Stringr Interviews: Professional Videographer Adrian Mihai

by Kaitlyn Mitchell

This week, Stringr sat down with professional videographer Adrian Mihai, the broadcast operations manager of NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, to pick his brain on best practices for shooting video.

Mihai is a freelance videographer, independent producer and multi-media designer. He produced and directed several documentaries, including “E Pluribus Unum” in 1994, a film that investigates the spiritual milieu of first generation immigrants from Romania, and “E Biagoresqo Drom/The Endless Journey,” a documentary about the Roma/Gypsy communities of Romania. He has worked as freelance cameraman for various news organizations, including Bloomberg television news, BBC America, and CNN. Since 1996, he has taught undergraduate and graduate classes on electronic news gathering.

Adrian Mihai at work in the field.

Adrian Mihai at work in the field.

Stringr: What is your preferred camera to shoot with?

Mihai: A DSLR camera, when used for a video, gives you exceptional quality picture, but at the same time, you have to be super careful with your focus, because many times you are not able, in the heat of the moment, to maintain your focus properly. Of course, it is possible, bit it requires quite a bit of training. Many times in the field, it actually may not work properly because in situations where it goes really fast, like where you’re covering a riot or something like that, when subjects move in and out of focus constantly, it is less forgiving than a regular video camera.

Stringr: What’s the most common problem you experience when shooting in an outdoor environment?

Mihai: The problem that happens quite frequently, regardless of the camera, is good sound. Many times, sound is compromised by not using the proper microphone for the conditions, or not using it properly at all. Sound is as important as the image itself. Many times, a good image or a good visual story loses its impact on the audience without proper sound.

For example, the wind is your worst enemy. Noise created by the wind can actually ruin the piece and can turn the audience off and drive them away from the piece. Of course in post-production, you can spend hours fixing sounds in post-production, but then it’s not worth it. When you are under a deadline, and you have to edit the piece right away, you don’t have the luxury of spending too many hours in post-production.

If you want to interview someone in the middle of a crowd, in all the noise in the street, with trucks passing by, you have to use the proper microphone for that situation. In other words, there is a microphone that is able to isolate the voice from the ambient noise with great efficiency.

Stringr: What’s an overlooked trick of the trade?

Mihai: Cold weather and low temperatures deplete the batteries much faster than regular summer temperatures. If you go out to shooting in the field, in the cold weather, or a cold environment, you run out of juice right away.

Stringr: What would tips do you have for someone who is using a smartphone alone to shoot video?

Mihai: Many times people rely on smartphones to shoot video, and they don’t have any additional equipment attached to it, like an external microphone, etcetera. So that leads to a very essential technique, which is learn to listen to your environment.

One of the most basic behaviors while shooting with a smartphone is to try to stay as close as possible, meaning before the subject’s face gets distorted. Proximity in any situation, with any kind of device, even if you do have an external microphone, proximity is your friend. Proximity helps you get a better sound. Again, try to move the phone as close as possible to the person. But pay attention, as you don’t want the person to look distorted.

That being said, if you are willing to increase the quality of your recording while using a smartphone, you can buy quite a few devices. I don’t want to endorse any specific brands, but you can buy quite a few devices that you can attach to your phone, and your phone can become pretty complicated on one hand, but also very good at capturing both image and sound.

One reason to use a smartphone is that you may find yourself in a situation where a professional camera would attract too much negative attention, and you have much more flexibility, and freedom with a smartphone. A smartphone can play a very important role in that situation.

Stringr: What tips do you have for on-camera interviews?

Mihai: Let’s say someone grants you an interview outdoors, and you want to use your smartphone. Yes, of course you get excited that the person will talk to you. But the second thing should be: “Is this the proper location? Should I pull the person to the side? Should I go around the corner? Should I ask the interviewee to step into a hallway, or even behind a wall of some sort?”

Pay attention to all the noise in the environment. For example, if you are at a store, and they play music in the background, you obviously don’t want that music to be part of your interview. So, again, leave the excitement on the side. Immediately go to the store manager or someone, and ask, do you mind turning off the music, or at least lower the music?

Pay attention to how the person is dressed, pay attention to any jewelry that the person has. Many times, if I had a conversation in real life, I would not necessarily hear your earrings, or your necklace, or something like that. But if I’m using an efficient microphone, it will pick up the noise. When you go back to editing, you will be surprised. Oh, I ruined the interview because of all that clicking, and whatever the noise may be. You have to keep your eyes and ears open, and pay attention to all the details.

Stringr: Any parting advice for our Stringrs?

Mihai: It is very important to always have a back-up plan. An example is, even if I know that I will need only one battery, I would never leave without two or three batteries. If I know that I need one card, and it’s a large 64-gigabyte card, that card may fail. Everything must have duplicates. You never want to be caught without proper equipment, without the proper supplies.

There is a misconception that more expensive equipment turns better video. That is not necessarily true. The skill is the most important ingredient in the equation. Video is about discipline and rhythm. You have to be disciplined, you have to understand what the shot is, how to cover something properly, and how to look at things. At the same time, you have to understand rhythm. You have to remind yourself constantly that someone will have to edit that video, and that it has to be shot at a certain pace to avoid creating a nightmare for the editor.

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