Archive for the ‘Tips from the Pros’ Category

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!

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!

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!

Tips from the pros – Camera filters

November 12, 2010

Today we present a new DMS blog feature – Tips from the Pros. This feature will present simple, free (or inexpensive) easy-to-implement actions that can instantly turn the casual photographer, videographer or musician into one performing on a professional level. These tips are based on some of the regular activities and behaviors we pros use when on a shoot, edit or recording.

Today we discuss the simple camera lens filter. Whenever a member of the Digital Media Services crew purchases a new camera or lens, one of the first accessories we purchase is a set of basic lens filters. In fact, we generally include at least a protective lens filter as part of the purchase of any new camera. A protective lens filter is an inexpensive clear lens cover that is usually attached to a camera lens by screwing it on to the threaded end of the barrel. Small, inexpensive point-and-shoot cameras that feature lenses that retract into the camera generally don’t offer the option of a threaded lens. Digital SLRs and point-and-shoots with larger lenses almost always offer threaded lenses.

Tiffen Filter Set

The protective lens filter, first and foremost, protects your actual glass lens from getting scratched, dirty, wet, blurred by fingerprints or otherwise damaged or rendered incapable of capturing a clean, clear image. A protective lens filter can be had for as little as $5, yet they can save you hundreds when (not if) something damaging ever comes into contact with your camera lens.

Shooting in the woods and a tree branch swipes across your lens? Your protective lens filter saves the day. Taking photos at the beach and someone slings wet sand at your camera? Yup – the protective filter is there for you. Capturing video footage of your kid’s soccer game and some overly-excited parent knocks the camera out of your hands? At least your lens is safe. And after your protective lens filter absorbs the damage, throw it away and replace it without a second thought.

Cracked Lens Filter

Cracked lens filter saved the day

For those who want to think a little more creatively, additional lens filters are available for a myriad of purposes. A ultraviolet filter can help reflect UV rays and provide more clarity and color to your photos. Many photographers and videographers use a UV filter as their full-time protective lens filter because they like the enhancement it offers for all of their photos and videos. A polarizing filter is one that reflects variable angles of light which can eliminate reflections and glares. A polarizer is great for shooting through water and glass and for shooting reflective surfaces. There are litterally hundreds of different types, brands, sizes and qualities of camera lens filters. We’ll talk more about other types of creative filters in a future post.

Tiffen Filter Kit

Tiffen Filter Kit

As far as purchasing a lens filter, you simply need to know the diameter of your lens (usually given in millimeters), which can be found in your camera’s documentation or often inscribed right on your lens, and whether or not your lens accepts screw-on type lens filters. For instance, the Nikon D3000 is a popular DSLR camera that accepts any 52mm lens filter accessory. The Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ35 is a popular point-and-shoot camera that offers an optional lens filter accessory for adding 55mm lens filters. And it works the same for video cameras. The Canon VIXIA HF21 HD camcorder accepts 37mm screw-on lens filters. You can buy a filter set for the Canon that includes a UV protective filter, a polarizing filter and a warming filter for $50. I frequently purchase Tiffen filters and frequently purchase from B&H Photo-Video-Pro Audio but there are many photo and video retailers offering lens filters.

So start acting like a pro! Go get yourself an inexpensive protective filter or a filter set and start calling those non-filter users amateurs!