16 Mistakes: Embeddable Slide Show

In a recent post, I covered 16 mistakes commonly made by first-time science videographers. Someone asked if I could produce a slideshow that covers the same material and could be embedded on other websites. So, I’ve uploaded a slideshow about the 16 Mistakes to Avoid When Making Your First Science Video on the website, Slideshare. There, you can get the embed code and install the slide show on your own website.

You can see how the embedded player looks below:

I also created a slideshow in Prezi, which is also embeddable. Note, however, that Prezi uses iframes for embedding, which are not supported on some websites without a plugin (e.g., WordPress).

Coming Soon to a Journal Near You: Video Abstracts

[note that this is an updated version of an article I wrote for another blog]

pointatcomputer copyA relatively new trend at some science journals is the publication of video abstracts alongside the written article—in which the authors explain their findings on camera. Video abstracts are typically short (3-5 minutes) and often are freely accessible, either on the journal’s website or on a video-sharing site.

What are the advantages for an author? By using video, authors can explain their work in a way that they are not able to do in print, such as showing footage of their experimental methods, field sites, and/or study organisms. The authors are able to provide a more personal explanation of their findings and put their work into a broader perspective. By posting a video on the internet, an author can raise the visibility of their research because search engines rank video high in comparison with text-only descriptions (especially if it’s the only video out there on the topic). People searching for information on a topic will be more likely to find their video abstract, and the video will lead viewers to the technical paper. The more people who are aware of the work, the more likely they are to cite it. Also, if the video is published on YouTube, the authors are free to embed their video abstract on their own websites, something they often cannot do with their journal publication because of copyright restrictions.

Another important point, often overlooked by authors, is that they can reach a broader audience with a video abstract. For example, a video abstract may reach end-users such as resource managers or health-care workers who might not read the technical paper but would watch a five-minute video. Colleagues in other fields might also find your video interesting even though they would not read your paper. For example, as a scientist, I’m interested in keeping up with major discoveries in other fields. Although I’m not likely to read a technical paper about the Higgs boson, I would watch a video that explains what’s been discovered and what it means. In other words, a video abstract can greatly expand your audience beyond fellow scientists who read your journal articles.

A video abstract that explains your work in everyday language also can be used to show the “broader impacts” of your work, for example, in a grant proposal to a government funding agency such as NSF or NIH. NSF, for example, requires proposers to show both the technical merit as well as the broader impact of the proposed activity on society. Videos that are accessible and understandable by a diverse audience meet the second criterion and serve as documentation of a scientist’s previous contributions in this regard.

What are the advantages for the reader? Video can provide a richer, more interactive experience for a reader. Anyone can access such media without having a subscription or paying a fee—unlike the journal article locked behind a paywall. For non-specialist readers, a video in which the authors explain their work in everyday language would provide greater insight, spark their curiosity about the topic, and possibly encourage them to learn more about it.

What if my journal does not publish video abstracts? Not that many journals support publication of video abstracts. However, this should not stop you from creating and publishing a video abstract on your own. The benefits, as outlined above, should be sufficiently motivating to justify the effort. You can publish your video abstracts on your own website on on a video-sharing site such as YouTube. In fact, because millions of people are searching YouTube for information, your video abstract will be more visible than if hidden on a less frequently visited website.

What will the future hold? Video abstracts are part of an overall trend in multimedia communication of information on the internet, which has been facilitated by the wide availability of digital devices and software for creating and sharing videos. Some science disciplines seem to be getting on the video abstract bandwagon faster than others. Whatever the future of video abstracts, we are clearly in a learning phase. Many of my colleagues have either never heard of video abstracts or expressed little interest in doing one, even if offered the opportunity. Students seem to be more receptive to the idea, possibly because they are more technically-savy and accustomed to watching YouTube videos than their professors.

If video abstracts become standard practice, authors will need to develop some skills at creating such videos (or have someone else do it for them (most likely for a fee)). At a minimum, scientists must understand how to design an effective video abstract. Unfortunately, there are few guidelines for authors who do want to create a video abstract.

To help, I’ve put together a short guide to creating an effective video abstract. It covers eight basic steps involved in planning and creating a video abstract and has links to other resources, including a tutorial showing how to make a video abstract with a smartphone and a simple movie-editing application. Feel free to download the pdf and share with colleagues and students:

Download (PDF, 1.25MB)

16 Mistakes to Avoid When Making Your First Science Video

karen_bookshelfPicture this scenario: A scientist is nearing the end of a research project funded by NSF and is preparing the required summary report written for the public. She decides to create a short video to submit along with her written report. She’s never made a video before—only shot occasional footage with her iPhone. Undaunted, she buys an expensive camcorder and after a bit of practice in her backyard, dives into shooting. She films herself explaining the project in detail from behind her office desk. She goes through all the methods, results, and statistics, making sure to cover all the uncertainties and limitations of the research. She doesn’t bother to edit the footage, not really knowing how to do this. In any case, the clips she shot in her backyard garden look nice and add a bit of scenery to the video. The final video is 29 minutes long. Proudly, she shows it to her lab group, most of whom worked on the research project. At the end of the viewing, there is stunned silence. Then, one graduate student tentatively raises his hand and asks, “You’re not going to put this on YouTube, are you?”

Uh oh.

Novices typically make the same mistakes when they first attempt to create a video. I know because I’ve made quite a few of them myself. I see the same glaring blunders made over and over again in what are clearly first-time videos made by a scientist or science educator. However, many of these errors are easily avoided. Some simply require awareness to side-step them, while others take a bit of practice and/or the right equipment.

I came up with a list of 16 common mistakes (and how to avoid them) based on my own experience. I either made the mistake myself at some point or would have had I not been forewarned about it. I’m sharing them with you in the hopes that they will help you avoid some of the most common errors:

1. Ignore your audience. The number one mistake that you can make is to fail to identify your target audience or fail to keep them in mind when designing your video. I find that scientists too often explain their work as they would to their colleagues, even if their audience is composed of non-specialists with little or no background in the field. It never occurs to them to put themselves into their audience’s shoes.

Solution: During all phases of video production, ask yourself the following questions. Will it make sense to my viewers? Will they find it memorable, interesting, informative, and/or enjoyable? Find more information on how to keep your audience engaged here: Keep Your Audience in Mind and Are Your Science Videos Understandable by a Diverse Audience?.

2. Have no plan. Novices rush out with their cameras and just start shooting. The result? A long-winded, rambling monologue and/or poorly composed footage, which often has no bearing on the topic of the video.

Solution: Prepare a script and storyboard your shots beforehand. Write out what you want to say and also describe or sketch out the sequence of shots (storyboard) you plan to use. Don’t memorize the script, however—just use it to organize your main points and to ensure a smooth delivery. Follow your storyboard to set up your shots and also to guide you in editing.

3. Don’t tell a story. A common mistake that scientists make in a video is to string together a series of facts designed to “educate” the viewer. These facts are presented in a logical and unemotional manner—which is how we are trained to convey science information. Unfortunately, viewers, especially the general public or students, may not react well to this approach. In addition, they may not remember material presented this way.

Solution: Frame your science message in the form of a story. People love stories and will stick around to see how everything turns out. They also tend to remember stories better than bare facts. Explaining science in the form of a story also helps you, the science communicator, make a connection with the audience. A good story asks and answers a dramatic question: What motivates a scientist to study deadly viruses? How does a volcanologist collect (and carry) samples of molten lava? Why should I care about climate change? By using a story, the videographer can present science information accurately and concisely but in a way that engages the viewer.

For more information on the use of dramatic questions and storytelling in science videos, read The Dramatic Question and I’m Not Interesting, But My Research Is.

4. Use bad camera moves. Inexperienced videographers often shoot with hand-held cameras, which produces shaky or blurry footage (and no, it’s not the same as the jerky footage sometimes used by professional filmmakers). Another common mistake is sweeping the camera around erratically (“firehosing”). These problems happen when the videographer has no idea what they want to shoot (in other words, they have not planned anything and are just filming everything in the hopes of getting something useful).

Solution: Carefully plan and set up each shot and use a tripod to steady the camera.

5. Overuse zooming/panning. The controls on many modern cameras encourage novices to overuse the zoom feature, which can be annoying to viewers and also adds unnecessarily to the video length. Too much panning (swinging the camera from side to side across a scene) is also a sign of inexperience.

Solution: Zoom with your feet. Instead of using the camera to zoom in for a close-up, stop and walk closer to your subject and resume shooting. The time spent during a zoom is wasted time and does not add anything of value to your video. Use zoom and pan sparingly and only when you have a specific reason for it.

6. Backlight your subject. Another common error made during filming is to position the subject in front of a light source such as a window, which causes backlighting. The camera automatically selects the brightest light as reference and adjusts everything else accordingly. The result is to put your subject in deep shadow. Backlighting can occur outdoors as well when the sun is positioned behind the subject or is overhead, casting shadows onto the subject’s face.

Solution: Ensure that the light source is behind the camera; if necessary, use extra lamps or reflectors to light your subject. This post and video explain more about backlighting: How to Deal with Lighting Issues.

7. Fail to compose your shots properly. Many novice videographers/photographers put their subject in the center of the frame, which is less interesting to the eye.

Solution: Use the “rule of thirds” to compose shots. Most cameras have an option to show a grid in the viewfinder that divides the frame into thirds from top to bottom and left to right. Use this guide to frame your shots. Read more about this composition tip in this post: The Rule of Thirds.

8. Shoot too wide. Novice videographers (and photographers) often shoot too wide, putting their subject far from the camera lens. The result is often a poorly-composed shot in which details of the scene, the subject, or the action are difficult to see.

Solution: Wide shots are fine if you are trying to show something in perspective—otherwise position the camera close enough to your subject to capture the action and/or details, such as facial expressions. If they are gesturing or demonstrating something, then periodically use a medium shot or possibly a close-up of their hands (and whatever they are holding).

9. Tell but don’t show. Those new to video often rely on verbal descriptions and fail to show what is being described. This approach reveals a lack of imagination and is boring to the viewer.

Solution: Let visuals tell your story. Use text and verbal descriptions to augment the visual depictions—not the other way around. You are making a video, after all. For more information, read Show and Tell and What Is B-roll and Why Should I Care About It?

10. Drag it out.  Some videos seem to drag because the scenery never changes, or the story does not move forward at a good pace.

Solution: Use a variety of footage (or still images) shot in different locations or from different perspectives (close-up, medium shot, wide shot). By changing scenery or perspectives, you add visual interest and move the story forward. For more information, read Keep it Moving.

11. Feature “talking heads”. The novice videographer films long sequences of people speaking to the camera—an approach that is guaranteed to bore viewers. This effect is enhanced when the talking head is a scientist speaking in a robotic manner.

Solution: Use cutaways to other footage, images, animations, or graphics to illustrate what the speaker is describing. By giving the eye something new to look at while the speaker is explaining, you add visual interest and avoid boredom.

12. Don’t worry about the audio. Novice videographers fail to use proper microphones and often don’t pay attention to ambient noises (people talking nearby, dishes clattering, machinery droning, traffic rumbling, wind blowing) during filming.

Solution: Use a lavalier-mic (lapel microphone) to ensure a speaker’s voice is clearly heard. Also use a good quality microphone for voice overs (not the built-in computer microphone). When shooting, review often and listen to the sound with headphones or earbuds. For more information, see How to Improve the Audio of Your Videos Without Breaking the Bank.

13. Have speakers introduce themselves. Having a subject introduce themselves on camera sounds awkward and also wastes time: “Hi, I’m Dr. Hotshot, and I work on a very important subject.”

Solution: Identify people with a simple text caption that appears briefly while the speaker is talking about their topic. The person is clearly identified without adding to the length of the video.

14. Go crazy with special effects. Movie-editing applications often include a library of special video and audio effects. Novices get carried away and use dramatic transitions between clips or glowing text that zooms in and out of the frame. Overuse of fancy effects in an attempt to spruce up otherwise boring footage will fool no one—and will likely annoy the viewer.

Solution: Stick to basic transitions (cut, dissolve) and simple (and consistent) text styles. Use special effects sparingly and only if you have a specific reason to do so.

15. Make it longer than necessary. Scientists making their first video will try to cram as much information as possible into it. They also feel the need to explain every detail and uncertainty (in the interest of accuracy). By the time they finish all that hemming and hawing, the viewer has clicked away to another video.

Solution: Strip your video down to a core message and include only those elements necessary to get that message across. If you can deliver your message in three minutes, then don’t go any longer by trying to cram in more “facts”. For more on the topic, read Strive for Brevity and Can You Describe a Scientific Method in a One-Minute Video?

16. Use copyrighted material without permission. Novices often are unclear about what can and cannot be used in a video. Instead of creating original material, they download images, video, and music from the Internet to create their videos. Unfortunately, they may be guilty of copyright infringement.

Solution: Assume anything on the Internet (or fixed in any other medium) is copyright protected until evidence to the contrary is found. Just because you can download it, does not mean you are justified in using it. The best solution is to use media that you’ve created or media in the public domain. Otherwise, you need to obtain written permission and/or pay a fee to the copyright holder. For more information, see Sources of Public Domain Images.

Well, that’s my list of common mistakes to avoid when making your first science video. This is not an exhaustive list—just the ones that I found to be most problematic for me, a scientist. Some of these are no-brainers, but others you may find difficult to avoid even if you know better.

Want to learn more? I go into greater detail about these and other pitfalls to avoid in my book, The Scientist Videographer. Check it out.

How to Make a Book Trailer: Part Four

We are talking about how to create a media trailer for a book, which is designed to attract potential readers. In the previous posts, I described my own experience creating a trailer for my recent book, The Scientist Videographer. I explained that you need to study other book trailers (step one), identify the central message you wish to convey and elements from your book to include in the trailer (step two), and visualize and acquire the media to use in your trailer (step three).

In this post, I describe the fourth and final step, which is to compile your material and produce the trailer with a movie-editing application. You may be thinking at this point that movie editing is too technically challenging. To create my book trailer, I used the desktop version of iMovie and built the trailer from scratch. However, I will show you a really easy way to create a book trailer using iMovie for mobile devices. This application has an option for creating movie trailers, but it can be modified to make a book trailer. iMovie has templates and instructions that make it super easy to combine your video, still images, and text to produce a professional-looking trailer. iMovie does most of the work; all you have to do is drop your media into placeholders and then render the video. I used my iPad for the demonstration, but you can use an iPhone to shoot and edit your book trailer.

As you will see, I walk you through the iMovie 2013 app (for iOS) and show you how to create a book trailer. (be sure to select the HD version and full-screen for best viewing):

As you saw, the iMovie app is easy to navigate, and the movie-trailer templates provide a structure to guide you. You should be able to find one to fit your book type. If you don’t like any of the trailer templates, you can still use the basic movie editor in iMovie 2013 to create a book trailer from scratch, as I did. In fact, with this app, you can create several trailers for your book, each emphasizing a different aspect of the book or targeting different readerships. If you are working on a series of books, it would be easy to produce multiple trailers to advertise each one. There are a lot of possibilities once you learn the basics of movie editing.

If you want to learn more about planning, shooting, editing, and sharing videos to promote your work, check out my book, The Scientist Videographer (it’s not just for scientists).

How to Make a Book Trailer: Part Three

camera_operation_klmckeeThis is step three in a series of instructions for creating a book trailer. If you’ve not read the previous two steps, you may want to do so before proceeding.

OK, now you’ve got the core message for your book trailer written and the key elements outlined. The next step is to gather or create the visuals for your book trailer. If at all possible, let pictures tell your story. In fact, it is helpful to make a storyboard, which shows the complete sequence of scenes that will comprise your trailer (easily done with post it notes or PowerPoint, as I describe in my book). Either sketch out or use a photo to illustrate each scene and indicate how many seconds will be spent on each one. By estimating the time for each scene, you can more easily keep your trailer within your target time limit.

If you watched my book trailer, you’ll see that most scenes lasted no more than one or two seconds. I was aiming for a fast-paced trailer that accelerated over time. What times you set will depend on the pacing you are going for (more than five seconds per scene, however, will make your trailer seem to drag). Important point to keep in mind: Even though you are describing a book, which may be read at a leisurely pace, your trailer should be designed differently—to satisfy the expectations of a video viewer, rather than a book reader. By this I mean that the content (what the book is about) should appeal to the book reader, but the way the information is delivered should meet the expectations of a video viewer (brief with mostly visual elements, constant movement and addition of new information, and appropriate music carefully keyed to the visual elements—to name a few). See my book for more detailed information about what video viewers expect.

The media you use will depend on a number of factors, including your book’s topic as well as your abilities. You can use video clips, still images, animations, or graphics to serve as visuals in your trailer. The big question is where do you get those media you want to use? In my case, I had a whole library of film clips and images I had shot during years of scientific research. My problem was deciding which ones to use. Authors of textbooks may also have a good library of images they’ve acquired about their topic. However, most authors will not have a lot of visual media at hand and will have two options: to go out and shoot whatever video or still images they need or use media from an outside source.

The latter option may appear to be the easiest approach, but let me caution you to use only media (images, music) for which you hold the copyright (or have gotten permission/paid a fee to the copyright holder) or use media in the public domain (and even this can be tricky). There are many misconceptions about copyright and “fair use”. Just because you can download it does not mean you are legally justified in using it.  But this is a good rule of thumb: Assume that anything on the Internet is copyright protected unless evidence to the contrary can be found. I devote an entire chapter in my book to copyright as it relates to video.

Your best option is to create your own content. Take your smartphone, iPad, or camera out and shoot whatever you need. If you’ve seen something online that you like, try to duplicate it with your own footage or still images. Collar some friends, relatives, or co-workers and get them to help you recreate a scene or action from your book. Use your imagination and have fun!

Once you’ve captured all the media necessary to tell your story, the next step will be to create the trailer. In the next post, I’ll provide a video tutorial that will walk you through the process of compiling your media into a book trailer using a powerful, but inexpensive movie-editing app for mobile devices.