Podcasting on the Road: Tape, Technology and Hats
After posting about the internet’s best travel podcasts a few weeks ago, I asked Gary Arndt to share his experiences with creating a podcast on the road.
When I first started my trip, my focus was to do podcasting, not blogging. A year and a half later, and I’ve done much more blogging than podcasting. While I have been able to put up several episodes, I still find the workflow of producing a podcast by myself, on the road, to be a daunting task. In this article I’m going to go through some of what I go through to produce a solo video podcast on the road.
The Trouble with Tape
When I started my trip in March of 2007, I really wanted to get a video camera which didn’t use tape. At the time there was only one prosumer level model which didn’t use tape, and because it was so new, most video editing software wasn’t able to handle the way it encoded mpeg4. I wound up buying a Sony HC3, which was a fine high definition video camera, but used tape.
Tape turned out to be a much bigger problem than I had expected. If I was only traveling for a short period of time, I could shoot all the tape I wanted and edit it when I got home. Because I wasn’t going home however, I had to carry around all my tapes without any backup, and eventually find a way to get them all back to the US. On top of that, I would have to rip all the video off of the tapes which is a very annoying process. (An hour tape would take about an hour to encode, and you’d wind up with one enormous file which you’d have to then split apart). I shot about a dozen hours of footage during my first six months traveling in the Pacific and found someone back in the US to do the editing for me.
Doing a podcast on the road is one thing. Doing a podcast when you have no one to help you is quite another.
The workflow was really slow and not sustainable. The quality of the footage I was getting was OK, but getting things out the door was taking way too long. I eventually put my podcast on hiatus and focused on my still photography.
While I was traveling, however, technology improved. About nine months into my trip, I was able to buy a new video camera in Hong Kong. I purchased a Sanyo Xacti HD 1000. It can shoot in full 1080i HD at 60fps. The best part however, is that it saved everything to SD memory, and each clip was its own mpeg4 file. You could access clips randomly as if it were its own drive. The video quality isn’t quite as good as my previous camera, but eliminating tapes more than made up for it.
If you listen to the first podcast I shot with my new camera, you can tell that the built in sound quality is poor. I had a lavalier mic I had with me, but I had to buy a 3.5mm to 2.5mm adaptor to get it to work. You’d be amazed at how hard that was to find. I’m using that now with all my podcasts, and sound quality has improved.
The biggest thing you need when doing a podcast on the road is a laptop capable of doing video editing. I carry a 15″ MacBook Pro with me. I have never found an internet cafe with video editing software on its computers, nor will the computers at most internet cafes support editing even if they had the software. You need something powerful enough to replace a desktop computer as video editing is one of the most processor and memory intensive things you can do with a computer.
Wearing Many Hats
Doing a podcast on the road is one thing. Doing a podcast when you have no one to help you is quite another. Lots of simple camera angles where you could record yourself eating or walking down a street are pretty much impossible. Even mundane things can be challenging. If I want to put myself in front of the camera I have to use a tripod and find a place where I can get away from large groups of people to shoot. Someone grabbing the camera and running off with it while I’m shooting is a real concern if you are doing it on a busy street. Most of my podcasts consist of me in front of the camera, then other shots edited in on top of the audio or after the monologue.
Editing has been the most difficult thing for me by far. I have material over two months old on my computer I have yet to get out the door as well as footage over a year old I shot on my old camera which just needs to be stitched together. Editing is by far the most time consuming and difficult part of the entire process. I started with Final Cut Express (which I later removed because I needed drive space….bad move), moved to iMovie08 (aka Apple’s Vista. A bad piece of software), and am now using iMovie HD, the previous version of iMovie.
I do a lot of still photography in addition to video. It is very difficult to try and do still photos and video at the same time. One thing I’d like to do a lot more of is incorporating still images into my podcasts and perhaps doing some slide shows. I’ve done one slideshow so far, I think it worked rather well. (The presentation was from Yakushima, Japan.)
My ideas for episodes are much greater than my ability to produce them at this point.
Despite the problems I’ve had, I’d still like to put more effort into my podcast going forward. I enjoy podcasting more than plain old blogging, and I think I’m much better at talking than writing. (20 years of academic debate experience will do that). Tapeless high def video camera are becoming the norm. There are cameras on the market which save to flash memory which much better video quality than my Sanyo. I might get a new camera in the next few months.
The biggest thing going forward will probably be to get some help. One option is to find someone to travel with me who could help in some function with the podcast, either in front or behind the camera. Another is to find someone who is a reasonable good video editor who I can send clips to. Either of these options would improve things dramatically for me.
If podcasting during your trip is something you’d like to do, the one thing I suggest is to plan your workflow. Doing video is an order of magnitude more difficult than doing still photography, especially if you are traveling solo. If you are willing to make the investment in time and equipment however, the end result can be quite rewarding.