Closeup of a camcorder lens

The Brrrrr season – When the winter doldrums set in – what can you do to find your muse? The New Year festivities are over, Valentine's Day is coming – meh, who cares… the winter blues are upon us and the world is awash in cloudy cover and cold colorless terrain. There's nothing to shoot, nothing to do, and nothing to inspire.

 No wonder many animals hibernate and people "cocoon." Sitting by a warm fire sounds a lot more entertaining than shooting a video of yet another rain storm, another winter wonderland or another snowball fight. Brrrrr! 

If you're looking for something to do to make your video production better, we have a few ideas to use your time creatively or at least productively. If you have any other ideas, please share them with the crowd in our comments section below this post.


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1. Prepare for Spring Shooting:
For many farmers, winter is the time of year to get their fields prepped for spring planting and a time to clean, sharpen and repair the tools of their trade. To offset the winter blues and prepare for your spring shoots, you, too, should get your gear ship-shape.

  • If you don't have any pressing shoots coming up, now is a good time to go through every piece of equipment you own and clean it. We all know about keeping our camcorders clean, (or at least the lens!) even if we don't clean it diligently enough. But the rest of our gear needs some TLC, too, to keep it lasting for its expected lifetime without failing on you.

Cameras and Lenses: Keep dry clean cotton wipes in your kit – never use wet wipes on your camera, especially around your lens, the plastic threads next to the glass can corrode from the wrong chemicals. For general maintenance, check out the cleaning kits designed for cameras and lenses. Follow Videomaker's suggested camera cleaning tips

  • If your camera can manually zoom or focus, check the movement for smoothness. Is it tighter than it was when you first bought it? A sticky drag can cause your once-fluid movements to become jerky. Do all the buttons depress properly and the rockers toggle gently? A visit to a technician that specializes in cleaning cameras and lenses might be in order.

Lights and Mics: check all cables and connection points; are they as firm and secure as when you bought them, or is there some wiggle and give that might cause the delicate wire elements to fail at the wrong time? 

  • To clean, gently wipe for dust on both the outside and inside of your light fixture, taking care not to touch the bulb, especially if it's a halogen bulb. Dust collecting on bulbs can smoke when in use, so keep these in a dust-free case.
  • Using a baby-wipe, you can whisk the wipe down the length of the cord, too, to clean off accumulated grim.

Computers and Peripherals: these devices are better dust magnets than a fake fichus.

  • I never keep my editing computer desk pushed up against the wall because I can't get back there to swap cables or clean the dust. I'm not a clean freak, but I like to dust the front, back and top of the computer, external hard drives and printers regularly. When was the last time YOU dusted your ports?
  • Little bits of dust getting into the ports can get sticky and gummy over time, and hinder the connection. If the dust settles too heavily on your computer's fan, it works harder to keep your system cool and can cause a shut-down.
  • To clean it properly, make sure every cable is disconnected from the computer, then unplug the power cord. Then, before you continue, you need to properly "ground" your system, this report from PC World tells you how to go from there. 

Organize your Gear: Having nothing to do is a good time to take stock of the gear.

  • This report from Stever Robbins, an expert on organizing your life, suggests creating a folder on our desk to save user manuals, photos of your gear and other important data for those "just in case" moments later.
  • Since you're being a good gearhead and cleaning your equipment, while you're at it, it's also a good time to inventory it. All of it: cables and ancillary tools, too.
  • Having info like purchase date at a glance, is good for tax purposes. 

2. Learn. Practice. Exercise:
The worst time to learn a new trick is when your livelihood depends on a quick turnaround of a clean well-produced product. The best time to learn is when you have to sit and concentrate – without playing a game of beat the clock.

Learn: I've always wanted to learn a particular effects software but never had the time. A 4-day forced isolation gave me the time to invest without distraction.

  • Learn how to do time-lapse video.
  • Learn what the tilt-shift technique is about. 
  • Take the time to finally sit down with that awesome effects pack you've always wanted to explore.
  • Winter doldrums is also a good time to practice your skills. Just like spring training for pro baseball, just because you know the skills doesn't mean you shouldn't practice them.
  • Set your camera on your tripod and see where the perfect "drag" hits by panning that row of books on the shelf.
  • If you don't have the best tripod, try out the rubber band trick and practice the start and stops. (This video link can only be seen by Videomaker Plus members only, but it demonstrates using a rubberband to gently pull your tripod handle for a smooth move.)
  • ?Check out Videomaker's "Learn" page for more ideas.

Practice: Fight the winter blues by practicing your skills.

  • Practice the basic pan, tilt and zoom shots.
  • Perfect the drag on your rack focus.
  • Practice the proper hand-held crane shot.
  • Getting good at the best zolly shot ever can make your next production zing, too. 

ExerciseKeep your skills honed by exercising them.

  • Set yourself up with an obstacle course to see how smoothly you can move through it while shooting with a handheld device. 
  • Does your video producing require a lot of run-n-gun work? Exercise quick setup and tear down techniques.
  • Pack, set and record as quickly as possible by practicing how and what to pack, how long and how efficiently you can set the gear up, and how quickly can you tear it down to get to the next shoot. Practice makes perfect!

3. Shoot Stock Video:
Still stuck with the winter blues? Try shooting some stock footage.

  • Apparently, I'm one of those people whose creative surge begins at two o'clock in the morning…, and there's not a lot to do at that time. Unable to sleep one night, I got up to make a pot of coffee (yeah! That'll help!) and as I watched the coffee slowly drip into the pot, lit only by the glow of the oven light, I realized I had a perfect subject for stock video shots. So I dragged out my camera, tripod and a couple lights and played around with angles, composition and looks to see if I could shoot good enough for a stock footage site.
  • There's a lot of video shooting you can do that singularly don't add up to a continuous project with proper storytelling techniques – beginning, middle, end, etc., but stock footage is actually about the singular. And while anyone can make a pot of coffee, not everyone can make it exceptional. So goes with shooting mundane ordinary household moments like preparing a cup of joe. Anyone can hit 'record' and capture coffee in the making; but through lighting, composition and camera angle techniques an artist will make it enticing. And that's what sells on stock video sites.
  • Some stock video libraries are made up of professional producers hired for specific shots and needs, but there are many other sites that buy stock footage from anyone with a good eye for composition who can produce Clean, Clear and Compelling shots. Remember those three C's – journalists use them to remind themselves how to write a good story, it serves video shooters, too!
  • And just because you don't live in the most exotic locale doesn't mean your stock video isn't wanted, because often the mundane human moments are what the sites need.
  • Look around you: that stack of books on the shelf is kind of interesting… what happens if you shoot a shot of a book pulled out of the shelf and sliding slowly open onto the floor? What happens if you shoot it as it's thrown into the fire? What happens if you shoot it on a table next to that steaming pot of coffee? Each of these scenes paint a different thought of what a book might illustrate to someone looking for shots of books.
  • Books, bathtubs, feet walking the floor, veggies sizzling on a wok, soup bubbling in a crockpot, water pouring down the drain, booze spilling from a shotglass… If they're composed and lit interestingly enough someone somewhere wants these shots and is willing to pay someone for them – why not you?
  • And all these shots can be done in the comfort of your home – and, yes – at two A.M. in the middle of the winter doldrums, and you don't have to venture outside.
  • And if you do decide to brave the cold, well, winter is now: get those winter stock footage shots, too! That winter wonderland outside is great stock video for a feature on winter blues!

Luckily, the cold, snow and dismal weather only stays around for so long… and so the winter doldrums won't last forever, either. Spring will be popping daffodils through the snow soon – hey! now there's a good idea for a time-lapse video!

have more ideas for the video producer needing to fight the winter blues? Please share them with the crowd in our comments section below.

Jennifer O'Rourke is Videomaker's managing editor.

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