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great images, zero reason to watch

Everyone is a photographer these days. The advent of affordable DSLRs has put the power of good photography in anyone’s hands that wants it.

And video is not far behind. With DSLRs now taking stunning HD video images, everyone will soon be a videographer.

Thus, we get videos like this. Picked up and posted on The Atlantic’s website, no less.

Stunning images. Beautifully shot (though I hate the shots where the interview is in profile).

And absolutely zero storyline. It’s literally halfway through the video before we even hear anything that could begin a storyline. Even that doesn’t develop.

I have nothing against the guys that put this piece together. They can shoot circles around me. But unless you’re giving me a reason to watch, the video fails in my opinion.

cheap background accent lights, part 1

I’m on a quest to find cheap, portable solutions to spice up the backgrounds in interview shots.

Here’s part 1. The items included are linked below.


Goal Zero USB light




EZOPower USB charger

audio beds

Finding and licensing the right piece(s) of music for a video production is my favorite part of the process… for the first five minutes.

After sorting through 10 pages of audio beds, it quickly becomes my least favorite part. Problem is, it’s one of the more important parts. The wrong piece of audio will kill a great video every time.

The right piece of audio can bring life to a lame production.

I’ve worked with CD libraries, online libraries, and track-by-track licenses.

At this point, my favorite option is They have a vast library, and you only pay for what you use. The track licenses are usually around $11, very reasonable. And you feel like you’re helping independent artists along the way.

i need this.

I recently purchased one of the more affordable camera slider options on the market, the Dot Line DLC 47″ slidler. It arrived just in time for me to take it along on a shoot in rural Nebraska.

It performed very well, and got the job done. The big drawback is finding a way to travel with a 47″ piece of aluminum that doesn’t come with a protective case. If the thing gets dented or bent in any way, it’s useless. That smooth movement you need comes from the aluminum bars being in perfect shape.

So I wrapped it in a cloth backdrop I had laying around, and put it inside a long bag from a light stand. This added an extra bag to travel through the airport with (or check at the ticket counter for $25). I’m glad I took it, but the experience left me thinking —there has to be a more portable solution. I’m not creating Hollywood productions, after all.

Well, my prayers were half answered (typical) last night when I ran across this little item on Kickstarter. It’s called AirTracks and it’s an inflatable slider solution that has me drooling.


There’s no long rail to haul around, because the “rail” is an inflatable surface a dolly rolls over. It’s practical. It’s portable. It’s just what I need.

The only problem is that the Kickstarter campaign is now over, so I’ll have to wait until they become available to the public.

Still, there’s hope for not hauling a four-foot aluminum rail through airport security again.

Journalism: Dying By A Thousand Cuts Or Being Reinvented?

Here’s yet another article on the state — and future — of journalism.

Journalism: Dying By A Thousand Cuts Or Being Reinvented?

it’s not me, premiere pro. it’s you.

I’ve experienced some stuttering playback issues inside Premiere Pro for a while now.
Ever since I started using my new Nikon D7000, as a matter of fact.

When playing my D7000 footage inside PP, the audio plays fine but the video playback becomes choppy after a few seconds of play.

I put up with it for a while.

But while editing my latest project, it became a real annoyance.

I just attended an Adobe “Tips and Flicks” workshop in DC where I heard over and over again: “With Premiere Pro, it can handle any footage you throw at it! No need to transcode before you edit like you have to do in Final Cut. Just pull your footage in and Premiere Pro can handle it!”

Um, yeah. This footage is nothing strange. And Premiere Pro is acting like a fat kid trying to keep up with a track athlete.

I surfed around on the Adobe help forums. Some other people had posted similar problems. This guy responded to many of those by basically saying “you have a crappy computer or you’re stupid or both.”

Wow. He looks exactly how I pictured him.

Here are some of his replies:

“My experience is that people that complain about choppy playback have either outdated hardware, or are using very esoteric formats, and/or have a system with a lot of crap on it, that seriously gets in the way of editing. You are definitely not in the first category, I don’t know the origin of your clips and the codec used, so you could be in the second category, but most likely you have a polluted system.”

“OE seems most likely. OE is Operator error. You did something wrong. Your computer is setup wrong, your disk configuration is wrong, your source marerial is wrong, your project settings are wrong, your video driver is wrong…”

Totally unhelpful and arrogant. I’d like to kick him in his render engine.

A few more days between my tech guy and Google and I found this little link.

It basically says PP thinks footage from a Nikon D7000 is something other than it is, so it does an awful job of decoding it. Change the extension from .mov to .mpg and it should work fine.

I tried it, and it worked.

On one hand, I’m grateful it worked.

On the other hand, good Lord, Adobe. Are you serious? I have to change the extension on my footage because the “program that can handle any footage you throw at it” thinks my dolphin is porpoise?

I had to check twice to believe this is an official solution from Adobe. It is! And apparently not an issue they felt needed to be fixed in CS5.5.

I want to love you, Adobe. I really really do. But sometimes you make it hard, when that brand new Final Cut Pro X program is smiling at me from my desk drawer.

cheap dimmers

I’ve made a personal vow to work on improved lighting on future video shoots. Laziness has usually gotten the best of my efforts at lighting in the past. Hauling a camera case, tripod, audio bag, and laptop bag around on shoots has been bad enough; I just couldn’t bring myself to add a light kit bag that dwarfs all the other bags.

The first step (and easiest) is improved lighting in studio shoots. So I brushed up my knowledge on basic three-point lighting techniques (thanks, Vimeo) and spent the better part of a day working on the lighting for an upcoming interview shoot.

While I had two great softbox lights ready to go with built-in dimmers, I had two background lights that didn’t have dimmers. Also, the light I planned on using for my back light did not have a dimmer, either.

So I headed to Lowe’s. After realizing they had no in-line dimmers for sale I did a quick search on my iPhone and found this video.

It saved the day. I put together three lovely in-line dimmers for about $60.

I modified the YouTube plan a little. My version used a heavier duty extension cord, and included a grounding wire for all three. Since the cords were thicker, I couldn’t tie a knot to keep the cords from being pulled out. Instead, I improvised a kind of stopper on the cords using an old mouse pad and some plastic pull ties.

So there you have it. Three dimmers later, I spent a couple of hours setting up my lights. Ready!

The harder job will be lugging around the giant light kit bag on remote shoots.

Maybe I should look into a mobile/travel light kit. After all, I saved a little money on the do-it-yourself dimmers!

adobe story is not an option

I heard a screenwriter raving about Adobe’s screenwriting tool, Adobe Story. I use GoogleDocs to store and edit the scripts for my video projects, but I’m always looking to see if a new tool can do a better job.

Adobe Story comes free with CS5.5 Production Premium, so I opened it and tried it out.

The logo looks happy. The experience was not.

I watched a few tutorial videos that popped up. I created an account, signed in, and uploaded a Word document containing the script for a promotional video I’m working on. Good Lord.

All line breaks were removed. Pressing “enter” didn’t didn’t add a line break, either.

The text didn’t continue from one page to another. Instead, it disappeared into the bottom margin of the first page.

I considered using the service solely to store and share documents. So I downloaded the iPhone app to my phone. I signed in and clicked on my script.

“This document is not compatible for this device.”

I know very little about screenwriting, so I’ll blame it on that. In any case it’s [happily] back to GoogleDocs for me.

Sorry I ever doubted you, GoogleDocs.

free motion graphics

Here’s a great little secret I’ve been using for the past few years. The folks at have a good selection of background graphics to liven up a video. I frequently use their graphics to add some motion to a full screen graphic, or an OTS box. The files are available for direct download, in a variety of formats. They’re not quite where they should be with HD offerings — most files are standard definition. But if you use these files like I do, stretched across the background with about 50% opacity, a bit of a Gaussian blur usually fixes any resolution problems.

Here’s the best part. has a weekly newsletter you can sign up for. If you’re willing to put up with a weekly email, you’ll find a FREE weekly loop at the bottom of those emails. And the free loops aren’t always awful. I’ve been downloading those free loops each week for years, so I have a decent collection.


Everyone subscribing to the weekly email received a coupon a couple of weeks ago for $40 worth of downloads. Free. Not bad. That kind of stuff has made my go-to site for motion graphics, even though some sites may have better offerings.

The down side? You’ll find‘s selection limited once used them for a year or two. And their flash-based interface can be clunky.

In any case, it’s hard to beat the free weekly loops.


outsource the tough stuff

Here’s a lesson I’m still learning.

You don’t have to know everything.

I usually stick to the old adage, “if you want something done right, do it yourself.” Working as a one-man-band for all those years in TV news only enforced that rule. I’d simply rather do most things myself so they’re exactly like I want them. And I won’t have to blame anyone else when/if it doesn’t work.

But there are some great ways emerging online to outsource the parts of a big project you don’t have the skills — or time — to do yourself.

Case in point.

Here’s a video I produced to promote career fairs to potential employers. There were several key statistics the client wanted included, such as security clearances, education levels, and military experience of job candidates at these career fairs. I wanted to present these visually rather than listing the numbers on a full page graphic.

I could have created a pie chart and given it some slight 3-D animation in Premiere Pro or AfterEffects. Anything beyond that would have taken a good deal more time.

Instead, I turned to a site called VideoHive. They sell footage and motion graphics to use in projects. It’s all royalty-free, which makes it even better.

A quick search for “charts” pulled up 18 results. I chose the InfoGraphics package. For $25, it was not a bad deal.

What I bought was AfterEffects compositions, ready for me to insert my statistics. You open up the project in AfterEffects and follow the instructions to customize the charts with your own numbers. The instructions were easy to follow, and I was super happy with the result. These compositions were well made, using a variety of expressions (something I know terribly little about in AfterEffects) and effects. I knew just enough to be able to tweak the end result a little.

The final effect gives this project exactly the feel I wanted. Something visually interesting and unique. I added some spotlight effects in Premiere Pro to most of my video footage, to reinforce the polished, edgy look of those charts.

Point: don’t be afraid to outsource some of your work. There’s always someone who knows more than you… don’t be too proud to use their help!