Thanks to a buddy who let me play around with the Canon 5D Mark II, I figured out a useful trick for precision focusing in HD video mode on the Nikon D300s. When in Live View mode (either handheld or tripod mode) you can use the + and – buttons on the left of the viewfinder to digitally zoom in on your subject. Then, use the AF button to focus (or manually do so) and zoom back out. Presuming you don’t move the camera and your subject stays still, you can now rest assured your footage will be in focus. This tip is particularly helpful when using a shallow depth of field on bright days or when you don’t have a viewfinder eyepiece.

Now that I’ve been operating much more in the nonprofit world and much less in the journalism world, it’s rare that I find myself chasing down those random video stories that cross my path.

But, I’ve been in the mood to commit random acts of journalism lately. I’m currently in Madison, WI conducting a 3-day “Multimedia Journalism Bootcamp” for the faculty of the Madison Area Technical College’s journalism program. I was out and about the state capital when I came across some street performers slinging fire around on chains and couldn’t help myself. I was compelled to shoot video and ask them to tell me a little about their art and themselves.

That’s the nature of a really good story, I think—it begs to be told, to be explored.

So many reporters at so many newspapers and television stations have been battered by the constant drum of doom and gloom in the industry, or the demanding focus on learning news skills, new technology and new ways of doing things that it can be easy to neglect our sense of curiosity. The news stories or video projects that get us excited and the ones that perplex us, yet compel us to get to bottom of things can often get lost.

Heaven forbid such a story should fall outside our work hours, say at 9:30 p.m. on a Wednesday night in a park square in Madison, WI. I could have been inside watching a movie and eating pizza, but I happened to be out exploring a new city. That’s when I met Sean, a construction worker by day who liked to go to raves and learned to swing balls of fire in a dizzying display of skill and dexterity. I met Paul, a student who sports a mohawk and dropped out of school, but aspires to return to study horticulture or engineering. He’s also hoping he can make a little cash swinging fire, which he does with flair and expertise.

It wasn’t a long video and it tells only a small part of their story, but it represents the potential of curiosity satisfied. The final product is an engaging video that inspires even more curiosity. It’s one of the things I just remembered that I love about journalism.

The Apple iPad is ideal for your photography or videography business and is available from Apple starting at $499.

I stopped by the Apple Store this evening to check out the iPad. The ultimate gadget geek that I am, I just had to pick one up and play around. And, being the gadget geek I am, my mind churned over all the possible reasons I needed one. Those of you with your own photography or videography business know the drill, another piece of equipment your heart yearns for, so you desperately begin searching for a reason, any reason, to expense it.

Alas, I didn’t come up with a significant justification for buying one to actually fork out the money. (Wife would have killed me anyway) But, I did get a better understanding of how it would benefit me, particularly as a photographer and videographer.

*Thanks to Michael Sherlock for the video demo.

Salesperson’s best friend

The iPad, with its convenient size and shape would be a great sales tool. The display and touch interface make it fantastic for flipping through photo portfolios, zooming in and out with a pinch. I can’t imagine a bride or commercial client that wouldn’t have fun flicking through your best work with this tablet in hand. I met so many of my brides, along with the fiancees and mothers, at local coffee shops. This tablet PC would be perfect for looking through proofs and sampling my best wedding videos. The 9.7 inch (diagonal) display is a perfect compromise between portability and a comfortable viewing experience. The iPad also features speakers, though in a noisy environment you’ll need headphones.

Photographer’s caddy

Apple's iPad Camera Connection Kit goes for $29

You can download photos directly to the iPad from your camera using the iPad camera connection kit ($29). The iPad supports standard picture formats including .jpg and RAW. This would make it ideal for proofing photos on the go and sharing them with friends, clients or fellow photographers. Read the rest of this entry »

Brian Copeland had an excellent blog post (Sweet Home Alabam, a Video Tour and $150K) about using popular music with video projects that inspired me to share my thoughts on using music with my video production projects. Essentially, my advice on using popular or copyrighted music in your video projects is DON’T DO IT! Even if a client is asking for it and many other videographers out there are slapping up videos with popular music, it’s not a risk worth taking. And, as Copeland pointed out, the process for getting permission to use copyrighted songs is difficult to say the least.

So, what’s a videographer to do? Read the rest of this entry »

I’ve gotten some great response to my advanced shooting techniques posts about the D300s lately, so I thought I’d take the time to post some more useful techniques I’ve picked up shooting video on my favorite Nikon. This time it’s “gain” control on the D300s for shooting HD video in extremely low light conditions. When you’ve pushed the D300s iris control to it’s lowest setting, here are some tips for squeezing out just a little more visibility from your camera without getting too much grain or color loss.

Aperture is everything

The way you boost your low light viability with the Nikon series of HD video DSLRs is by manipulating the aperture, so the faster the lens, the better. Of course, you’ll run into depth of field issues if you go too low, so be aware of this when setting up your scene. Do not bother changing the ISO, keep it set on something reasonable like 200 or 400 so when you go back to shooting stills, you’re shooting at a standard ISO. I’ve found that manual ISO changes do not translate into real changes in the video capture mode. (It does seem, however, that the ISO adjusts automatically as graininess becomes a factor in low light conditions, whereas in regular lighting conditions there is no graininess.)

So, first, select aperture control mode (or manual if you prefer) and shoot in this mode so you can control the aperture. If you’re not able to push your aperture below f5.6, you’re sure to get a grainy picture. So, try to use lenses that allow you to go to something like f1.8, f2, etc.

Be sure to exit “Live View” mode after making any aperture changes or they won’t take effect. I’ve even found it useful to turn the camera on/off to make sure the changes take effect.

Monitor the video

Lastly, you’ll want to properly monitor the video image you’re capturing to make sure you’re not getting a grainy picture. I find that boosting the screen contrast temporarily while shooting video helps you accurately read the picture.

And, that’s it. Hope this helps.

Poking fun at those TV journalists is too much fun! This courtesy of Charlie Brooker. Funny stuff!

This month’s issue of the Society of Professional Journalists magazine, Quill, is all about the changes affecting news photographers in the digital age. I also happen to have a column in this month’s issue.

The column in which I make my Quill editorial debut is the digital media toolbox, a spot available to the committee members on SPJ’s National Digital Media Committee. (Lucky us) Each issue, we try to share tips, tricks and tidbits about multimedia journalism. (You can also read a plethora of these tips and tricks on our blog—NetWorked)

When asked to draft up something for this issue, I wanted to address newspaper photographers who have yet to make a foray into news videography with those fancy new DSLRs that shoot HD video. I was also asked to create a tutorial video to accompany the online version of the magazine. You can check out the article here and watch the video above.

If you’re a news photographer, be sure to check out Digital Quill online.