With a background in journalism and an interest in photography I’ve regularly found myself lurking at various Netskills events armed with a camera/audio recorder/notepad combo, ready to attack as soon as the attendees break for coffee.
In the past three years, I’ve taken over 2000 photos, recorded close to 100 interviews and written many news items, feature articles and blog posts.
This year, inspired by my colleagues’ endeavours in the world of digital storytelling, I’ve tried something new.
Our team was supporting a cool interactive online maths event, Pi Day Live, and I wanted to capture and share the buzz it created in our office.
I decided on a combination of still photos and audio. Mainly because of the straightforward workflow. You will lose some of the nice natural feel you get from watching animated people speak but you will have an awful lot more flexibility to fiddle around with the audio track without worrying about confusing transitions.
I wanted to start with some kind of intro showing pictures of the preparation (which I vaguely envisioned to be headsets on tables, power cords, and… I didn’t know what else).
Audio-wise, I knew I couldn’t be sure what I’d get so I decided to not worry about it too much.
After the intro, I’d go into an explanation about what’s been going on – a post-event interview with the colleague who was leading this, Steve.
Then, another quick comment highlighting the expertise we’ve built over the years around online delivery. The perfect person to do this would be Will, who’s got a handle on our business development side of things.
Finally, I’d have some sort of outro, similar to the intro and equally vaguely (= not at all) formed in my head.
Photo-wise, I tried to come up with a shotlist (as it’s something I always advise other people to do) but, as usual, it didn’t materialise. I decided to just snap away.
I wanted to capture authentic, spur of the moment audio so this was my #1 priority to capture on the day (you can always ask colleagues to pose for photos later if needed).
I armed myself with our portable recorder and extra batteries and just recorded pretty much everything. I recorded the entire pre-event planning meeting (which, thankfully was pretty swift) and left the recorder on for long periods in the room we were all in during the event.
After the event, I was quick to grab both of my colleagues for quick, fairly spontaneous (they both spent 5 mins scribbling down notes) interviews. This was for two reasons. 1) To capture the audio when their energy levels were up and everything still fresh in their minds and 2) Because I wanted to get the whole thing edited as quickly as possible.
Will also suggested a comment from our boss Dave so I had a quick word with him too.
In the end, Will’s interview had a different tone to it, a little bit more formal than in the other two, so we recorded that again after the editing phase and just dropped the new version on the timeline in Premier Elements.
Were the ones I was least worried about.
Experience has made me quite comfortable on my vague planning on this front. I’m also quite happy to bother people by pointing the camera in their faces for close-ups and jumping around tables and chairs to get the best shot.
During Pi Day Live, I focused on the faces. Turned heads with quick looks between colleagues give a lively feel. When possible, I tried to fill the background with hazy Pi Day Live logos on screens or another colleague to depict the collaborative effort.
Natural laughter shots are always difficult ones to get. Every time the smile starts to freeze as soon as you’ve managed to focus your lens on the right person.
My solution is to look for the person in the best mood, frame the shot ready with the right manual settings for light and then raise the camera back up as soon as a joke is uttered in the room.
Was something I wanted to get done as quickly as possible.
If I’ve learned anything in the time I’ve produced different media, it’s that editing is far easier with the momentum on your side.
During the event, I already uploaded some of the photos on my PC and edited the best ones in Photoshop so they were ready for the video. Snapping away, I usually end up with 100-200 photos so choosing the best ones is one of the most time-consuming jobs. In this case, I used about 20 photos in the final video. I’m not sure what it says of my photography skills but I tend to consider 10% success ratio a good yield.
The audio from the interviews was the most straightforward task but I knew going through the intended intro/outro audio would take a while. My plan was to have a rough draft ready by the end of the day (the event finished at 3pm) – which I did.
The next day, I spent about 5 hours tweaking the audio, adding Ken Burns effects to the photos and adding the graphic frills in. Steve helped by exporting a 5 sec video of the countdown from the actual event recording and offering feedback from the work in progress. I’m very aware of becoming blind to my own work no matter what I’m creating so I make sure my editing process always includes a constant stream of opinions from colleagues.
That’s it. You can see the result below. I’m never entirely happy with my creations, there’s always something to improve. But at least it’s done and published. That’s a small victory every time.