07/02/13 1469 W - + 4 - 3 Here Comes Video!

And just like that, videos of local emergency scenes are now appearing online. They're being posted to the YouTube channels of Jason Thompson (as JOCOFIRENEWS) and Mike Legeros (as myself). They're longer- and shorter-form clips, respectively. These guys are both new to video. Veteran responder Thompson has taken the plunge into photography and web reporting, via JocoFire.com. Legeros has started shooting DSLR-shot footage at incidents, after dabbling with camera phone clips for months.

What are the implications for the responder community, with this change? Let's talk through some "thinking points," in the form of questions answered by myself. Warning, your mileage may vary if you've already been there and done that!

Q: How is video different from still photography?
A: Beyond the obvious "moving pictures" versus "still pictures," there are a couple considerations to note. Video cameras record audio, so the sounds of the scene will be present in posted clips. Unless removed or otherwise edited, that is. Video footage is (presumably) harder to blur, in spots, for things like faces of victims. (Unlike the spot-blur that takes but a second on a still shot.) Video footage also requires obvious editing, if you want to "excise" something in a particular "take." And that "cut" can be obvious, and therefore contextually revealing. "Hey, something was cut! Let's start rumors about that!"

Q: Don't forget to mention the difference for viewers, and for repurposing.
A: Correct! It's a very different user experience to click through a set of still shots versus watching a video clip. It's also a different process for sharing individual still shots, versus a linked (or saved) video clip. For repurposing, still shots are great for any format or medium that utilizes photographs. It's harder to "get a shot" from a video clip, because you have to (a.) find the moment in the video to capture and (b.) create a screen capture, from the video, which (c.) wasn't necessarily shot in a native still-shot format to begin with. So the quality might be a bit crappy.

Q: What tips do you have for editing? For taking individual clips (or "takes") and compiling them into a single clip for posting?
A: Still learning to walk, so my advice is minimal. Consider editing in a manner that most effectively (a.) tells the story of what happened and (b.) helps make the responders look as good as possible. For example, if you're shooting a house fire and an aerial stream is started, you might record footage of the stream first hitting the ground near the home's foundation, then rising along the side of the building, then striking the seat of the fire through the roof. Do you edit this one, and shorten the thing, so the segment starts when water's flowing into the roof? Great question. One reaction to the unedited sequence might be "damn, those guys can't even shoot straight." Another reaction to the same sequence might be "this is a good example of watching where you're aiming, and adjusting your aim as needed." Both of those reactions would be negated, of course, if the clip starts some seconds later.

Q: What's better, unedited footage showing everything, or just a representative sample of the high points?
A: Let's ask our readers on this one. The prior answer ponders those pros and cons. The answer probably depends on the viewer and their temperament.

Q: Do you have any commentary on punitive reactions to photos or videos, by company or chief officers?
A: There's a loaded question. The best leaders lead with their best traits. This probably isn't one of them.

Q: Let's talk about sound. What's good, bad, or ugly about the audio recorded on the fireground?
A: For documentary purposes, the "sound" of what's happening adds to the effectiveness of communicating what was happening. Helps with telling the story. What will be heard on the soundtrack? Could be anything including crackling fire, spraying water, humming engines, shouted orders, spoken commands, incidental conversations, radio traffic, and road noises. The downsides are any sounds that aren't wanted, or paint less-flattering pictures. Such as, say, colorful language. Ditto for disturbing audio content, like the sounds of patients in pain or people experiencing grief.

Q: What are best practices for the audio portions of video clips?
A: Don't really have any just yet. Listen to your clip(s). Consider muting all or selective audio, or editing portions, if undesired audio is present. (This presumes such tools or skills are at your fingertips. I am still learning on the audio-editing front.)

Q: What's the proper reaction of a videographer, if a department requests editing or removal of a posted video clip?
A: Speaking strictly for myself, let me first define myself. Mike Legeros is a seasoned (salt, pepper, oregano) fire photographer with relationships and official sanctions from local agencies. Therefore, my mission is to represent local agencies in a positive light while truthfully documenting their activities. With still photos, requests to "edit or remove" are infrequent. Maybe a few times a year. But I've never received a request that I felt was unreasonable. Now, a couple caveats. I'm a citizen photographer and receive no income. Therefore, I'm not impacting my personal income or commercial employment by removing or editing photos. I'm also self-aware when I shoot. What I don't shoot (or don't save) spares me the trouble of, er, posted trouble.

Q: You didn't answer the question. We're talking about video.
A: Correct. Use your best judgment. Focus on your mission--what's your short- and long-term goals for shooting, for example--and act accordingly.

Q: Can anybody shoot video? Can anybody post videos?
A: Most or maybe all smart phones can shoot video and with surprisingly good quality. Anyone can also create a YouTube account, and upload their videos for the world to see. The process of shooting and posting is fairly simple. Watch this space for a future posting, where I'll walk through the steps for creating a short instructional video with narration.

Q: Does that mean that we'll start seeing fireground videos from all over the place?
A: Yes, no, maybe. For individual responders with smart phones (or video cameras), it's probably not a good idea to post footage for public viewing. There are legal, procedural, and ethical issues to consider. For emergency agencies, however, it's probably a good idea. Let the public see what you're doing. Pictures tell a thousand words, and moving pictures tell even more. That's where Public Information Officers or Public Education Officers come into the mix. For citizens interested in becoming dedicated emergency services videographers, the sky's the limit. Well, that and frequency (or infrequency) of working fires, major incidents, or things "worthy of shooting." For Joe Six Pack, anything's possible. Based on my YouTube searches, however, "general citizen videos" of responders in the Raleigh area are still pretty rare.

Q: What tips do you have for shooting video?
A: Same as for shooting stills (see, for example, these slides from a few years ago). You'll be standing still longer, so pick your placement carefully. Your footage will be impacted if you have to hustle to suddenly move, or are continuously moving due to the conditions at the scene. Beyond that, no idea.

Q: How about shooting in the rain?
A: Big umbrella. Steady hand.

Q: What tips do you have for responders, who find themselves being photographed or videotaped on scene?
A: Personnel in our area should already be familiar with cameras on scene. Many or most have experienced, say, Lee Wilson or Mike Legeros taking pictures. The presence of videographers shouldn't be much different. As with any cameras that appear on scene, crews may act or react a bit. Safety vests that haven't been donned might suddenly appear. People doing something they don't want seen might slide out of view. Or the shutterbug might be pulled aside, from time to time, and asked "hey, don't show that, okay?"

Q: Why do people do things they shouldn't, if they don't want to be seen (or filmed) doing things they shouldn't?
A: It's complicated.

Q: Any further thoughts?
A: Baby steps, Bob. There's a learning curve with everything, and that applies on both sides of the camera. Fire photography takes a few years to get right. Just as "being photographed at fires" can take a while to become the norm. Pay attention as you go. Learn from your mistakes. Shoot everything and then some. Share everything (says Mike), and make the people happy with your work. The people are everything. They're the ones doing the things that are so compelling on camera.

Great post! My primary motivation behind video is to provide a more realistic depiction of the scene. Sometimes sounds are important to that and sometimes not. I’m not sure what I’m going to do about sound yet. I also want to have material that the department can use for training purposes and to preserve their history. I do freelance for a couple of media outlets, but the clips I sell to them are very short and rarely focus on the personnel. That’s why I’m trying to make my youtube clips longer, so everyone can really see what was going on. I want to do this as a service to the firefighters. I want their children, wives, families, etc. to be able to see what Mom, Dad or Spouse does. I want to be very respectful of the departments and their chiefs. If there is something they don’t like or that they deem controversial, I’ll gladly remove it. I want to be someone you’re glad to see come on scene, not someone you hate to see come on scene. I don’t want to be irritating or be in the way. On a technical note, a tripod is almost essential for good quality video, especially at night if you don’t want it to be blurry. Phone video footage is awesome and raw and often shows the real “emotion” of the incident; however, if you’re going to do long clips, a tripod is awesome.
Jason Thompson (Email) (Web Site) - 07/02/13 - 23:25

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