It’s not often that a camera changes the way that you approach your work, but, without exaggeration this is exactly what happened when I got my hands onto Panasonic Lumix cameras. In large part, this is why I wanted to have a relationship with Panasonic – because I loved what they created. I get into the specifics of what I love about the cameras in the video and in the blog post I wrote for Panasonic Europe Ambassadors website.
So, about this video. The folks at Panasonic Europe wanted to see what sorts of projects documentary photographers shoot with their gear, how they use it and what they like about it. I proposed to provide an insight into my personal work in Belarus, in video form. They agreed and this is the final result.
In this blog post I want to share with you some of the things that I learned along the way. It should be particularly useful for anyone of you who have been getting more and more into video work.
When someone else is filming you
Since I’m actually in the video I needed someone to film me. Most of the video work (minus the drone shots and the time-lapses) was done by Ruslan Tolkach, my young friend from Belarus. Ruslan is a talented photographer, but he hadn’t done much video work before, certainly nothing of this sort. I needed to do a lot of directing. Often I’d think up the shots, sometimes I’d even compose them. Other times I’d say, I’m gonna do this or that, please get a wide shot of me, and then we’d improvise.
For someone always behind the camera, being in front of it and not having control can be extremely frustrating. Part of the appeal of being a photographer is the idea of making images on your own and not depending on anyone. This had to change for the project and thankfully, things worked out well. Ruslan did a solid job.
A little drone goes a long way
It’s incredible how drones are changing the game. Just a few years ago, getting high quality aerial shots would have been prohibitive due to costs of a machine that could fly a camera. Going further back in time, a decade ago, you’d have needed a huge crane or something like a paraplane! I shot the aerial footage here with a DJI Phantom 3 drone. Now, I have a Mavic which fits into a regular camera bag and costs less than $2,000 USD. Amazing times we live in!
Why did I use a drone? I just love the way it can set the scene and to give you a great feel for where you are geographically. The shot over the lake and the closing scene with the car driving through the field – these say so much about the region in just a few seconds. I think that even these few seconds of drone footage add a different feel to the video.
Sound adds a whole other dimension
This isn’t news for anybody seriously interested in making videos. Without sound, the video can quite frankly feel dead. There’s a trend now to simply add a music track to videos like these, but that’s far from the same thing. Without sound there’s still an entire layer, or even a few layers missing.
If you listen carefully, you’ll hear that I've added sounds of seagulls, camels, water splashes, car engines and more. At times there’s also the live sound from the scenes. I first started using this technique in my Behind The Scenes Educational Video Package because I really wanted to make the viewer feel like they’re there with me. Here too I’ve created an entire little soundtrack. I feel that, while subtle, it greatly enriches the video. The experience of watching becomes much more immersive.
Music - How important is it?
To be honest, I would much rather have decent sound accompanying the visuals than music. To me adding music equates to applying the finishing touches. Music makes everything flow better, it can make scenes feel a little more poetic and, of course it can create a certain mood, if chosen well. It can also kill a video if not chosen well.
I find cheesy or over-the-top, epic music scores hard to digest. They’re really called for. Even in big budget movies music scores are sometimes overdone. This video is about cameras and it’s an insight into a part of my life which isn’t full of action and drama. I chose two pretty subtle audio tracks. A bit moody, somewhat mysterious, not too happy, not too sad. The tracks don't overpower my voice or the sounds. I feel that they compliment what’s on the screen and don’t overdramatise anything.
A bathroom, a blanket and a microphone
I’m virtually always on the move and I finished this project while I was in Cartagena, Colombia. My main concern there was recording the voiceover. I hadn’t yet done it because I never managed to find a quiet enough place anywhere I went. My guesthouse in Cartagena was also far from ideal – there was loud club music on the weekends and traffic noise on other days. I was already late with my delivery of the project, so I needed to find a solution.
The bathroom in the guesthouse had pretty good sound isolation. Of course, there was also a ridiculous eco when I spoke. My solution was to put a blanket over my head. The sound would not travel far and would bounce off the soft walls of the blanket. With this setup and a Zoom H2N (an amazing little sound recording device) I think I actually managed to create one of my better sounding voiceovers.
Putting it all together
I used Final Cut Pro X to edit the video. My colour grading, which was pretty basic was done in Color Finale. Here’s something worth knowing about short videos – often editing them can be incredibly time consuming. What you’re doing with a shorter video is – cut, cut, cut. You’re trying to squeeze in as much information as possible into as few minutes as possible. Add some images to that and you've got plenty of little scenes to piece together. Took me a few days to put the video, sound and music together and to polish it all.
Editing on a laptop is never ideal, there’s just not enough screen space, but, once you find a way that suits you, it is definitely possible.
Would I like to change anything? Of course there are always shots you’d like to have another go at. It’s also easy to be over-critical when you’re not in total control, but overall I’m pretty happy with this video. Seems that the folks at Panasonic are too. Once again, you can follow THIS LINK to the ambassador site to learn more about my project in Belarus.
One last thing I'd like to do is to thank Panasonic for giving me the creative freedom to experiment and to stay true to my vision. It really isn't something that happens very often and I definitely appreciate the opportunity.
Behind The Scenes video course
I talked about using the sound to accompany the visuals to make the viewing experience more engaging in my video course. It's called Behind The Scenes Travel Photographer Of The Year Winning Portfolio. You can check it out here. Just click on the link text or the image.