Welcome to the December issue!
Christmas, Hanukkah, Solstice and Kwanzaa: These year-end holidays provide perfect opportunities for capturing family get-togethers on video. In this month’s issue, you’ll find some tips to help you bring some professionalism to your holiday videography. You’ll also learn about a new addition to the Family Legacy Video® Theatre. Finally, I’ll answer a question regarding DVDs and SD video.
I hope you enjoy this issue of the Family Legacy Video® Producer’s e-Newsletter. Please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone toll-free (888.662.1294) with any questions or comments you have. I wish you and yours a very happy and healthy holiday season.
Cheers! – – Steve Pender
A new addition to the Family Legacy Video® Theatre.
Have you ever dreamed of collecting antique cars? The latest Family Legacy Video sample clip features a fellow who turned that dream into a reality. Spend a few minutes with Charlie Thomas as he talks about his collection – and shows off a few of his favorite autos. You’ll find the clip here.
Capture your holiday celebrations on video.
A smiling family, their glasses raised in a holiday toast. It’s a typical family scene, in this case captured with the technology available in 1950: a black & white still camera. Today we have the benefit of video technology that can capture far more than just silent, frozen moments in time. Here are some tips on how to get those holiday shots that will help you create a holiday video your family will treasure:
Start wide. A standard video technique is to start every scene out with a “master” shot. Simply put, this means first recording the entire scene as a wide shot. If you’re taping a party or a dinner, for example, set up your camera so you have a view of the entire room and everyone in it. Then start recording. If the camera is in a secure enough place you can even walk away from it for a couple of minutes so you don’t call attention to the fact that you’re taping. Set the camera on a bookcase, or on top of a TV, anything that gives you a panoramic view of the room or area. Even a tripod in the corner of the room can work; while people may notice it at first, they’ll get used to it and ignore it after a while.
Let people be themselves. Walking up to people, sticking a camera in their faces and telling them to act naturally is a sure-fire way to suck the spontaneity out of any shot. If you know your subjects are a bit skittish around cameras, hang back a little bit and use your camera’s zoom control to get that closer view instead of thrusting the camera into the middle of things. On the other hand, if your subjects are comfortable around you and your camera, don’t be afraid to move in close. You can even engage them in conversation if it suits you.
Don’t be afraid to direct. While you want to intrude as little as possible on a family scene, there may be times when a little direction is called for. Maybe you have an idea for an opening for your video – let’s say you want to show a long line of relatives, arms filled with presents, filing in through the front door. Don’t be afraid to tell everyone what you want them to do and enlist their cooperation. Set up your camera, place everyone where you want them to be, tell them what they need to do and where they should go after they do it. Then cross your fingers, press the record button and yell “action!” Remember to have fun and also accept the fact that you’re not working with professional actors. Be happy with what you get on one or, at the most, two tries.
Look for special moments. In every family gathering there are countless small, precious moments that help tell the story of your family. Maybe it’s a grandmother reading to her first grandchild, or a group chatting and cooking in the kitchen, or your cousins hanging holiday lights on the porch. Keep your camera close by. When you see moments like these, don’t hesitate to capture them on tape. An added plus is that when people are having fun and are truly engrossed in what they’re doing, they’re less likely to notice you and your camera (and if they do notice they’ll be less likely to care that you’re taping). Case in point: Years ago I was hired to shoot a profile of an insurance salesman. He was a wonderful, elderly gentleman. We spent a day with him and his family and, as my crew was packing up, I saw the salesman’s granddaughter sit down at the family piano and begin to practice. I quickly asked the salesman to join his granddaughter at the keyboard and hustled my cameraman over to the scene. The result was a lovely moment with grandpa and granddaughter enjoying some private time – totally oblivious to the camera.
Vary your shots. Tape your subjects and action from below, above, straight on, from behind and in profile. Change your focal lengths from shot to shot, moving from close to wide. The more variety you have in the way you frame your shots, the more visually interesting your finished video will be. You can use the flip out monitor on your camera as a view finder to help you get those ultra high or ultra low shots you wouldn’t be able to get if you just relied on your camera’s eyepiece.
Have fun. Enjoy yourself. Relax. Laugh. If your family sees you, the cameraperson/director, having a good time, the more likely they are to relax and join in the video fun with you.
PS – Don’t forget to stock up on tape or memory cards and to keep those batteries charged!
Ask Steve – This month: Delivering quality video on DVDs.
Q: Dear Steve,
I took your on line seminar last year and am underway in the business, though the process is quite slow because of my inexperience…Problem–I am using IMovie 09 right now. The image on my imovie screen is far superior to that from a DVD produced by IDVD. I am in the process of learning to use Final Cut Express and am told this will assist with less loss of resolution. But I have recently read that DVD only deliver SD quality. I would like to deliver a first quality product to my clients. What do you recommend? Thanks very much.
– – Fred Ketchum, Ellsworth, Maine
A: Hi, Fred.
I’m not versed in iMovie or iDVD, so I can’t comment on the quality issue with them. I use Adobe Premiere Pro and Encore and am very happy with the quality of the DVDs and Blu-rays I create. Regarding DVDs – yes, DVDs deliver SD (Standard Definition) video only. However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. You can get great quality out of SD video on a DVD, even playing back to an HD (High Definiton) TV. The key is having great video to begin with and then taking care when you convert it to DVD. I make it a point not to put more than about 1 hr, 15 min of material on a DVD. That way, I can use less compression, which gives me a better-looking picture. I don’t know if Final Cut Express allows you to create DVDs, but if it does, and if it allows you to vary compression settings, experiment with them until you find the one that gives you the quality that works best for you. I export my timelines as Mpeg-DVD files that I then import into Encore. I use a quality setting of 5 and also a Constant Bit Rate (CBR) of 8 (as opposed to variable bit rate – VBR). Not sure if this is the same in Final Cut Express. I shoot all my videos in HD these days and edit them in HD. But most clients don’t have Blu-ray players yet, so I wind up creating SD Widescreen DVDs for them. They still look darned good, even on an HD TV. (Blu-ray looks best, of course, and I have a client for whom I’m creating both DVD and Blu-ray disks, so family members will have their pick of formats.) Even if you shoot SD, however, the key to success is great lighting, composition and sound – and then an export to DVD at the highest quality possible. Good luck!
Got a question about any aspect of family history video production?
Send it to Steve at email@example.com.