Making the #engchat 2011 Video

Posted by on Jul 15, 2011

I have a Nikon D700 that I use for all my photo work. It’s truly an incredible piece of technology. The full frame sensor captures outstanding images, and I couldn’t be happier with it as a camera for photos. It does, however, lack one major feature. It doesn’t shoot video. Of any kind. So, about three months ago I picked up a D7000 for the video. To be honest, I’m a bit more excited about Canon’s DSLRs for video work, but I already had a serious investment in Nikon lenses, so purchasing a Canon wouldn’t have been wise. Having now shot a few videos with the D7000, I’m happily impressed with what it is capable of producing.

Starting to experiment with video has been a tremendous experience, but it still feels a bit like I’m trying to brush my teeth with my left hand. I’m not very efficient, and I feel like I’m stumbling my way through right now. I have had the chance to make a few videos, and I do believe I’ve learned some things that might help you if you are thinking about working with video. Especially video on a DSLR, but I’m very new at it, so I’m hoping maybe you can help me out as well as we move forward together.

I’m going to use the recent #Engchat 2011 video I created at ISTE to give you some ideas of how I’m approaching my video work and learning right now. Hopefully this will be helpful.


When working with video, you still must think like a photographer. Composition is absolutely paramount. And the story trumps all. You need to take some time to consider how you want the video to flow, and consider capturing shots that will tell your story. Here’s an example.

It was the first real video I created with the D7000, and while there are a host of technical issues, I’m happy with the story it tells. I worked to capture the emotion and the ebb of the event. I think capturing quick little shots of things we might take for granted helped with the story. The shot of the programs being handed out being one example. I was very happy with the way you could see and feel the nervous excitement of the students as they waited to go on stage. The teacher giving the students a thumbs-up as she directed them down the aisle was perhaps my favorite shot of the video. Those are the kind of moments I hope to catch. And, I hope to consider a compelling angle with which to catch them. As I said in my last post, capturing images from an angle we see everyday does little to add interest to your work. Think of a unique perspective that will help build upon your work of telling the story.

With the #Engchat video, I didn’t know what to expect of the event. I hadn’t seen the venue, I didn’t know how many people would be there, and I had never participated in an #engchat session before. My goal, then, was to go with whatever happened, try to capture the essence of the event, and do so without getting in the way. Turns out, the place was awesome for the video. It had very interesting light as it had a big stained-glass window section that let in nice, filtered light, and there was an ambiance that created the perfect backdrop for the video.

About 1/2 way through the event, I realized I had to rethink the video. Originally, I envisioned the video having no spoken word tracks, and I thought the shots I could capture would tell the story with a few text slides throughout. I had to scrap that idea when I realized all I really had were clips of people looking at computer screens and typing. I didn’t want to force something into the event that wasn’t really a part of it, so instead of trying to contrive something for the sake of the video, I thought that perhaps doing an interview with Bud after the event might work as the backbone for the story. Did it ever. Bud is a master storyteller, and all I had to do was ask him a few questions about the event, and he provided the perfect foundation for the video. From there, it was just a matter of fitting in the right footage over his interview to help people truly see the story. I think it worked because I stayed out of the way and let the story drive.


I still have much to learn here, so please understand I’m not saying any of these things are the correct way to capture video with your DSLR. I’m sure there are many people who can help me better understand the technical techniques to capture the best video possible. I hope some will speak up and help us all.

I heard Scott Bourne speak a lot about techniques for shooting video in Photofocus, and one piece that I think is critical is understanding the role of shutter speed and frame rate in video. There is a way to utilize frame rate and shutter speed to get a cinema quality to your video. In order to do so, you should experiment with shooting at 24 frames per second for the frame rate and try to maintain 1/50 for the shutter speed. You can read all the gory details of why that is in something called the 180 rule, and I certainly don’t understand all the finer technical points of that, but I do know that shooting under 1/50 will give your video a smeared, motion streaked quality to it. Shooting over 1/50 will give it a more staccato look and feel somewhat akin to the action sequences in Saving Private Ryan. To get the smooth, cinema quality, aim for 24fps at 1/50. To accomplish that, I shoot in shutter priority to make sure I maintain 1/50. I let the camera adjust the aperture as necessary, and I manually adjust the ISO. I will talk in a future post about the importance of aperture and ISO and what they mean for your images, but just know that the higher the ISO, the more digital noise will be present in your images. Depending on your level of comfort, you may not mind some noise, but I try to keep my images as clean as possible. In order to do so, I try to keep my ISO as low as possible.

I shot the #engchat video using a 50mm 1.4 Nikkor lens, which allowed me to get nice depth of field shots.Being able to roll through multiple focal points in a shot adds interest and depth. I set the focus ring to manual, so I could manipulate the focus as desired. I’ve found that starting a shot intentionally out of focus and slowly rolling into focus creates a natural transition between shots and can be effective when used intermittently throughout a given video. I’ve experimented with variable zoom length lenses, and I’m just not good enough yet to use them effectively, so I’m going to stick with prime lenses for video work for a while until I can better maneuver through different zoom lengths in a single shot.

The major issue I’m dealing with right now is camera shake. Most DSLR cameras do not have video stabilization. This tends to leave noticeable camera shake during hand held shots. While sometimes that more organic look helps with the feel of the video, I certainly need to get the camera on the tripod more often for the times when I want a stable shot.

Audio can also be an issue. The background ambiance of the Philadelphia streets worked well for the #engchat video interview, but there are many times when more focused audio is needed. I think my next purchase will be a microphone that fits into the camera shoe for capturing better audio capture.

I edited the video in Final Cut Pro X, which I think is amazing. I know there are a number of professionals who are upset with the application’s recent overhaul, but for someone at my level, I think the program is perfect. You could certainly also use iMovie to make something like the #engchat video. iMovie 11 does an excellent job with HD video editing, and I think it would be perfect for most people starting out with video.

Finally, I think brevity is key for videos like this. We’ve all been subjected to watching other people’s videos that are simply way too long. Be thoughtful about every shot you end up allowing into your final story. Shoot more than you think you’ll need when capturing, but then be absolutely stringent about what you choose as final footage. Don’t include shots just because you think they’re cool. Include them because of what they do for the story. And let less be more. Almost all videos could be made better by being made shorter. I know that’s harsh, but it’s true.

I certainly plan on digging deeper into video moving forward, and I’ll share what I’m learning with you as I go along. If you’re playing along, I’ll go ahead and give another assignment. Make a short video, 3 minutes max, and work on telling the story through composition and brevity. Also, if you have a DSLR, shoot at 24fps and 1/50 for shutter. Share a link in the comments below for the rest of us to check out.

For my next post, I’m going to speak about something that is important both for video and for photography, the incredibly important relationship between a subject and light. And I’ll share my thoughts and ideas on how you should be thinking about light to capture your best images.



1 Comment

  1. Melanie Holtsman
    October 24, 2011

    Can you tell I am WAY behind in my blog reading?!? I’m so excited to see this post because I have been playing with the video features in my D7000, but of course, I don’t know what I’m doing. Yes, I need to read the manual, watch something on Kelby online, etc… but I never seem to get around to it. My goal is to remotely know what I am doing before Christmas so I can get some great footage of my kids. Maybe a visiting Santa video to get my feet wet. I love your style and both of these videos. I hope you will do more soon.


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