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Stock Photos Aren’t Enough

Creating authentic images for your brand can be hard.  Where do you start?  Stock images? Have your intern take some iPhone photos of the office?  This honestly can be a big challenge for a number of brands, and it’s super easy to fall into the trap of stock photography.  Content Marketing Institute has a great article about this very issue. That whole CMI article is about authenticity.  The author Buddy Scalera puts it “Authenticity is like currency. Spend it wisely or it will be wasted.”  As I’ve said before, bad video content hurts your brand, and so can bad photography.  If your product or service is awesome, why aren’t your photos?

Don’t get me wrong, there is always a time and a place for stock photography, but we are talking authenticity here.  Whenever you talk about your amazing team that makes your product or service amazing, use real photos!  Nobody likes seeing the same photo of a man or woman smiling wearing a headset.

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Popular stock photo from Shutterstock

I don’t know about you, but that photo rubs me the wrong way.  What is it that makes it seem so, stock?   What does a photo like this tell you about the company’s brand?

This is where authentic photos are key!  Show off your people that make your product a reality, make your big B2B brand personal! And that’s exactly what Opower did.

They recently had me come in to take photos focusing on two women engineers for an array of marketing collateral, along with some other general office shots. It was a really simple shoot and we were able to spend a half day shooting around the office.  The focus was on women in tech, and the result was a very easy going, authentic feel.

I think any brand could greatly benefit from a simple shoot to capture authentic workplace photos.

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Filming in your office? Don’t make these 3 mistakes!

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Choosing an interview location can be crucial to the success of your video. I’ve seen a number of videos suffer from just choosing the wrong location to shoot. Here are three things I look for when choosing an interview location.

Is it quiet?

This may seem obvious but it can sometimes get overlooked. Unless you are in a controlled studio environment, you need to be careful about ambient sounds at your location. It can especially get tricky if you are filming in an open office environment but it can be done.

Here are some questions I ask myself when checking an office location for sound.

Is it an open work area?
Does the area get a lot of foot traffic?
Are we near any AC vents?
Are we near any windows?
What’s out those windows? Maybe a busy street or an air conditioning unit for example.

There are definite advantages to shooting in-office, too, so don’t automatically shoot the idea down. Shooting in an open office space and seeing people working in the background can be great because it shows people are hard at work. Which is good! Just make sure the entire office knows what’s going on so you don’t have to repeat interview questions after someone’s cell phone goes off. Make sure those are on silent, even the office landline!

As for AC, there is usually no control over the AC in a large office building so the best thing I can do is just avoid the vents and compressors.

Windows can be great for a video for the view or to let light in but if the window is over Market Street you could be in trouble. I don’t think I’ve shot overlooking Market once without being interrupted by a cop, ambulance, or fire truck is always going by at a crucial moment. A window out to a side street is always better and I’ll always come prepared with extra sound blankets.

Is there depth?

Depth! Depth! Depth!

Depth is your friend! That means you want space between your camera, subject and background. This is too easy to skip in an office environment, especially if it is cramped.

I’ve seen too many terrible videos of someone being interviewed right up against a white office wall. There is no visual interest in the frame. The more depth you can have, the more visual interest in the frame.

Is there sufficient light?

What is the main natural light source? Fluorescent or light from the window?

Typically for myself the natural light is the base and then I add in a little extra to make the subject pop. Fluorescent lights are NOT your friend! They give off non-consistent colors and often flicker. Day light from lots of windows is typically the best to start with.

When I come to shoot in your office, the first thing we are going to do is shut off the fluorescents and find some natural light. It’s always possible to do it without any natural light, but I like the quality of natural.

Remember, video content that you publish should be on par with the quality of your brand and product.

Little things like this may seem silly but they are what separates your videos from the herd. Shooting in a cool office space can work really well for a video, but as with anything, do it the best you can.

Infographic – Is video driving sales for your business?

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Online video in marketing can be used in so many ways to better engage your audience to ultimately drive sales.

Video can be used as a personal message, it’s an opportunity for a viewer online to meet you before actually meeting you.  This can be great for a message from a founder for fundraising or even a sales team.  Seeing that person in video gives the viewer a much stronger connection than just reading about them, the viewer can gain insights into their personality and start building trust.

Peer to peer video content is a huge deal for Intuit.  Nothing beats words from a happy customer of yours to someone considering your product.

Share the customer journey! This can easily be done in a product launch.  Don’t just show us all the features, instead show us through simple, yet creative story telling how the product improves the user’s life!

I could go on… those are just some of my favorite uses for video in marketing.  Video truly should be engaging your audience on the next level and ultimately driving sales.

The numbers attest to the power of video.

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5 Reasons why your videos aren’t converting

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As a content creator, I need to know what’s out there and create the best content possible, content that rises above the noise.  Along the way, I’ve noticed some bad video trends that should be avoided at all costs!

 

First, your videos are too long.

This is the age of Twitter and viral six second Vine videos. Collectively, people do not have an attention span long enough to wait for you to get to the point in a 10 minute video. If I have trouble waiting the twelve seconds it takes to see a guy fall off his bike in some Youtube video, what makes you think I’m going to wait through you introducing yourself for the first 5 minutes of your video? By the time you’ve gotten out your name and how long you’ve worked for the company, I’m bored. By the time you actually get to explaining your product/company/etc, I’m already watching cats on YouTube faceplanting off of couches.

I’ve noticed the sweet spot is about 60-90 seconds.  I know you’ve got a lot to share but the tighter you can make the video, the more engaging it will be. A good video will get your attention from the beginning, and not take time getting to the point. The point is to hook your audience’s interest so they want to find out more, not tell them everything.

 

Second, you’re not telling a story.

Ok, so say you’ve got your viewer’s attention. What’s going to keep them there? Remember, I’ve got cat videos to watch. Your video needs to tell a story to keep my attention. What’s better? A list of features about your product, or a story about someone who had a problem and found that your product was the perfect solution? Saying “We have many happy customers” or watching one of your customers tell the story of how he found you and how you/your product/company made his life a million times better?

Take Intuit, for example. They make Quickbooks, an accounting software. Which video are you going to watch, one explaining the many facets of their software, or videos showing real people using Quickbooks to run their businesses. Guess which videos they hired us to make?

 

Third, too much talking head.

If I wanted to watch a guy in a suit talking at me, I’d watch CSPAN. Guess what? There’s a reason CSPAN has such a low viewership. Nobody wants to watch a guy in a suit talking at them! What do they want to see? Anything else!

A good video will have someone talking whether it be an interview or voice over, sure. But we don’t need to see them talking the whole time. We want to see action! A good video will take advantage of the chance to intersperse action with narration.

The opposite can be true with video for an app or SaaS solution.

 

Fourth, too much screen capture.

I see a lot of videos get into trouble when there is no obvious physical product or action to show.  If you are launching your new SaaS offering you’ll need to show a little of the software just to briefly see how it works, but instead of making your launch video a glorified demo, focus on the user experience. Let’s see how your solution affects the life of the user!

Here is a good example of a launch video focusing on the user experience.

 

Fifth, the quality of your video should equal the quality of your service or product.

Your offering is awesome, right? Otherwise you wouldn’t be here reading this. Don’t have potential clients’ first impression of your brand be your incredibly lame video. Video can make a lasting impression, good or bad. According to MarketingProfs and Content Marketing Institute, video is the 3rd most effective marketing tactic below in person events and webinars.  That’s a huge deal!

Don’t underestimate the value and importance of a high quality video content piece.

 

8 Month Home Building Timelapse

8 MONTHS – 3 CAMERAS – 100,000+ PHOTOS – 1 TIMELAPSE

Every once in a while a fun side project comes along that makes you try new things and really push you.  This was it for me.  Branagh Development approached me about creating a timelapse of one of their homes being built.  I’ve always wanted to do something like this but I had to figure out how to have a camera taking constant pictures over the course of 8 months.  It’s not as easy as it sounds.  Here are some of my considerations:

  • How do I keep the camera powered for months at a time?
  • How do I keep the camera stationary the entire time?  Once it’s up I can’t touch the camera so the framing stays the same.
  • How do I download the photos without disturbing the camera?
  • How do I keep it safe from the weather and theft?

There were a lot of things that had to be addressed to make this work.  I ended up finding a great tutorial online about a similar project created to shoot long term timelapses of watersheds. I took his basic approach and made some modifications to fit my needs.

Here are some photos of the process.

I started by making the hole for the lens in the pelican case.
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I then epoxied an ABS coupler on the hole to house the lens.  I siliconed in a UV filter on the end to seal it.  I used silicon over epoxy because it’s flexible and the I didn’t want the varying temperatures to crack the filter.  Also this  left my options open later to replace the filter if need be.

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Then I made the camera mount.  I used cheap quick release plate attached to a piece of hardwood with two small L brackets.

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I used two rubber washers on the exterior to make sure it was water tight

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Next is the camera.  I used a 60D with a Tokina 11-16 f/2.8

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The next part involved powering the camera.  I opted to use a deep cycle marine battery because it will last longer on one charge than a normal car battery.  Let’s start at the camera.  First there is a dummy battery in the camera to power it with AC, but I wanted to power it with a DC source so I needed to add in a selectable voltage converter.  This takes the voltage of the battery from 12 volts to 7.5 volts (the camera operates at 7.5 volts). Then we need to make sure the camera gets the correct amperage.  The normal canon LP-E6 battery provides 1800mAh (milli amps) so I needed to make sure the marine battery didn’t fry the camera. I put a fuse in line at the battery that would break at anything over 1800mAh.  Better to pop a fuse than a camera.

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All time lapses need an intervalometer, I used this knock off one.  I wanted the intervalometer on the ground so I could access it during the 8 month shoot.  I bought a male and female 2.5mm audio jack from Fry’s and soldered some speaker wire in for an extension. It didn’t look pretty, but it worked great.

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I also wanted USB access on the ground so I could download photos in progress and control the camera via EOS utility so I could change any settings if need be.  All I had to do was use an active USB extension that ran out of the case, down to the battery.  Here are all the parts in the pelican case.

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This is my setup mounted on a fence for the first angle in the video. All the wires come out one hole on the bottom of the case.  I used silicone to seal the hole.  The piece of plywood is there just to keep the sun off and provide some protection from the rain.

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Here I’m running EOS utility to see through the camera and control the settings.  I set the intervalometer to take a shot every 10 minutes.  I set the camera to aperture priority mode at f/5.6 at ISO 200.

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This the second angle in the video that shows the front of the house.  Same mounting concept as before.  I figured the camera was secure because I used plenty of screws to mount this thing to keep it secure.  It would definitely take someone a while to take it down.  I also had a small lock on the case.  But someone could have just cut the post and taken the whole thing.  I’m glad no one did!

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This whole setup worked great!  It went for about 5 months on one charge.  I took the battery home one night to give it a charge.  Here it is 8 months later.

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The UV filter was definitely dirty but everything inside looked as good as new!

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For the interior and backyard camera I used two GoPro Hero 3 Blacks.  For power I had to convert the marine battery to power the camera via USB.  I enclosed that custom connection in a waterproof case.  The GoPro comes with a waterproof case which was nice.  All I did was drill a hole in the case for the cable and then silicone it to seal it.  The GoPros had to take photos every minute, which was way more than I needed but it worked.

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Any USB car charger will work for that connection.  I picked one up at Fry’s for a dollar.  Here is a similar one.

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Above: I can plug right into the camera to download.  Below: I was able to control the camera with GoPro’s app.

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This is the outside camera that I strapped to a tree:

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In order to create the edited timelapse sequence I had to cut out a lot of photos. Because the camera was taking pictures all night and all day, I had to go through each day and take out all the shots at nighttime and on the weekends where nothing was happening.  I used After Effects to edit it all together because you can easily import an image sequence.  I also included a lot of speed changes in the video and it just depended on how exciting the action was.

So that’s it!  It was a ton of fun to make this happen and I’m just glad no one stole the cameras!

Here is the final product:

San Francisco Software Product Photography – Opower Customer Journey

Below are some product photos we recently shot, but in this case, the product is software.  We wanted to first show the software begin used, and second, show it in a casual environment that says, yes, you too can easily use this in the comfort of your own home.   For photos like this it’s almost more about what’s around the device then the screen shot on the device.  Take the first image below for example; this gentleman is checking his energy usage while sipping his coffee in the morning at home.

The other side of shooting photos like this is getting the screen to look natural.  It’s incredibly important that the screen is not too bright and still retains reflections from the natural environment.  To do this we simply shoot the device with the screen turned off, then “comp” the screen on in photoshop.  This ensures we’ll get the best possible result, and as a bonus we can reuse the shot by swapping out the screen with something different.  Below each photo is the original so you can see how the original reflections show up in the final image and help it look very real.

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Our Videos on CNBC – Opower Goes Public

It’s always great to work with companies during a time of rapid growth.  On February 4th, 2014 Opower went public at NYSE under OPWR.  Dan Yates, their CEO, was on CNBC for the opening and they were showing some of their video content alongside him, most notably our Behavioral Demand Response video. It’s very exciting to see our content get that kind of exposure.  Click the image below to see the video on CNBC.

 

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Opower has been a great client and a pleasure to work with.  You can learn more about our work with Opower here.

Software Demo Video – Smart Grid

Opower Smart Grid from Stracke Visuals Inc. on Vimeo.

 

Most demo videos out there don’t include an actual person using the product, and it’s for a good reason – it’s hard to do it right. Without the human touch you can make the whole demo video on the computer without shooting any live footage.  For this video though, it was very important that we show live human interaction with the product.  When I was talking to Opower about the best way to demonstrate the product, we decided seeing the product in use would be important to showing how easy it actually is to use.

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We shot in studio on a white background that could easily be replaced.  Cooper, the computer operator, sat just out of screen so the camera shot from what would have been his point of view.

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While we were filming with the camera, we were simultaneously recording a screen capture on the computer.  This way Cooper’s actions would line up exactly with what was happening on the computer.  The screen was then replaced in post to give us the seamless in and out effect.

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When we switched to film the overhead angle, we dropped the table to the floor and had Cooper lay on the floor Thanks for being a good sport, Cooper!

We’re really happy with a final video that goes above and beyond a simple screen capture demo.

San Francisco App Video • Behavioral Demand Response from Opower

Opower has done it again! They are just now releasing a new product called Behavioral Demand Response which lets you be more in-tune with your electric power consumption.  So much so that you will know how much money you will be losing or saving just by adjusting your thermostat in real time. That’s just scratching the surface of what Opower’s Behavioral Demand Response is.  You can click here to read more about it from them.

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For this shoot we had less than a week to find a location and a family.  Lo and behold we did it!

Shooting this project was pretty straight forward and took us less than a day.  From the beginning Opower wanted to have some graphics on the shots to show in more detail about what was happening or what the subject was viewing.  So to make it more interesting than just flashing text on the screen we decided to go with an integrated approach, to make it look like the text was a part of the shot.

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This was accomplished by capturing a smooth dolly shot on set and then using a 3D camera tracking tool in post to analyze the footage.

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The biggest points are what the computer determined to be closest to the camera and then the smallest are the furthest away.  The computer then tracks those points through out the shot to create a new camera in the editing software that matches up with the movement of the real camera that took the shot.  Then it’s just a matter of inserting the graphics at the desired spot in the shot.  I wanted there to be some obvious parallax so I put the Facebook box on the coffee table so you could see the background and foreground move against the graphic.  In the final output it looks like the graphic is glued to the table.

Here are some more photos from the shoot.

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Big thanks to Opower for a great shoot and the Perrys for being our fantastic power saving family!