Find Your Mojo
By Yusuf Omar
I wanted to be a foreign correspondent my entire life. To travel to war zones, natural disasters, see the world and meet people.
Every media company I pitched to said the same thing; you’re too young, lack experience and newsroom resources were drying up. Besides, no one needed another foreigner telling stories about distant people and places.
Screw them! In 2010, with a backpack full of old T-shirts and a head filled with young dreams, I started hitchhiking from Durban to Damascus, South Africa to Syria.
Durban to Damascus. There wasn’t much logic to that particular route beyond alliteration of the city names. But Africa’s story had always been told to me as a big, bad and dark continent filled with child soldiers and famine. That’s what happens when your perceptions are shaped by news reports and watching the Blood Diamond movie too many times. I wanted to experience the continent for myself.
Throwing my thumb to the wind and catching rides across 12 African countries and 12,000 kilometers, what I found was stories of hope and growth, innovation and aspiration. It was the start of a career that would focus on ‘constructive journalism’ or solutions-based storytelling. Not ignoring problems, but highlighting success and talking about progress. Creating content that would make you check your prejudice!
Why we MOJO
The road to Damascus also launched my career in Mojo; mobile journalism. I ended up in Egypt during the first Arab Spring; my first ‘big break.’
What I lacked in experience at the time, I made up for in energy, sending back photos, videos, text and more. It was along that journey that I learnt the skills to tell cross-platform stories on my phone and on my own.
The one man or woman storytelling model was emerging around the world too; at the intersection of mobile phone cameras and cellular internet to share content. And at a time when newsroom budgets were shrinking, being resourceful was valuable.
In 2012 I flew to Congo, strapping a Go Pro camera to my head and documenting the explosion of an ammunition depot in the middle of a civil population.
I travelled to Syria in 2014, snuggled into the Idlib province with a group of surgeons building a hospital. This time we had the big professional cameras, microphones, lights and I worked with one of the best camera operators I’ve ever met.
But still, we often resorted to using a mobile phone to cover the conflict, because it was the fastest, most intimate way tell stories. When I interviewed someone with a phone, they forget the device was even there.
Today we have high definition or 4K cameras in our pockets and the footage is indistinguishable to a ‘big camera’ for the average consumer.
But it’s not just the speed, cost and access of mobile journalism that entertains my passion for this field. It’s the infinite possibilities of having not just a camera or a phone, but an entire computer in our pockets; capable of doing things previous capture tools just couldn’t.
Mobile phones can be the most creative tool to tell a story. A few years ago I travelled to India and climbed a mountain with rape survivor who were using the journey as a metaphor to overcome their physical and mental hurdles.
You can’t show the identities of rape survivors in the mainstream media in India, as women are often thrown out of their families and ostracised from communities. Victim blaming is still very much alive. Traditional media may have blurred out the faces of the survivors or silhouetted their identities. But I was able to give the young women my phone so they could swipe through Snapchat face filters to find a lens to hide their identities, while enabling them to tell their stories.
Everyone needs video
After almost 10 years of exploring the world through my mobile camera, mobile journalism enabled me to fulfil my storytelling dreams and I hope it will do the same for you. I eventually working for CNN in London as a Senior Social Media Reporter. I’ve been and seen the very best and worst of humanity.
Beyond being journalist, producer, filmmaker or content creator, online video will form a major part of your work in almost every industry.
Today the vast majority of data that’s shared on the internet is video and that trajectory is only going to continue.
For the next billion people come online, their primary way of communicating with the world and interacting with technology will be through their mobile cameras. They will scan things to pay for them, use their camera to call an Uber to a specific location and record messages to their local mayor or councillor to communicate their grievances. The increased demand for video will impact everyone.
As video enters a new era we should be careful not to carry old baggage with it. Bad TV habits don’t belong here. There’s no rules, only tools.
What gear or mojo kit should we buy?’ The short answer is nothing, for now. Spend your money on the very best phone that you can afford first. The tripods, lights and mic can come later. I personally prefer shooting and editing on iPhones, but the future of MOJO is probably Android (they’re just more popular). Either one work!
The fact is that audiences have never been more forgiving of poor production values. We are the YouTube generation! That’s not to say that we shouldn’t aim to achieve the best quality visuals and sound. But to put it bluntly, the best camera in the world is the camera that you have with you when something happens. The barrier of entry to storytelling has never been lower (just a phone) so I’m reluctant to add further costs that just aren’t always necessary.
If you are going to invest in some gear, a microphone is the best place to start. There’s many things we can fix about your video in edit, including the lighting, sound and stability of the shots. Audio, however, is really difficult to recover. Getting it right the first time is really important.
A pair of earphones (the ones that usually come with your phone for free) is a good start. The hands-free microphone on the cable is actually a very effective way to close the gap between yourself and whatever audio you’re capturing.
If you’re spending a little more on microphones there’s a bunch of options. The Boya lapel is a cheap and cheerful option with a ridiculously long cable. The Samson Go Mic Mobile is also a very affordable wireless mic. I’ve also used the Shure mic which attaches to the iPhone directly.
To be honest, I’ve created over 220 videos on Facebook over the past year and I don’t use microphones for most of them. I just tend to get my phone as close to the subject as possible. I find the process of attaching a microphone to somebody loses the authenticity and intimacy of that situation and it suddenly becomes a more formal interview process.
The next thing you may want to consider investing in is some stabilization gear. The Joby Gorillapod series is the go-to product for most selfie storytellers and influencers. With the bendable legs, it’s a pretty versatile pick. I also like their monopod option. Those looking to get something even more pro could consider the DJI Osmo 2, which is a gimbal using motors to achieve a more stable shot. If you’re on an absolute budget, a selfie stick does the trick; especially if it has legs!
The number one rule of videography on any camera is to make sure the light is behind you as the camera operator. Whether it’s the sun outside or the window indoors, find the source of the light and make sure it’s behind you for better quality video. Smartphone cameras are good at many things, but capturing the moment in poor lighting conditions is not one of them. Getting a lighting setup can help when you’re struggling with the available natural light..
I’ve tried a bunch of lighting options. On the low-budget end, the Manfrotto lighting setup is affordable and does the job. On the top of the line options, the Lume Cube is the big daddy of lighting solutions, but it’s not cheap!
If you’re going to spend on one thing, let it be apps. For iPhone I highly recommend Luma Fusion because it’s a full editing solution. I can edit quicker on this thing than I could on a laptop with Final Cut X or Premier. Bring a laptop, I’ll bring a phone, and we can race!
For Android, my personal favorites are Power Director or Kinemaster (subscription based). They’re both pretty similar and also give you a full editing experience. These two are subscription based.
Practice makes perfect. I’ve been a mobile journalist for almost 10 years, but I still discover new tools, tricks, tips and ways of doing things everyday. It comes from a real hunger and passion to perfect this craft. Your greatest skill as a mojo is your ability to acquire more skills.