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Tips to Clip: November 2017

Knit Picking
You may have noticed that many of the pictures used in this column appear to have been shot against a blue paper background. That is what I used to use, but I have found that an 8-foot-wide roll of seamless paper is bulky to store, hard to transport and difficult to set up without creasing or wrinkling.

My improvement is a large piece of double-knit cloth purchased from the remnants table at a sewing supply store. I can compress the cloth into a small camper’s “stuff bag” when it is not in use, and when unpacked, a quick flip makes all the wrinkles disappear. I have cloths in several colors for different occasions.

Snappy Screens
If you have read this column for any length of time, you have probably gathered that I love gadgets that can be repurposed to solve problems. This tip shows an alternate use for a tool used to fasten truck bed covers.

One of the more difficult parts of setting up a video project is attaching the large projection screens to their frames. The screen fabric must be stretched tight, then secured with snap fasteners. I was working on a corporate meeting last month when one of the video crew showed me a neat gadget that can be adapted to get the job done, preventing torn screens and hurt fingers. The tool is actually made for fastening tonneau covers on boats or trailers. You can locate one online by searching for “Ironwood Pacific Top-Snapper.” Slip the blade of the tool behind the female or bell part of the snap, then, using the leverage provided by the handle, secure it to the stud or male portion. You can see it demonstrated on YouTube.

Packing Padding
When you need soft padding material to ship delicate equipment in an emergency, Bart Tams of Denver suggests you try shredded paper from a document shredder. Protect the item in a sealed bag or wrap it in plastic to keep it clean and prevent ink from transferring.

ID Ideas
(Pic: ID photo setup)

Robert Bell of Houston asks, “I have just been assigned to make new photos for my company’s ID cards and I want to make them look better than those on our driver’s licenses. Do you have any suggestions?”

Here is the kludge I came up with several years ago when I was asked to make a number of ID photos with my cell phone camera. There was no formal equipment.

1. Background I used the top of a large cardboard box as background. Shooting with the lens at its longest focal length shortened the depth of field, throwing the background slightly out of focus and making the corrugated surface less obvious. The tan color generally complemented the skin tones. You can indicate department, levels of security clearance or other information by changing the color of the background.

2. Background Light A small, 4W night-light poked through the cardboard and hidden from the camera by the subject’s body provided separation and produced a pleasing glow.

3. ID and White Balance I had the subjects print their name in block letters on a piece of white paper, then hold it at the bottom of the picture. This made sure we would know the subject’s name and how to spell it. The paper, which also served as a white balance reference, was cropped out when the photos were printed.

4. Reflector I used a white flip chart pad propped up on a chair to fill eye sockets and soften the effect of overhead lights. Ask the subject to turn his or her body slightly while keeping their head and eyes pointed at the lens. Facing straight on to the camera is great for a football player but can give regular people a blocky look. Getting a pleasant smile is usually nice. Saying “cheese” doesn’t really work because your mouth ends up somewhat twisted. Oprah said in an interview that she produces her famous smile by saying “yay.” Hope this helps.

Bagging Bonus
A good way of keeping your stuff organized comes to us from longtime reader Bill Channell of Epping, N.H. He keeps a stock of resealable bags with zippers, from sandwich-size bags for adapters, connectors and other small items up to giant freezer bags for 50- and 100-foot mic cables and extension cords. Always only one item per bag. Label the bag with a permanent marker and squeeze all the air out before zipping.

The better you organize and label bags, the quicker and easier it is to pack for the shoot. You can throw them in your to-go case without worrying about finding a tangled mess later. After the shoot, any empty bags means you’ve lost or forgotten a cable.

What’s Your Idea?
There is an old saying: “Anyone who is fed from the pot should help keep it full.” Over the past 34 years, hundreds of video professionals have given back to the industry by sharing their shooting and production tips through this column. Now it’s your turn. Share your shortcuts and easy ways to do things by sending an e-mail to All submissions become the property of Reizner & Reizner. None can be returned.

Download the November 2017 issue of Digital Video magazine