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  • Ryan Chapman

Shooting during the pandemic

When the pandemic first hit and we all went into lockdown, my work diary got wiped completely clean. I wasn't to pick up a camera again - for professional purposes, at least - for five long months. And even between lockdowns it was a much rarer event than usual, as people adopted different ways of working.

But, pandemic or no pandemic, video remains the best tool for telling stories, communicating to potential clients, and generally getting your message out there. So the show must go on.

When shooting in person is not an option, for all the obvious reasons, I've worked with clients to deliver video content in new - and sometimes unavoidably convoluted - ways.

The first, and most obvious, of these new ways of shooting is to record contributors via Zoom sessions. Zoom has gone from zero to verb in a matter of months, and recordings through the app aren't good quality to say the least. But, in no time at all, low-res 'video call' content has become 'the new normal', filling up our social media feeds and news channels.

While the video-viewing masses decided en-masse that high definition video isn't all that important after all, they are far less forgiving about poor sound quality. And understandably so. If the picture freezes, it's no big deal, as long as the audio continues. But if you're listening to somebody speak and the sound dips out it can be infuriating for all involved.

For this reason, when I work with clients to deliver Zoom recorded content, I now ask contributors to record the audio separately at their end. Most people have smartphones and most smartphones have a voice recording app. So, all they need to do is hit record, leave the phone on their desk, and send me the file by email when we're done. Then I have an audio recording that's immune from the restraints of internet bandwidth that I can simply sync-up in post-production. It's not perfect, but it's a vast improvement.

There are also ways to make the video of the Zoom recording a little less shoddy. Spending just five or ten minutes with a contributor before hitting record can make all the difference. Basics such as thinking about where the light source is and making sure the webcam is at eye-level can turn an unflattering, messy shot into a passable one.

But even with all that polishing, let's face it, Zoom recordings are less than ideal. They're still extremely limited in quality and sometimes clients want crisper footage. And for such times, there is another way.

For a couple of jobs this year I have sent contributors a package containing a modest DIY shooting kit. It's important that the kit is easy to use and they don't come much simpler than a smartphone camera. So the kit-bag consists of an iPhone, a compact tripod and a Rode smartLav microphone, which plugs into the iPhone and provides a surprisingly good quality audio recording.

Then I Zoom call the contributor, talk them through the setup and then conduct the interview while keeping an eye on the iPhone screen via the Zoom call. The video clips are then magically synced to the cloud and I can download them within the hour and start editing. The kit then gets sent back to me and: rince, repeat.

It sounds like a lot of hassle, and I'm not going to lie... it is. But, if a client wants half-decent high definition footage, and they want it to look consistent across various contributors, all shot remotely, this is the best way.

I long for the day I can travel and shoot freely again. In the meantime, I'll continue making Zoom recordings look passable and sending iPhones around the country. And if we have to put up with a few more months of jittery Zoom recordings to help stop the spread of the virus, then so be it. I can live with that.

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