Category Archives: video journalism

visualBrum: same tips – new site

As part of my final project for my MA in Online Journalism at Birmingham City University, I held several videography workshops last year, addressing citizen journalists, communities, bloggers and non-profits – and anyone else interested. To support this, I published some tips for beginners on posterous, including advice on how to conduct and frame interviews, as well as general composition, ethics and basic editing tips. As this service will be shut down on April 30th, I’ve moved those tips to tumblr. And they’ll hopefully stay there for a while.


Moreover, based on the experience I gained in those workshops as well as on lessons learned, I wrote a short eBook called “Citizen Video“, for everyone who’s interested in this topic or even planning to hold such workshops himself. I also collected some tips and opinions on holding such workshops from Adam Perry, John Coster and Mark Potts (thanks again for your support!).

You can download Citizen Video for free on Leanpub. And at least here I can say for sure that this won’t change. 




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Citizen Video

I just published my very first eBook. “Citizen Video – Training and engaging citizens in video journalism” is based on experiences from holding video workshops, the attempt of developing a video community in Birmingham, as well as on interviews and further research.

The handbook is part of my final project for the MA in Online Journalism at Birmingham City University and was written for everyone planning to hold video workshops for citizens: media organisations, citizen journalism websites or anyone who wants to share his knowledge to others.

You can download it here – for free:

Comments are as always very welcome.

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10 tips to get you started in video journalism

I’m currently holding video workshops for citizen journalists, communities, charities and nonprofits in the Birmingham area. For this project I’m also working out tips and tutorials which the participants and anyone else who’s interested can look up and download online, in order to have some information in addition to the workshops – or to be able to read through the stuff we’ve covered there again.

A few months ago I already posted some tips on this blog, however, I now added some and left out those linked to interviews as I wanted to include more general ones first and will be posting interview tips separately.

I decided to post the startup tips here as well, comments and notes are as always very welcome.

Now here we go:

1. Don’t shoot a video just because you can.

Video isn’t made for every story. Before covering a story, think about which medium is the best one to tell it with: Text, audio, pictures, video, graphics?
Don’t use video for e.g. council meetings, exhibitions or long interviews – there has to be a reason why you need to have it on video, something happening, something you need to show. A video about a bunch of politicians sitting and talking at a round table? Yawn.

2. Check your equipment every time before you go out to shoot a video.

Rather do it twice than regret it later. Check if you have everything with you, if your batteries are fully loaded (take some backup with you!), your tripod, camera and mic are working, your memory card is empty etc.

3. Shoot rather more than less footage. But not too much!

If you come back from a shoot and start to edit, realising you don’t have enough footage is not only annoying, but will obviously influence your video negatively. On the other hand, having too much footage will take you a lot of time to look through. That’s one reason why you should also:

4. Don’t just shoot what you see. Think about it!

Don’t film everything that’s connected to your topic. Think about what your story is about and how you want to tell it. Decisions are also being made in the edit, still it’s crucial to know what you’re doing. Think about what you need to tell the story.

But: Don’t plan every single shot before you go out to get your footage – it’s reality you’re covering, you’re not following a fictional script. So keep your eyes open all the time, see what’s happening on scene and also be prepared to change your initial story. Also think about how you want to capture it: What’s the best way to frame each shot?

Think before you press the record button!

5. Use a tripod.

This really depends on the situation and the camera you are using. Normally I’d say it’s necessary to work with a tripod. However, some situations will make you shoot without one. Maybe you don’t have any space to build up a tripod or it simply gives you a better possibility to film a certain shot if you’re doing it handheld. Of course this means to try to hold the camera as steady as possible at the same time. You definitely don’t want shaky images.

If you can put the camera onto a steady ground or you can hold your camera steady in your hand (can work well with e.g. Flipcams) you may also be able to work without a tripod. This should be especially fine for short interviews or a few impressions. If you’re planning a longer report and different shots, you should go with a tripod. Especially close up shots are difficult to film without getting shaky images.

You can get foldable and light tripods for a cheap price. Get one! You’ll mostly achieve a better result! (And even more expensive and better tripods are not necessarily so heavy you couldn’t take them with you all day.)

6. Don’t pan, tilt or zoom for no reason.

Pan, tilt and zoom when you’re not recording to change your framing, do avoid it while you are. On the one hand it’s not that easy to achieve a smooth shot with those, on the other hand you should only do it if it adds value to your shot. Don’t just do it because you can. It normally looks much better to use separate shots instead of panning, tilting or zooming around in the video. An example: If you want to show a wider scene and you’re panning from left to right – show the whole picture in one wide shot instead, unless you want to create some suspense for any reason.

7. Don’t just think about the images, but also about the audio!

You might have shot the greatest sequences and most awesome statements, the interviewee beautifully framed. But if the sound of the video is bad, your video will suffer a lot. Video is not only about images. Bad sound can ruin it all – and normally does.

8. Make your videos as long as they need to be. Don’t stretch them or cut      them off.

Don’t stretch your videos to ten minutes just because you got some footage left and don’t want to ditch it. Stop when the story is told. Stop when you can’t guarantee an interesting video anymore. At the same time: If you got a great story to tell, why stop after three minutes? If it is exiting for ten minutes, go ahead – why end it before and hide the best parts? However: Sometimes good footage can’t be used because it may not add value to or match the story, although the statement might be great or the shot beautiful. You often have to get rid of footage you love. Heartbreaking, but necessary sometimes.

9. Show, don’t tell!

It’s a video. Don’t tell every single detail in the voice over or let “talking heads” rule the video. Use this medium’s strengths, show what’s happening:

If there’s a demonstration and its participants are upset, don’t tell your audience that in a boring voice over. Show the people who are upset and get them telling you their feelings instead of describing it on your own.

Instead of having a statement of a footballer only telling you how great and emotional it was for him to score the crucial goal, show him scoring it and his reaction afterwards.

Would you rather hear someone telling you in a video how exciting and scary it is to bungee jump from a bridge or actually see it? Record the whole scene! Maybe even attach a small camera (for example this neat USB-keyring-camera) on your protagonist’s helmet and you got an even more impressive “statement”. However, you normally do want the protagonist to describe his feelings about that jump as well – but right afterwards, not 10 days later.

These are only examples, but this rule is a general one and is not only made for bungee jumping reports or upset demonstrators. So always keep in mind: It’s video, not text. You don’t need to watch a video to be told that the atmosphere was great if you can’t see it.

10. Use different shots.

Don’t just use wide shots all the time, tell your story with different ones. Also use different framings and perspectives. Nothing’s more boring than a compilation of wide shots.

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Shooting video with a DSLR (part of the popular series “Things I never thought I’d do”)

After grinning into my lens and standing still for about 10 seconds, the girls I was standing in front of with my camera lately at a friend’s wedding were asking themselves when I would finally take that picture. What they didn’t know until I told them: I was in the middle of taking a lot of pics and they were allowed and even supposed to move – I shot a video and this wasn’t the first time that people didn’t get it. One year ago I would have done the same.

A DSLR is known as a device to take single high quality pictures. And not videos. And that’s actually what I bought it for. Now, my DSLR is my all-in-one device for photo- and videography. Not only for private use, but also for my work as a  journalist.

I treat myself with a Canon EOS 550D last year as I wanted to learn more about photography and shoot nicer pictures than I could achieve with my point-and-shoot. I took it to the wedding of a friend, planning to take pictures with it while as well shooting a video with my HD camcorder (using my Canon only as a video backup/2nd camera for the wedding ceremony.) I went into the church, set everything up, switched on my camcorder and realized I was in trouble. Way too dark. I knew this was not to be storied as the wedding video with the best picture quality….

However, I switched on my DSLR and it felt like the chorus started singing “Hallelujah” in the background. It was great and no – I didn’t expect it.

Since this day, my camcorder is suffering the life of an abandoned device. Sorry, mate.

Now, it wouldn’t even come to my mind to take my camcorder instead (only as a backup/2nd cam). My camcorder only has autofocus (one of the most annoying things if you can’t switch to manual…), not a lot of settings and you’ve got less picture quality. Which is obvious. It’s a camcorder I bought for about 200 Euros a few years ago. Still, when I got my Canon I was convinced that, if I wanted to have a really professional camera for videography, I would have to spend a few thousand euros. Which I couldn’t.

I was dreaming of the ones I worked with during my trainee, like this one. I would have never thought about shooting videos with a DSLR.

Yes, I had no idea indeed.

After that and especially during my MA studies in Online Journalism I developed more and more enthusiasm for shooting videos with my DSLR. I practiced a lot, explored possibilities, did some research, learnt more about the technical side etc. And that more and more people are working with the same device to produce their videos, Dan Chung is a popular example for that.

I’m still impressed by what you can achieve with a DSLR and I’m not grieving for the Panasonics from my trainee anymore – not at all (although I still like them). One reason for that is that I love how handy, small and light the camera is, I can easily carry it around, including the equipment I need. One thing I don’t like is the sound quality, which is why I’m always recording interviews separately, using an audio recorder and synchronizing it later. But that doesn’t really bother me.

My Canon is now my all-in-one device for private and professional use, which is why I decided to upgrade my equipment. After my 20€ worth tripod finally fell into pieces, I decided to get a proper Manfrotto tripod, including a video head. I also decided to get a tele lens, as I often missed that possibility when I was filming with my 18-55mm one. In addition to the macro lens I got last year and the KATA backpack I purchased to have a safe and handy bag for everything, I’ve got quite a nice equipment now – still a lot of space to upgrade, but as I haven’t won the student lottery, yet, this is it for now.

But I’m truly in love with it.

After finishing my studies in September, I will go on a longer trip to New Zealand and Australia. And instead of thinking which clothes I will take etc., the most important thing for me is to pack my new video backpack and be ready to film over there.

I can’t wait.

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Calling all citizen journalists, bloggers, communities, nonprofits: Join free video journalism workshops

“Shooting, editing and distributing video once belonged to you, Big Media. Only you could afford to reach a TV audience built in your own image. Now video is coming into the user’s hands, and audience-building by former members of the audience is alive and well on the Web.” Jay Rosen

Record what you see                image by Alexander Olm on Flickr.

Before I started my video journalism trainee at a regional TV station in Rosenheim/Germany I didn’t think I’d ever be producing my own footage, standing behind the camera. My plan was to be a reporter, going out with a camera man, editing what we recorded together afterwards. I never really came across the term “video journalist” before that. I applied for a trainee in Rosenheim and was told that this TV station only worked with vjs. It sounded interesting, I got the job and ended up producing reports all on my own. That was the best thing that could have happened, as I couldn’t imagine being “just” a reporter anymore.

But to get to the point: Before this I was still used to the traditional division of work, never thought about filming the footage on my own, as I wanted to take the reporter-part. Thanks to the developments in this industry I can do both. But it doesn’t stop there. Due to affordable small digital video cameras, Flip Cams and the possibility to film with your phone, as well as free or affordable editing software, everyone is able to create videos nowadays. Still, a lot of people don’t take that step to get their message out there.

Citizen journalists, communities, charities, nonprofits: All of them are mostly working with text and pictures to tell their stories online. However, in a lot of cases, a video can have much more impact. Just one example: Someone expressing his feelings is much better shown in a video then just described in a text.

And no, you don’t need two years of video journalism training to achieve that. And you don’t need a fancy camera equipment either.

So I’d like to help out crossing that border and will offer free workshops for everyone who wants to get their message out there by producing videos – no matter it’s interviews, single statements, reports, documentaries, portraits. We’ll talk about everything you need to produce your own piece, for your very own purpose, including shooting, editing, storytelling and distribution. And I’ll also help you at the start during the actual production process. No matter if you’ve got a Flip Cam, a camcorder, an iPhone or a small digital camera, no matter which experience you have.

If you’re a citizen journalist/blogger or community, charity, initiative or any other nonprofit organisation in and around Birmingham and want to start telling your stories with videos or improve your skills, I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

As Jay Rosen said it, it’s not just up to the “Big Media” to tell stories with video anymore. So get in touch and let’s get started!

If you’re interested or have any questions, just drop me an email or leave a message on Facebook (you’ll also get updates for workshops on this page) or Twitter, and I’ll get back to you. 

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visualBrum – a Birmingham-based video community

I’m happy to introduce a project I’m working on at the moment. It’s called “visualBrum”, a community covering what’s happening in Birmingham with videos and audio slideshows. Those will be posted on the Guardian Media Group’s (hyper)local platform n0tice, where everyone can post reports about what’s happening near them (also by including tweets, pictures or videos).

n0tice is a really great platform which is open to everyone from today on. It doesn’t only offer to post reports, but also to update your or reports from others.

Here’s my guest post which was published on n0tice yesterday, explaining my project further:

Is Birmingham a visual place? Guest blogger Franzi Bährle is certain of it. Here she explains a new initiative she’s launching on n0tice – VisualBrum.

 “Small digital video cameras are the Gutenberg’s printing presses of the 21st century” (Rosenblum Institute)

This is definitely one of my favourite quotes when it comes to what I want to do for a living: video journalism. It means to be a one-(wo)man-band: filming, interviewing, editing, texting on your own – and it’s a lot of fun.


With small digital video cameras everyone is able to shoot videos – not just those who learnt to film with big TV cameras, and it’s not only up to teams to produce one. Just grab your camera and “head out and find a story” – another quote from the Rosenblum Institute, not because I’m being uncreative, but because that’s what it’s about.

Video journalism is a fascinating area and it’s not limited to a circle of experts. So go out, find a story, film it and publish it on n0tice and if you’re from Birmingham, publish it on .

visualBrum will be a Birmingham-based community, posting videos and audio slideshows on n0tice.

There is not that much video coverage about what is happening in the second city, yet. I’d like to change that by helping to get hyperlocal bloggers and passionate videographers and all those who want to become such together.

The aim is to develop an informative n0ticeboard, covering what’s happening in Birmingham with videos (and audio slideshows, which are also a great and fascinating way to tell a story).

Possible contributions are not limited to reports about recent happenings. As long as it’s newsworthy and based in or around Birmingham, it’s ready to be posted on visualBrum. Therefore it could also be e.g. documentaries, interviews or portraits, there’s no default length. Videos can be edited, but if contributors just shot a sequence of a certain happening, visualBrum is also the place to post it.


However, the community should be more than a group of people posting their contributions. There will also be a forum where everyone can share their experiences, questions and feedback. The aim is to help each other develop their skills. There’s no need for contributors to have fancy equipment or certain video skills – that’s what the community is there for.

No matter if you’ve got no experience or already are a passionate videographer. No matter if you’re shooting with an iPhone, Flipcam, camcorder, DSLR or a bigger video camera, if you got editing skills or not: Everyone is welcome to take part, the more, the merrier, not only in terms of the amount of videos on visualBrum, but also regarding the community itself. The more contribute their experience, questions and answers in the forum, the better.

I’m very much looking forward to get the community started, I think this can be developed into a great project, interesting for those who are contributing and those who are visiting visualBrum on n0tice to watch their contributions. The “kickoff” will be on March 26 – if you’re interested in joining us on visualBrum or want to know more about it – let me know, I’m looking forward to hearing from you!


Also take a look at Sarah Hartley’s recent post “n0tice: Three tools for journalists” or the n0tice blog.

And of course: let me know if you want to join visualBrum!

If you’re not from Birmingham, you should think about joining n0tice in general. I think it’s a great platform and everyone is able to take part. So go ahead and let the world know what’s happening around you! 

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Communities of Practice – Critical Evaluation

This post is the critical evaluation for my first assignment in the module “Multimedia”, which is part of my MA in Online Journalism at Birmingham City University.

I mainly focussed on the research of online video journalism.

Online video

As I have a background in TV journalism, I especially wanted to explore the difference of online video, as well as to do more research about producing journalistic videos itself. I’ve learned a lot through this research and I will now definitely approach videos differently than I would have done or did before. I’ve already reflected my learning outcomes in earlier blogposts (Storytelling & Online/TV) and I already implemented some of them in a short video I shot for the Birmingham Mail (see later paragraph).

I’ve also explored the combination of video with maps, tweets etc. via Mozilla’s “Popcorn Maker”, a tool I will definitely explore further, as I think it offers great possibilities for video journalism, as you can add additional value to your video.

Blogging about (online) video journalism was a great thing to start. Most of the posts were published on this new website, which I started on February 29th. At the time of writing I’ve got 834 views, which is quite a lot for me and a number that I didn’t expect. Neither did I expect that amount of comments (22), as well as people I’m referencing to comment on my posts (Michael Rosenblum, Adam Westbrook). Their and the comments of others are very helpful for my learning progress, no matter if it’s tips, disagreement, opinions or an discussion coming up, like in this post. This was very interesting for me and I hope to get more of that feedback in future posts.


I recorded a podcast about the importance of audio in video: I knew that the audio had to be of good quality and that it’s in general a quite important part of a video. But I didn’t take it as much into consideration as I should have done. After being sent out by my lecturer to shoot videos, but focus on the audio, and by reading some accordant statements online, I realised that I didn’t pay enough attention to the sound. I will do now.

Recording this podcast showed me that I need to be more structured in future ones. I repeated myself too many times and I guess that made it not very comfortable to follow. However, I liked the possibility on Soundcloud to include written comments in the track. I used this function to include links – e.g. when I talked about a video, I placed the comment at the same timecode, so no one had to write down the link or grab it somewhere else, but could simply click on it. I think that’s a nice combination of media and I would definitely use that again. You could link to accordant tweets, maps you created, other audio pieces etc.

Audio Slideshows

I’ve never done an audio slideshow before and I will actually shoot/record my first one today. However, I realised that this is a really great way to tell a story and that I definitely want to learn how to produce them. I did some research and recorded an interview to get to know more about it and I’m excited to produce my very first audio slideshow. Apart from that, I’m sure that this experience will also help me in terms of videography. Both audio slideshows and videos need good images and audio. Producing audio slideshows will hopefully help me improve my photography and therefore also influence my videography skills. And focussing on audio to an extend as you do in audio slideshows will help me improve the way I’m working with audio in video.


I’m also trying to improve my photography skills, first of all because it’s fun, but also because I think it can then improve my videography skills at the same time. Moreover I’m more and more looking into technical aspects and terms, which I haven’t done before. I try to get to know my own camera better and experiment as much as possible (all of this both in photography and videography), however I need to put much more time into this.

This week was the first time for me to shoot with a tele lens that I rented for a concert. This was a very good practise and made me once more realise that I will need to upgrade my kit, as my standard lens is limiting me too much, both in photography and videography. Moreover I’m more and more bent on the certain details of the picture. I’m nearly constantly paying attention to composition, light, colour etc., whatever and wherever I take pictures. When I did that at the concert, I probably deleted 25 pictures, although you could see the artist – but I still didn’t like the result because of composition, colour, focus or the like. However, I’m still in the early stages of photography and need to read more tutorials, practise more and look at the work of other photographers.

Work experience at the Birmingham Mail

This March I’m spending two days a week at the Birmingham Mail for an internship in their multimedia team. It’s the first time for me to work for the online edition of a newspaper. I’ve also never worked as a VJ for an online medium. So that’s definitely an interesting experience. The Birmingham Mail works with one video journalist, who produces pieces for their website. The videos are mostly not longer than about two minutes. Paul Bradley, who’s in charge of the multimedia team at the Birmingham Mail, told me that their audience would prefer shorter videos. Moreover they should be in the style of a news show, it’s not about storytelling, it’s about telling the main facts, but also about the video adding a value to the text it mostly comes with.

I’m not only shooting videos at the Birmingham Mail, but also getting some experience in community management. We’ll try to engage the audience to send in their own videos and pictures as well as getting as much general feedback as possible with the videos we post on Facebook or the website. My first task for this was to shoot some vox pops with people pointing out why their mum is the best one (because of the mother’s day coming up on Sunday). The aim was not only to have a nice video, but also to motivate others to send in their statements on video or to post it in the comments. 

And once more I realised how different online is from TV. Of course, a video like that could have also been broadcasted in a television program. But that would have been it. Sent and gone. If someone would call the TV station and tell them: “Oh, I saw that video and I wanted to say: I love my Mum, too!” – no one would be interested in it. In the case of putting it online, that’s exactly what you want (apart from offering a nice video for your audience). It’s not done with publishing it. Especially online you want and hopefully get feedback. Maybe also negative comments on the video you produced. Maybe someone tells you that you got something wrong. Or has got more information. And that’s a great achievement and one of the advantages of online journalism.

Although it were “just” vox pops, I also changed a few things in my approach. Normally I would have told the people not to look into the camera (see my earlier post) – this time I told them to do so. Which was a good decision. I’m still not sure if it works in every case (I have to try it for different statements or watch videos where they did the same). But it worked great for the vox pops: a bunch of people explaining why there mum is the best – why shouldn’t they look at those guys they tell it to?

I also wrote in an earlier post that I was aware of the fact that the first picture needs to be a good one and I also mentioned the 10-seconds-rule. The very first statement I shot for the vox pops was the best one – but I wanted to put it at the end, in order for the video to finish with a very nice and funny statement, that the audience may keep in mind. I often did that earlier, I guess: I didn’t want to use my best pictures at the beginning – a good one, of course, but keeping the best ones rather for the middle or even the end. Which is rubbish. I surely would have to re-edit a lot of reports I’ve produced.

Thinking about what I’ve learned I realised that I need to put that great statement right at the beginning. I still think that it’s important to have a nice ending and a nice mixture. But when I watched the edited video I was sure that this was the best place for that statement to be. It was the funniest and nicest one and will hopefully grab the viewer’s attention and get him to go on watching the video.

Forums, groups, pages, comments

I searched for forums, Facebook groups/pages, mailing lists etc. However, I focussed on the things that were posted to learn more about this area. I didn’t comment as much as I wanted to, as the topics were often advanced and I couldn’t really help out with tips. In terms of posting feedback on stories I was also quite reserved as I thought that most of the people that posted them probably got more experience than me. Still, searching for those forums, pages and groups made me start dealing with those communities of practise – something that I haven’t done before. Now I’m planning to upload future work pieces on pages like findingtheframe to get some feedback. Moreover I will go on watching the work of others to learn from it, join forums or groups to be updated about news in my field and try to make new contacts. I will also take the chance to ask questions in groups, forums and on blogs, of which I’m following quite a few. I enlarged the amount of people in that area that I’m following on TwitterI’m also following the “Carnival of Journalism”, a group of journalists blogging about a certain topic every month (everyone posts his contribution on his blog, one is doing a round-up of them). I published one post about “What’s the role of online video in the newsroom of the future?”. Unfortunately since then there hasn’t been a topic for which I would have had enough experience to contribute, but following the group posts is a great resource to learn.

Getting in touch with those communities of practice also confirmed me to go on shooting with my DSLR and maybe even stick to that in the future, as I found out that quite a lot of VJs are working with them, and there are a few very interesting websites that deal with that topic (e.g. Dan Chung’s blog)

I surely can say that I’ve never looked into the subject (speaking of video journalism in general) that deeply, intensive and continuously as I do now.

Proposal for assignment 2

For my second assignment, I want to – surprise – shoot a video, which will be published online and tell the story of Ian, a Big Issue seller in Birmingham. As Ian has already been selling the magazine for some time, I’d also like to include someone who just started and someone who ended this job due to getting another one, getting a step further.

It is aimed to highlight how the Big Issue helps people, how others react to them, what they can achieve etc., all of this with a personal approach, by telling a personal story instead of speaking about numbers or statistics.

I also want to include maps, moreover I will start teaching myself to work with Apple’s Motion and try to implement my skills in this video, as well as everything I’ve learned regarding online video journalism.

More details regarding this project will be worked out over the next few weeks.

Please also see          

for my research      

for produced pieces           

for websites I’m following via Google Reader            

for all of my blog posts    

for the comments I’ve posted     

for the groups/forums etc. I’ve joined

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Online video: 5 useful links

For today: Just a short post including 5 links I stumbled upon during my research for online video journalism:

#1 Composition tips

A really great tutorial for composition – it’s for photography, but composition is in my opinion no less important in videography.

#2 Finding the Frame  

Great site to get feedback for your multimedia project and watch the pieces of others. Also including a forum to get answers to your questions.

#3 Vimeo video projects 

Very nice and interesting video projects on vimeo you can easily take part in or be inspired by

#4 Interactive Narratives 

Collection of multimedia journalism pieces worth looking at

#5 The DSLR Cinematography Guide  

Shooting on a DSLR? Grab this e-book – it’s helpful and for free!

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Storytelling: What I’ve learned.

I’ve read a lot about storytelling in videos over the last days. And it all made sense and changed the way I’m watching videos and the way I’m thinking about how to shoot mine. Here’s a few things I’ll keep in mind, as well as great examples that are worth watching:

Once again, I’m referring to Adam Westbrook. This guy knows what he’s doing, shoots great videos and gives a lot of useful tips. In one of his blog posts Adam writes about the storytelling tool

„ the big reveal“:

It’s about holding something back, surprising your audience

„by revealing a crucial part of your story: the answer to the mystery, the „will they live happily ever after“ type question – or sometimes just something as simple as „what’s in the box?“

Adam points out, that that’s not a tool for a news format, as there it’s all about giving the most important facts first. And that traditional journalists work exactly like that. To be honest: That’s what I did. Facts first!
I could often have made a much better story if I hadn’t. Until I read that post, holding something back wouldn’t have come to my mind. And of course it’s not a tool for every story you shoot. But it’s an amazing one I will definitely keep in mind. It creates suspension, makes the audience focussing on the video, as they want to find out what you are holding back from them. And, according to Adam, you don’t have to hold it back until the end of the video. Holding it back for the first minute will also get you the attention you want to have. Hitchcock would have been proud.

Check Adam’s post to see two great examples for that storytelling tool. It shows you how powerful it is.

Another example I found is the video „The gift of life“, edited by Shawn Montano, who got him several awards, including an Emmy.
The video holds something back, you don’t know from the start if the story will end well and the operation is successful. And you keep on watching it, because you want to know. But it’s not only that…wait. I’ll hold it back. And you watch:

©Shawn Montano

This video totally got me. I knew, if I kept watching, I’ll know if everything went fine or not. But what I absolutely didn’t expect was the actual end of that. This „big reveal“ totally surprised and shocked me. And after watching it I still couldn’t believe it. Of course it’s also because of the tragedy itself.
But the story could have been edited differently. You could have told the audience at the beginning, how the story ended. But it’s in the final part and I think especially that makes this video about a unbelievably sad story an examplary one for storytelling.

The opening!

I knew that it’s important to start your video with a really good or even your best shot. If it starts boring, no one will want to go on watching. But now I’ll keep 10-seconds-rule in mind. Richard Koci Hernandez talks about the audience attention span here as well as Adam Westbrook (both of course giving some very useful tips). In short:

„You’ve got ten seconds to grab somebody’s attention“ (Richard Koci Hernandez).

Which made me realise that I’ve messed that up a lot of times. Although I kept the importance of the beginning in mind, I still didn’t put enough effort in it. If the first impression is interesting, that’s good. But not enough. 10 seconds is not a a lot of time to watch something, but it’s a lot of time if you know that those are crucial for reaching your goal to keep the viewers attention, as what you really don’t want is them to stop watching before the video ends. Apart from strong images, the „big reveal“ mentioned above is one way to achieve that, as Adam Westbrook mentions in his post, besides a strong soundbite or a surprise. He also points out it’s important to „get straight into the story“. What I found very interesting is, that he mentions adverts and brandings that are shown before the video as a bad example here, as day take a way a few seconds of those 10 you got.

What I also learned was that I need to get away from telling to much on my own. Voice-overs have always taken a huge part in my reports. Although I’ve always focussed on not telling about feelings, but trying to show them through pictures or let the protagonists tell themselves. Because they can do that best, not you. But in the future I’ll try to get away from too much voice-over or even try to avoid it at all – if possible. I’ve seen quite a lot of videos that told the story without voice-overs. The protagonists did. And they can do it best, because it’s their story. But as Ken Kobré and Jerry Lazar point it out here it’s important to „Show, not tell“, so although I might focus less on voice-over and more on the protagonist telling the story now, I have to be aware of that rule at the same time. Because it’s of course much better to see yourself what’s happening instead of getting a description, no matter from whom. Or as Kobrè and Lazar say it:

„We’d rather watch a guy carve a banjo fretboard than drone on about how difficult it is. It’s one thing to have a racecar driver describe the thrill of 200 mph laps; it’s another to mount your camera on the hood and put your audience in the driver’s seat.“

I think in examples like those it can sometimes be quite nice to combine the two things: See the pictures but also hear what the protagonist feels: „It’s thrilling to do this, it’s difficult to do that etc.“

They also point out the importance of natural sound:

“The best video, however, is actual natural sound (nat sound) video sequences that show the viewer what is happening and let the viewer hear what is taking place at that moment. Sequences with natural sound allow the viewer to draw his own conclusions about the character of the story.”

If you want your audience to know how good the seller you are portraying gets along with his customers, you could of course have images where you can see that he does. But it would be much nicer if you could also hear it: Them having a nice chat.

Sometimes you don’t even need anyone to tell the story, like in this video, created by VJ Dan Chung.

©Dan Chung

Check Ken Kobré & Jerry Lazar 10 storytelling tips here, moreover you should also watch Ira Glass’ statements about storytelling. Moreover here’s a free book from Adam Westbrook, where he also gives tips regarding storytelling.

Anything wrong? Feedback? Critique? Go ahead!

Tips for aspiring video journalists

I’ve been a VJ for three years now, two years of which I worked in a regional TV station. With those years of experience I obviously couldn’t write a book about video journalism, but I think I can give a few basic tips for everyone who wants to start with it:


1) Check your stuff before you leave! 

I’ve had it all: Leaving without a memory card, leaving with low batteries, a broken mic etc…Be sure you got everything you need with you – and that all of your stuff works. Batteries charged? Mic & headphones working? Tripod ok? It just takes a few minutes and that’s worth it. It’s really annoying if you realize something’s missing or not working during the shoot. And this can screw it all up.


2) Don’t pan, tilt or zoom for no reason.

That’s one thing I was told right when I started my VJ-trainee. Just tilt, pan or zoom during the recording when it’s necessary and makes sense – don’t do it just because you can. That’s what I did at the beginning, because I thought I need to use every single function as much as possible. I barely do it now.

If you move the camera or zoom during the recording, start recording a few seconds earlier, don’t start moving right after pressing the red button. Same at the end. Wait a few seconds after moving the camera before you stop recording. Steady picture – movement – steady picture. 

Also: When you’re editing your footage later, don’t cut into movement.


3) Don’t give your interviewee the mic.

It doesn’t look good or professional, when your interviewee is holding the mic. Moreover some people tend to move it around when they’re talking. Not good either.


4) Use a tripod.

Steady footage is really important. Take your tripod and only take your camera off when there’s a reason for that. Maybe you are in a situation where there’s no room for the tripod, you want to film from a certain angle or you can only follow something by taking your camera off the tripod. But normally I’d say: Use it.

However, VJ-expert Michael Rosenblum has a different opinion on this. Check it here.


5) Don’t rush through your interview.

If possible, take your time. That’s not only good for you, but also for your interviewee. You need to make him feel comfortable, if you rush through you might make him nervous. Someone who’s feeling comfortable will probably also give better interviews and maybe also tell things he wouldn’t have. I’m not speaking about adding two more hours to every interview. Just a little chatting instead of “Hello. Interview. Goodbye”. You’ll also be more concentrated, it’s much more fun to interview in a relaxed atmosphere and you maybe finding out something about your interviewee you didn’t know before.

Of course, taking that time is not always possible, but if it is: Do it.


6) Don’t just shoot what you see. Think about it. 

What do you want and need to tell the story? Don’t only just go out and film what’s happening, think about which pictures, sounds and statements you need to tell the story best and how you film it (shoot sizes, framing/composition, angle etc.).


7) If possible: Record the interview at the end.

I find it much better to record the statements at the end of the shoot (except for scenic statements of course) as there might arise more questions you want to ask while you’re shooting. So if possible, get your impressions first.


8) Shoot rather more than less footage.

Realizing that you don’t have enough of your footage when you’re back from your shoot is really annoying and might destroy your video. But also: Don’t shoot too much. Remember you are not finished after filming and need to go through all your footage when you’re editing it. Think carefully about your shoot before you go out and you’ll find the right balance.


9) Don’t just think about the images, but also about the audio.

Video isn’t all about images. The audio is at least as important as they are. If you’re audio is of bad quality, you video will normally be, too.

Wear headphones!

Also think about which audio is important for your story, don’t just think about telling it through images.


10) Have fun! 

Of course you won’t have fun all the time. But honestly. If you don’t like doing it, you shouldn’t.


Here are some very useful tips for recording better interviews, published by Adam Westbrook:

©Adam Westbrook. View more presentations from Adam Westbrook

You should also check his post “Five myths about shooting video”, and a great lesson about shooting basics from vimeo’s video school.


Let me know if I missed anything and share your opinions and experiences in the comments.

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