Newsletter #157 - July 7, 2007
A Video Perspective of Summer Sports


It's summer... time for outdoor fun... and taking pictures and videos of outdoor fun. We've been going someplace about twice a week, and on days we stay home there's an hour walk with our cameras.
With five grands who take turns entering the sport-of-the-year club, there's never a weekend without something to take videos of. Last week included our first to a Justin baseball game. At 8 going on 9, he's our youngest grand. 
It's not that much of a challenge taking video and making movies that look better than the games themselves. Pack the highlights of a two hour game into the 10 minutes of a YouTube flick and it's easy to make an enjoyable video... at least for close family and friends. At this age it's not important who wins or loses... they are all so cute.
Start with the camera... the subject, the viewing, the zoom... lots of things come into play. I'll go through some of them in this newsletter in the hopes that reflecting on them will reinforce them for me, and help some of you.
In the post-game editing room of my laptop, I used HitTheBongo's Brady Bunch script to do the opening 60 second clip... followed by 9 minutes of the same but full-sized clips. For shooting I had one constraint, the script is made for standard sized videos, so I shot in 4:3 aspect ratio. And for editing, the 10 minute maximum length of YouTube provided the other constraint.

Here are links to two copies of the same video
my website - for higher quality
YouTube - to be 'with it' - for Justin and his friends

I took 18 frame snapshots from the finished movie to make suggestions about the shooting and editing.
Before getting into details, here are...
... a few notes...

1&1 Website Host
I've been wrestling with website space for many months, if not ever since I moved my site to the 1&1 service. The problem is that my ftp uploads hit a ceiling and stop, most of the time in the middle of a file. Sometimes there's a note about not having enough space, but most of the time it's just a cryptic error message about the transfer failing, with no reason.
I'm currently using about 2-1/2 GB of space and my account has a limit of 300 GB... that's how big the problem is.
I got an email this week that offers some hope... it says...
... due to necessary hardware upgrades in our data centers... we are moving your account to our new state-of-the-art data center located in Kansas. The move will occur on July 10, 2007 between 12 am and 6 am EDT. 
They also said I had to go cold-turkey for the 6 hours of the move, not able to update it.
ImageGallery Folder
One of the things I'll enjoy with the elbow room is posting to a new ImageGallery folder. I kicked it off with these 3 pictures from our trip to Chicago the other day. There's one shot of the outside of 'The Bean', a polished stainless steel sculpture by Anish Kapoor, and two of the inside.
These smaller pix are links to the original 10.2 megapixel sized pictures (3872 x 2592 pixels) taken with a Nikon D40x, a digital SLR that I've been checking out and enjoying... great camera!!!!
Feel free to download and use them in your story and movie projects. I put my URL in corners for usual ownership reasons, but located to easily work around.
Bean 1
Bean 2
Bean 3
the Apple Store in Chicago
After taking pix of the Bean, we walked up Michigan Avenue and stopped at the Apple store, where I played a little with a new iPhone. That didn't take long as they were there to fondle, but not to go  online or make calls. While there, I walked around and checked what everyone was doing on the many computers setup for demo. One common theme was watching videos on YouTube.
There's a new Garmin store close to the Apple store... its GPS gadgets are more interesting to me than the iPhone. As I was writing this tonight Olivia, one of our grands, called.... on a new iPhone our son Chris has. He loves it!!! 
.... back to the main topic...

the Ball Game 
The are many rules of thumbs for taking pictures, such as rule of thirds... which I won't get into. It's a matter of making each shot interesting by not having a single object in the middle of the frame. Let's go through my thoughts about the scenes with the above snapshots. The shots are not random, they were shot that way by plan.
Preplanned straight lines
Snapshots #1, 2, 3 and 4 all show shots where the action is along well established lines.... baseball and horseshoes are great for having such structured paths.
The straight lines from base to base make it easy to be positioned to shoot the action without having to either pan or zoom. Most of the time there isn't any real action, but you can be there shooting when there is. The same holds true for the line from pitcher to batter.
#4 and 6 show how to use chain link fencing for interest. Most of the time I was staying clear of the fencing, easy to do because the links are big enough to let the camcorder shoot through with an unobstructed view.
Sometimes I'll back up just enough to let a single link of the fence be the frame for a scene, as in #5. Then in #6 I used two fences, the closer for framing, and the farther one for visual interest.
Use Manual Focus.... not automatic
At any kind of ball game I set the focus manually. Zoom all the way into what you want to focus on, set the focus there, then shoot as usual. 
The fencing would play havoc with auto focusing. So would the batter take the focus away from Justin when he was pitching, when I have both batter and pitcher in a tight visual line. 
Action in Groups
#6, 7 and 11 each show groups of people... a team in the dugout, both teams at the closing, and the fans.
It's good to keep shifting from one extreme to another... a single player or two to a group... a tight in shot versus a wide view.... shots with lots of motion, and those without. If the action gets too stiff you can add custom effects or transitions in the editing.
I don't pan at a ballgame. I choose either a player or the ball and follow it. The background is automatically panning faster than you would ever do it manually as the scene unfolds. I try to keep the camcorder focused on whatever it is I picked to take the shot.
Like panning, I don't usually zoom. The computer editing can zoom steadier than I can. But, as with all suggestions, rules are meant to be broken at times, as long as the breaking doesn't become the rule.
On the other hand, I take lots of scenes tightly zoomed in. #16 is the view of the pitching/batting action taken from beyond the outfield. #18 shows Justin's foot on first base, zoomed into from my position behind the batter.
I have the digital zoom feature turned off and only go as far as I can with the optical one.
#17 is a close-up of Justin's face... a moderate zoom from where I was. 
Get some footage from the Back
#8 and 9 show Justin and another team-mate in the dugout bench from the back. Views from behind can imply a strong story to a viewer... maybe one that is better than the reality of the subject.
Justin wears #24 on his shirt.... the pair of 24/7 had some meaning. There were a few times I was shooting #24 from behind, only to find it wasn't Justin.... it's funny that two of them on the team wear the same number.
Slow Motion 
Any sport-related video can use a shot or two of slow motion. The Slow Down - Half effect is perfect for it. I used it on the clip of Justin on the sideline preparing to hit, and again on the scene #2 of him scoring from 3rd on a walked batter.
Sports IllustratedTake Still Pix
#10 shows a virtual Sports Illustrated cover as the titling effect as part of the Brady Bunch 60 second opening script... it's also used by itself at the end of the 10 minute video.
My camcorder can take 2 megapixel snapshots. But Bernadette was there using a 7 megapixel camera. She's the Photoshop guru who made this magazine cover from one of her shots.
No, he hasn't pitched a no-hitter... but he likes pitching. I saw an article the other week about major league pitchers starting at younger ages, so the headlines fit with current stories.
I used IrfanView and to convert the large cover file to an 800x600 PNG file for use in the Brady script.
an Opening Clip...
A Photo Story with added text makes a great opening clip for any project... for this video I went further and used the Brady Bunch Avisynth script made by Al HitTheBongo. I tested the script a couple weeks ago and was primed for using it as a real opening clip.
                    Brady Bunch Script
I used the script as downloaded, opening it in VirtualDub, adding the resize filter to make the output 720x480 pixels, and saving it to a new DV-AVI file using the Panasonic codec for compression. 
Frame snapshots #11, 12 and 13 are from the script segment. To summarize again what's happening: you open the script in VirtualDub (or other video app that accepts it... Movie Maker won't) and use it the same way you use a single video input file. Avisynth, running in the background in stealth mode (the only way it works) reads the script and puts all the pixels together from the assorted video clips, handing the pixels to VirtualDub, one frame at a time. Avisynth is a 'frame server'.
This opening again demos how powerful such a 'frame server' utility can be... if you have a neat script like Al's.
The Bunch of Projects
For the script, I made 24 projects of 30+ seconds each... more than I needed so I had different ones to choose from. I saved each project to a DV-AVI file.
These clips did double-duty. Many were used by script to make the opening scene... and they were all used as full-sized clips for the final assembly.
The Final Assembly
My goal was to have a copy of the finished video on my website, and another on YouTube. That gave me one restraint... keep below YouTube's maximum of 10 minutes... it's 9:57.
I used the Video for LAN (768 kbps) setting, my usual for videos on my website. Rather than re-render it with my custom Video for YouTube profile, I uploaded the same 57 MB file and was surprised how quickly YouTube converted it to a Flash file ready for viewing. It took only about 5 minutes after the upload.  
For the batch of projects and the final assembly, I used some special transitions and two special effects, the slow down - half used in two of the clips. Some well-placed PIP transitions can do lots for a sports themed video. Snapshot #14 shows one of them, using a Pixelan PIP transition.
The background music isn't quite what I had in mind. As often happens, it's the last thing into the mix and you're ready to roll out it out for the initial showing. I lowered it's volume relative to the sounds of the video clips a bit more than usual. 

Conclusion and Closing... and What's Next?
This video went online a couple days ago and viewers' comments are starting to roll in. Of course they all love it, at least family and close friends, the only ones who really count for something like this family home video.
You can't put this much effort into a video of every game... but it's better to do a few of them a year well then to roll out batches of them not worth watching.   
Have a great week and enjoy your summer fun and video work...