CAMGA member Lee Borden compiled this collection of online resources as he worked to earn his advanced master gardener certification in horticultural videography.
Video Pre-Production Planning Checklist – Not at all tailored to volunteer productions like the ones we produce, but nevertheless useful to focus planning process. My favorite admonition from this one, addressing the length of videos: “Shorter is better, but shorter is also harder.”
Planning a Video Production – Also useful, more elementary.
20 Pre-Production Steps to Successful Video Content – This is the one I keep going back to each time I plan a video. I find it insightful, practical, and readable. Just wish they wouldn’t keep interrupting me to beg me to sign up for their service.
Because our main focus is instructional videos, our viewers routinely tolerate camera movement that would be jarring in other contexts. If your talent moves in an unexpected way, don’t be afraid to zoom out (or if you can, physically back up) and follow their movement in the middle of a live shot. Keep that essential proviso in mind as you review these otherwise helpful and relevant resources:
8 Ways To Shoot Video Like a Pro – Outstanding advice presented in a thoroughly readable format. Apropos the RTFM section, here’s the manual for CAMGA’s Canon Vixia HFR600. My favorite tip is to turn off that digital zoom!
Videography Tips – More of a checklist, just as useful.
Videomaker Tip Sheet for Videographers – wide ranging list of lists. Handy as a reminder to consult before shooting.
Managing Sound for Quality and Pedagogical Effectiveness
Sound is far more important to the perceived quality of our video than most of us realize, so CAMGA has devoted a good portion of its video production budget to getting the right sound equipment. Start here to understand our Zoom H2n equipment and capabilities. Once you understand how the Zoom H2n fits into our equipment kit, you’re ready to read the more general tips for producing quality sound on videos:
10 Tips for Better Audio in Digital Video Production – The embedded video illustrates why it’s so important to get the microphone close to your speaker. Because the Zoom H2n is so small and lightweight, you can actually rig it up to serve as an ultra-simple boom microphone.
Recording Good Audio for Video – My favorite tip from this one is to make sure you always, always, always, record room tone. This is the ambient sound of the space where you’re shooting with no one speaking. It often comes in handy in the editing process. And make sure you hold up a sign that says “room tone” to make it easy to find in post. Don’t get too focused on the section entitled “Head for the DAW House.” That’s outside CAMGA’s toolkit.
How To Get Good Audio On Your Videos (video) – excellent demonstration of the various options for improving the sound of your videos.
6 Ways to Improve your Editing Skills – Short and simple, full of useful tips about what to watch as you learn how to edit. My favorite tip is to embrace mistakes: “Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”
5 Tricks for Better Video Edits – Good ideas to consider for our how-to videos. My favorite is “breathing room” – a short pause in the spoken word to focus on a particular action.
Better Video Editing Techniques – Simplistic but useful tips for beginning editors.
At CAMGA, we have settled on YouTube as our primary distribution vehicle for instructional video, through our specialty channel Stubborn Old Gardeners. Because our channel has a personality, there are several conventions all Stubborn Old Gardeners videos observe. These are spelled out here. You are free to produce videos that do not comply with the SOG format and will not be available on SOG, but we hope you’ll use it so we can build up the Stubborn Old Gardeners channel and make it a destination for curious, conscientious gardeners everywhere.
There’s almost no useable descriptive information on the Internet about time lapse photography in the garden. Many of the principles are the same as time lapse photography in general, so here are a couple of sites that seem helpful:
10 Tips for Shooting Time-Lapse. From photographer-blogger Enrique Pacheco. Key features include the importance of planning, the need to set the interval between shots correctly, and how to avoid the flicker so apparent when we amateurs shoot time sequences of plants.
Time-Lapse Photography How-To Guide. This article, from the Untamed Science website, is more chatty and more elementary than the Pacheco article. The unnamed authors talk freely about what they tried that didn’t work, and they discuss several alternatives that your nephew Ralph tells you will work fine for Time-lapse. The problem with most of these is that the interval is too short for garden work. In our world, the best interval between shots falls somewhere between 5 and 60 minutes. Most of consumer choices stop at about one minute. And the longest interval achievable on our own Canon Vixia HF R600 camcorder is 40 seconds. One shot every five seconds compresses a five-hour party into two minutes. To compress a 30-day period into the same two minutes requires an interval of 12 minutes. Compressing that same 30-day period into a 30-second sequence requires an interval of 48 minutes.
The Ultimate Guide to Time-Lapse Photography – The prose style is too cute by half, but there are some good tidbits in this article, including the rudiments of a formula for calculating the shooting interval once you know how long a span you’re covering and how long you want your program to run. From the description, we’ve derived a simple, elegant formula more useful for gardeners when producing a video at 30 frames per second. Call it the Rule of 48:
Divide the number of days you want to cover by the number of seconds you want the sequence to run. Then multiply by 48. The result is the interval in minutes between shots.
So, for example, if you want to portray in 10 seconds the germination of spring peas over a period of 40 days, that’s 40 divided by 10 times 48, or an interval of 192 minutes between shots.
That having been said, you probably don’t need to spend a lot of time worrying about the interval between shots for showing the growth of young plants. Just set it to take one exposure every hour and to play back at 30 frames per second. The editing equipment we use at CAMGA can easily increase or decrease the length of the time lapse sequences we shoot to fit into the desired length of the finished video. As long as the adjustment is not severe, the viewer will never notice the change.
If you are shooting outdoors where there is a distinction between day and night, you want to limit the number of exposures taken at night, because they would be distracting to the viewer. Fortunately, Brinno is prepared for this too. Look for the timer icon, click on it, and turn it on. Then choose the time for “From” the time you want to begin shooting each morning, and choose the time for “To” the time you want to stop shooting at night.
When you finish shooting, the result will be an “AVI” format file, which most editors cannot use. This isn’t a problem for CAMGA, however. We use a software program, that easily converts the AVI file and makes it play nicely with the other file formats routinely used for video editing. Please do not use the internal file converter in the Brinno camera for converting AVI files to MP4 format. We have not always been pleased with the conversion quality. Just leave the AVI file undisturbed in the camera and let us do the conversion separately.
Wikipedia article on Time-Lapse Photography – Not the first source you’d think of, but it’s full of useful references and formulas, like a list of all the cameras that include a built-in intervalometer (the device that tells the camera’s shutter when to open).
Creating a Timelapse with Movie Studio Platinum 12 – video tutorial useful to those CAMGA members who use this software for editing.
Time-lapse is a natural fit for everything we do at CAMGA. As gardeners, we understand with our heads that plants respond to their environment in myriad ways, but even we don’t always “get” just how alive plants are. The response of plants to their environment is hidden from the naked eye because it happens so slowly, but time lapse video opens that world up to us. CAMGA’s video purchase committee (of which I was a member) opted not to include time lapse capability during our initial equipment purchase because the equipment available seemed so expensive. However, it’s in CAMGA’s interest to continue scanning the waterfront periodically so we can respond if a cost-effective option becomes available.
3/17/17 Note: I am gathering information now about the Brinno TLC120, which may be a solution for us. It’s weather resistant. It features the kind of 1 hour shooting interval we need, wifi connectivity (for controlling with a cell phone), and 720p HD image capability. It also allows us to set it to record only during specified hours of the day (daylight). Price is $300. If it is as good as I now believe it could be, it would render the remainder of this section irrelevant. The manual for the TLC120 is here.
We own a Canon Vixia HF R600 camcorder, and it offers a rudimentary time lapse capability. Unfortunately, the most the HF R600 can “speed up” action is its 1200X setting, shooting one frame every 40 seconds. That would compress a 20 hour sequence into one minute of video. Nice try, but things happen more slowly in the garden. We need a camera that shoots more like one frame every hour, which would compress 38 days into a 30-second shot.
The solutions I identified for time-lapse garden photography broke down into four main groups: (1) bargain priced dedicated time lapse cameras like the Brinno TLC200 Pro HDR; (with weatherproof case, $255); (2) bargain priced intervelometers like the Satechi WTR designed to control an already-owned DSLR camera (with weatherproof camera bag, $75); (3) super-quality (and super-expensive) intervalometers like the PhotoSentinel controller (weatherproof case included, $3500), also designed to control an already-owned DSLR. and (4) installation of a time lapse photography app on a dedicated smartphone. It didn’t take long to rule out number 3. How about 1, 2, and 4?
The most significant advantage of the Brinno TLC200 Pro HDR is simplicity. You set the time interval and running time and walk away. You come back hours later and you have a time-lapse video ready to view. The most significant disadvantages are the lack of feedback of any kind during the filming period and a rather inflexible lens configuration. The viewfinder window is apparently just about worthless because it’s so small and dim. And the $255 price is nothing to sneeze at.
The most significant advantage of the Satechi WTR is the lower price coupled with the total flexibility of the array. There’s almost nothing, no sequence, no scene, no lighting challenge, that you cannot handle with the Satechi. And the quality would be very high, limited only by the quality of the DSLR. The most significant disadvantage is that you must supply the camera. Many CAMGA members have their own DSLR cameras, but more do not. A little known issue with using DSLRs for time lapse is that DSLR shutter systems do actually wear out. Most entry-level cameras are rated for 100,000 exposures or so. At 30 exposures per second, that’s just one hour of time lapse video. So using your own DSLR camera for a time-lapse sequence does involve some cost. Given how easy it is to “wear out” a DSLR shutter, I believe the Satechi to be a poor choice for CAMGA.
Now about the smartphone. The use of an app like Osnap! for iPhone or Lapse It for Android allows the smartphone to take exposures as infrequently as once every 48 hours. That works fine, but nobody wants to lose the use of his or her phone for days at the time, so we would need to use a dedicated phone. Fortunately, it doesn’t need to be a phone, just a camera, so no calling plan would be needed. The newer iPhones (7 and later) are waterproof, but if we use an older phone, we would need to figure out how to waterproof it.
Other possibilities and reasons for rejection:
- GoPro time-lapse. The easy no-brainer choice of everyone aged 40 or younger. Unfortunately, the longest interval you can set between exposures is 1 minute, which is too fast for just about all plant growth except maybe kudzu.
- Canon PowerShot with Canon Hack Development Kit. Seems too technical for our group.
In our conversations, we have confronted challenges about two aspects of time lapse photography: (1) security and (2) shelter. I believe the shelter is a given with both the Brinno and the Satechi, although the Brinno rigid weatherproof case may be slightly more reliable and easier to use. Unfortunately, I don’t have a solution for the security challenge. This equipment would be expensive, it would need to be set up for several days at a time, so it would be vulnerable to theft. We would need to use this equipment only in environments to which we can fully control access. I think this means, for example, that it would be a good solution for one of us to employ in our backyard or for us to use in a secure, fenced area, but it would be a bad idea to plan to use it in the Learning Garden at Extension.
Another challenge for time-lapse photography in the garden is lighting. If you shoot one frame every hour, that means a significant percentage of each second’s video will be shot after the sun goes down. The pros solve this problem by doing all their time-lapse work under studio conditions. Over time, we might decide that this is the only solution for us too. At the outset, let’s simply acknowledge that lighting is a challenge that we’ll need to address.