I made a video - and here's how I did it
Let me start off by saying that, yes, things have been quiet for a while around here. Let’s skip all the excuses, and just call it summer vacation, alright? Good. Glad to have you back.
Now, just because things have been silent, it doesn’t mean that things have been still, if you get my drift. Different projects are at different stages, and things are moving.
What I want to share this time, is a short nature film I shot earlier in the summer, and also share some thoughts about the how’s and why’s of it. Sounds good? Good, then it’s time to buckle up!
For the first time, my wife and I visited Skagen, which for those of you who don’t know it, is a famous vacation spot on the northernmost spot of mainland Denmark (a.k.a. Jutland).
It was supposed to be a pure pleasure and relaxation trip, but while we were there, I was inspired by the beautiful surroundings to pull out a camera, and have a first stab at filming nature and some wildlife.
This is a genre of film making that I’ve never tried before, so it was purely meant as a learning exercise – let’s have a bit of fun, and see what comes off it.
Anyway, here’s the video for you to see, and then we can continue discussing it below. Enjoy!
So, first of all, what we’re basically looking at here is a whole lot of b-roll, and not much else. Why? Because that was what I wanted to play with, upping my b-roll game.
B-roll is important for any production, to really pump up the look and quality of your final product, and as it is something I personally haven’t had much first hand experience with so far, I figured this was as good a time as any to play around with it.
Even though it is mainly b-roll, with no real story going on, I wanted to give it a bit of a narrative. Hence the video beginning with a bicycle trip at dawn, going from place to place as the day progresses, and finally ending with a bicycle trip home at night.
Most of it was shot more or less in this very order, although the very early bicycle ride and some of the Grenen shots were filmed the day after the rest of the video. We didn’t arrive until almost noon on the first day, and although we went to Grenen first, we both really wanted to visit the place early, when there wouldn’t be so jam-packed with tourists.
For the narrative point though, I felt it better to put all the Grenen shots into one go, to keep the timeline cleaner and more straight.
For the same reason, some nature shots appear in a rearranged order throughout, as I felt this order made a more balanced presentation, compared to having them all just lined up in the order they were shot.
Going back to filming, I mentioned this all came from an impromptu spurt of inspiration, so there was nothing at all pre-planned about the shoot as such. The idea grew as I was filming, as it were.
Hence, I can’t claim the use of any fancy equipment whatsoever. No big rigs, expensive cameras, external lights and mics. Everything was shot directly on my smartphone, a Huawei Mate 10 Lite, and its pre-installed camera app.
The app has some annoying limitations when it comes to manual camera control, which is why I’ve later on installed the Open Camera app by Mark Harman (available through Google Play and likely other platforms as well), but it does a decent enough job when it comes to the auto controls. You be the judge.
The two major downparts was that it was all handheld, which made a lot of the material shaky as heck (there’s not one clip that hasn’t had some amount of post stabilizing added to it), and that the built in mic simply wasn’t up for the task of the mostly very windy weather. It was a constant booming and clipping, which made me discard the entire audio side when I went into editing – more on that later!
The positive side was that the camera was easy to carry, and quick to pull out and start up every time I got an idea for something to shoot, and that was really the best for me at this point. Again, this was a playful exercise, not something that was meant for an actual pro-looking end result. It gave me the opportunity to really play with movements, angles, and all sorts of things that a bigger rig would have either prevented me from, or at least taken a whole lot more time to work with.
Moving on to the editing phase…
I always use Adobe Premiere Pro CC for editing, and have been a PP user for years (stop sniggering, silly). It has its up-sides and its down-sides, sure, but ultimately, it was the program that I cut my teeth on when moving into big league NLE editing programs, and I feel I have a fair grasp of it at this point – also, I very much enjoy having access to the whole Adobe package, as I a fair amount of their other programs as well, and moving through different programs is just a smooth ride when they’re all connected like this.
Anyway, after a quick run through Bridge to rename my clips in an appropriate way, and shoving the whole thing into my Dropbox folder, which I’m always working in, for that extra bit of back-up safety, I was ready get going with editing it all together.
Going in, I already had a semi-good idea of how I wanted to put it together, the general outline as it were, and after moving a few clips around to, as I mentioned, balance the ride out, and make it as accessible as possible, I feel I got pretty much the look that I was going for. Killing my darlings was not a strong part of the process, and had the end result been intended for anything else than it was, I’m sure there are certain clips that could have been left out, but there you are.
having the clips in order, I added the warp stabilizer effects to all of the clips, and played around with the settings of this to make the individual clips work as well as possible – some were terribly shaky, and that’s still visible, I’m afraid, but it still managed to make the whole a whole lot more watchable than it was in the raw version.
I had played around with the idea of time-remapping some clips, but eventually opted out of it. The main reasons for this was that the warp stabilizer and time-remapping effects don’t work well together (it can be done, but it takes some work around to get it right), and that I didn’t feel like spending a whole lot of time familiarizing me with this effect, for only having it on a couple or so clips. Also, I figured only using the effect a very few times would make it more distracting than cool to watch.
On previous projects, I’ve only dipped my toes in what could be called colour grading, so that was something I wanted to play around with a bit more this time around. I also finally have a computer that can handle the “new” lumetri features, and wanted to see what they could bring out of my clips.
I haven’t done anything major as such, but I’ve tried to optimize the contrast and add a bit of saturation to make the final images pop – for all the beautiful nature around, the camera presented them a bit flatly going in. For furthering that end, I also played around with the hue levers. I know more could be done, but I wanted as natural looking an end product, so going overboard with effects and the like wasn’t what I felt was right for this particular project.
With the images in place, it was time to move on to the sound side.
As mentioned, I became painfully aware that not a single clip of natural sound could be used due to extremely poor quality. Oh well…
Time to kick up ye olde Google, and search for providers of royalty free sound effects. After going through a few pages, I ended up going with a site called ZapSplat, as I found some fitting sounds there, and I also liked their search options. As a free user, I could only download three sounds per 10 minutes, but I wasn’t in any rush, and anyway, it took me some time looking for all the sounds I wanted, so it didn’t present a problem. Just something to keep in mind.
As it was, I started out with a completely clean plate, and had to build everything up from the ground – again, not something I’ve tried before either, and definitely an interesting experience. It took quite a lot of work combining different sounds to bring the scenes to life – for instance, during the seal clips at Grenen, I have one track for wind, one for waves, two different seal voice tracks, and at some places, one track for bird sounds as well. It was a fun time leveling these out as best I could – it’s probably not perfect, but definitely a good exercise.
I tried doing as much as possible by hand, instead of relying on adding premade effects, which I kept to a couple of fade in’s and out’s at certain points.
At first, I was planning to go with only natural sounds, but when looking through the film, I decided a bit of music wouldn’t hurt, just to bring some atmosphere to the thing. I wanted to keep it to a minimum, and decided to go with three short pieces, one for each location, and letting the particular music clip act as the mood piece for each setting.
At the beginning of the film, there’s an adventurous piece, symbolizing the adventurous feeling we had setting out. At Den Tilsandede Kirke (the sanded church), I added some Gregorian chanting – not because that is technically correct at this church or by the general belief system in Denmark, but simply because it’s a recognizable genre that immediately sets our minds in the place I wanted them at this point.
Similarly, I added an Arabic sounding piece at the desert like area of Råbjerg Mile, which I felt really helped lift the atmosphere of that specific section, something I had felt I had a hard time nailing up to that point.
There’s also a fourth piece of music coming on at the very end, and going through the short credit section. Not sure exactly what to call it, but I liked the mood of it, and felt it fit the end of the film well, so there you go.
All the sound effects were shamelessly pilfered from ZapSplat, and all the music was likewise taken from inside Premiere Pro, and the Adobe Audio Stock storage.
For a final pièce de résistance, the credit roll and title texts were added, and Bob’s your uncle – we have a nature video!
If you have any thoughts or questions regarding the video, this text, or anything in general you want off your chest, feel free to leave a comment down below, and I’ll see you in the next post!