Lights, Camera, Action!

Well, it’s been an exciting, educational, frustrating, irritating, exhilarating, oh, and did I mention exciting few weeks! And the reason is that I have been experimenting and exploring filming art work and the bug has well and truly bitten! Mind you, my studio walls are reflecting varying stages of blue right now after a long stream of unsavoury expletives along the way!

So, where did this all start? Because of the corona virus pandemic, the Huddersfield Art Society haven’t been able to meet regularly together and as the current program secretary I have been sending out regular painting challenges to members with resulting work going on the web site (which can be viewed at www.huddersfieldartsociety.com). This has been great inspiration, with painting challenges from other leadership team members, in keeping contact as a society and helping each other to continue to be creative.

As virtual planning meetings and discussions moved towards what we might be able to do in the autumn it still feels like, even if we are allowed to meet in groups as things settle down, that those groups might have to be very small to start off with, and many who are still shielding might feel excluded. So, with another technically mind member, we wondered if we could explore videoing sessions, or doing some demo films for the web site for people to follow at home.

I had planned, at some point, to do a session on introduction to botanical painting for society members, following an interest I had in that genre a few years ago, so I thought it might be a good opportunity to see what I could do with the technology we have got available at home and with help from my other half who has more technical know-how than me.

Discussing this with my husband Dave (we all need a Dave!) who has more mega-bytes in his brain than me, he talked me through how I could film with the cameras that we have and got me set up with tripods, exploring the different positions I could record in my studio considering the light, my fixed workbench etc. This caused some of the frustration because of the limitations of my room but eventually we came up with configurations that we could make work.

I used mainly a Canon SLR but also did some filming on my Samsung S9 phone. The main things to remember were to film in landscape rather than portrait orientation, to use a tripod or stand where possible and to consider lighting. Some positions of the camera / desk configuration proved easy to manage, but the over the desk position was tricky at times. Once I had the camera set up it was difficult to access the back of the camera to check progress without moving the camera and the set up significantly. This resulted at one point with a lengthy filming of painting my subject being slightly out of focus. I had used markers to establish focus and set the camera on manual focus so that it wouldn’t alter, but still the work on the paper wasn’t in focus after all. In the end I had to redo the whole painting again! Actually, I can’t tell you how many times I had to redo things, but each time was strengthening the learning as new points became evident. So after swearing, tutting, sighing and dashing off for a chocolate hit, I had to concede that it was a great learning process on a very steep learning curve!

Getting used to filming was also frustrating at times, often feeling awkward initially – I have many outtakes of me stumbling over my words, going very waffly, sighing as I look blankly at the camera or holding my head in my hands yet again (no, I am not going to be showing those, but it made me giggle!).

There is also a big element of getting over seeing oneself and hearing your own voice on film, the fact that I was always frowning with concentration (nice look!), that I often talked too fast or changed sentences mid stream. The number of times I thought “do I really do that all the time”. Seems like I do!

Another key element is consistent use of the same microphone as, obviously, different devices have different microphones which may mean you have to adjust the sound volumes in the final film. It was also fun adding in royalty free music in places but again the sound levels had to be adjusted throughout the whole film aiming for consistent levels.

Whilst you don’t want to sound like you are reading from a script, and unless you are very experienced in doing filming work, I strongly recommend that you prepare what you are going to say beforehand so that you can get a good flow established, stating simply and clearly what you want to say. I think it is important to think about, primarily, how it will feel to the viewer listening and watching the video. Whilst I have found many You Tube videos really helpful, I have also come across some where there is too much waffling, poor shots, and poor sound. It really gives you a lot to think about in producing a decent film and takes far longer than I had initially understood in my naivety.

To overcome the rather incompetent presenter and because of limitations on battery life and storage on SD cards, I shot the video in lots of short sequences, saving clips on the computer along the way. This necessitated drafting out a plan for the whole video, noting where things were filmed face to face with sound, or overhead (to make sure that there was clear focus on the drawing and painting action that filled the screen without distracting angles), where clips would have a voice over added later or where music might be added, where still photos would be incorporated and where text might be required. I also discovered at my cost, during editing, that you need to make sure you save all the items you want to use in the video in clearly labeled folders on the computer and then not move them during editing. Again because I was unskilled in this initially, I wasn’t clear about where I was saving things and kept changing my mind as I realized how complicated it was and how much clearer I needed to be from the start.  For the first few attempts at editing I kept finding that the software couldn’t find the clips I wanted because I had moved them to a different folder. It was so frustrating because I didn’t understand why, until Dave pointed out it was my fault for moving (tidying up!) things on the computer. So, the moral of this story is to plan well from the beginning.

The software that Dave found for me to use to edit the clips is a freebie called Openshot Video Editing. There are You Tube videos which show how to use various functions and, for me, it was a case of a lot of experimentation with periodic shouts for “Dave”! As I got used to it and worked out how I could do what I wanted and the outcome of the different functions, using the different tracks for editing, and using the provided tools in the suite to make editing easier, I got quicker at putting things together. I have found Openshot fairly easy to use and does most things that I want it to do to help me produce something that is slick and more professional, as a great start to this sort of venture. A function that openshot doesn’t have is a voice over feature, which would have been really useful. Again, using what I had got, I recorded some of the voice over on the Canon SLR, which worked OK but made the editing tricky and lengthy. Next time I will explore other voice recording options such as Audacity.

Once I realized the potential that I could aim for working with the equipment we had, it has raised a number of possibilities that I want to explore, both in maximizing the available technology to its limits and in how we can use video in the art society to improve accessibility of sessions and learning for members. I want to run before I have barely learnt to walk! And that is what makes it exciting!

I haven’t finished the introduction to botanical painting video yet – I have been a bit over-ambitious for the first one as it is about an hour long, and the editing process has been lengthy with such big files and lots of different clips to put together. But I produced this short video as a test of what I could do and I offer it, not as a slick, final piece but a testament to all that I have learnt over the last few weeks.

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