FOLLOW UP – Virtual Reality. Is it for You? – Exploring NYVR

I attended the NYVR conference last week at the Javits Center in New York City, which collocated with PPE (Photo Plus Expo). I’m not quite sure that VR is for me especially from a content creator’s point of view

NYVR Show

but I do see a lot of possibilities as a user.

Here are some highlights from the NYVR show and seminars:

The conference took place over three days with two days of seminars directed to those in the industry and one day toward users or consumers. I attended sessions on all three days, which gave me great insights from different perspectives. The sessions directed toward those already working in the industry were very compelling even though a lot of the information was over my head. However, I had the extra value of learning from the attendees and their questions

The VR industry is making a big presence in New York City. Los Angeles is a huge center for content creation and San Francisco is a big center for tech and New York City is where major Networks are located and where a lot the money is. The industry is in its infancy so for a start-up company it’s a big plus to be just a subway ride away from major Network headquarters and Wall Street investors.

One session that intrigued me was Spatial Audio in VR. VR isn’t or shouldn’t be just only a visual experience. It should be an experience that touches upon many of our senses and certainly sounds. That’s what makes it immersive. Mono audio in VR is somewhat like watching black & white TV. To truly give a viewer an immersive experience the audio that a user experience needs to impact them as well as the visual does. Sounds should change as the user walks through an environment or turns their head. Prices have come down for binaural audio headsets making them more affordable and accessible for the consumer. Check out Hooke Audio.

Another session I attended was VR Tourism with a speaker from YouVisit who is working in that space.

Some interesting stats about the travel market:

  1. It’s highly competitive
  2. Consumers seek large amounts of resources before finally making a decision.
  3. Usually, a consumer makes 350 touch points before making a decision.
  4. Tourism has one of the lowest conversion rates in the e-commerce space.
  5. VR lends to have a much bigger conversion rate – about 24%! The more immersive the experience is, the more engagement a user makes and the more of an emotional connection they have with the content, bringing the consumer closer to their decision. It’s important to get the user to “buy” and make that possible for them while they are still in the VR space.

I sat in on a panel discussion about Branding and Marketing with VR. VR does well with brands that are emotive, brands that you have to feel. If you are able to identify the emotion that you want someone to feel about your brand, then you can create a good VR experience. VR also turns someone who has had a VR experience into an advocate because they talk about. And that has real value. VR is a good space for capturing user data because it’s interactive. It’s easy to see how and where the user connects with the experience.

Traditionally, advertisers have targeted people in the 18-34-age bracket. VR has also been targeting that same demographic because their typical user comes from the gaming space where VR has played a big role. I wonder though if that target will change somewhat and perhaps include the “baby boomers”, especially since it’s a huge demographic and still holds the majority of the wealth? It seems to me that there is a lot of opportunity in that area and not just in the area of pain management. I see opportunities in travel and entertainment that can provide VR experiences when the real experiences are no longer accessible – like climbing Mount Everest.

It’s a brave new world. Or is it a virtual one?

Check out more about Virtual Reality in my last post from NAB New York.

 

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2017 NAB NY – Virtual Reality is Very Real

I recently spent a couple of days at the NAB NY Show (National Association of Broadcasters). It’s much smaller than the annual NAB Show held in Las Vegas every year, but it is definitely worth the time.

This year I focused my attention on VR (Virtual Reality). To be honest, as much as VR intrigues me I’m not sure it’s for me simply because I’m all about real experiences as opposed to virtual ones. Nevertheless, the future implications of this technology are mind-blowing.

NAB NY is much more limited on space than the Las Vegas conference so VR didn’t have much of a physical presence at the show. However, there were quite a few interesting floor talks that intrigued me and were well attended.

This technology is in its infancy but its also experiencing exponential growth. Naysayers predict it will go the way of 3-D TV sets but my instincts tell me otherwise. Right now its popularity is in the gaming industry but these sessions opened my eyes to numerous possibilities. Nab New York 2017But speaking of gaming, check out PokemonGo or this demo video from Oculus Connect 4.

In terms of filmmaking, it’s an immersive experience which touches upon all of our senses and is not just visual. In fact, there’s a term used in VR called “haptic” which means “relating to the sense of touch, in particular relating to the perception and manipulation of objects using the senses of touch and proprioception.” One filmmaker Alton Glass, described it as letting you get into someone else’s shoes and live the experience. Because it’s immersive it creates a more empathetic storytelling experience. Some doubters say it’s isolating, however, one speaker pointed out that you can actually be immersed with other people in the virtual experience.

Check out filmmaker Alton Glass’s 2D behind the scenes excerpt about the making of his film “A Little Love”

 Branding experiences in VR. Tom Westerlin of Nice Shoes makes some good points about using VR in advertising/branding:

  • Once you put on a headset you have someone’s undivided attention
  • VR can create a lot of feelings – love, excitement, empathy
  • From a brand perspective, you can create a whole world.
  • It’s suspended disbelief. It’s not a hard sell and one doesn’t feel like they are being marketed to.
  • VR can offer a treasure trove of data by finding out what people are focusing on in a virtual story. Some see e-commerce using VR in the near future.

Travel – It’s perfect for an armchair traveler who may not have the funds or the access to certain places. Or perhaps VR is a great way to show off a property or resort. To be honest, I want to really experience a place, but there may be times that I don’t have access or I may simply want a better reference of a destination or hotel than what more traditional mediums offer. Look at this sample VR sample – is this a game or a virtual travel experience.

VR is being used in healthcare to minimize pain rather than to solely resort to drugs. That in itself is something to think about especially because we are experiencing an opioid epidemic. One spokesman pointed out that it can reduce pain impact by about 60-70%. It’s being used now to help people with autism learn as well as in challenging mental health disorders like PTSD. VR is also being used for medical training.

Education – Harvard Business School provides amazing VR experiences that used to be available only on their campus but are now available all over the world. Interesting to point out that the most valuable part of this experience isn’t just watching the videos but the discussion with the immersive community. What Harvard is doing with VR,

Entertainment – While VR is still in its infancy in this sector, it’s quite impressive. VR allows a venue to sell the best seat in the houseNab New York 2017 a million times. IMAX opens first VR theater in LA.

Certainly, there are challenges to overcome with VR. Headsets need to be wireless, which is essential for growth in this medium. Bandwidth is not a challenge, but latency is because of the round trip delay. If you’re confused between AR and VR or 360, check out this video interview with a spokesperson from Radiant Images and listen to what they’re working on. And if you want more insight on where the experts think this technology is going then check out this TechCrunch article

It will be interesting to see what’s next in this technology. It will also be interesting to see if there will be any unintended consequences. Stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

 

Photography Gear I Would Pack on a Trip Around-the-World in 2017

Seven years ago I wrote a blog post about the gear I was taking for a 3-month trip around the world with my daughter, creating a documentary on six continents about people who were creating positive change. The post has gotten more hits (by far) than any other blog I’ve written.

At the time, I had just purchased the Canon 5D Mark II and the Canon 7D. Along with lots of lenses, audio gear, accessories, hard drives and 2 laptops, my daughter and I filled up two large (heavy) backpacks. It worked out very well. We used everything and captured some beautiful footage as well as quality sound.

My partner and I have recently embraced mirror less cameras

Gear2017_IMG_1628 FB
Gear I would bring on a 3 month trip around the world in 2017. (not pictured laptop, various cords and backpack.) Shot with an iPhone

and purchased the Sony A7R Mark II and A6500 camera bodies and 5 lenses: Sony FE 70-200 f/4 G OSS, Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS, Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16-35mm f/4 ZA OSS, Sony Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70mm f/4 ZA OSS and Sony E 10-18mm f/4 OSS. All that plus 8 batteries and 2 dual chargers took up far less space than my Canon DSLR cameras and lenses, not to mention the Sony gear was half the weight.

We put the Sony gear through its paces, shooting video and still images on an extensive job for NJ State Travel and Tourism. The 4k video is beautiful and the still images are extraordinary, especially those shot with the A7Rii. I had heard lots of complains about the menus but after taking numerous tutorials, I created lots of pre-set buttons and it has made operating the camera much easier and quicker.

My biggest complaint is when switching to a mirror less camera system it is far too easy to get dust on the sensor, especially when changing lenses frequently like we did on this job. I have heard good things about the VisibleDust Arctic Butterfly 724 (Super Bright) for cleaning your sensor. I bought one but haven’t used it yet. After the NJ job had been completed we had a thorough cleaning of both cameras at Photo Tech Repair Service in New York City. My other complaint is that Sony’s customer service is dismal at best. It took too many hours online and on the phone simply to apply for ProSupport. You can do better than this Sony. I love your products but don’t make me hate the company.

Since my last trip I’ve upgraded my audio kit a bit. I replaced my transmitter/wireless kit with a Sennheiser ew 122-p G3 Wireless system with microphone and I upgraded my Zoom to the Zoom 6N. Along with those items, now I would pack 2 lav microphones (1 Tram, 1 Sennheiser) a shotgun microphone, deadcat, earphones and a very small boom stand.

I’ve also upgraded my Go Pro and now have a Go Pro Hero4 Black (which shoots 4K) with a couple of different mounts. In addition I purchased two Ikan stabilizers: MS-PRO Beholder 3-Axis Gimbal Stabilizer with Encoders which works well with the A6500 camera but not so well with the A7R ii and the 3-Axis GoPro Gimbal Stabilizer which is great for the GoPro Hero4 Black but it’s been discontinued.

I also bought a small portable slider – Edelkrone SliderPLUS small – also discontinued. I’m not sure if I would take this on a long backpacking trip because even though it is very small for a slider – it still takes up quite a bit of space.

A small Manfrotto tripod and video head. Tripods are a necessity for shooting video but I always have a conundrum because small tripods aren’t necessarily the most sturdy. There’s always a trade off.

I would still bring a laptop to download and backup up my assets. I’d love to find a solution for downloading and backing up on site without having to bring a laptop. There are too many travel restrictions these days. I’d love to hear about other solutions that work well for intensive traveling.

There have been huge changes in portable hard drives. I replaced my (8) Lacie Rugged 250 GB Drives (total – 2000 GB) with (4) 4T My Passport Drives (16 T).

I no longer have a Blackberry – I got enlightened and bought an iphone years ago.

Technology changes our lives and our professions quickly and continually. It mandates that I must upgrade my gear and software much more often. As a professional photographer I need to update my tools about every two years. I do wish that company’s would invest and upgrade in their customer service. Good customer service stands out these days. It is also affecting how I make a decision as to which products I want to buy.

Am I taking a trip around the world?  You never know – I just became a million miler with United.

 

 

 

Photography Contracts, Social Media and Business

I read an interesting article today online about a bride and groom who slammed their wedding photographer on their social media outlets, which allegedly resulted in a loss of business for the photographer and they were ordered to pay $1.08M. House surrounded by construction site, Atlantic City, NJThe article stated that the photographer’s contract required that the client must submit an order form and select a cover photo before the album could be completed (cost of the album was included) and the hi res photos could be released. Even though the couple had signed and submitted an order form, they objected to paying $125 for the cover because they felt that should be part of the album as they explained on their local NBC affiliate. After weeks of going back and forth, the photographer learned that the couple had taken the story to the media saying that the photographer was “holding their pictures hostage”. The couple also made other disparaging statements on social media and blogs, which resulted in a loss of business for the photographer.

After being in business for well over three decades and having been a member of my trade organization ASMP for the same amount of time, I know all about the importance of contracts. In the litigious society we live in, it’s imperative to have a contract when doing business. It’s also important to spell out the details clearly about what is included and what isn’t. In addition, because photographers are always being asked to sign their clients’ contracts, it is critical, yet tedious to scrutinize those contracts before you sign them and be prepared to negotiate terms if they are not acceptable. However, even when contracts have been agreed on and signed, things can still go south as in the case mentioned.

There will always be issues because all humans are different. Ultimately, I think some are honorable and some are not. We live at a time when rumors can go around the globe in a matter of seconds and the lines between truth and lies have been blurred with “alternative facts”. I think it all comes down to common sense and trust. I don’t shy away from social media but I don’t believe everything I read. I don’t think I have ever done business solely online with someone. At the very least I will have a phone conversation with them. There is a lot to be said about having a human connection with someone and what is gained by doing so.

The bottom line is that while it is incredibly important to have a contract when doing business that doesn’t mean it will always end well. It all depends on the human variables as far as how the story will end.

Business Tips for Photographers in a Multiple Media World

In the blogging sphere of photography and video there is a lot written about gear and how to use it, but precious little written about business.  Chances are, if you are photographer who has been in business for more than 10 years then you know that technology has not only changed our tools, it has changed the way we do business.

For starters we are doing business in a global economy and with that comes pluses and minuses.

Cuba-3858
Havana, Cuba

One huge plus is that we are able to reach a much wider audience than ever before. That is if you have an understanding of how to do that and take advantage of the opportunities that are out there.  One minus or downside is if we don’t adapt our dated business models in a business that has seen monumental changes we won’t be able to compete.

As commercial photographers we are in the visual communications business.  We create imagery that delivers a message or tells a story for a variety of markets including; advertising, corporate, architectural, editorial and others.  Each market has a need for visual content and these days that encompasses both still photography and video.  In the last couple of years the lines dividing these two mediums have faded away at least in terms of how content is consumed in our culture. What’s next – VR (virtual reality)?

Here are a couple of tips to help photographers prosper in our multi-media world:

  • Decide what your company will offer.  Will you only provide still imagery?  Or will you expand your business and offer both still photography and video? Are you quick to answer the question with; “I don’t want anything to do with video” ? The problem with that answer is that most of your clients probably have a dual need for stills and video.  Are you going to send them away to your competition?  Or will you keep your clients in house and take care of their video needs by hiring or outsourcing? That’s a different way of thinking and has the potential to broaden your revenue stream.
  • Decide what role you will play if your company does offer video?  Will you be the director and work with a camera operator?  Or will you assume the role of a DP (Director of Photography) and direct as well as operate the camera?
  • What will you outsource and what will you keep in house?  Maybe you want to expand your business by offering both still photography and motion but you’d prefer to just shoot the still photography and outsource the video.  In that case you could assume the role of the producer and oversee or outsource the video production.
  • Reassess your insurance.  Video productions have a lot more variables. They also usually have larger crews.  More than likely you will need to upgrade your current insurance policy to accommodate and cover that.
  • Change your paperwork.  Make sure that you go through your talent and property releases and modify the language for multi-media.  Change any and all boilerplate contract language to include video (motion).
  • Licensing.  Regardless, if you decide not to expand into video production you will have to contend with the fact that your still images won’t always be used in a stand-alone fashion.  Many still images will be commissioned and/or licensed as part of multi-media projects and that has a dramatic effect on licensing. And if you do decide to expand into video production you too will be licensing other people’s work.
  • Understand new business models.  Let’s face it things have changed in the business of photography.  Photography has become ubiquitous and the competition is fierce.  You are not only competing with professional photographers – you’re competing with semi-pros, amateurs AND video production companies.  One thing is certain, it’s never been more important to have an understanding of multiple mediums and to be unique and stand out amongst the noise. There are no templates you should follow.  Be authentic and true to yourself.
  • Keep an eye out for the next big thing. At this year’s NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) Virtual Reality had a big presence. I’m not quite sure if it’s for me but I will follow the trend and keep my options open.

Check out more tips and information in my ePub The Craft and Commerce of Video and Motion.

 

Video Editing – Some Tips Not to Forget

I have a love/hate relationship with video editing, depending on which point I’m at. HotShoeExtensionExtenderMy initial ingestion of content and first edit is always tedious, but once I’ve edited the time line sound bites, I feel as though I’m more than half way there. But sometimes I lose sight of some critical thoughts in the process. Here’s a few:

  • Remember your commitment / story. Your story gets told and comes alive in the editing. If you don’t have a clear and concise message or story that you want to tell, then go no further, until you do. I have found when editing the latest short film in the Like A Woman series, that there is more than one message to relay. This video is about Simona de Silvestro, one of the few female professional race car drivers who races for the Andretti Autosport Team in Formula E (electric). It has two themes – one, about a woman in a man’s profession and another about electric racing. It’s tough to get across one theme in a film that is less than 3 minutes long, let alone two themes. I knew that I needed to be concise and to deliver the messages organically without forcing the issues. As much as Simona is one of the few females in this profession, she still wants to be known as the best driver she can be .
  • Let a piece breathe. I always make the mistake of trying to squeeze too much dialog into a short piece. It took me a dozen cuts, each time, taking out soundbites and stretching them over added b-roll to get the balance just right. Breathing gives the audience a rest and allows them to digest the information better.
  • Don’t try to be perfect. In an effort to leave no stone unturned in regards to my b-roll, I initially went through everything and then put all the selects on a timeline (or in a event). It was the first time we shot 4K GoPro footage and I put that in a separate event on a timeline. It was a big mistake. It took me a long time to make the timeline and an even longer time to look for a clip within the timeline. Next time, I will edit my clips from my bin and mark “favorites” as I go along, which is what I usually do, and is much faster.. Not sure why I departed from that approach, but I learned my lesson.
  • Audio is everything. The interview with Simona was challenging. We were literally in a tent set up on the side of an active roadway. Even with a shotgun mics and a lavalier with an undercover we still picked up some background noise of the traffic. I did everything I could think of to blend the sound including S-Curve transitions and adding another noise track to fill in the dead air spots. I’m not totally happy with it, but I’d like to up my skills in audio mixing. My only consolation is that the story is about racing, so the audio is somewhat acceptable.
  • 4K – What a memory suck! I love the results from the GoPro Hero 4 Black but the clips are difficult to view as it can be sluggish. But, because my final output is HD 1920X1080, I was able to crop the 4K and/or blow it up and it looked great.

Check out the other short videos and portraits on the Like A Woman channel. And please like our FB page.

VR – Virtual Reality – Will it Replace the Real Experience?

I just returned from the NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) Show held annually each April in Las Vegas. With 4 huge convention halls displaying the latest and greatest technology and gear used in broadcasting, it’s simply overwhelming. Since I’ve never been enamored with just the NAB 2016gear component of my business (still photography and video), but rather in how I can apply or enhance the story that I’m working on, I spend most of my time attending the conference tracks.

Every year, there seems to be a new buzzword. Two years ago it was all about 4K. Last year it was drones (UAVs) and this year it was all about VR (virtual reality) but not the VR of the 1980’s. I’m talking about VR that provides a totally immersive experience for the viewer. Even though I was a bit skeptical and didn’t really see opportunities beyond the gaming sector, I made it a point to check out the VR Pavilion and take a look at some cameras ranging from Kodak’s PixPro SP360 4 K ($499-$899) to Spericam’s V2 a 360° video camera (actually 6 cameras) no bigger than a tennis ball that records in 4K with automatic-stitching, WiFi and streaming baked right in, making viewing and sharing content easy (around $2500), to the high end Nokia Ozo selling for $60,000! As far as the viewer end, here are some of the headset options out there: Oculus Rift, Google Cardboard, and Samsung Gear VR

It wasn’t until I attended a session entitled, Being There – VR in News & Documentary that I began to realize the potential and possibilities of this technology. The panel consisted of filmmakers, journalists, and creative directors from news outlets (USA Today and Sky TV) who talked about how they were applying the tools and utilizing the medium. Like any new technology there are plenty of challenges in both the production and postproduction process, but with technology’s fast moving pace in this niche it’s only a matter of time before just about anyone and everyone will be able to create using this medium. One challenge right now is in stitching together the content in post that is created by 6 -10 cameras. It can be cumbersome and slow accompanied by hours of angst if the cameras haven’t been perfectly aligned and in sync with one another. A question was raised about the reluctance that viewers might have with not wanting to wear the necessary headset, which was one of the obstacles that kept 3D TV sets from being ubiquitous in all of our homes. The panelists answered by predicting that in a year’s time the headset will give way to a contact lens worn by the viewer.

As a story driven content creator, I needed to know why I would want to deliver a story in VR. After this session the light bulbs went off. Because it’s an immersive experience for the viewer, it can also be an incredibly empathic and emotional medium. Imagine the possibilities – red carpet events, concerts or documentaries where you want the viewer to have a truly immersive experience. VR also provides an opportunity for authenticity because it removes the layers between the journalist and the viewer as opposed to 2D, which could have been created on a sound stage.

Even though the principles of storytelling haven’t changed this is a medium that requires a new language or lexicon with new rules. For instance, there is no cropping in VR. There are two important considerations when creating VR. One is proximity and you have to get the camera in close – no more than 2 feet from a subject that the camera may be following. The other component is to have a narrator or presenter – a kind of tour guide that can direct the viewer through the experience. Usually it’s the journalist rather than a voiceover talent, which can be a bit unnerving in this medium or like the voice of God coming out of nowhere. An alternative to using a narrator would be to use graphical overlays that guide the viewer visually. All the panelists agreed that because it’s such an authentic experience for the viewer it’s a medium that’s conducive to creating empathy and moving people to take action. Some said because it is so authentic it may mislead people inadvertently to disconnect because they have no sense of danger and we run the risk of viewers becoming numb to the experience but only if the filmmaker doesn’t provide the opportunity for a call to action. Live streaming in VR is a game changer because now filmmakers can influence in real time.

I’m not yet convinced that it’s a medium for me or if I’m ready to be a pioneer and deal with what comes with that. The rewards and opportunities are there, as they usually are for frontrunners. That is if it isn’t just a passing fad and you’re willing to take that risk. There is already a trade association for VR creators, IVRPA (The International Virtual Reality Photography Association) so my guess is it’s more than a passing fad. In a world of couch potatoes or those stifled by fear, there may be plenty of people who will choose VR over the real experience.

Check it out for yourself.

VR Stories by USA Today Network

Immerse Yourself in Stories of America 

Google Play
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.gannett.vrstories&hl=enand

iTunes App Store
https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/vr-stories-by-usa-today/id975006820?mt=8

Condition One*
Experience a Perilous World with At-Risk Species, and at a Factory Farm

Google Play
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.conditionone.vrplayer_cardboard&hl=en

Platform agnostic streaming with or without Cardboard:
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3VWeehBnL_VL-92K6VImiw

Ryot – VR
Go Around the World to See New Perspectives, Regions, Cultures and People

Google Play
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.apto.ryot_vr&hl=en

iTunes App Store
https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/ryot-vr/id1046058227?mt=8

Platform agnostic streaming with or without Cardboard:
http://www.ryot.org/virtualreality/the-second-line-a-parade-against-violence
(This piece is a RYOT and AP collaboration. Go inside New Orleans, one of our nation’s most culturally rich cities in a socially, politically, and emotionally potent moment in time.)

Google Cardboard
Launch Your Favorite VR Experiences, Discover New Apps, and Set Up a Viewer

Google Play
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.google.samples.apps.cardboarddemo&hl=en

iTunes App Store
https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/google-cardboard/id987962261?mt=8

Platform agnostic streaming with or without Cardboard:
youtube.com/360