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How do I make the best out of marginal video

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Gary ZaccagniniHow do I make the best out of marginal video
by on Jun 28, 2010 at 8:15:50 pm

I am an old still photo guy, but new to video. I am doing a documentary DVD of my daughter's wedding weekend. I have good pro stills but much of the video is marginal. After the weekend, I collected video from friends and family members. I have 640x480 SD, 720x480 SD, 720x525 3-ccd and Canon 7d 720p. The big problem is the late nite video in low light. The folks got great action, but the videos from the less-expensive cameras are very dark and noisy. I am sure you guys know what I mean.

Any recommendations on strategies for getting the best out of the media I have to work with? Any technical solutions to improve quality? Any creative solutions(eg. convert all to B/W or sepia)? I am working with Sony Vegas Pro 9. I appreciate any and all advice.

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Mark SuszkoRe: How do I make the best out of marginal video
by on Jun 29, 2010 at 2:22:31 pm

You can try using Apple Color to tweak the video. Another technique is to stack multiple copies of the same video on the timeline, mix between them using blending modes and opacity adjustments. Then you can tweak specific parts of each track to make the best of the highlights, mids, and darks, as well as to hide some of the graininess.

Here is a great introduction to the concept that I revisit over and over, because it is taught in a simple-to-grasp manner:

Called Cutting Class; Blending Bliss by Chris "ACE" Gates, from Digital juice, in their DJTV section.

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Gary ZaccagniniRe: How do I make the best out of marginal video
by on Jun 29, 2010 at 3:55:16 pm

Hey Mark. Great stuff! Makes sense. I've worked with layers for a long time in Photoshop, but it never occurred to me to apply the same concept to video. Sounds like it's going to be time-consuming, but this wedding is going to be a one-time shot...that's what the bride and groom tell me. Thanks so much for your help.

Since I have such a hodge-podge of video, anyone have advice on Sony Vegas project settings/codecs/etc? I have the basics down on this program, but there is a lot of breadth and depth to its capabilities...and a lot of unwritten practical stuff that I don't know.

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Michael StringfieldRe: How do I make the best out of marginal video
by on Jun 29, 2010 at 5:32:29 pm

The 7D footage is going to look 10x better than your SD footage, especially if the person who shot it had a lens better than the normal 18-55 is kit lens. So my suggestion is edit just the 7D footage by itself, make a complete edit out of it and then go back to your SD footage and convert everything to one codec and format.

720 x 480


23.98 (assuming they shot in this, if not, convert it to it)

Consider using the 7D footage for DVD and using the SD footage for a short 3min web version? Letter box it too.

I set up some videos for brides in the past and whenever I post something online a couple weeks after a wedding, my website sky rockets in hits. Brides love to see their special day online, and they especially love to send out emails with a link to the vid. so their co-workers can see what they missed out on.

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Gary ZaccagniniRe: How do I make the best out of marginal video
by on Jun 30, 2010 at 9:48:47 pm

Hey Buddy, Thanks for the advice. I will use it. I tried to improve the marginal video by compositing, but that is an artform above my paygrade at this point. However, I see its possibilities. I am taking your advice and just using bits and pieces of the marginal video to give some action to the stills. I'll use more of it on the web. The guy with the 7d used the 24-105 L-Series lens. I'm using just about all of his video, plus the stills for the DVD. I am using your settings for the project settings. Thanks again.

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grinner hesterRe: How do I make the best out of marginal video
by on Jul 2, 2010 at 2:47:40 pm

Just color correct each shot as best you can. In most cases, if ya can't hide, accentuate it but in this case, I'd just tweek each shot to the best it can look.
As an editor, I get footage from everyone all over the globe from great DPs to local news photogs. I am not in the practice of leaving any shot untreated. To me, it's not color correction at all... it's color creativity.

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Jim ArcoRe: How do I make the best out of marginal video
by on Jul 4, 2010 at 3:54:03 pm

We have accidently started "specializing" a bit in just this sort of thing and have learned a few techniques that can make the image acceptable. Like you, I started a few years ago with my son's wedding video and learned ways to make differences in the quality. Low-end video cameras have low end lenses and also suffer from poor colorimetery, noise and audio problems, and most footage has been shot with auto everything (which usually means that colors and exposure levels change with any movement of the camera or subject.)

Of course, you'll never make that $300 miniDV point-and-shoot look like a $10K HD camera and excellent lens in the hands of a good shooter, but you can make footage look better - sometimes a LOT better.

You'll still run into the 'amateur cameraman syndrome' with excessive zooms, shaky cam, etc but some creative editing can go a long way to get rid of the really bad stuff.

We use Adobe After Effects and also Photoshop, but I'll assume similar tweaks are available in Vegas. I usually start with shadow-highlight effect. In many cases it is a quick fix for all but the darkest images.

For really dark footage, try layering two copies of the footage with screen blending mode on the top layer. Three layers might be needed for the really dark stuff.

At this point, you should have useable video levels but a LOT of noise. Converting to B&W and/or sepia is one creative solution, but seemed a bit "artsy" for the style of footage I usually get. After Effects Remove Grain (effects > noise & grain > remove grain) can work wonders. You might also want to try Neat Video's noise reduction tool - the demo I tried was fantastic on noisy video and I think it is also available for Vegas. ReVisionFX and maybe Boris also have NR tools, but I haven't used them. There are some other ways to deal with noise. A web search will lead you to some techniques involving blurring the blue layer, for instance. However, I haven't found any that were acceptable for really noisy stuff.

Color grading and matching can make footage from low-end cameras look better, but requires some finesse and maybe a bit of a learning curve. If you'd like to post a bit of footage (or send me something you find particularly challenging) I'll see what I can do and then post the 'formula.'

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