How to Boost Your Blog With Video: Part 1

Earlier this week, a CollazoProjects reader wrote:

I’d like to put more video on my blog but I’m a complete beginner. What software should I use for editing videos, adding music & text etc? Also appreciate any other resources you could point me towards to get started.

Heather’s question is a good one, and it requires such a detailed answer, we decided to write an article–or four– in response!

This is the first article in a series of four articles that offer you a crash course in boosting your blog with video. In this article, we talk about the gear you need to get started.

The second installment will share filming tips; the third will explain the intricacies of editing; and the final article will teach you how to upload, publish, and promote your videos.

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Boosting Your Blog With Video: GEARING UP!

If you want to add video to your blog, you’ll need a video camera.

Wait- I know what you’re thinking: “Forget that I asked! I can’t afford a video camera!”

Don’t stop reading, though.

While there are top of the line professional video cameras that could drain your bank account in one fell swoop, there are also a couple of lower end cameras that will fit into almost any budget. My personal favorite is the Flip Camera, a lightweight, pocket-sized video camera with the capacity to film and store up to 60 minutes of footage at a time. At just $153.00, this video camera is cheaper than most digital cameras and will let you produce some fantastic footage for your blog.

The Flip has some serious limitations, but if you’re aware of them from the beginning, you’ll be able to leverage the camera’s strengths to capture quality video. The Flip works best when you’re in a situation where you can shoot close up. There’s a zoom function, but it doesn’t permit slow and steady user control; furthermore, the microphone is small and won’t capture sound that’s far from the camera itself.

Watch our videos “The Happiest Woman in Guantanamo” and “Alpura Milk Dancers” to get an idea about the kinds of subjects and settings where filming with the Flip works best.

The Flip is super easy to use with respect to downloading and editing. The camera has a USB device that plugs directly into your computer and allows direct downloading. The software comes with the camera and installs quickly. Once you’ve got your video footage on your computer, you can use Windows Movie Maker to edit your clips and produce a finished piece.

If you’re serious about developing quality video and have the budget for a bigger camera, we recommend the Canon HG10. This is a high definition video camera that’s a notch above the home video camera and a few notches below a professional video camera.

This camera has far more flexibility and capability than the Flip, but if you’re going to invest in a camera of this type, be prepared to buy a couple of non-negotiable accessories.

A tripod is a must– we’ve got hours of shaky footage that’s unusable because we shot without a tripod. You can purchase a very decent Canon tripod that comes with its own bag for about $40.

Another accessory you’ll need is an external microphone. While video cameras all come with built in microphones, you’ll be hard pressed to capture audible sound without an external microphone (also called a shotgun mike). We use an AZDEN camcorder microphone. Two notes about this microphone: 1. You’ll need batteries (and will ALWAYS want to do a sound check before you start filming to make sure your battery hasn’t died) and 2. You should always check to make sure your microphone is on before filming.

Our next accessory purchase will be a lavalier microphone, which ranges between $20.00 and $700.00. A lavalier microphone clips onto your subject’s shirt and permits you to capture the very best sound, close to the source.

The Canon HG10 comes with a software CD that provides you with the Corel Ulead editing system. It’s not the most intuitive editing system I’ve ever used, but the quality of video is certainly superior to that of the Flip. Check out our “House of Memories” video to see if you can discern the difference between the Flip footage and the Canon footage. (And you’ll see why we advise you to buy a tripod!)

Finally, once you’ve got all your gear, you’ll need a bag to put it in. There are fancy hard shell cases with interior padding that will keep your gear protected, but these tend to be expensive and are heavy to carry. We use a Baggallini padded valise.

If you buy any of your gear at a store, the salesperson will try to encourage you to buy lots of other gear, but these are the basics. You’ll be just fine if you start with these items and start testing them out. Over time, once you’ve decided what kinds of videos you want to make and why, you’ll develop a better understanding of the accessories you’ll want to buy to enhance your video production.

Movie man photo: Simon Pais-Thomas (Flickr creative commons)

Gear photo: lucianvenutian (Flickr creative commons)

Flip camera photo: rmphotog (Flickr creative commons)

Lessons from the Washerwomen

I’d do my own laundry, but there’s no laundromat where we live in Mexico City.

Instead, once a week or so, I take the bag of laundry down the street to one of the two family-run laundry services on our block. I weigh the clothes with the washerwoman, I wait to receive my receipt, and then I ask the all-important question: “When can I pick up the clothes?”

At one laundry, the washerwoman assures me that the clothes will be ready tomorrow.

At the other laundry, the washerwoman says she expects that the clothes will be ready in two days, but if it’s Friday or Saturday, they’ll be ready on Monday.

The clothes are NEVER ready tomorrow at Laundry A. I wouldn’t mind if it wasn’t done for two or three days, but she always promises that it will be ready the next day and it never is. There’s always a problem: the electricity was off (true); the washerwoman’s mother-in-law forgot to transfer my clothes from the washer to the dryer (also true); and they had more work than they expected (true, too). All this even though I pay in advance and in full. The washerwoman is nice, she remembers my name, and she even delivers the clothes a half block when they’re ready. The problem is, though, that the laundry is never done when she says it is, and inevitably I stop whatever I’m doing or run back home breathless to pick up my clothes by 6 on the day she said they’d be ready.

The clothes are ALWAYS ready at Laundry B. Maybe there was a problem, but the washerwoman doesn’t make it my problem. If I try to pay in advance, she won’t accept my money. Sometimes she doesn’t have change for a 200 peso bill, and if that’s the case, she makes a note on my receipt and asks me to come back when I have exact change. She remembers my name, too.

Now which laundry do you think I patronize?

And what can we learn from this case study?

The first lesson is to underpromise and overdeliver. If you’ve got a track record of not being able to deliver quickly, that’s fine. Plenty of folks specialize in slowness. But don’t tell your customer what they want to hear. Tell the customer the truth. That way, if you finish faster, the customer will be pleasantly surprised.

The second lesson is to avoid making your problem the customer’s problem. We all already have enough problems, and if we’re paying for a service, we especially don’t want to take on the business owner’s problems.

The third lesson is to develop a relationship of trust with the customer. Nothing is better for developing loyalty.

And the final lesson is to not wait until the last minute to drop off your laundry. Note to self.

Photo: kervinchong

5 Ways to Avoid Sticking Out as a Tourist

Many people who travel want to blend in to experience local culture as authentically as possible.

Try these five tips on your next trip:

5) Do not wear your backpack on your chest. It’s called a backpack for a reason. Of all the ridiculous advice given to travelers, the “backpack in the front” maxim is perhaps the worst because nothing spells T-O-U-R-I-S-T more than someone whose backpack isn’t where it’s supposed to be.

This tip is equally applicable to every other type of gear that’s been marketed to protect your money, your passport, and other valuables. The more you’re fumbling around in that money belt hidden inside your pants or struggling to remember which pocket is the real one and which is the false one, the more you draw unwanted attention to yourself.

Instead, try using the same strategy you use at home: common sense.

4) Take cues from the locals. Do women hold their purses tight to their sides? Do people wear shorts, flip flops, or sneakers in the street?

Spend a few minutes doing close observation of local culture and adjust your own behavior accordingly.

3) Do not read a map in the street. Everyone needs to stop to get his or her bearings once in awhile and there’s nothing wrong with that. But do not map-read in the street. Instead, step into a cafe, sit down and sip a coffee, and take a few minutes to gather your thoughts and reorient yourself.

For some great tips about getting reoriented, check out Jacob Bielanski’s article, “How to Find Your Way When You’re Lost.”

2) Carry yourself with confidence… and humility. We travel to get out of our own environment and element, yet this same quality that we seek in our travels also provokes some of our deepest anxieties. Fear and discomfort cause us to act in ways that might not be normal, either for us or the culture we’re visiting.

We may, for instance, become boisterous or loud in an effort to help ourselves feel in greater control of our situation. If this is the case, stop and do a check-in with yourself. Acknowledge your anxieties, get them under control, and carry yourself just as you would at home. Being yourself is a good rule of thumb no matter where you are in the world.

1) Realize that if you’re a tourist, you’re a tourist. I know, I know. You’re saying, “But you’re giving me advice how NOT to look like a tourist!” True, but no matter what lengths you go to in an effort to blend in, there are many occasions when you will stick out for what you are: a tourist.

That’s ok. Use this fact to your advantage. If people ask where you’re from, tell them. Use their curiosity–and yours–to strike up a conversation. Ask questions. Use the curiosity of the traveler to inform your interactions with others. Remember why you’re on the journey.

What are your travel tips? Share your ideas in the comments.

Tourists are coming photo: Le Fromagier Extraordinaire (creative commons)
Tourists photo: ale2000 (creative commons)
Map photo: liefdoen (creative commons)
Child skipping photo: Lola Akinmade (creative commons) *For more of Lola’s amazing photos, please visit her website, www.lolaakinmade.com.

What If You Said Yes?

A few years back, I was participating in a motivational team-building session with people I hardly knew. We worked for the same company but were independent contractors who only got together once a year.

You probably know the kind of meeting I’m talking about: A peppy leader trying to convince everyone to muster up enthusiasm.

Little sandwiches cut into triangles sitting on a tray, wrapped in plastic, just waiting for eager hands to grab them and eat them while gossiping at round tables covered with cheap tablecloths.

Name tags with “Hello!” typed across the top of them.

Totally annoying colleagues desperate to make a good impression on a boss who never sees them.

I find these kinds of meetings terribly trying beacuse everything about them is so forced and so contrary to real, meaningful social exchange. But still, I tried to be the good employee and play along.

I listened as peers far more enthusiastic than I gave their level best to come up with an adjective that matched the first letter of their first name, one of the perennially popular ice-breakers. You’ve probably played this one yourself. “Jolly Julie,” I said when it was my turn, adding “I guess”… not very jolly at all.

And then the peppy leader introduced an exercise that I still think about from time to time because it forced me into a mindset that was incredibly powerful, even if it was only for a 10 minute team-building game.

“Ok! Here’s the deal!” the leader said, punctuating every directive with an exclamation mark. “We’re going to get into groups! Each group is going to brainstorm 20 inventions! They have to be crazy, though, like a toaster that warms your gloves! And every team member has to respond enthusiastically! Every person has to give support to the idea and envision how you would make this product and market it, how you’d make it happen! Ok?! Go!”

“This has got to be THE stupidest exercise ever,” I thought, rolling my eyes as we broke out into our small groups. Could I legitimately disappear for a 10 minute bathroom break?

But as the game evolved, everyone–including yours truly–got into it. To say yes to every idea, to recognize its potential merit, to search for the kernel of good in every single thing… it was powerful. When prohibited from dismissing an idea with a negative knee-jerk reaction, it was pretty amazing how quickly a “no” could be transformed into a “yes,” even with an idea that was totally outlandish.

If I could say yes to a toaster that warms your gloves, what might I REALLY be able to embrace in my life and, more importantly, embrace from other people? Once in awhile I remind myself to try saying yes. Yes to everything.

What if you did the same?

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To read more about the power of YES, check out Misty Tosh’s fantastic website, www.bigsweettooth.com, and read “Y is for Yebo.”

Photo: Andy Welsh (creative commons)

“Let Me Get Back to You About That”: Some Advice from a People Pleaser in Recovery

The subtitle is misleading, actually.

I’ve been a lifelong people pleaser and probably always will be.

Don’t get me wrong: I know who I am and am not remotely reserved when it comes to expressing my opinion, but I love for people to be happy and to live their dreams and will do almost anything to make that possible.

My people-pleasing, though, has become selective. Back in the old days–before I quit the 9-to-5–I was more than happy to give my right arm if you asked, regardless of the reason.

Shortly after I was promoted to the assistant director of a mental health agency at the tender age of 23, I found myself going home angrier than ever at the end of every day.

How was it, exactly, that I’d gone from a therapist with a full caseload to an intake coordinator with a full caseload, to an intake coordinator with a full caseload and marketing responsibilities, to a middle manager with no clear job description AND all the foregoing responsibilities? (Oh, by the way, the increase in responsibilities did not result in an equivalent increase in cold hard cash). Didn’t becoming a manager mean you could begin to slough off the slop work to some line level employee?

My boss didn’t bat an eye as she told me the reason: “You always say yes.”

Note this as a “Eureka!” moment in the book of Julie’s days.

Or a “Duh” moment. Call it what you like.

As I sat in the typically unproductive weekly meeting with my boss known as “supervision,” I learned one of the most valuable lessons of my life: “Eight words,” she said. “Let me get back to you about that.”

Velda went on to explain that almost no one needs–or even expects–an immediate answer to a question that involves a serious reworking of responsibilities and plans. “In fact,” she said in one of those hard-to-listen-to moments, “people kind of lose respect for you when you always say yes. Especially when you do so right away.”

I was still turning that one over in my mind as she stared at me for 20 seconds with a long, searching, and–can I say, self-satisfied?– look that said “I’ve been using you this whole time!”

Since that day, I’ve become much more thoughtful about saying “Yes,” “No,” and “Let me think about it and get back to you.” I try to say “Yes” only when I know immediately and completely that what I’m being offered or asked truly resonates within me. I try to reserve “No” for those moments when I know, instinctively, that an offer or request doesn’t at all fit with who I am. And the magic words… they’ve come in handy. A lot.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? Share your experience in the Comments below.

Photo: Brayan Collazo Alonso