylize your footage in a way that compliments the product and your abilities too! In fact, lighting can sometimes be more important than the camera itself..

IMG_1596

If you want high production values, don’t forget to light.

4. Get good sound (for the love of God).

No one likes bad sound. It is usually the first tale tale sign of an amateur. Here are a few dos and don’ts regarding the matter:

Do:

  • Hire a sound recordist if your budget allows. Giving yourself less responsibility technically allows you to focus on getting results.
  • Use the best mic and cables you can afford.
  • Remember your windshield if filming outside
  • Record externally if you can, especially in studio environments. Quite often you can get cleaner audio on an external recorder than recording in to camera, due to noisy pre amps.
  • Generally aim for maximum levels between -12db and -18db when recording, although this is subject to individual preference. You can amplify somewhat in editing, but once a clip peaks it’s a goner.

Don’t:

  • Ever record using your inbuilt camera mic unless there is an exceptionally good reason. Always use a high quality radio mic or shotgun mic.
  • Record without headphones. Duh!
  • Record if you can hear music in the background. Some background noise at a consistent level can be useable and sometimes removable however.
  • Accept a take if you’re not 100% happy. If in doubt, do it again. You’ll thank yourself in the edit.
  • Let your clients walk off with your radio mics!

Remember, sound is half the picture. Don’t neglect it!

Sennheiser - one of the leading brands for audio equipment.

Sennheiser – money well spent.

5. Plan your questions & listen.

Whether you’re shooting an hour long interview or a dozen vox pops on the fly, you can still plan your questions in advance to achieve optimum results.

Speak to your subject about the question (s) you’ll be asking and find out what they would say in response before you roll the camera. Without the camera recording many people will find the pressure reduced slightly, resulting in more genuine answers (you can also sneakily use this time to do sound checks). When you do start recording your aim is now to get them to repeat what they’ve already said which makes it much easier.

Once the camera starts rolling listen carefully to the answers provided and work with your subject to make sure that what they are saying is relevant and efficiently worded. It’s OK to help them rephrase a sentence if it’s proving to be a bit of a tongue twister. Take notes if you can so that nothing gets repeated. You may get some ideas for cutaways here too.

Don’t forget – if your subject is looking off camera and there is no presenter as such then their answers must always be in full sentences. Make sure they allow a second of silence between your question and their answer and look out for potential cutting points within their answer. If you like the sound of an individual phrase within a sentence get them to repeat it as a standalone line. The beauty of video making is that we can often go for a second take; if in doubt go for it. Give yourself options in the edit!

This interview had all the right ingredients.

This interview had all the right ingredients.

If all of this seems a bit daunting at first, don’t worry. With a bit of practice and application of these techniques the quality of your interviews will increase over time and will gradually become second nature to you. For some inspiration, take a look at some of the interviews we have conducted over the years..

Voice over work Video Production London

Who should write my video voice-over script?

If you’re thinking about working with a video production company on a corporate or promotional video, you may be wondering who would be the best person to write the video voice-over script? Should you write it yourself, or should you get the video production company to write it for you?

Do you need a video voice-over script at all?

Before you decide on who’s going to write your video voice-over script though, you might want to consider whether a formal script is the best approach for you. If you’re telling a story then a scripted video works well, but what about a promotional video? Often an overly-scripted video can sound false or forced.

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