Stringr Interviews: John Joeb on Natural Lighting

by Kaitlyn Mitchell

Stringr John Joeb shoots real estate marketing videos by day for his production company ClearlyFine, but enjoys the extra cash he can get by being an active Stringr in his free time. Joeb quit the hospitality industry in 2013 in order to pursue his dream of being a full-time filmmaker. He answered an ad for a real estate videographer, and got the job thanks to his associates’ degree in filmmaking. Nowadays, Joeb’s day job involves using drones and glide cams to capture professional footage of beautiful properties in Florida, skills that easily translate to being a great Stringr. Here are his tips for using natural lighting.

Last week, Target announced that it would close 13 stores nationwide, including Joeb’s local store in Florida. Joeb shot fantastic b-roll footage of the store exterior and interior for Stringr.

John Joeb stands in as an interview subject in his Target footage for Stringr.

John Joeb stands in as an interview subject in his Target footage for Stringr.

Stringr: Walk us through the process of the shots you captured at Target.

Joeb: I approached a couple of people and they weren’t willing to talk on camera. So I thought, I need an interview, and I myself shop at this Target, so I’ll just do it. I knew that I wanted to do a rack focus, and that’s where the subject is really crisp, and the background is blurry. I knew the Target logo would be recognizable. I put something on the ground, to mark where I was going to stand, and I recorded for a few moments. Then I went back and looked at the shot, to make sure that I had the focus and the lighting right. I knew the lighting was better near the store, but I liked the dramatic lighting of the logo versus the natural lighting that I had above me. I just used the lighting from the parking lot, and I made sure the shot looked good.

A still of a mailman wading through floodwaters to do his job, from footage Joeb captured for Stringr when Tampa had severe flooding in August.

A diligent mailman wading through floodwaters to do his job: a still from footage Joeb captured for Stringr when Tampa had severe flooding in August 2015. 

Stringr: What are your lighting recommendations for outdoor shoots?

Joeb: Even for the photography that I do, I love natural lighting. The flash, you can tell and it just doesn’t look right.

Stringr: What types of external lighting devices do you use, if ever?

Joeb: In a controlled lighting situation, I use five or six lights, to make sure that everything is lit evenly. I prefer LED versus anything else, because of the heat. I don’t want my talent to sweat during real estate shoots.

Stringr: What are your tips for shooting at night?

You’ve got to know your surroundings. Number one, make sure you have no noise by adjusting the ISO and aperture. I don’t always follow the general rules that we learned in film school, but I just make sure that the shot looks good to me. I say, follow the light. If you know your camera and you know your craft, you can make it work.

Still of a shot of Jeob's Target footage.

Still of a shot of Jeob’s Target footage.

Stringr: How do you plan a shoot?

Joeb: While I was driving to the Target store, I was thinking about the layout of the parking lot, what light sources were around, my kit, how busy it would be. I just wanted to make sure that everything was lit evenly. When I arrive, I look at the scene, get my camera out, and look for something that works.

A still from drone footage captured by Joeb for his production company, ClearlyFine.

A still from drone footage captured by Joeb for his production company, ClearlyFine.

How-To: Shoot VIP’s

The key to being a successful one-man video crew is preparation. No matter what type of footage you are capturing, preparation is the key to a job well done.  With the presidential campaigns picking up, capturing VIPs who are swarmed with press can be hectic.

Here are some tips to getting the coverage you need.

When you receive a request or want to shoot a high profile person, do some research before hand and mentally imagine how it will go down. Find out what time it starts. This lets you plan your arrival to get the best location for a clear shot.

The earlier you arrive the less crowded the allotted area will be. Choose your location wisely and anticipate where things might happen. Having a clear shot is vital, so watch out for arms, cameras and mics that could get in your way.

An early arrival is great because you can get shots of the person entering and exiting the building, as well as a variety of broll shots, which is vital for editors.

When shooting the subject, limit yourself to using wide or medium shots. Using these shots will allow you to capture all the necessary moments without the fuss of capturing close ups.  Having a wide shot will give the subject space to move around without you moving the camera.

Finally, do not neglect your audio. Statements or speeches made are a must and can make or break the footage you shoot. In this scenario, use a directional microphone to record clear audio.

These tips can be applied to a variety of different requests and shoots. As long as you always prepare yourself you will have a smoother, less stressful and more successful shoot.

Stringr Interviews: NY1 News Researcher Chiara Norbitz

by Kaitlyn Mitchell

This week, Stringr chatted with Chiara Norbitz, a news researcher at NY1 News. Norbitz was born and raised in New York, and earned her undergraduate degree in political science at Mount Holyoke College. She received her masters degree in Documentary Filmmaking from New York University in 2015, where she conceived of an filmed an original documentary, “Hire Me,” which is about highly skilled and foreign-educated immigrants who are struggling to survive as new Americans; including scientists, doctors, and engineers with years of experience who are more likely to drive a cab or nanny than work in their professional careers. The inspiration for her documentary came from Norbitz’s four years of work in the non-profit sector at Upwardly Global, doing philanthropy and fund-raising.

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Stringr: Describe your duties at NY1.

 Norbitz: I was first hired as a freelance news assistant for NY1, and the job responsibilities for that role are either working independently, or going out and shooting things for vosots (a video with a sound bite), which are small packages that the editors will put together, and the anchor will read a script over. So you’re gathering the video and sound elements that will be used for smaller packages. A news assistant would go out and shoot independent video and sound elements for news pieces, and would also work with reporters, gathering elements for their packages, and helping them shoot their stand-ups, live hits, and stuff like that. As a researcher, I work with what news we are going to be covering that day — working with the news directors to decide what needs coverage, and then organizing crews, including the reporters, the news assistants, and the satellite trucks, and managing them in the field.

Stringr: What’s a typical trip into the field like for you as a videographer?

Norbitz: For example, say there was a gang-related shooting, and the assignment desk really doesn’t know too much about what happened. It’s our job to go out into the field and try and gather both information and elements. So what we would do is we would do is we would drive out there as fast as we can. The issue is sensitive both in terms of people who may be involved in the shooting, and the people who are not related to it are obviously nervous about there being a shooting in their neighborhood. We would and approach people, very sympathetically, but I would have my camera tucked away, because you don’t want to scare people off. We’d try to get people to talk to us, and relate on a personal level. For example, I’d say, “I’m sorry that this has happened, do you know something about this?”, and try to get as much information as possible. In the field, we’re really the eyes on the ground, and sometimes we will be able to find out much more information by talking to people, versus the people who are at the assignment desk and are basically calling the police and trying to get more information that way.

Stringr: What technical details do you need to keep in mind while shooting on location?

Norbitz: Your responsibility as a cameraperson while the reporter is handling the one-on-one with the subject is to be both sensitive to the fact that you don’t want to shove a camera in someone’s face, but you also want to make sure that all your settings are okay, and when it is that moment and you need to quickly get your camera up, you don’t have to do any adjustments. As soon as we arrive on scene and park the car, I’m fixing my settings as we’re moving. So I’m finding something in the field, on the ground or whatever, to white balance off of. That’s the most important thing. So then I’m managing the settings, making sure that my exposure is not overexposed, underexposed, making sure that I do have an attached microphone, and that those sound levels are good, and making sure that all of my settings are on manual so that I can easily adjust them, like the focus, when I am in the field. It’s really important to do that as you’re running and gunning it, so let’s say that the reporter finds someone that immediately can speak: you don’t wanna be there for five minutes, adjusting your camera, and that person gets bored, or becomes uninterested and walks away. The most important thing about being a camera person is to act like you’re not there. You don’t want people to be spooked by you, but you also want to manage your camera settings, so that when it’s ready for you to come into action and start filming, you’re ready to go.

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Stringr: What about when you’re shooting b-roll for a situation that isn’t necessarily breaking news?

Norbitz: Let’s say I’m by myself, and I’m shooting something for what’s going to become a vosot: a minute to a minute and a half-long script that someone will write, and they just basically need images that both will cover the script, but also illustrate what’s happening, and then preferably sound with either MOS (man-on-street interview) or natural sound. When you’re shooting something like that, it’s really important to get a variety of shots so that the editors have the opportunity to mix and match what they can use visually. Always make sure to get tight, medium, and wide shots at different angles. When working for a news organization, I’m not going to get super fancy with my shots, but it is important to get a few shots that are called beauty shots, which are those pretty shots that you see where there’s a rack focus, where whatever’s in the foreground all of a sudden comes into focus and it looks really nice. Or having something blurry in the foreground, and in-focus in the background – you can get a few of those, but don’t go crazy. Think about how the person is going to write the script, and get the images that will correspond.

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Stringr: Do you have an example from the field?

Norbitz: We didn’t end up covering this, but it was the 70th anniversary of the atomic bomb being dropped in Japan, so there were a ton of different commemorative things happening around the city for that. So let’s say it was your job to go out and cover that for a vosot. Think about what types of things the producers are going to want to say in that. They’re gonna want to talk a little bit about the history of Japan, the atomic bomb dropping, and the actual event itself: who was there, who spoke, and why it’s important. With all of those things in mind, think about which image would go best with that information.

Stringr: In what situations do you and don’t you use a tripod while on the job?

Norbitz: MOS (Man on the Street interview) – that can be handheld, because really it’s kind of cumbersome to deal with having the tripod. When you are using handheld, try to be as steady as possible and try to frame your shot with the three-quarters rule, with your subject in three-quarters of the shot.

When you’re shooting and you have a little bit more time, let’s say there’s a bunch of people speaking, in that instance, I would always, as a rule of thumb, put my camera on a tripod, because it looks so much better when shots are completely steady, and you’re not distracted by it moving slightly. When you have a little bit more time in the field, always put your camera on a tripod.

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Stringr: Describe an equipment snafu and how you handled it.

Norbitz: One time I was sent out to cover a presser (a news industry term for press conference) at a very small community organization’s office, and I left without thinking about what the lighting situation was going to be. When I got there, it was a very very dimly lit office. I tried to the best of my ability with the settings built into the camera to increase the exposure as much as possible to get a usable shot; but what I really should have done was just bring an extra light kit — that would have illuminated the shot, and would have prevented it from looking kind of grainy, which is what happens when you overexpose the shot with the camera settings. That was a good lesson to me, that no matter where you’re going, even if it’s in the middle of the day, always have a light kit. You never know what kind of situation you’re going to be in and whether there’s going to be enough light there.

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Stringr: What advice do you have for amateur videographers?

Norbitz: Always ask questions. There are no stupid questions. If you try and figure it out yourself, it will take you longer and you could learn bad habits that way. The great thing about the videographer world is that there’s so many people with so much information, and they’re willing to share it because it’s their area of expertise. If you’re independent and don’t have a connection with a group of videographers, I would definitely say mine the internet for answers to your questions. It’s so much better to learn from mistakes from other people’s experiences, rather than try to go it alone, make your own mistakes, and potentially not learn as quickly. That being said, making mistakes also helps you learn, like with my lighting kit circumstance, but you want to minimize the amount of mistakes you’re making.

Stringr: What’s the best experience you’ve had while shooting breaking news footage?

Norbitz: I liked shooting the Greek Day Parade by myself in the spring of 2015. For a lot of more experienced shooters, shooting parades is just a very hectic and time-consuming day. For me, it was really fun because I was active, I was running around, I was getting certain elements as they were happening. Everything was happening in real time, I had to be really present, and it was fun to talk to people who were celebrating and commemorating their heritage.

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How-To: Shot Variety

One of the best ways to be a successful stringr is to capture a variety of shots. This will help you shoot a sequence that will tie together nicely.

But capturing a sequence isn’t always necessary. Shooting a variety of wide, medium and close shots, gives editors more to work with.

No matter what the request is, begin by working around the location. If you are close to the subject, work your way backwards. If you are far, work your way forward. To begin, record a variety of shots moving in one direction.

Once you have several wide shots, take a few steps forwards and repeat that process, shooting several medium shots while moving in the other direction.

After shooting at least three different shots in each phase, step closer and do another pass capturing close shots.

Finally, after gathering a number of different wide, medium and close shots, capture other b-roll shots that can accompany or enhance the other shots.  These shots let editors fill in any blank spots or jumps they may want to do during the story.

Gathering these shots may seem tedious, but its what customers want to see and allows them to take advantage of every shot possible.

Having a variety of different shots is important, but don’t forget to keep your shots steady.

So before pressing record, think about your shots and the best way to capture them!

To Cover or Not to Cover? Seeking Out the News

by Kaitlyn Mitchell

The team at Stringr’s curation desk in New York City is hard at work around the clock, actively monitoring breaking news in our 10 live markets. But there’s no need to wait for requests. We want you to be on the lookout for newsworthy events too.

As an enterprising Stringr, you ARE allowed to submit a video that is not associated with a specific footage request. But to avoid wasting your own time covering something that won’t interest our customers, we recommend you follow the guidelines that we ourselves stand by as to determining if an event is newsworthy.

  1. Crime: Unfortunately, crime impacts many communities. Our customers are interested in crimes that involve innocent people: think children, parents and individuals who should not have gotten caught in the cross fire. If you happen to be witness to a crime before police arrive, ALWAYS call 9-1-1 before you take out your camera or phone to film anything. Safety for you and others should always be your number one priority.

    NEVER EVER TAMPER WITH EVIDENCE. A still from

    NEVER EVER TAMPER WITH EVIDENCE. A still from the film “Nightcrawler.”

  2. Motor Vehicle Accidents: MVAs are also far more common than you may realize, and don’t generally constitute news. Again, go by the “unusual” rule of thumb — for instance, if the accident seriously impacted traffic on a major route, if a vehicle is on fire, if a large number of people/vehicles were involved, if pedestrians were involved or if a car crashed into a building. Please note, if you’re driving by an accident scene, NEVER film while driving. It is dangerous and against the law. Rather, safely pull over to the side of the road and exit your car before filming anything, and as always, make sure that emergency personnel have been contacted before shooting video. Also, make sure that your involvement will not have any further negative impact on emergency efforts or traffic.
  3. Protests: For excellent tips on how to shoot a protest, check out this week’s video blog. This week one of our Stringrs from Texas captured vehement words being exchanged between different groups of protesters at an elementary school in McKinney, Texas, where police activity at a pool party earlier this week has flared racial tensions in the area.

    A still from video of the McKinney protests.

    A still from video of the McKinney protests.

  4. Weather: Weather events generally have to be extreme to warrant coverage; think flooding, tornadoes, water spouts, hail, dramatic lightning, etc. We’re interested in weather video that shows the weather’s effect on people: how they live, work and commute. Check out our video blog on shooting weather. A terrific example from this past week is our Texas-based Stringr, Dominic Nagella’s video of the Trinity River flooding over a roadway near Dallas. His video showed the river flooded over a roadway, but it also had a compelling subject — a young boy standing on a road barrier, fishing in the floodwaters. The cars and trains moving on the highway near the horizon of Nagella’s frame provided additional interest for the viewer. His b-roll footage was purchased by one of our customers.

    A still from video of the Trinity River flooding over a roadway in Texas.

    A still from video of the Trinity River flooding over a roadway in Texas.

At Stringr’s curation desk, we have access to news wire services that allow us to hear about breaking news first! If you decide to seek it out on your own, please remember to follow the letter of the law and stay safe.

How-To: Shoot Motion

Video is great because it captures the motion of the world around us.  However, when shooting, you don’t necessarily need to follow the motion to capture it best.  In a lot of scenarios, keeping the camera still is the best way to record what is going on.  Before pressing record, think about the subject matter and how it is moving.  Understanding your scene can help you plan your shots ahead of time, making you more efficient on scene.

When shooting a scene or an event, think about how it is moving within your frame.  If there is a lot of different motion, like people walking in a crowd, set your camera up to capture everyone moving instead of following a single person.  If there are less people try to capture where they are moving by having them move across the frame.

Using wide or medium shots is the best for capturing motion because you can show where everything starts and ends.  You want to avoid panning back and forth, which creates shaky and often ugly footage.

Instead of panning around the scene to capture everything that is occurring, shoot a variety of different shots from different angles. When shooting complicated scenes, simply keeping the camera still is the best way to capturing the movement.

When shooting, don’t be afraid to move the camera position to capture the best shots. Instead of zooming, move the camera closer to the subject to get clearer shots. If there is a lot of motion to one side, move to that side to avoid having to pan.

If you want to track a certain subject, make sure to keep the camera steady and not cut the subject off by having lead room in the frame.

By using a variety of different shots, you automatically increase the quality of your footage.  So remember to keep your shots steady and not cover the entire scene in one sweeping clip.