Video Class 2014, Week Three

Unfortunately, no 3D movies for Week Three of the class. No space aliens either.

Welcome to Week Three of the SciFund Challenge 2014 video training class!

Last week, we looked at planning our videos and adapting our narratives to the visual medium of video, using storyboards. This week, we’ll start shooting scenes from our storyboard. To do that we will be thinking about principles in audio recording and cinematography that you can use to make your video feel more professional.

This week you’ll be doing the following:

  1. Recording some of the video and audio that you have planned out in your storyboard.
  2. Adding that video and audio to the storyboard video that you created for last week, which you’ll upload to the class Google+ page for comments.
  3. Giving comments to the videos of others.
  4. Taking part in a one hour group discussion, via Google Hangouts.

Recording high quality audio

Before we get to your specific assignment for the week, let’s first talk about some of the elements of compelling video. The most compelling part of the video isn’t the visual stuff at all – it’s the audio. As we have mentioned earlier, your potential audience might well put up with poor quality video. They certainly won’t put up with badly recorded audio. But just how do you record good audio? There are three critical components: use a microphone, record in a quiet space, and read your script in an even tone. Please watch the following short video for a demonstration of these three points.

Another important factor in good audio is positioning your microphone correctly. Please watch the following short video for some tips in lavalier microphone placement (the kind of microphone being used in this class).

The language of cinematography (lighting and composition)

Lighting

Taking the time to think about lighting your images (moving or still) will make the biggest difference to their quality. As the saying goes; beginners worry about equipment and professionals worry about lighting. Before we get into how you can best use available light (we’re assuming you don’t have a 3-point lighting kit), we should first understand about the different types and qualities of light sources:

  • Direct light: When lighting a scene for a photo or video, light can be categorized into two main types; direct and indirect. Direct light lands on your subject from mostly one direction. Some examples of direct light sources are a bare light bulb, an open flame, and the sun. Generally, a direct light source is small (physically, or because it is far away, like the sun). Direct light makes hard shadows (defined edge, and dark), and increase contrast. They can be used for specific tasks, like separating the subject from the background or to add mood and drama to a scene.
  • Indirect light: Indirect light is scattered, or diffused light that is landing on the subject from many different directions. Indirect light makes for softer shadows (lighter and have less defined edges). A film maker can modify a direct light source into an indirect one by increasing the surface area of the source. This can be done by bouncing a light off a white wall or ceiling, or by placing a diffusing material in front of the light (without creating a fire hazard). The larger the increase in surface area, the softer the light becomes. When clouds cover the sun, the cloud effectively becomes a new indirect light source, diffusing the sun’s powerful direct rays. Notice on a cloudy day, how there is generally less contrast, and that everything seems more evenly lit.

What does this mean for you? For taking video (or photos) of people, soft, large light sources are generally more flattering than direct light.  If you need softer light on your subject, think of ways to increase the size of your light source, relative to your subject. You can bounce a lamp off the wall, or white poster-board. If you need to take any shots outside, these considerations will help you decide what weather might be best to shoot in. We can’t all wait around for the right weather conditions like Ansel Adams, but we can choose to shoot in open shade when we are forced to shoot on clear, sunny days. Also take the time of day into account. Early morning light, especially during winter months is extremely flattering and soft, due to the angle of the sun in the sky, and diffusing effects of the atmosphere. Notice that sunlight around 12-3pm on a clear day is not only uncomfortable to work in, but creates some unflattering, downward pointing shadows on the face. Direct lights do have their place though, if used carefully and sparingly. Direct light can separate a subject from your background when used as a hair light, and they can add drama and contrast to your subject, or the background.

Composition 

The rule of thirds

The rule of thirds has been used for centuries, in all visual art forms to draw people’s attention to certain areas of an image. If you split your image into thirds horizontally and vertically (making 9 sections), you will find that when you place your subject at an intersection of these lines, the frame feels more aesthetically pleasing. The frame will begin to feel as if the subject naturally belongs there, rather than being randomly or centrally placed. Although we might not be conscious of it, the rule of thirds is something that most of us have come to expect from a good image, despite the fact that we might not have heard of the rule of thirds before.

But wait a minute, this sounds like an very formulaic way to go about a creative process doesn’t it? Like most “rules” in art, it is a rule that can to be broken…sometimes. The careful and willful breaking of the rule of thirds can be used to strongly emphasize something in your story. If you have diligently applied the rule of thirds to every part of your video until the very end when you announce you have found the answer to life, suddenly breaking away from the rue of thirds may help emphasize what you are saying. What you don’t want is for your rule breaking to cause distraction, so if you’re going to break the rule of thirds, do it carefully.

Top tip: You can apply the rule of thirds to almost any type of visual media. It could help improve your slide presentations or even figures and science visualizations.

Background 

Now that we have figured out how we are going to frame our subject, it’s time to consider the background and setting. Ask yourself what setting would be most relevant to your story, while also bearing in mind the considerations for audio above. The background should be relevant, but not distracting. When you have found your setting, it’s not a crime to tidy a few things or move the position of some items in order to get a well balanced shot. Take a test shot with yourself in the scene and take a look before you start for real.

Shot size

How close your subject is to the camera has a subtle effect on the meaning of the shot. Wider shots where the subject is smaller in the frame give more context and place the subject in the scene. It’s a visual way of saying ‘this is where the subject of this shot does the thing I’m talking about’, which is why the background should be relevant. On the other hand, closer shots where the subject fills most or all of the frame says ‘pay attention to this detail’, either visually in the case of B-roll, or verbally if it’s a shot of someone talking. Most movies and television shows use a combination of wide and closer shots of some scenes to help progress the story. This doesn’t mean that you need to show a wide and close up of everything in your video, but it might be useful to have the other shot size recorded, in case you need it later. It would be a good idea to at least record your A-roll at two different shot sizes.

Angle

The final consideration when composing your shots. The angle you choose to shoot from also influences the meaning of a shot. Looking down on a subject can be a more flattering angle but can also make them appear vulnerable, or small. It can make the audience feel more disconnected, like they’re watching from the perspective of a security camera, or some etherial, floating being. This is why the best photos of pets and children are taken when the photographer gets down to their level, rather than shooting from above. Conversely, shooting up at your subject can make them appear important or powerful. This is why sports stars and celebrities are shot from a low angle sometimes, but it’s not always too flattering.  The most neutral level to shoot from is at eye level. It says ‘we are equal, and I have something to tell you’. We realize that the Gorillapod isn’t tall enough to reach eye level on its own, but it is certainly versatile enough to attach to the back of a chair, stick, cabinet, or a friend’s tripod to get the phone to the hight you need. Don’t let the limitations of the equipment dictate the mood of your video.

Imagine that you have shot something at eye level with your subject facing directly to the camera. Now change the angle of the shot in the horizontal plane (keeping it at eye level but moving around your subject) by about 45 degrees. Also change the shot size, either move the camera further away or closer to your subject than it was before. Reshoot the same scene with your subject still looking where the camera used to be. If you cut between these two shots in the edit, it gives the illusion that you shot the scene with two cameras.

It also allows you to cut chunks of the narrative out if the scene is too long or contains too much information, without cutting to other B-roll. This is something that most audiences don’t even realize when watching movies, and they shouldn’t. It gives the illusion that the content of the two shots occurred at exactly the same time, when in fact they came from two different takes. Some people assume that it must have been shot with two cameras, but in many cases, movies and television shows are still shot with only one camera. For this reason it might be a good idea to shoot your A-roll at more than one shot size and angle. Bear in mind, that for this to work, the two shots should be recorded one after the other to avoid continuity issues. But you might be surprised to know that what the subject says in both takes does not have to be identical in order for this trick to work.

Assignment for the week

The last thing we asked you to do for last week was to build a video of your storyboard. This video consisted of series of a title slides describing what the individual shots would be in your final video. We also asked you to include, in this video of your storyboard, an audio track consisting of you reading your script. If you are still working on this assignment, it’s no problem, as this week’s assignment builds on the storyboard video from last week. To see a video by us describing how to do the tasks for this week, please check out the following video (you’ll also need to familiar with our iMovie editing video from last week):

Task 1. What we would like you to do, for this week, is to first shoot some of the shots that you described in your storyboard. How many shots should you complete? You don’t have to get it all done, but at least shoot your A roll (the more shots, the better though). For most in this class, the A roll will consist of you talking to the camera, reading your script. What we would like you to do is to record yourself, talking your way through your entire script. In order to make this video less artificial, imagine yourself talking to a friend who is right behind the camera (even better: have an actual friend behind the camera). You don’t have to recite your script perfectly in one take! You can make as many mistakes as you want while recording, since you can edit all of the mistakes out in iMovie. Just be sure that you have at least one good version of every sentence in your script. We would like you to record two versions of this shot: one where the camera is directly in front of you and one where the camera is set at an angle to your body (say roughly 30 to 45 degrees). For the latter shot, look straight ahead as you record, even though the camera is off to the side. The reason we want you to do these two versions of your speech is that you can cut between the two shots (while editing) to cover mistakes.

Task 2. As a second task for this week, integrate your A roll (and any other shots you have completed) into your video storyboard from last week (using iMovie). In order to edit together a seemingly-perfect version of you reading your script, you can use two techniques. First, you can switch between the two camera angles of you reading your script, using the second camera angle to cover the part that was flubbed in the first camera angle. Second, you can edit the mistake out of a single camera angle. The edit point will be obvious, as you will see a jump in the video. But you can disguise this edit point, by overlaying a bit of a b-roll (either an image or video) over the edit point.

Task 3. Upload your video to the Google+ page for the class, so that others can give you comments (be sure to tag your video as Week Three). Please give comments to the videos of at least three other participants in the class.

Task 4. Let’s talk about how the week is going through an hour discussion, via Google Hangouts (please sign up for one section this week).

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