While I certainly had plenty to do in the freelance world in 2018, most of my work since the fall has been with WRAL.
It's been a combo of things: reporting stories for Football Friday, college football, college basketball and the Carolina Hurricanes as well as editing for WRALSportsFan.com and producing Fox 50 Game Night.
The fall kept me busy enough that I haven't had the time to save and post a lot of my work.
So let's try to be better about that in 2019.
Last week, I had a couple of cool assignments. On Friday, I covered the Hurricanes vs. Ottawa Senators. I researched all these storylines before I went just so I could be all caught up, but until I walked in and saw a giant Chewbacca taking pictures with fans, I realized I forgot the most important thing: it was Star Wars Night.
Confession time. I never have been a Star Wars guy. But when reporting on a game, my number one goal these days is to make the story unique. Make it memorable. Any hook you can find to do that other than just showing highlight, highlight, highlight, sound bite…jump on it.
This game was also a 7:30 start, which is a half hour later than usual. It's tough enough to make deadline for the 11pm sportscast for a 7:00 game so I knew I need to be writing this one is my head as the game went along.
As the Senators jumped out to a 4-1 lead after the second period, I typed out as many Star Wars references as I could muster during the intermission. Fortunately, nothing changed dramatically during the third and final period so I was able to make deadline with ease. Watch the story above and count how many references I worked in. Plus the postgame sound was great for a team that just got smoked.
The next day, I was the beneficiary of some scheduling shuffling in the sports office by getting assigned the Duke-Virginia basketball game.
What a matchup. Duke was ranked #1 in the AP Poll and Virginia was #1 in the Coaches Poll.
This one was a challenge because I was there covering it by myself in a media room of about 100 people (Virginia media travel in droves) and I had to worry about posting to instagram, live streaming Coach K's press conference and adding all my video to the website…in addition to the TV story on deadline.
Hopefully, I did it justice. Watch just for the Zion Williamson dunk and his interaction with teammate RJ Barrett as they gave it a 1-to-10 score.
I also featured Zion a few weeks ago. Good kid and a physical freak who will probably be the first pick in the NBA Draft.
We'll see what the rest of the season brings. It could be a busy March!
For most of the weddings I shoot, the couples want a highlight video of the day plus an edited together version of the ceremony and extended highlights from the reception (like the entire first dances, all the toasts, etc.).
But for couples who might want to cut a few costs on what can be an expensive day, I do offer cheaper options.
In the case of Catherine and Ella Corbett, they decided to forgo the highlight video and just take extended cuts of the ceremony and reception. I didn't shoot much less video than I normally would, but it made for a much quicker editing process.
I actually got the recommendation to shoot this wedding from their friend Tracy Hollister, whose wedding I'd shot the previous year.
This was a relatively easy wedding to shoot. For the ceremony, I carried a Canon 5D Mark III on a monopod, had a Canon 70D off to one side on a tripod, another camera up top on a tripod (that angle was a life-saver) and a GoPro Session near the altar that I didn't use much.
It was the first time I used an external monitor with my camera (a Lilliput A7s), and that really helped me keep everything in sharper focus, so I'll never shoot a wedding without that again. But it's also the last wedding ceremony I will shoot without a 70-200 zoom lens. I just couldn't get as tight as I would like, but fortunately my new Sony gear will solve that issue.
The ceremony was held at Pullen Memorial Baptist in Raleigh and the reception was held at the same place my wife and I had our reception: Caffe Luna!
Yes, it can get a little dark in the restaurant, and dealing with the low-light was one of the main reasons I made the switch to the Sony camera.
On a happy note, this time I actually got to eat a little of the Caffe Luna buffet that I barely got a chance to enjoy on my own wedding day!
The new year has brought new toys.
I'm now a Sony user!
For someone who shoots video primarily (especially in low-light settings), this was a change that was a long time in the making. Nothing against Canon. I like Canon, but Sony's recent video cameras were pumping out a much higher quality for my tastes (again, especially in low light).
As for my purchases, I went with the Sony A7III for the camera. I found it to be the perfect combination of usability, affordability and performance (again, especially in low light…if you can't tell, that's important to me). When shooting weddings or any event that required a run-and-gun shoot, it seems to be a extremely easy to use, right down to the autofocus touchscreen. Oh, and it's 4K! That's not nothing.
As for lenses, I'm sure I'll be adding to the arsenal, but I've started with two for now: the 24-70mm f/2.8 G Master and the 70-200mm f/4.
The 24-70mm will be my all-purpose lens, and while it is a bit more expensive to go for the f/2.8 over the f/4 for that size, all the reviews point to the extra cost being worth it. After playing around with it for awhile, I have zero regrets so far. The only caveat is this lens is quite heavy.
As for the 70-200mm, this is a lens length I've needed for awhile. It became more and more apparent when shooting recent indoor weddings that I needed that extra zoom for the ceremonies. Outdoor weddings are easier to get closer because there is so much more room to maneuver without being a distraction. That's not the case for indoor weddings. You're locked in to only a few spots and those can be an unfavorable distance from the bridge and groom.
Now, don't take this as a complete knock on Canon. My 70D was the perfect camera to introduce me into the DSLR world, especially for the price. But there is so much noise in low light, which if you couldn't tell, was starting to annoy me.
The 5D Mark III was fine in the times I used it too, but it lacked that great autofocus when shooting run-and-gun style video. So when it became obvious that it was time for me to upgrade, I was deciding between a Canon Mark IV or switching to Sony.
I've made the switch.
I'll let you know how it goes, but I'm confident it's for the better.
Better late than never, here is the wedding video for Stephanie Beck and Louis Sheridan!
This was a shoot that—if not for the easy-going demeanor of the couple—could have been extremely stressful.
Because Stephanie is the producer of the 6pm news at WRAL, the station's highest-rated newscast. Plus, she's been my co-worker off and on since 2005. So as a videographer, it's easy to feel a little more pressure when you're shooting the special day for a friend or co-worker. It's another thing when that bride is in TV.
Again, thankfully, it became clear early in the day that there was nothing to stress about. She was one of the most relaxed brides I've ever dealt with.
Plus, the venue at Historic Market Hall in downtown Raleigh was gorgeous, and it's always a bonus when the entire event is under one roof.
It was the still photographer, Jessica with Three Region Photography, who led the couple through all the locations around downtown before the wedding, and it added nicely to the final video (By the way, I can't recommend Jessica enough. My family hired her to shoot some family portraits.).
But the more I think about it, there was one other possible reason to be stressed. Stephanie and Louis (and many of their friends) are amazing dancers. It's their main hobby. So they can cover a lot of ground, which isn't always easy as a DSLR shooter when trying to focus on the fly. Hopefully, I was able to do it justice.
More weddings and other stuff to come in 2019!
As we wrap up 2018 and turn the calendar over to 2019, it's high time I updated the blog with a few projects I worked on this year.
Yes, I still did a lot of work at WRAL this fall covering college and high school football. I also produced the first season of the weekly series Fox 50 Game Night with Jeff Gravley and helped out writing and editing for WRALSportsFan.com.
There were also a few more weddings and freelance projects, with by far the most time-consuming one being for CommWell Health where we interviewed 28 providers over nine days of shooting across eastern North Carolina.
The shoots and edits were rather simple. All the good folks at CommWell wanted was a single-camera interview with a few answers strung together so providers could give potential patients a little background on themselves in a 1-2 minute video.
Some of the offices were a little more camera friendly than others to shoot in, but that's always the fun and the challenge when making a nice interview background. Thankfully, most of the providers were game for the experience even if they didn't have much experience in front of the camera.
It sounds like we'll be doing more of these videos when new providers come to CommWell, but here is a playlist of the videos we produced so far.
At long last, my latest wedding video is complete!
Special thanks to Katherine and Paxton Campbell for providing an amazing, and incredibly visual evening. The video turned out a little longer than most—7+ minutes—mainly because I had so many shots I didn't want to leave out, which is funny because I left that night hoping I got all I needed.
Indeed, I did.
The shots in front of the Carolina County Club could not have come at a better time: at around 7pm with that nice "Magic Hour" soft lighting and a much more manageable outdoor temperature during what had been a hot mid-July day.
I also really enjoyed the video of Katherine and the bridesmaids getting ready at her parents' house and shot all that on a 50mm prime lens, which really helped create that shallow depth of field.
The narration from Paxton and Katherine provided a nice backdrop that helped weave it all together. I usually like to ask two or three questions with the bride and groom before the ceremony just to give the video something extra, and these two delivered with great soundbites. Her first story she told about the book they read in their pre-marital counseling helped set the stage for the day.
The ceremony itself was a bit of a challenge, as most indoor ceremonies can be. The sanctuary was a little dark, and there are only so many places you can stand without being a distraction. Still, I think I made it work while roaming with the Canon 5D on my monopod, placing two stationary cameras on tripods and setting a GoPro by the altar shooting back toward the audience.
The reception was a blast. The lighting, the house band, the groom's impromptu cowbell solo and serenading of "You've Lost that Loving Feeling"…it all added up to a memorable night.
Needless to say, the couple and their families were incredibly nice and accommodating! My streak of not having a "Bridezilla" continues!
It's the slow sports season, unless you're into the MLB All-Star Game, college football media days and the ESPY Awards. (**crickets**)
But it is the busy season for weddings.
In fact, six years ago, I took advantage of the lull in the sports calendar when my wife and I got married and took our two-week honeymoon during the first two weeks of July.
So while my services haven't been needed to shoot sports for WRAL the past few weeks, I've managed to fill the time shooting a wedding and other videos.
This past Saturday, I shot a posh ITB Raleigh wedding with the ceremony at the Church of the Apostles and the reception at the Carolina Country Club. It was fun to finally shoot a wedding at the country club after attending a few there in the past.
I'll post the video of Katherine and Paxton Campbell's big day in a few weeks, but it should be a fun one to work on considering the wedding party broke into a few impromptu songs, dances and cowbell performances during the reception.
This was also an extra special event because this was the first time I got to shoot a wedding with my good friend Jack Morton. He and his wife Adrienne who were doing the still photography.
Jack and I go way back. I met him about 20 years ago, and we've been shooting football and basketball together on the sidelines since I started at WRAL the first time back in 2005. He also shot my wedding! So needless to say, I recommend him.
There are a few more weddings on my horizon so stay tuned for those updates.
That's not all I've been doing. For the last several weeks, I've been shooting interviews for CommWell Health.
CommWell has medical offices throughout the eastern part of North Carolina, and the PR folks there came to me with a cool idea. They wanted to have quick, single-shot 1-2 minute videos of each of their providers so potential patients who went to the company website would get to know them ahead of time. The providers answer simple things like what they like about their job, what they provide for their patients, what they like outside of work, etc. I'm surprised more offices haven't done something similar.
These shoots started in late June and should run all the up until the start of high school football season so it's been a nice summer project.
Oh, and did I mention I shot a dance recital recently?
I can't say I ever predicted I'd be doing that, but the money was well worth my time. Thanks to the good folks at To The Pointe Dance & Arts Academy for putting on a jam-packed, but well-organized event in Durham.
Until then, time to get back to work and keep an eye on this guy:
People ask me all the time what I've been working on lately. The fact I haven't posted on my sites might lead you to believe I've been sitting around doing nothing all 2018.
Quite the opposite.
My lack of recent posts—which I plan to rectify—are mostly a result of being too busy, but in a good way.
Obviously, the task that keeps me busiest is chasing our fleet-footed 13-month-old boy Jackson (a.ka. "The Adorable Tornado). His first birthday happened on March 27, and per his mother's request, I put together a little video documenting his first year.
Adorable, ain't he? Maybe I'm slightly biased.
But this isn't a blog about domestic life.
Since my last post, my part-time my role in the WRAL sports department only increased as football ended and basketball and hockey seasons progressed.
Highlights included, fighting off the celebratory mob at PNC Arena when NC State upset Duke:
Covering an amazing game between 2nd-ranked Virginia at 4th-ranked Duke:
Traveling to Dayton, Ohio to cover North Carolina Central in the First Four of the NCAA Tournament and turning one my my favorite feature stories ever on Eagles coach Levelle Moton and his son:
Covering the Panthers' win versus the Vikings:
Strapping on the figurative skates for a few Carolina Hurricanes games:
Plus several more game stories:
I've even shot and written a few stories for the newscasts to be voiced by the main anchors. My favorite one, by far, is of local 8-year-old golfing prodigy and Jack Nicklaus lover Ella June Hannant. Click here to see how it aired on TV:
I've been thrown into the mix to shoot several stories for other reporters too, such as a Scotland County deputy killed in a car crash, reaction to Billy Graham's death, live coverage of Rod Brind'Amour's introductory press conference as the Hurricanes' new head coach, the disease that would eventually take the life of UNC radio broadcaster Woody Durham and several more stories, including snow coverage.
I've also had time to continue my freelance work.
The year started by wrapping up an edit for a wedding I shot the previous fall. The edit became a multi-day event because one of the brides had a certain vision for the video, which is fine. Ultimately, it's about making the customers happy with your work and this couple was.
I have a few more weddings booked for this summer and fall, but I'm always looking to add more!
Sometimes, I get requests for pretty basic shoots for corporate speaking gigs. It's light lifting and not a bad way to spend an afternoon.
In March, I shot the Smithfield area Chamber's Women's Business Network conference.
And as can often happen, as a result of that, I got a recommendation for another job to shoot author Vernon Mason Jr. give a humorous speech at a luncheon in Wilson the next month.
It's looking like the Smithfield shoot is also going to land me an extensive project that can last throughout the summer but further details as they become available.
There's a lot of work potentially on the table, and I hope to do a better job of documenting it as it happens.
But for now, one more Jackson pic...
Now that we're in the time of the sports calendar when football, basketball and hockey seasons all overlap, WRAL hasn't hesitated to call me to shoot a few events for them the past two weeks.
A busy few weekends shooting a wedding, visiting family and attending the NC State-Notre Dame game kept me out of the loop for a bit, but I was back on the high school football sidelines two Fridays ago for a Nash County doubleheader. Not only did I sneak in more than my usual amount of pro wrestling references, my second game at Southern Nash was such a blowout, I had enough highlights to leave at halftime.
Normally, leaving my second game before halftime means I would have all the time in the world to finish my story.
When I arrived back at the station, about a half dozen firetrucks and the entire WRAL staff were outside the building. If you haven't heard by now, a small fire sparked in one of the closets in the station.
Fortunately, no one was seriously hurt. I knew it was a scary situation considering how all the bosses had come back or were still there after 9:30pm, but we got the all clear to come back inside after only ten minutes or so after I got there. So no big deal for me.
You can watch a playlist of all my Football Friday stories from this season here.
This brings us to Coach K.
Two Saturdays ago, I shot the Duke exhibition basketball game versus Bowie State. It was my first time shooting in Cameron Indoor Stadium in more than five years.
So imagine my surprise (and probably everyone else's in the room) when in his postgame press conference, Mike Krzyzewski--the winningest coach in men's college hoops history--spots me in the back of the room by my camera, in the middle of taking questions, stops and says "hello" to me and ask how my family is doing.
Pretty cool, right?
It was definitely a career highlight for me.
But completely unexpected? Not really. Let me explain.
My dad has basically known Coach K since they day he arrived at Duke. Seriously. Ever seen the video of Coach K's introductory press conference in 1980? Dad shot that. In fact, it was only Dad's third week working at WRAL back when he was the sports photographer. So he and Coach K basically arrived in the Triangle at the same time. This was also the era where the only media at press conferences were a beat writer or two and the local television stations, and most people had only three or four stations to watch. Local media had viewing power yet sports coverage had intimacy. Media and coaches got to know each other better.
Over the years, I got to talk to Coach K in more informal settings than the average person, but I know he only knows me as "Jennings." But hey, that's better than nothing! It's his wife, Mickie, whom I've talked to more because of some freelance projects Dad worked on with her. However, Coach knew I had left WRAL because I interviewed him for awhile when he came through Tampa a few years ago.
Fast forward to last weekend, and I somewhat suspected coach would acknowledge me at some point. At the very end of the game, I got close to him with my camera as he walked off the floor thinking he might me a quick nod but he had tunnel vision. When the presser started, I thought--at most--he would give a quick "hey" after everything had wrapped up. I suppose since it was just an exhibition game and there were probably no more than two dozen people in the media room, it was a laid back enough setting for him to basically do a, "Hey, how's the family?" right in the middle of it.
So, not to completely downplay what was clearly a cool moment, but I was thrilled yet not surprised. I don't claim to know Coach K personally, but what I do know is that he would have done that to many people. He gets a bad rap nationally--mainly out of envy--but this is completely in character for what he's become in his later years at the local level.
As for the game, I thought I told a fun story for what was an expected blowout. Would you expect to hear references to Wale, Drago vs. Creed, or the late Challenger astronaut Christa McAullife?
I was also slightly surprised how easily I got back in the groove shooting basketball after not doing much over the last five years. Then again, I always say shooting is like playing an instrument. Once you develop the muscle memory in your hands to zoom and focus properly on the fly, it comes back to you. Also, in basketball--unlike football--there aren't any play-action passes or as man other ways to get faked out.
The next day brought another episode producing The Logan Zone after taking the previous week off to attend the NC State-Notre Dame game. This show is really finding its groove. Watch how we match the video with the talking points throughout the entire A Block. Sounds easy but it takes practice, flexibility and familiarity with the hosts when you're basically following a semi-structured yet mostly free-flowing conversation.
You can also watch a playlist of every Logan Zone I produced here.
The following Tuesday, I put on my news hat for Election Night coverage, which is something I haven't done since college. The Raleigh mayoral race had gone to a runoff, so I was assigned to go to the election version of "the losing locker room" and shoot Charles Francis' concession speech at Noir Lounge on Glenwood South. A bunch of the other news photog's were planning on shooting from their tripod, but I realized quickly this would be an off-the-shoulder shoot. No big deal because it really was like being in a locker room.
Here's Franics' speech.
I hooked up a LiveU so the web folks could stream it live. Francis showed up super late and talked super long, but I get paid by the hour.
It was back for high school football on Friday for the first round of the state playoffs. No fire this week. Quite the opposite. It was the coldest Friday of the year so far with temperatures in the 30s.
The good news? I got three quick touchdowns in my second game and was able to get back to my warm car midway through the third quarter.
The bad? I got back to the station and realized I had no audio! The joy of sharing cameras. I foolishly forgot to check the settings.
So I took the natural sound from previous high school stories I had done this season and laid it underneath in this one. Can you tell? Would you have known if I hadn't said anything?
Saturday, I was back at Duke to see my BFF Coach K.
The game against Utah Valley was a formality to get to Krzyzewski becoming the first coach ever to win 1,000 games at one school. The schedule makers just happened to place this game on Veterans Day, and of course, Coach K in a Army vet. Here's video I shot of the postgame celebration and Coach K address the crowd.
Sunday was a great day to make some of that straight cash, homey.
I was pulling double duty producing Logan Zone and shooting the NC State basketball game.
Once again, I thought we were clicking in the all-important first block of the Logan Zone this week. Two shows left in the season after this one.
Shooting the State game that afternoon versus Charleston Southern was fun because it's been so long since I've worked a game at PNC Arena, it had a different name the last time. After shooting hundreds of State/Hurricanes games in that building my previous years there, I had gotten to know some of the arena staff so it was nice to surprise them that I was back. State games are also the ones where I just happen to see the most amount of random friends. This one was no different.
As for the game? I think I told a story that captured it pretty well. Mary, the WRAL anchor, said I could go as long as I wanted. Give an inch and I'll take a mile so it went a whopping 1:52. Too long for a State-Charleston Southern game? Yeah, probably.
The schedule stays busy this week.
I'm shooting UNC basketball on Wednesday night, high school football on Friday, either Duke or UNC football on Saturday and the penultimate Logan Zone airs Sunday.
And unlike when I was here before, this time I get to spend my off days with this guy:
We're past the midway point in the high school football regular season, which means I'm overdue to share all the stories I've done so far for Football Friday on WRAL. To watch a playlist of all them, simply click here.
Week 1 is always where you want to get out of the gate strong. Thankfully, I had some help. 1) My first game at Nash Central was a blowout, which always makes the day easier. 2) My second game included a few deep passes right to me.
Oh, and I should mention a few of us have a bit of a running bet on how many WWE references we can work in. I get that out of the way early.
A beach vacation and then bad weather kept me off the field for the next two weeks, and I certainly showed my rust on a deep TD pass in my first game between Wake Forest and Leesville Road. Normally, I edit around it to make myself not look stupid. But at this point, it's more fun to make the mistake something more fun a viewer will remember.
In my second game, I realized how long I've been out of the Triangle sports loop because I had no idea Torry Holt and Willie Parker were assistant coaches for Dewayne Washington at Heritage High now.
Make sure you watch this catch at the end of the highlights, too.
The next week was a little tricky because we thought both my games were 7pm kickoffs, but it turned out my first game at Southern Durham started closer to 7:30. That meant I could only stay so long in order to get to my second game at Durham Riverside in time to get enough meaningful highlights there.
Fortunately, the Orange High running back in that second game recognized me and knew to run right at the camera after scoring his last touchdown, which made the atmosphere seem more exciting than it actually was.
Again, my rule of thumb is at the very least, make what you're doing memorable to the viewer. We've all seen thousands of highlights of guys scoring touchdowns. While that's all good and it makes the night easier, sometimes it's the lack of highlights that make me have to get more creative. Or in the case of my first game at Durham Jordan, much more sarcastic. But hey, my lack of good highlights was memorable, wasn't it?
Remember how I said blowouts make the night easier?
It will never get any easier than last Friday. First, I had the "Football Friday Showdown", which is basically our game of the week. Clearly, it was a weaker slate of games because the game of the week between old rivals Wallace-Rose Hill and Midway was a shellacking. I could have left after the first quarter and had all the highlights I needed if I wanted to, but then I would have been sitting at the station with my story all edited while still waiting for a final score for 30 minutes. So I stayed for the first half, edited my story and was in home in Holly Springs by 10:45pm.
Jason Jennings is a freelance videographer based in Raleigh, NC. He previously spent more than a decade covering sports for television stations in Florida, North Carolina, Texas and Missouri.