Basic Steps to Making a Science Video with a Smartphone

One of the biggest barriers for scientists to use video as a communication tool is the perception that video making is time consuming, expensive, and technically challenging. I know that this idea is out there not only because of comments from colleagues, but because this was my impression before I got involved in making videos. What I eventually learned was that advances in communication technology have made it possible for anyone to make a video—with inexpensive equipment and a minimum of time and effort. We now have (1) devices and software that make it ridiculously easy to create an effective and powerful video message and (2) the Internet where we can instantly share our knowledge globally.

To address this particular barrier, I’ve created a new tutorial that is designed to show the science professional just how easy it is now to create a video to share science. My goal with this brief tutorial was to demystify the video-making process for colleagues and students unfamiliar with it and to show how easy it is to plan, film, and edit a video with a smartphone (iPhone). I’ve emphasized the use of smartphones in this particular tutorial because: (1) most people already have one and know how to use it, (2) they have excellent cameras that can produce high definition video, (3) there are excellent movie-editing apps for mobile devices, (4) both the camera and editing software can be readily mastered with minimal training and effort, (5) their Internet accessibility facilitates sharing the video with others, and (6) filming, editing, and sharing a video is accomplished with a single device. Although other types of recording devices and more sophisticated editing software are available, they require somewhat more time and effort to master.

Here’s that tutorial (click here for a direct link):

Mangrove Scientists Gone Wild

What happens when mangrove researchers from around the world get together for a writing workshop in the Florida Keys? For one thing, they learn how to make a video about their research.

I recently attended the Mangrove and Macrobenthos Meeting (MMM4) in St. Augustine, followed by a workshop in the Keys to plan a series of papers about mangroves. At the workshop, I gave a brief tutorial on how to make a video to share science and then challenged the attendees to make a video about mangroves or some other topic of interest.

I began my tutorial with a tongue-in-cheek movie trailer—featuring some of the workshop attendees. I had been filming our drive from St. Augustine to the Keys and our field excursions with my iPhone. I used the footage to create a movie trailer in iMovie for iOS. The idea was to start off my tutorial with a fun example and to show how easy it is to film, edit, and publish a video about an event or other activity using a smartphone.

If you are a newbie videographer, you can use one of the iMovie trailer templates to produce a brief video about an event such as a conference or a workshop. It took me about an hour to create the trailer with the template (most of the time was spent screening the footage and deciding which to use). It’s a great way to advertise an event or to share activities with people who were not able to attend:

How to Create a Split-Screen Effect with iMovie and Screenflow

Have you watched a movie or a video in which two different scenes were played side-by-side on the same screen and wondered, “How’d they do that?” Well, it’s actually easier than you might think, especially if you use movie-editing software for non-professionals such as iMovie.

Split screen is a filmmaking technique that first was used in the movies to allow an actor to appear twice on screen….perhaps playing twins. Before digital technology, split screen was somewhat challenging to accomplish—even for professional filmmakers. But today it’s fairly straightforward with movie-editing software.

In the following video tutorial, I’ll show you step-by-step how to create a split-screen effect using iMovie (Version 10.1.1). There are limitations with iMovie, however. So I additionally show how to use the screen casting software, Screenflow, to edit imported video clips to create a split-screen effect. There are professional editing applications such as Premier Pro and Final Cut Pro that can also be used for this, but these programs have a much steeper learning curve. By comparison, user-friendly editing applications such as iMovie will let you do some pretty sophisticated effects in your video but don’t require advanced editing skills. Even a beginner can learn this editing technique in iMovie with just a bit of training.

If you already have iMovie or Screenflow, then this tutorial will help you learn how to do a split-screen effect. However, you do need to be familiar with the basics of editing with one or both of these applications before trying to apply the split-screen effect. You don’t have to be an expert, but you should at least know how to start a project in the application and import media. Direct link to video in case player window is not visible.

So there you have it. Really easy, right? Try using split screen in your next video and let me know how it worked out.

How to Edit an iPhone Video to Create an Eye-Catching Tweet

I recently taught a workshop on science videography at a science society conference and wanted to post a few Tweets to let society members know about it and to attract additional participants. My plan was to post daily Tweets during the week prior to the workshop. My problem was how to make my Tweets noticeable among the many other Tweets being posted by conference goers. So, instead of attaching photos to the Tweets, I decided to create a series of brief video bulletins to make my Tweets more eye-catching and to emphasize the topic of the workshop.

However, I did not want to spend a lot of time on this, as I had my hands full preparing for the workshop. After a bit of experimentation, I discovered that it was easy to take short (10 second) video clips and use the editing option in the iPhone camera app to add a bit of text describing the workshop. Then it was an easy task to compose a Tweet on my phone and attach the video bulletin, a different one each day. A bunch of people viewed the Tweets, and I attracted several additional participants for my workshop. See below for an example:

Someone who saw my Tweets asked me how I created them. So, this week I put together a tutorial to show how to quickly turn a video clip stored in an iPhone camera roll into an eye-catching bulletin to announce an upcoming event or publication. The resultant video announcement can be exported and posted on a website, on a Facebook page, on a LinkedIn profile, or in a Tweet.

Use Video to Enhance Class Lectures

Video is a fantastic way to augment class lectures and let students see examples of habitats, organisms, and various physical/chemical/biological phenomena. Instead of just listening to a lecture about mangrove forests, students can go on a virtual field trip by watching a video. Quite a few educators are now using videos routinely to illustrate scientific concepts. The number of videos suitable to accompany science lectures is growing (here is a great list of videos for teaching ecology). Many of these are produced by professional filmmakers, but some are created by science practitioners and students.

Ecologists who work in different types of ecosystems and study various processes can make an important contribution to science education by making short documentaries (three to five minutes) focused on a particular topic. You may be doing research in an alpine forest, a grassland, or a coral reef. Or, you may teach a field course in a tropical rainforest or a desert. By shooting some footage and putting it together with a brief explanation, you can provide a unique insight into that ecosystem. If you get into the habit of creating short videos during such excursions, you will eventually build up a library of footage to augment class lectures. Students who take field courses or who are conducting field research can also produce informative videos in which they share their experiences and insights with other students or the general public.

I recently visited a unique ecosystem in southern Japan and decided to make a short video about it. I spent about two hours at the site shooting footage with my iPhone (attached to a monopod). I would have spent that much time anyway taking photos and just exploring the site. I additionally spent about five hours over the subsequent three days editing the clips (with iMovie) and incorporating information from the literature. Whenever I had a few minutes during my travels (waiting for a plane or bus), I trimmed the footage or searched the internet for information to include in the video. I did most of the initial editing on my iPhone, but finished the video on my computer using the desktop version of iMovie.

The resultant 4.5-minute video would be suitable to show in a lecture about climate controls on plant distributions or a more specialized lecture about mangrove ecosystems.

Now, some of you may be hesitant to make such a video, thinking that it will take a lot of time or will never be as good as professional science documentaries. Well, your videos don’t have to be of BBC quality to be effective. Also, you don’t need fancy equipment or a film studio to produce an informative and high-quality video. I used an iPhone 6 to film this video, which was rendered in high definition (1080p). As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the iPhone is easy to use to capture video, especially if you know a few basics. Movie-editing is also quite easy with applications such as iMovie. Video-sharing sites allow creators to easily upload their videos online where they are readily shared with others.

The main point here is that with a little effort, I was able to create a mini-documentary about a topic of interest to students and researchers studying mangrove forests. Students may read about the distributional limits of mangroves, but text descriptions are dry and often not very interesting. A video, on the other hand, takes the viewer across oceans to a remote site they will likely never have the opportunity to visit and creates a memorable example of mangroves growing near their northernmost limit. The video is also understandable by non-specialists who might travel to southern Japan and want more information about unique coastal vegetation found there.