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Tobi Wulff Photography

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Finding Music for your Video Productions

Google for it! Seems obvious. However, there is an overwhelming amount of stock music out there and the quality, price, and usability of many of websites vary widely. Maybe I'm not so good with the Google-fu but it took me several months to write down a good list of sites that offer what I need at a reasonable price.

The first time I became actually aware of great stock music and where to get it from was through Dave Dugdale's Youtube channel. I found the track "Hummer" great for the energetic videos I was producing and consequently put it in the first half of my TWALK video (watch below). Premiumbeat is one of the more pricey sites out there but I their content is all high quality so there's no weeding through a lot of so-so music. Production value on all tracks is top notch. The big advantage from a licensing point of view is that you can reuse the music tracks in as many free and commercial pieces of work as you want. When buying a track the user can choose between the full song, loops or individual samples.

Audiojungle takes the second place in my ranking. It's got huge variety and the prices are much lower than on Premiumbeat at $15-20 per track or around $30 for music packs. Because Premiumbeat is curated it feels like it's got its own sound whereas Audiojungle can be a bit different and refreshing. However, one big downside of Audiojungle is that a track or music pack can only by used in one (free or commercial) piece of work. I'm not an expert and this is definitely not legal advice but it seems like a song can still be used in multiple videos as long as they belong to the same project, so for example the main video, remixed in a trailer, and maybe an alternative cut or follow up video or making of/behind the scenes. In this case, $15-20 for 2-3 videos isn't bad value.

So if you intend to use a track only one time, Audiojungle will be cheaper. If, on the other hand, you want to use the same track in the future, the $40 (edit: I wrongly said that a song costs $60 in a previous version of this article) of a Premiumbeat track can quickly pay for themselves.

Vimeo also has got a stock music store. While the prices are very low (one or a few dollars per track), unfortunately the quality is much lower well and so far I haven't found anything that I wanted to use in my videos. I'm sure there are great songs and something on Vimeo might work much better for a particular video than another song from Audiojungle or Premiumbeat but if it's going to take hours to find, it's not worth the saved money. If you like to sort through a lot of tracks this is worth a look. Another nice feature is the close integration with the Vimeo video site.

On the free side of things there are sites like the Free Music Archive, Incompetech and Musopen. Many tracks on these sites sound very different from your usual stock music so it's definitely worth a look but again, I find it hard to impossible to find the right kind of music with good production value for a trailer or a short video. I could imagine that they are very good for background music on narratives especially since you can probably find about any kind of music on those sites.

Also check out lists of useful resources on reddit and one of the many, many videography blogs out there. There are a lot more music and sound repositories, both free and paid, that I haven't mentioned yet.

UPDATE July 2016: Adding a link to www.jukedeck.com because it sounds really interesting and is free (seen on the Fenchel & Janisch Youtube channel).

Please head over to Google+ or Twitter @tobiaswulff (see links on top of the page) to discuss this article or any of my photography and videography work. My Flickr and Vimeo pages also provide some space to leave comments and keep up to date with my portfolio. Lastly, if you want to get updates on future blog posts, please subscribe to my RSS feed. I plan to publish a new article every Wednesday.

Backup strategy for photos and videos on Linux

This is a continuation of my previous Workflow article. In the workflow article I've linked to Chase Jarvis' excellent videos and blog posts about working with digital media and keeping it safe. I highly recommend to watch them if you are interested in a more in-depth look at workflow and backups.

When I started getting into photography beyond simple point-and-shoot or cellphone snapshots, I realised that leaving all my valuable photos in one location without a decent backup plan would be too risky. I've never had a hard drive suddenly die on me but I'm sure that one day it will happen - suddenly or, maybe even worse, gradually. Not that my old snapshots weren't valuable but RAW photography suddenly involved much more data and also more high-quality prints, competitions, and a growing portfolio. Of course, I had done backups to an external hard drive and this is often as far as most people take it. This prevents data loss due to a sudden one-disk failure. However, even my older photos which were taken during some of the most memorable and important periods of my life were always just backed up to that other drive in the same room. A violent power surge while it is plugged in, a fire, water damage, or theft could easily render all those important files inaccessible.

Requirements

The requirements were easy to jot down:

  • Full system protection against a one-disk failure so I don't get stopped dead in the tracks if something happens to my hardware,
  • off-site backups for the most important data so that even my house being swallowed off the surface of the earth doesn't lead to significant data loss,
  • ability to take snapshots of folders or partitions so that I can experiment with files without the risk of corrupting or losing any data (this also helps with taking backups),
  • protection against data corruption and bit flipping which does happen.

Redundancy

Multi-terrabyte hard disks are become pretty affordable and if your priced digital possessions are shot with expensive cameras, there's no good reason not to invest another $100-200 to make your data and ideally your whole system fully redundant. A RAID1 mirrors all data on the disk so if one disk suddenly fails the other one can keep running. It is recommended to use disks from different batches - or even models - so that a manufacturing issue does not propagate across both drives. RAID1 can easily be done in software by the Linux kernel and there are no complicated algorithms that could lead to issues recovering data further down the road. It is as simple as: both disk have exactly the same information stored on them.

There are also a few other benefits of RAID1. First, while write speeds are slower, read speeds are twice as fast. Once the photo or video data has been offloaded from the memory cards, editing software can take advantage of that for a quicker and more fluid workflow. Additionally, when using a file system like btrfs, any data corruption on one disk can be repaired with data from the other disk. I'll talk about this further down.

For hardware I use two Western Digital Red 4TB NAS Hard Drives (de). WD has an excellent reputation and the Red drives are designed for workstations and Network Attached Storage (NAS) systems where disks can run many hours at a time (think heavy editing or transcoding) or even 24/7. For a great big-scale reliability study of current hard drives check out this Backblaze article about the drives in their data centre - personally, I'd stay away from Seagate.

Off-site backups

All your important data must be stored securely off-site. While it is luckily quite unlikely to fall victim to a house-destroying catastrophe or serious theft it is still possible, and it is the one point were complete data loss could happen when it is expected the least. I use two identical external drives and one always lives off-site in a safe location. I swap them out every one to two weeks depending on the flow of new photos, videos and editing files.

For my big backup disks I use the more affordable Western Digital Green 3TB Hard Drives (de) which are not designed to run for long periods of time so they shouldn't be used in workstations or servers. For backups they are ideal because they are only spun up every other week and it means cheaper storage: all of my data with room to spare for at least the next half year for under $100. To attach the backup disk to my computer I use a cheap and fast Sabrent USB 3.0 to SATA External Hard Drive Docking Station, then rsync to copy new and changed data from my workstation to the disk.

Since I don't really need any of my older, smaller drives for my workstation (if I run out of space it is easier to buy new big multi-TB disks rather than reuse old sub-TB ones and assemble them into RAID0s and RAID1s), I'm also planning to copy some of my finished projects and previous years of photography to those smaller drives and to keep them in yet another off-site location as an archive. My only concern is that after a year of not spinning them up and running a btrfs scrub, data corruption might start to get noticeable.

Data integrity

The Linux file system btrfs provides multiple features that come in very handy when keeping data safe and running backups. For starters, btrfs scrub start /media/data will start a check of all my multimedia files and fix any issues found. Btrfs keeps metadata (which includes checksums) and actual data separate so if there is any damage to the real data there is a chance it can be recovered from the metadata. Furthermore, in a RAID1 system the data can be restored from the other disk which shouldn't show the same (random) data corruption.

The next great feature is snapshots: btrfs subvolume snapshot photography photography-backup creates a snapshot of all my photos and keeps changes that happen from now on separate (through a mechanism called copy-on-write). So if I accidentally delete a file in my photography/ folder I can get it back from the backup folder, yet it doesn't use up any additional space on the drive if files stay the same. This can easily be automated using cronjobs to create and rotate snapshots on a daily or weekly basis. It is also handy to create a snapshot before copying files off to an external hard disk so that I can keep working on my photos and videos while the backup is running in the background.

Other, smaller backups

I also have rsnapshot running every hour to take backups of my XMP sidecar files that get created by Darktable, my RAW photo processing application. Since Darktable automatically saves any changes made to a photograph as they happen, it is quite possible to accidentally delete the whole editing history (the RAW file itself is never modified, though, by the way). However, I have to say that this hasn't happened to me at all in almost two years of using the program. Anyway, keeping the small XMP files available for up to a month is an easy, inexpensive and great way to keep my mind at peace.

Conclusion

Just today, Caleb Pike released a video on his workflow and backup strategy as well. While fairly different due to different tools and computer expertise, the main principles and requirements stay the same and I recommend watching his take on the topic, especially if you found mine too technical or Unix centric.

Please head over to Google+ or Twitter @tobiaswulff (see links on top of the page) to discuss this article or any of my photography and videography work. My Flickr and Vimeo pages also provide some space to leave comments and keep up to date with my portfolio. Lastly, if you want to get updates on future blog posts, please subscribe to my RSS feed. I plan to publish a new article every Wednesday.

Long-run timelapses across multiple seasons - Part 1

Some links to products in this blog post are Amazon Affiliate links that earn me a few cents or dollars if a reader buys any product on Amazon through this link. The price of the product does not increase so it is a free way to support this site by using the links provided. The main product link goes to Amazon.com and the "(de)" leads to Amazon.de.

This is the first part of a longer series of blog posts about timelapses. I have started planning for and taking long-run timelapses that span many weeks and months, and I want to talk about how these ideas and visions can be accomplished in a reasonably efficient workflow by an amateur photographer. I say "reasonably" because processing timelapses from RAW files and working on such long running sequences will always involve a lot of work.

Who, and why

Apart from an article on Photo Sentinel, there aren't many interesting articles or howtos available. I highly recommend reading the article if you're interested in timelapses because it showcases different techniques and links to some great videos in each category. However, it belongs to a company that sells specialised long-term timelapse equipment which does not really fit the kind of subjects I'm shooting. On Youtube and Vimeo there are only a couple of videos that portrait certain subjects in nature over the course of many months but there are some amazing and award-winning short videos and films that I will link to further down.

The most impressive executions of this sort of timelapse - and the aforementioned howto talks about it as well - are several features by the BBC such as The British Year and of course Planet Earth. The team which shot the timelapses for The British Year talk at length about planning, shooting, editing and various tips in a blog post. I highly recommend Chad's blog and all the content on his website as it is a wealth of timelapse stories, workflow tips, and kit reviews.

How-to

The obvious but most time extensive way to shoot a timelapse across multiple seasons is to take individual photos of the same subject under similar lighting conditions and from the same spot over a long, long time. Another technique is to take multiple "normal" timelapses, that is sequence of an hour or a few hours, and then blend them together such as in the Youtube video "4 Seasons 1 Tree". Unfortunately, the blending will be very obvious, and there also isn't much movement or change within the individual sequences themselves. On the other hand, there is no flickering due to abrupt changes in lighting or weather. This could be enhanced by doing some masking and selective blending to change some areas of the image before others which can also be seen in the video as the ground changes before the tree does.

The easiest way to accomplish a long running timelapse is to have a camera that can be left in a fixed spot and orientation. The photo above is actually a blend of two individual frames, one with different lighting and more leaves on the tree. It shows that blending and aligning photos on the computer can produce a very smooth result even if the original photos are totally unaligned and taken in completely different conditions. In amateur nature photography, it usually isn't an option to have an absolutely fixed camera spot because the locations are too exposed to the elements. Even in urban environments you wouldn't leave your camera or tripod anywhere except inside your own house or apartment - and then you wouldn't be able to take it somewhere else.

Therefore - unfortunately - we have to re-set up the camera and point it at the same spot every single time. This gets very complicated if movement of the camera is involved but even with a static shooting position there will be slight variations due to uneven ground, zoom lens variations (zooms are not "clicked" after all) and inaccuracies when pointing the camera at the subject. A very sturdy tripod is important but because I usually travel on foot or bike and also take my equipment on hikes into the mountains, I couldn't just go for the most sturdy one out there. So my tripod is the Manfrotto BeFree Compact Aluminum Travel Tripod which I love because it fits even into a normal day pack, yet it can extend to eye level and is reasonable rigid. However, pushing down on it will bend the legs in their joints so it is tricky to get it set up 100% exactly the same way every time.

So there will be variations in tripod position, tripod height, camera attitude and focal length. Luckily, those issues can be resolved almost completely in post-production and I will talk about methods and tools to align photos and blend them in the next blog post in this series. Apart from dedicated software and plugins for Lightroom there are also a bunch or free tools available that do a very good or even perfect job at the expense of a maybe not so polished user interface or some efficiency.

Ongoing work and ongoing articles

Something like the video "Fall" from NYC Central Park is probably the closest inspiration to what I am planning to achieve. I didn't know the video when I started my project. There is also a year-long timelapse from the Canadian Rocky Mountains which employs some really nice blending and obviously beautiful outdoor scenery.

As I shoot individual frames and sequences for my own long-run timelapse video, I will add more parts to this series talking about specific shooting tips and releasing some more snippets of the ongoing work. Towards the end I'm sure it will all become fairly editing and video post-production heavy.

Please head over to Google+ or Twitter @tobiaswulff (see links on top of the page) to discuss this article or any of my photography and videography work. My Flickr and Vimeo pages also provide some space to leave comments and keep up to date with my portfolio. Lastly, if you want to get updates on future blog posts, please subscribe to my RSS feed. I plan to publish a new article every Wednesday.

Photoshoot Experience: KiwiPyCon Conference

A few weeks ago I shot my first event which was KiwiPyCon 2015 at the university campus in Christchurch, New Zealand. KiwiPyCon is an annual programming and software development conference organised by the New Zealand Python User Group (NZPUG). It consisted of talks and tutorials on Friday, and talks (plus many morning tea, lunch, and afternoon tea breaks) on Saturday and Sunday. All photos can be found on the Flickr page I created for the event.

I came to the event with two cameras and two lenses: my Olympus OM-D E-M1 (de) with the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 (de), and a borrowed Panasonic G5 with my Olympus 45mm f/1.8 (de) prime. The lecture theatres were fairly dark so I expected to use the prime lens quite often during the talks.

The first challenge which, much to my frustration, didn't even have to do anything with photography itself, was to get photos up onto the Internet as fast as possible, ideally while a talk or conference segment was happening. New photos and updates could be announced on the official @NZPUG Twitter feed. I tried the Olympus OI Share app on my phone because I figured it would be easiest to select files from my camera via Wifi and share them directly to a Twitter app. This didn't work at all: loading photos from the camera was very slow and my phone often switched back to using the conference Wifi and therefore loosing connectivity with my camera. When I finally managed to load a full photo from the camera, I had problems sharing it to Twitter due to connection timeouts which was probably due to the slow university Wifi or Internet on the "visitor" network we were assigned. After trying for half an hour while all sorts of activity with people streaming in, signing up, chatting and getting ready for talks was happening around me, I gave up and tried using a tablet which can read SD cards from the camera, and the Android Flickr app.

The Flickr app wasn't working either: I couldn't use my existing account (Yahoo said something about inactive account even though it works fine from a PC) and creating a new account and logging in also failed. So while it looked like reading SD cards directly and uploading to Flickr was the way to go, I wouldn't be able to use my tablet (with the long battery life) and eventually had to resort to using my old trusty Thinkpad laptop (with its 40 minute battery life). Finally, after deciding to use a proper computer, everything worked as expected: I pulled the photos from the SD card to the laptop, put them into a folder for each day and camera, and uploaded them to Flickr via the website. No apps, no camera Wifi, no sharing or APIs: just memory cards and HTTP. I still decided to not shoot RAW and I also downsized the images to around 5 Megapixels in camera so that the slow and sometimes unreliable visitor Wifi network would be able to handle all the uploads in a timely manner.

One big problem I ran into with the silent electronic shutter of the Panasonic G5 was with the florescent lights: while not a problem with the normal shutter, the slower readout (technically the readout is the same but the exposure across the whole frame happens much faster with a mechanical shutter) caused horizontal line artefacts to appear in the final photo:

I'm not sure why it wasn't a problem with some of the other portraits of presenters before this one since I've used the electronic shutter quite a lot on the first day but after this experience I quickly changed back to using the mechanical shutter. While a little bit more annoying for the audience, as an event photographer you aren't completely invisible anyway while running around the stage, and luckily neither the E-M1 nor the G5 have a loud shutter.

A similar technical issue was around camera settings, specifically white balance. Being primarily a landscape photographer I like to use manual mode with manual ISO and manual white balance. However, I quickly learned to use a more automatic mode like A priority, and set ISO and WB to auto. There are still a few photos were the white balance is way off which was before I put the camera into a more automatic mode. After I learned and switched, most photos came out really well. The E-M1, despite being a m4/3 camera and therefore not a very good low-light performer, looks great up to ISO 1600, and together with the f/1.8 prime it was enough to capture action and speakers unless they waved their hands around really furiously. In this case I just had to wait a few seconds for them to calm down and then quickly get the shots.

Over the three days I extensively used my Peak Design camera clip (de) I talked about last week, attached to my belt, in order to carry and work with two cameras, or during breaks grab some food and have conversations without having to hold a camera in my hands all the time. It performed flawlessly and kept even the fairly heavy (for a m4/3 camera) E-M1 + 12-40mm zoom lens secure on my hip. The built-in lock functionality was good to have because the opening of the clip is to the side when worn on a belt so in theory bumping the spring-loaded unlock button and nudging the camera could result in dropping it from hip height onto a potentially very hard floor.

One of the bigger challenges was to capture the moment during prize-givings when a book, voucher or other gadget was handed to the lucky winner. Because the lecture theatre was fairly big and the prize-giving was happening so fast I wasn't always close enough or didn't have enough time to get a good focus. Ideally as a photographer you would want more time and a bit of a pose, and the person bringing the prize to the winner shouldn't stand between the camera and the person receiving the prize. I'm not sure what would work better in the future apart from having more than one photographer so that we can spread out in the theatre.

Please head over to Google+ or Twitter @tobiaswulff to discuss this article and let me know how you handle event shoots like these. I ran into a few problems and challenges so any tips for the future are greatly appreciated. My Flickr and Vimeo pages also provide some space to leave comments and keep up to date with my portfolio. Lastly, if you want to get updates on future blog posts, please subscribe to my RSS feed. I plan to publish a new article every Wednesday.