ALTHOUGH IT’S SUDDENLY become flavour of the month since lockdown, I’ve been streaming professionally for some years now and love what I do and have a total passion for it. No two days are the same and I’m lucky to get paid for something I still consider to be enormous fun. Over the years I’ve found myself in a lot of strange and exciting situations: I’ve had guns pointed at me, I’ve dined with celebrities in exclusive restaurants and was once booked into a hotel under a false name and told to dress as a cleaner, but that’s another story altogether!
There was a time not so long ago where you might have come across a story about streaming in a magazine aimed at professional photographers and wondered what on earth it was doing there. Well the fact is that, much like its close cousin, filmmaking, this is an area that should be becoming more of interest to the photographer as the world becomes more geared towards multimedia, and the present situation has just accelerated that migration. The fact is that photographers already have much of the kit and a lot of the skills that are required to get involved with streaming and I’m here to tell you what you need to do to get started.
Dare I use the term unprecedented? It seems to be the buzz word of the moment and rightly so. The world as we know it has turned upside down and inside out. The majority of us are stuck at home and the news is dominated by people who are staying connected using video conferencing apps such as Zoom and Skype.
As a world we’re bored and are turning to the internet. Celebrities unable to work and news reporters and broadcasters are going live to the nation from their spare rooms and kitchens. I’ve been saying to colleagues for a while that the live streaming gold rush was just around the corner: well it’s now well and truly arrived, sooner than I expected, so welcome to the wild west!
With the current demand for live streaming it probably won’t be long before you’re asked – or maybe you have been already – to provide it as a service. If you’re looking at how to market this have a think about the core areas you’re already covering and consider how they could benefit from live streaming. Areas that are already in demand include conferences, weddings, product launches, music and sports events, tutorials, masterclasses and even, believe it or not, funerals. Many of you will probably already have a niche that you’re servicing, so consider whether you could make money by adding a live streaming service.
What will I need?
I’ll go into a little more detail about this at the end of the feature, but this is far too an important question to skip for now. In short, you’re going to need a camera, either a capture device to work with your computer or a standalone encoder and a relatively robust internet connection to send your video to its
destination. You can spend as little as one hundred and up to many thousands of pounds to get started, but more on all of this later.
Basic live streaming – phones
Streaming video from your smartphone is by far the quickest and easiest method. If you have the Facebook app on your phone then you’re ready to go live. Simply choose the live button from a new post and entertain your friends. Whilst I wouldn’t recommend you to run your live streaming business from a phone it is a very easy way to test the water and to see how easy the process can be. Many journalists around the world use a special piece of software that enables pointto-point live streaming and this allows them to stream their reports live directly back to the newsroom or studio.
Single camera live streaming
This is the easiest, quickest and fastest way to professionally stream video. If you already own a DSLR/Mirrorless or video camera with a clean HDMI output then you’re already half way there. I will often film live from a single camera and, typically, this will be static and covering just a single angle, maybe a presenter or a stage show.
You might also find yourself covering an event with a single camera where you’ve been tasked to follow the action. In cases like these I try to work with a presenter or the event organiser who leads the camera and engages with attendees. A roving live camera without motivation can be a boring and disjointed experience. You could also use a single camera set to wide to present a live question-and-answer session or be offering a workshop on YouTube.
Multicamera live streaming
This is when you can start to offer a polished live production to your clients. The benefits of using multiple cameras and a switcher to select which camera will be broadcasting live opens up a whole world of possibilities. There are a number of relatively inexpensive switchers now available, including the Atem Mini from Blackmagic Design that will allow you to switch between up to four DSLR or video cameras via HDMI. You could use one of those inputs connected to a laptop, thus allowing you to insert slides from a presentation, pre-recorded video or even a live Skype interview into your stream.
Multiple cameras doesn’t automatically mean multiple camera operators. In this situation and, depending on the event, I will often set up a wide camera as an establishing shot and use a couple of zoomed in cameras to offer different angles. Once the cameras are sited I’ll then be able to sit back behind a screen and cut between the various camera angles I’ve set up.
This is an important consideration and I’m sorry to say there isn’t a standard answer. So much is dependent on the purpose of the stream. If, for example, it’s a private corporate event, then going out over a social network wouldn’t be a good choice. If, however, you’re streaming a fitness instructor giving an online class, then a destination like Facebook might be ideal.
There are many streaming platforms, and the ones I use the most regularly include Facebook, YouTube, Periscope, Twitch and Vimeo. YouTube and Vimeo in particular are two great choices that both let you create private streams and embed them within a website. Whilst YouTube is free Vimeo does charge £70 a month for its premium unlimited live streaming service although this comes with a number of professional benefits, including allowing you to overlay logos and other on-screen graphics.
I often spend time discussing platforms with clients and working with them to decide what will work best. As a word of warning, however, I do recommend that anything you work with them on to create material for social channels is just that, namely social. I personally resent scrolling through Facebook and being hit with advert after advert. The key to social streaming is engagement, so stick with something that offers great content and where your audience can get involved. If it’s a product launch, for example, have something like a competition element within the format where people will be encouraged to engage with you for the chance to win the product that’s being demonstrated.
Often a single streaming destination isn’t enough, but fortunately there are companies such as Restream.io, who will take the single video stream from your computer or encoder and then distribute it live to multiple destinations at the same time. By using this service you can stream to Facebook, YouTube, Twitch, Periscope and many other social and streaming video services simultaneously, thus vastly increasing your audience.
Don’t forget the basics, however, and without a good internet connection all your planning will be in vain. The internet is the
Mobile Live Streaming
I’M PRETTY SURE I currently own the smallest satellite truck in the UK. I was increasingly getting asked to stream from locations that had limited or no internet, so I turned to the company that builds a lot of the BBC vans to make me something a bit special. I purposely went out and bought a Mini to serve as the base vehicle as I was looking to make a statement: now customers remember me and often want ‘the guy with the Mini.’ The car has an autopointing KA band satellite system that allows me to connect to the internet pretty much anywhere in Europe, and the system allows me to upload at 10mbps. The whole technical side of the vehicle is driven by a stupidly heavy and expensive boat battery, which can power the whole system for days.
main technical obstacle you’ll face. Live streaming in HD video will use around 2.5GB of data per hour if you’re streaming at a bit rate of 5mbps, and if that isn’t available then you’re going to be in touble. Consequently, when I’m visiting a venue that’s asked for a fixed location stream I want to know a few things:
- Can I connect to the internet via a hard wired ethernet socket or will I have to be working using a wi-fi connection?
- Is there a network login or will I be instantly connected to the internet?
- If there’s going to be an audience will they be able to share the same internet connection via wi-fi? If they can then the internet speed will drop.
I also use a website like speedtest.net to test the speed of the internet when I arrive at a venue. They key here is the upload speed: if a client tells you they have a 20MB connection you’ll find they will generally be referring to the download speed.
If you can’t get to the location beforehand then have them run a speed test and send you a photo of the results. To mitigate these issues I use a streaming encoder that can connect to the internet via wi-fi or ethernet but it also has four 4G mobile phone SIM cards installed, which it then is able to use to create a bonded connection.
In remote or heavily congested locations I also rely on satellite internet. As an example, last year I had a large job covering a conference on a tidal island, the venue had poor phone reception and I knew there would be around 450 attendees plus crew. To get around potential issues I rigged and relied on two separate satellite internet connections to ensure I could stay connected throughout the event.
Pitfalls, tips and tricks
Live video offers multiple ways to catch you and your client out so, just like the proverbial boy scout, you need to be prepared. I always ensure that I carry ample technical equipment including spare batteries, cables, chargers and anything else that I think could fail. Likewise I encourage my clients to embrace any mistakes, fluffs or even accidents that may befall them during the livestream and to carry on through. You can carry off most things, but certainly not freezing or running off screen!
Each event presents its own challenges. Alcohol, or rather the consumption of it at weddings and corporate events, can lead to interesting experiences. On the occasions I have live streamed from DSLR or mirrorless style cameras people will almost always stop moving as they are expecting me to take their photograph, which looks strange!
Other obstacles that will trip you up includes organisers including commercially copyrighted songs in presentations, events or even to just have playing in the background. The problem is that both Facebook and YouTube have incredibly sophisticated algorithms that are designed to detect copyright infringement, which can result in your livestream being automatically stopped in its tracks.
Another consideration is mobile data. You might have tested before an event and found the speed is perfect for streaming video only for the network to become totally congested later on as the location fills up. Also be aware of YouTube’s decision to limit mobile live streaming to channels with over 1000 subscribers. Whilst most people streaming from a computer might not have this particular issue, those with mobile encoders could fall foul of this change.
Backpack live streaming
A NUMBER OF MY live streaming jobs are outside and, in response to this, I’ve had a couple of live backpacks designed that I always keep charged and ready to go.
The kits are the same and each case contains:
- Sony PXW-Z90 – broadcast quality compact camcorder.
- LiveU Solo+ – Live streaming encoder, each with four 4G mobile data SIMS.
- RODE Reporter Microphone – handheld stick microphone for interviews.
- Sennheiser Radio Kit – can be used with the above microphone or a lavaliere.
- Gun Microphone – camera mounted microphone.
- Camera Batteries – two spare camera batteries.
- V-Lock battery and clip – an external battery to power the LiveU for even longer.
- Chargers, cables, rain cover and an onboard light.
As I mentioned earlier on, depending on how/what you want to live stream there are a number of options. I can’t cover all the live streaming hardware on the market but I can talk about the equipment that I’m personally using and, through trial and error, I’ve settled on particular brands that happen to work for me. I’m of an age where I want something that just works, and I don’t want to have to fiddle with something to fix it. I might spend a little more at the purchase stage but, over time, this becomes reflected as a saving. Remember the old adage: buy cheap, buy twice!
If you decide to stream from a computer then you’ll need a capture device. Blackmagic Design manufactures a number of options, from the low cost Ultrastudio Mini Recorder, a basic capture device with inputs from HDMI to thunderbolt, through to the Blackmagic Web Presenter which, when paired with a Teranex panel, gives you a two input switching encoder. Spending a little more gets you the newly upgraded Blackmagic Atem Pro Mini, a four channel HDMI switcher that features a new hardware engine to allow direct streaming via its Ethernet connection to YouTube Live, Facebook and Twitch. These devices work with streaming software such as the
free OBS studio and commercial Wirecast streaming options.
Personally I use standalone hardware encoders. I don’t trust computers enough not to crash and, for the sake of safety, I prefer working with purpose built technology. I’ve also gone down this route since the dedicated encoders I use offer up to six concurrent internet connections, all working together at the same time: belt and braces then some! The dedicated encoders also use very clever technology that counts and tracks the data packets to ensure your video arrives at its destination.
Over the years I’ve used hardware encoders from all the main manufacturers. I’ve now settled on, and exclusively use, the Solo range from LiveU. As well as being mains powered they also come with an internal battery and they can also be further powered by an external battery should I be being asked to deliver a particularly long stream. I’ve found the company great to deal with, it has an amazing support system and this is backed up by a large and steadily growing user community on Facebook.
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