Category Archives: photojournalism

Photoediting: Brian Storm messes with my mind

I’ve been working with the Alexia Foundation. They just launched a new site and they brought me in to get their 21 years of archives into the site. In terms of titles, I’m photo editor/content manager of their material. As well, I am their social media manager.

They have beautiful, beautiful work on a huge variety of important social justice issues. It’s been tremendous to me immersed in these vast archives. Particularly thrilling to me has been seeing so much film work. A 21 year span of work naturally includes at least 10 years of work on film. When I first reached that point in the archives, I fell in love again – with photojournalism and grain. So much beautiful grain. Go look at their site. It is wonderful.

As photo editor, my job was to select 10 images out of what the photographer had submitted. The film candidates tended to have smaller selections – 12 maximum. The digital projects – some as many as 100, and an average of 16-20. Of these, I had to select 10. That was hard.

For the home page, the Alexia Foundation’s photo advisory board weighed in on what the representative images should be for the most recent projects. Brian Storm selected an image for each. This is where he messes with my mind.

A number of the images, I hadn’t even included in my edit. I was looking to tell a story. I was looking for the image to say something, to explain something. To be in focus and have a clear focal point and hopefully have some layers. He selected fuzzy, blurry photos. I don’t know what to do with these. I don’t know how to deal with abstract, fuzzy, grainy images. I don’t know how to say they are good or bad. Is intention important?

When I started in photography, way back in my Chicago days, one of my earliest projects was a series of double negatives. I didn’t plan them out. I liked the chance element of them. I liked my mistakes and I liked what would happen when I had way too much red or green or blue in one of my color prints.

But photojournalism has these rules and structure ingrained in my mind. I don’t know how to let the chance element in. It does take guts to put something that seems technically wrong in one’s selection. Is that where personal vision comes in?

For Brian, maybe he has already seen all of the perfect images. Thus, the ones that are different and abstract appeal to him. They represent something unique that he hasn’t seen before. I don’t know how to get to this point in seeing and I feel a little inadequate for not being able to see this way.

Students + Full on commitment + No other distractions = great results

There’s no way around it. There more I do it, the more it’s confirmed.
Project based classes are the best way for students to learn multimedia.
Period.

One full week, in the field. Gathering content, then editing. Having formal and informal meetings on their scripts and planning. That’s what we did in Valparaíso with my colleagues Sebastián González, Blas Parra and Luis Melgar.

With their help, we led 10 students – 7 Chileans and 3 Uruguayans – and helped them produce 11 stories in the port town where they managed to portray the character of the city and its inhabitants in an exquisitely simple Website (http://www.cronicasdevalpo.org), programmed and designed by Eileen Mignoni.

Crónicas de Valparaíso

During this week, the evolution of the quality of their work is noticeable. Every day the students return with better results.
This full week compares to – and exceeds – the results that a student gets after a full year of instruction in regular classes.

Full on commitment + No other distractions = great results

Don’t tell my students, but my favorites are:

- A clock repairman stuck in time. La Condena de una Herencia
- A place story but not quite that. Tango, Amistad y Cinzano
- Beauty is in the details. Fragmentos
- A perfect portrait of one of Valparaiso’s longest lasting traditions. Adiós al Cerro
and the great photography in En la Caleta.

But please, explore the rest!
So enjoy and share the multimedia love!

Construction Photos

I adore construction sites. I suppose it’s because so much of my hometown of Ubly, Michigan works in construction (road and house). Nacho and I have been hired by an engineering firm here, in Santiago, to photograph their work. This was our first go. Nacho had the 70-200 2.8 on the 7d. I had the 16-35 on the 5d. They’ll be a prize for whomever manages to properly identify whose photos are whose, without looking at the exif data.

Audio setups and traveling light

My La Tercera gear is a Canon Rebel 2ti with a kit lens (28-70 f3.5-5.6) with one battery and a 4gb normal speed memory card. I purchased for myself an 8gb 30mb/s card, because the video needs memory and quick memory at that. I have access to a Sony HDR-SR7 avchd (a camera available in 2007-2008).

I also have access to great Sony lav mics and not so great for what I do omnidirectional mikes, courtesy of La Tercera’s video department, 3tv. Too, from time to time, I provide my Rode mic, the one that mounts to the hot shoe discussed in an earlier post.

I’ve been experimenting with different gear set-ups and recording systems. With the barest of materials, I’ve done some day projects in the past couple of weeks.

Overtime, one finds that batteries hold less and less charge. A reason for this is that the battery has a kind of a charge memory, and if one charges it when it is not completely empty or very, very empty, over time the battery will hold less and less charge (Battery technology is way better, and most people say there’s no memory, the problem is that the battery capacity diminishes over time). I’m trying to avoid this, so I run my batteries down to their barest. My battery has a great deal of life. I’m able to go out shooting 3 or 4 times, taking video, with a single charge but that last shoot runs a risk.

Iphone Voice Memo Audio: Miley’s fanatics

My last shoot of four on the charge that fed all of the videos in this post was the fans of Miley Cyrus waiting outside of her hotel for the tiniest glimpse of their idol. About 8 broll video clips and 2 short interviews into the shoot, my battery started flashing. I turned off the the video (live view devours battery) and went to pure stills. I used my Iphone for recording audio interviews for the first time ever. The crispness and clarity of the audio is outstanding. NOTE: Iphone explorer is a great tool that allows you to navigate and extract –among other things- voice memos or photos from your Iphone in a computer where your phone is not synced, allowing you to override this problem.

The challenges to this method were twofold. First, I had difficulty of transferring the clips to my computer. My iphone is not synced to my work computer because my music is on my home computer. I didn’t know what syncing it at that point would do to the day’s recordings, so I had to, instead, email the clips to myself. Although, advised by Nacho, I started this process while still in the field, the transferring of clips took forever over 3g and I was limited to an audio length of 2 minutes, which meant I needed to cut many before sending. Messy. I had a mass of 2 minute clips, many of which were repeats because it took so long for the clips to send, I would resend them thinking I hadn’t sent them.

This contributed to the second problem, sorting out who said what, because I did not have a visual of each subject speaking. In the future, if would be wise to snap a photo of each interviewee with iphone, to have an image with an iphone time linked or write down a frame number with the name.

In camera Canon Rebel Mic: Student protesters

This project documents a student march in pursuit of greater resources for public universities and better scholarships, we have an example of straight, off the camera audio. I put the camera as close as I could to the people I was interviewing. When background noise was subtle, the results were great. When there was a heap of noise, I worked to make the source of the noise clear (protestors).

You’ll notice that the background noise increases through the video as the excitement of the protest grows. I think it works, and it was more comfortable than fumbling with the rode mic doing interviews with the camera bobbling and me trying to make eye contact and encourage responses.

Sony Lav Mic’s on Sony HDR-SR7: Law for seatbelts on intercity buses

In this project/story about a change to the law requiring intercity bus passengers to wear seatbelts or face fines, I brought both cameras, a tripod and used the sony lavs to record sound. As with every city’s bus station I’ve ever visited, the bus station in Santiago is on the dodgier side and I had to be cautious. I kept the lav in my pocket, set the camera on a tripod next to me and sent only the microphone to the user. Bus stations can be very noisy. Certainly there is background noise, but I am not unhappy with the outcome.

Shotgun Rode mic on Canon Rebel: Problems with Santiago bus service

The final day project example I have is a video about problems with bus service in Santiago (the group of bus service providers known as Transantiago.) Here I did the Rode mic juggling, trying to get the mic as close to the mouth as possible while holding the camera, or alternately, with the microphone mounted on the hot shoe.

Neither holding the Rode in hand or mounting it gave outstanding results when the unavoidable street noise was present (I was conducting interviews at bus stops). I find the example of the student protests with the in-camera mic preferable. There, I was working next to one of the largest traffic circles in Santiago (Plaza Italia) and it sounds better than the more minor streets where I spoke to bus users. This is probably because I am able to hold the camera closer than I am the mic while also holding the camera, but the clarity stands.

NOTE from Nacho
Since this post I’ve been working with a couple of Newspapers on implementing a workflow for quick coverage on the field.
The most successful has been by using Evernote. It’s a simple app, available for Iphone, Android, Blackberry, Mac and PC. Evernote allows you to take notes, audio and photos and sync them online with the tap of a button. Just have your reporters in the field share a folder with you and then make them write, take photos or audio with it, hit sync and it’ll magically be in your desktop, thus allowing the editor to combine all the elements into a story.

The limit on the files is 25mb I think, much better than native Iphone recorder. Best of all, the content lives in the cloud and any desktop where that folder has been shared.

Preparing your images for the Web – quick and dirty

saturation_toning_specialolympics

Toning

All images need to have a true black and a true white. If printing in a dark room, this is one of the first elements you will be searching for. All digital images require toning. A big reason for this is the digital photography does not have the tonal range of film. Until we have digital cameras with true 64mega pixels (Although, I’ve heard it said that megapixels are a lie. I don’t know. This is the quick guide.)

raw_processing

Basic toning then, is giving a true black and a true white. I start this process by increasing the brightness and the blacks in my Raw Processing stage, but when I look again, I never find what I have done sufficient. So I go into my curves. And increase the blacks and the whites. I tend to do far more with the blacks than the whites. The curves themselves tell you where to go.

curves adjusted so

See where the curve starts on the left hand side? That’s the beginning of the blacks. You have to move your tonal marker here. See where the curve ends. That’s where the whites end. Thus, to have a true black and a true white, you need to have the photo’s curve begin at the beginning of the whites, and end at the end of the whites. I do like to crush the blacks a bit – go a little further, to make the image even richer and counteract the washing out effect of the web. I also tend to pull down at the center point a little to give a bit more contrast as well.

bus_example

Saturation

The web desaturates your images and videos. To counter this, it’s a good idea to boost the saturation of your images. Many of the best photographers do this regularly, and even to extreme. It’s a common contest related complaint that all the images are oversaturated. Those who win, however, tend to be oversaturated. I don’t know what to do with that. I’m noting it here but not worrying about it. Maybe it’s just the same as using Velvia. I say do what you think is right and don’t ever forget about your subject.

Regardless of the controversy, you, with your images and video on the web, will need saturation to even make things look right.

saturation
hue saturation dialogue slider

Images in Final Cut and the Web

Color profiles are incredibly important. You need to use the correct one for the color space in which you are going to be in, or you will lose all the beautiful adjustments you have made. When printing, nearly every paper type for each different printer has it’s own specific profile. That’s how important profiles are. There can be slight shifts in color and toning (very minor) when you make the transition, so if your image has only one destination, you should change the profile before making toning and saturation adjustments.

For Final Cut, you need to be in Apple RGB.

For the web, sRGB.

You can change the color profile by going to Edit > convert to Profile. Then you must select the appropriate profile.

convert to profile menu
convert to profile dialogue

You can also set the profile as you are Raw processing in Photoshop. The option is located at the bottom of the Raw dialogue box, where one is able to set the image size settings. Apple RGB is not an available choice here so you will have to convert later or investigate as to whether there is a way to add that to the options. (I’m guessing there is, but have never attempted).

Color profile and image size options in Raw processing dialogue
Color Profile dialogue in Raw processing menu

Mac vs. PC

Mac’s have lighter screens than PC’s. This means your work will be lighter on a Mac than a PC. Thus, for a Mac, you’ll have to do more saturation and have more contrast (contrast is what you create with toning.) I would hazard to say the majority of people in this industry use Mac’s. The overwhelming majority of the users in the world, however, use PC’s. I’ve never seen anyone do cross platform testing with their videos or photos. I guess the question is, are you creating for the general public, or the multimedia/photographic community?

Another photo that I would like to share

The below was the first example I worked on. To be fair, the Canon 5d MKII, in good light, has incredible tone and saturation, especially coupled with a polarizing filter, which means this made a poor example to try to explain a fault of tone and saturation. I would still do all of the steps noted, but to a novice, it would be hard to understand why. This was taken on the now closed train route between Mendoza, Argentina and Los Andes, Chile. Nacho and I played a lot of pass the camera that day, so neither of us can say definitively who took it. It is undeniably beautiful.

saturation_toning_train

Final Note – Expect More

There will be a part two to this post in the coming weeks. It will feature video color correcting screen shots from Final Cut, save for web and other instructional elements.

Here is a link to a very long discussion talking about tonal ranges with lots of graphs and charts comparing film to the now ancient 10D (my first camera.) It makes me feel guilty for crushing blacks, but Ansel Adams made huge prints for galleries and walls in homes, not the World Wide Web.

Stock: What I Know

Above, one of my gripping stock videos which, rejected one, is awaiting approval again.

The general flow of advice > freelancer > income > passive > stock. The idea is that one takes all of one’s scraps and puts them into the stock marketplace, sits back, and waits for the cash to start rolling in.

The stock model isn’t for photojournalists, however. The job of the photojournalist is to document the human experience. To document the human experience, one needs to have humans in the frame. In stock, in order to sell one’s images, one must have a model release. As a fashion/advertising photographer, model releases are standard, and the photographer can have the complete rights to every frame he or she has taken and can sell them to others for any purpose they desire (ie – advertising).

While the photojournalist has the rights to his images, he does not have the right to resell someone’s image for use other than journalism (editorial). Certainly one can walk around demanding that the people one photograph’s on the street sell their images and the photo has been taken, but one probably won’t get it. Even if one does, it seems manipulative.

Additional point, the material taken by staff photographers is generally owned by one’s paper. In the rights venue, if you use your boss’ camera to shoot, the images likely belong to him.

Launching in, I didn’t have material for stock photography. I did, however, have material for stock video. Nice for me, it was all HD, which fetches a higher price. I’ve heard of a number of sites to sell stock. There are tons. I have a cousin in the ad business. Somehow she is working with video mock-up’s of commercials, something like that. I don’t really know. I wrote her and asked her where she gets her stock. She said istock or Getty (they are linked. Getty is the more upscale version.) I knew Getty was more difficult to get into, so I applied to istock.

I got in. They told me quickly. After the acceptance, I uploaded videos (5 or 6 in the span of a week) and waited, perhaps two months. One was accepted, two were rejected, and two were somehow missed. I applied for exclusive status (that means the clips you submit have only been submitted to that service.) I was denied because of a vimeo account. (They don’t like that people can download videos free from there.) I deleted my vimeo account, and became exclusive.

So, now, I’m sitting back watching all that passive income roll in.

Or, not.

I kind of forgot about the account. I figured if something happened, they’d email me. Then, last week, I went to istock to look for an illustration for a website I’m working on. When I logged in, there was money in my account. It wasn’t a lot. Pretty little, in fact. I, however, was tickled to death that someone had bought my video. On three different occasions. I wouldn’t have to pay for the stock illustration I needed. Instead, I could just convert the money already on istock into credit. Peaches.

I’m guessing that is how my relationship with stock is going to continue. Little surprises when I need to buy something. It’s nice. I doubt it will ever be a significant portion of my income. I’m not investing enough time into it. The work involved is hardly passive.

That said, it is feasible to do really well in it. Istock, in particular, seems to be a good place to be. They have heaps of tutorials, and if they reject you, they tell you why. Obviously, key words are crucial (as they are in every web enterprise.) They have a post up in their community section about some Canadian Graphic Designer who started in 2004 who kept taking feedback and improving and used herself and her boyfriend frequently in her photos, and today is on her millionth download. The resources are there to be the ideal stock shooter. I’m just kind of busy with other things right now.

They are thorough in training. I will reiterate the important points here. Releases – recognizable person – always, recognizable location, probably. No logos or brand names. No bad video. They go frame by frame. Compression issues will get you. Not listed in the training – the wait for review takes a very long time. The 5d shoots beautifully. Without releases, one is limited to inanimate objects without visible brand names – there’s a lot of competition in that area.

Really, really fun example from the world of stock. One political party in Northern Ireland (DUP) used a stock image of a woman for one of their ads for MP, with the ad reading, “I want an MP who answers to us, not to the Tories.” Their opponents (UCU) found the source of stock, and used another image of the same woman in a billboard opposing the other party. The tag line is “Actually, on second thoughts, I want my MP to be at the heart of the Union.” Found that via a vised’s tweet.

Reporting in disaster zones – Part 2

When communications fail it’s really hard to deliver your material to your contractors. Yes, digital media helps in capturing and editing material far faster than traditional media, but also consumes an enormous amount of power (laptop and camera batteries) and requires a steady data connection in order to transmit, which was non-existent at the time.

Power, if you need it, beg for it.
There’s always someone who’s been cautious enough to have a generator.
Just look for the only light on in town, head that way and explain them. Here’s why they will let you, probably no one has been able to send info or material to their editors, because no one in the rest of the country knows how that area is doing, and so getting that info ASAP could mean faster help to that town.
Power, saving battery life while editing
I love my Macbook Pro. It’s not the latest model, but the battery is supposed to last for 3 hours.  You probably know that’s not true, especially when editing video.
So, a few tips:
- Turn off your Wi-fi (if on, it looks for connection, wasting a lot of battery), dim the screen light, remove any peripherals you don’t need, turn off keyboard lights and make your fans go off when your computer really needs them (using Fan Control)
- When editing your interviews, turn off the video layer, just listen to it, since your shot is on a tripod, you don’t need that. When editing B-roll, don’t play it, just scroll through your material or hit on different spots of the timeline, you’ll get enough info to do the cuts.
- Rendering. It’s a bitch. Avoid any effects or multilayering to avoid it. If you have to render, turn off your screen to save some juice, same as when exporting. Just listen to your computer, you’ll hear your fans slow down when done exporting or rendering.
Photos (I love my Iphone, Part 1)
As I said before, having no cellphone coverage sucks. But here’s the thing. When coverage fails, sometimes data still works. Don’t know the reason, but sometimes it does. Also, looking for high spots, might give you a bit of coverage, enough to do the following:
- Ingest your photos in your computer, process them and save them in your pictures folder. Plug in your Iphone, open Itunes and turn off all syncing options BUT the picture folder. Sync it and you’ll have the photos in your phone, Itunes optimizes them and makes them 640X480. I know, small, but you know what? Files are really small and your editors will have those photos before anyone else.
Once done, select them all and email them. The minute you get some sort of reception, your files will be sent.  I spent almost 3 hours in Talca and surroundings looking for coverage until I got EDGE network at around 4am.
Remember that cellphones use radio waves so, a clear night and no interference can help those waves get further. I went to the same spot later that day and got nothing.
Be sure to have your Iphone configured to send BCC to your email, that way you’ll know if it arrived to its destination
Audio (I love my Iphone, Part 2)
I’m fully surprised. The iphone mic rules. Quality is superb even for getting ambient audio. Conduct your interviews, spell the subject names and that’s it. Just be sure to look at the timer, because the phone has a 2 minutes maximum per clip to be sent over cellphone. When done, email it or ingest to your computer, edit the material and follow the instructions for the photos and voilá. The minute you get coverage, your email will go on its way.
NOTE: Be sure to keep your phone in airplane mode when doing this, just turn it on
when looking for coverage or in a point where you know there’s coverage.
Data
Graphics people need it. So gather as much as you can, streets, exact addresses, area affected, length of , for example, the earthquake, how far did the wave reached, how tall it was, etc. This would be enough for them in order to create a map. Google maps can be used to look for the addresses and find exact places.
Again, write an email with all of it, when you get coverage, it’ll be sent.
Free Wi-Fi
One night I was lucky enough someone had set up a free antenna. Ask the Police, Fire Station or Radios, even people in the street.
But remember, what once worked, doesn’t mean it will be there again.
Ethics
Please, please, please, follow the rules. Respect people above all. Believe me, they will cooperate, they want their story told. The faster and better it reaches the media, the more help they’ll receive because eyes will be on that community.
Toning Images: I got disgusted when coming back home and seeing over-toned photos, for example, bringing earth tones up and removing shadows and adding light. Really, your job is to report and submit ASAP in order to inform about the situation. Be fair with the people. It’s already dramatic to lose your belongings and sometimes lives of people you love, believe me, you don’t need to add “drama” to your photos.
Report accurately: You owe it to the people. Don’t over dramatize. Just heard in a video a reporter say that “the smell of death” was starting to be felt underneath the rubble in Talca downtown. I was there, in the exact same street where he did his report and no one died. In fact, no one died in several streets around. I’m not completely certain, but I’m almost sure no one did in Talca’s downtown.
So please, don’t exaggerate and report properly. Can you imagine having your family living in the area and watching a video that mentions that “you can smell decomposing flesh in the air”?

(Photos at the end of the post)

When communications fail it’s really hard to deliver your material to your contractors. Yes, digital media helps in capturing and editing material far faster than traditional media, but also consumes an enormous amount of power (laptop and camera batteries) and requires a steady data connection in order to transmit, which was non-existent at the time.

Power, if you need it, beg for it.
There’s always someone who’s been cautious enough to have a generator.

Just look for the only light on in town, head that way and explain them. Here’s why they will let you, probably no one has been able to send info or material to their editors, because no one in the rest of the country knows how that area is doing, and so getting that info ASAP could mean faster help to that town.

Power, saving battery life while editing
I love my Macbook Pro. It’s not the latest model, but the battery is supposed to last for 3 hours.  You probably know that’s not true, especially when editing video.

So, a few tips:
- Turn off your Wi-fi (if on, it looks for connection, wasting a lot of battery), dim the screen light, remove any peripherals you don’t need, turn off keyboard lights and make your fans go off when your computer really needs them (using Fan Control)

- When editing your interviews, turn off the video layer, just listen to it, since your shot is on a tripod, you don’t need that. When editing B-roll, don’t play it, just scroll through your material or hit on different spots of the timeline, you’ll get enough info to do the cuts.

- Rendering. It’s a bitch. Avoid any effects or multilayering to avoid it. If you have to render, turn off your screen to save some juice, same as when exporting. Just listen to your computer, you’ll hear your fans slow down when done exporting or rendering.

Photos (I love my Iphone, Part 1)
As I said before, having no cellphone coverage sucks. But here’s the thing. When coverage fails, sometimes data still works. Don’t know the reason, but sometimes it does. Also, looking for high spots, might give you a bit of coverage, enough to do the following:

- Ingest your photos in your computer, process them and save them in your pictures folder. Plug in your Iphone, open Itunes and turn off all syncing options BUT the picture folder. Sync it and you’ll have the photos in your phone, Itunes optimizes them and makes them 640X480. I know, small, but you know what? Files are really small and your editors will have those photos before anyone else.

Once done, select them all and email them. The minute you get some sort of reception, your files will be sent.  I spent almost 3 hours in Talca and surroundings looking for coverage until I got EDGE network at around 4am.

Remember that cellphones use radio waves so, a clear night and no interference can help those waves get further. I went to the same spot later that day and got nothing.

Be sure to have your Iphone configured to send BCC to your email, that way you’ll know if it arrived to its destination

Audio (I love my Iphone, Part 2)

I’m fully surprised. The iphone mic rules. Quality is superb even for getting ambient audio. Conduct your interviews, spell the subject names and that’s it. Just be sure to look at the timer, because the phone has a 2 minutes maximum per clip to be sent over cellphone. When done, email it or ingest to your computer, edit the material and follow the instructions for the photos and voilá. The minute you get coverage, your email will go on its way.

NOTE: Be sure to keep your phone in airplane mode when doing this, just turn it on when looking for coverage or in a point where you know there’s coverage.

Data

Graphics people need it. So gather as much as you can, streets, exact addresses, area affected, length of , for example, the earthquake, how far did the wave reached, how tall it was, etc. This would be enough for them in order to create a map. Google maps can be used to look for the addresses and find exact places.

Again, write an email with all of it, when you get coverage, it’ll be sent.

Free Wi-Fi

One night I was lucky enough someone had set up a free antenna. Ask the Police, Fire Station or Radios, even people in the street.

But remember, what once worked, doesn’t mean it will be there again.

Ethics

Please, please, please, follow the rules. Respect people above all. Believe me, they will cooperate, they want their story told. The faster and better it reaches the media, the more help they’ll receive because eyes will be on that community.

Toning Images: I got disgusted when coming back home and seeing over-toned photos, for example, bringing earth tones up and removing shadows and adding light. Really, your job is to report and submit ASAP in order to inform about the situation. Be fair with the people. It’s already dramatic to lose your belongings and sometimes lives of people you love, believe me, you don’t need to add “drama” to your photos.

Report accurately: You owe it to the people. Don’t over dramatize. Just heard in a video a reporter say that “the smell of death” was starting to be felt underneath the rubble in Talca downtown. I was there, in the exact same street where he did his report and no one died. In fact, no one died in several streets around. I’m not completely certain, but I’m almost sure no one did in Talca’s downtown.

So please, don’t exaggerate and report properly. Can you imagine having your family living in the area and watching a video that mentions that “you can smell decomposing flesh in the air”?