Trial and Error

Rainier Ehrhardt/Staff
Pre-K teacher Tiffany Burton helps pupils in class at A Child's World, Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011, in Augusta. Ga.

Ask any newspaper photographer who has made (or is making) the transition from still photography to video and one of the first things they will complain about is the amount of trial and error that goes into teaching yourself a completely different medium.  It’s understandable that most people think if a photographer can shoot great pictures, then it’s fair enough to assume they can produce great video.

This is not true, in case you were wondering.

About the only thing that still and video have in common is that you point a camera at something for a period of time, capturing images.  Everything else, from subject matter to how you handle the camera to the editing process, are completely and utterly different.

Unfortunately with the way the economy has been recently, many newsrooms have been forced to learn video on their own.  Many photojournalists took four solid years (or more) of training and education to be newspaper photographers but only get four months to suddenly become video experts.

All this leads to hours and hours of trial and error.  This means taking five tries just to get the right settings on import (you think learning all the numbers and formulas for photography is confusing), then three tries just to get your editing timeline up so you can see your video clips.  Then it’s hunt and peck for the right keys to slice, move, control volume, make ending credits (keep in mind this is all really basic stuff).  And that’s the frustrating part – once you get over the idea that you’ll never make a Pulitzer prize for your video and that the general public really only wants to see max 2 minutes of video before their Internet-induced ADD kicks in, you still find yourself struggling just to get an easy, almost linear video exported.

If you Google “video export” you will get 4 gazillion results all telling you different things.

.avi, .mp4, codec, NTCS, key frame, progressive/interlaced, compression settings, MJPEG.  Am I speaking your language yet?

And don’t get me started with the numbers.  It took me 14 tries just to make sure the aspect ratio stayed the same on export.  What do 4:3 and 16:9 convert to in pixels?  Who knows.  Just keep exporting until you get something that looks right.  It’s amazing how much time is wasted watching your computer export a thirty second test clip.

I could go on and on, but I’m actually getting decent results now, and the Chronicle staff photographers are using me as a sort of guinea pig as we continue to perfect our videos.  We’re still not happy with how the Brightcove player (something we don’t really have control over) compresses the video once it gets on the website.  Our exported .mp4 is actually really good looking.  We’ll get there eventually.

Below is a link to a video I made while I spent half a day with a Pre-K class in Augusta for an education cuts story.


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