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Want to Leave a Trace of You Behind? (five-minute video)

Make it the best you can. Through the magic of amateur videography. (Or photography.)

I didn’t always follow this advice. Below’s a video I filmed of me performing in a club a long time ago. It is not a very good one. In fact, it’s a terrible video. If I were teaching videography and one of my students turned it in, I’d give them a D-. It also has an embarrassing disaster at the end, one that my ten-year-older self can’t abide now and never will.

Excuses? I got a few. I filmed it ten years ago, the Neolithic age for digital cameras. My compact camera had a video feature, but the designers must have been added it as an afterthought. It had terrible resolution (640 x 480). I also knew about the tinny audio that came out of it. But my larger DSLR at the time (Canon EOS 450D) couldn’t record video at all.

Here’s the camera I used:

Nikon Coolpix P5100

I knew this point-and-shoot camera was mostly for snapshots, not for anything serious.

None of this stopped me.

Recently I dredged the video file out of the archives and slightly improved its video and audio with my editors, Adobe Premiere Pro and Adobe Audition. My point is, I shouldn’t have had to. Maybe I should’ve used a camcorder, as I had access to one.

But that consumer-grade Sony camcorder might not have made much difference. Cambridge’s famous (now defunct) All Asia Bar and Grill was an abysmally lit venue, ideal for concealing facial flaws but not much else. Host Janet Cormier promised she’d inquire about lights, but either didn’t or did and found the owner as responsive as a statue.

Enough of my excuses. What are yours? With all of the improvements in cameras these days, amateur photographers and videographers must have vastly improved their work by now. Right?

Nope. Not even close. Why’s that?

Here’s one possible explanation. I film and produce line-dance instructional videos for my wife Cheryl. She says that very few creators use synchronized sound. Someone just flicks on a DSLR camera or cell phone and announces to the dance group it’s showtime.

So how do they play the dance tunes? Usually through a boombox stuck in the corner. And that’s it. That raw music is what ends up on Youtube. Precious few of these neophyte video producers know how to synchronize this “dirty sound” music with a clip of original digital music. Or even that it can be done at all.

The difference between the two sound sources is astounding. Using original sound over dirty sound is like the difference between breathing mountaintop air and smog. If a creator can leap across this hurdle, they can easily banish substandard sound tracks from the documentaries of their lives.

“How can I learn this?” you ask.

Start by prowling around the web. It may take an hour, but the info is out there. You already know that because of this central truth of the Internet: no excuses for not knowing anything. If someone mentions Poe’s Law in polite conversation, you wouldn’t ask the speaker “what’s that?” and sound like a doofus. You’d look it up on that world encyclopedia you carry in your pocket. Slyly, if you’re smart.

In the same way, there’s no excuse for not learning something. For example, many local library systems offer free access to Lynda.com, an online video training library. Want to know how to give a public speech? Learn the latest release of Photoshop? How about a little poster creation? Pretty much any occupation you can think of is documented with helpful videos.

Lynda.com also displays almost 4,000 hits that teach, mention, or expound upon one software package, Adobe Premiere Pro. This non-linear editor (NLE) may be the best out there, but it’s not the only one. There are some pretty sophisticated free ones available, with their own training videos.

When we finally emerge from this COVID-19 plague like Cretaceous mammals after the Chicxulub impactor asteroid, we’ll eventually ease back into group activities. So the next time you’re jamming with your banjo-picking club or are asked to record your amateur theater presentation, don’t just grab your new iPhone and prop it up on a chair. First invest in a tripod and then learn about amateur video recording techniques. It’s free. You can do the same with photography. And there are clubs you can join to pick other people’s brains.

This five-minute video clip I’m sharing with you is the only recording I have of myself doing standup comedy. I’m not likely to skitter across that ice again, but I sure wish I’d known what I was doing before birthing this problem child. Then I wouldn’t have to apologize for it now.

Particularly for the big SNAFU at the ending.

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Peter Bates

Peter Bates is a writer and photographer living in Florida. He is the administrator of this blog and runs the blog Stylus.

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