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April 15 2013

00:08

Hints for news(film) cameramen…

…it never changes.  The process of creating a visual story that is.  Larry Nance and I are merrily working on our tome, The Basics of Videojournalism when what should appear online but some helpful hints for visual shooters.

Trouble is – they’re more than ninety years out of date.

Or are they?

Thanks to Amanda Emily, here is a list of hints written by Pathe’ News editor Paul Hugon in 1916 – during the birth of the movement of newsreel shooters. Let’s see how those tips stack up.

Right off there’s this advice. Still applicable today.

The object of motion pictures is to show motion. Only things in which there is motion are worthy of the cameraman’s attention.

Then there’s the highly technical advice on exposure using a hand cranked camera.

For each turn of the handle, eight pictures are exposed. The handle is turned twice in one second. Therefore 16 pictures are exposed in one second.

Translated to today’s terminology, most cameras set on auto expose approximately 30 pictures per second. And you don’t have to keep turning the crank to keep exposing new pictures.

And some advice we’re giving in the book. Use a tripod (dammit).

It is essential, to preserve the illusion which is the basis of the film business, that the pictures should be absolutely steady.

We’re in agreement on tilts and pans too! It is better by far to visualize and shoot what you see in several strong shots rather than taking the lazy route and panning or spraying the scene.

There should never be a panoram, either vertical or horizontal, unless it is absolutely essential to obtain a photographic effect, and in any case the panoram should be, not from the main subject to others, but from others to the main subject, where theattention will finally rest. It is very much better to take two scenes than one panorammed scene. Panoraming is the lazy man’s remedy.

There’s a lot more there and most of it pretty darn good. Shoot pretty subjects, striking effects of light and shade. A hefty dose of technical advice on iris and shutter. Ummmm…you can skip the sections on protecting the negative and shipping (by slow boat to China in those days).

And the conclusion is his Golden Rule…

Make as good a picture for others as you would like others to make for you.
Nothing but the very best is good enough. Think, and think hard, how you can make the best picture. Put it all down in writing; plan your scenes…
There is plenty of room at the top of your profession, but you will not get there by standing about or just grinding away. Brain work is ultimately the only way to big money. And the money is there waiting for you.

(well maybe those last few lines don’t apply anymore…)
For full text, go to the original article on Amanda Emily’s site.


August 20 2012

13:57

August 07 2012

12:40

April 12 2012

07:19

Do. It. Yourself.

We all have those little tricks up our sleeves…the tricks we use to fix it, shortcut it, or make it easy for ourselves.

Some years back I posted a quick little emergency “fixit” for those days when your last miniscule lav windscreen disappears. At the time I was experimenting with using my computer with a camcorder plugged in to see if I could record “live” into iMovie.

It worked. The way I shot the video I mean. And the trick works pretty well too. All you’re doing is creating a dead zone above the mike head that keeps wind from hitting the head.

Fast forward six years to today…or rather earlier this year. I needed a way to fix my Lectrosonics wireless receiver to my Panasonic HMC150. The body is so compact and nearly every surface has dials or gizmos that I couldn’t figure out where to put it. Out of desperation I would use the hand grip…or pocket it tethered to a long enough XLR cable. Awkward.

Looked around on the Internet, but most of the fixes either didn’t look like they’d work with my camera or were way too expensive. So I did what any sane person with too much time on their hands would do…I diddled and daddled and did some thinking to boot and came up with my own gizmo.

The solution was both effective and affordable. One two by four inch piece of plastic, about 3/5 inch thick. One cold shoe attachment. Industrial strength Velcro.

I’ll make a video later on…but here’s the drill. Countersink a threaded hold into the plastic. Fill said hole with super glue and screw in the cold shoe. Wait for it to dry. Attach Velcro to fit. Put mated piece of Velcro onto your receiver (or whatever else you want to attach to the camera).

Cost: assuming I could have bought just enough for this one holder, probably less than $10. As it was, I bought enough plastic for four holders (around $14), five of the cold shoes at around three and a half bucks each, and the Velcro roll ran nearly $15. The super glue I had lying around the workshop.

What would I do differently? I got the cold shoes cheap on Amazon.comAmazon. If I do it again, I’d probably go for more heavy duty shoes…I can tell the ones I got are not sturdy enough for long term use.

Oh – and once I went to all of this trouble, I found exactly what I needed (same basic design, but metal) over at B&H.

So – two of my tricks are out of the bag…and my partner in crime, Larry Nance, is working on more fixits, make-its, and shortcuts for our book, The Basics Of Videojournalism. The OMB, VJ – the current day Jack (and Jill) of all trades.


January 08 2012

22:14

So why won’t you cover MY story?

Used to hear versions of this every day when I was still working the field. How come you’re covering THAT story? Why don’t you do some GOOD news? I called your station and they won’t cover (insert grand opening of brother’s store, daughter’s ballet recital, whatever…here).

So I’m about to give away some dirty little secrets and (if you listen carefully) some pretty solid tips on how to get a bit of broadcast news coverage. All of the following is pretty much verbatim in answer to a request from a member of my husband’s church. She had a friend who was opening a fitness center. From any angle (except a few of mine) a non-news story. One word. Boring. But here’s what I suggested.

If I knew how to make the media do anything, I would. But there are ways to get to the top of the pile for consideration. Realize that every day every media outlet has hundreds if not thousands of requests to cover events. The trick is to make it topical – current and of interest to a wider audience. Make the media WANT to come.

My first thought was…oh no (remember, I’m a slug) not another fitness center. THEN I saw it was located right next to Donut King and got a chuckle out of that. Also…seeing that one of the classes has already been featured on ABC (nationally or locally????) is a plus. There is interest in anything new and unusual.

So…you need to plan your strategy, remembering even then that it is hit or miss. And even if you do get a call saying they may come to do the story…a breaking news story will cancel any plans.

Do NOT push this as a grand opening. The interest is more in what is new and different. I don’t know the hours for your grand opening or if they would allow media in before (a day or two)…but you might consider aiming at the morning shows. There isn’t a lot of news happening at 5am most days, so if you offer a live crew an opportunity to send the reporter in to sweat it out and learn how to use the new gear or learn a new movement (reporter participation is good), then you may get a crew down. If you contact the Record you should have the same pitch…although they are more likely to cover a class after the fact than a grand opening. The business of news media is to provide information and to some extent entertainment…which is why I recommend selling the story in some way other than “a store is opening up.”

Send your first release out about two weeks before the event (email or snail mail). Follow up a few days later with a short phone call – “Hi, just checking to see if you got the information on the fitness center and their new (equipment) and (whatever the class is). If you’re interested in doing an early live shot, we’d be glad to have your crew test out the (class and/or equpment). Keep it short…and the best times to call are 5:30am-8:30am, then 9:30 to 11am, then 1pm to 4pm. Why? If you call during or near the time a show begins (with the exception of daybreak news) they won’t really be listening to you. If they are abrupt it may mean they are dealing with a lot of pressure due to breaking news or changes in the schedule. Yeah…lotsa stress in a broadcast newsroom.

Whatever you send out – KEEP IT SIMPLE. The “5 Ws.” Who, What, When, Where, Why. Plus a SHORT graph with your pitch.

All it took was a bit of planning…and the daybreak “happy talk” news show in the area bit – hook and line – and her friend’s store was a star for a brief moment in the market.

Lesson to remember: news departments don’t have to come to your event. Their job is to provide a service to a wider community…in the case of TV stations is is generally regional. Their job is to provide news and information that are meaningful to the lives of their audience. Your little store opening or dancing daughter only has meaning to a small group of people. In order to get your story to the top of the food chain you have to provide an angle that will make it more palatable to the assignment editor and of interest to a larger audience. Good luck with that.


December 31 2011

20:18

Back in biz part 2…

The basic groundwork has been laid for the business. Right now it’s just me and the gear and my worksite, thinknews. But in order to make this viable I need an extended list of folks who have professional experience AND who I can work with. The latter is right up there with the experience because if I can’t work with someone…if I can’t trust them totally…they are useless.

This next week is dedicated to contacting old co-workers and friends to get their information, gear list, and rates. The purpose is threefold:

1. Want to be able to hand off jobs I cannot take due to scheduling or other constraints.
2. Want subcontractors for any jobs I get that require more than me and my gear.
3. Want folks who are lower and higher on the food chain than me – once again for referrals. Most of the folks I plan to work with are right in my range with rates and gear…a few have more/better gear and a few have less/more prosumer gear. If I get a client I feel I cannot serve due to their needs, I still want to make them happy by referring them to someone who can service their budget and needs.

So far…so good. Seems there is an overabundance of cameramen/editors but (wow) a shortage of talent/narrators. I’ve actually been eyeballing the husband (with his amazing shock of white hair) as talent. ??? Was that the sound of the door slamming and rapid retreat of footsteps???


July 28 2011

15:07

I don’t mention Amanda Emily…

…often enough. She is my computer geek queen and a repository of news history. And she’s blogged about a fascinating behind the scenes story about how a bomber flew into the Empire State Building.

Yes, the storytelling style is hokey…that was the style in those days. But look at the quality of the film itself, listen to how they built the story. And read the back story of the cameramen who shot the film.

Technology (always) changes…style changes…but good storytelling is always compelling.


July 13 2011

13:13

More ethical dilemmas…

Thanks to Amanda Emily (who loves to toss stuff into the gears of both large and small minds), we have yet another tool for ethical debate. Well, not so much debate – it’s wrong in oh so many ways. But interesting nonetheless.

According to a report in newscientist.com,

AN IMAGE processing system that obscures the position from which photographs are taken could help protestors in repressive regimes escape arrest – and give journalists “plausible deniability” over the provenance of leaked photos.

Simply put, if the bad guys can figure out where you were standing when you took the photo, they might be able to identify which person with a camera took photos of protestors. Then it’s good-bye cameraman.

Noble intent…but dangerous. An artificial image is created in an arbitrary location using information from several photos taken from other locations. A pretty white lie, intended to protect the innocent whose intent is to expose corruption and abuse. But who’s to say it wasn’t taken further and more manipulation was done?

Have fun with this one kiddos!


July 09 2011

00:32

Shutter speed, aperture, depth of field

One of the many skills lurking within the brain of a videojournalist. Seeing depth of field. Something a good PJ/VJ knows intuitively. If ya use a high shutter speed and a wide-open (low) aperture, you get great depth of field (meaning shallow). Go the other way and get everything in focus…

Oh…and see what happens when you shoot a water fountain at different shutter speeds. Interesting…but if you want to slo-mo video, use the higher shutter speed.


June 27 2011

15:16

Paul Bradshaw: "Four lessons I've learnt about using Facebook for journalism"

BBC College of Journalism Blog :: Paul Bradshaw's  experiment last week in running a blog entirely through a Facebook Page quietly came to the end of its allotted four weeks. "The most popular posts during that month were simple links that dealt with controversy," writes Paul Bradshaw and adds "This isn't a shock - research into Facebook tends to draw similar conclusions about the value of 'social' content."

His learnings? Four lessons.

Paul Bradshaw is founder of the Online Journalism Blog and the crowdsourcing website Helpmeinvestigate. He is a visiting professor at City University, London, and runs the MA in Online Journalism at Birmingham City University.

Continue to read "Four lessons ..." by Paul Bradshaw, www.bbc.co.uk

May 11 2011

12:57

What the ^)$#*@

This won’t be a biggie post, but something for those of you who drive yourselves and your gear long and hard. Just a reminder of something that slips my mind until the reality of not enough room on one of my portable hard drives goes from a minor inconvenience to a wake-up call (gosh, I sure am using a lot of cliches today).

No – you are NOT imagining things. That trusty old hard drive you rely on day in and night out IS shrinking in size.

I run gigabytes through my four portable hard drives the way some folks drink coffee. Dump in a project, edit, erase. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.

Problem is…those projects don’t totally disappear when erased. The hard drive retains little memories of everything it ever encountered…and those tiny bytes build up. It’s kind of a failsafe in the event you really really really need to retrieve something.

But the reality is, after a few months (more or less) of use, you begin to lose a gigabyte here…and there…until suddenly you’ve lost more than you can afford. My first portable hard drive (circa 2004 I think) was a 40GB LaCie. After about a year of use I couldn’t jam more than 12 gigs onto it.

The solution is to clean everything off…store somewhere else…and do a clean erase to thoroughly cleanse the drive. Erase it back to zero. Then you’re good for another go.

And that is what is happening to my current favorite drive. Last files loading over to a new drive and we begin the memory erase in a moment.

(end of post)


March 15 2011

22:51

Love at first sight…

My “last” camera arrived a week ago and I’ve been doing something I’ve never done before. Sat down, figured out a testing schedule, read the manual (now THAT was a first) and have been methodically going through the controls. Every other camera I’ve bought I just hit the ground running with.

But this little girl (gonna hafta think up a nice nickname for her) is special. My first non-tape camera in decades (of course that last one was 16mm). Panasonic HCM150.

When I pulled her out of her box and unwrapped her, I shivered. Sleek lines, sturdily built. All of the requisite controls on the OUTSIDE, not in some damn menu.

So here’s the agenda for checkout…something you might consider with your next camera. Keep in mind I’ve built up a good supply of accessories and need to check them out to make sure all is compatible.

First day – Pull from box, scan the manual. Shoot and play back some tape, just to see how it looks. Review the manual again re the basics of setup and shooting.

Several days later…sat down with camera and manual and went through everything page by page to get a basic handle on what I need to know to shoot. Dumped a few files into my (five year old) MacBook, iMovie 9 just to see if I could. Imported fine, rough playback. Note to self: next time use a firewire external drive, not the USB drive. But it is nice to know I can get by for a little while longer with my current computer…will get the new one when a paying client appears.

A week later…met up with cohort Larry Nance and we reviewed and did a comparison to cameras we’ve used in the past. This one rocks. Not quite up to broadcast standards (smaller, lighter, different media), but masterfully planned. Made arrangements to meet in a week and do side-by-side shoots with older cameras.

Today…ran audio tests. First, the on-camera mike. Next a wired stick mike (Electovoice 635) and then wired shotgun (Sennheiser ME66) and then each mike run on the wireless (Lectrosonics) system. All worked wonderfully…the shotgun definitely peaks higher than the stick mike and was able to run off phantom power when on the wireless transmitter. That and I walked to the back of my property and the audio was crystal clear at 200 feet on the wireless. Rock on!!!

Next week Larry and I will shoot and post side-by-side comparisons with our older JVC GY-DV300s and my Canon HV20.

Now I want a new carbon fiber tripod!

A word to why the above process is important for teacher/students/newbies: Unless you research thoroughly and even then, problems will develop with equipment. I knew in my heart that all of my older gear would hook up to the new camera. But the worst time to test new systems is when you are under the gun. Plug in everything you’ve got. Take notes. Check out every variation with every item. Be prepared to order adapters or make adaptions. Know your gear.

Oh…and Larry…I finally found the composite outs/RCAs. Hidden over the XLR outs in a well-concealed compartment. (Sneaky, that.)


February 07 2011

19:26

Rules to write by…

Thanks to Advancing the Story for the 25 Commandments For Journalists.

Tim Radford of the guardian.co.uk newspaer came up with this list when in a panic:

…15 or more years ago to an invitation to do some media training for a group of Elsevier editors. I began compiling them because I had just asked myself what was the most important thing to remember about writing a story, and the answer came back loud and clear: “To make somebody read it.”

My two favorites:

5. Here is a thing to carve in pokerwork and hang over your typewriter. “No one will ever complain because you have made something too easy to understand.”

6. And here is another thing to remember every time you sit down at the keyboard: a little sign that says “Nobody has to read this crap.”


December 23 2010

17:31

December 11 2010

23:36

Managing media…

This past Monday Stockton Record photographer Clifford Oto created a field of dreams of sorts in a sorry part of town.

The location: Stockton Family Shelter. A lot of folks who could have lost hope live there, struggling day to day and hoping for the best for themselves and their families.

On Monday, December 6, a little more hope seeped in with the sunshine outside as dozens of volunteers answered Clifford’s call for help, setting up four mini-portrait studios and dozens of hair and make-up stations.

The event: Help-Portrait.

Their mission: To give back to the community…to serve those in need. To provide professional individual and family portraits to folks who may never have been able to have a formal sitting and memory.

So how is this about managing media? Well – three of my (former) students and I went down to observe and help out. Our assignment was to document the event and turn a video. The students (Gabe, Tim, and Tou) shot about half an hour of tape and quite a few stills. I shot another 50 minutes or so – but wasn’t able to shot many stills because (ahem) certain students were gripping the camera too tightly.

Now here it is – six days later – and I’ve got to get the video edited. There are several hundred clips, shot from when preparations began through the day until gear was broken down and put away hours later.

Step number one in media management. Create bins (Final Cut Express), which are kind of like file folders, for the main categories of your project. In this case, I created the following bins.
Then I looked at each clip quickly and placed it into the appropriate bin. It really helps to have these categories when you’re searching for a specific clip. If you have the time, you can even label each clip.

BYW, the Oto SH Video is the main project – the sequence I will be editing.

I generally begin a project by listening to interviews and taking notes. Notes will include which clip and time in clip for significant sound bites. Otherwise I may just jot something down to use in my narration.

But if possible, I’m going to try to avoid any narration with this video and do it all with interviews and natural sound.

So stand by…I’ll be posting and updating as I edit.


19:49

What is a “Controlled Shoot”…

You’re never too old to learn…and I picked up a new term this week, thanks to a request for a critique onb-roll. I’m not gonna post the comments made – you can look them up yourself.

Courtesy Okinawa Soba through Creative Commons

But the new term is “controlled shoot.” Or as the camera (one-man) band says, aka “staging.”

Wow.

And as if that weren’t bad enough…it was followed a few days later by a posting titled “Fun staging.”

The CS/controlled shoot video was something I would imagine a lot of camerafolk get trapped into in some way or another. Short on time…there is NOTHING happening visual, and somehow a visual story has to be turned.

So in this case, the photog asked the subject (a marathon runner) to take a run around for the camera. I’m not sure how much CS “controlled” that shoot – if he just shot the guy running or directed each shot. But – as CS admits – it is staging. Which is frowned upon in news because it is not what is actually happening. It is redone/rehashed/done only for the camera.

Now in the case of “Fun staging” the entire video was staged. And I don’t mean asking for something to be repeated for the camera. This was staged as in have people acting out an entire scenario for the camera…shot by shot. As if it were a movie. Not just a step beyond a controlled shoot – but an entire leap into a fantasy world that was created JUST FOR THIS STORY.

Ummmm….can I have a platter of the “good ole days” please?


November 23 2010

12:29

Update on shooting shadows…

I must have at least one reader out there. Put up a post a week ago about shooting what isn’t there – picturing shadows. A creative challenge.

One Linda M. Toki (okay, so she’s my husband’s cousin) took it to heart and produced the above images. There’s more, but these are my favs and I didn’t want to totally steal her thunder (and lighting).

I’m especially taken by the shadow of what appears to be an arm (Linda says the arm of a statue of G.Washington). And the very stark lines on pavement…almost three dimensional, abstract. Great stuff.


October 16 2010

16:40

You’re only as good as your last shoot…

…when applying for jobs. A conundrum for me – I have some totally amazing work from the past, but nothing recent. Been spending way too much time on my duff pondering and writing. The curse of age.

What brings this on? A great posting by Chris Dunn from 10,000 Words on how and why to keep an up-to-date portfolio. While meant for still photogs, VJs can certainly take heed.

First – the three reasons to regularly edit your portfolio (my comments in parenthesis):

1. Forces you to revisit your recent work (time can reveal how old your work is – while my shooting is still steller, the quality of the video and editing patterns are a tell-tale).
2. It helps you notice patterns that you may want to change or continue. (In my years in the field I went thru several “style” changes…the worst being the early 90′s shoot like an idiot phases which aped the worst of the trend of stuff shot on grainy super-8 with continual camera movement)
3. It tells others you are an active photographyer. (or VJ. Active meaning when they check out the dates on your stories they are frequently from the last few months. Keep adding on new and taking out old…this article recommends for still photogs 8-12 images. For VJs probably four stories is pushing it…and you should show a breaker or well-handled general news story/daily, a feature/in-depth which shows your ability to visualize, and if you are a true VJ, one that clearly demonstrates your writing/producing abilities)

Looks like an old lady is heading back into the field to heed the advice above…


October 14 2010

16:52

Kinetic typhography…

Yesterday I posted an example of kinetic typography…using words only to tell a story onscreen.

Well, today Mindy McAdams sent out a link via 10,000 Words via facebook that tells all. What is it and how to do it.

Here’s an example in of using KT for a news story.

I gotta try this!


01:00

Subbing in two worlds…

Retirement is moving up on five months at the end of this month. On May 28 of this year I spent my last day in a classroom full of kids. Prior to that I skipped out on 28 years in TV news. Two totally different worlds – each with its own joys and disappointments.

And now I’m kinda considering becoming a substitute teacher – as much for the mental gymnastics as a chance to return to puberty (and of course, the cash).

And here the two worlds become even more divergent.

Way back in the 1970s and early 80s I was a vacation relief/sick leave photographer in the Bay area and Sacramento market. Wages were of course way different than they are now. Let me repeat that – way different.

As a daily call-in photog I made about $125 daily shooting news, $225 for public affairs/documentary and everywhere in between. I was expected to walk into a newsroom, grab the keys to a car and immediately head out on stories with reporters I may or may not have met before. Furthermore, I was expected to know how to get to locations, shoot a story, and get it back. Very simple. I was being paid to do a job and as a freelancer I made on average more than the daily wage of many staff. Why? Because there was an acknowledgement that I was not working every day and the higher daily wage was meant to compensate for that. It was management’s and the union’s way of keeping it fair. (And also a union ploy to ensure that management did not hire a staff of part timers who got no benefits.)

Fast forward to now.

As an eight year teacher I made approximately $37 an hour roughly. That was for a day that ran (officially) from 7am to 2:45pm. About seven and 3/4 hours of work.

Occasionally I subbed during my prep period for another teacher (this is the squirrelly part – I got paid to work while I was being paid to work).

But as a sub I will make only about $100-$110 a day. Yikes. Less than $15 an hour. Why the difference? Well, first off, substitute teachers are only required to have passed a state test and have a BA. But still…

Oh – and here’s another MAJOR difference. Remember above I said I was expected to walk on the job and do everything the staff photo I was replacing did? From my observation of teaching subs that is far far from what happens.

A common practice of sick or on leave teachers is the “VCR teaching plan.” Leave a movie and tell the sub to play it. Maybe make that a bit more palatable by having in loosely connected to the class content with a list of questions to be answered and handed in.

Then there’s the “read and respond” lesson plan. Read the class assignment and answer (once again) the list of questions.

Uh – so what does the sub actually do? With few exceptions (and trust me, I had to work to find good subs) they are babysitters. They meet the legal requirement to sit in a classroom full of students.

So….thirty years ago I made MORE working part time in news than I would today as a substitute teacher. And today less is expected of me. Sigh.

Addendum: this isn’t the full story of course. It is, as it must always be in real life, much more complex. But the above are the facts, generally. Substitute teachers are thrown into classrooms ranging from kindergarten to 12th grade, in every subject imaginable. Some of them can actually teach (and again, trust me, I found them). But all too many are taking money for showing up and sitting.
My plan? Gonna make a short list of classes I can teach in and limit myself to them. My sanity and self respect aren’t worth what they’re paying otherwise.


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