Your Equipment Does Not Define You or Your Skills























(originally posted on my Run and Gun Video Blog , but seems not too many people follow that one, so sharing it here)


I noticed my book cover on Amazon along with some of the related ones being promoted (and their covers) which reminded me at the same time of the many postings I’ve seen of people’s equipment. Some nice stuff and some Frankenstein monsters, but the underlying message (despite what was being said) was usually, ‘look at me’.

You know, the guy posts a shot of a whole load of expensive stuff with the caption: ‘off to do a blah-blah shoot’. Since surely nobody cares that he’s off to do a shoot, the obvious intended message is ‘look at all my cool stuff and be envious’.

Now look at the cover above.

That was very deliberately posed. Of course there was a humorous analogy with and throughout the book of the camera being a gun (so the Marlboro man hat and coat forwarded that), but note that the relatively small and unfancy camera is just dangling from the hand as if it were a 6 shooter and he’s off to shoot some vermin on the ranch that are stealing his chickens–or off to the OK Corral  to dispatch Billy the Kid for that matter.

The gun, the camera are tools, they are not the man.

They come out when it’s time to do the job and the pro doesn’t care what you think about them.

They’re taken care of, oiled and cleaned as any professional would treat his equipment, but except for a few of the narcissistic crazies, they don’t sleep with them, pose with them in the mirror or caress them fondly when no one is looking.

They’re just tools.

And look here: The gun that killed Billy the Kid didn’t even have a laser scope on it.



You Can’t Polish a Turd….

…But You Can Roll it in Glitter


Sorry, I heard that expression recently and just had to use it.

The point is: Sometimes things don’t go according to plan.

None of the videos shown here were turds really, but I did have some ‘issues’ to do with lighting. So this is really about color correcting and other image handling tools one can use.

As a note, the whole subject of ‘grading’ is popular today, particularly amongst an apparent group of ‘newbies’ who think it’s the next one-button solution to creating a ‘filmic look’. Nothing wrong with hoping for that, but it’s too often evident that they neglected to invest any time into basics such as ‘how to make a movie’. In short, I’m finding those forums a bit annoying. So to be clear, this isn’t really grading. It’s color correction with a couple extra tricks.

So let’s get practical, at least on the corporate video front. It’s simple: You make the guy or girl (or whatever other genders they have these days) look good. THAT’S ALL.

I’ll be covering two different videos I did recently.

On this first one I was having to solve a problem (I thought) of having forgotten my main LED interview lighting kit. Fortunately I had one back-up floor soft box with me and was forced to come up with something with the one light I had along with what was available in terms of room lighting. It was an interview with a Duchess on a tight schedule, so “oops, I forgot my lights…” as an excuse was out-of-the-question.

Needless to say, this was very naughty of me.  It’s just one of those things that can happen so you have no choice but to carry on as if nothing has happened at all and make it all come off anyway.

For comparison, here’s a still from an interview with the Duchess last year in the same location when I didn’t forget where my lighting kit was:

Standard key, backlight and fill and good subject to background contrast ratio. Controlled lighting.


Here’s what I managed more recently when  I only had one light to work with:

Camera Original


Here’s how I polished the turd:

FCPX Color Tools, Colour Finale Pro, CoreMelt’s Vignette Shape Mask


Not as punchy as the first correctly lit sample, but better than the camera original.

First I color corrected it using the FCPX color tools and ColorFinale Pro (to bring up her blue blouse). This was before FCPX 10.4 which can do the same thing.

Then I used a ‘make-up’ program to soften her face (which I typically use on females of her age). Subtle, but nothing she or anyone else would notice. (Someone’s going to ask: I used PixelFilmStudios ‘Skin’ plugin. I don’t buy from them anymore, but I had it and it works well. –Buy from Motion VFX instead)

Finally I used one of my favourite tools, a vignette shape mask from CoreMelt which allows you to completely control the size, shape and density of a vignette. I use it often, even when I have lit the scene to the best of my ability. It allows me to create further contrast from subject to background when I am not able to achieve it satisfactorily on site myself. You can get it here FREE in CoreMelt’s ‘Slice X’ package. Go ahead and get it. You’ll love it. (There’s even a Photoshop style ‘Object Remover’ for video and a few other clever tools). But I guarantee you’ll find yourself using the vignette shape mask often.

Screen Shot: CoreMelt’s Vignette Shape Mask

While that interview was done for several videos, here’s one of them that’s public now:

And here’s the next one:

P.S. (It turns out the LED flexlites were with me the whole time, tucked into an  outer pocket of my camera case for a little shoot I had done recently. (they take up very little room)

Lesson learned: if you’re going to modify your kit bags for a particular shoot, PUT THINGS BACK to where they usually are directly thereafter)

Turd Number Two

Ok, this one was less my fault.

I was at our house in France where we are good friends with our American neighbours Vinx and Jennifer. Vinx is a musician who has performed with many famous musicians from Isaac Hayes to Sting and is currently doing his own thing touring around the world. He’s a vocalist and percussionist. (

Anyway, they got married there in Chalabre last year, part of which was a big concert to thank the town. It was called ‘Night of Serenades’ and featured 20 different acts, professional and amateur, all performing serenades to someone in the audience who was seated in a special chair in the front row and presented with a large bouquet of roses before their serenade. It was so popular that the town asked that it be done again next year (and every year thereafter).

If you’d like to see the short wedding video I did featuring Vinx’s serenade to Jennifer (which took place in the covered market in front of our house), you can watch it here.

So…this years’ Night of Serenades will be over 3 days preceded by a few more days of music related workshops. The venue has expanded to 3 stages across the town and includes serenaders performing from balconies around the town’s main ring road and lots more. It’s a big deal.

So they asked me to do a video to pitch to potential local sponsors.

All I had with me was a Sony RX10ii (a down-version of something like the Sony A7, but a gorgeous camera that happens to have the same sensor as my X70–which is why I bought it). I had no lighting or audio equipment.

Of course we’re sitting in front of a mix board, but Vinx was busy with a deadline and setting up a mic and audio feed was going to be a bit of a problem. Since this was a small distribution video for some local vineyards and other businesses in the seeking of sponsorship, we decided to do the best we could with a little omnidirectional mic Vinx uses on his GoPro cameras.

Original. Overhead fluorescent lighting.


Knowing that I would be using the vignette mask, I moved Jennifer forward so it would look ok with the background being a bit darker.

Similar to the last sample, I used a combination of FCPX’s shape mask and colour tools to correct colour and contrast followed by the vignette shape mask to create some depth to the background while spot lighting the main subject.

Colour Corrected with Vignette shape mask


That, I’m afraid, is an example of ‘run and gun’ Emergency Room procedure. Or, in the U.K., A&E (Accident and Emergency).

P.P.S.  Because I sort of stole the image, those are Unicorn Turds pictured at the top of the page. If you want to buy some, you can get them here:







Using Google Maps in Video Production



Nothing special about this recent video I did (the only footage of mine was the interview; the rest was footage provided by the charity), but it was the first time I ever used Google Maps in a video production.

I was inspired by a link provided by Ryan Nangle, a plugin creator who also does excellent tutorials. In this case, it was how to use Google maps. In his tutorial, he provides the link to his extremely reasonable zoom transition used in the particular tutorial (which I bought for something like $6). It’s not the first transition I’ve bought from him.

For example, the clouds are from FCPX and he shows you how to manipulate those. Literally takes seconds to change the form, shape and density of clouds and fog.

In his example, he even showed a clever trick on how to animate something (a boat on the river in his sample) in the static Google maps image. Very clever stuff.

In this video, I didn’t incorporate the camera-shake effect from FCPX as he did because it wasn’t as appropriate to my purpose as it was in his sample (where it was very effective).

Nevertheless, it gave me a new tool which I was able to use effectively and appropriately in this little video I did for a charity for the purpose of promoting to gap year students. And that was the sole purpose of this video. (to those in the U.S., a ‘gap year’ is often taken by UK students who complete the equivalent of high school before going to university. Usually, they spend a year in another country for cultural or experiential purposes).

As a note, in the original review, I did of the X70 I mentioned the advantage of shallow depth of field (due to the large sensor size) compared with the earlier review of the NX30. The only original footage in this video is the interview itself, and it’s a good example of the shallow depth of field obtainable with the X70. I know many videos cameras more closely approximate the fast lenses of film cameras, but the point is more comparing the price point of the X70 versus the price point of the high-end cameras that emulate high-end film cameras.

So here’s the video. After that you will find the link to Ryan Nangle’s excellent tutorial. In the YouTube description of his video you will find a link to his transition effect used in this video. As a note, he has many useful and clever transitions available, so he’s worth subscribing to.

Here’s the link to Ryan’s tutorial and transition download:


Run ‘n Gun Boot Camp

Chalabre, France

I’m launching a new navigation tab on the Video Whisperer Blog called Run n Gun Bootcamp of which this will be the first entry.

This is following up on my earlier post suggesting the idea and asking for feedback. It seems there are enough people interested to make it happen, so current plans are to do so by Spring or Summer next year (2018).

As the name implies, it will be a video boot camp based on the book Run ‘n Gun Videography–The Lone Shooter’s Survival Guide.

It will happen in Chalabre, France.

This post will be a very short summary of the types of things that I will keep updating and expanding in the new Boot Camp tab. It will include photos of the town, the house you will be staying in, the town’s fascinating history as well as the history and summary of the plentiful activities in the local area as far away as the Mediterranean (only 90 minutes away). We’re in the foothills of the Pyrenees, about an hour from Andorra and Spain and in the midst of Cathar country going back 1000 years. Spotted with Cathar castle ruins (castles built impossibly at the top of steep rocky mountain tops), sprawling with vineyards in one of Frances’ best wine regions, and with rivers, steep gorges, white water river rafting, not to mention mountain trails, skiing, horse-back riding and many social activities happening every day throughout the summer, Chalabre is what many of us here call “Frances’ Best Kept Secret”.

Chalabre itself is a medieval town founded in the late 11th century at the confluence of 3 rivers. Sometime in the 12th century and upriver dam burst and flooded the village. Consequently, the town was rebuilt on top of the old village. It’s interesting to note that when you buy property here there is small print in the contract which says that there ‘is nothing of any historical interest below (your) house”. Sure. Everyone knows the old town is down there.

The advantage of having a boot camp here is that there is SO much to see and do and film at almost any time of year, particularly in the summer.

As part of this new tab, I will create a calendar of events (give me some time as that alone is a huge undertaking) which may help you decide which time of year you’d like to come. Afterall, it will be a bit of a holiday at the same time–not all work and drudgery.

I’ll introduce you to the house which we are renovating and show some before and after pictures of the spaces we have been working on over the last two years. Currently, we are renovating the attic–which is probably where you run and gunners will be staying–though there’s plenty of space elsewhere in the house. It’s all a matter of scheduling this activity along with others that will be happening at this house (such as Air BnB and other events planned here). That’s why I’m sort of reserving the attic for this program. It will be a pretty cool space with two bedrooms and one crash loft along with a bathroom, kitchenette and lounge.

As time goes on I will finalise pricing and options, so feel free to feedback as I start posting all this stuff.

One thing for sure is that couples are welcome even if one of you are not going to be doing the video program. Like I mentioned earlier, it will be a great holiday with a video bonus for you video enthusiasts.

A quick photo tour:



My wife’s steel wire sculpture of fighting stallions greets you on the main road into Chalabre

“Number 10”. That’s the house on the market square where you’ll be staying. Late 1600s. We’ve got a shop on the ground floor to the right behind the bench (which is made of slabs of pine I hauled from Montana)

Attic windows open with wires hanging out (current renovation project)

View from one of the attic bedrooms currently being renovated. At the top of the silhouetted hill to the right sits the ‘chapel on the hill’.

From the chapel on the hill after a brisk 20 minute walk to get there. Chalabre is down below.

One of Chalabre’s roads along the river

Right around the corner from the house are two grocery stores and a butcher shop. (the bakery and another butcher shop around another corner.



Another Extreme Run ‘n Gun

Emma Manners, Her Grace, The Duchess of Rutland


Did I ever mention I’m the ‘Videography-in-Residence Belvoir Castle’?

I came here to England because my sculptor wife landed a gig as Artist-in-Residence for the Duchess of Rutland (Belvoir Castle).

Years later the Duchess realised the value of video after I did one for the Belvoir Shoot that got about 35,000 views in a couple years.

Anyway, over the years I did a few things for the castle, some paid, some not. But more recently I really think she realised the marketing value and has asked for a slew of videos over the next little while, this one being the first of the new lot.

The reason I’m posting it is that it really is an example of run and gun to the extreme.

What I mean by that is that it was done totally live with no preps and no idea on my part of what she was going to do, where she was going to walk, when she was going to stop, what she was going to say, when she was going to say it and how she was going to end it.

It all took place over about 45 minutes.

One thing I had learned, working with the Duchess, was to always have the camera running as she was apt to start talking at any moment and expect to be in the camera frame and fully recordable.

Step 1: Stick the radio mic on her.

Step 2: Turn the camera on and don’t’ turn it off for any reason until she indicates we are well and truly done.

Now, understand, this approach was understood to be a ‘blog style’ video–meaning, it was going to be dated. It was just an update report on an on-going project that will be totally different a month or two from now. It’s akin to (but hopefully better than) some guy walking around with a camera on a selfie stick.

For this I used the Sony HXR X70 on full intelligent auto mode. No pretentions about getting ‘perfect video’ (color temp, exposure, etc.). Facial recognition was on for focus control of her face.

Actually, in this case, I didn’t even do any color correction. This is right out of the camera.

Everything hand-held, as usual. (try doing that on a gimbal–she’d have left you in the dust from the get-go while you fiddled with your balance controls). Take 2? Forget it.

For something like this you’ve got to have your true run and gun hat on (which is what that book is about you see the link for on the right of the page)

I’m not trying to be smug. You just have to be able to do this sort of thing as a run and gunner.

So…in auto mode you obviously run into some non-ideal situations–like going from inside to outside (or visa versa) or finding that your talent has suddenly stopped with the sun right behind here and has gone into silhouette, and so on.

You will see I did my best in those circumstances to shift the camera’s position as she was talking to optimise the lighting conditions but’s that’s all I did. You’ll see that in certain circumstances the auto color balance adjusted midshot.  Purists will notice. No one else will.

She just wanted to give an update on progress on a live construction site. And that’s what we got.

Just before she walked off to her Bentley I told her I’d need a few moments to run around and get some B roll footage which I did in about 4 minutes. She waited and made some calls.

And that was it.

A couple hours later the edit was done.

Was it stressful? A wee bit.

But practice makes perfect.

We’ve got another one coming up. I’ll try to do better.




Run ‘n Gun Ticket to Africa


Looks like I may be going to Tanzania early next year.

This video isn’t exactly ‘my ticket’ there, but it isn’t the sort of thing I’ve done before–use someone else’s footage to produce an edit with a short interview I shot.

But you see, The Video Whisperer also happens to be the ‘Video Artist in Residence’ for Belvoir Castle in the UK Midlands.

The Duchess went to Tanzania last year to help with a small charity down there called ‘Go Make a Difference in Tanzania’ (Go MAD).

She invited the founder, one of his staff and a group of other businessmen and clergy that could help the charity for a meeting at Belvoir Castle a few days ago and offered my services in her name to help with some video promotion.

So this video was a short video of the Duchess done in about 10 minutes. All but 10 seconds of her interview makes up this two-minute video.

The rest was footage was shot on site over the last few years and provided by GoMadd in the form of 720p video land about 400 stills. It’s all I had.

I’ll be doing one more based on an interview done with their young, enthusiastic site manager who went there to volunteer 10 years ago, and who, after finishing university in the UK, went back to Tanzania to become permanent staff. I guess it will contain more or less the same B roll footage, but it will have a unique target audience of UK students looking for something to do on their gap year.

The next project (that the meeting was about) is to run a pipeline from Lake Victoria (about 1.2 miles away) to the farms in the region you see in the photograph above because they get little rainfall each year and sometimes none. When that gets off the drawing board, it looks like I’ll be going there to document it and help further promote Go MAD.


All right, that’s all very fine and interesting, but this blog is supposed to be informative on the subject of video one way or another.

If you read my book ‘Run ‘n Gun Videography–The Lone Shooter’s Survival Guide’, you’ll know I talk about ‘when things go wrong’. After all, run and gun is often seat-of-the-pants with very little prep time and sometimes things go wrong.

So yes, that was a 5 minute interview. I had 10 minutes in advance of that to set it up.

The Duchess rightly thought it should be done is any of the many ‘over-the-top’ locations in that 320 room regency castle, so she said, ‘let’s do it in my sitting room’. Mind you, even that was pretty impressive, but taking her cue I found a rather dull corner (which coincidentally had sort of African curtains) and did my best to work out how to battle the ambient light conditions while she got changed.

I was using my Sony PKW X70 in 4K (been doing that a lot lately) and just put it in full auto mode. Then she showed up before I was really settled on it all and sat down. That, in this world of castles, is the cue to start.

Well, as you know, sometimes the viewfinder monitor can be a little deceiving (especially when the video guy is anxious to be deceived), so when I imported the footage later that day, this is what I got:

As shot


Not only that, there was a hum in the room I hadn’t noticed. Fixed that with RX6 Audio Repair, but the color grade was a little more difficult.

I used several things to fix it:

  1. FCPX color tools at two different stages including a shape mask in the end to bring her up against the background after I did everything else.
  2. Color Finale Pro
  3. Core Melt’s fabulous infinitely variable Vignette plugin.
  4. Neat Video to take noise out of the shadows
  5. A face correction plugin to smooth out skin tones




Here’s the video…


Run and Gun Videography Boot Camp

Chalabre, France from the Chapel on the Hill


Some of you will have gleaned from some of my posts that I am an American living in England with another house in Southern France that we’re renovating.

It now looks like I’ll be spending more time in France than England, mainly because we own the French house lock, stock and barrel. It’s a matter of economy.

Anyway, it got me thinking.

You see, the house is pretty big. When we’re done with the major renovations next summer, we’ll be able to sleep 20 people. Two kitchens, 5 bathrooms across two connected houses (one 17th century, one 14th century) with a private terrace (which is actually within the ruin of a 3rd connected house) on the market square in a historic French town about 1000 years old with a castle on the hill in the foothills of the Pyrenees, steeped in history and in one of France’s best wine regions.

My wife, a sculptor, wants to start some sculpture master classes here, so I wondered if there would be any interest in my starting up a Run and Gun Videography boot camp. It would be based on the book Run and Gun Videography–The Lone Shooter’s Survival Guide, and the idea is that you’d come here for 10 days and we’d do some basic courses and then go off on forays to anyone of a number of fascinating places around here to shoot a video and edit it on FCPX. We can even do multiple video edits as there are always interesting events happening around here throughout the summer (concerts, street parties, etc.) regardless of the various historic or geological destinations that abound. If you use some other NLE, I guess you’d have to bring along a laptop.

You’d have a room and you’d be wined and dined with great food, including the best vegetables you’ve ever had (no Monsano here) and there’d be time for social activities and other fun as well.

I realise that many of you might think that is all wonderful, but sadly out-of-budget, but I also know there are those of you who have either had successful careers or have taken up video as a hobby or second career and the idea of travelling to France for some training and fun is not out-of-the-question.

But if you do come, I promise it will not only be the trip of a lifetime but also extremely valuable in terms of what you will learn and be able to do from here on out as a professional videographer.

I look forward to some comments/feedback on the idea.

Cheers, Joe

The Video Whisperer


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