From the very beginning, part of the intention of Pedal Powered Anthropology has been not only to explore my surroundings from a cultural and historical perspective, but also to teach whatever audience I build how to do the same thing. Let people know that everywhere they can possibly go has a lot of history behind it, and that with a bit of surface scratching, they could find and learn about it.
Basically, everywhere is a travel destination with the right outlook.
In addition to teaching people what happened somewhere, I would also be teaching people how to go and find that same type of information themselves, and also…how to compile it into a nifty project that other people would want to take a look at.
More or less…Pedal Powered Anthropology’s goal is to make a pedal powered anthropologist out of everyone who wants to be one.
It’s why, at the end of my videos, I list all of the equipment and software I used to record and edit. And it’s why I put as much content as I can up for free.
When I started Anthrospin, I didn’t have any kind of budget (also I still don’t). But I got it in my head through seeing really awesome stuff recorded on cell phones that you can do A LOT with you phone. Or your little point and shoot digital camera you bought to bring with you on hikes and to music festivals or whatever.
The technology we have almost accidental access today is so incredibly powerful. And because of that, with close to (or literally) no immediate investment, we can make some pretty awesome stuff.
And that was my mentality going in.
My first “projects” were pictures. I started searching for cool historical sites (I’m in New England…something cool or awful happened everywhere you can possibly be). And I think most Rhode Islanders are familiar with the historical markers that are just about everywhere. They look kinda like grave stones, but they’re not. They commemorate some event that happened or notable person who lived nearby. And they’re all over the place. There are also lots of historical plaques all over the place.
And I absolutely refuse to believe that any Rhode Islander hasn’t seen a Historical Cemetery marker. Rhode Island is tiny. I think 47 miles long and 34 wide or something like that? But we have over 3,000 historical cemeteries. We have the highest density of historical cemeteries of anywhere in the country. It’s pretty close to impossible to go anywhere without passing a historical cemetery. Maybe it’s a street over from where you actually are, but it’s there.
They’re everywhere. There are so many of them that they’ve been compiled into a massive database and the organization overseeing them is constantly looking for volunteers to help clean them up and maintain them. Some of them haven’t even been found! There are some known from historical writings and census taking or town plans…but things change over time and there are still some being found and some that aren’t known other than by historical reference.
If you’re in Rhode Island and interested in history and preservation get in touch and volunteer. They always need the help.
So a lot of what I was doing early on was finding nifty locations and going and taking some pictures and sharing them, along with a paragraph or two about what happened there. Before I had started doing this, I started wondering about my phone’s camera. It’s easy to stumble across something. I’d also be spending a lot of time on my bike. My phone would be something that’s A. always with me and B. really easy to transport.
So I started looking at photography software for my phone. I have an iPhone SE, which is basically the body of the iPhone 5 with the guts of the iPhone 6. It’s more powerful than a 5, but more compact than a 6. I got it with Anthrospin in mind.
It has a powerful camera. But the stock drivers aren’t the best. They’re fine. But if you search on google you’ll find a billion links pointing you to better options:
There’s a lot. Some free, some cheap, some not-so-cheap. I went with Camera Plus Pro. It’s $2.99, and really powerful. I started using my phone to take intentional pictures. By that I mean…pictures that I sorta framed out and planned. Rather than a picture of my wife making an absurd face while eating. At the top of this page you’ll see a bunch of them as a part of the banner. They were all taken using CP Pro. Some of them are legitimately good pictures, others I feel kind of capture the feeling of cycling. Either way, they’re worth showing people. I’m not a professional photographer, so these are pretty damn good. And I’m getting better.
I like this app, and it was $3
Here are a couple more images. They’re probably compressed to garbage from me putting them on Facebook and then downloading them for this post, but you get the gist:
You can get awesome pictures with the stock camera app. It’s just a bit trickier and apps like CP Pro give you a lot more control over settings.
As it became more and more apparent that videos were about to play a larger role in my content, I decided to apply the same notion to that: my phone is a solid video camera if I want it to be.
I did some searching, downloaded some apps. Some were junk, some weren’t. I eventually settled on Filmic Pro. It was $10, and it’s awesome. It’s just awesome. It gives you complete control over all video settings and the drivers are so much more powerful than those in the stock app. There are so many features and tutorials that I’m not going to get into it. But suffice it to say; if you want to make video and have an iPhone, Filmic will 100% do what you want and you will get stunning results.
If you bother to learn to use it. It can be used point and shoot with good results. But you can get truly professional quality results if you bother to learn the software.
One thing I will say is that Filmic records in a format/resolution/frame rate that makes video editing software happy. It’s easier to edit. So if you edit your videos after production, you’ll thank yourself for bothering to use something that’s geared toward editing. It looks better, you have complete control over the settings of the camera, and it’s more pleasant to edit.
Right now, you’re in the hole for $12.99.
My first video project was a bit rough. I knew maybe the first 3/4 of a thing about video recording. I decided to do it on the Gaspee Affair. I did some research and came up with a bullet point outline of talking points. Rehearsed a bit, and decided to head down to Gaspee Point.
I booted up Filmic, stuck my phone on a selfie stick, and started recording.
The video itself is fine. But that 1/4 I didn’t yet know was how much of an effect wind would have on my voice. Since I’d had such good results playing with Filmic at first, I didn’t take into consideration that wind would ruin my life. It’s a bit pixelated from being compressed for YouTube. But the video itself isn’t bad.
I then booted up iMovie and edited it with that.
To me, it felt a little rushed. I had promised to get this video out. I wanted to finish it. The day I recorded I had worked from 7am-3:30 and then biked to Gaspee Point. We were in the middle of a heat wave and it was between 95-100 degrees on filming day. I should have reshot it but I was done.
Going forward, I knew two things. Wind was gonna be a problem. And I wanted more control than iMovie was giving me.
I didn’t want to just bike to a location and film. I wanted to film myself on the way there. So my phone was playing the roles of camera, video camera, microphone, and phone. Too many hats for such an expensive piece of equipment that was also my emergency life line in case something went horribly wrong during whatever I was up to.
Don’t wanna spend two hours filming, have my phone die, and then hit a pot hole and have a wheel collapse with no way of getting in touch with anyone.
I needed a video camera.
I did some research and wound up buying the Sony HDR-AS50 action camera. It’s more or less Sony’s answer to the GoPro. I chose this particular one because it has a live view remote. Which means I can set the thing up 30 feet from me, frame my shot, step into it and make sure everything looks how I like. And then hit record. Remotely. I can change settings and start new videos as well.
It’s awesome for what I do. And being an action camera, it’s rugged as anything. It has a fixed focus so everything is always nice and sharp. And a nice, wide angle so I could mount it on my handlebars.
Here are examples of action and stationary shots from the Sony.
I wound up downloading a sound recorded app called Voice Recorder by LiveBird. I got the free one, but after recording two section of Rhode Island’s Industrial Revolution, I found out that in order to export files from it, you needed to pay for the full version. This app was $1.99, so while it was annoying, it still wasn’t bank-breaking.
It was with this setup that I recorded all of Rhode Island’s Industrial Revolution. The Sony action camera, Voice Recorder by LiveBird, and CP Pro.
The package I ordered for the action camera was more expensive than the one I linked to above because I got it from one of those companies that sell things at a ridiculous markup to people who are trying to rebuild credit. But otherwise it’s the same package.
So with those three things (and a handlebar mount and basic tripod), I was able to record my first full length documentary.
It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty damn good. The biggest flaws are my own damn fault. By this point I knew the first 1.5 things about video. But I still wasn’t mic-ed–I just had my phone running the voice recorder software (if you’re observant you can find my phone in just about every scene). So wind still played more of a role than I’d have liked.
I need to get better at lighting myself when on my bike. Natural light is great but you’re not always heading in an optimal direction to take advantage of it.
And I overestimated how much crap I could remove in post-production.
One important aspect of film-making is to shoot for the end product. I’d read that and all. But you don’t know what it means until you make some garbage. I was shooting with one camera. I’d thought it would be fine. If there was a cut that made it look really awkward because I was in a completely new spot from one to the next…I’d just overlay an image and you’d never notice.
Well. That’s fine. But audio doesn’t work like that. You can cut up a 45 second segment into 21 different bits, stick an image over it and it looks perfectly smooth.
But your voice will sound like William Shatner. I’ve since gotten a lot better at writing my parts to have good stopping points. To talk more slowly. And when I mess up a sentence, TO START THE WHOLE PARAGRAPH OVER. Starting a new take in the middle of a sentence is a wonderful way to Shatner up your video.
Rather than iMovie I’m now using Lightworks which is an incredibly powerful video editing software that give you literally Hollywood-level control over all aspects of post-production fiddling.
Again. Learn how to use it.
There is a paid version. It’s not “cheap” but it’s not mega expensive, either. A full license is still under $600.
But I gotta say…the ONLY restrictions on the free version are export. You can’t export to DVD or BluRay formats, only to YouTube or Vimeo in 720p.
But again…that’s still way better quality than the stuff being put out 20 years ago. And it’s free at that level.
So use it. Learn how to use it. Make awesome stuff.
I have a much better kit now, a couple more cameras and some dedicated lighting and microphones and audio recorders. But the process (read:failures) leading to the setup I just described here is a good starting point. And that setup was powerful enough to create a documentary that I’ve since published to DVD and have sold enough copies of it to have paid for all the discs and duplication AND a camera upgrade.
My phone does still function as my backup. Or when I stumble across something and have to document it. It’s a great tool to have set up for photography and video, because there’s never a time when I don’t have access to it.
I’ll document the rest of my kit in a subsequent blog, but that’s all that needs to be in this one–startup to first legitimate milestone.
You can do awesome things with very little. I’m not even GOOD at it yet and it’s a hobby that’s started paying for itself.