I’d like to share a short behind-the-scenes look at a video I made recently. This was a fun piece where I was able to try out some new ideas and techniques. There’s nothing ground-breaking about this piece but I’d like to show how I went about taking on the project in case any readers are interested to trying something similar.
I was asked to make a time-lapse of a local artist as he designed chalkboard art for the front desk of a hotel. I’ve seen a few similar time-lapse videos so I knew this was a good subject for time-lapse. I accepted and started looking for other chalkboard time-lapse videos to see what worked and what didn’t.
What I immediately noticed is that most of these videos were only a single shot without any cutaways. This works ok for 20-30 sec. but it’s hard to maintain interest beyond that. What I also noticed was the play counts were low for many of these videos. Because this video was for a business, I wanted to attract as many views as possible.
The Model Video
Eventually, I found a series of ads for Nabob Coffee that incorporated chalkboard time-lapse. Of these, I found the below video the most useful because it seemed to rely on ambient light sources and was made in a heavy traffic area.
Hopefully, you can see how heavily I borrowed from this video. I have much more experience with photography and time-lapse than video recording so I was looking for what shots helped tell the story in under two minutes.
From the above video, I made a single sheet that showed each of the 35 shots that made up the commercial. I also jotted down notes about many of the shots describing them and guessing what function each shot served. Here’s the photo sheet in case anyone’s interested:
From this sheet, I made a list of shots I wanted, including a short list of my “must have” shots, such as the close-up shots of the artist concentrating and someone taking a photo of the artwork in progress. I thought the list was a little ambitious but I actually got most of the shots in the 3 1/2 hours I was recording.
My gear wasn’t quite up to the standards of the Nabob commercial. Here’s a BTS of a similar Nabob commercial by director Shin Sugino. By comparison, I used my Canon 60D for time-lapse and rented a 70D kit that included a lens and memory card for $40. I’ve rented better gear when it was needed but this was a quick-and-fast job. The last step in prep was taking a few test shots to make sure I could get the framing I wanted.
I arrived on the day of the shoot and immediately realized I had some problems. The curtains that framed the board had been removed so my Rokinon 14mm lens wasn’t wide enough to capture the entire area. Worse still, I’d already decided my video opening was going to be a stationary shot of the previous artwork and the artist walking into the shot and erasing it like a monk destroying a sand mandala. Instead, the original artwork was already gone and I only had a large, blank wall staring at me.
Thankfully, the time-lapse framing was adequate for the shoot. The Golden Gate Bridge drawing didn’t entirely fit in the shot but it was close enough. My back-up plan was to shoot at an angle but this wasn’t necessary.
The other problem I had was I overestimated the brightness of the lights. What worked well for photos wasn’t as forgiving with video. I ended up shooting around 3200 ISO for some of the shots and relied on the 70D and YouTube to be forgiving.
I set the 70D’s white balance with a gray card but the different lights meant some shots were a little too warm or cold. I corrected this in Adobe Premiere Pro by making minor color corrections. Unfortunately, this increased contrast slightly in the final video.
I cut the clips into short segments and assembled them with some Creative Commons music that matched the tone of the video. After adding the time-lapse sections, I noticed they were a slightly different color than the video clips. I adjusted this as much as possible in Premiere Pro and then had to accept the difference. When I reviewed the Nabob video after completing my video, I realized they had some of the same problems of changing light temperature between shots. This is probably because the time-lapse shots were created with GoPros recording jpeg images.
What I’d Change
I feel lucky to have this experience because I learned so much about video from it. The first thing I’d do differently is to upgrade my cameras. I’ve been very happy with the Canon 5D Mk. III’s light sensitivity and would shoot with this DSLR every time if possible.
I’d also try to add my own lighting. Bright spotlights on a black wall created more contrast than was appropriate for the video. I’d like to remove some of the fixed lighting and supplement what’s left with a diffused light source. This would help with exposure and fix the flicker of one light bulb that’s only visible in time-lapse.
I’ve already decided to change my camera’s video settings. I’m going to reduce contrast to the minimum setting and slightly lower the saturation. This makes the video look flatter directly out of the camera but lets me keep more information in the final video. By using Premiere or After Effects to grade the video, I can control what the finished product looks like more than relying on in-camera compression choices.
Finally, I’d like to work to make the transitions from shot-to-shot smoother. This is probably the hardest change because I can’t completely articulate what’s wrong with some of the transitions. I just know I want it to look better.
What can I do better? What worked well? I’m always interested in as much constructive criticism as I can get. Thanks for reading.