A multimedia-enhanced photoblog about San Francisco's North Beach neighborhood

The Famous Green Street Mortuary Band, and my problems with video

The Green Street Mortuary Band is kind of a big deal. The band has been around in some form or another since 1911, but bandleader Lisa Pollard has been in charge for the last 20, during which time the band has tripled or quadrupled the number of funerals they’re hired for, according to Pollard. She credits this increase in business to the quality and professionalism of the band’s musicians as well as the positive word-of-mouth they’ve had over the years. Currently the band is one of only a handful left in the country, but far surpasses the others in terms of business and fame.

On Saturday I headed to North Beach to capture this legendary band on video for one of my SFSU journalism classes. I am by no means a videographer- stills have always been my thing- but I thought, “how hard can it be?” I figured I’d get some close-ups of the instruments, some footage of the band marching, some footage of spectators reacting, a few sit-down interviews and voila! Sure, I knew that DSLR video has no stabilization and is super sensitive, that the autofocus is terrible and that the audio leaves a lot to be desired.

But I told myself that my hands were steadier than most, that my movements would be mimicking the band members’ themselves, and that it would be a nightmare to sync up audio recorded with another recorder with video of the band playing. And that last one is probably true, but anything would have been better than the built-in mic on my 5D Mark II.

I abandoned, (too late in my opinion), the built-in autofocus and went full manual with my focusing. I don’t trust my eyes for focusing, especially with the small screen, but I quickly learned that it was the most attractive option for recording video. While that lesson came late, it came in time to get some decently focused footage.

I was not so lucky with audio, or with motion. A monopod or tripod may not be essential when standing still, (it turns out my hands ARE pretty steady—when I’m not moving), but for panning, even from a fixed location, would benefit IMMENSELY from a ball-headed monopod or tripod. Uggghhhh. I am SO not doing that again.

The 5D II is a fantastic camera for video, and with some tweaks to my methods and toolkit I should be able to maneuver the medium with only minor problems. However, without way more expensive gear, it simply is not a camera you can walk around with while videoing.

My negative experiences boiled down to three lessons learned. Use an external mic OR use your own audio recorder, bring a tripod/monopod, and always, always, use manual focusing.

I hope yo’ve learned something from my video and my experiences.

Until next time, leave the flying to me.

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