A second camera in your pocket

February 19, 2018 11:00

by Simon Perez, Associate Professor, Syracuse University

Today’s multi-media journalists (MMJs) are jacks and jills of all trades. They report, write, shoot, edit, post to social media and, after all that, arrive at tomorrow’s morning meeting with three more original hard news story ideas. With so much to do, MMJs are forever in search of ways to make the job simpler. Here’s one: Use your smartphone, which you already have with you on every assignment, to tell your story more creatively.
A second camera angle
Long gone are the days when local TV news crews took several cameras to shoot day-turn interviews. Sure, the special projects folks working on longer deadlines still do, and to great effect. Seeing interview subjects talking from various angles and showing the reporter on the scene adds variety and sophistication to the story; it makes it seem as though the crew from 60 Minutes is on the scene.
A strategically placed smartphone can provide the MMJ with similar benefits. It doesn’t take much to set up a smartphone during a shoot. An inexpensive tripod and harness is all you need.
Smartphone with tripod and harness  
Smartphone with tripod & harness Tripod & harness

Tip: Always set up the smartphone farther away from you than the video camera. This prevents crossing the line (axis), ensuring the interview subject is looking in the same direction in both the video camera shot and the smartphone shot.
In this example, notice how a strategic edit in the middle of the sound bite adds emphasis to what the video subject is saying. 

In this example, notice how the second angle gives the viewers the impression there are several people working on the story, not just the MMJ alone. 

Reporter interaction
When the viewers can see the reporter interacting with the interview subject, it cements the idea the reporter is really there gathering information for the story. But other than the standard over-the-shoulder two-shot, those interactions are hard for one person to shoot. Unless that person has a smartphone. In this example, the story is about a person walking across the country. Notice how the MMJ is able to be present with the interview subject as he’s walking, helping tell the story in a way a static shot wouldn’t. 

Standups in a hurry
Shooting standups takes time for MMJs, as they jump back and forth, behind and in front of the camera, to set focus, white balance, framing. That process can sometimes mean missing a great background. Enter the smartphone. With its auto focus and white balance, as well as the ability to show the background in selfie mode, an MMJ can shoot a standup in a hurry, capturing fleeting moments that help tell the story. 

Get close – really close
Smartphone portability provides an opportunity for shots you simply cannot get with the larger video camera. For example, in a story about citizen scientists documenting wildlife on the shoreline with their smartphones, it makes sense for the MMJ to do the same thing. Notice how crisp and clear the photos are because the smartphone can squeeze in between the rocks for extreme tight shots. No way the larger video camera is getting in there. 
Go for it
The smartphone also allows you to take risks. Put the smartphone on the ground and drive over it. Attach it to a bicycle handle and pedal away. A sealable plastic bag turns a smartphone into a submersible, again helping to tell the story in a way the larger video camera cannot.  
Simon Perez is an associate professor of broadcast and digital journalism at Syracuse University's S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. In the summers of 2012, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 he returned to his former job as reporter for KPIX TV in San Francisco. He has chronicled his newsroom experiences and the lessons he hopes to bring back to the classroom at http://www.simonperez.com/blog.