Category Video

Playing With Music and Emotions

A few years back I did a talk at the Grandfather Mountain Camera Clinic titled, Photojournalism, Instagram and Artificial Authenticity. You can probably figure out where it went, that applying the latest filters to pristine images was playing with the emotions of your viewers, not helping them comprehend what was happening in the image before them. I am, after all, a strict constructionist and very limited when it comes to the artistic pursuits of photography – a picture should be accurate, that’s what I profess to believe to be true.

My students often ask me about putting music into their videos – news videos – and I always walk them through some questions. What’s missing from your story that you feel the need to decorate your story? What are the emotional consequences of doing this? And, lastly, what are the copyright concerns that you have to wrestle with?

After seven years of teaching video at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, I believe I’ve only had two pieces come in with music – and one of them the student wrote and performed it.

Al Tompkins down at the Poynter Institute has taken on this same subject this week, adding various types of music to UAV footage of fireworks.

He brings up the same issues but handles it more elegantly than I do.

My short answer to the question: News is news, let the story tell itself. Illustrate, don’t decorate.

Widgets for Smartphone Video

I’m recently back from a week of teaching teachers at the Poynter Institute where I did a pair of sessions on using your smartphone for video journalism. As part of those sessions I showed off a bunch of widgets I’ve found useful …


UnknownA big issue with shooting small is getting stable video – the light weight of smartphones means you don’t have much mass to counter act the shaking in your hands. Finding a way to lockdown your phone is critical to getting professional results.

The first piece I showed is a simple Joby GripTight, a spring loaded clamp with a standard tripod thread on the bottom. You can get it bundled with a small, light tabletop GorillaPod for under $20. This is a very compact clamp, folds up super small and will hold your phone reasonably tight. I would recommend getting a larger, heavier tripod if you’re going to work outside.

The second piece I showed was a MeFOTO SideKick360 (in orange, of course). This is a much sturdier clamp and gives me a lot more security when using it. Again, paired with a nice, light, full height tripod this can be a good kit.


61F40BDMzsL SL1500One of the largest issues with using your phone for video journalism is in getting good sound. The built in mic is, well … awful. I have used and recommend the Audio-Technica ATR-3350 for a clip on lavaliere microphone. It runs between $20 and $30, depending on the whims of Amazon. Note that it does use a battery, so make sure you carry a couple of spare LR44 button cells with you.

There are a lot of options for shotgun type mice out there. I picked up a Rode VideoMic and have been happy with it, though Al Tompkins showed off a Shure shotgun with a built in audio recorder that sounded very, very nice. Granted, it costs more than twice as much as the Rode, but being able to record audio separately is a handy feature.

Any of these options have a drawback – you can’t plug them straight into most smartphones. To make that work, you need a short adapter to allow your TRRS-plug-equipped phone to accept a TS-equipped mic. Monoprice makes a cable for $5 that handles that and allows you to plug in a headphone to listen to your sound.

One of the other professors at the conference showed me her Movo LV1 which works on the same concept as the Audio-Technica lav mic but doesn’t need the adapter. I didn’t get a chance to use it, but it’s another option to explore.


41rYES4QNEL SY300If you choose to use a shotgun mic, you need some way of attaching it. You can buy some very nice cases that will allow attachments that run around $125. But if you want to go a little simpler, combine one of the above clamps with a simple L-bracket that has two cold shoes on it. You can slip your shotgun mic into one and use the other for a small LED light if you need it.

Another advantage to the L-bracket is it gives you a little more mass and a slightly more stable way to hand-hold your phone. It also has a standard tripod thread on the bottom so you can attach it to a tripod if you want.


FilmicproBecause the session had both iOS and Android users in it, I didn’t go too deep into software. I will make a small pitch for FILMiC Pro on iOS as a substitute for your built-in camera app. It has a couple of nice functions, like being able to monitor (though not adjust) audio levels. the ability to separate focus from exposure and the option to lock focus, exposure and white balance – all things that will help polish your video.

One last cool feature of FILMiC Pro – it allows you to adjust the intensity of the built-in LED light on your phone, giving you the ability to add a little fill light to your footage. That alone makes it worth the $5.

More Learning

If you weren’t able to be at the fourth iteration of Poynter’s Teachapalooza or Hands On Video seminars, I’ll be doing a webinar for Poynter’s NewsU on Smartphone Video next week. I’ll be going over more of the journalistic approach to smartphone videography than specific tools, but we’ll touch on some of these that can help you tell better stories.

The Dark Room That Is Editing

MediaStorm’s Eric Maierson on video editing – an accurate portrayal of what video editing feels like.

Making Something Great

Sometime tomorrow, the Boston Globe will release a documentary on five runners who did finish last year’s Boston Marathon – and this could be amazing. For those in New England, it airs on NESN tonight at 9:30.

Reporter Geoff Edgers and multimedia producer Darren Durlach were simply told, “Just make something great” by the Globe’s editor, Brian McGrory.

I hope it is.

Layoffs at CNN

Several places reporting 16 photojournalists and editors have been laid off at CNN.

Not good.

News Chopper Down in Seattle

Multiple reports that the KOMO-TV helicopter has crashed in Seattle.

For the Educators in the Audience

TeachaNeed to spend off a little leftover FY14 travel funding? Here’s how to do it – Poynter’s Teachapalooza is one of the best journalism educator conferences around. Three (or five) days of über nerdy, totally geeked out learning about how to better teach journalism at the university level.

Disclosure: I’m on the faculty, but I paid my way for the first two years of this and it was worth every cent.

Why Situational Awareness Matters

I would like to think that I’m pretty good at paying attention to what’s happening around me. As a journalist, that power to observe was a key component of my mental tool kit. It can also be an important survival tool as one Philadelphia television reporter almost found out.

The fact that neither he nor his photojournalist had the foresight to realize this could happen is troubling. One chunk of ice in there ant Steve Keeley isn’t finishing his standup.

Big Changes in Orlando

Reports coming out from the National Press Photographers Associaiton that the Orlando Sentinel has told all of its staff photojournalists they have until tomorrow to reapply for new jobs that are much more video-centric.

While the need to produce more video is certainly there, is this the best path? To threaten job loss? Wouldn’t a progress policy of training be better?

It is possible, of course, that they tried to do that and failed, I suppose.

Chilling Storytelling

This … is freaking amazing.

It’s a Boyd Huppert story out of KARE 11 TV in Minneapolis looking at ice caves that have formed in Bayfield, Wisconsin. And, holy cow, is it gorgeous.

Listen to the sounds in this – this demonstrates the power of great audio.

(Thanks to Al Tompkins at the Poynter Institute for the link.)