For Students: Lights, Please

 

Here’s something that helped me a bunch with my Bernard Flowers piece. Sitting in the backyard of his house for the interview, the sunlight was barely good enough to get the job done. There’s a bunch of shoulda-wouldas I have about that shoot, to be honest. I should have:

  • Brought a proper light kit
  • Negotiated/Strongly encouraged/Demanded that the client pay for rental of a lighting kit on location
  • Suggest, as the director/leader of the shoot that we shoot it on the lawn where the light was directly on him
  • Scheduled the shoot so that we could maximize sunlight

Lessons learned.

Because I didn’t do those things, I had to learn a load of post-production tricks to fix the lighting and not have the interview portions of the video look like Bernard and I spoke in a dim room. This clip helped me a bunch.

Now pardon me; I’m going to look for an amazing new light kit to rock with on the road. Take care.

When I Added ‘Photographer’ to My Resume / Melo-X NPR Cutting Room Floor Shots

Melo-X at his Brooklyn HomeSometimes you have do shit without being asked and hope for the best. A few weeks back, I pitched NPR an article on Melo-X. Dude’s so diverse as a creative that the only proper label for him is “Multimedia Artist.”

As for me, my first title was Music Journalist and Writer. And because that’s how most editors know me now, it can be tough reintroducing myself as additional things (like Documentarian or Photographer). So when NPR accepted my story pitch for a traditional interview, I thought about what else I could do. Come interview day I brought my camera with me and after Melo and I knocked out a good chat, I asked him if he’d be down to take some pictures in his backyard. X was with it!

After about 30 minutes of a loose shoot, we were done. I had some great options, but for who? NPR never agreed to accept pictures from me. Still, I hoped that I could send them some pictures as a bit of a bonus to my article. When I submitted my Q&A, I also sent in my favorite shots. At this point I was competing. It was my photography versus whatever Melo-approved press shots his publicity team sent to NPR to support my story.

Melo-X at his Brooklyn Home

I won. That shot I took here just above this sentence of Melo perched on that old chair like some punk swag god was the favorite and NPR used it as the lead image for the story. It’s the first time I’ve appeared as anything other than the writer for a major publication. BIG. The other images in this post are shots that were left on the cutting room floor. I took some real time to learn how to edit them in Photoshop and work them into a nice place.

Funny, if I hadn’t thought to just go for it, none of this would have happened. I’m more than a writer and I’m going to make sure everyone knows that, whether it’s asked of me or not. I’m a multimedia artist, too.

For Students: Slow Motion

When you’re clueless and don’t know where to begin as a newbie to cameras and editing footage like I still relatively am, each skill or trick seems like it will be some arduous task to learn. Since shooting my first video, I’ve wanted to incorporate slow motion into my work. But I didn’t know how. And it seemed hard. Did I look into it? Hardly. I didn’t really need it, so I put it off until I had a shoot that I knew would benefit from it.

And that came when I knew I’d be shooting DJ Moma at his Everyday People party. Then it was time to figure that slow-mo shit out. Guys, the Internet is your friend. Take a break from goofing off (just for a bit!) and use your keyboard powers to better yourself. A buddy found a tutorial from that Creator Class that explained slow motion in a very basic way for my simple self. This helped me and so I pass it to you. Learn up, homies.

For Students: Sound, Man

MicsPardon me for going ghost for a bit. A new video is on the way (one week or less)!

I was waiting for some new equipment to arrive and of the several things I bought, I’m most excited about those bad boys up there—Rode’s smartlav+ Lavalier Microphones for Smartphones.  The more expensive ($200) Zoom H4N Handy Portable Digital Recorder had been my go-to recorder. It came highly recommended from my video production buddies, so I went with it when I was putting my New to Video-Making starter kit last fall.

Several videos later, I’ve gotten the hang of using it, but don’t much like that I basically have to put it next my subject’s mouth (save for attaching some other doohickey to it) to get excellent sound. I suppose as a novice, I thought I’d be able to put it on a table in front of someone and hear more of them and less of the surrounding room. Silly me.

In my Hino video, it was between his legs on the ground. That went terribly. In the Naima video it was just out of the shot frame on a stool next to her. Because the room was so quiet, her voice came through clearly, but every time she rubbed her jeans or patted her knees, it was super loud. Fail.

Enter my buddy Jas’, who’d watched a few of my videos and knew I could use some sound help. She shot me the texts below:

Jas' smartlav+ Text

I jumped online and ordered a pair at a relatively cheap steal ($80 a piece). I just used one on my latest shoot and I’m sold. The quality is easily the best I’ve experienced and it’s super easy to use. I just plug it in to my iPhone, hit record and just like that, all the audio in my prior video stinks in comparison to it (the Ro James clip was pretty solid, though).

So I pass this advice to y’all now. If you too don’t have hundreds to spend on audio devices, the smartlav+ the way to go.

For Students: How to Make Your Skill Level Meet Your Taste Level

Closing the gap between the work I’m making and the work I aspire to make is something I think about often.

Two months ago, I was editing the Ro James piece and was feeling pretty good about it as I was wrapping it up. Because I hated the sound on my Hollywood Hino story, I was geeked that not only did I have a video with decent audio, but I had made something that I’d watch even if I hadn’t made it!

I texted my guy Joao, who helped me shoot the footage, and told him just that. Check out his response below.

Joao TextSo I find the clip and watch it. On my Tumblr, Convertible Drop, I wrote about how “Ira Glass just became an inspiration and a gas station to me.” I was crying, like, “Shit, he’s talking to me!”  This clip helped that much.

When you’re new at something, suck at it and spend a load of time watching others create at a high level, it’s easy to get down on yourself like I did. I needed this dusty, grainy-ass Glass pep talk and I’m so very thankful Joao put me on to it. Ira’s message is simple: Keep going. “It takes a while.” Noted.

Eternal Learner

NotepadFake it until make it or nah? Since I started this website in March and even months prior to that when I’d think about how I presented myself to you guys, I wrestled with how much of an expert I’d sell myself to be. Would I be the “Oh shucks, I’m just hoping to turn a little ol’ magazine journalist-turned-documentarian dream into a reality” guy or brazenly careen into this crowded raceway of video storytellers like I’m a 10-year vet’ in this shit (that somehow you’d never heard of? The idea’s kind of laughable in hindsight).

I picked and tried to play it somewhere in the middle—fronting like I’m an awesome documentarian for talents/companies I’d like to work with/be commissioned by whilst creating a relatable forum for folks to say, “Hey, this newbie Brad is getting better. I’m going to stick around a bit longer.” It makes no sense to be posing like I’m where I want to be when there are visual rookie mistakes in one too many of my pieces or the sound in my clips can at times be a little too damn airy/roomy because I don’t have broadcast-level microphones yet. Essentially, I’m not where I want to be, but I’m working my way towards that. That’s my story.

Big talk is easy, but as the great (I’m exaggerating) MC Breed said in ’91, “there ain’t no future in yo frontin.” And after getting feedback from a couple of friends, I think it’d be better to include you all in my journey to becoming a quality video producer/documentarian/ visual whateverist. My Voyage to Excellence, if you will. Ha!

So it’s time to share! I’m gonna be using the For Students category and tag to talk about and highlight people, tech, instructional videos, and such that help me through my growing pains and improve the pieces I’m slinging. I hope they help and inspire you like they do me. I’m an eternal learner. And I’d be a massive jerk to not pass along nuggets and gems to y’all as I study and improve.

Peace to ya. Talk soon.