Rants of a Digital Bard

OMG! Who gave this idiot a blog?

First ‘professional’ video shoot

I did my first real professional video shoot in my new home green screen studio today.  I hired the teenage daughter of a friend to come in and do some typical stock footage type stuff (talking on a cell, texting, etc..).  It went pretty well.

I had done some test shots earlier in the day to check my lighting.  But somehow it changed slightly and I have some green screen lighting issues in my shots.  Fortunately, Keylight in After Effects is really easy to use and works very well. I was able to use it to get a decent key and then put the result back on top of a clean green solid.

The HF11’s poor low light capability is still and pain-in-the-ass.  When she changed into a darker shirt midway into the shoot I ended up with a bit of noise in the dark areas.  If you resize the video down to SD it looks great, but you can clearly seen the grain in the HD footage.  I need to overlight the subject next time and step down the exposure slightly.

November 7, 2009 Posted by | Stock Footage & Photography, Videography | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What a difference $200 makes

For the first few months that I have been shooting with my new camcorder, I have been using a cheap ‘wal-mart’ photo tripod that I got for $40.  It’s fine when shooting indoor as long as I don’t need to pan or tilt.  It’s fine outdoor as long as there isn’t even a “hint” of a breeze, otherwise I get a lot of shake in the footage which has to be stabilized.

After many discussions with friends who are professional videographers, I bought my first professional tripod.  A Weifang 717E.  It has strong and heavy legs for stability with a wide base to prevent the camera from moving.  It’s got a great professional fluid head that does smooth pans and tilts.  It also cost $200.  But it was well worth it.

I went out and shot some new footage with it yesterday at Lake Shawnee here in Topeka, KS.  The early morning had only a light breeze, but the wind picked up as the day wore on.  After processing the footage last night I was pleasantly surprised to find NOT A SINGLE CLIP with any kind of wind shudder.  The only time the camera/tripod moved was when I did a pan or tilt (or the two times I accidentally bumped into the tripod).

I would highly suggest that the very second most important purchase after your camera is a good professional tripod.

November 2, 2009 Posted by | Stock Footage & Photography, Videography | , , , , | Leave a comment

Getting some new toys

Okay, so I’ve been whining to the wife for some time about needing to get some new equipment for my video business.  And we’ve finally worked things in the budget so that I can get a few things… but with a world of possibility, what do I buy?

First thing I need is a polorizing filter.  I have an ND filter that is nice, but it doesn’t cut the mustard.  Second thing I need is a backup battery and charger.  I’ve decided to go third-party rather than spend an extra $70 on a genuine Canon battery.

I have been desperately wanting to set up a small ‘studio’ in the house for doing green screen shots, and last week I bought a bunch of equipment at some thrift stores and a few cheap lighting fixtures at Home Depot.  I ordered a set of 3 Muslin backdrops (white, black and green) from eBay.  What I still need to get is some light bulbs designed for photography, so that’s the third item on my list.

I also found an inexpensive dolly for my tripod (not a track dolly), so that’s number 4.  But I really need a decent tripod.  The problem is that “decent” means $200 or more.  Which is more than half of my budget… It’s on my list, but I have a star next to it which means it’s not critical.

Also on my list is an external monitor for my camera.  The little LCD is nice, but it only shows 90% of what’s in the shot and I have some clips I’ve had to lose because of what I couldn’t see in the LCD.  LCD’s made for video are around $300 which is way out of my budget, but I did find a nice 7-inch wide-screeen LCD for $89 that is for a car visor.  So that’s on my list.

I need wide angle and telephoto lenses, so those are on my list.

Of course, I have a long list of wants, but this covers the current budget.  I desperately need a DSLR and I prefer to get one with Video.  So I’m hoping to save up for a Nikon D5000 or a Canon 7D.

October 7, 2009 Posted by | Geek stuff, Stock Footage & Photography, Videography | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hours of video…

While in California we were only allowed to visit with my nephew for a limited time since it was important for him to get his rest.  So that left me with a lot of free time.  I spent some of that time visiting with my daugher, my granddaughter, aunt’s, uncles, my grandmother and old friends… but it left me with a lot of time to shoot video with my camera.

The weather was bizarre with lots of morning fog, burning off in the afternoon, but returning quickly as the sun went down.  So it wasn’t “typical clear California weather”.  Especially on the coast.

Still, I got lots of footage of beaches, boats, people on the beach, the desert, oil pumps, California farms and a bunch of animals from a visit to the Santa Barbara Zoo with my brother and dad.  Much of which is processed and has been uploaded to my accounts on Pond5 and RevoStock.

I learned a lot more about my camera and shooting footage for stock while on my trip, which I’ll share…

First, a critical missing item from my camera bag was a zoom lens.  I had an opportunity to shoot the oil rigs off the California coast but the built-in optical zoom in my HF11 simply wasn’t up to the task.  I have got to get a zoom lens for my camera.

I only have two filters at the moment, a UV filter and an ND8 filter.  I could have used a polarizing filter.

I am still having major issues with the wind causing camera shudder while filming with my tripod.  I really need to get a heavier tripod made for video.  Fortunately, I have learned how to use Mocha for After Effects to salvage my jittery footage.

I did try turning on the optical stabilizer in my camera for my tripod footage to see if it would compensate for the jitter and to a small degree it did.  But mostly it wildly overestimated the camera movement and overcompensated.  Resulting in much smoother jittery footage, but still jittery.

The Canon HF11 absolutely sucks when shooting video with poor lighting or at night.  I experimented with every setting and I couldn’t get anything that didn’t have a LOT of noise.  My daytime shots are beautiful, but low-light and night shots are barely watchable.  The closest I came to anything decent was using the Spotlight mode and I still had issues.  So it looks like I’ll need a different camera if I want to shoot at night or in low-light.

I need to shoot everything I can on a tripod.  I really suck at shooting steady hand-held video, even with the optical stabilizer on, my shots wander.  I’ve been looking over some plans for making a home-made steadycam, I’ll probably try that and see how it works out.  Once again, thank goodness for Mocha to fix things, otherwise some really good shots would not be very useable for stock.

Overall it was a great learning experience and I got over 400 useable clips for stock from my trip.

September 18, 2009 Posted by | Stock Footage & Photography, Videography | , , , , | Leave a comment

Shooting footage with the Canon Vixia HF11

Here are some tips I have learned shooting footage with my Canon Vixia HF11, I hope others find them useful.

First, the camera is lite… Very lite… So if you are shooting outside with a tripod and there is any kind of wind, the camera is gonna shake.  It’s less noticeable if you are not zoomed, but once you use the zoom, it becomes very noticeable.  So get yourself a heavy tripod and/or weigh your tripod down to make it more stable.

Turn off the Digital Zoom.  Turn off the Instant Auto-Focus (IAF).  Turn off the Optic Stabilization (unless you’re actually filming hand-held).  None of these features are your friend.  The IAF is finicky and will constantly attempt to adjust focus even when it’s already correct.

Speaking of focus.  If you are filming a subject whose distance does not change, disable the auto-focus.  I set up my camera, point it at what I want to shoot, let the auto-focus find the correct focus, then use the joystick to disable it by setting it to Manual Focus.  If you’re filming a moving object that gets closer/farther from you or you are using the zoom, then you’ll have to leave the AF enabled.

If you are filming on a tripod, use the remote to start/stop shooting and zooming.  If you touch the buttons on the camera it causes a noticeable little shake.

The three most important accesseries are a GOOD Tripod, a weather proof camera bag and a 37mm UV filter to protect the lens.  After that, I’d get a DC to AC convertor for your car to use the camera charger (cheaper than a second battery), a lens hood, a polorizing filter, an ND filter and a wide angle lens.

July 10, 2009 Posted by | Stock Footage & Photography, Videography | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Example HF11 Footage

I don’t have a paid account on Vimeo, so this footage was downsized to 1280×720 but I did my best to ensure the quality was the same:


June 30, 2009 Posted by | Videography | , , , , | Leave a comment

Canon Vixia HF11 HD Camcorder

This is the camcorder I got for my Stock Footage work:


You can go to the Canon site to get the technical details on it.  What I want to post here is some info that is harder to find, plus my general impressions…

First, it records to memory.  It has 32 gigabytes built-in plus a SDHC slot to add more memory.  The recording format is AVCHD.

You need a REALLY REALLY good computer with a lot of horse-power and RAM to edit AVCHD files.  So if you’ve got an older computer that is not at least Dual Core and you don’t have a MINIMUM of 2 gigabytes of RAM, you should not get an AVCHD camcorder.

The HF11 will record in 1920×1080 at 60i, 30p or 24p.  However, it encodes the video into the AVCHD files at 60i, even if you have selected 30p or 24p.  It just does some funky stuff with the fields inside the file to make it fit.  So keep in mind that to work with the video, you will probably need to transcode it into another format before adding it to your timeline.  And if you recorded in 24p, you’ll need to deal with the pulldown.

Also, 30p and 24p are a misnomer in the U.S.  30p footage is actually encoded at 29.97 and 24p is encoded at 23.98.

In a later blog, I’ll post some info on my workflow.  I record my footage using the PF30 (30p) setting and then I copy the H.264 stream from the MTS files into QuickTime .MOV files without re-encoding the video using FFMPEG.  I discard the audio altogether.

Whenever possible, I use a tripod and I try and set up my shots and camera settings before I record.  Thanks to a tip from good friend from Pond5, I use a white dixie cup to set the White Balance before each session.  And once the auto-focus has my subject in focus, I disable the auto-focus while recording.  I also have the digital zoom and optical stabilizer disabled.

June 30, 2009 Posted by | Stock Footage & Photography, Videography | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Finally got a good Camcorder!

Until a month ago, 99% of my Stock Footage portfolio was animations created in After Effects, Cinema 4D, 3D Studio Max, Vue, etc…  And judging by my sales, my stuff is improving all the time.

But animations take a long time to set up and render.  So I can usually only do about 5 to 15 a week depending 0n how complex they are.  Not to mention that animation makes up a small percentage of overall Stock Footage sales on the big sites.

To truly be successful, you need a good camcorder and you need to go outside and shoot some footage (well, the “outside” part is from my sweetheart, you could do studio shots indoors).  I can record 2 hours of footage over a 3 or 4 hours period and get 20 to 40 useable clips out of it.

So, I had been saving up to get a new camcorder.  I had settled on getting the Canon Vixia HF11 which was in my price range and has great reviews on all the various Indie Film and Camcorder Review web sites.  But times are tight and it was taking me awhile to save up the money.

Along comes my father to the rescue.  He offered to help me out by giving me $400 towards the purchase of a camera. But when the time came to pony up the dough, he instead just bought it outright from Amazon.com for me.  You’ll hear no complaints from me about parents or family for quite some time…  Thanks Again Pops!!

June 30, 2009 Posted by | Don't get me started..., Stock Footage & Photography | , , , , , , | 1 Comment