PostHeaderIcon Videography – Lessons Learned

I’ve been fairly disappointed with how bad my raw video footage looks from my last trip to Isla Mujeres. For example, I had an idea to show people exactly how to get to some of the more out of the way locations that don’t really conform to addresses. Simply providing a point on a map doesn’t really show the best way to navigate to it if a rocky path is along the direct route, while a clearer indirect path might be available. So, I thought, “I’ll walk it from a major landmark, and show everyone exactly how to get there.”

However, when I reviewed my footage after this attempt, every footstep created so much shake of the camera, it almost made me sea sick to watch it. In fact, since I had forgotten to take my tripod, even the most basic of shots from around Isla Mujeres were subject to my ability to keep a dinky little camera completely still for anywhere from 30 seconds to 20 minutes. Sometimes I could find something to prop the camera up on, like a rock wall when I was snorkeling. But, a lot of the time, they ended up being low angle shots and provided a poor perspective of the environment.

Ugh! I obviously have a lot to learn about making better videos. I’d like to think I’m pretty good with a still camera, but video work is different enough that I feel almost novice at times. One of those times was when I reviewed my footage from Isla Mujeres to determine my next blogging topic.

I was hoping maybe I could simply straighten out the video in post-production using Adobe After Effects with the Warp Stabilizer effect, but the perspective changes so often and extremely (it seems I have a very bouncy and heavy step) from each jarry footfall, that the only remaining footage after trying to clean it up was a tiny chunk in the center of the screen. Maybe I’ll publish the resulting video so everyone can see what I ran up against. The video of Tiffany Wareing from Barlito’s, on the other hand, ended up being very nice after a little cleanup, even though it was with a handheld.

As a result of this introspective soul-searching epiphany of my petty foibles, I decided to handle this problem the way I handle most problems – research and practice. I won’t get any good without practice, and practice is meaningless if I merely reinforce existing bad habits. With that in mind, I watched hours and hours of video on how to make good videos. I got better ideas about lighting and camera angles, insert shots, panning and so much more. Some of what I learned is that I don’t have the right tools for the job to film more interesting footage. Sure, it’s possible to do something the “hard way”, but just as we don’t use manual-set type any more for publishing, there’s no reason to force myself to do things the hard way just for the exercise of it.

Obviously, my tripod would have been useful, but I need something a little different to help me steady the camera while I’m in motion. I can’t have anything too huge or too heavy that I couldn’t take on the plane to Isla Mujeres. So, I’m working on a way to build a few different little handles, holders, and tracks out of PVC that let me move the camera very steadily which I can disassemble and reassemble on location. I’d also like to assemble a stabilizer rig that I could mount on a golf cart so I can get a video tour of the island’s major landmarks.

Even though I didn’t do many interviews in Isla Mujeres last time around, I’d really like to get a wireless lavaliere microphone so that I can drop the camera on a tripod somewhere, aim at a nice scene somewhere and record a little narration fairly audibly without a ton of background noise. The location of the microphone on my current camera is just miserable. The mike is on the top of the viewing LCD. So, wherever I point that edge of the viewing LCD, that’s where the microphone picks up best. As you can tell from my earlier Paloma video, this odd placement results in audio that is muffled at best and fades in and out as the subject moves around. My camera doesn’t have an external mike jack, so this means an external recorder and clapboard to synch the two are on the list as well. I considered getting a clapboard app for the iPad, but I just don’t want to get sand in it during my beach-side run-and-gun missions while her Sharkness is getting spa treatments or running on the treadmill.

Vivitar DVR 690HD Underwater Video Camera – Mini Review

Finally, I needed a waterproof video camera for the snorkel shots. Getting pictures of the fish swimming up to my face is just impossible without one. That’s pretty simple to fix, so I picked up a random cheap HD underwater video camera just so I could get some experience filming underwater. The Wheel of Destiny picked the Vivitar DVR 690HD. When it arrived, I was pretty excited. It took 3 hours to charge up for it’s first run, and required an SD card. Conveniently, I happened to have an extra SD Card lying around. As soon as it was ready, I grabbed some quick footage of the kitchen. The unit is incredibly light, especially compared to my brick of an iPhone which has roughly the same dimensions. I imported the footage using the included mini-USB cable, and concluded “Wow! What a piece of crap this thing is.” I had assumed there was some lowest common denominator of video quality for a camera marked as “HD”. The Vivitar website describes their unit thusly:

The Vivitar DVR 690 will blow you away with its crystal clear video and still image quality.

Oh my GOD, is this ever so blatantly false. I guess “HD” simply means that the pictures have the pixel dimensions of 1280 x 720. It doesn’t mean that every pixel is used properly. Photos and video from this thing in anything other than the brightest of daylight look like the most pixelated photo I’ve ever taken with under candle light with any other digital camera, it’s so horribly grainy. Even in broad daylight, the video from the iPhone blows this sucker away.  Maybe it’s worth it to keep the unit for underwater shooting, but it’s certainly worth making sure no one else every buys a Vivitar DVR 690HD without understanding how miserable these images are unless you are in broad daylight. The sound on it is atrocious as well, but I’m going to be using this underwater mostly, so, the sound isn’t something I’m really interested in. A camera like this might have been good for my trip to Niagara Falls, so I could have recorded the whole thing without fear of melting my camera’s innards. It’s been rainy around here a lot lately, so I haven’t had a chance to test it underwater yet.

5 Responses to “Videography – Lessons Learned”

  • I’m terrible at taking videos, in fact, I’ve never really tried to learn it..if I ever need to, I just use the video capability from my DSLR…you’re making me want to get a video recorder!

    • Whale Shark says:

      I really enjoy learning new stuff. I find that working with video is a neat way to broaden my skills while still doing things which which I’m comfortable, like setting up the scene and capturing interesting events as they happen.

  • Just wanted to stop by and say … Happy Sunday :-)

  • beentravelin says:

    Hola! I have been having the same issues. I have found that the software Video Reveal 3 works fairly well at stabilizing video. I have also tried using Youtube’s stabilizer option and have had mixed results. On a video that is fairly stable it works great. If there is alot of panning footage you tend to get some strange tilting and askewing in the rendered video. I have been seriously considering investing in a Flycam Nano stabilizer unit. Have seen several go for aaround $200 on ebay. I am hoping to invest in one before my next trip to Isla in December. Good luck in your quest and I will be following along to see what you come up with.

    • Whale Shark says:

      That Flycam Stabilizer looks pretty cool. I’ve built something like that to improve the steadiness of my shots. That’s going to be my next post.

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