Sunday, July 6, 2014

Moving Pictures

If you read our last post, or are friends with us on the Facebook - Instagram, you already know I managed to put together a short video for submission into the Adventure CyclingAssociation’s Bicycle Touring Video contest.  If not, then, well, I did.  While I have a pretty extensive history with some aspects of photography and relatively none with videography, this was my first real attempt at putting together a project that, while I might not consider it professional, it was intended for public consumption, and while the equipment I used was largely amateur, it is hands down the most advanced and highest quality I’ve used to date, and I’d like to think the film’s content and quality reflects that, at least a little.  If you haven’t yet seen the video, or would like to hear a little more about my experience in putting it all together, then read on.

Let’s start from the beginning.  First, with the equipment I used. 

Last summer my aging flip-phone was quickly becoming unhinged and unreliable.  While I’ve always been a heavy proponent of the whole pay-as-you-go plan, I was increasingly interested in the advantages of having a smart phone for conveniences in traveling and cycling.  Not only does a smart phone replace 4 or more devices with one, the ease and availability of information makes otherwise frustrating and hectic traveling issues a breeze.  While I was at first hesitant about the intrusion of technology and information into my own life, I came to understand that this isn’t so much a given as a balance that you have to find the discipline to control.  So with all that in mind, I made the switch and jumped on my brother’s plan and became one of the 99%, a smart phone owner. 

Since then, I’ve fully enjoyed the convenience of having my camera/computer/phone in one small and easily accessible object.  The iPhone’s powerful camera was the biggest selling point for me, being basically comparable to most point and shoots out there with HD video and numerous editing and uploading options.  Unfortunately, nothing is that simple and I quickly found out, much to Apple’s delight, that my outdated computer was not able to relate with this new piece of technology, so I had virtually no way of accessing the enormous amount of pictures and video I’d already amassed on my phone. 

While I figured this would resolve itself in due time, most likely with me having to drop some serious cash, my father was enormously generous and dedicated his time and energy into building me, from the ground, up, a powerful and advanced machine capable of interacting with my new phone.  Once he had put the finishing touches on this computer and delivered it in time for my birthday, I went ahead loading it full of pictures and music I’d amassed over the short time I’d had the phone. 

While I’d had the camera for our Zion trip last fall, I was still figuring out the format and setup of it’s video abilities, and so I took mostly pictures on that trip.  But through my trial and error I was able to start this spring’s trip with the understanding of how best to use my small camera-phone to get the best videos.  So as soon as our winter was over and we took to the road , I was always pulling out the camera and getting shots of us slowly grinding our way north.

As a side not, taking video’s while you’re biking or skiing is a dangerous activity, and while my phone is protected with a shock and waterproof case, I am not, and trying to film while I’m doing these activities often ended up with me tripping, stumbling, falling, or at the least, some wobbly videos.  Most of the sports I do involve being cold, and so I’m usually wearing a garment that has pockets, but on the bike fiddling with zippers and pockets can be a hassle, and dangerous when you’re riding, so a lot of people use some sort of hands-free mount on their handlebars.  I really liked this idea and set up my own little adaptation of the idea.  Online I found some DiY plans for a simple little handlebar mount.  A wall outlet cover, some Velcro and hose-clamps and voila, I’ve got myself a pretty reliable handlebar mount for my phone.  Hasn’t fallen off yet.

There’s a saying out there that the best camera around is the one in your hands, and I’ve always taken this to heart.  While growing up, both of my parents were in some way involved in the field of professional photography, so it was no coincidence I spent a lot of my youth carrying around heavy 35mm and medium format cameras, as well as bags of film, filters and lenses.  While I had a lot of fun taking photos, arranging scenes, considering light and layout, I eventually got tired of all the gear and mechanical aspects included in this art form.  I grew up in the dying age of film and spent much of my time developing my own film and prints, and while I thoroughly enjoyed this process as an integral aspect of the craft, as my life became more mobile I was tentative to let others develop or print my images, and as such slowly lost touch with the medium.

This isn’t to say that I’ve ever really given up taking pictures, just that it’s had several iterations in my short life.  For some time after giving up film, I took photos simply for documentation of my trips and adventures, and while I always put effort into the light and arrangement of my images, I felt somewhat less of a connection with this simple point and shoot type of photography.  Essentially, this is still how I shoot today, mostly for documentation, and I do my best to arrange the image and let the scene convey it’s own power.  I’m pretty lucky to spend a lot of my time in some incredibly beautiful places, and as such I find it pretty easy to let those places do the talking in my pictures.  Now, whether I’m climbing, skiing, or cycling, the camera I have is small and accessible, which mean’s I’m much more likely to take it out and capture moments or scenes I otherwise wouldn’t because of the hassle, not to mention, weight adds up quickly when you’re carrying everything on your back or your bike.  Less is more.

After our trip was over and we arrived in Leavenworth, I went to work uploading and editing the abundance of images I’d taken along the way.  With the new computer this was an absolute breeze.  Along with the City to Sawtooth’s video you can see some of my earlier attempts at film making on my Vimeo channel, suffice it to say, the equipment I was using and frustration I had with piecing those videos together wasn’t really even worth the effort.  Up till now editing and compiling video’s was a painstaking, time consuming and frustrating process that yielded a blurry mess, I was not interested.  But now, with this relatively amateur equipment I was amazed at how incredibly easy and fast the process of compiling the videos was.  Without getting into too much detail, producing he video on iMovie was simple.  Selecting clips, music, transitions, editing length and adding commentary was straightforward and easy, which left me only to struggle with the concept of what I was trying to convey, what message I wanted to show through the film. 

I went back and forth with my decision to include narration and music.  While I always wanted to include music, the rules of ACA’s contest stipulated you must own the rights to any audio you use, which meant using a few clips from my favorite band was out of the question.  While this was a little frustrating, I could have easily chosen some free, open-source music to use from online, but instead I accepted the challenge of the contests guidelines to score a simple song using another generous gift from my father, his steel 6 string guitar. 

While this was a little bit of a challenging and embarrassing task, in the end I was pretty satisfied with the end product.  I have no special microphone or recording equipment, so the tone and volume of the piece was moderated only by my playing the guitar, and how close or far away from the computer’s microphone I would play.  I’ve enjoyed playing music for much of my life but certainly don’t consider myself much of a guitarist, but I love the instrument and was welcome to the challenge of writing a song suited to this purpose.  For those of you who are musically oriented, I settled on a simple little progression based in the open DADGAD tuning.  Nothing too fancy, remember that.

As for the narration, I felt the images and video did a decent job of telling the story, but I wanted to include a small amount of explanation about our history and intent on undertaking this kind of trip and lifestyle.  While I might have been redundant and a little overly poetic, I think that only sheds light on the endless amount of childlike enthusiasm I have for this lifestyle, so while I might cringe a little upon hearing my voice and silly words, in the end, I’m pretty happy with my efforts.  Writing and speaking have always gone hand in hand for me, whether I’m reading a book or proofing over something I’ve written, speaking out loud is a simple and straightforward way to make sure you’re spelling things out in a clear and concise way.  There are a lot of different motivating factors that have lead us into pursuing this lifestyle, and they all mean a lot to me, so trying to reduce them all to the simplest statement possible was no small task.

I certainly managed to learn a lot during the short time I had to put this all together, and I’m already looking forward to my next opportunity to work on this type of project.  Video is an incredibly current and accessible medium, not to mention powerful and moving.  I’m thankful to my family to have the simple tools to make a quality video with a minimal mount of frustration and effort, because the easier this whole process is, the more we can get out and make it all happen.  I’m also thankful to the ACA for putting on this contest and motivating regular folks like myself to challenge themselves in new ways, it was a blast.

I think that’s about it.  If you’ve got any other questions or comments feel free to leave them here, or on the Face-tagram, I’d be happy to shed light on any issue or consideration.  Thanks for reading and here it is, our 24 day, 600 mile journey from SLC through the City of Rocks and the Sawtooth Mountains.  Enjoy.

Welp, blogger won't allow me to upload the video right now, so if you're still interested in watching, check it out on the Vimeo channel here.


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