Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Long version - How to shoot a great Video Virtual Tour

Interested in learning how to shoot a great Video Virtual Tour? You can and we can help! This is the “Short” version on how to shoot a great Video Virtual Tour, but a shorter, version is available at www.VideosByAddress.com/realtors.

Before we begin, what’s not allowed by NAR:
  • Listing agents can’t be in the videos themselves; they can speak but cannot have a picture of him/her in the video.
  • If the listing agent is speaking in the video, then he/she cannot market himself or herself, or her company. For example, statements such as: “Hi, I’m Jane Do with Weichert Realty” or “This is a Re/Max listing” are not allowed.
  • No brand marketing – this one is tricky. The focus of virtual tours have to be on the house so you can’t talk about the builder who built the home. However, you can say “Anderson windows” or “GE Profile appliances” because these things are attractive features of the home.
  • If you have any questions, please email us at contact@VideosByAddress.com.
One more thing: GET A FREE VIDEO VIRTUAL TOUR at www.VideosByAddress.com/freetour.

Some people believe that a good video virtual tour involves expensive equipment and fancy editing, such as sub-titles and sophisticated transitions. Sure, it would be nice to produce HGTV show type of a video but then your videos wouldn’t be cost effective or time efficient. Then how do we produce high quality videos that are cost effective and time efficient? That’s what we’re going to discuss today – the five keys to a high quality video virtual tour. The five keys are

  1. Equipment
  2. Lighting
  3. Sound
  4. Shooting
  5. Movie length

First, EQUIPMENT – As I mentioned before, many people think Video Virtual Tours are difficult to create themselves, and/or need very sophisticated equipment. But, in fact, creating a high quality video is actually much easier than you think! You don’t need expensive equipment; in fact, you don’t even need a camcorder! Sure, camcorders are nice, but you can create good videos with a simple point-and-shoot camera; an inexpensive one at that. You should remember “what” a video virtual tour is providing for potential buyers. Videos should capture things that pictures cannot, such as the flow of the house and its floor plan, and functionality of certain rooms/fixtures. This is why a video tour should be provided with a picture tour – which is what we do at www.VideosByAddress.com. Until video internet streaming and HD compression technology evolves even more, a video tour can’t replace pictures. But don’t worry – we’re continually evolving our technology to serve you better. Plus, nobody will watch an awesome video tour and then say: “Wow, I love this house! I’m going to put an offer on it now!” Regardless of how awesome a video is or how much a buyer might love this house, the buyer will visit the property before submitting an offer to purchase.

Then what type of camera should you buy? Frank Llosa (of Frankly Realty, and FranklyMLS.com), a former National Geographic’s photographer, has tested many cameras and he’s recommendations are found here. Basically, Frank recommends wide angle cameras (24-28mm). Cameras technology mostly focused on taking pictures of objects far away and forgot about the real estate industry where space is limited. Until now! With a wide angle camera, your shot contains more than your typical camera. Plus, a wide angle camera is much better for videos because the larger viewing angle provides smoother movements than a non-wide-angle camera. And as of May 2009, the best camera wide-angle camera is Samsung HZ10W. This camera not only has a 24mm ultra-wide lens for BOTH pictures and videos. Plus, this camera also records HD Videos (HD isn’t the best for streaming right now but I’ll explain that later), and it has a Pause feature that no other camera has. The pause feature is probably one of the best features you can have because it allows you to not waste your video time on useless movements – such as going up the stairs, or if you have a condo, not wasting time going from the unit to the rooftop, the gym, etc. Video editing can merge video segments – but you don’t even have to worry about editing with this camera.

If you do decide to purchase a camcorder, then make sure you buy a digital camera. You’ll lose a lot of video quality if you buy an analog camera and then convert it digitally. Then again, I'd just be suprised if you can even purchase a new analog camcorder. Also, with the camcorder, don’t worry too much about brand name and HD camcorders. HD video not only depends on video compression, but also on the streaming side. If you have and HD video and the viewer is watching from a 56K modem, then the expensive camera wasn’t very helpful. On camcorders, read reviews from www.cnet.com or other sources on the camera’s light adjustment. Some cameras (Cannon or Sony) does a great job on auto-focusing and light transitions. This is probably the most important.

Probably the most important accessory is a tripod. Again, you don’t need an expensive tripod but something sturdy with weight that can stabilize your video and photos. I’ll describe in the “shooting” section on why a tripod is an absolute must.

Finally, another piece of equipment you may consider with a camcorder is a lavaliere microphone. Sound is important in high quality movies and a lavaliere microphone can dramatically improve sound. A wired lavaliere microphone runs you around $30 at Amazon.com but a wireless can cost you more – this is the one I use from Amazon.com.

LIGHTING - Let’s move on to the lighting section. Again, Frank Llosa, a former National Geographic’s photographer, has a good video on a class he taught (seen here) that helps you with lighting. If you have control over one thing, then control lighting. Lighting is so important that movie producers spend up to a day with a stand-in actor to produce the perfect light. What are the keys to lighting?

  1. Maximum exposure to sunlight – meaning that you want to pick a time where the interior of the house gets the maximum light. Natural light is the best light for photography because the interior house lights have a yellow tint and an outdoor lights have a blue tint that’s easily to control the white balance. Usually, either the morning (10 am) or evening (6 pm) work best because the sun is at a lower position.
  2. Next turn on all the lights in the house! All newer cameras, including point-and-shoot, now have great light adjustment to make the room brighter. Still, if the room is dark, then the camera's shutter speed slows down, recuding video quality.
  3. Try to make each room at the same brightness level. A human processes light 4-6x faster than a camera so we don’t notice the differences as much. However, the transition is much more noticeable when recording a video. If you can’t do anything about the brightness of the two rooms then move SLOWLY. The slower you move, the better the camera's lens will adjust to your movements – which show the viewer that you know what you’re doing!
  4. Finally, if you want to focus on a person or an object, then provide ample light to that object. I you want to show off a great bookshelf then make sure lots of light is pointed at the bookshelf. If you want to focus on a person, then provide lots of light to that person; don’t have the person stand in front of a bright window. Please remember that the listing agent CANNOT be in the video per NAR rules.

SOUND – Sound is what really distinguishes between an amateur video vs. a professional or a semi-professional video. Again going back to our movie producer story….one of the reasons why movie studio budget is so high because the producers actually shoot the movie twice: once on site, and once inside a sound studio. The actors and actresses actually just repeat the lines while watching their scenes on the screen. Then the sound people add lots of unique sounds to increase the drama. Next time you watch a movie, try to listen to the sounds carefully. One of the most obvious one is how two people talking in a restaurant has zero background noise. A good movie will add a little bit of background noise but some just completely eliminates it.

  1. Anyway, going back to producing a good sound in your videos…. First thing you want to do is make sure you speak close to the camera. If you’re holding the camera then you’re fine, but if you want to be in the shot, you want to make sure you are close to the camera.
  2. Keep the distance from the camera and the sound source consistent. Don’t be far away and then move close to the camera the inconsistency is a big factor is identifying an amateur production.
  3. Finally, try to eliminate the background noise as much as possible. If you have a camcorder, this means get a microphone with a foam cover. This really helps the wind noise and protects against background noise. This isn’t an option with a point-and-shoot camera but if you record close to the point-and-shoot camera and speak loudly, so that you drown out the background noise.

SHOOTING – Now that you’re done preparing and setting up for the shoot, we’ll discuss how to shoot. While this is key point number four, shooting is probably the most important point, especially if you’re planning on shooting with a point-and-shoot camera.

First, and most important, you want to make your movements as smooth as possible. The development in microelectronics technology has made camcorders and point-and-shoot cameras very small and convenient, a separate problem arose in that small cameras are difficult to keep steady. A non-steady video makes the viewer dizzy and will keep the viewer’s focus away from the house. So, what we recommend is:

  • First to take your shoes off when walking and recording inside the house. This allows you to control your movements much better since your feet and the ground are in tune with each other.
  • Second, is to attach a tripod to the camera (not folded out) and walk around with it. The tripod adds weight and, as we all know, heavier the object, the less vibration we’re going to induce on the camera. Additionally, if you attach a tripod and walk around holding the top part of the camera, then you are leveraging the physics to help you keep the camera steady. Because an attached tripod basically becomes like a rod hanging below the camera. As you tilt the camera, then so will the rod (tripod), which require more energy and natural gravity will help you stabilize your shot.
  • Next, use a wide angle camera, if you can. This helps you reduce sudden movements because you have more objects in your shot and therefore the movement doesn’t seem as violent.

Remember that this is a video of your home so we want to keep the video moving. And while moving, you want to make the shot slow and steady. As I mentioned before, a human eye processes 4-6x faster than a camera lens so if you move too quickly, then the viewer will not get a good feel for the house.

Length – The final key to a good virtual tour is the length. In this Information Age, we prefer too much information vs. too little. However, we recommend that your videos only be 2-3 minutes long. Why? Imagine a home buyer trying to search online and have to sit through 50-10 minute videos….that’s 500 minutes. Again, a buyer won’t just buy a home after watching the video, so the goal is to have the buyer want to learn more by visiting your property. Always remember to think of the buyer first! If you do want to have a long, detailed video, then I suggest that creating two videos: one short, and one long for those who really want more information. Of course, we can do both at www.VideosByAddress.com.

VideosByAddress.com - Real Video Tours; not just flying photos.

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