Video issues – I don’t know what I don’t know

TL/DR: This week I learned just how far from pro at video production I am.

I’ve had photography as one of my more serious hobbies since university. I branched out into video a few years ago, editing together video of my brothers and friends I getting up to all sorts of adventures in the outdoors. A couple of years back I bought some sound gear too.

But after sitting down to edit my first video shoot for this campaign I found the audio was no good. And I couldn’t get it right. I ended up doing multiple video shoots plus trying to record audio by itself a couple of times. One of my issues has been the lack of studio lights. In order to get good video, I’ve been limited to shooting during the middle of the day or early afternoon. That’s when I get good light in the only space in the house that’s got the right dimensions for me to shoot in. And I have a day job, so mostly this means weekends.

There are all sorts of ways that I could address these issues. I could rig up some cheap DIY video lights. Some people might even have suitable lamps at hand. I could find a better location, or put together a backdrop so that I can use a part of the house that I would otherwise consider unsuitable. All of these would have taken time though. Too much time with my launch date looming.

The audio from the first shoot (on a Thursday I took off work) was ok in some parts, but other parts were plagued by rustling (I was using a lav mic and I think the sound was caused by the cord brushing across my clothes). I cut it all together anyway, since the parts where I would be onscreen had ok audio. Then I tried to re-record the audio. I really should have used exactly the same set up and just stuck with it, but that arrangement had resulted in a hiss in the audio. I was able to eliminate the hiss using audacity, but it actually only cleared the hiss between words. There was still a hissing noise behind each word.

So I tried everything I could. I changed the settings on my camera (power to external mic on, power to external mic off, internal mic volume down, external mic volume down, external mic volume up). I recorded with the lav mic connected to my Zoom. I took the foam cover off the lav mic and recorded that way. Then I held a piece of fabric (a shirt) between my mouth and the lav mic to try to prevent blowing on it.

At the same time, my video editing software started crashing. I use Openshot running on Ubuntu. I’m actually not very good at Ubuntu and tend to just make a fresh install every year or so. After a while it starts getting crashier. It’s probably my fault. I probably have the wrong drivers or a video card that isn’t really fully compatible. But I don’t know enough to even work out what’s wrong, so I don’t know what to do to fix it. Each time I reinstall I try a different configuration. Provide dedicated partitions for more things, less things, bigger partitions. Nothing seems to have much impact.

I made a desperate attempt to find free video editing software for windows so I could use a borrowed, newer, laptop. I found HitFilm 4 express and the discovered it didn’t like the MOV files that my camera used. It handled the MP4 files from my phone though, so I spent half the evening converting my main video from MOV to MP4. I think it turned out that I had encoded into MPEG2 when I needed to encode to MPEG4. Possibly the other way around. I went back to using Openshot, since the new files were substantially compressed and Openshot was happy again. I also discovered that using WAV files for the voiceover, rather than MP3s made a big difference. I don’t really know why, but it worked. Call me superstitious, but I just didn’t have time to ask more questions.

I reshot the video again on the weekend and told everyone I’d be launching the campaign next weekend. I went through the process of editing and managed to get it to a passable level. There was still some obvious changes to the audio quality – it suddenly sounded different when I went off screen. I didn’t really like it, so I shot a third time on the Friday before my Saturday launch. It meant rushing home to catch the afternoon light (thank goodness for the lengthening days), but it worked. I used every audio recording device I could get my hands on. Glad I did, since it seems I left the lav mic turned off for the two takes that worked. I had my cell phone and the Zoom recording as well. The Zoom was the best and I ran with it. You can see the final video here.

Argh. Pushing outside of your comfort zone is supposed to be good for learning and growth and stuff, but sometimes it gets really frustrating when you don’t even know why things aren’t working, leaving you with no idea how to begin to find a solution. Maybe I should have outsourced. I did have someone recommend http://90seconds.tv/.

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