Videography Lessons learned from the Clarity 10th Anniversary show
On Saturday, 19 November, I recorded video of the band Sons Of Nothing performing a concert at Broadview Entertainment Arts University (BEAU) in Salt Lake City. This was a special show for the 10th anniversary of the release of the band's "Clarity" album. In addition to recording video of the performance, I also produced video to be projected behind the band at times during the show, but this article won't go into the projected video clips.
The sound and lighting for the show was handled by Danny Maland who is an exceptional live sound engineer. The venue (BEAU) provided a large open room for the show, but Danny had to bring in lighting and live sound gear. The school built a stage to specifications.
I've worked with Danny a couple of times before, most notably was on the FloydShow finale in September 2014 when he was working at Fats in Sugarhouse. Since then, Fats has closed, unfortunately. Danny's a sound-guy-for-hire these days and no band could ask for anyone better.
When Sons Of Nothing released Clarity in 2006, they played a show at The Depot in Salt Lake City and I arranged then to record video of the show from three or four cameras. At the time, I was using "standard definition" cameras. I had two Hi8 camcorders, a mini-DVD camcorder, and a DV camcorder for the show, each manned by a volunteer.
When I shot the FloydShow in 2014, I used two Canon HD camcorders, unmanned, on static mounts on each side of the room shooting wide shots of the stage, a Contour HD action camera shooting the drummer and drum kit, and I shot my Panasonic SD900 on a fluid head near the back of the room on a riser to shoot over the crowd.
At BEAU, I used six cameras:
- Sony HDRAS100V action camera mounted on a mic stand to shoot the drummer and drum kit
- Two GoPro Hero4 action cameras, mounted on gooseneck mounts clamped to the downstage lighting trees on each side
- GoPro Hero3 action camera, shooting the backup singers and sax player in the back
- Panasonic DMC-FX70, shooting a static wide shot of the entire stage
- Panasonic HDC-SD900, manned by me on a riser in the back of the room
The show went well and I got lots of footage recorded by all the cameras, but there were some things I would definitely do differently if I were to repeat it.
Below is the piece Positively Evil from the show:
I prefer Sony action cameras to GoPros
I've had the Sony HDR-AS100V for about 18 months and it's been a solid performer. Unlike the GoPro Hero4s, the Sony does not have an integrated LCD viewscreen for framing shots. Instead, I use Sony's PlayMemories (dumb name) mobile app on my Android phone to connect to the camera via its integrated ad-hoc WiFi network. This allows me to configure the camera, frame the shot, and start and stop recording.
The Sony came with a waterproof housing which I didn't need to use in this application, but it also comes with a tripod mount which has always worked well for me. The battery in the Sony is small and probably only lasts about 45-60 minutes on a charge. I knew this was the case and was prepared with a micro USB cable connected to a 1 amp plug-in charger to provide continuous power to the camera. The tripod mount makes it tricky, but not impossible, to connect the USB cable while it's mounted on a tripod.
The GoPro Hero4s have a viewscreen on the back, which is very handy for framing a shot. You can also use a mobile app, but my experience with the GoPro Capture mobile app was horrible! The app insisted on dragging me through a registration process which required me to be connected to the Internet which I wasn't while I was connected to the wireless network the cameras were on. So, I was switching back and forth between my mobile data connection and the wireless network for the cameras. After registering, I had to verify my e-mail address, which required a few more minutes of waiting. I never was able to convince GoPro's mobile app to let me use it and I gave up on being able to control the cameras via a mobile app.
Ultimately, the live viewscreen on the back of the Hero4 cameras saved me because I was able to easily frame the shots and verify the video was being recorded.
The Hero3, however, does not have a live viewscreen and so I had to guesstimate the shot and hope for the best. The resulting video was a little askew, but not so much I couldn't correct for it in post production.
Rented GoPros likely to come with waterproof housing
I purchased mini USB cables and brought USB power supplies with the intention of providing continuous power to the GoPro cameras so I would not need to worry about dealing with battery issues, but I ran into quite a large problem. All three GoPros, the two I rented and one I borrowed, came with waterproof housings. It makes sense considering what most people do with GoPro cameras to include a waterproof housing, but the housings provide no access to the ports on the side like the mini USB port I was hoping to use to provide continuous power.
Had I know or thought about it ahead of time, I would have picked up a couple of cheap <$10 skeleton housings that provides easy access to the ports in the camera.
Cheap housing on Amazon: Black Frame Clear View Protective Skeleton Housing Case Shell with Lens for Gopro Hero 3+ Hero 4
GoPro mounts are prone to breakage
I had honestly never used a GoPro camera prior to this event so I had to quickly get up to speed on the mount options. I ordered a couple of gooseneck clamp mounts from Amazon, which came in very handy. They came with a standard clip-in mount for the GoPro which involves a plastic spring clip similar to what you'd see on a fanny pack. You just squeeze the tabs on each side to unclip the mount from the base. Well, after the first 70 minutes of the show, I went to replace batteries in the two GoPro Hero4 cameras and when I squeezed the clips on the side to remove the camera from the goosebeck base, both clips broke off from the mount. That was... not pleasant.
The rental outfit didn't charge me for the broken mount, thankfully. I can understand how the clips could become prone to breakage after a certain amount of use. I certainly wasn't treating them roughly or anything when they broke.
GoPro low light setting can be nice but creates disparity compared to other angles
Both of the GoPro Hero4 cameras were configured out of the box with a low light setting enabled. I figured that was a good idea considering the lighting I was going to be dealing with was just LED stage lighting instruments in a darkened room. But, as it turns out, the low light setting made the cameras a little too light sensitive, in my opinion. When comparing the exposure of video shot by the GoPro Hero4 cameras and, say, my Panasonic HDC SD900, subjects and objects close to the GoPro cameras look almost washed out. I don't know if they use an infrared beam a la NightShot or what, but it does seem extraordinarily bright.
Consistent white balance and exposure
So, in addition to the higher exposure due to the low light setting on the GoPro Hero4 cameras, I also had to deal with the fact I was unable to go through a rigorous process of white-balancing all the cameras. As a result of the exposure and white balance issues, the colors between shots don't match up. Hopefully it's not too distracting to viewers.
Think about what the camera will be subject to
One problem I ended up running into in 2014 at the FloydShow concert was that one of the static cameras sitting in front of the stage was sitting on a tripod sitting on top of a counter along the wall. I didn't realize it until I reviewed the video after the show, but the counter ran all the way up to the stage where the house speakers were and acted as a conduit for vibrations any time the bass drum or bass guitar were played. As a result, the video shakes visibly at times.
This time, I made sure I mounted the cameras where they wouldn't be subject to higher than normal vibrations. The two GoPro Hero4 cameras were mounted to lighting trees. The Sony action camera was mounted on a microphone stand by the drum kit. Originally, I had the microphone stand sitting on the same riser as the drum kit and then I thought better of that and moved the stand base to the floor off the riser and used the microphone boom to put the camera pretty much where I had it before. The result was vibration-free video!