A little documentary work

My wife decided to do a tour of regional park reserves, and set about planning a 3 day, two night, bikepacking trip to visit them all. She set out this past weekend and I spent the time filming the endeavor in order to try my hand at making a mini-documentary. It’ll probably be a while before this comes out, but wanted to briefly talk about the challenges I worked through getting footage.

We began filming the night before with a staged interview setup in the garage. I had just taken delivery of some new LCD lights and this was a good chance to give them a try. Overall, I really like the look I was able to achieve, with a nice high-contrast side light, and a subtle gel on the bike tools in the background.

The next day I headed out with her to start her route, and I brought my fat bike along to get some action footage. I got some nice shots of her riding by, and some good b-roll before I did something incredibly stupid. I was riding next to her on a hill and used my right hand to hold the camera. She started slowing next to me, and I instinctively squeezed the brake… the front brake… hard.

Before my brain could tell my hand to stop being stupid, I did a full end-over-end with my face hitting the ground and the bike flying over me. Needless to say, that was not a lot of fun. Thankfully, nothing was broken except the front reflector on the bike, which I was planning to take off anyway. I did end up going in for an X-ray on my right hand, but it confirmed that it was just bruising, nothing fractured.

The rest of the day I was a lot more careful, and I still managed to get some good footage. The second day I wasn’t able to follow along, and had to settle for some b-roll when I got to the park she was camping at that evening. However, on the third day I was able to get a lot of great shots as I had more time to be on the trail with her, and was able to pick the best locations for backdrops along the route.

For all of the onsite filming I decided to go with my iPhone 11 Pro. It’s small and portable, and the video quality is really good. I debated using the Sony a6000, but with the rolling shutter, I felt like the iPhone would handle the fast moving action better. One downside to the iPhone was that I wasn’t able to use my nice portrait lens out in the field. I might need to go back out to one of the parks to get some nice focus-transition b-roll with the Sony.

In reality, I probably should have had both with me, and used each one for different situations. Since this is my first time doing this style of filming, I am still second guessing myself and probably not making perfect choices every time. That’s how we learn.

Now it’s time to start combing through footage and putting my storyteller, and editor, hat on. Lately I’ve been using Davinci Resolve, and for the most part I like it, but it has one flaw that really bugs me… no audio ducking. In order to do ducking you need to set up side chained compressors, and then fiddle with the attack and release. It’s really futzy, and I don’t like it. I’m considering grabbing either Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere and giving them a try. For something like this with lots of transitioning between music and dialog, I want better controls over the volume keyframes.

I’m hoping to be able to release something in the next couple months. I really want to take my time and make this the best that we can make it. Right now everything is caught up in the euphoria of the event, and I want to come back with a level head and decide what the story is that we want to tell.

Doing more video and audio stuff

I’ve always enjoyed making videos and recording things, and with the current lockdown there’s a lot more opportunity to use video and audio to communicate with folks. In particular in my role as the president of the board of our regional trail running non-profit. In the past couple weeks we’ve done some videos to promote a virtual run that we’re doing, and it gave me a chance to try out some tools I haven’t used before.

Sony a6000

I’ve had my Sony mirrorless camera for a long time now, but it’s only recently that I’ve been using it more and more for video. I have a beautiful 50mm/f1.8 lens that gives amazing results in just about any lighting condition, with a great bokeh to the background. I’ve been using this for my “talking head” segments in the videos.

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iPhone 11 Pro

What can I say about the iPhone 11 Pro except that it’s an amazing camera and video tool. The video it takes is great for something that fits in your pocket and that you can take anywhere. I used the iPhone for the on-the-trail shots in the video and it worked great. I know a lot of people prefer a GoPro, but I haven’t broken down and gotten one of those yet. Maybe sometime soon, but for now the iPhone works just fine.

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Blue Yeti Microphone

One of the biggest improvements to my video quality is a good microphone. For a while I was borrowing my son’s Yeti, but finally broke down and got my own when it was on sale last week. This thing is amazing, and I can’t believe how good the quality is from something that’s just over $100. If I ever get more into podcasting, this mic will be key.

For videos, what I’m actually doing is using a USB adapter to plug the mic into my iPhone and then recording the audio on the Voice Memo’s app. It’s a quick and dirty solution to get better audio quality than I can get from my Sony’s built-in mic. I use a simple clap to sync the audio later in post production.

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DaVinci Resolve 16

Since my current iMac is too old to run Final Cut X, I had to use what I could, and that led me to DaVinci Resolve 16. I had heard great things about this tool, and when I finally tried it out, I understood why. It’s pretty quick to pick up and learn, especially if you’ve worked with video tools before, but it’s got incredible depth. The free version is good for most basic usage, and if I ever needed to get more in-depth, the $300 version would cover anything I could ever need. I’ve only scratched the surface though and I’m super happy with what I’ve been able to accomplish.

So that’s what I’ve been using to keep myself busy with some new creative outlets. I’ve got another project for my trail organization coming up soon, and then I need to start working on more videos for St Croix 40, and hopefully eventually Fire Tower.