Archive for the ‘Marketing’ Category

The use of web video in an overall marketing plan – a real-world case study

July 20, 2011

Kelly Roell is the co-owner of Nautical Landings, a waterfront vacation condominium destination on the Gulf of Mexico in Dunedin, Florida. Already doing well with promoting her business, Kelly and her partners wanted to find ways to increase the total number of vacation rental bookings year-round. Kelly hired Digital Media Services to produce a promotional video to be used on the Nautical Landings website.

Following is a series of questions I asked Kelly about her various marketing efforts and her decision to add a video to her website. Through her answers, Kelly provides valuable insight about how to approach the idea of web video and how to integrate it into an overall marketing plan. Small business owners and those looking for new marketing avenues will find her responses honest, candid and quite sensible.

Slating the first shot of the day

What type of marketing efforts were you using prior to hiring Digital Media Services to produce a web video?

I advertised Nautical Landings through a variety of outlets including several different vacation rental websites, our own web page, Twitter and Facebook.

Why did you feel that adding web video would help your overall marketing plan?

I couldn’t create the feel of being at Nautical Landings nor capture the beauty of the place with just my still camera. I knew how effective videos were in hotel marketing and how effective commercials and movie trailers were in capturing the essence of the product they were selling. I wanted a video to capture what it felt like to vacation at Nautical Landings in order to set us apart from our competition.

What were you looking for in a video production company?

I needed someone willing to work with the vision I had in mind. I already knew what I wanted to do with the video because I’d scoured between 75 and 100 videos on every subject – from weddings, movie trailers and commercials to vacation real estate – to get a feel for how it could be done.

Shooting the introduction to the video

Why did you select Digital Media Services to produce your video?

I looked at Digital Media Services’ body of work and compared it to others. I had upwards of 30 videographers I was selecting from. I chose Digital Media Services because of their previous work, their professionalism, their willingness to work with my vision and their proposed cost. It couldn’t be beat.

What was the process like for having a production company shoot and edit your video?

Simple and painless! The Digital Media Services crew was courteous and willing to shoot and re-shoot for the perfect shot. They were flexible, making changes on the fly, and had an ease about them that made us all comfortable. They helped us get the best possible shots in the time allotted and worked the entire day to get our video right.

Shooting on the dock, being careful not to step back!

What involvement did you have in the production and post-production processes?

Digital Media Services said that they’d put something together for me with the music I’d selected based on the vision that I had. They nailed it! We literally only changed one or two things after they’d spliced the video together because they had listened attentively to what I wanted. 

What was the strategy behind launching your new web video?

I Tweeted about the new video to come for about three weeks prior to the launch. I posted updates on Facebook indicating the video was coming and I sent an email to all of our past guests informing them to be on the lookout for the video. When Digital Media Services posted the video on our YouTube channel, I Tweeted it, posted it on Facebook, updated all of our vacation websites with it and sent out emails.

What expectations did you have in adding video to your website?

I expected more traffic, for sure, and I got it. Not only did I get more traffic, I closed sales more often than I used to. As soon as I showed people the video, it sold them on our property because they could then visualize themselves staying at our place. The business was doing well already but we had a large percentage of traffic that wasn’t turning into rentals. Once people rented with us, they ALWAYS were happy and many came back, but I wanted to shrink the number of guests who were choosing other vacation destinations besides ours.

What specific results were obtained by adding video to your website?

I haven’t done a detailed analysis of the data but I DO know that 9 times out of 10 if someone is on the fence about renting and they see the video, it makes their decision for them – they stay with us. Our rentals were up by 40% compared to the previous year. This year, even with the addition of another condo into Nautical Landings, we have been booked 100% since December 19, 2010.

Sometimes you have to get on the ground to get the best shot...

Are you happy with your decision to add web video to your marketing efforts?

Extremely. It was a smart move on our part!

How does using web video compare with your other marketing efforts?

I feel that video is always more effective than words, even with the best writers on the team, especially when you’re trying to convey a feeling. Our video showed our guests what our pictures couldn’t – the wind blowing the palm leaves in the breeze and friends gathered, chatting during a sunset. You can describe those things and take pictures of those things but a video (done properly!) can create a feeling than other media cannot.

To what type of businesses would you recommend adding web video to their marketing efforts?

What type of business wouldn’t benefit from a video? Any business selling a product or service whether it’s food, massages, bicycles or vacation condos would benefit from a web video.

Why is it important to hire the right production company to produce your web video?

You need a team that is timely, professional and, more than anything, understands your vision. No one understands your product like you do and a production company can help you showcase it, but they have to be willing to listen to your needs.

Using the old technology (printed shot list) as well as the new (iPhone & Kodak Zi8)

What are you final thoughts on your decision to add web video to your marketing?

It’s the best marketing decision we’ve made thus far.

What are your final thoughts on choosing Digital Media Services to produce your web video?

We obviously were thrilled with Digital Media Services – we chose them to do another video for us again when we purchased an additional condo. We’d hire them again in an instant.

Keeping the lens clean

Kelly’s small business doesn’t have an unlimited marketing budget. In fact, they were concerned that they wouldn’t be able to afford a high-quality video production. But by listening to what Kelly wanted and what she felt would help her sell her property better, we were able to come up with a proposal that showcased the enjoyment Nautical Landings offered without breaking the bank.

Web video doesn’t have to be expensive to be effective – it just has to be done right. It’s all about presenting a visual message that communicates to the viewer at a level proportionate to the value of the product or service you’re selling. However, it’s vitally important to make a distinction between home movies, amateur video and professional production. Home videos and even low-budget or do-it-yourself videos are fine for communicating with family and friends or even presenting short, casual information about your business.

But when it comes to producing a video that will serve as a primary focus in presenting your company to your clients and potential clients, you’re likely to do more harm than good by not working with a professional.

Of course, if you’ve set aside a considerate amount of marketing dollars to focus on video, the possibilities are almost limitless! We’ve produced video content for some of the biggest names in their respective industries with incredible results. Adding production value in terms of camera movement, cinematic lighting, unique locations, talent, makeup, wardrobe, etc. can really produce some fantastic results.

Feel free to contact Digital Media Services or post comments here about your experiences with web video or if you have questions regarding how video might help you grow your business or communicate your message. Wether you’re announcing a new product, introducing your staff, providing education information, delivering commentary or simply looking for new ways to grow your business, web video can often be the best method to accomplish your goals. And we’ve not even touched on the increased traffic generation, better web search response and other SEO benefits web video can bring!

The finished Nautical Landings promo video…

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Top 5 Tips For Producing Your First Web Video

April 20, 2011

I started producing web videos back in the early days of streaming media before we had YouTube, Vimeo or Hulu and when a 300 kbps video stream was considered high bandwidth. Today, streaming video services are accountable for almost 40% of all Internet traffic and broadband connectivity has allowed video producers to offer high definition, cinematic-quality productions.

Video is everywhere. It can be a valuable tool for communicating or entertaining and is continually becoming easier to produce and access. If you work in a marketing-related job, are a small business owner or otherwise have a need to communicate to an online audience, you may be considering increasing your online video offerings or perhaps testing out video for the first time.

With so much online video available today, how do you create something that will stand out or at least be effective in sharing your message to your targeted client group? Well, gone are the days when simply having video on your website was unique. You need to be a little more savvy than that.

In our nearly 15 years of traveling the world producing video for online viewing, we’ve seen what works and what doesn’t and have learned valuable lessons and gained specific insight into how to produce the most effective style of video for a given industry or audience. To that end, we present our Top 5 Tips for Producing Your First Online Marketing Video:

1. No one cares about what you think…they want to know that you care about what they think. Yes, I know that’s a bit harsh and was admittedly partially written to serve as an attention grabber. But the point is this: you need to present your message with your audience in mind, not your own corporate fiscal objectives. Time is valuable to most people. They don’t have even a few minutes to waste watching a hard sales pitch, a series of commercials or something that’s not what it was advertised to be. Unless you offer something so unique that it sells itself, you need to present something of value to your audience in your online videos. This doesn’t mean you can’t use video as a sales tool. It is, in fact, a great sales tool. It works like this…if you consistently present something of value as it relates to your business, organization or area of expertise, you can begin to become a trusted resource for a particular topic. If you own a shoe repair business, for instance, consider creating a video about what types of shoe polishes you’ve found will help shoes last longer. Are you a financial planner? Perhaps a video that introduces the basics of various types of investment products would be useful to potential clients just getting started in investing. An experienced video production company can help you develop an effective script or outline. Over time, you become the person that comes to mind when a conversation about shoe repair or investing arises.

Way back in late 2000 we were asked to produce a promotional film about the brand new Raymond James Stadium. The film was to be distributed to 65,000 Tampa Bay Buccaneers fans as a give-away to those attending an NFL game at the new stadium. Obviously we knew we had a target audience of Bucs fans, football fans and Tampa Bay-area residents. Working directly with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers marketing staff, we made sure to include script and visual elements that would be of specific interest to our audience…

2. Be short and to the point. We’ve already mentioned that people value their time. This is especially true of web surfers. The internet is a source for quick answers, instant gratification and almost unlimited options for finding what you need. Your videos should follow suit. Remember, your information is probably not 100% unique. You’re likely not the first and you probably won’t be the last to present video about your topic. So, make sure that your video is the most effective one by providing information quickly in an easy-to-follow manner. Your video – especially if it’s your first video – should provide the intended information within the first 30 seconds or so. Supportive or explanatory information can follow. Most video viewers have an attention span for a maximum of 2-3 minutes. If your video is boring or doesn’t quickly provide the information the user is expecting, you’ll be lucky if someone watches longer than 15-20 seconds. One of the first tasks we often tackle when producing a video for a client is to edit their script. An outside point of view by someone who’s created lots of online videos can often be the tweak you need to help your video go from good to great. So don’t be afraid to let your script be massaged a little. You can always direct viewers to more in-depth videos, brochures, web pages, etc. if you feel you have more information to share.

Tony Michaelides is a record-promoter-turned-publicity-coach who was in need of a short video to help launch his new business venture, an organization that assists rock bands, artists and corporate executives in building their brand. Being a former band publicist, Tony loves to talk. Getting Tony to think in 1-minute sound bytes was quite a challenge but necessary if we were to create an effective introduction to his services. We wrote, produced and edited the following video for Tony’s EPK website..

3. Remember to accurately represent your brand. Your online video is just a single component of your overall brand; it should work in coordination with the rest of your brand elements to put forth what you hope positively and accurately represents what your company, group or idea is all about. There are some facets of your brand identity that are simply out of your control. You don’t have much of a say over what a journalist writes about you, what someone in the grocery store line overhears about you or what feedback someone writes about you on a website. This makes it all the more important to use the elements of your brand within your control to present a clear, strong message. If your company brochure, yellow pages ad and website all talk about how your company stays on top of the latest trends and utilizes the latest technology in your product and service offerings, you certainly don’t want your online videos to look like they were produced with equipment found at a garage sale. I’m not saying that an effective web video has to be expensive; I’m just saying that your videos are a visual representation of your brand – make sure what viewers see is in alliance with what you say your brand is. If you want your brand to be fun, exciting and energetic, then guess what – a bland, boring video doesn’t support your stated brand. Likewise, if you want to promote a brand that can be described as serious and strictly professional, then create a video that showcases those ideals. A simple but effective exercise we often ask our clients to complete is to write down the 4 or 5 core elements of their brand and then compare that list with their video script or outline. Does one support the other? If not, some reworking may need to be done. Seeing visual evidence in the form of an online video that you are who you say you are can go a long way to developing a strong brand identity and can build trust between you and your audience.

The S.S. American Victory is a World War II-era merchant marine ship that is now serving as an historical tourist attraction, educational facility and event location. The non-profit organization asked us to produce a promotional film that would give website visitors a taste of what they would discover upon a visit to the ship, which is docked in the Port of Tampa. Our goal was not to provide a complete overview of the ship but to entice viewers of the video to want to come see the ship in person. According to the organization’s staff, board members and retired military volunteers, we hit the brand essence nail right on the head…

4. Be visually, topically or personally interesting. You’re not going to develop a reputation as a master of online video by creating mundane talking head videos about topics few care to hear about. You need to be able to capture a viewer’s interest. If you have an outgoing, likable personality and enjoy speaking in front of an audience, use that charisma to its full potential. Be known as the geeky guy, the crazy girl, the wordsmith, the funny man or the southern belle. Having a “hook” will get people to watch; providing them valuable content will get them to watch again. If strong presentation skills aren’t what make you who you are, then be interesting by using your writing skills, your superior subject knowledge, your vast experience or your ability to provide statistics. Find a way to stand out using your strengths. Everybody’s good at something; find a way to incorporate what you’re good at into your videos. And if you’re afraid your weaknesses will be difficult to disguise on camera, then work on becoming better at what’s holding you back. We provide many of our clients with presentation skills training which help them become better video makers. The goal is not necessarily to become a master orator but to simply to become more comfortable presenting. Watching yourself on camera and getting constructive feedback will go a long way to becoming a better video maker.

The Clearwater Jazz Holiday is an annual free jazz concert weekend held every October at Coachman Park in Clearwater, Florida. The event has been going on for over 30 years and we were asked to create a promotional piece for the 2010 event. Not being able to use actual recordings of the performances, we had to come up with an interesting way to present the essence of the event using picture and sound. We decided that a tilt-shift time-lapse technique would provide interesting visuals while showing viewers what the concert was all about…

5. Create opportunity for follow up. Advertising professionals always encourage their clients to include a call to action in traditional advertisements like television commercials and billboards. Ads can tell viewers to stop by a store, call a phone number or visit a website. With online video, we have so many more options for follow up. We can tell viewers to subscribe to a newsletter, to become a Fan on Facebook, to follow us on Twitter, to read our blog, to send us an email, to tune in to more videos…the list goes on and on. Always encourage your viewers to follow up with you in some way. And make it easy for them to do so. Make sure links to your contact information and all of your social media sites are on the same page as your video. Have a way for viewers to sign up for an email newsletter. At a minimum, take a moment in your video to tell the viewer to check back next month for a new video or a follow-up news article.

I’m sure you’ve been bombarded by online video pitches over the past several months. Well, it’s for good reason. Video can be a powerful tool in communicating to your online audience. Just this week I received a call from a client for whom we produced a promotional video showcasing her vacation rental condominiums. She’s had such an increase in business – in no small part because of the video – that she’s now able to purchase an additional property! She’s asked us to now go back and update the video to include the new location. Online video works!

But just having any old video on your site likely won’t bring you riches. It needs to be an effective video. Consider these 5 tips and partner with a video production company that has the experience, skill and knowledge to produce something that will bring results.

Thanks for reading. We welcome all comments and questions. And good luck with you online video efforts!

What’s the deal with Digital Retouching?

March 31, 2011

Just as creating a video production includes the shooting phase and the editing phase, the process of creating photography worthy of use in your company’s branding, marketing and advertising efforts should usually include at least some amount of post production in the form of digital retouching. Unless a photographer is capturing the simplest of shots, it’s doubtful that the image will look its best until a talented post production artist has applied their craft. Digital Media Services presents a brief overview of what happens during the photo editing phase and why you should almost always include time and budget for digital retouching.

Overview of the RAW format

Most professional digital photographers capture imagery using their camera’s RAW file format, which is a digital image recording format that saves the unmanipulated image data directly from the camera’s photo sensor. A RAW image can be thought of as a digital negative that’s yet to be processed for viewing, printing or further enhancement. The benefit of shooting in the RAW format is that it allows the photographer to preserve the highest range of image information from the camera sensor and therefore provides the greatest flexibility when processing the image for final use.

Viewing a RAW image, like viewing an old film negative, can be somewhat underwhelming. Because a RAW image has yet to be processed by any light grading, color balancing or sharpness settings, the image can look flat, dull or even unusable. However, unlike a JPEG or TIFF image, the RAW format has no “baked-in” processing and is capable of being enhanced in a number of ways to provide a wide range of visual styles.

RAW image file as captured by the digital camera

Initial processing of RAW files

Clients unfamiliar with the RAW image format will likely be less than impressed with a photographer’s work based solely on the look of the RAW files, so one of the first steps a photographer will perform after completing a photo shoot is to process the RAW image files into a more familiar file type such as JPEG using standard or custom presets from their preferred image processing software such as Capture One Pro. This step is similar to the developing of traditional film rolls. It provides an introductory processing step for the images that prepare them for viewing. It’s important to note that this initial processing is still only an intermediate state of post production as additional manipulation and enhancement will usually occur.

Processed image ready for client viewing

Digital enhancement of selected images

Once the client has reviewed all of the processed images and selected their preferred shots, the real digital retouching can begin. A digital imaging artist who specializes in photo enhancement, manipulation and clean-up can begin to work on the selects by performing fine tuning of contrast, color balance, saturation and other image settings. The retoucher can also correct imperfections in the images from lens distortion and dust and dirt marks. In addition, any stylized look that needs to be achieved can be created by the digital artist by further manipulating the image settings and by the creative application of filters and advanced layering and compositing techniques. Sometimes the goal is to achieve a look as lifelike as possible. Other times a very surreal look is preferred. In either case, a talented digital retoucher is the key to creating the desired output.

Retouched image with proper color and lighting balance and model enhancements

Removal of unwanted elements, enhancements and special effects

There are a multitude of additional enhancements that can be performed such as changing the color of a specific object or the removal of unwanted elements like power lines and displeasing facial wrinkles and blemishes. Sometimes a retoucher will need to perform advanced compositing techniques where portions of completely separate images are combined into one. For a look at how a truly talented digital retoucher can transform a nice photograph into something that grabs the attention of the viewer and presents the representative product or brand in the most favorable light postible, check out some of the work our preferred digital retoucher Ryan Jacobson presents on his website www.RyanDigital.com.

It takes much more than just a nice camera to create a top-quality image. Lighting, image composition, talent direction and digital retouching all need to come together to produce the most eye-catching and impactful imagery.

(Photography by Robert Kildoo for Digital Media Services)

The real story on the effective use of web video (by those who’ve done it for almost 15 years)

March 29, 2011

I’ve been reading more and more lately from companies trying to sell you on the benefits of adding video to your website. Some of what I’ve read is great advice but much of it is simply a means to get friendly with your company checking account. It’s quite true that adding video to your website can be beneficial. When incorporated properly, online video can bring SEO benefits and can allow you to better connect with your website audience. As we all know, some messages are better-communicated using picture and sound than using text alone.

The first online video I produced (back in 1997) was for the bank and trust division of a regional financial firm who needed an effective yet inexpensive means to communicate to their nation-wide staff of sales professionals information about new SEC and banking regulations and the company’s new product offerings that addressed these regulations. The production was a simple studio shoot of the division president addressing the camera but was much more personable than an email or memo and allowed the viewers to see and interact with one of their company’s top executives in a manner most of them previously had never been able to. Seeing one of their company leaders enthusiastically discussing the new products and offering ideas on what type of clients the products might be suitable for brought the communication from what would normally have been a bunch of text on a page to a well-received message that more efficiently educated the sales staff and gave the company an advantage over competitors who would be printing and mailing out a bunch of brochures and white papers. The simple video presentation was so effective that it immediately became the norm for the company’s internal sales presentations and quickly expanded to all divisions of the company and eventually to client communications.

Whether you own a law firm, a manufacturing plant or a lawnmower repair shop, there’s definitely a place for video on your website. We all have customers that we need to speak to and video can be a powerful influencer. But making the decision to hire someone to produce a video for your company website shouldn’t be the end of the story. As with buying a car, a steak dinner or legal services, there’s an abundance of choices, prices and quality levels among video production companies. And don’t forget about experience and training. Who’s going to be able to provide you with a more effective web video production – someone who dabbles in video as a hobby or someone with an extensive background in producing video content for marketing, branding and advertising campaigns?

Producing a client testimonial web video

Sure, cost is always an issue. But I’d bet that most business owners would agree that spending $500 on a product that brings you no return of any kind is not as fiscally responsible as spending $2,000 on a product that positions you an a leader in your industry and prompts viewers to get in touch with you. Choosing a professional services provider on cost alone is almost never the best way to go. The other extreme is valid, too. There are plenty of companies out there who will gladly take your hard-earned money in exchange for a template-driven, cookie-cutter video that’s barely customized to you, your business or your needs. Finding the right balance of cost, quality, knowledge and experience is the key.

And keep this in mind – a poorly-conceived or badly-produced video may actually do more harm than good. Imagine coming across a website for what seems to be an interesting new household product then watching their promotional video that uses dim lighting, is poorly-edited, has continuity problems and is way too long. There’s a good chance that you’d be left with a negative impression of that product. No video at all may have been a better option for the product manufacturer!

To help our readers get started on embarking on an effective web video marketing plan, we present some of the most common uses of online video. What follows is certainly not an all-inclusive list of what types of video can be used on the web – the possibilities are almost endless – but a brief overview of some of what we’ve seen to be the most effective uses of video for the companies for which we’ve created content. It’s been our experience that every web video production should be a unique entity; what works for one company may not work for another.

Scene from an introductory web video

Introductory video. For companies with modest marketing budgets or who are just beginning to add multimedia to their website, an introductory video may be the best starting point. An introductory video typically provides a “first contact” between a business owner and his or her potential customers. It may consist of a welcome message, a special offer or an overview of the website. Its effectiveness comes from the simple fact that a website visitor can gain valuable insight into the individuals who own or operate a business by seeing them on camera. Their personality, appearance, level of professionalism and enthusiasm (or lack of)  are all on display. By providing a simple video introduction to your and your company, you immediately position yourself one step ahead of your competition because a potential client feels that they know who they’re dealing with.

Company overview video. For a step beyond the introductory video, many businesses choose to produce a company overview video. With this type of video, a viewer can gain more insight into the company officers or employees, the range of products and services the company offers and what makes the company unique. A company overview video can be a valuable tool in encouraging potential customers to pick up the phone or send an email message. This is especially important for businesses who offer common products and services. If a potential client is shopping for a roofing company, for example, and they come across a website that features a professionally-produced video about who owns the business, what kind of training and experience they require of their roofers and how they give back to their community, that potential client is certainly going to be more likely to want to be associated with that roofing company.

Product & services video. Some companies prefer to use online video to showcase their products and services. If your product selection, manufacturing process, company facilities or range of services speaks for itself, then a product & services video may be the way to go. Think of it this way – if your business is based on what you sell and not who sells it, why not show the world just how great your product is? This is especially important if what you sell is so unique that text and pictures alone don’t adequately describe it. I once stumbled across a website that was selling a special plumbing tool that helped remove stuck shower valves (I was in the midst of a DIY home repair). I read the product descriptions and even studied the photos on the site. But it wasn’t until I came across a YouTube video showing the product in use that I fully understood how it worked! And by that time, it was too late; I had already purchased a competing, less effective product at my local Home Depot.

Scene from a client testimonial web video

Client testimonial video. Alternatively, many of you are in the people business. It’s your company management, your salespeople, your product specialists, your customer service representatives and your employees that set you apart from your competitors. Why not let your clients tell the world why they choose to do business with you? I recently completed a web video for a small but very successful life insurance provider. When I was initially contacted by the client, I immediately began trying to think of ways to create a compelling video about a group of life insurance salespeople. But shortly after I began speaking with the client in detail, I realized that this company was special. They were so specialized in what they did and managed their clients needs with such expertise that I concluded that there was virtually no one else like them. And in speaking with a few of their clients (who happened to be high-net-worth, notable individuals), it became apparent that no better script could be written than what was to be shared by these clients. Satisfied clients are always one of the best sales tools a company can have.

Educational video. A company might choose to produce some sort of educational video in order to present themselves as experts in a particular field. I have a legal firm client who specializes in defending victims of DUI car crashes. This law firm knows DUI law and related legal material so thoroughly and has such in-depth trial experience that they rarely lose a case. In fact, they’re considered such experts that they assist Florida judges in drafting interpretive briefings for DUI law cases. Part of their online marketing efforts include short videos designed to assist other DUI attorneys understand how to best prosecute drunk drivers. And you know what this does? It positions this client of mine as a statewide expert in DUI law and, in turn, helps create considerable business for their DUI Training Seminar classes. Pretty effective use of online video in my opinion.

Final screen from a traditional TV commercial

TV commercial. While creating a 30-second or 60-second TV commercial to post on your website may be one of the first ideas that comes to mind, it’s sometimes one of the ideas we recommend the least. The reasoning is simple – unless you’re willing to invest the time, effort and financial resources necessary to create a really strong spot, a TV commercial simply may not the best platform to present your message to an Internet audience. Why? Well, for several reasons. First, an internet audience is not the same as a television audience. Visitors to your website are likely actively seeking information; they’re not being forced to sit through your message while waiting for a different program to resume. Presenting your message in the traditional TV spot format might miss the mark in speaking to your audience. Secondly, your message is not being sandwiched between competing messages on either side. Therefore, there’s no need to be bound by creating a message in which the main goal is to be different than what was presented a few seconds earlier. Finally, why limit yourself to the format of a commercial? Being confined by a strict 30 second or 60 second time slot or spending time presenting phone numbers and other contact info with tag lines at the end serves no purpose. You’re better off creating a message directed specifically to those who have chosen to visit your site. All that being said, there’s nothing wrong with presenting a series of TV commercials on your site. I’d just recommend it be a supplement to your other messaging as opposed to your main online video efforts.

As previously mentioned, there are almost unlimited possibilities for making effective use of web video. I’ve worked on web videos for football stadiums, for retired maritime battle ships, for high-end home builders and for luxury cruise liners. The key is in creating something that visually communicates your message to your target audience in a manner that compels your viewers to want to learn more. Video can present your product, people or values in a manner no other medium can. Web video doesn’t have to cost a lot to be effective but has the potential to serve as the core component of an entire branding campaign.

Scene from a web video for Carnival Cruise Lines

In seeking out a production company to help you with your web video efforts, we suggest you find someone who first takes the time to understand your business and your goals for utilizing web video and who communicates with you in a clear, professional manner. If they can follow that up with evidence of their skill, experience and knowledge in producing quality, effective video communications, you may have a winner. Finally, if they can present you with a variety of customized products that satisfy your budgetary needs, they’re likely a good choice.

So, if you haven’t already done so, take the plunge and add some video to your website. Start small if you like and build from there. Or, if you’re ready to make a dramatic change in your marketing efforts, a powerful series of video messages may be the way to go. In either case, a well-designed web video campaign has almost no downside, unless your goal is status quo.

Contact Digital Media Services for more information on producing effective web video. We’d be glad to answer any questions you may have about incorporating web video as part of your marketing efforts.

Tips from the Pros – Inexpensive video and photo field accessories

February 17, 2011

If you fancy yourself any type of professional or amateur videographer or photographer, you likely do a lot of shooting out in the field, meaning at a location outside the comfort of a studio or home. As you’re usually limited in the amount of equipment you can bring with you on location, you’ll need to plan your shoots carefully. Most shooters like to assemble a field kit that includes some basic supplies and accessories that they always bring with them on location. In this article, we present a collection of inexpensive items we like to make sure we have with us at all times.

One item we can’t do without is our Lenspen. A Lenspen is a lens cleaning device that features a retractable brush on one end and a soft cleaning pad on the other. We first use the soft brush to remove any dust particles, sand or other light debris from our lens and then use the soft cleaning pad to wipe away any fingerprints or other contaminates. The cleaning pad works better than lens tissues or wipes because it has a carbon-infused cleaning surface that absorbs oils and other sticky residues. It’s kind of like using newspaper to clean windows.

Original Lenspen

The original Lenspen product retails for $15 and there are a variety of sizes and models available for different cameras and surfaces. The manufacturer also makes useful items such as air blowers, screen cleaners and sensor cleaners. We’re confident that once you use a Lenspen, you’ll no doubt want to make it a permanent item in your field kit.

Lenspen in use

Another inexpensive accessory we always like to have with us is a collapsable reflector. Reflectors are useful for bouncing available light to help fill in shadows, highlight faces and generally brighten up areas that are a little too dark. When we aren’t somewhere where we can plug in and set up a studio light, a reflector or two may be just what is needed to provide enough light to get our shot. And reflected light is usually a softer and more diffuse quality of light which is often desirable for portraits or beauty shots.

Various colors of collapsable reflectors

Any flat, reflective surface such as a large white card can be used as a light reflector; the benefit of collapsable reflectors is that they are specially-designed for directing light and fold up into zippered pouches about one-third the size of their fully-expanded size. Collapsable reflectors come in various colors, shapes and sizes depending on your needs. White reflectors simply bounce existing light unchanged while silver, gold and other colored reflectors alter the light to provide stronger highlights or warmer tones. Many different manufactures such as PhotoflexWescott and California SunBounce offer collapsable reflectors at a wide range of prices. Small reflectors can be had for as little as $10 and high-quality multi-piece kits can cost up to $200 or so. Small, lightweight and inexpensive, a collapsable reflector is another item we want to have with us at all times.

Silver reflector in use

We’re not always able to bring our heavy-duty tripods with us when we’re on a shoot, when we’re vacationing or when on an outing with friends and family. But not every shot can be taken properly using handheld methods. If we need to shoot with a long exposure time or slower shutter speed or need to get our camera somewhere we can’t reach, we’re out of luck, right? Well, not if we’ve brought along our portable, flexible mini-tripod!

Various styles of GorillaPods

One of the most popular brands of travel-sized tripods is the GorillaPod. Not only is the GorillaPod easy to carry in a camera bag or even a pocket, but its legs are made of flexible modules that allow one to bend, wrap, twist and contort the tripod into an almost unlimited number of configurations, allowing the user to balance a camera on uneven surfaces and even secure the camera to a tree branch, light pole, bicyle or anywhere else the photographer or videographer can think of. I’ve used my GorillaPod to capture time lapse video of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, to discretely record lectures and presentations, to capture “survalence” video shots and to shoot nature videos. The uses are limited only by one’s needs and imagination. GorillaPods and similar devices range in price from around $20 to around $100 depending on the size of the device it needs to support.

GorillaPod in use

They say necessity is the mother of invention; that’s especially true in the video and photo world as evidenced by some of the strange, creative and useful devices I’ve seen in use. I’d love for our readers to share with us what they like to keep in their field kits; items either available for purchase or put together on their own. And for bonus points, share will us the creative ways you use your C-47s!

Lessons from the Landfill

February 9, 2011

One of the benefits of working in the video and photo industry that we appreciate most is the wealth of information to which we’re exposed during our productions. Even a trip to the landfill can be a source of revelation. Did you know that the Caterpillar graders, bulldozers and compactors that distribute the garbage truck deliveries atop a landfill include in-cab GPS devices that assist the operator in letting him or her know within inches how evenly distributed their layers of refuge are? As was explained to us by the plant operator, one of the landfill staff’s priorities is to make the most efficient use of the limited acreage they manage by ensuring that as much waste as possible is compacted within a given area.

Caterpillar Bulldozer working at a landfill

Lance Robson and I spent a full day at the North Central Landfill in Polk County, Florida shooting high definition video interviews and b-roll footage of the Caterpillar machinery in use at the facility. The footage is being assembled by Brush Art Corporation in Downes, Kansas to create a promotional short for CAT. While a day at the dump may not sound like something to look forward to, I must say that we were impressed with the level of sophistication involved with running a modern landfill and appreciative of the well-designed, purpose-built machinery offered by Caterpillar.

So, to all you budding photographers, videographers and journalists, don’t take for granted the knowledge that can be obtained on the job and don’t be afraid to get your feet dirty. We here at Digital Media Services are grateful for the wealth of information we’ve obtained while working on a projects…even at the landfill.

For a sampling of what we discovered about Caterpillar and the operation of a modern landfill, take a look at a rough cut of the video by clicking the link below…

Caterpillar Landfill Equipment Promo

Tips from the pros – Using your available light

December 14, 2010

One of the biggest ruiners of an otherwise perfectly-shot photograph or video clip is improper exposure. Even when using a modern, capable camera, a user still needs to be conscious of lighting. I’m not talking about the use of a cumbersome lighting kit or even an on-camera flash or video light. I’m talking about accounting for and utilizing the available light in the scene for creating a better-exposed photograph. Don’t be alarmed – this problem is easy to understand and resolve and overcoming it will instantly result in your ability to capture much better-looking images.

First a little background. Modern photo and video cameras use an auto-exposure meter built into the lens system that helps the user set proper exposure levels. Without getting too technical, an auto-exposure meter analyzes the amount of light coming into the lens and sets the camera’s aperture (lens opening) and shutter speed (light exposure time) to what it determines will provide a properly-exposed image. And this feature usually works quite well. Many users probably don’t even realize that this process is occurring every time they take a snapshot or record some video. Shooting images outside on a sunny day? The auto-exposure meter will close the aperture and shorten the shutter speed since an abundance of light is available. Taking photos or shooting video in a darkened room? The auto-exposure meter will open up the aperture and lengthen the shutter speed to allow in as much light as possible. If you’re using a still camera with an auto-flash, the auto-exposure meter can even instruct the camera to activate the flash and move the shutter speed back to a normal setting to keep images from getting blurry. Pretty cool!

Auto settings producing properly-exposed sky, but leaving face underexposed

The problem comes in when you have a lighting situation that confuses the auto-exposure meter. For instance, consider shooting someone with a beautiful sunset behind them. Most of the scene is likely going to be full of light since you’re pointing the camera directly into the sun. This causes the auto-exposure meter to close down the iris and shorten the shutter speed, leaving the small portion of the scene that’s not brightly lit – faces of the people in the shot – totally underexposed. Most of us, in scanning through our photo collection, can quickly come across such images where what we thought would be nicely lit is way too dark. Shooting people in front of a window with bright light pouring in often creates the same problem. And sometimes we see the opposite effect, too, where a portion of the scene we’re shooting ends up looking totally white (what we pros refer to as “blown out”) because the auto-exposre meter determined that more of the scene was dark and shadowy and opened up the aperture and lengthened the shutter speed to properly expose those dark areas.

Bright window light causing underexposure of subject

So, how to we compensate for these situations? Well, there are actually several things you can do. The first is to simply be aware of your current lighting conditions. If you’re shooting photos or video outside, the first thing you should always do is check where the sunlight is coming from. Then, position yourself with the sun behind you so the direct sunlight is lighting up the scene you want to shoot. Often, this is your best solution because it doesn’t require any extra equipment or force you to learn any new camera settings. And, contrary to what you might think, it usually doesn’t restrict your shot selection to the point where you can’t get the shot you want. If you’re shooting indoors, position the subject matter (or yourself) so that what you’re shooting is lit from an overhead light, a nearby lamp or a window. Just don’t place the subject in front of the window because then you’re back to the same problem of most of the scene being full of bright light like the sunset shot.

OK, so say you’re not able to reposition your subject matter or yourself to take advantage of the available light; say you really want to take a photo that couple standing directly in front of the sunset or that group of people in front of that window. What can you do? Well, there’s a few tricks for that, too. Most modern digital still cameras utilize a two-stage shutter button (the button you press to take the picture). If you press the button half way down, the camera locks in the proper exposure and focus settings for the scene in view. Pushing the button the rest of the way down takes the photo. Use this feature to your advantage by pointing the camera away from the bright scene a bit to cause the auto-exposure meter to adjust to a more desirable exposure setting and push the shutter button half way down to lock in those settings before moving your camera back to the desired framing and taking the picture. It takes a bit of practice to get the hang of it but quickly becomes second nature once you do it a few times. Just be aware of your focus as moving the camera away from your subject may cause the camera to set the focus too close or too far. Alternatively, reframe your shot by moving closer to or farther from your subject matter so that more or less of the underexposed or overexposed areas compose the image. This will usually force the auto-exposure meter to re-adjust the exposure of the image and might just be the little adjustment you needed.

Some cameras offer LCD screens that actively update the exposure view so you can easily see at what position to lock in your settings. Some camera screens don’t show an adjustment until you push the shutter button half way down so you might need to reposition and perform the “halfway push” a few times until you get the look you want. And remember, with digital, you have the freedom to shoot as many photos as necessary in order to get that great shot since you can just go back and delete the ones you don’t need without wasting precious film!

Camera angled to properly expose sky since foreground was not important

Finally, what about iPhones (and similar devices) or video cameras that don’t have a true shutter button that can lock in settings? Well, all hope is not lost. Altering the camera framing just a bit so that the auto-exposure meter makes an adjustment is a good technique to practice. A good example to demonstrate this might be when shooting a horizon shot. Placing the horizon line directly in the vertical middle of the frame will likely result in a very bright sky and a very dark earth. Maybe you want the sky to be properly exposed and don’t care much about the rocks and dirt in the foreground. In that case, tilt your camera up just a bit to create more bright sky area in the frame. The auto-exposure meter will adjust to bring down the overall light level which will better balance out the sky exposure and cause the earthen foreground to go dark. Alternatively, tilt your camera slightly down to fill the shot with more dark area so the auto-exposure meter will brighten the image if the ground is what’s important in the shot. With your video camera, learn to use the manual shutter speed and aperture (also called iris) settings to that you can have total control over the exposure of a scene.

Camera tilted down to limit the amount of sky so foreground is properly exposed

In the end, it’s all about positioning your subject matter, your shooting location and your camera angle to maximize the available light present in your shot so that your auto-exposure meter will set the proper exposure level for your subject to get you the image you’re looking for. With this knowledge, you’ll immediately begin to capture better images and be justified in calling those under- and over-exposers amateurs!