Getting Started In Video – Conversation With Fred Light

May 20th, 2007

There were several questions raised about how to get into the area of shooting real estate tour video so I consulted Fred Light who works in the Boston area and has been shooting real estate video for some time. Fred has been featured in Inman News and Fred also does a blog on video. The link on the image above is a recent shoot Fred did of an historic property in Amherst, NH.

I posed the following questions to Fred:

What equipment would you recommend for some one getting started in real estate video?

Well… my opinions aren’t always in line with Realtors…. but I really do think that you owe it to your SELLER to offer the best quality possible. Like many things in life…. garbage in, garbage out. So I think it’s important to have the best camera you can afford. When I first started about a year and a half ago, I bought a little Sony Camcorder for about $400. The quality was OK… but I just didn’t think it was ‘good enough’. Once you compress the hell out of the video (!) to get it online, you lose SO much quality – if you start with low quality, the end result is pretty muddy. (just look at most videos on YouTube).

Real estate interiors are generally LOW LIGHT shoots. If I was just doing some panning shots, you COULD set up some lighting, but since I do pans AND a walk through the house, it’s pretty impossible to light the house evenly as I walk from room to room. So, the most important thing is to get a camera that does well in LOW LIGHT (using just the home’s interior lighting)

So, I bit the bullet and bought a high definition camcorder. Not a professional camera though, but a consumer version – which had just come on the market (at that time it was about $1500, now they’re around $1000). The quality difference was pretty amazing. Hi def cameras seem to do the best in low light. The one thing that you HAVE to have no matter what camera you use is a tripod. Otherwise you’re just presenting a real estate version of Uncle Tom’s vacation videos – which will make you nauseous.

One other thing I use which definitely separates me from most is a Steadicam, which allows me to walk around, up and down hallways, stairs, etc. all the while keeping the picture steady. There are a number of them on the market, and plans for making your own online for $20-$30 bucks. I bought one for a couple hundred dollars (which was of one of the cheaper ones offered). I found it to be nearly worthless. I finally bit the bullet and bought a real Steadicam ($800). It’s really an amazing piece of machinery, although you’d hardly think it was worth $800 by looking at it. But it’s VERY light, reducing the fatigue that you get holding the camera for long periods. However, the one ‘little’ omission all of these companies make in their sales pitch is in regards to the learning curve. Buying the steadicam is the easiest part – learning to USE it properly takes LOTS of practice. HOURS of practice. (Hell, I’m STILL practicing!). It’s not a quick fix, for sure – but the results are great. Especially with real estate – it really gives you a feel for the layout of the house and the relationship from one room to another.

Do you do a significant amount of editing before the video is posted?

Yes, and originally it was VERY time consuming, but I’ve started to get the time down … finally (practice, practice, practice!) But for a 4-5 minute video, I can edit about 30 minutes of footage in about 40 minutes. Then I need to write the narration, record it and lay down the narration, which takes another 30-45 minutes. Then it needs to be compressed to Quicktime and Windows Media Video.

I notice on your website you support QuickTime and Windows Media. Are these the only two media formats that one needs to support?

Flash is the most compatible (97%), but I still think the quality is still NOT there. It’s OK… but not great. QuickTime is really HIGH quality, and fairly quick downloading… and something like 65% penetration – higher on Macintosh computers (it’s gone up since iTunes came out)…. WMV is less quality, longer download time and buffering, but I think still better than Flash – also a 65% penetration rate (higher on Windows computers). So I offer QT as the first choice (and best quality), WMV as a second option and Flash as a third option. That way EVERYONE can see it – but hopefully more will see it in QuickTime. I’m still trying to figure out to go all Flash as it would make MY life much easier. In fact, just today I was experimenting with an abnormally lengthy (8 min) video on an historic home I did the other day (I usually try to keep i under 5 minutes)…. and was trying some different options. Again, when you’re presenting a half million to several million dollar house, I think QUALITY is imperative, or you’re doing a disservice to your seller.

Fred also sent me a copy of his check-list that he gives to home owners so they are prepared for the shoot. Thanks Fred for all the “getting started info”.

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2 Responses to “Getting Started In Video – Conversation With Fred Light”

  • I do find that 4-5mn is too long, and the same tips as in photography applies too: fix the White balance, be levelled to not have wacko perspectives, and beware of cheap wide-angle converters giving vignetting an barrel distortion.

    I disagree about the HD : same thing as in photography, the more tiny pixels, the less sensitive they will be. But today’s HD and the recent SD cameras are using the same chips, with too many megapixels to give sill-photo capacities – the difference is in the processing speed needed for HD video. HD cameras are better in low light because they are newer and benefits from recent advances in signal processing and sensor manufacturing.

    Flash could be of high quality when choosing the modern codec, VP6, see . Quicktime seems to be of higher quality because of higher default settings, but fundamentally all modern codecs are close.

  • To be honest I don’t think a good production that really looks good can be done in video at a cost that works for the Photographer and his clients, no matter who those are… the realtor or the seller.

    So there comes to compromise on quality. What I do is a “Ken Burns” style of movie out of pictures. Narrated or not but with music. All in one, presented on a CD, DVD (playable on a TV) and online as a streaming Flash. That works… I had few that aired them on some unknown TV channel I never watched.

    The next step is to have a 360 that has Video feeds inside, that could be an option and involves some extra work, working with clients and post work not to mention of putting everything together. While the jobs get more and more complicated, so does the bill. So what’s the threshold where expensive gets insane and your customer will pay for it eventually but you will never hear from him again? That’s a value that I assume varies by the area you’re in.

    I work in Orange County, very hot realestate wise, there is alot of money in advertising individual homes, but when the bill goes over 1k it’s not good πŸ™‚ You have to know when to say, ok, this is to much. So I rather work three times for 8 hundred than once for 1.2k

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