As many of you know, video has played an important role in the Luminous Landscape from its beginnings.
Back in late 1999, Michael & I were driving up to his cottage in Muskoka when I broached the idea of doing a television series on Photography. Within only a few days, we started shooting material for that series – Michael was keen! We had accumulated a few hours of footage when we decided that being beholden to a network and their advertisers was a very real downside to the project. We would not be our own bosses. Another huge negative was the then-essential demand to fairly quickly produce a minimum of thirteen and possibly, twenty-six or more half hour or one hour shows so that networks could ‘wall-paper’ their schedules with the show – in other words put it on regularly and often. How could we accomplish that? I was a one-man-band and did not really want to hire outside help. In any event we couldn’t afford to do that.
Well, we had both recently completed careers in business and had no wish to give up our new-found freedom for a different style of treadmill. We wanted to do video and photography and have fun doing it! Throughout 2000 I continued to shoot and prepare our first videos with the idea of distributing them on VHS tapes to be sold through the Luminous Landscape Web site. We decided on a ‘magazine’ style format to be called The Luminous Landscape Video Journal (LLVJ).
Then in mid 2000, Apple purchased a DVD authoring progam from Astarte which they re-published in early 2001 as DVD Studio Pro. I had always been keen on things Apple and suddenly there appeared to be a way of authoring DVDs on my computer – ahh that indeed was the bleeding edge! Authoring DVDs as a newbie with an unstable piece of software was intensely frustrating but I managed to publish our premier issue of the LLVJ in mid 2001. The encoding, authoring and compression were pretty basic but those early Death Valley videos are still worth watching. You even get to see Michael in a very smart jacket sitting at his desk with the US patents from his previous life proudly hung on the wall behind him!
The DVDs and the LLVJs were a success and over three or four years we published a dozen or more. But there were headaches for both subscribers and for us. First among these was the fact that the DVDs kept disappearing between the shipper and the subscriber. Some overseas subscribers had the same DVD shipped to them three and four times before a copy finally got through – and shipping from Canada to overseas was expensive. Interestingly, bootleg copies also quickly appeared in Asian blackmarkets! I found that quite flattering.
During this period, Adobe published the first real raw conversion, asset-managing application for photographers – Adobe Lightroom. Michael & I had met this guy Jeff Schewe who was an expert in digital imaging and was well-connected to the engineers at Adobe who were working on Camera Raw and Lightroom (or Shadowland as it was then called). So together, we decided to produce a video tutorial on that first beta version of Lightroom. We then gave it away to our LLVJ subscribers. They loved it – it was ‘free’ after all! And thus began our foray into video tutorials.
This all worked and sold well, but working as I then was as that one-man-production-band, the schedule of publishing the LLVJ fell further and further behind under the press of tutorial shooting & editing. I managed to put out twenty issues of the LLVJ and many, many hours of tutorials before finally saying enough! We could no longer pretend that the LLVJ was a regularly published magazine. And thus started download video.
The download of full video files had become a reasonable alternative to shipping DVDs and we had decided that after LLVJ 18 that there would be no more physical product shipped – period – it was simply too expensive and too much hassle. Why didn’t I simply publish stand-alone videos of various subjects as they became available from my edit suite? I would no longer have to wait until I had accumulated two hours plus of varied videos to complete a new issue of the LLVJ.
Then video on the web evolved again and suddenly viewers wanted the option of streaming videos to their various devices. You Tube and Vimeo were sky-rocketing successes. That’s all very well but how could a relatively small organization such as LuLa monetize that? I searched and searched for an outfit that would give us the ability to both stream and download videos paired with an acceptable e-commerce storefront. As hard as it is to believe, just two short years ago or so such an outfit was hard to find. We finally decided on Platform Purple and laboriously moved all of our videos and e-commerce to their platform. And thus it has been until today.
Kevin had joined Michael & I at Luminous Landscape in 2013 and was lobbying hard to give both the Web site and our video offerings a fresh face: above all, a new look and better usability. By mid 2014, the whole web video universe had expanded with a host of alternatives and offerings: Wistia, Kaltura, Viddler, Brightcove, Livestream to name but a few of the providers. Kevin had hired a young team of keeners at Swellfire to re-vamp the Web site using WordPress and helped by their input, it now looked like there was a reasonable alternative to our existing video delivery whose customer acceptance has been – shall we say – a little patchy!
Today, my main criterion for a video service is that it be hosted (apparently) on our own Web site. I really want readers to be able to view videos without having to leave the site and without having to install additional software in order to view a video. My strong preference is that videos be viewable in any browser with a method that is the least interruptive to the viewing/reading experience. Another factor hugely important to this kind of viewing is scalable quality. If you are on a small-screened device and/or faced with a slow network connection, the video server should be intelligent enough to scale back the quality so that viewing is relatively uninterrupted. There is little more frustrating than having the video stream stop and stutter. And yet for those viewers with big screens and fast networks, the quality should be high enough for a rewarding experience.
Today we introduce progressive download through a service called Wistia. No, you won’t really see Wistia but it is there serving video through a worldwide Content Delivery Network. Wistia’s video feeds offer five different qualities of the video – not just SD or HD. Video is automatically streamed viewable as either Flash or HTML5 – depending on your viewing environment. The video servers are ‘smart’ enough to detect the viewing and network environment and ‘decide’ which quality to send down the pipe. Also if the viewer switches mid-stream from small embedded video window on a web page to viewing full screen, the server will switch (network speeed permitting) to delivering the highest quality video for that increased player size.
Many of our loyal customers will still want to have the ability to download a video. So to that end, in every video window, there is a download button (along with the now-ubiquitous Facebook and Twitter buttons).
The video file that can be downloaded is normally a 720P ‘High Definition’ file except for videos older than 2008 which are more likely to be smaller. The best quality video is going to be through your browser with a fast network and full screen. However, the option to download a stand-alone video remains. These downloaded files are .mp4 files and should play without problem on the vast majority of devices equipped with a video player app.
Customers who subscribed through Platform Purple should find their subscriptions & purchases on the system – a new password is all that is required and that has been emailed to you (or use the forgotten password feature – there’s an FAQ here). Customers who used the Legacy Store will find some of their more recent videos in the new system. Please check the FAQ for older videos.
In moving all the videos to the new system, I was astounded to find out that we are publishing over five hundred videos – not titles as such – but five hundred separate videos that are being sold through our store. (I hesitate to think what the total number of finished videos would be for those fifteen years once all of the now dated and superannuated tutorial videos are added to the total! Managing Megabytes anyone?) The Fine Art Printing Tutorial From Camera to Print, at thirteen hours of viewing, accounts for no less than fifty of these videos, so it is easy to see how the numbers add up. In any event, there is lots to view in our new video store. Since we now have the ability to quickly and easily make a video a Free View, I have ‘freed up’ quite a lot of those 500 videos, so even if you are not inclined to become a Member for $1.00 a month, there is lots to look at. I had fun making some of the older videos within the LLVJs free. Not just because they are quaintly dated but also because they still contain some very valuable information and worthwhile viewing – just like the rest of this magnum opus of Michael’s that is the Luminous Landscape. Enjoy!