Category Archives: Video

The Tate Modern and some accidental inspiration: visual storytelling

A few weeks back, I made an impromptu visit to the Tate Modern in London. It was a pre-Christmas trip and nothing at all to do with my MA in Online Journalism. But…

This picture, or should I say artwork, made me start thinking about Instagram. That’ll be the squares, although technically speaking, I think these are rectangles. The artist, Ellsworth Kelly (1923 to 2015) created this in 1952, entitled it Mediterranimg_4281ee and was about experimenting with colour and overlapping (what’s hard to see from the image is that some of those blocks of colour are raised slightly, they’re not all flat). Anyway, I continued around the Tate Modern with a different viewpoint after seeing this.

Let me explain… while working on my Instagram pilot I’ve been doing lots of research, about composition, photography, short form video etc… and the Tate Modern made me think specifically about presentation, or visual storytelling if you want a more online journalism-y phrase. I’m not a massive fan of art, in all honesty, but what the Tate showed me is that a sometimes average set of photographs can be made to look exceptional by the way they’re presented. And this is very much the case for Instagram – the apps, filters and cropping tools now available to us can help us turn an average photo into a good one. And the very nature of Instagram and its predominantly square photos show it’s a great presentational tool in its own right, Instagram offers a basic set of tools to help you display your photos and videos in the best way.

The images below, for example, are essentially repeats of a single image – what makes this interesting is the presentation on a stark white background, and the way they’re positioned.

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Adding movement

I really loved the media section of the gallery, for obvious reasons, but some of the things I saw resonated with my MA, like this quote from @SamAMcGuire about the images you share, how you see them, and what influencers helped shape that view.

Simg_4289am’s quote is captured (right) as a still image but it was just one in a series of quotes displayed as videos which gave much more impact… it would have been easy to glance at a quote wall and walk on by but with the text rolling in as part of a video wall it meant people were stopping, watching and therefore reading. And apologies for the wobbliness of this video – I was conscious I needed to capture something quickly before another gallery visitor walked into my shot.

This is definitely something that I think works really well with video content that doesn’t necessarily start out life as a video – adding movement can sometimes turn the average into something much more engaging and I’ve been experimenting with this on Instagram too, using tools like Hyperlapse, Boomerang and Spark Post to create gifs.

Examples I’ve used as part of my Instagram project include turning festive study images into a gif, turning a queue of PhD induction students into a hyperlapse video, creating movement on a static Halloween pumpkin image by turning it into a gif and, of course, we jumped on the mannequin challenge and creating videos featuring people who don’t move. This is also something used as part of a campaign we ran on Twitter – creating a simple video with rolling text using the Spark Post app to create individual slides and then editing them together using iMovie, all done on an iPhone 6. Simples.

Visualising the story

In short, this trip to the Tate reminded me that video can be used in some really clever and less obvious ways and contributes to the “renegotiating what is conventional and normal in the everyday practices of journalism” as stated by Mattheson (2004). And that presentational skills (visual storytelling) can enhance stories – something that’s all the more important in the digital age and is amplified by mojo (mobile journalism) expert Robb Montgomery in this interview.

Below are a couple of my Tate videos… firstly, TVs playing old movies and news clips which were positioned on the floor. This wouldn’t have worked as an image because you need to see the movement to understand what this artefact is.

Secondly, is a robot thingy (forgive me for my lack of artistic appreciation, I take in the work I like but confess to not reading the who and why information at the side of each one.) This would have worked as an image because it looks cool but the lights are the moving element of this video and it’s a shame not to waste them. There are periods of no flashing lights on this robot so I used the Boomerang app to create a repeating motion. Unlike a traditional gif, which replays a video start to finish, start to finish, start to finish, the Boomerang app plays a video start to finish then plays it finish to start before going back to start to finish, kind of like a rewinding video.

Now, the image below should also have been a video… not because there are moving elements necessarily, but because of the audio. This ‘tower’ for want of a better word is made up of radios and mobile phones and is quite noisy – this image doesn’t capture the sound which is what makes this piece stand out above its size.

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Covering an event via Instagram Stories: lessons learned, pros and cons

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The lovely Nancy graduating with Ted Puff, her 40-year-old bear and study companion.

Since Instagram Stories was announced in August this year, I’ve seen lots of people and brands using it in different ways. For individuals – and apologies if this offends – it’s mostly poor content nicely hidden away from their main profile so you can dip out as quickly as you dipped in. For brands, however, some are using it well – like National Geographic, for example – and I can see some value. If in doubt, test it out…

On Friday 18th November I headed north to Harrogate International Centre to cover The Open University’s degree ceremony (one of many ceremonies in many locations across the calendar year) to test Instagram Stories out. This is what I learned:

Plan ahead (and even if you do, you won’t account for everything)

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Quick video with Sir Gary Verity of Welcome to Yorkshire. Despite the bad lighting and gloomy backdrop, he gave some uplifting advice: never give up

The last (and first) time we used Instagram Stories on the university’s corporate account was a takeover by one of our academics waiting for news of the ExoMars landing at the European Space Operations Centre in Germany: all very exciting. As a non-Instagrammer I’d given Dr Manish Patel a brief tutorial beforehand, having experimented with Instagram Stories on my personal account that week. But I missed stuff. It wasn’t until after the ExoMars landing that a Google search uncovered features that I’d missed – the ability to load any photo or video taken within 24 hours from your phone; the ability to apply a limited range of filters; the ability to use the Boomerang and Hyperlapse apps, the ability to colour block the screen, create speech bubbles or utilise the whole colour wheel. So before you go to an event, do your research and test the features out (I also have a test account where no one, especially me, minds if I post rubbish). With that said, I still missed stuff: the 15 second cap on video clips which I needed to find workarounds for (see below).

I’d also planned time in to capture specific content: two short video interviews with our newest honorary graduates, Mike Tomlinson and Sir Gary Verity. With just five minutes allocated to speak to both of them, (2.5 minutes each. Yes, I can do the maths) this left little time to think about composition and lighting. The room we were in had terrible lighting which turned my interviewee’s faces red and was a pretty uninspiring backdrop, so we worked with what we’d got. I say we, and that takes me onto my next point…

Safety in numbers

I attended this event with a colleague who was a great help. For some of the video interviews, we teamed up – one of us focusing on sound and composition, the other on asking the questions. She also captured extra content for me, like student’s top tips (note: pulling in ‘community content’ goes down a treat), while I was busy composing social media posts and publishing them. She was able to do this on her phone, airdrop the content to me and I added to Instagram Stories. She was also able to quickly note down (she’d sensibly bought a clipboard and pen with her) names, qualifications and relevant social media handles while I was chatting to people, which made the whole thing more efficient. It also allowed us to capture content from multiple locations at the same time – either splitting up to do an interview each or both capturing hyperlapse videos from different areas/angles of the venue to see which worked best, i.e while the graduates were queuing to get into the auditorium.

Take the right kit

In theory, all you need is a smartphone and the Instagram app but covering events via social media sucks the life out of your battery and mine was very close to dead before the event had ended. If possible, take a spare phone or load up with battery packs. And if you think a spare phone sounds excessive, it’s not. Towards the end of the event my iPhone developed a kind of tartan cross-cross of white lines across the screen and, while operable, made posting very tricky. I did have a spare phone on me but hadn’t loaded the social media profiles I needed onto it and didn’t have the right passwords. Doh. So always have a plan B!

I also took a Rode lapel mic with me for the video interviews, not wanting to compromise on sound in a busy venue. And check for wifi – my work phone doesn’t have a SIM so without wifi there’s no content. A tripod might come in handy and so would a selfie light (I had one on me and was kicking myself that I forgot to use it in the dimly lit interview room).

Don’t capture content live in Instagram Stories

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Stunning Harrogate skyline taken from my hotel window. I’d like to thank the filters on the Camera+ app for helping me hide the reflection off the glass.

I didn’t do anything live on IS (i.e capture photos in the app) because, for some parts of the day, I had one opportunity to capture content and wanted the chance to tweak it using other photographic filters or editing tools before publishing. For example, the honorary graduates spoke for longer than 15 seconds (and I hadn’t realised video clips are capped at 15 seconds and just cut off anything after that) so I edited the clips down before posting. I was able to trim from either end of the clip but not from the middle as the editing tools I have on my phone do not cater for vertical video – this was definitely an issue but with the 15 second limit now known, this is something I can manage next time. There are only around five filters on IS too, and they’re a bit weak, so if you want to tinker further, it’s easier to do this outside of the app.

There is always more you can do

I could have captured so much more. I had a seat in the auditorium for the actual degree ceremony but was too far back to capture anything meaningful. Mike Tomlinson’s speech was emotional and I was just too far away to capture it in anything other than the written word (for Twitter, not for IS) and an image would have added so much more. I’m a great believer in the more you do stuff, the better you get, so if there’s a next time I will be more prepared and experienced.

Here are some pros and cons of using Instagram Stories to capture an event:

Pros

  • shoes

    Sparkly shoe awesomeness. Layout courtesy of the InstaFrame+ app

    It was pretty easy to load content and, at times, it was fun to use portrait shots when I’m so used to landscape. This worked well for profile shots, particularly those where I wanted to feature shoes (I’m a sucker for a graduate in sparkly heels) and meant I kept a fairly reasonable style throughout.

  • I was easily able to use Hyperlapse and Boomerang features and incorporate them into my story, as well as text overlay and filters (although the choice of filters is tiny and barely noticeable) and I kept the style very simple, using hand-drawn symbols on the lighter content (i.e shoe shots!)
  • The ability to swipe down and load in photos that are already on my phone (taken within the last 24 hours) proved incredibly handy and means you can pre-prepare some photos and videos that you can drop in throughout the day. With much more time than I had, you could actually create some nice visuals to drop in and gain the benefit of other apps before pulling them into Instagram Stories. It also gives you the opportunity to clean up duff photos. For example, my first shot of the day was a scenic one of the Harrogate skyline that morning, taken from the window of my hotel room. Pulling the picture into the Camera+ app allowed me to tinker with filters and effects to remove (or at least make less obvious) the unavoidable glare from the glass of the window pane.

Cons

  • Not that I’m a huge believer in cross-posting but capturing content for Instagram Stories makes it difficult to utilise  it on other channels because of its vertical nature. I can easily share the vertical stuff on the main Instagram page, and the square crop gives me a chance to tidy it up a bit, but I can’t post the vertical stuff on Twitter or Facebook because it would look terrible, especially if viewed on a mobile. I purposely captured video clips in vertical for IS which meant a) not using them on other channels or b) shooting identical footage again but with the phone turned to landscape. Neither is ideal but I hadn’t pre-empted this so by default chose option a).
  • It’s sometimes hard to give full context on IS. There’s little room for text and if you put too much text the viewer wouldn’t be able to read it before it flashed onto the next image. So while our new honorary graduates both have impressive backgrounds and public reputations, they’re not household names or faces and I didn’t have the space available to include a brief bio. Yes, I can do this via a regular Instagram posts and refer to my Instagram Story but will the viewer necessarily connect with both and join the dots?
  • It takes time. The content I posted wasn’t as slick as I’d have liked and the time went quickly. With tiny slots for interviews and a lot going on on the day, there wasn’t a massive amount of time to polish content before posting; the whole process while not super difficult, did take time, particularly when trying to monitor a hashtag on Twitter and create a few posts for Facebook at the same time. Concentrating on three channels was do-able but tricky and I’m not sure Instagram would be the main focus ordinarily, most likely to come in third against the other two channels just mentioned. Because this was an IS test, I put it first but content for the other two channels definitely suffered. With that said, I was able to tell a story across a whole day without cluttering up a feed.
  • I can’t find anything that says I’m wrong but you can’t view stats for your stories once they’re no longer live, so that’s a 24-hour window. I have no idea how my IS performed because I had a long journey home, collapsed into bed and my stats were gone in the morning. Grrr.

Notes for next time

I failed (meaning forgot) to post on Facebook and Twitter to say ‘hey, head over to Instagram to follow our degree ceremony story’. I don’t know if people jump channels just like that (I know I don’t) but I should have posted something to test it out. One for next time.

I need to experiment with vertical layouts – sometimes it would have been nice to pull in a couple of shots edited together in a collage but I wasn’t sure how to do this using Layouts to display properly on Instagram Stories. One for my test page…

Check the stats BEFORE the 24 hours are up. I’m still hoping I might be wrong on this one…

What do you make of Instagram Stories and do you have any tips?

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I do like a little bit of problem-solving

 

I’ve always liked finding solutions to problems, it’s incredibly satisfying and, on the whole, means you’ve learned something. Whether you succeed in solving the problem, or not.

And today I got a lot of satisfaction by solving a problem… bear with me, it’s a long (ish) story…

I needed to get some content ready and scheduled for Friendship Day on Sunday and to cut a long story short (er) we have some audio recordings of three members of a large student friendship group and I wanted to use JamSnap (picture and audio) to showcase them.

But JamSnap WILL NOT work on either of my two iPhones, it just spits me out every time I try and log in. Deleting and reinstalling didn’t work and it didn’t work for a colleague either. Time for Plan B…

Graphic designer to the rescue

I decided to use Thinglink, a similar app which allows you to pull other images, videos, events etc onto a background image (as referenced in previous posts). First issue… the image we had of the friends group was a group photo with the three in question sitting nowhere near each other. And it wasn’t high res.

In comes my graphic designer colleague who happily offers to tinker for me, managing to move the three friends I needed so they’re sitting side by side, the others cropped out. Awesome. Now, to make this the optimum size for Facebook meant distorting the image massively. No can do. My colleague came back with a polaroid design on top of a corkboard which kept the image small enough without looking like it was floating in a big hole. Nice one.

Now to adding the audio files and a whole heap of issues. A colleague recorded and edited the audio clips but the interviews were done over the phone so the sound quality is pretty poor, but bearable. Not ideal but given timescales and locations, phone chats were the best achievable. Thinglink desktop doesn’t allow you to pull in raw video files, only content with a url, like a YouTube video. I hopped over to the app version which allows you to pull in content from YouTube or your photo gallery, including raw video files. Great. But you can’t get an audio file to sit in your phone’s photo gallery or camera roll like you can a video. Grrrr. So while I had access to the audio files on my phone, either via WeTransfer and WeDownload or Dropbox, I couldn’t get them onto Thinglink.

Turning audio into a video…

Another Plan B needed, or is that Plan C? After lots of thinking, I wondered if hosting them on Soundcloud could work. And then, inspired by the waveform that appears as Soundcloud’s embeddable trademark, I searched for a rights free YouTube video of a waveform. Found one.

I then needed to get that onto my phone. I searched for a ‘download YouTube video’ converter (you can try ClipConverter or KeepVid.com, for example) and then popped it in Dropbox so I could get to it from my phone.

I then went back to the audio files sitting in WeDownload and there’s an option there to save them straight to iMovie. So I did that for each of the three audio files, as separate projects, and overlaid the waveform video on top and trimmed it to fit. Phew.

I then managed to save the three, now video files, and load them onto Thinglink from my phone. I then returned to the desktop version to add customised icons and some blurb.

Debugger (yes, it’s an odd word)

With all that effort, I decided to post a link on Facebook (viewable only to me) to see if it rendered properly. It was pulled through a strange title which I couldn’t suss out, so hopped over to the Facebook Debugger tool (very handy!), rescraped (by pressing the button) and tried again. Bob’s your uncle! And then I scheduled the post for publication at the weekend.

And I’m afraid that’s not the end of the story. I don’t think Thinglink works as well on Twitter so wanted to try something else with this story. I pulled some really nice friendship quotes from each of the audio files and used the Legend app to turn them into text/image-only videos, the quote flashing up first and ending with an image.

But the image was poor quality anyway and certainly not good enough to crop each of the three friends off for three separate quotes. But if I used the pic of the three of them, how would we know which one of them the quote related to? I tried putting red arrows on pointing to the friend being quoted in each of the three vids but this just looked pants.

On discussion with a colleague – two heads are better than one – she suggested playing one quote after another and ending with the image of the three of them, so one video rather than three, and playing the quotes in the order the ladies are sitting. Plan!

Eureka moment (almost)

Eek, but the apps give you a character limit and there’s no option to pull three quotes in one by one. Grrrr. I had a chat with the videographer to see if he could whip out his old school tools and make something for me, which would possibly take a bit of a time. And as we were talking it through, he said the phase ‘stitch the quotes together’. It was a eureka moment (almost). I said ‘give me 10 minutes and I’ll come back to you if I haven’t done it by then.’

10 minutes later and I’d done it. I created three separate quote clips using Legend, and saved them to my camera roll. I then hopped over to the Splice app and ‘spliced’ the three quotes together and added an image at the end. Bingo! No need for the videographer to interrupt his work, yay! It’s easy to forget that a single app won’t always do everything you want but you can jump from one to another with a single piece of content.

End of the story yet? Not quite. I then went to schedule the video and Twitter post for the weekend but the scheduling tool we used wouldn’t take the video file format (and I can’t even remember what that was, but probably a mov?!). Back onto Google where I found onlinevideoconverter.com and converted the file into an mp4 and FINALLY I was done.

Here’s a screen shot…

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And here’s link to the post, with the Thinglink interactive on Facebook.

Stop, collaborate and listen (I’ll thank Vanilla Ice for that one)

Sounds like a lot of work for a single story but it didn’t take all that long – although it does highlight the amount of effort that can go into a single tweet or Facebook status. Social media isn’t as quick as you’d think.

It also shows that collaboration is key. Four colleagues were involved in this process – the one who did the audio interviews, the graphic designer, the videographer and my line manager who I consulted when I felt a bit stuck. That’s five of us! And, while in theory I could have done of those tasks myself (the graphic design being the most challenging) it would have taken me an age. So while it’s easy to think it’s just me, a story idea and the mobile phone, it actually rarely ever is.

To summarise, I felt great. I’d solved a lot of problems with this content and while the one that concerns me most – the quality of the audio – is beyond my control, I’ve learned a lot. Problem-solving is actually a lot of fun!

And I’ll update this post with the actual content once it’s live (update: now done!)

Here’s a link to the video on Twitter so can you play it, and below are screen grabs of the video (left) on Twitter and an image card (right – taking the same content and giving it two ‘treatments’, posting within an hour of each other to test which worked better. At the time of updating this post (3pm ish on Sunday 7th August) the video got much more engagement. Is is the moving quotes, or could it be the Yeats quote?

 

 

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A ‘Quik’ reminder about the importance of science

I went to Glasgow Science Museum yesterday to catch up with former BBC weather forecaster, Heather ‘the weather’ Reid. I spent the whole day there, captured some footage and did some experimenting in my down time. Editing vids on my phone is a god way to kill time waiting for a late plane home.

Things I focussed on:

Packing light

The aim was to take as little as possible. I ditched a larger tripod in favour of a mini Joby one (which I didn’t use in the end, I went for handheld). I packed spare battery charger packs (paranoid about losing power, but I only used one), a lapel mic and extension cable (lapel mic is essential anyway but the museum was very noisy so I still got background stuff. The extension cable means people aren’t tethered to your mobile phone so much and can get a bit more distance during interviews), and two mobiles – my 16 GB iPhone 5S which is my regular phone and a 64GB iPhone 6S which I used for video and photography. Oh, and an iPad Mini for checking emails and doing some ‘other’ work while I was there. I prefer a bigger screen for typing.

Throw in a notepad, purse and a few girly essentials and I was good to go.

Below is an interactive list of most of the kit I carry with me, including prices and links.

Editing and apps

This time I had a play with the Quik app. This allows you to pull in clips and images, trim them, reorder them, add music and text, and then finish with a cool effect or style which you can customise to an extent. The effects are great and look really professional but it often does some strange things to your clips and images, for example, the images I use at the end of the video are a bit jittery and I can’t do much about it (other than not use them). Trying another effect would stop this but is likely to do something strange to another part of the video so a bit of trial and error is required.

What I learned

A few things… that you can travel light and capture and publish some awesome stuff on your phone. That wondering around shooting video, even on a phone, requires a bit of confidence. I got stared at a bit. And I avoided capturing people in my clips (save for the two speedy bikers in the time-lapse bridge clip) as most of them were children and I didn’t want to mess around getting permissions and signing forms. You also need decent wifi to be able to publish even little videos to social platforms. Perhaps I need to look into carrying a mobile internet hot spot-type thing?

One of the downsides of all this is that, a day later, I still feel a bit dizzy. I spent most of the morning walking around, and then all afternoon looking down at my mobile phone. Add two flights in the same day and it seems to have offset my natural equilibrium and I feel a bit seasick today. Wonder if that happens to anyone else?

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