Sony PXW X70, Extreme Low Light Shooting


Sorry to be a bit repetitive. The video linked here is the same on from my last post. But, for an entirely different reason.

I’m posting it in response to an email I just received from Leo Vital.

Here’s the email and my response:

Dear Joe,
…Joe, could you please help me to find the proper settings for rather poorly lighted indoors, when you do not have any way to help it? Lately I was at a Young people gathering and they gathered in a gym size room, with walls painted brown and one was even pitch black. Well now way to light that up 🙂 This was an extreme, but it seems to me that whatever I do, I get rather disapointing outcome, even though while recording it doesnt seem to be that bad. I was trying also recording in the Auto mode, but it was also dissatisfactory. Could you please share with me how you fight the low lighting problem?
Thank you,
Dear Leo,
I’m going to give you a link to a video I just did a few days ago with the Duchess of Rutland who I’ve been doing a bunch of videos for. This one was ‘a day in the life of a duchess’, and as typical with her videos, they are unplanned. I just follow her with a camera with no idea where she’s going or what she’s going to say. In this one, she called me into some dark cellars. The only light (thankfully) was a work light on in an adjacent room where some workers were renovating some toilets. If you watch the footage carefully, you can see me at one point moving my own shadow out of the light path that was giving the only illumination in the otherwise unlit cellar. Even the shot where she went into a portion of the cellar with no light came out ok. And, to answer your question, I was on full intelligent auto. No choice. Even the auto focus on her held pretty good. So, naturally there was some noise in the dark shots as the camera tried to increase iso to give me an exposure. The answer to all of that is NEAT VIDEO. It’s the ONLY video noise reduction program that really works. The price you pay is worth it. Considering the alternative (no usable shots at all in this classic ‘run and gun’ situation), I still got a video product. It was almost as bad as having to shoot ‘a black cat in a coal mine at night’. There are some cameras (more expensive) that can do better than this, but for the price, your camera is pretty damn good. So, have a look:
As a note, I do have a nice little LED light I can slide into the shoe on the top of my camera, and it would have come in handy here. But, I had NO IDEA I was going to be going into the dungeons (and the shoe was occupied, at that moment, by a rifle mic). So, I kept the camera running and crossed my fingers.
The shots in question start at about the 36 second mark. In fact, ALL of those early morning shots early in the video had NEAT VIDEO processing.
(sorry for poor formatting–paragraphs all run together–and video not showing up properly–Wordpress seems to be having a bad night. Will try to fix tomorrow)

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:








So how do you do a 60 edit for Instagram of the Duchess of Rutland whizzing around the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham where she’s been invited to give a 45 minute talk on the Capability Brown landscape at Belvoir Castle–and for which reason her intro, upon alighting from the Bentley, was about just that?

Well, you can’t.

Fortunately, she trusts me, so I axed most of that and picked out a few bits of dialogue to show that the Duchess is a regular person and juxtaposed a few shots with humour for good measure.

The whole Capability Brown thing will be extracted as a separate two-part video.

Apparently, the 60-second thing was seen 500 times the first day on Instagram.

I’m an Instagram neophyte. I have an account registered and that’s about it.

But apparently, it’s the best thing since sliced bread, and almost as good as the promised release of the new FCPX in a few weeks’s time.

No idea what they do with videos on Instagram.

But I’d better start finding out soon, eh? –Cuz I have a few things I’d like people to know about…

Run ‘n Gun Bootcamp in southern France, for example.

Note: When the Duchess mentions ‘the Engine Yard’ at the end, she’s referring to the Belvoir Castle Country Retail Village opening soon, a renovation of the old ‘engine yard’ where the various tradesmen that kept up the castle were based (carpentry shop, etc.) in buildings built in Victorian times.


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.



The Accidental Wedding Video

Vinx is a world class musician with a long and colorful history. From his website.  “VINX has recorded and toured with some of the music industry’s greatest icons: Stevie Wonder, Sting, Herbie Hancock, Sheryl Crow, Branford Marsalis, Ernie Watts, Taj Mahal, Ricki Lee Jones, Darius Rucker, Vance Gilbert, Cassandra Wilson, Brenda Russell, Cher and numerous others.  His songwriting credits are a long list ranging from Tom Jones and Will Downing to The Lion King and Sprite™”.

Anyway, Vinx moved to Chalabre, France last year, two doors down from our house, joining a growing group of talented people including my wife, sculptor Laury Dizegremel and others. We, along with the Mayor, are taking actions to ‘put Chalabre on the map’, i.e., make it a destination. There are good reasons for that, but in short, this area is ‘France’s best-kept secret’. It’s ‘the other southern France’.

For brevity, I won’t say much more than that except that I have been accumulating footage of all of the extraordinary things that happen around here, including the things that are not far from here (the Med is a 90 minute drive through one of France’s best wine regions, we’re 40 minutes from skiing, an hour from Andorra and Spain, surrounded by Cathar castles mounted impossibly on steep rocky mountain tops–and much more, not to mention a perfect climate).

Vinx’s wedding was just one of those things I wanted to get some footage of. It took place at the chapel on the hill that looks down over Chalabre, a view featured in the opening shot of this video (night for day shot–a gorgeous daytime time lapse made to look like night–sort of). I planned to go and shoot some clips for my eventual promotion video for the area. And I planned to go to the concert he organized afterward in the covered hall in front of our houses.

Because I was meanwhile busy with renovations, I didn’t realize there was a connection between the two.

The concert was called ‘A Night of Serenades’ whereby musicians would perform and dedicate a song to someone sitting in a chair in front of the stage. There were about 20 serenades. Vinx’s serenade to Jennifer was to be the last. But by then the front chairs, including the chairs of honor, were full of crowd, so I organized a chair for Jennifer to be put on stage. By then I decided I’d do my best to cover Vinx’s serenade and use it to be the soundtrack for a short wedding video, weaving the two performances together.

And so it was that I came to shoot an accidental run and gun wedding video.

It was shot on September 3rd and edited on September 4th.

No prior planning except for an 11th hour idea.

No audio out of a mix board which didn’t exist. Because my hand held camera would be moving around, I put my Zoom H2 in front of the stage and hoped for the best. Not getting what I hoped for I improved it as much as I could with the iZotope RX 5 audio editor (the best) and some FCPX Eq tools.

Poor lighting in both locations But I only used Neat Video on 3 shots. Otherwise the Sony PXW X70 performed well enough at +32db.

It’s only 5 minutes long, and given the circumstances, a bit unique.





Video Whisperer Blog Domain Change

That’s me–uh, on the right.

Effective sometime over the next couple days the domain for this blog will be

It is currently

Hopefully this won’t mean that those of you who have book marked it won’t be able to find it anymore. I hope WordPress isn’t that dumb. (it was offered free as part of the upgrade to get rid of ads).

UPDATE: The new domain name is live. Old one seems to still be working too.





Giving a Client More Bang for the Buck

Many months ago I recall making mention of a project I was working on with Leapfrog Marketing that was particularly rewarding. But I wasn’t able to share it or any of the additional videos that resulted at the time because their public release was predicated on the culmination of a marketing strategy, including a new website.

On a hunch, I checked their website tonight (having done so several times over the past few months to no avail), and viola!  Their new website is now up with a couple of the videos embedded on the home page that played very nicely. I was impressed. After a quick check I saw that all 9 videos were on the site.

So now that they’re public, it’s fair game and I’ll share them with you here.

As most of you who follow me probably know, I’m a video guy firstly. Marketing is not actually my strong suit. But since video is all about MESSAGE and marketing is all about MESSAGE, it is inevitable that even I can turn one video commission into multiple ones.

So I called this post ‘Upselling’.

Honestly, it’s something any sales person would do in almost any circumstance. And many of us find that quite annoying.

But this is really about educating a client who may not fully realise how unique or valuable his product or service is and offering him a way to maximise the value of a video commission. It’s a win-win situation.

In this case, the client wasn’t actually my own. It was the client of a marketing firm, Leapfrog Marketing, that uses my services. But no matter if it’s my client or the client of a Marketing firm, (and I do this in both cases) if the initial brief for video services indicates to me that multiple properties can be obtained from the main shoot for the benefit of the client, I would be remiss to not mention it and the potential economy and benefits in doing so right at the outset.

In my experience, in most cases, the client goes for it.

The math is simple.

One shoot day, one video.

Or one shoot day, 3 videos obtained from the same original shoot material at a considerable discount.

It requires planning, and the additional cost of the additional editing, but offered up front as a package discount, suddenly your one video becomes 3 and your $2000 becomes $3000 for an additional two days work. (Those numbers are completely arbitrary, but give you the idea…)

In this case, with Leapfrog’s client Total Community Care, it became evident to me almost immediately that their brief had the potential of multiple video products from the requested shoot of a single video that would be to THEIR benefit.

I don’t remember if I mentioned this straight off, but certainly once I shot the initial video (several interviews and relevant B roll), it became evident to me that at least 3 more testimonial videos could be edited from the same material.

They agreed.

So one video became 4.

They were so pleased they requested a second video; this time at their corporate headquarters featuring the executives.

This time I noted that they had enough material from the executives for the initial video they requested PLUS 4 more videos from those same interviews that answered Frequently Asked Questions (FAQS).

They agreed.

One video commission grew into 9 videos.

So that’s it on how to increase your income.

Now back to ‘video guy’.

The reason this project was so enjoyable was because the people were so interesting, and interesting people make for an interesting story.

As in almost all my videos, they are interview driven.

I (or we, in the case of Leapfrog Marketing) go there with no preconceptions of what should be said and we just interview the people.

It is my job to take the hours of interview and distill them down into the marketing story.

These videos were mainly about a Care Company that specialises in caring for paralysed patients with spinal or brain injuries.

My only opportunity for B roll was to shoot as much footage as I could of the interviewees whenever I could in the limited time they were there. That was made slightly difficult since they were often arriving during another interview (and all I could really shoot was arrivals, departures and whatever activity occurred in the lounge when I was not shooting an interview). So whenever I was between interviews I ran around like a banshee shooting whatever I could. In the end, I used every last scrap of it.

The primary video (the original one asked for) was 7 minutes long.

Might seem a bit long, but here’s where you just don’t get stuck on some arbitrary time limit like you read about on internet forums? Consider your intended audience.

If you’re paralysed and are looking for a care company, the length of a video has absolutely NO BEARING on whether you are going to watch it or not. It’s the content that matters. You have nothing but time.

It’s not that I made it unnecessarily long. I feel I made it long enough to get the point across with clarity, conviction and emotional impact. I made it for the potential new client for Total Community Care.

Marketing is a subject designed to CREATE WANT. Time (‘videos must be 2 minutes or less due to attention span, blah, blah, blah’) is irrelevant.

Make up your own mind. If you were paralysed and unable to get out of bed or go to the toilet without assistance, much less go shopping or go to the pub, would you watch this?

Primary Commission video

All of the following videos were directed and produced by Leapfrog Marketing (Alan Myers – 0116 278 7788) in association with The Video Whisperer.

(Shot on Sony PXW X70/Sony HXR NX30, Edited on FCPX, with Color Finale)


And the videos derived from the two shoots:


2nd Shoot, TCC Execs

And the FAQ videos derived from that shoot

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