Cellphone video of the Tianjin explosion – analysis

The cellphone video I am analyzing and critiquing is footage of the Tianjin port explosion which occurred on August 12, 2015.  The video was uploaded by user “Jo W” on the night of the explosion, who claims in an updated description of the video that it was filmed by a friend’s colleague who did not want to be identified.

The obvious way to determine it was filmed with a cell phone is that it was filmed vertically.  Vertical filming is probably the only real technical flaw with the video’s presentation, however it is still effective in the story it conveys and the window is not wide enough to capture much more detail than was available.

The video itself has been viewed over 2 million times and was widely shared on social media and replayed on major media newscasts around the world in the days after the disaster.  The primary reason for the huge response to the video is because it was timely (uploaded the same night the explosion happened), captured the primary events of the event in real time (the initial fire, the first explosion, and the second explosion which occurred less than 20 seconds later), and the footage itself is able to capture the power of the explosion as well as the human element involved (a baby can be heard crying in the background, and the cameraman ducks away from the window during the 2nd, more powerful explosion which blows out his window).

It features all the hallmarks of a newsworthy cell phone video – raw and unedited with the cameraman cursing in shock and shouting in reaction to the explosions, uploaded almost as soon as the explosions started to become known to the world, filmed from a handheld free perspective giving it authenticity with frequent duck-outs as the cameraman instinctively avoids the blast, and with natural light so that the explosion is fully visible without artificial light ruining the exposure.

Using a cellphone to film the incident was probably the most appropriate approach to take, as the event was happening in real time and highly chaotic.  The most easily available camera at hand was on the phone itself, and also by using the phone it was uploaded quickly, and subsequently went viral as the event was still unfolding.

As noted before, the vertical angle is the only real gripe on the video, as it creates a lot of blank space on the sides for normal viewing.  Although the cameraman can’t be faulted for diving to safety when the second shockwave was about to hit, it would have certainly been effective if he was able to capture the windows shattering instead of just being able to hear it.  The audio was superb, vivid and loud, giving a full sense of the power of the explosion.

The title of the video was obviously rushed and there was no effort to format it properly, but it said enough about what happens to properly describe the video’s contents.  Obviously by the number of views, the content of the video spoke for itself.

Overall I would judge this as a great example of cellphone video, and the cameraman contributed a piece of history with a device he carried in his pocket.


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