Before You Shoot: A Checklist

by Kaitlyn Mitchell

Hey, Stringr! Yeah, you: If you’re serious about selling video regularly on the Stringr platform, but don’t want to invest in an expensive video camera, you should consider purchasing some attachments for shooting with your smartphone. Here’s your pre-shooting gear checklist, as well as a few tricks of the trade to keep in mind before heading out into the field.

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Prepare your phone

  • Make sure your battery is fully charged, and go into airplane mode to conserve battery. Wifi networks can still be accessed in airplane mode, but being connected to wifi and bluetooth will also drain battery.
  • Clean your lens — the sleeve of your shirt will work in a pinch.
  • Get rid of extra media and apps on your phone. If you need those apps for personal use, get another phone to be used specifically for shooting. So next time you get an upgrade, save your old model for shooting!
  • Test the sound and image before you start shooting the actual event, and play it back to make sure the sound comes through and the image isn’t blurry.
The user interface of the app FiLMiC Pro, available on the app store for $9.99.

The user interface of the app FiLMiC Pro, available on the app store for $9.99.

Lock autofocus and autoexposure

  • If you download See it with Us or FiLMiC Pro, you’ll be able to select an appropriate brightness and camera subject distance. These apps allow AE, AF, and AWB locks.
  • If you’re used to using an actual camera, remember that smartphones control exposure through shutter speed and ISO only. There is no “f:stop” control on your phone.
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The Mobile GorillaPod can be attached to your arm to steady your shot.

Stabilize the camera

  • Use a tripod, rest your phone up against something, or hold your arms as close to your center of gravity as possible to reduce shaky footage. The heavier your phone, the more you reduce the sway. Watch our video blog on handheld shooting here.
  • Newer smartphones have stabilization built in — make sure that it is turned on.
  • Check out our video blog on tripods for more information.
  • Some specific models that have received positive reviews are: GorillaPod Mobile, The Keyprop, and GripTight Mount.
A reporter photographs musician James Taylor using an Apple iPhone as he gives an interview during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

A reporter photographs musician James Taylor using an Apple iPhone as he gives an interview during the final day of the Democratic National Convention at Time Warner Cable Arena on September 6, 2012 in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Shoot for the editors

  • Most cameras cannot keep up with movement, so stay at as wide of an angle as possible.
  • NEVER zoom in and move; in fact, it’s best to avoid zooming all together. Digital zooms degrade the image.
  • Allow subjects to enter and leave the frame. Check out our video blog on framing your shot here.
  • Separate your interview subject from the background whenever you can, and don’t film your subject in front of windows or a bright background (otherwise, you won’t be able to see the subject).
  • Always shoot horizontally!
The Ampridge Mighty Mic.

The Ampridge Mighty Mic.

Get good sound 

  • Smartphones usually don’t allow you to monitor sound levels, so shoot a test and play it back while wearing your earphones to make sure that the video has audio.
  • Get up close and personal with your sound source if possible — this will eliminate extraneous sound.
  • Consider using a second phone for audio (just in case).
  • Wind will ruin your audio: If you have an external mic, put a softie on it. If you’re shooting with only your phone’s mic, try to block the wind with your hand if possible.
  • Consider an external microphone that plugs into a headphone jack. Some reliable models are: The Mighty Mic, Røde Videomic Go, and DXA-SLR Ultra Adapter (this one is advertised to be used with a DSLR camera, but it can be used with iPhones).
  • See our own video blog on getting better audio here.
The OlloClip lens will give your smartphone telephoto abilities.

The OlloClip lens will give your smartphone telephoto abilities.

Fragment your world

The Anamorphic Adapter lens.

The Anamorphic Adapter lens.

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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Tips for Shooting Presidential Campaign Events

by Kaitlyn Mitchell

We’re only halfway through 2015, yet the Presidential campaigns are already revving up for November 2016, a full 16 months before the 2016 Presidential Election. The GOP certainly craves the public’s attention, with 14 candidates officially running for the nomination, compared with the Democrat’s meager four. Four Republican candidates announced their entry into the 2016 Presidential race in June — Welcome to the club.

Hill's ubiquitous pantsuit.

Hill’s ubiquitous pantsuit.

Below is a list of the current candidates and a sampling of the campaign slogans you’ll encounter incessantly over the next year:

Jeb Bush rocked a casual button-down at his campaign announcement event.

Jeb Bush rocked a casual button-down at his campaign announcement event.

Clinton’s campaign is headquartered in Brooklyn (near Clinton Street, nonetheless), so New York-based Stringrs can expect to see her making copious appearances in and around New York in the near future. But keep in mind where political campaign events take place — whether the venue is public or private will critically impact your ability to shoot. Just last week, Clinton spoke at a fundraiser featuring performances by Lady Gaga and Tony Bennett at The Plaza Hotel — while it was a flashy affair, this is a good example of an event that required a special ticket and wouldn’t have been worth covering. Political events that happen at public places like libraries or the local BBQ joint are excellent opportunities to capture up-close-and-personal footage of a candidate in a more casual setting.

Today, Ted Cruz will begin his ” A Time for Truth” book tour in Houston, Texas. In May, Rand Paul campaigned in Chicago, Hillary was in Dallas in early June for a fundraiser, and Bernie Sanders recently made a stop in Denver — you’ll see campaign events often in every Stringr market over the raucous next 17 months.

If you’re not certain how to ascertain whether a certain event is explicitly private based on location analysis, you can always contact Stringr seven days per week, between 9:00 a.m. and 11:00 p.m., via our curation desk phone number at (347) 862-9241.

DT

Today in D.C., the Hispanic Association on Corporate Responsibility will respond to the anti-Latino statements made by Donald Trump.

Keep in mind that candidates will be called upon to make statements about current events and breaking news during campaign season. For example, the Charleston shooting prompted candidate Rick Perry to make a statement calling for the removal of the confederate flag that is still flown in South Carolina, while Hillary Clinton made a statement that the confederate flag “shouldn’t fly anywhere.” The unrelenting news cycle can often it give candidates more incentive to make public statements.

As usual, make sure to arrive at any Presidential campaign event about a half hour early to give yourself time to survey the venue, and what your best vantage point for shooting will be. Try to avoid standing in a location where the tops of people’s heads are visible at the bottom of your shot — if you can elevate yourself somehow, that’s always preferred. We look forward to viewing your footage throughout this lengthy campaign season — there will certainly be plenty of opportunities for it!

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.