Category: Gear

Make Music (AND VIDEO) With iPad

Thanks to my YouTuber friend Kylie who just tipped me off to this article! Rolling Stone posted this writeup of a new video featuring artists Gaslamp Killer & Elliphant making music with the iPad but a small sidenote there is that…the whole video–which aired during the 2015 Grammys on Sunday night–was also FILMED using only an iPad.

So. Into. It.

The Cheap-Ass Mic Is Dead. Long Live Dank Mics.

As someone who knows full well “you get what you pay for,” I have still learned a lesson, today…

Mmyep. Thats still legit.

This is just a quick update to lament. A sad eulogy for my little goldfish of an accessory. A quiet swan song for my common sense.

It seems that my $30 lavalier mic that I could clip on someone’s shirt and plug straight into my camera with 30′ of roaming space in between….

Has died.

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How to Shoot Video Well with Stuff You Already Have

Did you know that our cell phones are now more computationally powerful than the entire computational power of NASA around 1969?

Or that the video camera on your smartphone is more advanced than any professional camera Alfred Hitchcock ever used to shoot his award-winning films?

It’s true, the technology we carry around in our pocket is more than sufficient to get us started on crazy new things like video production so if you’re ready, you can compensate for some of the shortcomings we still experience by just knowing how to maximize what you already have!

Start where you are quote Arthur Ashe

I started with a consumer level video camera (check out my gear!) and an iPhone to shoot video. I whined about each of them at first until I realized I wasn’t even juicing them for all that they could give me!

My little Canon Vixia HF M300 actually let me record in HD, set a custom white balance and had great image stabilization and my iPhone got me through a tough spot with a shoot for my mentor—albeit, not particularly gracefully…

Oh god. Okay, let’s go there. Here’s one of my favorites from that shoot:

I say “favorite” loosely because I was SO mad at myself for this. I managed to actually do what I have nightmares about…leave for a video shoot and NOT BRING MY CAMERA. Really? That really happens? I had to check myself to make sure I was wearing pants and still had all of my teeth, next…

We were able to wing it with my iPhone but I learned a lot of hard lessons in post because of that.

The sound on these was left in mono on purpose because I lost too much volume by switching to stere. This is because I just used the onboard mic on my iPhone while fairly far away from my subjects surrounded by a lot of ambient outdoor noise.


That audio is TURNT UP in every way I could possibly manipulate it. Thank GOD that each of these interviewees just had such great stories that they carried the videos past my…technical difficulties.

One thing I made sure to get right though was to SHOOT IN LANDSCAPE MODE. Holding your phone upright as it would be when you are texting or browsing Instagram is considered Portrait Mode and when you import footage like that to edit, you will have some awesome, thick black bars on either side of your clips that make you look like a n00b. Which…you are, but don’t be SO obvious, okay?

This video pretty much sums it up:

Next, mind your LASS.

Mind your LASS

Seriously, she’s getting out of control. She’s just running around and voting and starting businesses and stuff. God.

But no really, let’s break this down:

  1. Light: When it comes to simple pick-up-and-go video production you just can’t beat natural light. In every circumstance you possibly can try to navigate around being able to use natural light for the best possible visibility and color results. If you MUST shoot indoors away from windows and do not have a ton of incandescent lights to prop up around your subject, then just…make sure really great stuff is going on to distract from gross lighting quality!
  2. Audio: As we have learned, the on-board mics for hand-held cameras and smartphones are…present, but don’t produce the most excellent quality. For the best results make sure you are minimizing background noise (and don’t underestimate background noise, a rogue air conditioner can really mess with you…) and your subject as close to your camera as possible.
  3. Stability: Standard hand-held cameras offer some pretty good image stabilization features but most smartphones are more sensitive. Keep your camera stationary as much as you can or use BOTH hands, ideally with your elbows anchored into your waist, to shoot.
  4. Story: The narrative or concept of your video is still the most important. What are you trying to say or show? In normal conversation I tend to ramble and follow rabbit trails like a maniac so I absolutely script and storyboard my videos as much as I can ahead of time. I LOVE this quote:

“If you can plan like Hitchcock, you don’t have to edit like Herzog!”

I found it in the comments of a Gawker article called “5 Rules for Making a Company Video Worth Watching” that featured some good points for company video (more on more business-y videos later!)

And also action. The 102 level of this is to incorporate action which can be made by following something that’s moving, zooming in and out, focusing in our out, or using cuts. Cuts are really helpful, scenes that move around and are just a few seconds long are ideal but this is often difficult to do without  multiple cameras, especially in an interview setting. Which is why I left it out of the core LASS.

Here’s a video I made as I finished up my term with Young & Free St. Louis advising competing hopefuls on how to make the most of their application videos:

And to close, here are some other really great tips from

10 Tips for Shooting Better Video with Your iPhone

We’ll get more into editing soon, too. I really encourage you to get used to working with real-time video and really separate yourself from the ideas of “editing that out” or “fixing it in post” because that stuff can be incredibly painstaking and difficult. You will always be better off if you just shoot your video well to begin with!

What do you think? Are you so pumped to get started? Tell me about yourself and your work in a comment or say hello on Facebook and Twitter!

For those about to [REC.], we salute you!

Mari Smith’s Year of the Video Webinar Digest

So Mari Smith, a leading video and social media personality, has declared 2013 “Year of the Video” and kicked it off with a free webinar last Thursday, January 24th.  I, of course, am down with that and planned to tune in!

…unfortunately that afternoon reared its ugly head with a janky web connection at a St. Louis Bread Co. (Panera for those of you non-OG…) and a task list longer than my Target receipts so I popped in for about 2o minutes while it was streaming, then zoned out in an epic novel I wrote to my boss with periodic clicking to see some of the asinine comments going on in the live chat…

That was last Thursday and now, hey! A week later I sort of have some time to poke back through the recorded video!

The panel consisted of MariDavid Gumpel, Emmy-award winning director and his wife, social media/marketing expert Catherine Hedden. They introduced themselves and each other and then got into some good stuff around the :15 mark.

For brevity’s sake I’m just going to discuss some equipment highlights that I though were particularly cool plus a few quotes because this thing was 1 hour and 18 minutes long! I really encourage you to find some time to watch it if you’re just getting started and let me know what you think. I know I have a really different perspective and I would like to know what you thought of it!

First, they discussed “filming on the go” and some SUPER cool iPhone 4/4s accessories that attach to your phone via Manfrotto Klyps which is a kit based around a special phone case with detachable clips. They have kits available that include tripods and even a little LED light set and I’m REALLY bummed out that they don’t seem to be available for iPhone 5, yet…aargh!

(Blogger’s note: want to see some other super rad iPhone photo & video gear? Check out!)

Oh, they also added their own little diffusion paper to their LED light. To diffuse and soften your light – because it does justice to your subjects by softening their weird skin blotches shaped like Texas and other creepiness – you can just use white tracing paper or tissue paper over your light source or even a sheet if it’s a window! Though for larger scale work this isn’t recommended because pro-level lights get so hot you wouldn’t believe it…OH THE BURNS we got in college messing with the barn doors on those stupid things…at this level you’d want to use diffusion or gels more like these.

Then they discussed some bigger, meatier pieces. Mmm meaty equipment. This could probably collapse my mind into the gutter real quick…

  Source: via Films About on Pinterest


For larger shooting situations I was excited to see they all use the Canon EOS Rebel T3i, the DSLR camera that I was planning on ordering! They mentioned that the size of a DSLR camera like this seemed to make people a lot more comfortable to be around than the older, bulkier style of professional cameras.

For larger lighting situations a simple paper lantern over a full spectrum daylight CFL bulb works great for diffusion!

Now…microphones! Or…A microphone, anyway…Which they didn’t even get to until the Q&A session, but they spotlighted their Audio-Technica ATR-3350 Lavalier Omnidirectional Condenser Microphone that they use with the Canon T3i but their Pinterest pin says you will need a special adapter to use this with a smartphone.

They then start getting into marketing and talking about the structure of web shows for folks who are wanting to start their own. They stress how you need to know what you’re wanting to do and why before you get started. Their recommendation for the first video you should be doing is with a how-to video. It offers a lot of value to a community and sets you up as the expert but you need to consider your business and the quality you need to produce to meet them.

Example: For my work with Young & Free St. Louis the whole point was “young person with a handicam”-style videos but if my employer, Vantage Credit Union, wanted to make videos establishing them as a trusted financial resource for our 26 year old + members, their approach would need to be a bit more polished.

Here are some notable quotes around this idea of video for business:

“You’ve gotta marry your blog or TV talk show!”

It’s a LOT of work to regularly produce great videos. Depending on what you are doing you may need to set aside several hours to days for recording even short videos. That’s not even including editing. The rule of thumb in video is the 20:1 ratio that says you need to shoot about about 20 minutes to get 1 good minute of footage. Can you or your company handle this ongoing responsibility?

“If you’re not producing great content and you’re not being consistent in getting this out, it’s going to be hard to get ROI.”

This is true, video is probably one of the most time-absorbing marketing initiatives. If you just think you “should” do it, it will be WAY more painful for you than just how feel you “should” tweet or have a FB page…

I also wanted to note that some of the commenters on this webinar were fairly rude. This webinar wasn’t moving fast enough, they wanted them to talk about something else, they spent time bashing the event or spamming out their own links and just whining about how this was going to help their marketing. I had an eye twitch after just watching these scroll for a few minutes, but this is the web. The wider your reach gets, the more you will tend to pick up the bad energies from people along with the good so don’t be surprised by this.

This comment was so asinine that I actually saved it as a quote:

“If you think this is great information, please don’t do your own video, hire a local professional. Would you hire an amatuer to do your plumbing?”

FALSE. Remember that video is a large undertaking and there is a LOT to learn though you definitely DON’T have to know it all up front in order to get started with something like web video. If you want to produce a TV commercial then yes, I would still recommend hiring a professional, but as someone who is trained in video I still learned a few things in this webinar or had principles revisited that I tend to neglect or had forgotten about. I encourage you to always keep your mind open and be a constant learner and re-learner as you get started with video and respect the knowledge being shared by others.

/end PSA, thank you for reading.

TERMS and PRINCIPLES (which I am working on compiling alphabetically in an ongoing “Terms” page – stay tuned!)

  • 20:1 ratio – You can roughly expect to shoot about 20 minutes of footage for 1 good minute of edited video. This doesn’t really apply to something like a webinar or a full event recording. Anything you’re trying to digest into a short time limit will often fit pretty closely to this rule, though.
  • 10 second rule – you only have about 10 seconds to capture a viewer’s attention so make those first few seconds really count!
  • B-roll – extra video clips spliced into the main storyline that accents what is going on and gives a video a more film-like feel. I shoot TONS of b-roll and often don’t have quite enough or the right shots. The BEST b-roll is shot after piecing together your main story and shooting additional footage that describes it. Is your subject talking about reading a book? Shoot them reading a book. Are they talking about doing cartwheels with penguins while wearing a diving suit? If you can shoot that, for the love of Santa, please do because I want to see it!!
  • Monopod – it’s like a tripod but instead of three (“tri”) legs, there’s just one which is great for hand-held shots. It’s amazing how much more stability this brings to your shooting.
  • Photo clips: large clamp-like clips that allow you to hang things like sheets to diffuse lights or attach heavier things to other things. It’s real technical. Sometimes just clothespins will do.
  • FPS – “Frames Per Second” or the number of individual frames (that used to be the separate blocks on film) move across the screen per second. 24fps is the traditional frame rate for TV and video, it translates well to the web. Makes everything look smoother and converts well to YouTube.
  • Diffusion – the process of softening up your light so it isn’t so harsh on your subject, casting shadows everywhere and exaggerating imperfections.

So what sort of tools are you using to learn? Do you watch webinars or read books or use tutorials or something? Let me know about it in a comment!

For those about to [REC.], we salute you!

A Story of A Girl and Her Beginner Video Gear

Why hello there! My name is Jenn and welcome to Hitchhiker’s Guide to Video!

I am starting this blog as a labor of love for folks that want to start making short videos, want to make BETTER videos, or may find themselves in a situation similar to where I found myself in the summer of 2011. I won a dream job with a local credit union here in St. Louis that consisted of writing daily blog entries, posting on social media, planning and attending events and of course, making videos…

…LOTS. of videos.

At least one short video PER. WEEK. For a YEAR AND A HALF.

I also actually went to college for video production and this job still ended up being harder than I expected. Being at the creative helm of your own veritable Video Ship each week where you are responsible for every single part of your production puts you through a crazy transformation. On the one hand, some videos you look back at and kinda want to put a fork in your eye but on the other…I now have a portfolio of around 80 completed projects that I have produced from start to finish–and that feels damn good.

The one thing that I can say I really will carry with me forever from the experience is:

“If you wait for perfect conditions, you’ll never get anything done.”

-The Bible – New Living Translation, allegedly

With something like video (or almost any new-to-you endeavor!) a lot can be accomplished by just doing anything at all and staying hungry to do it better because there will always be more to learn. With video especially there is always new gear, new software, new techniques new technology…trying to wait to know all the stuff and have all the gear before you start will paralyze you permanently because it’s impossible!

Here’s what I started with:

Jenn's Beginner Video Gear

  1. A Canon Vixia HF M300 HD camera – I’m a Canon girl, the first camera I ever bought was also a Canon back in like…2004 or 2005. A friend ended up breaking it and at that point I had access to my college’s camera so I just said screw it. I was way nicer back then.
  2. A Sennheiser E835 hand-held microphone – a basic hand-held mic. I definitely didn’t maximize it when I just plugged it right into my camera with the …
  3. XLR to 3.5mm adapter – this made it so that I could plug the mic, which has an XLR plug on the end of it. directly into the tiny jack on my camera. 3.5mm is the same size as the plug at the end of your headphones. I can’t say enough about using a mic, if you spend a lot of time filming in noisy environments they’re indispensable!
  4. A couple of XLR cables – Ye Ole standard audio & video cables. These are pretty much the veins of everything that goes into video production. We had so many of these that we used for everything that I could have been buried in these in college and no one would have ever found my body…
  5. A tripod – Mine looked kinda like this but this one is cooler. Mine didn’t even have a bubble level on it which could make things pretty annoying…and crooked…
  6. My MacBook Pro laptop  with Final Cut Pro X (FCPX) – Final Cut Pro & I have had a very interesting relationship curve. I learned on 7, loved it, was given X when I started my job, hated it for basically the whole first year then something my husband said to me drunkenly one night changed everything. No, seriously! More on this later.

You certainly don’t even need this much to get started. Can you record video on your smartphone? Do you have a flip cam? This is just what I started with because it’s what provided me with when I won my job.

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

– Arthur Ashe

If I had the opportunity to choose my gear myself at that time though I still wouldn’t have known where was best for me to start. It actually turned out to be really good for me to get into such a basic camera, stretch it to its limits and then grow out of it fully knowing how I worked and what I wanted to do, next.

I will be upgrading my camera in a few weeks to a DSLR but don’t freak out! I will still be chronicling my beginner’s journey because I have a LOT to say about what I’ve learned poking around with my little handicam for the last 18 months. This will just make it so that I can take my own pictures and videos of my picture and video stuff and it will get all meta…or something…?

You can see the rest of my ridiculous story on the About page and I would adore it if you could also say hello on Facebook and Twitter! I’m planning to post here 2-3 times a week and trying to determine the most effective posting schedule for myself so stay tuned!

Anything you already know you’d like to see me cover here? Please let me know in a comment!

For those about to [REC.], we salute you!