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Use Your Photography Skills to Master Videography

Lesson 28 of 37

External Recorders

Jessica Dimmock

Use Your Photography Skills to Master Videography

Jessica Dimmock

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Lesson Info

28. External Recorders

Lesson Info

External Recorders

A way to kind of enhance that and boost that even more is to not use the internal compression of your camera that your camera is set up to record to. And by this, I mean that, in all of our cameras, it depends on which model, but basically, most of these cameras shoot to either and SD card, a CF card or something called a... C-flash. There's a new kind of, like, an upgraded even faster CF card. This one here, has two slots for CF cards and they go right in there. What you can do is completely, kind of, bypass that internal compression where the camera is taking this information from this great sensor and squeezing it down so that it will fit on this card and what you can do is off-board your media by using an external recorder. So when Chris at Lamarka and I, co-director of The Pearl, shot The Pearl, we knew that because we're both photographers and we love the visual so much, that we wanted to be able to do a really great color grade and that a lot of times we're going to be shooting ...

in low light and kind of have some limited types of files. By using an off-board recorder, which also functions as a monitor but you can see this is where I place it on my shoulder rig, so it's behind me, basically. It sits right here. I'm not even using it as a monitor but through an HDMI cable which is right here, I would tie it up so it's not all over the place. I'd probably strap it down, something like that. Through an HDMI cable, I'm taking the information of the camera and I'm recording it right here to a 580 gig solid state drive. All of my information's going right here. Which is great because at the end of the day, put this onto a dock, dock goes right into my computer and I download, 120, 200 gigs worth of material, just all on one card rather than changing out 32 gig or 64 gig cards in my camera. This allows me to do a bunch of things and I want to go through them one-by-one. You have a question already. I do, I'm wondering is that something that I can use with a DSLR as well or-- Yes, you can do this with DSLR also, this is also an option. I find that it's more applicable to something like a Canon Cinema Line because I'm recording in this very flat profile anyway and that sensor is allowing me to do that, so the latitude that I'm gonna get which I'll explain how this works, but the latitude that I'll get from that very flat file, by then, not compressing it and just keeping that valve way open and allowing it to be a larger file, you'll get a lot more out of it in a cinema setup, but this can be used for a variety of reasons for a DSLR as well. So, by using this external recorder, I'm accomplishing a bunch of things. One, is that I'm no longer limited to card run times. Let's say I want to continue a shot that goes for longer than 30 minutes, this thing can run as long as my battery is going. There's actually two slots for batteries right here, in the back and part of the reason that I attach this monitor and recorder to the back of my shoulder rig as opposed to putting it here, in addition to not wanting more stuff up here, is that this thing is heavy. And we know from yesterday that actually getting weight to the back of me instead of in the front of me actually helps me with my shooting it. Keeps my arms kind of light. Obviously, it probably makes my back hurt a little bit more even, at the end of the day 'cause I've added weight, but I've added it in a place that hurts me less, which is behind me and keeps this balance going. The batteries are a little heavy, so normally, I only use one at a time, but you could, potentially, do two. And then, I can keep recording until this card runs out or this drive runs out which it will not. If anyone can shoot 500 gigs straight, call me, that's amazing. Or until these batteries run out which these are setup and ready to go. So, I now have longer record times if I want them. The other thing that it does is that, internally, there's the codec, a kind of file format that your camera, your Canon or any kind of other camera will make, each camera makes its own. But, often, our editing platforms and our editing software isn't set up to take those in and understand them and read them. Final Cut Pro 7, which I use or some of the editors I work with use, doesn't read the codec that comes out of this camera. So when I open up my camera and I download my many, many cards from a day, probably three or four, they are all ready in this language that Final Cut doesn't understand, and in order to start my editing process I've gotta go through another step called ProRes-ing my files and getting them to a codec called ProRes 422 which is what Final Cut uses. Now, this is set up to already do that for me. So, as it's recording, it's ProRes-ing my files and just making them set up and ready to go. One of the things that that does is it means that immediately, I can start shooting, sorry, looking at my footage, editing that very night, but also, saves me a ton of money because, as I said, I'm not the editor of my projects. The editor is another person that, chances are, I either have to hire or, at least, come up with some type of like, trade or collaboration process. This is a step that they would have to be doing. ProRes-ing the files is a step that your editor will do and will charge you for because it's their time, they should charge you for it. But when your camera does it for you, and it's not a quick step. It's not like oh, you know, it will sometimes, for a night of shooting, basically, take a night to process. So every time you're out there, it's like another day to do this stuff. This means that, basically, it's doing it for you anyway. And so, when you're done and you take this card out, and you download it, one thing that happens is that if you've had a long night, you're not sitting there nodding out at your computer, swapping out every single card because each 30 gig card takes X amount of time and you gotta stay up to make sure they're all. You just plug this in, download it, in the morning, start your backup and it's just good to go. But it also means that I can hand this over to an editor as-is because these files are ready for him or her. The third thing that this does is that it allows you to have these big, beautiful, thick large files that then you can do all of this great manipulation in post with. And so, when it comes time to your color correct, instead of having these flat files that it records to, you now have these very large, uncompressed files that you can do all types of great things in post with and your color correction, all of a sudden, just got that much more latitude, there are that many more possibilities because you're working with just much more robust files that can handle more tweaking. Let's go ahead and look at the before and after of that and as the online folks catch up with us, we'll take some questions about what this does. So, I'm gonna show you a video which is a before and after of the same clip. The before is also a slightly lower res version so it's a little pixelated. I don't necessarily want you to think it's pixelated versus sharp, we're just in these two looking at color but I want you to look at the color quality that happened in-camera or, basically, as I recorded it in this Canon log which looks not good but the possibilities that come out of that and how much we were able to change the color in post. And I'll show you the before and after. It's a scene in a swimming pool. There's this very yellow tint to the woman that's in the pool skin. We wanted that because she was in kind of a cheaper motel, kind of a strange, fluorescent type of lighting. My co-director and I really liked leaning into that feeling and not trying to necessarily make perfect skin tones but, instead, allow the environment to tell you a little bit about the types of places that people are in. So, I just want to put out there that we weren't necessarily trying to match skin tones but I want you to be able to see the color difference between the two. (water splashes) (breathes heavily) (water splashes) Jodie and I, we were actually talking, saying that, on this trip to Hawaii, to pretty much only take one change of clothes. (chuckles) Take a couple of bathing suits, a couple of towels. You wake up in the morning and you just walk into the water. And all the sea turtles are right there and the fish are all over the place and the water is clear and it's warm and perfect for me. (waves lap) (shrieks) (waves crash) (giggles) Crystal, crystal! (excited chatter) (waves crash) You catch another one, oh, watch out. (waves crash) Hold on, I'm... (stammers) (water splashes) Jodie and I we were actually talking, saying that, on this trip to Hawaii, to pretty much only take one change of clothes. (chuckles) Take a couple of bathing suits, a couple of towels. You wake up in the morning and you just walk into the water. And all the sea turtles are right there and the fish are all over the place and the water is clear and warm and perfect for me. (waves crash) (shrieks) Crystal, crystal! (excited chatter) (waves crash) So, just a quick question that everybody had been asking for a while but since you started to talk about editing, this from Chris Walt: Do you use Final Cut or Premiere Pro? Yeah, the only system that I really know how to edit on at all, and I don't, I am not an editor and I, definitely, don't want to be an editor and I try to stay away from editing my own pieces. What I do like is to know enough of editing so that I can understand it. What I really like to do after, maybe not a day of shooting, but after a chunk of shooting, something that I think is a scene, is I like to be able to go back to my computer, sit down and edit, and try to cut the scene myself. Often, I will take audio out of the mix, I will make sure the audio is there and that I have it but, often, I'll just make myself, like, a music video and just take audio out of the equation, as long as I know it is there and good 'cause it's hard to cut with that stuff as well. But because I want to see if it's kind of working and I find that if I can sit down and test it and say, okay, and especially something about editing to music really can show me, sometimes, where the gaps in my own material are because music will just have its own flow and rhythm to it, and so, if all of a sudden I'm like, oh god, you just never really see the room, I feel like with editing to music, I can kind of feel that more, but that's about as much as I do. The editors I work with use a variety of things. In Premiere, which is an editing platform that a lot of people are using these days, Premiere can handle the internal codec, certainly of this camera and a bunch of other cameras as well. So, this step about ProRes-ing isn't necessarily necessary. The other aspects of what the Atomos, this model is called the Ninja 2 but there are other models as well, but the other aspects of what the Atomos does are still beneficial. I mean, still only having one card to download. Still having not this native compression even though Premiere can handle it, it still, maybe, is still valuable. DSLR, is there a particular setting that need to be set for film or for digital video, I'm not real familiar with it, to get to that ProRes 422? Oh, no. For the DSLR, it works in a very similar manner which is that, in your menu, you basically tell the Ninja, the Atomos recorder here, you basically tell it the camera that you're using and the source. So, in this case, it's an HDMI cable and your 5D also has that as an output. And you basically tell the camera and the Atomos that they should be talking to each other through the HDMI but the Atomos is what determines what it's going to record to. So if you tell the Atomos, I want you to record as ProRes, you can say, I want you to record as ProRes HQ, meaning High Quality, which means it's an even bigger file. You can say, this is only ever gonna be used for the web, I want you to ProRes it but give me ProRes LT for light. Which is kind of a smaller, more easily to edit, won't get bogged down type of file. So, in post, there was a lot of latitude for us to be able to kind of, really work with the files and in a lot of ways, it was such a relief in the process. I mean, I choose this scene for a couple reasons. One, it's that it's an opportunity to really see skin, especially that moment on the beach. It made me realize just how important a sense of real skin is. Here's the situation where you see a lot of people in their bathing suits and you see this other family off to the right and there's this juxtaposition between this woman on the beach who's there for the first time, she's a little uncomfortable and then, this family off on the right that's very relaxed and comfortable in their own skin. And so, in that sense, you want to feel that sense of what real skin feels like and being able to really have a lot of latitude in a file which means that all these gradations in color that happen very naturally for us, especially in skin. You know, it's one thing when people are in clothing, they're wearing red, they're kind of wearing red. They're wearing a black shirt, they're wearing black. But there's something about skin and hair and all of these natural features that we all have that's really, that can really come out when you have a sensor that can really handle a lot of latitude and a lot of small gradations in color. So, just from a couple of screen grabs, again, this is a lower res 'cause, at this point, I just don't have versions of stuff that's not color corrected anymore. I like the color corrected so much, I'm like, get rid of the old stuff. But this, in terms of color, this is what it looked like in-camera. And then, from here we're able, and screen shots are never the most accurate way to look at it. Which is, as a comparison, we're able to go from something like this and this color and these people's skin and even just the details of the environment to something that looks more like that. Where you can, all of a sudden, really get the sense of ah, they're in Hawaii, right. It's like there's this black sand, there's this tropical, there's there's tropical plants. Look at these kids, you know. The guy on the right with his little scar and it's such a family vacation scene, it's really enhanced, in part, because we can see all of these details that are popping out. I'm wondering if there are, yes, go ahead. Not completely related but I'm just wondering, do you have to get permission from that whole family to have them in your movie? That's a great question, so in this kind of situation, this very much falls into the fair game type of territory and go ahead. I'm not focused on them. Actually, most of them are pretty much unidentifiable. They're a bunch of people wearing sunglasses. It's not really about them. In a perfect world, we do but this shot is so quick and we've discussed with a lawyer that if it was about them, if was even about the fact or the idea that they were giving this woman on the left some type of mean look or they were glaring at her or anything slanderous in its nature, that would be one thing, but just in public space where people have cameras in the form of cell phones and this and that, no, we don't. Also, another thing I wanted to point it from our previous segment 'cause there was a question about using sound from one place and putting it in somewhere else, this is kind of an example of how we can do that. There's this woman, we start off in this scene and she's in a pool and she's fantasizing about this vacation and she's there in water but she's talking about this other body of water that she's gonna be in. She's in this hotel, crappy pool but like the water that's she's really excited about is this place out in vacation. She's talking about, oh, and the water is clear, it's warm and as she lies there on her back, we bring in the sounds of the ocean, in part, because it helps us understand this fantasy, dream thing that she's having and so, we hear the sounds of the ocean. So, it helps us understand this idea of it being a dream but also, it's this way that we can cut from one scene to another that are very, very different environments, totally different times, a big break entire, it's not like she was in that pool and she just walked outside and goes to the beach. It's like, a lot of time has passed but we're able to bridge this huge gap because we used sound there as a tool to kind of get us from one spot to another and kind of smash these two things up against each other 'cause they've got this one thing in common that helps with that transition and that is the sound of the waves. All of sudden, she wakes up and she's actually in the ocean. And that was all our editor but I think that that's a really fun way to kind of experiment, not only with sound but also transitions. It's not that there's not a transition here, there is a transition and we talked a lot about getting from point A to point B. There is a transition that gets Crystal from her place in Oregon to Hawaii but that transition, in this case, is very much made by sound. Yeah. Sort of x-ray color checker or anything like that in the video? Any kind of what? Color checker. Or any sort of gray card that type of-- Oh, that's a great question. No, we use daylight a lot. And we, sometimes, use the daylight settings of our camera. So we're always just kind of set to a daylight neutral but, often, we use that inside as well. We use that sometimes in our... In Tungsten environments which, people are of two mind of, it definitely makes for a very yellow skin and a very warm tone but, to me, and my co-director, that's very much what real life feels like when you're inside and that kind of warm, cozy environment. I often don't want to make it too cool but we don't do a lot of gray cards or color checking in field, we just go with something. Iraje had asked: If you were using a monopod, which is what I see myself doing soon, where would you attach the external recorder? That's a great question. So, if I was using a monopod, that would mean that probably, my height is not as much of an issue. When I'm on the shoulder, I'm really thinking about height because I'm like, how much is this thing going above my head, when I get into a car, what happens? If I was using a monopod, what I would do is I would take it off of, I have this thing attached to a little bracket back here by this little screwy doo-dad that I put right on so that I can attach it. But, if not, I would use the screw here and attach it probably, right up top. Which would also mean that, while I was shooting, I could see, I could double check that this thing was actually recording. As I mentioned earlier, any time you've got a cable running from one thing to another, it's also a place that things can go wrong. It's a place that something can get yanked. This thing sits behind me which means that I'm not always... That I'm not always able to double check that it's recording. I mean, I have pretty good sense of how long the battery is going and how often I need to check it but the nice thing here is that you can be recording and you should be recording just in case backups onto your cards anyway. But, if you were on a monopod, and it's screwed right into the top, it means that you can also just be looking at it all the time while you're shooting. So this is definitely an option there. Yeah. Is there a trade-off with one recording device and then many cards as far as failures go? I mean, have you ever had a failure 'cause I know that sometimes people talk about using multiple cards so that if one of them fails, they still have all this other footage that I'd shot. Yeah. I got a little... I got a little lazy or a little over-confident about how great this, and it is a great system, but at one point, I just stopped running the backup cards to my camera because I'd just never had a problem. And I had one of these drives fail on me. Because it's a solid state drive but it's still a drive. Cards get corrupted, drives fail, drives crash, cameras have problems, I mean, things go wrong in technology. The nice thing is that if you are running everything onto this one card, you can be running cards in your camera as well, or everything onto this one drive, you can be running cards in your camera as well, so that if one fails, the other has it. But you have to do it and at that point, I wasn't doing it. Yeah. Just to clarify, can you tell us what you use for color correction? Sure, in this situation, we bring it to a post house. We work with a post house called Final Frame which is in New York. There is a color correction section of Final Cut as well as Premiere and, possibly, some of the other editing system, though I don't know. But, you can color correct in Final Cut Pro or in Premiere but we bring it to a post house that does it there and work with a colorist.

Class Description

Just because you’re a photographer doesn’t mean you can’t shoot compelling video. If you have a digital SLR, you have the equipment. If you’re a photographer who loves to tell captivating visual stories, you have the passion and the necessary skills. It doesn’t matter whether you want to create powerful short films about global issues or take videos of your friends on vacation: all it takes to start being a successful videographer is strong photography skills.

Join VII Agency photojournalist Jessica Dimmock for this class, and you’ll learn:

  • How to storyboard to create a strong narrative
  • How to properly capture sound and voiceover while on a shoot
  • How to shoot for an editor and to think with the edit in mind
Jessica has traveled the world in the pursuit of powerful stories. Her work has been published in publications like the New Yorker and Time, and has been exhibited in galleries around the globe. Her skill with a camera allowed her to pivot into videography, where she created music videos, short projects and feature films. Becoming a filmmaker as well as a photographer opened up a new form of media for her stories - and doubled her day rate. Draw in new clientele and start expressing your creativity in new ways!  

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Student Work

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a Creativelive Student

I have been waiting for a course like this. Purchasing it was a no-brainer. Taught by an accomplished professional in the field, with a strong track record of high level work, Jessica Dimmock, I feel, is exactly the type of instructor Creative Live should be giving air time to. I have watched other Videography classes on Creative Live, and this was the first one that I felt was worth purchasing due to how much info was being shared, in a very methodical, easy to follow (but not dumb downed) fashion.

a Creativelive Student

This class has left me feeling very encouraged and inspired about getting into videography. Jessica has made some great work, in her short career with video, and was able to share what she learned through those experiences. She started out as a photographer and has now incorporated video into her skill set and it seems to have expanded the diversity her opportunities and has enriched what she produces and shares with the world. I look forward to doing the same thing in my own way. Thanks CL for another wonderful class.


Simultaneously broad and deep, the information Jessica covers and the way she delivers it really give you the feeling you can jump into video right away. Professionalism in every area, from prep steps to workflow in the field to clean organization and processing, inspires confidence in the value of her methods. She clearly learned most of this in the field over years of work, which means the rest of us now have a huge leg up on our first projects. Thank you so much!