Above: Frame grabs from my Periscope coverage of the #PhillyisBaltimore march.
I hadn’t been out there for a while but I must have covered hundreds of demonstrations during my previous career as a newspaper and wire service photographer. And I used to be cool under pressure, having seen so much.
Then last week, I tried my hand with Periscope for live reporting during the #PhillyisBaltimore demonstration — my city’s latest response to the recent justice movement.
It was never easy to cover a march. As a still photographer, you have to look for critical, storytelling moments, choose the right lens, check your focus and other settings, try to hold the camera straight and steady, and look for a clean view — all while walking backwards in a crowd.
For one year, I also covered news with a video camera, which complicates the formula, requiring you to hold every shot for a few seconds — at the very least.
But when streaming live — instead of alternating between capturing images and walking at times — you have to remember now that your camera is always on. There’s no time to walk or run between shots, or to climb to a high position without leaving your audience watching some very shaky and confusing images.
And you have to think about sound too. The professional standard practice calls for monitoring your audio, which is not possible with Periscope, at least not without adding a lot of accessories.
You also have to decide when to start your broadcast; too early and you might bore your audience into next-ing you; too late and you might miss the action.
The first surprise — as the rally began to take shape as a march — was that I got flustered. You have to type a smart title, full of effective search words — and none of this gets easier if you let the adrenaline of the moment take you away. Trust me.
The screen serves as your viewfinder but was rendered useless when I walked through late-afternoon shafts of sunlight.
Next, I found it surprisingly difficult to simply hold my little iPhone steady, without the heft of the cameras I was accustomed to handling. I think I might try weighing it down next time with a monopod; which would also enable high shots.
Delayed by the many challenges, it was a few minutes before I even began to read and respond to commenters, and I felt bad about those I may have missed, and for losing audience attention to this important event.
Pericope works better when the producer welcomes everyone, but that was just so much more than I could handle. And comments literally fade from the screen; so, you can’t scroll back and catch up.
And what else do you say to the audience while narrating your stream? It seems redundant to tell them what they can see; so, it’s nice if you can add some context. But again, it’s not always easy to stay calm with all this juggling.
I also learned that the video image resolution seems to plummet with complex visual content; such as when both you and your subjects are moving; perhaps due to compressions algorithms.
And did I mention that the Periscope app takes over your phone completely? You can’t simultaneously tweet or do much of anything else. You can’t even see the time of day.
Finally, about seven minutes into the production, I got a phone call — which I then discovered will terminate your stream.
In other scenarios, such as when I use my phone to make presentations, I have learned to block calls with the “Airplane Mode” — but that also blocks the broadband signal, which would make streaming from the street impossible.
Since last week, I have already tried streaming from more events and hope to share those lessons in upcoming posts.
Below: I spared you the shakiest moments, but here are some quick video excerpts from my Periscope coverage of #PhillyisBaltimore: