You’re Only As Good As The Last Thing You Shot

BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front):

Never “phone it in” thinking you’ll get a chance to create something better “tomorrow,” because tomorrow never comes, and now you’re stuck with subpar work floating around out there with your name on it.



I Phoned It In:

I screwed up.  I was  doing an evidentiary photography job for the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA, formerly JPAC).  All my photographer buddies who have done work for these guys told me this command has a really conservative public affairs posture (by that I mean, “they don’t release anything.”)  Well, the command recently went through some big structural changes, so I figured I’d holler at the PAO and propose some products.  The PAO was really receptive, so I decided to create some PA products in addition to my primary evidence photography duties.

Instead of diving in head first, I decided to test the waters.  I wanted to test command’s releasing posture, so I banged out a quick package of products in the first week of the mission.  I turned in a multimedia piece, a print story, and seven photos.  The products weren’t horrible, but they weren’t intended to be the last word on our recovery mission in Vietnam.

Why did I turn in stuff I wasn’t totally stoked on?  Honestly, I was lazy, and I didn’t want to put a lot of work into a product package that wasn’t going to get released. I figured if the stuff got released, I would have time to create a second, more refined package of products.  Well, things didn’t work out that way.  The weather really hampered our mission.  We couldn’t get to the mission site most of the time we were in country.

So, my quickie, throw-together products were the only things I was left with to represent this mission.  I thought about reworking the products, but the release process with this customer is pretty lengthy, so that wasn’t really an option.

… The Last Thing You Shot:

Photographers (videographers especially) can be pricks (especially me).  “You’re only as good as the last thing you shot” is a saying that’s been around forever.  Of course, it’s a totally untrue and unreasonable standard.  A shooter, writer, producer’s talent level is, of course, the sum of his/her body of work.  However, I use the saying to motivate myself, and I believe it helps me push myself to always produce at my highest level.  Resting on your laurels is the kiss of death in our career field.  Every time I start thinking, “I’ve got this MC thing locked down,” I meet some junior MC who is 10 years younger than me but only 10 months behind me skill wise.  And that young guy/gal doesn’t care what I did “back in the day.”  He wants to know what I’ve done lately, and that keeps me hungry to be proud of my latest work.

In Conclusion …

I phoned a product in, and now “the last thing I shot” isn’t something I’m completely happy about.  The moral of the story is: Give it everything you’ve got today, because tomorrow isn’t promised.




Keep Big Projects and Photos from Slowing Down (crashing) Adobe Premiere

BLUF (Bottom Line Up Front):

Q1: How do I keep Adobe Premiere from crashing/slowing down when my project gets too big?

A: Use the Media Browser instead of importing the files into your project.

Q2: How do I keep Adobe Premiere from crashing/slowing down when I’m working with still photos in my timeline?

A:  Your photos are probably huge.  Use Photoshop to resize them to a video/film frame size.

Opening Shots:

I was recently at a two-week small-arms/photography/videography training exercise (you’re not gonna find that combo anywhere but combat camera.)  Besides being one of the mass communication instructors, I was also tasked with editing a video using the VI products the students were turning in.  There were 16 students, and every day I chopped up each of their primecut reels and interview reels and organized them on timelines. Sixteen primecuts per day for two weeks equals a lot of footage.  I worked in one Premiere project for the entire time.

On one of the first nights of the exercise, some of the students were surprised to hear that when I’m on a real-world mission, I will usually work in one project for weeks at a time.  I explained that I’m able to do this because I keep my projects lean by using Premiere’s built-in Media Browser.  I assumed everybody has been using Media Browser for a while now, so I just glossed over the point and moved on to the next subject.

At the end of the two-week exercise, the best editor from each team edited together a multi using footage/photos his team had captured throughout the exercise.  That’s when the trouble started. Computers were freezing up, Premiere was crashing, projects were getting corrupted and error messages were flying.  At first I didn’t know what was causing the havoc, but a quick peek into the editors’ workflows pointed toward two culprits:

1. Editors were importing entire primecut reels into their projects instead of using Media Browser to load the clip into the Source window and edit from there.

2. Editors were working with (many) full-sized JPG stills in their timelines.  Instead of resizing the photos to a reasonable size (e.g.: 1920×1080) before bringing them into Premiere, editors were resizing in Premiere.

(Just for your situational awareness, the problems we were having were on MacBooks running OS X with 16 gigs of RAM and a 2.7 GHz processor and using Premiere CS6)

Using the Media Browser and resizing photos in Photoshop are two really easy workflow shifts that’ll really help keep your Primo projects lean and mean.  Here’s how I roll:

Media Browser in Premiere

If you want to keep your Premiere project lean, DO NOT IMPORT VIDEO into the project. Use the Media Browser. One of the advantages of Premiere over other systems is that it can work with almost every video file format without having to transcode it.  This means you don’t have to import a ton of video into your project.  So, you can leave the video where it lives on your computer or hard drive, and just use the Media Browser to navigate to the video files.

The media browser tab lives behind the project tab in the "Editing" workspace of CS6.

Find the Media Browser: The media browser tab lives behind the project tab in the “Editing” workspace of CS6.



Find the Media Browser

You can find the Media Browser tab behind the Project tab (if your Workspace is set to “Editing” in CS6).







Navigate to the Video Files

Navigate to the video clip.  Double-click the clip to load it into the Source Monitor.

Navigate to the video clip. Double-click the clip to load it into the Source Monitor.

In the Media browser tab, navigate to the folder where you keep your video. I keep my video in my “Movies” folder. In this example, I’ve navigated to some F-35 footage I shot in October 2014.  Once I’ve navigated to my video folder, thumbnails of the video clips appear in the Media Browser.

Double-clicking a thumbnail will load the video clip into the Source Monitor where I can create In and Out points and edit into the Timeline.

I haven’t done any research on it, but I’m pretty sure this is the way Premiere is designed to work now. At our training exercise we had folks importing clips into their projects (File> Import). Their projects were dealing with 14 days of footage from multiple people, they were importing a ton of footage, and I believe that is what was freezing and crashing their projects. Once we got them using the Media Browser workflow most of the crashing issues cleared up.

Resize Photos to a Video Frame Size

Resize photos to something that is closer to the 1920 x 1080 pixels video frame size.

4928 pixels?!? This photo is huge for most Navy video projects. Don’t make Premiere think so much. Resize photos to something that is closer to the video frame size of 1920 x 1080 pixels.

Still photos were another thing that was causing Premiere to freeze or crash. Some of the editors were importing full-sized photos and scaling them down in Premiere. At the very least, this is going to slow Premiere down. Once the editors had edited in a bunch of these full-sized photos Premiere started crashing and freezing.

There are a million ways to resize a photo. In Photoshop, go to “Image > Image Size” (or CMD + OPT + I). In the Image Size dialog box, change the width of the photo to something closer to the 1920 pixel-width of a video frame.

The example I used here was a JPG that had already been compressed, and it was still 4928 pixels wide (about two and a half times bigger than the typical video frame width of 1920 pixels).

(One more point about resizing photos: I save my JPGs at a medium quality of 7. I know this is probably heresy to some people, but it gives me a good quality image that isn’t a pain in the ass to move around and manipulate.)

In Conclusion …

So, these were two fixes to Adobe Premiere problems we were having at our COMCAM exercise.  If you’ve got any fixes or bugs, please hit me up and let me know.



Getting the Front Page on

Opening Shots

Whenever I do a public affairs job, a couple of my “marketing” goals are to get my videos into the top banner on and to get my still photos into the “Images of the Day” gallery on the front page of  The first step is to produce quality products; the second step is pushing the images/print/video to the right places.  Transmitting imagery to is what this blog post is about.

Getting the Top Banner

Most of the pieces in the top banner come from All Hands Magazine Online (  AH doesn’t want just video or just stills.  When you send them images, they want a print story to go along with it.  The print story can be a straight news story, or it can be a print feature.

Once you’ve got your products, here is how you get your products to

1. Get the username and password for the Defense Media Activity (DMA) FTP site.  I got this email address from the AH Best Practices page:  Drop them a line and ask them for the username and password.

2. Go to the FTP site by typing into the address bar of your of your internet browser.

3. Type in the username and password you got from the folks at

DMA's FTP Log In Screen

4. Click the “up arrow” 02 up arrow in the top row of buttons.

5. Browse for the file you want to upload.

Upload Screen

6. Once you’ve chosen your files, hit “Upload” to begin your upload. This may take awhile depending on your internet connection.

7. At this point, you’re done.  You just have to wait until your file is done uploading.  As a side note, I would recommend downloading Filezilla FTP Client.  It’s free, it’s approved for government computers, and I believe it’s faster and more dependable than a web browser to get to the FTP server.

Getting into the Images of the Day Gallery

Getting photos into the Images of the Day gallery is easier and harder than getting videos into the banner.  It’s easier to transmit the images — you just email them — but the Navy Imagery folks get a gazillion photos each day, so there is a lot more competition vying for a spot in this gallery.  But, hey, at least it’s easy to send the pictures.  Here’s how you do it.

1. Attach your photos to an email.

2. Copy and paste all your VIRINs and captions into the email.

caption email

3. Email it to:

4. Hit “send,” and you’re done.

Here are a few side notes:

  • I shoot RAW, and after I edit, I save as a JPG with the quality slider at 7.  I’m not sure if this is SOP, but I’ve never had any complaints.
  • They can’t put vertical images into the Images of the Day gallery.
  • The Images of the Day (and all the photos on are chosen by the Navy Imagery folks at the Pentagon, whereas’s top banner is chosen by the DMA folks at Fort Meade.

In Conclusion

I always try to get my stuff on no matter who else I’m marketing to.  It’s a little extra work at the back end of a project, but I’ve found that my customers are usually pretty psyched on seeing their unit on the front page of the Navy’s web site.  That type of exposure usually buys me a little more access the next time I work with that unit.  So it’s a win-win for everyone.  Thanks for reading.  As always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to reach out to me on Facebook (cote brett) or via email (


My Video Workflow

I’ve been doing this Navy video production thing for about ten years now. Over that time, I’ve developed a workflow that streamlines my production process. There isn’t anything magical about what I’m doing, but it works, and I’d like to share it with you.

If you’re new to the rate, or if you’re venturing into video/multimedia from a still or print background, I invite you to check out my workflow, and see if you can find something useful.

Here are the basic overall steps of my workflow:

  1. Create a “roadmap” of soundbites to help guide you through the interview.
  2. Interview after the event.
  3. Go through your interview footage and create a phat interview sequence.
  4. Slice down and rearrange the phat interview until you have a solid skeleton of soundbites that tell your story.
  5. Lay down your music track.
  6. Edit in the pictures and photos.
  7. Mix your audio. Start by leveling out your soundbite track with the other tracks muted. Then, turn on your nat sound and level it. Then turn on your music and level it.
  8. Adjust the color of your video tracks.

The Interview:

If possible, I usually shoot my interview after the event. I do this for two reasons:

  1. After witnessing the event, I have a better understanding of the event and the story arc. I know the important parts, the visual parts, and the parts that can be left out without hurting the story.
  2. I know what shots I’ve got. Even if I haven’t had time to review my imagery, I’ve got a good idea of what I captured on video and in stills.

Interview Roadmap:

I take a couple of minutes before an interview and jot down what I call a “roadmap.” My roadmap is a list of soundbites that tell the story of the event. For example, if I was doing a piece on Navy divers working with some Guatemalan navy divers, I would imagine the completed multimedia piece in my head. I would think about the soundbites that would make a complete piece, and I would jot those soundbites down. Here’s a bit of what my roadmap might look like:

  • We are in Guatemala working with the FEN (Guatemalan special forces).
  • This week we worked on searching signals in the classroom, then we practiced them on dry land, and finally we did them in the water.
  • Searching signals are a way for a diver to communicate with the surface by pulling on a line attached to the diver.
  • We all took turns diving and “driving” the diver.
  • It was a really great engagement, and I’m really impressed by the way they operate.

“I use it as a cheat sheet to guide me through my interview”

Once I have my roadmap jotted down, I use it as a cheat sheet to guide me through my interview. While I’m interviewing, I look at the roadmap and ask questions to elicit the soundbites I need to tell the story. My roadmap usually has more soundbites than I end up using in the final product.

Here is a photo of one of my actual roadmaps, and a link to the video that came from this roadmap.


interview roadmap


Here’s the video that I produced from this roadmap:

As you can see, my roadmap is just jotted down in chicken scratch. It doesn’t take a lot of time or effort. For years, I wrote down a meticulous list of questions for every interview; that was too much wasted time/work. I also went through a short phase where I was just freestyling questions with very little preparation; my OCD wouldn’t allow that to continue. The roadmap method I use now is a happy medium that works well for me without taking up too much time or energy.

(On a side note, here’s a link to a post I did on simple interview-lighting techniques: )


At my current command, I work in Adobe Premiere, but my basic workflow is universal to whatever editing platform I’m using.

The “Phat Interview”:

The first step in my editing process is to chop up my interview. I create a new sequence and I chop up my interview into small, manageable soundbites. This serves two purposes:

  1. I get to listen to my entire interview while I’m chopping it up. This gets me familiar with the soundbites I have to work with.
  2. I have all my soundbites on one sequence in my timeline, and, because they’re chopped up, I can use my keystrokes (up and down arrows in Premiere) to jump through the interview when I’m looking for a particular soundbite.

I call this my phat interview.

phat interview timeline


The “Skeleton Interview”:

My next step is to create a skeleton of the story I’m going to tell. This is the most important and most difficult step in my workflow. This is where I create the story’s framework (or skeleton). This is the structure on which the rest of the story is built. It doesn’t matter how many great sequences I shot, if I don’t arrange my soundbites in a way that tells a cohesive story, then I’m not going to have a solid multimedia piece.

For the skeleton, I duplicate my phat interview. I move all my soundbites to the right.  This creates an open space on the left-hand side.  In that open space I start bringing over the soundbites I’m going to use, and I start arranging them into a story skeleton.

In the example below, the green clips are my skeleton, and the purple clips are the leftover soundbites that I don’t plan on using.


skeleton interview


Drums Please:

My next step is to lay down some music. For me, music determines the rhythm of the piece. So, I want to have that rhythm there when I start editing video and pictures over the skeleton I’ve created.

By the way, I HATE digging through production music to find the perfect song. If I find a piece of music that’s cool, but isn’t right for the for the particular multimedia I’m working on, I will download it anyway. I’ve been doing that for about a year, and I’ve created a little library of quality tunes. My library is the first place I look before I resort to searching online.

“The Navy currently has an account with a music library called Killer Tracks”

The Navy currently has an account with a music library called Killer Tracks.  If your command doesn’t have access to it, ask your chain of command to get in touch with the folks at Navy Visual News in the Pentagon, or the Navy Production department at the Defense Media Activity.  Someone at one of those places will be able to point you in the right direction toward getting access to some music.

The Fun Part:

Editing video and photos over the interview is my favorite part of the process. Beyond the basics of sequencing, matching action, and having your pictures match what your soundbites are saying, I don’t really have any tips for this part.

Audio Mix:

Good or bad audio will separate the pros from the chumps. There are a million ways to get an acceptable audio mix. Here are the steps that I follow:

  1. I turn off (mute) all my audio tracks except for my soundbites (which is usually my “Audio 1”)
  2. I set the levels for my soundbites. I go through each of the soundbite clips and make sure the levels stay between -12 and -6. These numbers aren’t written in stone, but I’ve found that if the soundbites peak at -6, it gives me enough room to work with once I turn the nat sound and the music tracks back on.

audio levels

  1. After I’ve leveled the soundbites, I turn on the nat sound track (the audio from the b-roll video). I leave my soundbites on, too. I go through every clip making sure the nat sound isn’t overpowering the soundbites. I am also raising the nat sound during spots where there are no soundbites. I’m doing this step by ear, but I’m making sure the audio levels don’t peak out into the red.
  2. Next I turn on the music and follow the same steps: make sure it’s not overpowering the soundbites, make sure the audio levels aren’t peaking in the red, raising the music levels where it makes sense to do so.

Color Grading:

The last major step in my workflow is enhancing the color of my video. This can be memory intensive and require a lot of rendering. I do this step last so I don’t have to re-render my color effects a million times while I’m editing the video.

I don’t have a set technique for color grading. I’m always trying new things. Sometimes I’m drastic with it; sometimes I’m subtle with it. I just went on a little kick where I was working in contrasty black and white.

“Shout out to NPASE East’s MC3 Andrew Schneider for turning me on to Premier’s RGB Curves”

Right now, I’m using RGB Curves and Color Balance (HLS) to get a slightly over saturated and contrasty look. Both of these effects are found in the “Color Correction” section of Premiere’s video effects. Shout out to NPASE East’s MC3 Andrew Schneider for turning me on to Premier’s RGB Curves.


color grading


The basic adjustments I’m into right now are:

  1. Creating a slight “S” curve on the Master channel of the RGB Curves
  2. Bumping up the Saturation a bit in the Color Balance (HLS)

NOTE: I’m having a hard time using this technique to get a consistent look in my underwater shots.


Shooting is a whole topic by itself, but I just want to make two quick points here:

  1. A. B. S. Always Be Shooting. (
  2. You’ve got to be comfortable shooting stills and video (and writing print stories, and creating graphics.) We are no longer “still guys” or “video guys.”  In my experience, the customer is not  impressed by “focused excellence.”  The customers expect an MC to be all things media.

In Conclusion:

Once again, there is nothing magical about this workflow, but it works for me, so maybe parts of it can work for you.  Thanks for reading, and, as always, please feel free to contact me on facebook or email.


Putting in Work on Deployment

I’m about six weeks into a five month deployment.  This is my first deployment as an underwater photographer.  Right now, I’m in Belize, Central America, attached to a company of divers from Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2.

I’ve been working on improving my still photography — both underwater and topside.  I’ve got a couple gems in my portfolio now, but not enough to write a post about what I’ve learned so far.

In this post, let’s look at some video pieces that I’ve released on this first leg of the deployment. I chose these videos because they each illustrate a point I’d like to make about the work we do as Mass Communication Specialists.  So here we go …

The Divers — Putting in work

The first leg of this deployment is Belize. I wanted all the Belize pieces to have a consistent look, so that if you saw one and liked it, it would be easy to recognize later pieces.  I chose to work in black and white. Some people will say that black and white is like an effect and an editor should have a reason to use it. My reason was I had never done it, and I wanted to do it. Good enough reason?

The color barrier: I didn’t want to make the underwater shots black and white. For the transition shots I went into After Effects with a color copy and a black and white copy of the transition shot.  I used a mask set to “subtract” and went frame by frame adjusting the  mask to match the water line. This was a really long and arduous process for a few seconds of video, but it was totally worth it.

“The audience can see the work that goes into a piece, even if they don’t know they can see it”

The black and white: Instead of just desaturating the video to create the black and white effect, I used the “calculations” effect found in the “color correction” section of the “video effects” list in Adobe Premiere.  Here is an example of what one of my clips looked like:


I would play with the “Input Channel”, the “Second Layer Input Channel”, “Second Layer Opacity”, and the “Blending Mode” until I got the look I wanted.  I also added a “Brightness and Contrast” effect to the clips.  I like to make the video really contrasty; I like the whites to be white and the blacks to be black. Once again, putting in the time to get the black and white just the way I wanted it was time consuming, but it was totally worth it.  The audience can see the work that goes into a piece, even if they don’t know they can see it.

EOD — The message

The exercise that I’m on is called Southern Partnership Station.  I’m the only Navy combat cameraman on the deployment.  The other MCs on the deployment are from Naval Public Affairs Support Element (NPASE) East, because this is basically a public affairs mission. Like all public affairs missions this one has certain messages that the Navy would like us to promote.  One of the messaging guidelines here is that we — the U.S. — are not “training” or “teaching” the host nation military units. We are, instead, sending in our “subject matter experts” to talk to their “subject matter experts.”  In a lot of situations here in Belize, this just isn’t the case. Our vast military budgets and 13 years of war have made our guys experienced in a way that a lot of other military units aren’t.

The Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) techs were obviously “teaching” the Belizean SEALs, but I had to be careful not to use any soundbites that actually said “teaching.” I was also on the lookout for moments that could show the local forces sharing some of their knowledge with our guys. I found that moment at around 1:13 where a Belizean SEAL was explaining a certain terrain feature to the U.S. EOD tech.

The message is the main reason the Navy has us (MC’s) doing what we do. If the Navy didn’t have a perspective to promote, then the Navy wouldn’t have Mass Communication Specialists. You’ll know you’re level-26-grand-ninja when you can make the message entertaining.

A note on style: Something about black and white video makes me think of styles from the late ’60s and early ’70s. This video definitely reflects that retro influence. The music, the opening tri-fold, the wipe transitions and, of course, the porn music.

The Marines — Always. Be. Shooting.

There’s a scene from the movie Glen Gary Glen Ross where Alec Baldwin is a motivational speaker talking to a group of salesmen, and his mantra is “A-B-C: Always Be Closing.” Look it up on YouTube; it’s pretty rad. Anyway, my mantra is, “Always Be Shooting.” On deployment, I always stay busy even when I don’t have to be busy. That’s how I came into this Marine side project.

The Marines had built an obstacle course on the base here. If I hadn’t been busy with the Navy units I was assigned to, I would’ve done a longer piece on them building the course. On the last day of construction, I got up at 4 in the morning to get some photos of the last bit of welding.

I did this shoot as a favor to the Marines who weren’t really getting any attention for the good work they were doing.  I thought I was gonna wake up early, scrape out enough stills and video to make a short multimedia piece, and that would be all there was to it.  But I ended up getting one of the best still photographs I’ve ever shot.  I will probably end up submitting this shot to the contests at the end of the year. So, I ended up getting a lot more out of the shoot than I expected. That’s why I say “Always Be Shooting.”  My schedule said I could’ve taken the day off, but by staying busy, the benefits ended up outweighing the cost.  Always Be Shooting.

The Pressure Chamber — Making something out of nothing

The first week we got into Belize we weren’t really doing anything exciting, but I was itching to start putting out products. In this job, sometimes you’ve got to turn unappealing events into appealing multimedia. This multi’s entertainment value relies completely on style and basic sequencing. If you’re paying attention, there is no real story here.  The piece just talks about the recompression chamber, but it doesn’t really tell a start-to-end story.

Sometimes, the event you’re covering isn’t really exciting.  Sometimes it’s just a few dudes setting up a piece of equipment. This is when it comes down to you as the shooter/editor to make the piece entertaining.  In this piece I fell back on the basics of sequencing, I shot a lot of close-ups, and I glossed over it all with that retro style I talked about earlier.

In Conclusion …

I’ve done a couple more pieces since I’ve been here, but these are the ones that highlight the major points that I really want to make:

  • Sometimes you’ve got to make unappealing events into appealing multimedia
  • A-B-S: Always Be Shooting
  • The messaging is the main reason the Navy has us doing what we do. If Navy didn’t have a perspective to promote, then the Navy wouldn’t have Mass Communication Specialists
  • The audience can see the work that goes into a piece, even if they don’t know they can see it.

Thanks for reading. Please feel free to get in contact with me if you have any questions or feedback.



Entering a New Realm … Underwater Photo and Video

It’s been a long time since I left you …

I’ve been pretty busy since I got to Combat Camera about a year ago.  I honestly have not been shooting too much photo or video, which is why I haven’t posted in a while. Combat Camera is a unique command in the sense that we have to train and be proficient in so many other skills outside the Mass Comm skill set. One of those other skills is SCUBA diving.  Com Cam has 4 slots for underwater photographers.  In order to fill one of those slots, I had to go through the Navy’s SCUBA Diver course.  Below is the link to a video my classmates and I put together for our graduation.

Just last week I also went through five days of underwater photography training.  Shooting photos in clear water is no problem. You can use a GoPro or a point-and-shoot (that’s exactly what we did for that graduation video link below), but shooting in murky water is a whole other ball game.  I picked up some good tips and gouge in the five days of photo training.  I plan on posting what I’ve learned and what I am going to learn in the months to come.

I’m about to take off on a five-month deployment to Central and South America.  Hopefully I’ll be doing a lot of diving and underwater photography, and hopefully I’ll have the time and connectivity to put together a couple of useful posts for any fellow underwater shooters who may be checking this blog out.

So, as always, if you’re reading this, thank you, and feel free to get in touch with me.  My facebook name is Cote Brett, and my avatar is a command coin with the Mass Comm logo on it.



Rembrandt Lighting (Video Interview Techniques)

I’m stationed at Combat Camera now.  I’ve been stationed here before, so I know it’s pretty rare to travel with a light kit.  We still have to shoot interviews, and we want those interviews to look as well-lit as possible.  So how do we do that?  My answer is: Rembrandt lighting.


Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn was a Dutch painter from the 17th Century [FIGURE 1].  Rembrandt lit his subjects so that one side of the subject’s face was well lit, and the other side of the face was in shadow except for the eye and a small triangle of light under the eye.  The triangle of light is created when the shadow from the nose reaches down to the corner of the mouth and connects with the shadow from the dark side of the face.  And that’s “Rembrandt lighting.”


Here is a self-portrait of Rembrandt as a young man. In this painting, the well-lit side of his face is facing the “camera.” When we set up our interviews, we usually want the camera to be facing the shadowy side of the face. See the examples below.


Here are some modern examples of Rembrandt lighting at work:

Dramatic Rembrandt

Very dramatic use of Rembrandt. I pulled this picture from Lens Diaries’ great post on Rembrandt lighting. The photo is linked to their post. Check it out.

In the first example [FIGURE 2, above] the Rembrandt lighting is very sharp and defined. You probably wouldn’t use such a dramatic use like this unless your subject matter really warranted some drama.



Natural Looking Rembrandt

Here is a more subtle use of Rembrandt. I pulled this photo from Louis Daniel Botha’s great post on lighting techniques. Click the photo to check out his blog post. (He uses an awesome WordPress theme)

In this example [FIGURE 3, above] the Rembrandt lighting is less sharp and contrasty.  I’m guessing the photographer used multiple lights on this one, but it is set up to look like it was lit with natural light coming from a window.  In my opinion, unless you’re going for a specific effect, the natural look is the way to go.

How to Do It Yourself

Like I said before, sometimes you just don’t have a light kit, but that doesn’t mean your scene can’t be as well-lit as possible.  Here are four simple steps to help you get better looking interview shots by using availible light to achieve Rembrandt lighting.

1. Find a Light Source and Position the Interviewee:

Find a window, and position your subject so that the light from that window is casting Rembrandt lighting across your subject’s face.  If you’re in a windowless room, try a desk lamp or some other available light source.

2. Position the Reporter Right in Front of the Interviewee:

Your whole set up is based on the available light source. So once your subject is properly lit, you’re not going to want him to move or turn his head to face the reporter asking the questions.  Position the reporter (which is probably you, right?) directly in front of the interviewee, so he stays properly lit while he’s answering your questions.

3. Position the Camera:

Position the camera so that it is on the shadowy side of the interviewee’s face.  If you look at the two Rembrandt examples [FIGURE 2 and FIGURE 3], you’ll see the camera is on the shadow side of the subject’s face.  Shooting the shadowy side of someone’s face has a slimming effect.  Conversely, positioning the camera on the bright side of someone’s face has a broadening effect.  Normally people want to appear slimmer, but there are definitely occasions where you would want to shoot the bright side to make someone’s face fuller.

(note: often the shadowy side is called the “short” side, and the bright side is called the “broad” side, but, whatever…)

4. Don’t Forget the Background:

Make sure your background isn’t too dark or too bright (ie: you don’t want the background brighter than your interview subject.) Sometimes it helps to kill the other lights in the room; sometimes it helps to leave them on or just kill a few. If I’m using a window as my light source, I usually try to kill all the overhead lights and open curtains to light my background. This helps me avoid mixed lighting situations.

Because you built this whole scene based on where the light was coming from, you don’t really get to choose your background composition, so make sure there isn’t anything crazy or distracting in your background.

Interview set up diagram

Here is a diagram of how this set up would look from the top. We’ve got light coming in from a window creating Rembrandt on our interview subject. The reporter is standing right in front of the properly lit subject. The camera is pointed at the shadow (or “short”) side of the subject’s face.

That’s All Folks

Using available light to achieve Rembrandt lighting on your subject will give your video that extra touch of professionalism.  We can’t all roll around with light kits, flags and reflectors, but using this simple technique will up the production value of your interview footage.

After Effects tips [part 2: basic organization tip]

Opening Shots:

In this post I want to talk about an organizing structure for anything bigger than the most simple After Effects projects. This is a basic concept that I didn’t know about since I’m pretty new to After Effects.

When I started this CNO Tenets project, I was having problems organizing the whole thing. I was trying to build everything in one composition (comp), but the comp got crazy really fast. I asked my coworker, After Effects Ninja Nate Quinn (, for advice.  He suggested I use one composition as a “stage.” He said I should build all my individual elements in their own little comps, and then, drop those comps onto the Stage Comp.  Using a Stage Comp not only keeps things organized, but it also makes life a lot easier when you have to make changes to your project late in the process.

Stage Composition:

Let’s look at the first 15 seconds of the CNO Tenet project. What’s going on in the first 15 seconds?

First, there is a black and white image of a couple of ships; this image serves as a background for this scene.

Second, there are picture panels of the Chief of Naval Operations testifying before congress.

Third, there is a text animation that IDs the CNO as Adm. Jonathan Greenert.

Fourth, there is a camera movement that transitions the viewer from this scene to the next scene (the text animation of the three tenets.)



01 Stage Simple.

Here is what the first 15 seconds looks like in the Stage Comp. There are four elements and a camera.




I created each of the elements in its own composition, and then I dropped each of them onto the Stage Comp.  Each element can have tons of layers with its own cameras and movements, but when I drop the comps onto the main Stage Comp, they’re in neat, self-contained comps.

05 stage n thumbnails.


This is what the first 15 seconds would look like if I put everything in the same comp instead of using a Stage Comp.

02 No StageSo, that’s it. By using a Stage Comp, I can keep my project clean and more manageable. And when your PAO decides that he doesn’t like a particular element or scene, it’s pretty easy to swap that element out of the Stage Comp.

Thanks for reading. I know this was a really basic concept, but it’s definitely changed the way I work, and I’ve shown it to some of my co-workers who are also new to AE, and they’ve found it really helpful, too. Pass it on to a newbie.


After Effects tips [part 1: “3D” objects in AE cs5.5]

I plan on doing a few posts based on After Effects tips I learned while working on this multimedia project. In this post I want to talk about  how to import and work with 3D objects in After Effects.

3d in AE 5.5:

Alright, so this trick doesn’t work in CS6. So, if you’re rolling with the latest and greatest, don’t bother reading this post.

FREE 3D Models: The green Arleigh Burke destroyer that moves onto the green map at :36 is a 3D model that I got for free from the Google Sketchup Warehouse.  My homie Marine Staff Sgt. Jason Fudge ( first turned me on to Sketchup Warehouse. If you’re not familiar with it, check it out; it’s an amazing FREE resource.  I just typed “US Navy Destroyer” into the Sketchup search bar, and this model by TOBY and APA-168 popped up.

With Sketchup Warehouse, you can download a .SKP file or a zipped .DAE file. I downloaded the .DEA and unzipped it.  Then, I open the .DAE in Photoshop 5.5 (it’s actually 5.1, but it came w/ CS5.5). Next, I saved the file as a .PSD.  Once the object is a .PSD, it can be imported into After Effects.



Trouble Shooting: If you open the .DAE in Photoshop and don't see anything, open the 3D Scene window and find a setting that works in the "Render Settings" dropdown menu.

Trouble Shooting: If you open the .DAE in Photoshop and don’t see anything, open the 3D Scene window and find a setting that works in the “Render Settings” dropdown menu.

Trouble Shooting: O.K., so sometimes, it’s not that easy. This destroyer model was one of those times. When I opened the .DAE in Photoshop, I couldn’t see it. So, this is what I did.  In Photoshop, I highlighted the “Window” dropdown menu, and chose “3D.” This brings up the “3D Scene” window. In this window, the “Render Settings” dropdown menu has a bunch of different options to try. For this particular model, I chose the “Normals” render setting to end up with this funky neon destroyer. The colors here don’t really matter because I can desaturate it or adjust the hue in After Effects. At this point, I just save as a .PSD and move on to After Effects.



… the ability to import Live Photoshop 3D is what changed between CS5.5 and CS6. For whatever reason, CS6 got rid of this option …


AE import dialog box.




Importing Into AE: Import the .PSD into the After Effects project as a “Composition,” not as footage. A second dialog pops up after you hit OK. In this dialog box, make sure you’re still importing as a composition with editable layer styles. The most important thing here is to make sure the “Live Photoshop 3D” option is checked. The ability to import Live Photoshop 3D is what changed between CS5.5 and CS6. For whatever reason, CS6 got rid of this option.





Animating the Object in AE:  Once the “3D” object is in AE, you end up with a Composition and a folder with the Layers for that Comp.  Inside that Comp, there is a “Layer,” a “Layer Controller,” and a “Camera.”  Inside this Comp is where you’ll animate any motion you want the object to perform, because inside this Comp is the only place where the object will be 3D. The Layer Controller and the Camera position is what you’ll use to animate. If you look at the screen shot below, you’ll see that for this particular animation, I used the Camera position to create the “pull back/zoom out” that starts the animation, and then I used the Layer Controller’s “Y Rotation” to make the 90 degree rotation at the end of the animation.

01 controller n cam

Finishing Up:  When the core animation was done, I just dropped this Comp into another Comp and started building the greenish effect that I ended up with. I’m not going to get into the details about how I made the greenish look, but if you type “Night Vision” into the “Effects and Presets” tab, you’ll be off and running. I want to repeat the fact that I drop this Comp into another Comp BEFORE I start putting effects onto it.  Trust me on this one, if you work this way, it’ll be a lot easier to make changes later on.  I’ll cover “project organization” in another post.


Standard News Package — Science Awards

This is a standard news package, and at the Pentagon Bureau, we shoot a TON of these.  They’re boring as hell, they’re not very visual, and they are usually on topics that one could care less about.  As lame as this sounds, I try to approach these things like a challenge: How can I make the coolest, most professional looking product out of this award ceremony/wreath laying/plaque dedication/whatever?

In this package, I opened with a reporter stand up.  I really don’t like doing these because I’m a little self-conscious about my delivery.  With a story like this, however, there really aren’t enough good visuals to carry the piece, so having me in the beginning takes up a little bit of screen time.  I also feel like it gives the piece a little immediacy.  I use the present-progressive tense in my lead (“… the Navy IS awarding its top scientists …).  By having me on the scene and using the present progressive, I’m trying to give the viewer that “breaking news” feel.  Hopefully that adds a little bit of excitement to a boring award ceremony package.


So what’s the workflow for a piece like this? Well, we start planning as soon as we get the tasking to cover the event.  Here are the steps we took planning and executing this shoot:

-Get a list of the awardees being recognized.  From that list, we isolate one or two of the awardees who have done VISUALLY EXCITING things.  Our plan is to interview these folks, and use some B-roll of their visually exciting work to make our package more entertaining.  For this event, we chose the Rail Gun team, and another team that didn’t make the final edit.

-Write the script.  With an event like this we have time to craft the script, and it usually doesn’t change that much.  We think of what soundbites we want from the interviews, then we craft questions to elicit those soundbites. Sometimes we get the predictible soundbites, sometimes we get better ones.

-On the day of the shoot, we brought two cameras to this event.  A Sony F350, which is a big broadcast camera that is good for shooting Main Cam (the podium shot for the 1st soundbite of ASN Stackley).  We also brought a Canon 7D DSLR.  With these events, I end up shooting Cut Cam, but I’m also the official event photographer for grip ‘n grins, so the DSLR is the all-in-one machine that I need to accomplish my mission.

-We set the Main Cam up first, so we are ready to roll when the event starts.

-Then we set up and shoot my stand up with the DSLR.

-After the stand up, my partner, MC2 Alexandra Snyder, goes and finds our interviewee while I re-adjust the camera composition and our lights so the interview doesn’t look exactly like my stand up.

-We shoot the interview.  It goes great, and then it’s time for the show to start.

-Snyder operated the Main Cam for this shoot.  Main Cam usually stays focused on the podium, or the main action on stage.

-I shot Cut Cam.  The cuts are what make my package, so I’m shooting non-stop (plus I’m shooting the still photos for the event). Usually, whoever is shooting cuts is also going to edit the product in post.

The Edit

Ok, so let’s talk about editing this thing, and how we use Main Cam and Cut Cam to stitch together sequences for the final product.

Podium Sequence

Right after my stand up, we have a Cut Cam shot of the speaker at the podium.  The audio under that shot is still the narration from my stand up.  The next shot is the soundbite of the speaker at the podium; this is from Main Cam.  This gives us a nice little two-shot sequence.  The Cut Cam shot leads the viewer into the soundbite.  We get this shot by design.  If you notice, the action matches up pretty well from the Cut Cam shot to the podium shot.  To make sure the editor can get that matching action,  Cut Cam has to capture a full range of the speaker’s motion.  He looks left, he looks right, he talks with his hands . I captured that Cut Cam shot for almost a full minute to make sure I would be able to roughly match action with whatever soundbite I used from Main Cam.

“I captured that Cut Cam shot for almost a full minute to make sure I would be able to roughly match action with whatever soundbite I used from Main Cam.”

Rail Gun Sequence

The next sequence is of the audience watching Rail Gun test footage.  We got lucky that they played this video at the ceremony.  We had already downloaded the video from DVIDS, and we were planning on using it to spice up our package.  Since they played the video for the audience, we were able to sequence it.  This sequence goes from Main Cam to a shaky, awkward Cut Cam shot, and then we use the actual footage we got from DVIDS.

Next, we go into our interview soundbite. How we chose this soundbite out of the all the great stuff she gave us would take up a whole blog-post, so I’ll just say this: her soundbite adds “color” to the line of narration that I read just before the soundbite. In my narration I explain that the Rail Gun uses electricity to launch projectiles, and her soundbite implies that using electricity is a really major step forward.

In Closing

Finally, we finish with my standard lame-ceremony closing sequence of applause.  As everyone knows, video rules say an editor should finish a piece with “negative action.” Applause is my negative/closing action.  I actually get the applause sequence in the beginning of the ceremony.  These ceremonies always start with the MC or the keynote speaker thanking a host of people.  This part of the ceremony is useless, so I use it as an opportunity to catch the applause sequence.

These ceremonies always start with the MC or the keynote speaker thanking a host of people.  This part of the ceremony is useless, so I use it as an opportunity to catch the applause sequence.

This piece isn’t going to win any cool-guy awards, but for the past 6 months, these stories have made up 85 percent of my workload.  So, since these pieces are the bread and butter that pay my mortgage and feed my children, I really have no choice but to try and make them as good as I can.

If you like this post, follow me on Twitter.  My handle is @bpcote1 and I post mostly about mass comm subjects. You can also friend my professional facebook page: Cote Brett.