By Hamid James, Panasonic Product Manager of PTZ Camera Systems
The unforeseeable phenomenon, coronavirus or COVID-19, has forced many businesses to get creative, making it essential for video production teams to integrate new forms of technology into their planning as a way of keeping and growing an engaged audience. With in-person interactions lessening, remote production has become commonplace; however, many companies are executing in this way for the first time ever, running the risk of falling short of viewer expectations. Although the landscape is changing, traditional cinema-style production can now in some shooting situations be replaced by newer robotic cameras and production teams can capture the same style of live video remotely. To help production teams navigate these uncharted territories, I’ve compiled a list of essential tips that can help minimize the risk of an unsuccessful remote production.
Example of poor lighting resulting in unwanted color reproduction and muddy image quality. Image credit Panasonic.
Set Up Lighting Properly
Lighting does not have to be complicated – it just needs to be there – and spending an extra 30-minutes to set up your space and adjust different light sources will drastically improve the overall video quality. There’s a huge difference in how the human eyes perceive light compared to cameras lens; cameras need a lot more light to capture high-quality imagery so don’t sell yourself short and use as much lighting as needed.
One factor to consider: location, location, location. When deciding on where to shoot, it’s best to avoid locations that offer not enough lighting or too much backlighting. Poor lighting will create unflattering shadows on a subject’s face, and too much backlighting can cause cameras too overcompensate exposure, rendering a subject’s face too dark. This happens when cameras are shooting towards a window with bright sunlight, or the frame is positioned towards another light source. If you’re shooting outside, avoid capturing video in direct sunlight.
Adding and adjusting light sources can remove unwanted shadows under facial features and drastically increase the image quality. Image credit Panasonic.
Considering today’s remote reality, production teams are facing new challenges to essentially recreate studios at home, so if needed, use as many light sources you have to get the job done. Remember that pinpointing lighting directly on subjects or objects will help persuade your audience to direct their attention on an intended spot. This ensures important aspects of the production are not missed. Use directional lighting to control different aspects of the production and make sure bright lights are not pointed directly at cameras. When needed, use light sources to add color and texture to otherwise bland environments.
Camera placement is crucial. Set your camera at eye level. Image credit Panasonic.
Common Oversight: Framing the Shot
Camera framing is not simply pointing a camera at your subject and pressing the record button. Framing is the placement and position of the subjects in your shots and your subjects’ relationship to each other and the camera. Framing your subject correctly is imperative to keeping your audience engaged.
Looking down at the camera and having a cluttered background produces an awkward shot. Image credit Panasonic.
To produce a compelling picture versus an unattractive one, setup the camera so the lens is positioned at your subject’s eye line. Be sure not to frame your speaker’s forehead in the center of the shot, and use the Rule of Thirds to create a well-balanced frame. Additionally, opt for a clean, simple background with solid, neutral colors so your audience is not distracted.
Simplify Your Arsenal
It’s in our nature to overcomplicate things and it’s easy to do so. Knowing this, it’s important to adopt future-proof solutions that minimize production complexities. No one wants to experience a component or piece of gear failing unexpectedly, especially during a live stream. Today, there are plenty of solutions available that are simple to setup, integrate well into existing infrastructures, and offer access to features remotely, which is valuable especially now.
PTZ cameras are frequently used in studios due to their live AR / VR video production capabilities. Image credit Panasonic.
Pan Tilt Zoom (PTZ) cameras offer production teams feature sets and capabilities designed for remote live streams. If you’re planning to adopt PTZs, the following features are worth considering.
Look for PTZs offering a wide variety of IP transmission protocols, including real-time messaging protocol (RTMP), real-time messaging protocol secure (RTMPS), and secure reliable transport (SRT). RTMP enables high-speed video delivery through dedicated streaming servers, and RTMPS is a more secure form of RTMP. SRT is an industry recognized open-source protocol alternative for transport technologies — helping to deliver reliable streams, regardless of network quality. In short, these protocols can be highly valuable depending on your specific production needs.
Adopt PTZs supporting versatile outputs like 12G-SDI, which offers a number of advantages compared to other interfaces and standards for transmitting professional video and audio. Specifically, 12G-SDI is used in a wide range of situations, from live streaming of events to studio production. Opt for PTZs that have built-in NDI support as it greatly enhances the ability to send video over standard network cables and routers. NDI is becoming more popular because of its low latency transmission of high-quality 4K 60p video. Lastly, consider PTZs equipped with a wide-angle lens for field of view and high capacity optical zoom. An added plus is a PTZ device that supports FreeD protocols, which are used on popular virtual set systems today.
Test Video and Audio Equipment More Than Once
Okay, so you’ve done your homework, finalized your script, dialed-in your gear, and your team is ready for lights, camera, and action – but wait – did you conduct any practices runs before hosting your live stream? Be prepared and ensure all equipment is working properly before going live. Remember to minimize unwanted noises using noise suppression software, installing acoustic and sound absorbing foam where needed, and utilizing a professional grade lavalier microphone. Last but not least, test your network speed! Your Internet upload speed and viewers’ download speed are major influences that determine the video quality of the live stream. A general rule of thumb is the broadcaster’s upload speed should be at least double of the viewer’s Internet connection.
Practice, Refine and Repeat
No doubt about it: remote production is challenging, especially during challenging times. Adding to the challenge is the fact that there are no re-dos or stopping, so your production team needs to be quick on their feet for unsuspected hiccups. If you implement these tips and tricks, your next live remote production should be successful. And if you’re looking for an example of how production teams can overcome challenges associated with live streaming remotely, check out this blog from Panasonic, which illustrates the company’s experience hosting its very own virtual event.
Hamid James is the Product Manager for remote production for Panasonic Professional Imaging and Visual Systems. With more than 10 years of experience working with IT and AV technology and solutions, Hamid has developed professional AV display and camera solutions for various projects across verticals.