Saturday, November 8, 2014

"How to Video Your Art" Part 1: Camera Guide

In the upcoming 100th issue of International Artist magazine, I've written the first of a series of articles about how to shoot your own art tutorial videos. In this blog post, I'd like to excerpt a bit from that article and supplement it with more information and links.

Painting in Wyoming with separate camera tripod
First, you might ask: Why shoot your own videos? Why not use a separate crew?

Five reasons:
1. You’ll know the best moments to capture.

2. You’ll let the camera have the best view.

3. You’ll control the edit.

4. If it’s for sale, you’ll keep the revenues.

5. Last but not least, if your painting is a fail, you don’t have to worry about embarrassing yourself in front of a film crew. You can just press delete.

If you're not keen on multi-tasking, you might enlist the help of a friend or a spouse. For example, Laurel Holmes, the wife of Marc Taro Holmes, who I profiled yesterday, just wrote a great blog post about tips for coverage when shooting still photos of sketchers.

My wife Jeanette can't always help me because she's busy painting too and doesn't like to bother with tech too much. So I've got to make it work as a single operator. Learning how to shoot and edit isn’t as hard as it might seem. Once you get used to it, it’s just part of the process, as easy and automatic as laying out your palette.

Setup for shooting a sequence in my upcoming casein video.
For the same price that it would cost to hire a professional crew for a couple of days, you can buy all the gear you’ll need. Modern entry-level consumer cameras and software give you better results than top-of-the line professional equipment from five years ago.

Once you learn to use the gear, your videos will be much better than a pro crew can ever hope to create anyway. The best they can achieve is to peer obliquely over your shoulder and ask you to explain what you’re doing while you paint.

I find it hard to speak coherently while I’m painting without skipping a key point, repeating myself, or simply misspeaking. I’d much rather concentrate on the painting and then record a voiceover after the edit (more on audio in a future post).

What kind of cameras work best for art videos?
Modern cameras record directly to high definition digital files. Many basic consumer cameras costing between $200 and $700 have all the features you need. Storage is cheap, so you can shoot all you want, put it on an external hard drive, and delete what doesn’t work.

Below are the cameras I use for videos and stills of my artwork. I happen to use mostly Canon cameras, and I stick to one brand as much as possible to maintain a consistent user interface and comparable color rendering. But I'm not a camera reviewer, and I'm not paid to endorse any particular brand. The following are the ones I decided on after researching the field, and they've served me well. But you might find competitive models from Sony, Panasonic, Nikon, or other companies.

Clockwise from upper left: camcorder, single-lens reflex,
GoPro action camera, and point-and-shoot
I use a Canon VIXIA camcorder, which gives me the necessary manual controls, a fold-out LCD screen, and an input port for external audio. If you get one video camera, a camcorder is the most versatile.

Single-lens reflex. 
I use a Canon EOS Rebel SLR camera mainly for more artistic video shots, and it’s also my standard camera for shooting high quality stills. I use the standard kit zoom lens, plus a 50mm f/1.8 lens when I want maximum bokeh. You can also shoot time lapse stills if you use an intervalometer. (Edit: Two limitations to this camera: there's a 10 minute limit to the length of shots. And although it has a plug for external audio, the sound quality isn't very good.)

Action Camera. 
I use a GoPro Hero3 Black  mainly for time lapse. Time lapse videos are compiled from a series of still images shot automatically at intervals with a timer. I have my GoPro set to start shooting stills at two second intervals whenever I turn it on. Later, I combine those stills into a video clip using a program called Time Lapse Assembler. The GoPro has a deep-focus lens and an excellent sensor. It also has the advantage of being small, so it doesn’t obstruct my view of the painting. (More about time lapse technique in a future post.)

Point-and-shoot / pocket camera. 
I carry a Canon PowerShot ELPH 340 pocket camera in a belt holster when I’m in the field. I rely on it for shooting stills and for getting extra video coverage when it’s not convenient to bring out the other cameras. The recent videos in Bryan, Texas and Austin, Texas were shot entirely with the little PowerShot. This camera, like a few others in its class, can shoot 1080p HD video, with a good image stabilizer that can turn shaky handheld shots into smooth usable footage. Smart phones are getting smarter, and can match many of these functions, but a good pocket camera will have better lenses and sensors and more useful controls. Many manufacturers are discontinuing the category because of dropping sales, so it's wise to pick one up before they become extinct.

Manual controls and why you need them
1. Focus lock. A camera set to automatic focus will keep refocusing on your hand, rather than on the painting surface, so a manual control setting is necessary to ensure a stable focus.

2. Manual exposure. If you start your painting or drawing on a white surface, the exposure needs to be raised to keep the shot from coming out neutral gray. Also, when shooting video, you don’t want the exposure to keep shifting when your hand moves in front of the camera.

3. Custom white balance. This manual setting is especially important if you’re working within a gamut of colors that’s dominant in one particular color, such as yellow. Automatic white balance neutralizes the color cast, so it’s best to have a camera that lets you control the setting. However, if you’re doing long shots outdoors on a cloudy day, both the white balance and the exposure levels will change when a cloud passes over, so you may need to rely on the automatic controls under those conditions.

Part 2: Video your Art: Microphones and Editing

Read more in the print edition of International Artist magazine, Issue 100
Visit my YouTube channel and subscribe to get updated when a new video comes out.
Watch the trailer for "Watercolor in the Wild," shot with the camcorder and the SLR.


Ernest Friedman-Hill said...

I love your behind the scenes stuff -- looking forward to the next installment of this series. And I am *very* happy to see confirmation that that casein video is really happening: I can't wait!

James, how often is one of your paintings actually a "fail" ? It is encouraging to me to know even you will occasionally misfire.

Anonymous said...

James how did you know I needed this?

Andy said...

One thing to watch out for is video file format. I have a JVC Everio HDD camcorder that shoots in a proprietary MPEG2 format (.TOD) none of my Mac video software seems to support. I can get Premiere Pro to recognise it, but it's slower than slow to output a final render.

As such, I mainly use my Cannon SLR for video, but it has a 10-minute shot limit, so I have to keep stopping and restarting. But at least it shoots in MOV format.

James Gurney said...

Andy, good point. The most common file formats are MP4 and MOV. The Canon Vixia uses at AVCHD format which is high bit rate, but some compatability issues. I had trouble bringing it into the older iMovie software. iMovie 11 and later versions will convert it on import. Yes, and I always wondered why Canon put that shot limit in the software, since batteries and data cards would let it go longer.

Ernest, glad you like these behind the scenes blog posts. I'm going to spread them out a week apart or so rather than doing the series back to back.

Thanks, yes, I'm working on both a casein and a gouache video, but still need to shoot more sequences and do a lot of editing.

Yes, I certainly do have fails, plenty of them, because I'm always experimenting with new crazy ideas. I've decided NOT to press delete on all of them. There's one that I screwed up and painted over and it became a much more successful painting, and I'm thinking maybe of sharing (quickly) what went wrong in the fail and then how I fixed it, because there's probably a teaching opportunity there.

Krystal said...

One thing I adore about your blog, is how generous and sharing you are with all artists...
Well... I could have say that on anyone of your article. Just got a new opportunity here. So thanks...

Andy said...

Come to think of it, I did change my Everio to shoot in AVCHD and still struggled with compatibility. iMovie 11 improved the situation but it meant transcoding files via playback. A very slow process and it means one format transcode has already occurred before final rendering.

I believe the SLR 10min shot limit is something to do with differing taxes, or something (Euro?), between still and video cams.

As a collector of 400-day clocks, I see similar issues dating back to the 1950s, with some clock parts resized and stamped with seemingly obscure messages like "unadjusted", (so they could effectively be declared "incomplete watches") all to avoid higher taxes.

Anonymous said...

Hi James:

Would you please share what tripods you are using?

THey look like aluminum frames and seem pretty collapsable from the number of sections on the legs.

Just curious.

I've tinkered with making a video or two with my iPhone. THere's some good apps for doing time lapse photography. But recording length depends upon memory size and free memory. And the exposure controls are limited. But it was fun and the outcome was pretty good.

Anyways, just curious about what tripods you have in the photo above. I need to get another one. WIsh I could find one with a small (3') flexible boom arm.

James Gurney said...

Robert, I'm using Velbon CX444s, which fold down really small and are lightweight but sturdy. I haven't found them available new anymore, so if you find a source, please let me know.

Anonymous said...

Thank you, James!

I appreciate the quick reply. I've been looking for another tripod to do videos, but haven't invested yet.

I hate to admit that I am using my Manfrotto 322RC2 grip ball head on a manfrotto aluminum collapsible tripod to attach my pochade box and paint. It's strong, heavy enough to stand up in winds, but I feel guilty having $300 of camera gear to paint on. But it's strong, heavy enough to support larger paintings, and doesn't easily blow over in the wind.

I'm looking for another tripod to use for video capture of my paintings. Looking for something really light wieght and collapsible. that tripod you mentioned looks pretty good.

Thanks for the quick reply!

Hank said...

I'm looking for a good painting/photo tripod too. I'll keep an eye here if anyone posts an update.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this nice article.I read it completely and get some interesting knowledge from this.I again thankful to you for sharing such a nice blog.

Making A Mark said...

I've been experimenting with videoing myself while sketching - and what I've learned so far is that if the camera is close up and fairly static that the video camera inside my iPad Mini and my iPhone 6+ are both better than my Panasonic Camcorder!

I've got much more scope re zoom on the Camcorder - but the colours are much, much better on the Apple kit.

This one was shot using the iPad Mini while sat inside a barn in deep shadow.

This was my first effort at holding an iPad Mini and sketching at the same time. Lessons learned - don't give it to your partner to hold; work out how best to hold it steady without a tripod before you start and decide whether or not you want a running commentary on your surroundings or your sketching! ;)

James Gurney said...

Thanks, Katherine, it's good to see how the iPad mini does with shooting artwork. I wonder if there's a way to set the iPad camera's white balance—does anyone know if there are control settings for that? I'm also working on a system for holding the iPad to a camera tripod so that it frees up the off hand. Everyone should check out Katherine's resource-rich blog Making a Mark.

Hank and Robert, yes, the ball head mounts make leveling easier, and the fluid head mounts really help for smooth pans or tilts. But they add weight.

Anonymous said...

good article shared by you.Thanks for this nice post..

HeatherIhn said...

Hello James! First of all, thank you so much for sharing your work and all the behind the scenes info. You're such an inspiration! I know this post is from a couple of years back, and was just wondering if you had any new tech to film your videos or if you are still using the same? Thank you in advance!