A haunted attraction is potentially one of the hardest locations to shoot photography and video. There’s fog, rapid action, actors that like to lunge at the camera, and extremely low light environments. At the end of the 2012 Halloween season, I knew I needed to actually learn to be a better photographer if I intended to succeed in my role as the media specialist for a Halloween attraction I work with on the side.
I was noticing that most of my photos were blurry or that my camera wasn’t even letting me press the button to take the photo. It was possibly some of the most frustrating photo shoots I had been on.
Understand, I know my way around a video camera. I was in the television industry for about five years working for local news organizations and as an in-house video camera operator for a hotel convention center. I have rarely had issues with cameras. So, this was really getting me upset. Was I actually going to need to be learning something new?
WHAT WAS DIFFERENT THIS TIME?
In previous years, I was able to capture photos and video with low-end consumer equipment and I had been satisfied enough. The owners of the attraction were very satisfied with what I was delivering. But, I wanted to be better, because I knew I could. I stepped up the quality of the camera I was using from a consumer-level digital camera and camcorder to a DSLR camera. It may not seem like a big deal, but it was. I was in a new world.
With a DSLR camera, you now need to know F-Stops, ISO settings, shutter speeds, and interchangeable lenses. By no means am I a photography geek. I don’t do well at all when other photographers start talking the focal lengths and such of their lenses or spouting information about their camera’s sensors.
But, what I have come to understand is that the F-Stop, ISO, and shutter speeds are VITAL when it comes to picture quality, focus, and if the camera will even allow you to take a photo.
I was definitely learning something new.
Let’s cut to the chase of the story. I figured out night photography for the situation I was going to be in pretty well.
Here is a look at the photos I shot during the 2014 haunt season.
WHAT DID I DO?
To achieve the photos I wanted to get, I did several things:
- Watched YouTube Videos
- Attended a local meetup photography group
- Spoke to a photographer that works for another haunted attraction to learn what they do
- Spent hours in the local bookstore looking through photography books.
- Shooting photos for a local play because it was a similar environment.
- Asked the owners of the haunt to give me several nights where we could stage photography
- Perform a few test photo shoots on location to understand how my camera reacted to the environment
I got this! Photography was no longer the challenge. The real challenge, surprisingly, was shooting video.
LET THE JOURNEY BEGIN
I could not figure out why video was so complex with this new camera. One of the reasons I bought a DSLR camera was because over and over, I saw these indie filmmakers using these cameras for their films. So, to me, if that’s what they use, that’s what I need.
What I did not realize was how much the camera settings play into how you achieve a great look.
So, I needed to step up my learning. It was clear that the 2014 haunt season media capture was a success. I had about a hundred or so photos that were really good – way better than 2013. However, after reviewing my footage, I started to notice that my video was alright, but shaky and out of focus many times.
WHAT WAS THE PROBLEM?
Back to YouTube. I needed to find some tutorials on these cameras and how to shoot video that looked respectable and would give me what I was expecting. Guess what! There are no videos on how to shoot night video in a haunted attraction. I had to bend the information I was receiving into what I needed to get out of them.
I have recently identified some of the things that make DSLR video unique and appealing.
- Shallow depth of field – this allows for things in the foreground and background to be out of focus and the primary subject to be in focus. This totally changes the quality of the video. You can’t easily get this with a consumer camcorder. However, the added challenge is that if the camera or subject moves too far in or out of the area in focus, your shot is now out of focus and unusable.
- Camera movement is important – I ended up building a camera slider, a stabilizer out of PVC, and buying a nice monopod that allows for lots of controlled motion. The results of using these tools has been fantastic. Watch movies – the camera rarely sits still on a tripod. It is always moving in some manner, even if it is slow.
- Some settings in the camera are very important. I can’t shoot with the vivid setting. It needs to be on neutral. The frames-per-second setting is important. And, the shutter speed can’t be over 60 or it starts to look really weird and have a stutter-feel to it. This is not a smooth image.
- Light, light, and more light! Even if you think you have enough light, you probably need more.
SOLVING THE PROBLEM
One of the things I did that was really valuable was I invested in the learning process. For about $200, I bought an online video course about shooting videos for business. This really caused me to look at what I was doing a little differently. I would mark this as a key transition point in my learning process.
As my learning progressed, I realized that two of these challenges are going to take some work. I have sort of conquered them and successfully implemented them in my normal work environment. We created a commercial and the video portion looked great. I can say I am truly proud of it.
However, for A Petrified Forest, I think there will still be some challenges to overcome.
- Shooting at night requires lots of light. I don’t really have the opportunity to use a lot of light due to the nature of shooting live, in show. I suspect I will purchase an LED light I have seen other photographers use to compensate. It’s about $30, so I am not too concerned.
- Shooting with an F-Stop of 1.2 lets in the most light, but has the shallowest depth of field. This is the culprit of the out of focus shots. I need to bump the F-Stop up to 2.4 or somewhere in that range. It is a small change, but it gets me some extra room to play in.
- Shooting with a shutter speed of 60 is going to be a challenge due to the lack of light.
What is fascinating about this process is how all these things are connected and how you have to be aware of all these things without really thinking about them. They have to come naturally if you are going to be a successful photographer.
WHAT’S THE POINT?
Stop, just for a moment and think about what has occurred here. I had to become a self-taught learner to solve my challenge. I was quite the motivated learner, as well. If you are being asked to create eLearning, this is similar to the environment you need to create for your learners. You need to build an environment where a learner needs to learn some new set of skills to accomplish some task. They won’t have an instructor to guide them either. Your role is to create a successful learning system this for them that incorporates similar experience to what I went through to overcome my night-time video challenges.
As I started to really dissect what was occurring and how I was going about looking for information, some patterns emerged.
- I went to YouTube – I sought out a virtual expert to assist me
- I looked up online articles where people shared how they achieved various photos
- I spent time with live experts asking questions and got involved in a social situation that gave me access to shared knowledge
- I took a paid course that was extremely valuable to my development
- I actually went and shot video and photographs in environments similar to what my target environment was going to be
If you take yourself through this process and actually pay attention to your personal learning journey, you will become a better eLearning designer.
What if it wasn’t photography or video? It could be an Adobe Captivate skill, a home repair, or whatever. The process is fairly similar for all of these. Let’s look back at my process.
FIRST – The very first thing I did was go to YouTube and watch a few videos. This shows me, visually, what this task requires, the level of complexity I am dealing with, and what success might look like. It is very possible that I will watch 3-5 videos on a topic.
SECOND – I attempted to put this information into practice and see what works and what doesn’t.
THIRD – Once I watched the videos and attempted to give the skill a try, I ran into exceptions. With the exceptions, I ran various Google searches to see what comes up. Typically, I found myself reading a series of blog articles on the topic to flesh out my information a little and better understand what it is I am trying to accomplish. Search results and blog articles are really good at showing the holes in what I think I learned from the few videos. Videos tend to show things working correctly the whole time. Practice exposes the gaps. Knowing what can go wrong can be pretty useful because it keeps you from freaking out as you try to work through that portion of the process.
FOURTH – I went to Amazon and searched for that topic there. This may seem weird, but it allows me to do a few things. 1) I can see what types of books are available on a topic and how others approach the topic, 2) read reviews on the various books to see how others feel about the topic, the content of the book, and start to narrow down what is valuable, 3) spend a little time in the Table of Contents of these books – again, to get a feel for how the content is structured by others.
FIFTH – I went to a local book store and library and physically review the content of the book. I actually purchased several books and magazines on the topic.
Understand, based on the complexity (or lack of), these steps may change.
WHAT IS YOUR TAKEAWAY?
Some things you should pay attention to in the learning journey:
- Did you get frustrated with the process?
- If so, at what point?
- Was the length of the content appropriate for the information?
- What kinds of content did you look for, but did not find?
- In relation to books or articles, was there a style you found to be more beneficial than another?
- Consider the content organization in the books you reviewed. Did it make sense? Did it help clarify how the components of what you were trying to learn fit together?
- Did you need to go as far as picking up a book or going to the library and actually checking a book or two out? Why?
HOW DO YOU APPLY THIS?
Now that you have your own learning experience under your belt, you should have a good feel of the types of content to create for your learners, as well as the tools and aids you can develop to assist in the learning process. Your responsibility, as an Instructional Designer, is to design an experience that removes the frustration elements, the poor quality elements, and present the content in a manner that assists learners in digesting new content.
Think about the order in which I take in new information:
- Videos – I look for straight-forward demonstrations. I look for videos that show me the end result before I invest 10-15 minutes watching the video. I try to understand the skill or information at a high level and see if I could connect some of the dots between various pieces of information.
- Practice – I immediately attempt to put the new skill to use. This shows me what I can actually accomplish with a little bit of information and where the challenges might actually occur.
- Google searches and reading articles – With a sense of what this topic is about and what I can actually do with minimal effort and skill, I go in search of more extensive information. I am now in problem-solving mode.
- Amazon Search – At this point, I have a fairly good sense of what the elements of this skill or information include. What I may not have is a mental model of how the information all fits together. This includes understanding of how the various pieces are connected. If I had tried to do this step at the very beginning, it might have been overwhelming. Personally, I need to understand a little about the “bread in the breadbox” before I understand “how big the breadbox is” and what the extra elements of the breadbox entail.
- Physically using a book – This allows me to dig in and see how others are discussing this content. At this point, I am probably looking for specific information I could not find somewhere else. One of the things I have learned about myself, in regards to books, is that I look for patterns in what authors are saying. If I find that several authors are saying similar things, that’s the stuff I tend to retain and hold onto. It doesn’t mean the others are wrong. It just means there are commonalities in what is being shared, which is what I tend to latch onto stronger.
WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?
As you structure your information delivery, activities, and content organization, follow how you successfully acquired your new information.
Think about using overview content, concept videos, and basic information to help learners simply get started. This sets your learners to achieve a quick “win”.
Consider developing an activity that allows them to see both what they now can accomplish from the basic information (the quick “win”) and shows them where they still need more work. This is the driver for them to go after further information. One of the coolest things I found was a camera simulator. It simulated a camera looking at a toy airplane with a spinning propeller. There were toys in the foreground and background. It allowed you to change various settings and see the result of the image you would get. Some activities I performed included trying to stop the propeller motion and changing the depth of field to alter the focus on the foreground and background items. This was valuable in that it showed me how the base settings worked together.
Something to think about with this step that is a little counter-intuitive…ask yourself what you don’t need to teach them. Adults bring their previous experiences to any new learning activity (this is typically different than for younger children). Maybe you are really building on what they already know. If you can, avoid becoming guilty of over-training. That can be frustrating if your learner is just trying to get in, learn something, and get out.
Now it’s time to consider the effects of the Table of Contents research. With a little bit of understanding of the content, it is time for you to assist your learners in developing the mental structures they need to flesh out the content. This allows them to better frame the material in a meaningful way.
Lastly, think about the later resources you used. Would they have been more beneficial at an earlier point in your personal growth? Would this apply to the skill you are developing? If so, think about where in your content organization structure you provide these tools. What about the targeted articles you reviewed? Consider things like case studies, FAQ documents, in-depth articles or interviews from experts, and external resources you might want to include.
The end game with all of this is to better understand the learning path your learners will probably go on and design one that meets their needs. Most of the time, we are creating training material for adults. Adults learn in a different manner than children. They learn because they have a need that is fulfilled by learning (Compliance training, learning a new software system, etc.) or because they have an outcome they want to achieve (planting a garden or playing a song on an instrument). By taking the learning journey for yourself, you will experience the same process your learners will experience. This will better ensure that they have a positive experience with your content.
SHARE YOUR LEARNING JOURNEY
I taught a 5-day course entitled ISD Bootcamp. The goal was to teach new Instructional Designers about Instructional Design and basic ID Theory – ADDIE. The pre-course homework was to watch a series of videos on the topics of instructional design theories. The quality and length varied from video to video. However, when we discussed the videos in class, there were some definite winners and immediate losers. The loser was dull, boring, and long (about 45 minutes). The winners made people chuckle, they were short, and they were memorable. The other thing that occurred – and it should not surprise you – was that many of the students were inspired and decided to follow the “rabbit hole” a little further and explore on their own to see what else they could find.
That’s the end result you want. Your goal is to cause the learners to want to explore the content deeper and further absorb your course’s content. If you can create a curiosity about your content, you will be viewed as a rockstar because that is what every designer strives to create – engaging courses that inspire students to want to learn more.
Share your learning journey with the rest of us and tell us what you found that you liked or did not like and why. How did understanding your own journey influence how you developed your next course?