How To Improve a Mediocre Image with the Android Photos App

A quick video on how to improve a less-than-perfect image using the simple tools found in the Photos app in Android. (Most of these tools are found in iOS Photos and many other apps, to start.)

This video was screen-recorded using DU Recorder on a Google Pixel 2 phone. Edited a bit using KineMaster on that same phone.

DIY Mobile Curriculum Work

IMG_2173

I’m doing a lot of screen captures right now as I’m plugging away at our DIY Media Creation curriculum. When it’s complete we will have around 40 full lesson plans with presentations, activities, and tutorials.  I’m responsible for some of the lessons related to image capture and editing on mobile devices, along with lessons on adding text, animation, etc.

I’m working here with a Google Pixel 2 phone because most people in the world are using Android devices and this curriculum is meant to be taken and used in the majority world, not the U.S. We’re also testing on older devices to help equip as many people as possible.

 

 

Natural Light Tabletop with Pixel 2

Natural Light Tabletop with Pixel 2

I’ve been picking up a few shots for a curriculum I’m working on with some other folk. The lessons are designed to help media organizations and individuals to learn, and then to pass on, important skills in content production using mobile devices.

These shots will be part of lessons on capturing still images using a mobile device. I’m collecting screen shots and many, many photos to use as examples in the curriculum.

Keeping the gear to a minimum, just window light on my dining room table and a little tripod for the phone. The goal is to help people anywhere, with any device, create nice content.

 

Orchid Arboretums in 360 VR

A little fun with my (now-ancient!) Ricoh Theta SC VR camera.

I had part of a morning in Thailand to explore the Tweechol Botanic Garden outside Chiang Mai. I’ve been there several times and love to walk around the many garden sections. I hadn’t been inside these arboretums in the past, and love these kinds of environments.

This is a little walk-through in 360VR. The video quality isn’t great because of the limitations of this older camera. Pondering an upgrade now… 😉


My “Best Kit” for Mobile Production

I was prepping last week for a short trip to Asia. As I was sorting gear, I thought I’d write a bit here about what I chose to take, and why. Here’s the layout.

mobile gear layout 2

One of the things I’ll be doing on this trip is introducing co-workers to opportunities to use mobile devices and simple gear to create compelling content for their varied audiences. I decided to bring some examples of gear from what I’ve collected over the years.

I want to over the key technical needs for video, audio, lights, and mounting a mobile as a camera. I also want a kit that will fit in a small camera bag that will then slip into my normal carry-on. I’m thinking one-person-band like many of us in the mojo world.


full rig vert 2

Full Rig: I am thinking of mostly run-and-gun shooting, with lots of handheld shots, easily transported, but also something I can set down for a longer shot, like an interview or event, if needed. Of course, I might often choose to strip this down to a few pieces for even more mobility.

My kit ended up being mix-and-match from different manufacturers, but I’ll explain why I chose what I did and spec some models if you want to check them out for yourself. I’m not sponsored by anyone and this is all stuff I’ve picked up over the last few years. There may be some new options that you can also check out based on this list. Create your own “ideal kit.”

 


Basemanfrotto tripod: When I want to set this all down for either a steady shot or just between shots, a nice small tripod is essential. I’m using a Manfrotto Pixi Mini tripod for this one. It’s beautifully designed, very compact and solid. The best part for me is how it feels when I fold the legs and handhold it as a support. It also has quick, one-button leveling. It’s not as infinitely flexible as something like a Gorillapod, but it’s a neater package. If I know I’m going to need to mount my camera on a tree branch or light post, I’d bring my Gorillapod.


shoulderpod handle

Phone Mount: For traditional (horizontal) video production, I really like this mash-up. I’m using a Shoulderpod H1 handle, topped by a Movo PR-1 smartphone grip rig. You can see that I’m also using the Shoulderpod short plate arm when I want to have a mic and light mounted to the rig. I love the Shoulderpod gear. It’s elegant and very high quality. The feel of this handle is great by itself and reminds me of my film shooting days with Aaton cameras and their famous wooden grip. Of course, Shoulderpod also makes a nice grip for a phone as well and it comes as a kit with this handle. But their clamp (at least the original model I have) is missing one important feature – a cold shoe. If I want to go really compact, with just a phone and a small movo grip topshotgun mic, the Movo clamp has a convenient cold shoe to let me just mount the mic (or anything else) up top, and I’m ready to go. With a Shoulderpod and other clamps, I have to add an arm. So, kudos to Movo for adding the shoe, and a handy bubble level. Maybe it’s not as pretty, but I’ll take it. (Movo’s handle, on the other hand, is a short little thing that’s harder to hold. Go figure; mix it up.)


rode videomicroAudio: For on-the-go news and documentary filmmaking, or for capturing b-roll shots, I want a good external microphone. This one is Rode’s Videomicro mini shotgun mic (with their SC7 cable to make compatible with a smartphone.) It’s a big improvement on the phone’s mics and well worth the investment. I can mount it on the phone clamp or on an extension arm, cage, etc. Connecting the mic to a phone like my Google Pixel 2 requires adding a 3.5mm to USB-C dongle. That’s becoming more common. I also add a Rode SC6 adaptor. I audio connections horizlike to monitor audio while I’m filming, especially for interviews. The SC6 lets me connect two mics – like a shotgun and an Aputure A.lav microphone (shown in the gear layout) or two lavalier mics. Plus, I can monitor through its headphone jack.

 

 


aputure led light

Lights: I generally shoot with existing light unless I’m making a scripted, narrative film. But having a small LED light can be very helpful as a supplement for news and doc shoots. This Aputure AL-M9 is small, rechargeable, color-accurate, and dimmable. Their color correcting gels are pretty lame, but, oh well. I would bring a larger LED panel if I’m really trying to light something and so more color adjustment.


sirui tele lensCase and Lens: For a compact and really solid kit, I really like the Moment photo case. They make them for some of the higher-end phones. I don’t like to mess with clip-on lenses if I’m trying to travel small. Again, I’m cheating here by using a Moment case with a Sirui lens. (I’m killing my product endorsement opportunities here, I know!) When I got my Moment case for the Pixel 2, I also ordered the Moment 2x tele lens. That first version from Moment was really pitched as an ‘art’ lens because it was so soft at the edges. (Their new version looks really sweet and they’ve re-engineered the lens for much better image quality, so it’s worth checking out.)  But, when I needed a tele lens, Sirui had a 60mm (2x) tele lens that looks great and mounts on the Moment case. If you are looking today, I think either lens is a good choice – with Sirui being a more budget-friendly option. I carry the tele lens most of the time and not always a wide angle because the Pixel 2 is pretty wide already. This is still for the world of single-lens phones; the add-on lenses do interesting things with more recent multi-lens cameras, so check them out.

There you have it – my running rig. I build it up and down as I need it. And it fits easily in a small camera bag.

This is what’s in my closet and carry-on for simple but effective shooting. I bet there are things you may like and recommend. What say you?

Why Use a Director’s Viewfinder? – A Tutorial in VR

Here’s a quick explanation of how I use director’s viewfinders – either physical finders (like the Alan Gordon Mark Vb) or smartphone apps (like the Artemis Director’s Viewfinder)

 

Note: I’m playing with VR/360video a bit more and getting my filmmaker’s brain around ways to use it for different kinds of stories. This isn’t really a story, but I got an urge to do a very quick tutorial in VR.

This hastily shot draft gives me ideas for the future. What do you think, does VR add, or detract from the experience? I’m already making my list of things I’d do differently, or add to the next one.

We’re all still learning here.

[Update: YouTube VR is now available on headsets like Occulus Go. You can watch it there, in Occulus, using this link: https://youtu.be/kayay5yl3nM ]

[Production Notes: I shot this with a very basic Ricoh Theta SC camera. I recorded the audio double-system, using a small smartphone lav mic plugged into a spare iPhone 4S sitting behind me on the chair. I synced the sound in Adobe Premiere CC and edited the clips there, exporting and uploading straight to Vimeo for hosting.]

What’s the Best Use of Mobiles in Media Production for Ministries?

There is a lot of chatter these days about the capabilities of mobile devices (phones and tablets) for media production. Journalists for newspapers and local TV stations are now trained to create, file and share their stories all from their mobile phone. Filmmakers as influential as Stephen Soderberg are even embracing mobile devices for big-screen Hollywood projects. What should ministries being encouraging their members to do with the media creation potential they hold in their hand?

I want to encourage people to launch out and start creating and sharing media with their mobiles and I think there is a best use for mobiles in media production. That is the creation of timely, “good enough” content, that places an emphasis on true engagement with an audience.

I’m not saying that a mobile, like a recent iPhone or Android phone can’t do almost everything a filmmaker could want to do. I’m saying that, for most media content creators, there are a few key areas where mobiles make the most sense.

Filming with Pixel 2 in Thailand
Going mobile in Thailand with a Pixel 2, Rode mic, Movo mount, and Manfrotto tripod.

Let me set up a context for what I’m saying. First, my ministry focus is the use of visual story media, shared mostly via social media channels, for the specific purpose of engaging audiences in spiritual conversations – not typically for entertainment or advertising.

Second, one of my roles is teaching ministries how to create compelling content using whatever resources they have at hand. That generally means mobile devices, inexpensive DSLR cameras or camcorders.

I recently spent a week in Asia with a group of students from about a dozen countries. Some were very experienced in media production, and some were novices. We were teaching a mobile-only approach to content creation. That is, the videos and other visual content we made were shot, edited, and distributed using only a mobile device. The following suggestions come from our experience and pushing to see if there are some practical “limits” on what we should be trying to achieve in a mobile-only approach.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Don’t get bogged down with highly planned, complex content. Use a mobile-only approach for creative, immediate, relevant, authentic content. Look at many influencers on places like YouTube. They aren’t creating really deep and complex content, but often focus on generating lots of content quickly, with compelling creative ideas. Most don’t create really complicated mini film projects for every post.
  • Emphasize immediacy and authenticity. Shoot current and cultural events with still and video clips, create very brief vlog-style testimonials and stories, then post your content quickly. Listen to conversations people are having, off and on-line, and join in the conversation with your own content, without delay. Authenticity is a real value held by most people – even if they follow pop stars. Pop stars will carefully curate a portion of their social media, but they also mix in more impromptu content as a way to make themselves seem more approachable, like you’re their new best friend out of 6 million followers!
  • If you have media professionals on your team, try to avoid paralysis by perfectionism! How can my God-given care for quality be a problem? When it effectively paralyzes me or delays the distribution of content because I want to “do it right.” In this case, doing it right may be exactly the wrong thing. Discipline yourselves to create quick-turnaround content that will encourage on-going engagement with your audience while you work on deeper, more complex content. Get it done and out into the conversation.
  • Overall, as you plan a content strategy, it’s wise to include a mix of immediate, less complex content, with some pieces that are more complex and deeper. We want to present competence and trustworthiness, but also approachability. As we think of our engagement strategies, let’s look ahead and develop some content that is well-planned and deeper, but also plan for the more frequent creation of spontaneous content that gives that balance.
Beastgrip Rig
Tricking out an iPhone with a Beastgrip mount, Rode shotgun mic, lens adaptor, and Tamron 24-70mm lens.

Ultimately, who am I to argue with Stephen Soderberg? Of course there is a place to take advantage of a small, inexpensive, good quality device for some larger projects, even narrative feature films. So go ahead and pull out your mobile device (with $2000 worth of accessories!) to serve as a camera on a larger project, especially if mobility and low-profile is a need. But for that complex project, it’s advisable to pass on the rest of the production and post-production work to other devices, like laptops and desktop computers. They just have the power and sophisticated tools to make it more effective.

HOWEVER, by all means we should be using our amazing cameras and apps to create immediate, creative, relevant, authentic content.