Gävlebocken: The Fate of the Swedish Christmas Goat

The Julbocken or Christmas Goat made out of straw in the city of Gävle, Sweden is quite the sight to see. It holds the record for the worlds largest straw goat and I had the chance to see it last year in December. It is impressive but the best part about the Christmas Goat has to be the history surrounding it. Every year near Christmas time this giant straw goat is built up and every year there is someone or a group of people that make an attempt to burn it down. The city of Gävle has kept a history on the fate of the Christmas Goat every year dating back to 1966 when it was first created. There is actually a board near the site that you can read what happened to the goat year by year.

When I was there last year it was reported that an American man attempted to bribe one of the security guards to look the other way while he got a helicopter to come in hook it up and fly it down to Stockholm and burn it there. Supposedly one year the goat was burned down by someone using a flaming bow and arrow. I am also sure it says something about hackers putting the webcam on loop so they could hide their plan to burn the goat. That just goes to show you how much effort is put in by some people just for a piece of Swedish history. Imagine being the security guard and having all that pressure on you to guard and prevent a giant straw goat from getting burned down. Apparently the straw used on the goat is supplied by a whiskey company which I have to wonder, is it soaked in alcohol? Either way  the goat was not burned down last year so I am betting my money on it being burned down this year.

The Julbocken has a website dedicated to it and a live webcam running from when it is built until Christmas or New Years. I suggest checking it out once in a while because who knows you might get the chance to see a giant straw goat get burned down and who wouldn’t want to see that, right? Click here for the link to the webcam.

*Update Dec 1, 2011 – It appears the Goat has already been burned down judging by the webcam, my Swedish source says it was burned at 3am and only took 5 minutes, had to be the whiskey hay. You can read more about the burning here*

The 3 Basics of Capturing Good Looking Video

There are 3 simple steps to take if you want your video to go from an amateur level to a more professional look. They’re very easy and don’t take long to set-up before you press the record button. I am talking about:

Exposure

White Balance

Focus

If you know how to manually control these three things then you are on the right track to creating better looking videos. Exposure refers to the amount of light being let into the lens, white balance is a way to achieve the correct colour in different lighting situations, and focus is whether your subject looks clear and not all fuzzy.

Overexposed - The stones begin to lose their cracks and melt together

So when adjusting the exposure you’re basically controlling how bright or dark the subject is. You don’t want the subject to be underexposed, too dark, because then the viewer won’t be able to see them. You also don’t want the subject to be overexposed because it will become very bright and start to lose definition and turn into a blank slate. The rule of thumb when setting exposure is that if you’re unsure whether it is correct then it is best to be underexposed than overexposed. A video that is underexposed can be saved in post production but one that is overexposed probably is a gone’r. Most Professional cameras come with a setting called zebra patterns. These create little zebra like patterns on areas that the camera has deemed bright. When setting the exposure for a person the best thing to do is set the exposure so only a little bit of zebra patterns appear under the eyes and on the forehead. Voila now you got one thing on to then next.

White Balance Fail - Photo is looking a little blue

White Balance is another important thing to remember when you make a video. Not all lighting is the same, sometimes you can film under a bright sun, in the shade, or inside under house lights. No matter where you find yourself, make sure to set the white balance otherwise your video could turn out looking blue or orange. I won’t lie, I have made the white balance mistake and ruined some photos from my trip to Jordan. The best way to correct it is take a blank white piece of paper hold it up towards the camera where your subject will be and press the white balance button. Now the colours on the EVF and LCD should be closer to what we can see through our own eyes. Some cameras, Pictures ones, might only come with presets for different lighting situations which can work as well. Now that the white balance is set there is one more thing to remember.

Make sure that your subject is in focus and not a blurry ball, unless they asked you to not show their face in the video then it could work. This one should seem obvious, but sometimes we don’t realize that the focus has actually been set for something other than your subject. In my current class about operating ENG cameras I have noticed that people are setting their focus at a wide angle, but when they zoom in to their subject they’re out of focus. When this happens it can make the subject a bit fuzzy and this can make your viewers uncomfortable having to look at something that can be hard on the eyes. The best way to achieve a sharp focus is to set-up your camera where you plan on filming from, zoom in all the way on your subject and twist the focus ring until you have got a crystal clear image. When focusing on people it is best to zoom in on the eyes and focus on that part of the face because when the viewer is watching they’re probably looking at the subjects eyes. Unless the subject is a famous actress and the viewer is male then you might want to get better focus on another body part.

There you have it three very basic steps to getting a better looking video or even photo. My piece of advice is to take your time and get these settings right before you hit record. However if you do hit record and something was wrong then the best part is you can always stop and do it again. Unless it was your child walking for the first time then you’re out of luck and might want to practice beforehand. Before I end this I have one last very important piece of information that ties together with exposure, white balance, and focus. If the camera is picked up and moved to another place then there is a good chance that all three functions will have to be re-adjusted. If the lighting doesn’t change much from the prior spot then you probably don’t need to white balance, but exposure and focus should be adjusted.

Have a look at this short little video of the three problems you want to avoid when making a video.

Book Recommendation: The Shut up and Shoot Documentary Guide

The titles says it all, SHUT UP AND SHOOT…camera footage of course. Anthony Q. Artis gets down and dirty in this book and tells you the basics that you need to know in order to get out there and film that documentary idea you have been mulling about for years.

This book is mostly focused on documentary work, but it is an excellent read for any beginner videographer that just wants to learn the basics of what goes into making a video. The  author covers pre-production, production, post-production, and distribution in a way that makes it simple for anyone to understand. This book is especially for those with a limited budget and how they can work around that in order to make the video happen. Q. Artis also uses many examples of what you can do when you don’t have the top of the line gear and you need to improvise with something else in order to get the shot. He doesn’t only talk about the technical side of things, it also includes how to handle problems with interview subjects, telling a story, choosing a location, and assembling a crew.

I finished the book recently and highly recommend it for someone starting out and wanting to really get a good grasp of the basics. The author, Anthony Q. Artis is coming out with another similar book focusing on freelance video work and I definitely will get my hands on it.

Making a Commercial

In one of my current classes we have been broken off into groups and must come up with an idea for a commercial. It’s a brief introduction into the creation process of a coming up with and pitching a commercial idea. We picked a product (Doritos) and came up with an objective, our target audience, the breakdown of the commercial, a punch line, and a rough shot list. We did a ‘mock’ pitch to our instructor on the idea and he gave feedback on how to really grab a company when pitching ideas and some things we could change to the commercial.

The idea is to have a bunch of guys over for the football game and there is a spread of food and a one bag of Doritos. Of course everyone wants the Doritos, there is a scramble for it, but turns out the host has more and everyone is happy because they have Doritos. The idea has been done before but we are still learning camera techniques and that is the main focus of this class is to get used to the camera, lights, and audio.

While I am on the topic of commercials here are some funny ones I found on Youtube that did their job creating a stir and getting many people to watch.

Sunday Drive

The other day I went for a drive to Harrison Lake on a nice clear, cold November day. Around Vancouver, the temperature is getting cold and the snow is creeping down the side of the mountains so I thought it would be nice to get out and enjoy a non-rainy day. I went for a drive to Harrison lake which was about an hour out into the eastern Fraser Valley. Stopped along the way at Kirby Park where all the bird watchers were out in full force looking for the Bald Eagles that come in vast numbers around this time of year. There was an eagle festival set-up along with eco-boat tours to get a closer glimpse of the eagles. However I was on a search for a very different kind of animal…thing. Harrison is known to be a place where Sasquatch or Bigfoot has been spotted and many of the local businesses have a Sasquatch theme. I decided to bring my camera and try to capture the elusive Sasquatch. I also got some practice with my camera stabilizer and enjoyed the snow capped mountains, golden coloured leaves, and a clear blue sky.

Gear Review: Hague Mini Motion Cam Stabilizer

This is the budget friendly Steady Cam made by Hague Camera Supports out of the United Kingdom. Holding my Panasonic GF1 to record video just ended up being to shaky especially when I would try to do a tracking shot. I didn’t have access to a tri-pod when I filmed most of my videos and had to settle for the result of hand held shots. Well once I got home from traveling I looked into budget friendly camera stabilizers and the Hague MMC continued to pop up. After watching some test videos of the Hague online and reading a bit more about it I finally decided to make the purchase. I am one of those people that needs to carefully think out any purchase and look over countless reviews until I finally decided to buy it. There were a few other products that were similar to the Hague, but with my budget and the GF1 I decided the Hague was the best choice.

I ordered it online through the UK site and I believe the final price with shipping and currency exchange came to $150 (Canadian). The package arrived quickly and everything I needed to have smoother tracking shots was right there in the box. It is a nice small sleak black design that comes with a set of weights. I had a little trouble setting up the correct balance at first but I blame myself for not doing well at Physics in school. I ended up putting a bunch of weights on the bottom and that totally put the balance out of whack with my small GF1. I finally figured out that I only needed 2 large sized weights on the bottom and to center my camera so it wasn’t too far forward or back. If you have the camera too far forward you will notice it will start to tilt downwards and if it is too far back it will start to look upwards I also had to position the weights a bit off-center because my camera is heavier on one side due to the battery.

First tests with the Hague MMC have looked very good for a budget friendly camera stabilizer. The test shots aren’t perfect but that is only because I am still learning how to use it correctly. You need to have one hand on the grip and the other on a little knob to control the direction. I have very large hands and it can be a bit tricky for me to control the direction without bumping the rest of the stabilizer and knocking it out of control but I have managed to do alright. Don’t expect to go sprinting with it in one hand or pan quickly and still have a steady shot. It is meant for nice easy movements and that is what I was looking to get out of this affordable camera stabilizer.

Check out the cheesy video I made showcasing the Hague MMC, how to set it up, and some test shots along with awesome sales pitch music. Enjoy.

From Barn to Beautiful: A Sweetish Wedding Reception

Two friends of mine got married in Sweden back in June 2011 and I managed to make it and be apart of their wedding day or in Swedish, bröllop dagen. I am close friends to one of the families and got to be involved with some of the preparation that went on. It was located in the smallest community of Sweden in a town called Bjurholm with a population around 2000 people. One of the many highlights of this wedding was the location of the reception. It took place at a Folk Museum and the actual dinner was to be held in what most people described as a “barn”. It was dirty on the inside, the roof needed repairs in case it rained, and it was filled with a bunch of things that needed to be moved. Most were wondering what the bride was thinking, but they didn’t see the picture she had imagined in her head.

The family members and close friends were on hand to help prepare the reception area that was to take place in about a weeks time. There was some bickering bertween everyone on how it should look, but the bride was positive on how she wanted it to look. One thing I have learned at weddings is to back off and do whatever the bride says. After a little tug of war things got moved around how the bride had wanted. The floor was cleaned up, the tables were arranged nicely, lights and decorations started going up on the walls. Finally everyone was starting to understand what the bride was picturing all along. It ended up turning out amazing and I was asked to take some photos of the finished product. Bjurholm being a small town doesn’t get many tourists to it so maybe they can draw some money through weddings. Who knows a future Swedish couple might like what they see and decide to get married here all thanks to an image one bride believed in and stuck to, and some enhanced photos taken by a Canadian guy.

I use the photo editing software Corel Paint Shop Pro Photo X2 to do all of my photo editing. I would like to use Adobe Photoshop one day but I just don’t have the budget right now, but Corel can get the job done. I edited all of these photos afterwards and the most notable thing I did to them was add a glamour effect. It makes the photo have this soft, slightly out of focus look that makes it almost seem like you’re dreaming. One of the best parts about taking pictures in Sweden is in the month of June there is light coming from the sun 24 hours a day. So you never have to worry about low light situations and have a longer time to get pictures when the sun is at that nice low angle casting long shadows.

*All the wedding reception set-up photos can be viewed here on the Flickr group.