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April 15 2013


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Trouble is – they’re more than ninety years out of date.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

September 05 2012


The decade of the VJ has begun…

…and it caught me off guard.

Here’s the scoop. The traditional model of TV news is a building with employees who scatter like ants every day in search of news. They are given assignments by the assignment desk or take off running at the sound of a breaker. In the past these jobs were well-paid, stable employment. The public saw those who worked in the biz are part of the glamour industry.

Trouble is the word “glamour” has two meanings. Compelling charm/beauty or enchantment. Trickery.

That “glamour” is only surface deep. But enough of that. Back on track.

The new paradigm revealed itself beginning last week, picked up speed, and slapped me in the face. And it’s right in character for these times.

I’ve run across or been made aware of at least four new businesses that are seeking videojournalists to either contract with them to sell already produced stories or to pitch stories for production. All of these companies host the videos, seek out buyers, take their percentage, and then pass a payment on to the VJ. Sometimes substantial, sometimes not. (I’m guessing more of the latter than the former.)

Another thing all four have in common is a requirement to sign a contract with clauses mandating ethical behavior.

The types of stories being solicited range from international breaking news to entertainment to features.

I tell you…at this point in time at this time in my life this seems heaven sent.
Too old to get a job at the traditional station (old ugly and cantankerous) but too young to curl up, retire and die (inside and out). Working on my own on stories I want to produce.

Maybe I’ll curtail the curtness and try the sweet ole lady act.

Don’t think so.

September 01 2012



Photo courtesy Kathleen Newell (http://www.kathleennewell.com)

Heads up – this is a “shameless self-promotion” posting. My visual storytelling business is up and running.

While small (with intentions to stay that way), I have plans to make it big – in quality. Although I’ve dabbled a bit with video production and its many challenges, I find my love of news and storytelling is leading me back into news – both feature and general.

So…if you want to keep up, check me out at the following sites:
http://thinknews.wordpress.com/ – my biz site
https://www.facebook.com/thinknews – facebook
https://twitter.com/thinknews – twitter
https://vimeo.com/cyndygreen – videos on Vimeo

Just FYI: work in progressing on The Basics of Videojournalism, although life is getting in the way some days.

And I will continue to post from time to time here on this blog – my first and favorite. Thanks for dropping by.

July 27 2012



A paradigm (para-dime) is typical pattern or model of something.

One of the paradigms of visual storytelling has been a certain type of camera. For years these cameras were the domain of professionals…large, extremely expensive, totally amazing pieces of technology. It took big bucks to get one and you made big bucks if you had not only the technical knowledge but the aesthetic sense and storytelling ability to use one.

Then…the paradigm shifted in the early 2000s. The big boys still made big bucks with big gear…but suddenly there was a new class of camera…halfway between the little consumer cams and the big professional guns. The pro-sumer camcorder. It had many of the nifty features of the pro cams, such as good glass and three chips and professional audio inputs. Manual controls. Good stuff all around, although noticeably not really up to pro standards.

And these little baby-cams began to gain in popularity as more and more people began to use them for an audience who demanded more and more video. The digital explosion send shock waves across the planet with the better quality cameras and affordable non-linear editing programs brought a new technology into the hands of the citizenry.

Another paradigm shift is going on right now and we see it every day and don’t even think about it. Cell phones began sprouting up in the 1990s…then morphed into phones that could take pretty lousy still shots…then not-so-bad stills. Then by leaps and bounds these little wonders turned into do-it-all mobile devices. Talk. Text. Surf the ‘Net. Shoot stills – and video. Not just plain ole video and stills, but high def stuff.

And they are taking over. Some years back when I began this blog I did a posting on Dinosaurs Fighting or Survival. Times had changed and if the pros who shot news (both still and video) didn’t change with them, they were out a job.

But back then the pros were either flocking over to the new technology or resisting mightily. It was a treat to their way of life – what they knew and could do.

Then technology ramped up its game and the gear got so good that the definition of “professional” took on a whole new meaning as more and more folks acquired the new smaller cameras. It quickly became apparent that the size of the lens and the heft of the camera had little to do with the ability to communicate. What mattered (and still very much matters) is a sense of aesthetics and storytelling. AND knowing how to make the gear you are working with work with you to tell the most powerful story possible.

But even the pro-sumer cameras (and many consumer cams too) had the familiar look to them. Lens in front, kinda boxy and rectangular. LCD on the side. It still looked like a real camcorder.

Enter the new mobile devices…thin, flat and less than the size of the palm of your hand. No optical zoom and minimal digital zoom. A new style of shooting and storytelling came with these new devices.

No longer able to pull in a far-away shot, you now had to zoom with your feet (or arms) to get in closer. The camera is no longer part of your body (hold it close to keep it steady…tripod it, cradle it). The camera is now an extension of your arm…your hand. In order to get a variety of shots you really need to get intimate with your subject. As in, arms-length close. Or closer.

And the storytelling end has had to change too. Rather than full-blown packages (including interviews, variety of shots, lotsa b-roll) stories are simpler. One long shot of an event such as a parade or riot. An interview covered with b-roll of an event or meeting. Impressions rather than full explanation. These “impressions” are often paired on the Internet with text and more information, which together tell a full story. The audience can choose to view the video and get the background from the other resources available or just read the information or just view the video to get a sense of what happened.

I doubt very much that mobile devices are going to take over the visual storytelling world any more than consumer or prosumer camcorders took over from professional gear. What they do is open up an entirely new way and new possibilities in visual storytelling to even more storytellers.

Yeah – it’s nice to belong to an exclusive club. Been there. Done that. But the new wave of stories coming at us will open our eyes and the world even more. And can that be a bad thing?

Transparency: Co-author Larry Nance and I have been discussing how to include all levels of gear in our pending textbook,The Basics of Videojournalism. He is a big proponent of technology and not only keeping up with the latest, but staying on the cresting wave as it thunders across the ocean. So expect full inclusion of not only prosumer and consumer and DSLR…but also mobile devices in the book.

April 12 2012


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 11 2011


Immersed in a frozen world…

…the world of digital still photography.

Got called back to teach as a stand-in for a former fellow teacher out on maternity leave. The class: P-H-O-T-O-G-R-A-P-H-Y.

Aka painting with light.

Wow…talk about reliving the past. The class has me riding the Way-Back Machine to the sixties and early seventies as I began my journey as a visual storyteller, learning how to shoot and process film.

This can only get better.

Last week I jump-started the classes on color. Let’s harken back to kindergarten and remember what it was like squishing those bright finger paints between our chubby little fingers, making the blue run into yellow to make green, red into yellow to make orange and everything together to make a muddy black.

Lesson number one. Primary, secondary and tertiary colors. Black and white tones. Tints. Shades.

Lesson number two. Colors evoke emotions – the language of the many moods of color.

And this week…composition.

Ahhhhhh. The basics.

All of this, of course, is part of video. But it is a part I touch on briefly due to the many other essentials I need to cram into my students’ heads. For once it is fun to wallow in the simpler times and take the time to teach it right.

I only wish that photographer could be a pre-requisite for broadcasting.

December 28 2010


New links to updated sites…

In anticipation of the New Year, my other two wordpress sites have been updated.

Check out The Basics of Videojournalism, an overview of a textbook on visual storytelling I am currently working on.

Also, beginning in June I’ll be out and available for hire as a freelance videojournalist – the site for that is think-news.

If you look to the left in the sidebar, you’ll see I’ve added both sites to the blogroll.

August 09 2010


Light, Seeing, and Framing…

Made it to Wyoming and my two pupils and I finally caught up in an office supply store. Why? Well they wanted to learn how to properly (i.e., professionally) mount their photos for the local country fair. So we got a grey and a black matte board (kind of a heavy cardboard, white on one side and colored/shaded on the other…second side is kind of rough texture) and a can of spray adhesive. Not my first choice, but no dry mount tissue available.

Once we got back to the ranch I hauled them outside with their (wonderful) little Canon (model number here) and my Panasonic E300 and Canon HV20 (in still mode).

To protect the identities of the innocent, please meet “A” and “J”, henceforth known as Alicia and Jasmine.

The little cutie pie who keeps popping up in front of the camera we’ll just leave at Cutie.

I get students like Alicia and Jasmine occasionally…so excited about learning something of interest they take in every word. (One of my many Jesus’ at McNair was once trembling with excitement at the prospect of editing some video – scary, but gratifying.)
My goal with the girls was to have them understand seeing light, composition (although they both have a natural talent in that area), and natural framing. In other words, to move away from taking snapshots and into shooting photographs.

First we worked with light…understanding where light comes from and how to move to make the best use of light. The photo of Jasmine above was taken by Alicia as Jasmine sat in a chair near a window. Not direct sunlight, but a soft window light. We had Jasmine turn her face from looking out the window to a 3/4 view of her face where the light looked best.

The shot of Alicia (by Jasmine) is the second photo – Alicia is naturally framed between some trees and has soft lighting. This is not only due to the shade from the trees, but also because of the overcast skies, which make for a giant softbox effect. Sweet.

While we were shooting and walking, one of the local munckins came skipping up, asking if she could have her photo take. Score!! We had a model – Cutie. This little bundle of energy was willing to be placed anywhere…so the girls chose the side of an old shed with vines growing up it.

Here are some of the ideas we tested out by the corral. First, framing using “nature.” What that means is you don’t have to buy a wooden/plastic frame and put your photo inside it. You can use whatever’s nearby and create a frame with it. Take a look at Cutie below.

First a disclaimer…there are unedited shots – straight out of the camera(s). The E300 shoots a slightly more intense photograph.

Cutie was in a chute peering between the boards…both Jasmine and Alicia were shooting at the same time pretty much, but their angles and framing were slightly different. Both photos are good shots with very expressive faces. Besides good framing, these shots are also close-ups showing great detail in both the wooden slats and Cutie’s face. I love that the blonde streaks in the wood echo the color of Cutie’s hair.

So we’ve gone through natural framing and basic use of light. Both girls got to whiz around with the hand trick, which is a great tool for beginners to visualize light. They also got a flash lesson in the difference between a normal, wide angle, and telephoto lens (how each of the latter two distort perspective differently).

Now part of the problem in teaching is that many lessons overlap. The photo above for instance, is an example of stop action, telephoto lens, and composition (and if you want, exposure).
A moment frozen in time as Cutie tries to make a catch.
The telephoto lens has compressed the layers in the photo closer together.
Center framing.
Dark background with lighter point of interest.

Shadow the cat (above) was shot with a wide angle lens…see how the background seems far away. Center composition again. This time a darker subject on a lighter background.

Off track for a moment. The last two shots tie into something called low key and high key.
Low key is when you have a very light picture with little contrast. Think polar bear on ice. Egg in white eggcup on white lace tablecloth. Monochromatic.
High key is the opposite. Lots of contrast…white egg on dark background. Stark differences between parts of the scene.
The shot of Jasmine up at the top leans towards high key…as does the last shot of Cutie.

I’ll just end this posting with a sampling of Alicia’s and Jasmine’s photos. As soon as I know how they did in their country fair photography competition I’ll let yah know.

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