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Tips to Clip: October 2016

A Christmas Gift

It seems that every year, stores put out their holiday displays earlier than the year before. But that can be a good thing because it gives us the opportunity to share out-of-the-box tips.

Holiday lights are great for many different applications. Paul LeGrand of Alameda, Calif., writes that he has created a glow by hiding strands of small Christmas tree lights behind bottles in a bar or under a shelf. Try various lamp colors to find the effect you like.

A string of lamps can provide a warm, broad source when wrapped on a piece of cardboard. Small slits cut into the edge of the cardboard will allow you to zig zag the lights across the surface, keeping all the lamps on the front.

Fastened around the inside of an equipment rack, a string of white lights will become a shadowless work light.

Lighting directors frequently use China balls to provide a very portable source of soft fill light. You can make a China ball by placing a small light inside a round paper lantern, then attaching the lantern to a boom pole. When filming, hold the China ball near the talent, just outside the frame. Jane Paully of Gallup, N.M., gets somewhat the same effect at a lower cost by wrapping her string of lights into a ball and fastening it to an extendable paint roller pole.

A string of multi-colored blinking mini Christmas tree lights can bring a science fiction “control panel” to life.

Each of these folks will get a Tipster Tool Tote for their contribution.

Aiding Audio

Rob Murphy of Houston, Texas, e-mailed with a question about audio. “I am getting a high ratio of noise to voice when using my on-camera microphone to record product demonstrations. Can you help?”

My first suggestion: Don’t use the on-camera mic if a lavalier is available. If that won’t work for you, be certain the camera and its onboard microphone are as close to the sound source (the person talking) as possible. If the mic is a shotgun, is it pointed at the talent?

This tip may work if you are using an after-market mic with a preamp: Try turning down the camera record gain and turning up the mic preamp (usually better quality) to compensate. That should lower the overall noise floor.

If you have control of the situation, you can sometimes reduce echoes and sound reflected from the walls by hanging sound blankets or mover’s blankets just outside the frame. I did that when recording a training demonstration in a large, booming firehouse.

One last suggestion: Turn off the AGC (automatic gain control). That will keep it from searching for a signal by bringing up the gain whenever the speaker pauses.

Wet Wireless Woes

The Problem: You are shooting an exercise video and the instructor is perspiring so much that his or her wireless microphone is shorting.

The Tip: If things have progressed to this point, open the transmitter, remove the battery and gently blot it dry with a tissue. Do not allow the moisture to evaporate or try to blow it dry. The salt that would remain can cause major damage to the transmitter’s circuit boards. Whenever there is a possibility that your wireless transmitter might get wet, seal it in a plastic sandwich bag.

Smart Soldering

You’ll never get caught without solder to make that emergency field repair if you keep a backup supply of a foot or two wrapped around your iron’s cord.

While we’re on the subject, there’ll be a much smaller chance of an accident if you use a stand for your hot iron. The one in the picture can be made quickly in the field from a piece of wire or a coat hanger.

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. To share your shortcuts and easy ways to do things, just drop me a letter or e-mail. We love close-up pictures, but they are not necessary. Send your tips and questions to