Strike up the band – fire up your laptop – or better still head to Las Vegas to meet us in person. The largest gathering of video professionals from the worlds of TV, cinema and web is now just three days away, and the Newsshooter team are poised to bring you in-depth and exclusive coverage as it breaks. We’ll be reporting live from the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) with our biggest crew to date. Thanks to our sponsors Teradek, Rode and Kessler, we have a 10-strong reporting team on site led by our very own Dan Chung and Matt Allard. Thanks to Teradek, we will once again be holding a number of live discussion panels and showcasing new video gear, which you can view live on our livestream right here on the site, alongside regular news reports and videos of the show’s many gems.
The Newsshooter.com team shirts ready for NAB 2013
There will be three teams on the show floor filming the live and pre-recorded pieces. Alongside Dan and Matt will be Phil Artnz, Jonah Kessel, Clinton Harn, Rick Macomber, Chuck Fadley, Jonas Schoenstein, Scott Karlins, and me, providing the words.
Our live debates will cover topics including the headline-grabbing ‘Is DSLR dead?’, ‘The state of newspaper video’, and ‘Innovations in documentary film making’. Other talks will include industry professionals from manufacturers such as Black Magic, Sony and KineRAW, and providing great insight into their latest gear and maybe a hint of what is to come.
We’d like to thank Teradek and Kessler for their continued support and welcome Rode microphones as our newest sponsor. Make sure you check back regularly over the coming days for more information, including the broadcast times for our live streams. If you’re a fellow news shooter at the show, please come along and hang out with us, help out, join the team, or just get drunk.
Newshooters may have a reputation as hard-hearted, but when I posted about award-winning multimedia journalist Tracey Shelton’s equipment woes, the response was instant and remarkable. Not only did readers pile in with advice, but two – Columbia J School grads Mayeta Clark and Nick Stone – even set up an Indiegogo campaign to help her buy a decent kit. Donations will be rewarded with everything from eternal gratitude ($5 – a bargain) to an update from the field via Skype ($500). For $250 you get a set of three prints. For me, it’s a pretty depressing world in which a new shooter who’s won such acclaim can’t afford to replace worn-out equipment. But for those who like to look on the bright side, this is a practical way to help out Tracey and allow her to continue her outstanding work.
As I’m sure you all know Matt’s day job is for the Al Jazeera English TV network, based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. A veteran news cameraman with over 23 years of experience, Matt be sharing his recent experiences of using large sensor cameras to cover the news. He currently shoots with the Sony F3, FS700 and has recently bought the new F55.
In his spare time he has been very generous in regularly sharing his knowledge and experience here on the blog. His commitment to telling stories that are both touching and beautifully shot is unmatched in my opinion. He was awarded multiple Australian Cinematographers Society awards this year for his outstanding work.
Fresh from attending the NAB show in Las Vegas I’m sure he’ll also able to talk about the latest and greatest gadgets too.
The event runs from 6:00 to 8:00pm on Thurday, April 17 at Rule Boston Camera
If you wish to attend please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org
What kit should an award-winning multimedia journalist buy when it is time to upgrade? Tracey Shelton has been using the same Canon EOS 7D and “beaten up old lenses” since she started filming in Syria. They’ve helped her to win the the prestigious George Polk Award for Video Reporting and also a POYI award of excellence for her video from the warzone (recognising her work for the Global Post website), but she finally has a chance to buy new gear – and she needs advice.
She’s just back from Aleppo and says she needs to pack light and small, working for “anything up to a month in Syria… My full kit, laptop and clothes need to fit into a bag light enough to run away from bullets with.“
For that reason she is insistent on having just one camera that shoots both stills and video. “It’s also easier to have the one camera than juggling two…The 7D has been fine, could be better of course, but it’s done ok until now.”
Tracey Shelton working with her 7D
Her current kit consists of the 7D with Canon 28-105mm and a Canon 100-300mm but she says “the lenses I have need to go in the bin”.
Her budget is very tight – $2000 US. Her options are to keep the 7D body and buy new lenses or buy a whole new kit. She says she can’t afford two L series Canon lenses, and even if she could she worries they would be too heavy for “frontline gear”. She wonders if there is “a cheaper option that will give me close to the same quality – preferably a little lighter although I know that means less quality”.
She would also like to add a fast prime lens to the outfit and is prepared to consider used gear if it means she can stay in her budget.
The most logical camera that fits the bill is the photojournalist’s favourite, the Canon 5D mkIII, but on Tracey’s budget that is clearly ruled out.
A cheaper full-frame body such as the Nikon D600 would be ideal but would require more budget
My advice to Tracey has been to try and extend her budget to afford one of the cheaper full-frame DSLRs – either the Nikon D600 or Canon 6D – or find a good deal on a used 5D mkII. All these cameras should have better video quality than the 7D, and better stills too.
A move to Nikon would mean additional cost for batteries and other accessories, but would mean she could monitor audio with headphones – an option sadly lacking in cheaper Canons.
Any new camera body would leave very little for lenses so I would suggest going for a used Tokina AT-X 28-70 f2.8 (good for video but slow AF for stills) or another Canon 24-105mm f4L (assuming she stays with Canon).
For a Canon long lens I would go for a used 70-200mm f4L which is both sharp and lightweight, or maybe a newer 70-300 f4-5.6 L IS if extra money could be found. Nikon options are more limited but inexpensive, high quality yet light weight zooms – especially ones with fast AF for stills. The logical lens is the new Nikon 70-200 f4 VR but it’s out of Tracey’s price range, so I would probably get a newer Tamron 70-300 stabilised lens.
An inexpensive Canon 50mm f1.8 (ideally a used MKI version) or Nikon 50mm f1.8 would be an option for adding a fast prime for full frame cameras. If Tracey stays with the 7D then the outgoing version of the Sigma 30mm f1.4 lens would seem like a good candidate as it is highly discounted right now.
The Panasonic GH3 would be a more radical option for Tracey
There is also the more radical option of going for a micro 4/3 system instead. The Panasonic GH3 and GH2 would be possibilities. The GH3 in particular has a reasonable video image and headphone monitoring. Lenses and cameras are very compact and well suited to running around. Shallow depth of field looks are harder to achieve but for war video this may not be essential.
The major downside of the GH cameras for Tracey would be their stills capabilities. They can’t compete with Canon or Nikon for shallow depth of field look and low light performance (at least not without expensive glass). The electronic viewfinders, while much better than before, are not as good as a reflex finder in an action situation. I think it would be worth Tracey considering whether she could live with these compromises for the sake of gaining a lighter weight camera system.
If you have any better suggestions or experience with any of the kit we are discussing please chime in.
You can see more of Tracey’s award-winning work from Syria and a discussion with her about witnessing the deaths of rebel fighters here.
Two years ago on the 11th of March a devastating earthquake and tsunami ripped into the north east coast of Japan. It killed more than 20,000 people, totally destroyed more than 120,000 buildings and damaged close to a million more. The cost of the disaster has been estimated at more than 300 billion dollars.
Today 310,000 people are still living in temporary housing. The anxiety and uncertainty of many of the survivors is clear to see. People are trying to move on with their lives, but the slow speed of reconstruction has left many feeling trapped and isolated. Suicide and cases of domestic abuse are also on the rise.
I have been traveling back to Japan on a frequent basis ever since March 11th, 2011. In this time I have seen and met many inspirational people who despite having lost everything continue to try and move forward. Their stories are often haunting and hard for them to tell. On many occasions I have had tears in my eyes while filming and listening. Covering natural disasters is a difficult thing for any journalist. On one hand you are there to do a job but on another level it is important to be respectful and to understand the people you are interviewing or shooting.
Over these last 2 years I have learnt a lot about how to cover these type of stories. I still cringe every time I see other news crews shoving cameras in peoples faces during the worst moments of their lives. Yes we all go to get good pictures, but there are other ways to do it. Give the people you are dealing with space, respect and take time to listen to their story. It isn’t your story – it is their story. If you remember this you can go a long way to creating a better news report. I often choose to move a distance away and use long zooms when filming people in difficult circumstances. I find that if you give people space and move out of their line of sight you give that person time to reflect and be alone with their thoughts and emotions. Often, standing two meters away right in front of someone is just going to make them uncomfortable and take them out of the moment. By being more like a fly on the wall you allow people to behave and react in more natural way. On this story this exactly what I did. I followed Ryoichi Usuzawa back to the ruins of his house. I left him alone and didn’t direct him, I just observed. I stood behind him and let him forget I was there. Ryoichi does not go back to his house often as it is hard for him to do. This is the exact spot where he came so close to losing his life. His dog Taro was with him at the time and the trauma they both went through still runs deep within them. I stayed quiet as he got lost in the moment. I moved slightly to the side of him but kept well away. By doing this I hope he was able to feel like he was there without a news crew, I got to see a lot more natural response than if I had told him to walk here or there. In these circumstances I find that less is more.
The style I chose to shoot in largely depends on the type of story. Every story should have a common look or flow throughout it. I purposely shot a lot of the footage heavily back lit and with the use of a lot of flare. Ryoichi was there remembering a tragic time in his life and I wanted the shots to reflect this. I also applied this same type of shooting technique when capturing 14 year old Koyuki Iwama playing a flute where her grandfather had died.
I find when filming heartfelt interviews in situations like this it is a good idea to shoot them on a long lens and to also resist the temptation to use reflectors or lights. The reasoning for this is to try and make the person feel as comfortable as possible. Having a bright light or reflector in your face doesn’t make anybody feel comfortable. All the Interviews and shots were done with available light except the Interview with the government spokesman.
I also used a dolly for some subtle movement on a couple of the shots including the stand up.
My second story is about the on going fallout from the Fukushima nuclear disaster. People are still very much feeling the effects and they will be for a very long time. Analysts have said that it may take take 40 years before the Fukushima plant is fully shut down. TEPCO who own the plant say it is running out of space to store contaminated water used to cool the reactors. They are considering dumping it into the ocean. More than 1,700 people are suing the power plant operator. Mikio Watanabe, a farmer, is just one of them. His story was heartbreaking. Watanabe lives more than 40km northeast from the nuclear power plant but the area where he and his wife lived has been deemed too dangerous to live in. Before the disaster Mikio says his wife was always cheerful, enjoying their life tending to chickens. After the nuclear disaster they had to move to a temporary shelter, and forced to stay indoors. Having lost the life they so enjoyed he says his wife slid into depression. He went on to explain that “the night before she killed herself, she held onto my hands so hard, and refused to let go”. The next morning, Watanabe was outdoors alone, tending to the garden, when he noticed a flame go up by a tree in the front yard. It was only a few hours later that he discovered his wife had set herself on fire.
It was very difficult listening to his story. We had ventured back to his house where he is allowed to go for a few hours but is not allowed to stay over night. I filmed him inside his house and then he showed us the spot where his wife had committed suicide. Again I chose to shoot most of the shots from a distance as to give him time with his thoughts.
The opening part of the story was shot in a forest in Fukushima that still has very high levels of radiation. It was important to limit our time in this area and shoot it as quickly as possible. We were there quite late in the afternoon and the light was fading fast. With the sun already on the other side of the mountain it created a very high contrast shooting environment. I chose to use this to my advantage. They are measuring high levels of radiation here and I didn’t want it to look like just any other forest. By having a very dark, extremely back lit shot I hoped I was able to encapsulate the feeling that this forest had a darker side to it. Luckily I was shooting S-log on my Sony F3 so I was able to capture the high dynamic range of the scene with a little more ease. The interview was done after the other shots and I was quickly running out of light. I resisted the urge to use a light because It would not have cut in well with other shots. For me the theme and mood of the story is more important than making the technical aspects perfect.
I hope I was able to capture and reflect accurately the people’s stories because at the end of the day that is what it is ultimately all about.
About Matthew Allard, Aljazeera Team Leader Cameras, Kuala Lumpur:
Matt has been a Camera/Editor in TV news for more 22 years, previously working for both Channel 9 and Channel 10 in Australia. Twice Network Ten Australia’s cameraman of the year as well as being a Walkley Finalist for outstanding camerawork in 2006 (for coverage of the Cronulla Race Riots) and a Logie Finalist for outstanding news coverage 2006 (Bali 9). He has won 14 ACS (Australian Cinematographers Society) awards. His Sword Maker story that was shot on a 7D won the prestigious Neil Davis International News Golden Tripod at the 2011 ACS Awards. He has covered news events in more than 35 countries, from major sporting events to terrorist bombings. Based out of the Kuala Lumpur broadcast centre in Malaysia he is an avid user and follower of new technology, shooting stories on HD broadcast cameras, the Sony FS700 and F3 as well as Canon DSLRs.
The Canon5D mkII changed my life. Before that I’d been a news and documentary shooter shooting on a full-sized ENG camera. When I first started shooting with DSLRs it was hard for me to quickly get a lot of shots when using a tripod. The depth of field is really shallow, there was no way to monitor the image properly because of the silly 480p stretched HDMI output on the 5D mkII, and it lacks focus peaking. To overcome this I always used a Zacuto Z-Finder – but on a tripod it gets a little awkward holding your eye to the Z-finder. So, except sometimes interviews, I shot mainly handheld with a Zacuto Tactical Shooter rig.
The Canon C300 overcomes these problems with its great LCD and nice focus peaking function (even though this is still no match for peaking on a proper ENG camera viewfinder). Unlike the 5D there is no loss of speed when shooting on a tripod. I also like the feeling handheld camerawork gives C300 images; I think it is much more organic and puts viewers right in the action.
A C300 frame grab from the documentary
Hand-held and stripped down
For The People’s Republic of Love I shot everything handheld, except interviews (because we had 45 of them!), and I shot it in a very-stripped down way. First, I took off the LCD/XLR module. You don’t really need this unless you’re doing an interview or need to synch the sound. The C300 has a great viewfinder, and the LCD isn’t necessary when working handheld. When the camera’s right up against your eye, it’s also more stable. Without the LCD/XLR module and a shotgun mic, the C300 has no sound. To remedy this I attach a Sennheiser MKE-400 mini shotgun which plugs into the C300′s minijack mic input. This is a great little mic, powered by a single AAA battery yet very powerful and small. When we shot b-roll in restricted places where even a small mic might attract attention – like shopping malls or Tiananmen Square, I’d take the MKE400 off too, leaving no sound. The soundman would record some ambiance onto a Zoom or Tascam. This works fine – it’s just more work in post. I also took off the handle. The handle makes the camera easy to carry but without it, the C300 could pass for an oddly-sized stills camera. The Zacuto baseplate I bought came off after a few shoots, too. I hate matte boxes and rarely use them, and that baseplate is a full inch of extra metal!
Handholding the C300
After a few weeks I rarely used support while handheld. I’m not a fan of medium shots. I like to be super-wide (16mm on a full-frame) or very close. If you have the C300 viewfinder up against your eye a support rig is not necessary to keep it steady for super-wide shots. For close-ups, if the lens has a very good image stabilizer (like the Canon 70-300mm recommended to me by DSLRnewsshooter editor, Dan Chung), then you can get away without support, just holding the camera up to your eye.
If we were in a location where we had permission to shoot I would sometimes use a monopod. I always thought that video cameras look funny on monopods – and they do – but the results are great. If you’re trying to get that subtle floating handheld look then a monopod is very handy for long-lens shots. I used the Manfrotto 694CX.
So here is the point I wish someone had told me in the beginning. To shoot great handheld footage with the C300 you don’t need anything except the camera body and lens. No LCD attachment, no expensive stabilizer rigs. Just hold the viewfinder against your eye. Shooting stripped-down left a very small footprint. In some of the locations we filmed in, you do NOT want people to realize you’re shooting a documentary, especially in China! Most of the time people didn’t know we were shooting video.
For interviews, the camera had everything on it: LCD/XLR module, tripod, monitor, the lot. I highly recommend using a small monitor on a light stand, next to the camera as a reference. I try to keep the LCD screen uncluttered but when you have audio meters, battery info, and other essential overlays, it can affect composition. A simple HDMI monitor gives you something to properly assess the composition. I used a SmallHD DP6, which works very well. The whole monitor setup fits in a plastic Tupperware-style container: monitor, stand attachment, two batteries, and HDMI.
Most of the documentary was shot using a Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8, Canon 17-55mm f/2.8, and Canon 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS. I started using the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L more as shooting went on because I feel the 17-55mm is not sharp enough, despite its reputation. On a 7D you can’t tell but on a C300 the loss of sharpness is noticeable. I also used the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L, and once or twice a 24mm f/1.4L, 35mm f/1.4L, 50mm f/1.2L, and 8-15mm f/4L.
Interviews made easy with the C300 and a SmallHD DP6 monitor
I shot almost everything in standard picture profile. When we started I had big plans to shoot in Canon’s LOG profile but after a week I switched to standard profiles. The LOG C footage looked horrible after a simple grade. I have a basic knowledge of color correction but when I added the Look up tables, the picture looked very noisy, even when shooting at native ISO 850. I hope Dslrnewsshooter does some posts on color grading C300 footage soon.
LOG C takes away a lot of light and, with the full LOG C profile, the sharpness is at -15. I often turn off the sharpness on the Sony F900R and EX1 when I want something to look a little less like video but the softness is very noticeable with a -15 setting on the C300. You can even see it in the peaking when you’re shooting. I’m still not happy with the standard picture profiles. To me they look slightly desaturated and drab. All of that is fixable in post, but I always like a nice image right out of the camera. Especially when shooting for clients, as you never know if they’re really going to color grade the footage or not.
For ISO, I usually shot at the C300’s native ISO 850. When we started shooting I didn’t know the camera well enough to push it up past ISO 1250. I slowly learned though, that the image is fine at 1600, 2000, 2500, and is even very useable at 3200. The C300’s biggest weakness is that it’s not full-frame. Why Canon doesn’t make a full-frame version in this range is beyond me [currently the EOS 1D C is its only full-frame dedicated video offering]. There are many more full-frame EOS lenses out there than ‘legacy’ Super35 film lenses.
The C300 is incredible in low light
Since we put the trailers for The People’s Republic of Love online, the response has been enormous. We initially only posted a YouTube trailer and an article by producer Joe Xu on ChinaSMACK.com. In the first week we were getting a thousand hits every day and had broadcasters, distributors, and even a very large film festival contact us. We are now deep in writing and creating different versions for different broadcasters, and The People’s Republic of Love will show later this year.
The results of this year’s multimedia category of the World Press Photo awards which we reported a couple of weeks ago have once again sparked a lively debate. We asked some of our regular contributors for their reactions, including Duy Linh Tu, head of Digital Media at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, DJ Clark, director of Multimedia Journalism at the Asia centre of Journalism and course leader on the MA International Multimedia Journalism at Beijing Foreign Studies University, Sharron Lovell, multimedia journalist and lecturer on the MA International Multimedia Journalism at the Asia centre of Journalism, Jonah M. Kessel, multimedia journalist for the New York Times in Beijing, and our very own Dan Chung.
First prize in the Online feature category: Too Young to Wed. Executive producer, photographer and additional videographer: Stephanie Sinclair, VII Photo Agency. Director and cinematographer: Jessica Dimmock, VII Photo Agency. Production supervisor: Alina Grosman. Production assistant: Tesfaye Almnew. Translator: Simengnish Yekoye
What did you think of the winners; the overall quality, the technical quality and story?
Jonah Kessel: There’s no real difference between the online story and the feature story, apart from duration. Even then, the features are a minute longer, two minutes longer. Dreams of Freewheelers (third prize in the online feature category below); that one is actually a little different. The other five winners are all a formula. You don’t see any live action. It’s literally an interview – half the time a single interview – followed by representative imagery. It’s a very basic formula and, to me, that shows almost no originality or storytelling.
I can go to Vimeo any day of the week and find much better productions from independent filmmakers or do-it-yourself filmmakers, people that aren’t even filmmakers. They opened the door this year, which was really great. They allowed for content that didn’t have to have stills. But they are obviously favouring productions with stills. The formula is, ‘Okay, lets interview somebody on video but then show still pictures of things because we’re actually still photographers and we’re being forced into a multimedia world and it’s easy for us to turn on our camera and record a conversation’. The visual story doesn’t segment; there’s no sequencing. There’s one scene, in ‘Dying for relief’, where we see a guy take a puff of a cigarette then put the cigarette on the ashtray. In the first five videos, that’s the only time where I saw a sequence, and for me that doesn’t show thought. If we’re just seeing random pictures, and hearing words, it’s like an audio slideshow.
Duy Linh Tu: First, it’s always great when visual journalists are honoured and recognised for their commitment to the craft. It’s obvious that the winners in all the categories are first-class photographers. They know how to make pictures. However, I come from a narrative documentary background, so seen through that lens, these pieces do fall short in terms of story. Many of these pieces rely too much on the very stale technique of interviews covered by great photography or b-roll. These pieces lacked scenes and true narratives; I saw no change over time, no drama, no reveal, no resolution.
DJ Clark: The overall quality of the winners is better this year. There is still clearly a long way to go for photographers to match their documentary film counterparts for video technical quality and story, but they are going in the right direction.
Sharron Lovell: I think WPP’s multimedia awards are still in an awkward stage and position. As a practice, multimedia journalism is fairly simple to define – using multiple media to convey stories and information. As a project or package things get trickier. With the exception of the interactive documentary section, the WPPawards feel like a multimedia award targeted to a generation of traditional photojournalists who also shoot video with their cameras. Categories need further clarification and participants need to be drawn from wider disciplines to drive quality and make the awards really credible.
In terms of the aims set out by the category awards (news value, storytelling and narrative and strong visuals) winning entries came in a mixed bag. The online short winner “Into the Shadows” had strong visuals but little else. I liked the shorts second place “Living with a Secret” for its original, interesting topic, which was thoughtfully relayed. However, for me it did miss the crucial voice of the main character to really take it to the next level of my understanding the issue. “Too Young to Wed”, the online feature winner, is fantastic; I can forgive less than perfect video technique for intimate insight into an important story. There’s depth and intimacy, and a candidness of interview that only comes with a lot of hard work; this story has a nuance and respect that blasts through the usual stereotypes. “Bitter Pill” was also a favourite; again, the topic was really newsworthy and, even though it’s not entirely new, it was told in an original way that for me had impact.
Dan Chung: I wouldn’t want to take away from what the winners have achieved; there is some great work. Especially the interactive category. I’m not saying the other work is bad, far from it, but I find it incredible to believe that in the great wide world out there, that this is the best. I think technically there are major issues with most of the pieces, if not all of the pieces.
Does the technical quality of the video matter for this award? Should WPP be awarding work that has mediocre video?
Jonah Kessel: At a certain point, it doesn’t matter if your video is technically sound; you can still make an impactful video. However, as a society rewarding multimedia pieces, it does matter.
A multimedia piece given an award should have excellent story, excellent technical ability, it should be creative, everything should be there. Leaving out the interactive stuff for now, these six pieces are, technically speaking, not so hot. They all look super digital, there are overexposure problems, the audio’s crap, I can hear the camera moving sometimes. All the shutter speeds are up at 1/2000th half the time, there are no ND filters used. Does this matter to the audience? To me it makes them not look like film. It’s taken me years as a visual journalist to get to that point where I really see a difference in videos, where people are actually using the 180 degree rule, where people are using techniques that make the 5D useable. These people aren’t paying attention to the technical stuff. Why are these winning? They all have merit for sure, but are they the best in the world? Not even close!
In every example all we see is someone doing an interview and later in time piecing it together, except for the Chinese production from Southern Weekend (Dreams on freewheels). This was by far my favourite and a lot of it was because you felt like you were there. You see the coach talking to the people, then you combine that with interviews, and you show these characters. It was the only one which had a narrative, it was the only one which had sequencing.
Duy Linh Tu: “Multimedia” is a funny word. It has been co-opted by many to mean photos mixed with audio and sometimes video. But for the average viewer, when they hit that “play” arrow, they expect video. Viewers don’t make distinctions about what cameras were shot, what techniques were used, etc. They expect a video that plays with audio and motion images. WPP should have paid more attention to the video aspect of these productions. In many cases, the shooters were still making classic HDSLR mistakes such as shooting everything at F/1.4. But a bigger crime, in my opinion, was that these moving images did not add up to meaningful sequences or scenes. In most cases, they were merely extended stills; i.e. photos recorded for many seconds instead of a moment.
DJ Clark: World Press Photo has always existed to support, showcase and reward photojournalists. Increasingly photojournalists are being asked to shoot video, as well as or instead of stills, and many are finding the transition difficult. In that context I think it is appropriate for WPP to award photographers who are making a go of that transition. As for the video quality, it’s difficult to call without seeing all the entries.
Sharron Lovell: Yes, the video work does seem poor and quite disappointing. I think multimedia productions, of the type WPP are aiming to award, offer opportunities for shooters to break out of traditional news video moulds and to be more creative and experimental. However, we are seeing a lot of tradition breaking but little of anything thoughtful or crafted replacing it.
Dan Chung: There are clearly rules by which you win the WPP photography competition, which require, not technical perfection, but an understanding of the aesthetics; an understanding of position; the understanding of the significance of your subject and their story, and its place in the world; and the fact that you’ve conveyed that in a way the audience responds to. Those criteria are not met when they move it into the multimedia space. So, certainly the video element is quite often not aesthetically verging on perfection. It’s not journalistically, in terms of storytelling, verging on perfection. It isn’t necessarily of the moment, in the way the spot news categories of the World Press are. I didn’t see any significant moment in time or in multimedia – a little in the Chinese piece – and I think if you pull all of that together, what you end up with is a competition that doesn’t celebrate, in multimedia, the same ideals that the competition celebrates in photo. Technical ability or at least recognition of elements, such as composition, light and shade, and everything else we talk about as photographers, are supremely important in the World Press. Occasionally they award a great bit of citizen journalism but on the whole the winning entries, most of them, are really good sound pieces of creative photography, and that’s just not true in multimedia. I fail to believe that it doesn’t exist. It does; we look at it every day. So the question is either how is it judged or who is entering? And if they’re not entering, why not?
Other discussions are over whether the Aleppo Battleground piece, by Jérôme Sessini of Magnum Photos for Le Monde, should win given that it shows a photographer taking clear risks. Are WPP right to do that?
Jonah Kessel: I don’t have a problem with photographers taking risks. I have a problem with them awarding this piece. I can show you ten other examples of multimedia done there that are better and show a greater understanding of the issue. We all know that that as a photographer in a war zone, you’re putting yourself at risk. That’s not new, that’s not news. Strapping a GoPro to your head, it’s a one button operation, and maybe you’re going to photograph your own death but that’s it.
This is the point of the contest – to show multimedia, and how it’s making the world understand things differently and better. This helps us understand the journalist’s job, and maybe you can say that’s part of it, but I think it’s almost insulting to the other journalists in Syria, to give an award like that.
Duy Linh Tu: I think this piece was great in that it showed exactly what a photographer sees and goes through. The story was one about war photography, not the war itself. So, I think it was fine for WPP to give this piece the award.
DJ Clark: I would have fought against this decision, had I been on the panel. I don’t think the WPP awards should be about the photographer.
Sharron Lovell: I think photojournalism awards have, in general, evolved and encouraged photographers to take risks in conflict zones, particularly younger photographers trying to make their mark. Maybe we don’t usually see the back story in such a clear light as in this production but the seduction is still there. So, in that context I don’t see this award as any more worrying than any others.
Dan Chung: I have an ethical problem with it. We are supposed to be encouraging journalists, photographers and cameramen to act responsibly in these situations. Whilst we all realise that stuff like that goes on, that particular video shows the photographer basically doing everything we are told not to do on a hostile environment course. Nobody on any of those courses is going to tell you to go and stand in an exposed position where people are getting shot at by snipers with nothing in front of you. There’s clearly no barrier in front of him because the GoPro is strapped to his chest and he’s not hiding behind anything. So he’s at least up to mid-level with no cover. It may be the only way to get that shot but then a) should newspapers, magazines, websites, be encouraging people to do that? and b) surely we’re encouraging more people if we award people doing it?
First prize in the online short category – Into the Shadows. Photography, direction and camera: Pep Bonet. Producer, script and interviews: Line Hadsbjerg, Remarkable World. Sound designer, music and multimedia editor: José Bautista, KanseiSounds.
WPP seem to be awarding work from teams, less individual work. Is that the right way for them to go?
Jonah Kessel: I think that’s probably a good thing. As a team you have the ability to do things you can’t as an individual, however, there are plenty of individuals doing solo work that is better than this.
I don’t know that making categories based on the size of team would work. I think an individual can do something a team can do and I don’t think you should be penalised for having a big team. Look at all the big contests open for multimedia – POYI, BOM, WPP. You’re seeing much better content coming out on Vimeo than in any of these contests: story-wise, technically speaking, all across the board. The problem with all of these contests is the categories. I made 40-odd videos last year and logistically I was only able to submit three of them for BOP – the others didn’t fall in to a category that wanted them to be there. If you’re running a contest and you think what a broadcast journalist does and what a paper/multimedia person does is at all similar, you’re wrong. I mean look at the products.
Duy Linh Tu: I come from a long-form, narrative documentary background and I am very comfortable working in teams. In fact, I think my best work comes from working with others with a shared vision. Obviously, with economics being a factor, not all projects can afford to have several people working on it. I think WPP should award the best project, regardless of whether it was produced in teams or solo.
Sharron Lovell: A single operator would be a valuable category, but I don’t see why teams shouldn’t be a main part of the general awards. May the best work win, whether created by a team of single operator.
Dan Chung: I think ultimately you should just reward on merit and how good the finished piece is. As a competition though, it clearly isn’t fair to have somebody with no resource, no money, up against a team. In the photo competition the stills camera is a great leveller. As long as you’ve got to the place, and somehow funded your way to Aleppo, it doesn’t matter whether you work for Time magazine, or Newsweek, or off your own back. Your chances of winning are really just down to that moment – and yes it takes money, but not as much as much as it takes to put together a five person multimedia team, or a ten person team with a sound man. There’s nothing wrong with having pieces that do that but pitting them against the solo team is a dilemma and I would probably steer towards having a category for solo or two person productions.
Are we basically saying multimedia that wins awards needs heavy production? Should there be room in WPP for simpler works? less narrative?
Duy Linh Tu: I think these awards actually need to be judged on an even higher level. I’ve judged other multimedia contests and I see this phenomenon over and over again: photojournalists who shoot photos, record some interviews, and then throw the two together and try to sell it as a narrative. I don’t think pieces need to be Hollywood-quality to win at WPP. But I think WPP really needs to separate the multimedia prize from the stills categories. Stills capture the moment, or a series of moments. Video should tell a true narrative. The photo world might see “multimedia” as “photo + audio,” but the world sees it simply as video.
DJ Clark: I understand they need to reward the best productions out there but I wish they had a place for the individual photographer covering daily news assignments. I would guess 90% of multimedia assignments carried out by photojournalists are done alone, in the space of one or two days – shot, edited, published. There simply is not an economic model for most publications to make the long form piece created by a team viable. Without this category they discourage the vast majority of photographers to enter, and in doing so lose the magic of the all-inclusive WPP Awards. When I questioned them about this, they said that was the purpose of the online short, but few people had entered as solo productions.
Sharron Lovell: Again, I think there’s room for everything, with clearly defined categories and I think single operator categories would be valuable. Multimedia journalism is produced both by single operators and teams and both can be fantastic. If WPP awards are to be in tune with the reality of MM working practice they should include both.
Dan Chung: Is this an award for the multimedia that photojournalists create or is it an award for multimedia of a certain genre, as defined by World Press? It turns out that, certainly from my conversations with World Press, it’s the latter. So quite often it’s those large teams working at newspapers and agencies to create something that honours the photo more than anything else and is quite often not technically perfect in other ways. That’s basically what the WPP seem to be awarding, as opposed to recognising the trends, certainly amongst newspaper photographers, like myself and Jonah, who are multimedia in the fact that we shoot multiple mediums on a specific job. Our actual finished product is normally one or the other – either moving or its still. The two are not generally intertwined. We are multimedia journalists, shooting multimedia on assignment, as photojournalists, and that’s the big difference I think. That’s not what this is seeking to award.
Should the works have to feature photos? Or should WPP be about the kind of work photojournalists do? Many shoot video-only assignments
Jonah Kessel: If they want to have an audio slideshow category, fine, but it’s stupid to try and mix it with video. Almost never do I put a still photo into a video unless that video happens to be about the still photograph. It disrupts the flow and makes the video worse. There are a couple of instances where it can be appropriate but usually, as in these cases, they are doing it as a crutch because they don’t have the video.
Duy Linh Tu: Awards are designed to celebrate great work, but they are also equally responsible for setting the agenda. WPP is photo-centric, so that’s why these entries feature still photos. But, if they are to really reflect modern photojournalists and their audience, it would be wise for WPP to acknowledge video-only assignments.
DJ Clark: They took out the rule for there needing to be photos, but still most of the winners included stills. Was that because of the way the panel was briefed, or pushing from photographers on the panel or were the video-only stories not as good as those with stills? Only someone who was there could answer that.
Sharron Lovell: No I don’t. If entries have to have still pictures, then I think the awards will serve a tiny, bizarre, elitist niche that stifles rather than promotes creativity.
Dan Chung: There is great multimedia that includes photographs and there’s room for celebrating that. This is WPP’s competition and it is up to them what they want to award but let’s make it clear – this is an award for multimedia that puts photos at the fore, and does not celebrate the multimedia done by the majority of photo journalists asked to do video. But please, at least ensure the other stuff is technically at a level that video people would expect. Just because the photo is the focus doesn’t mean the video work is inconsequential.
What is the definition of love in China? As the country undergoes rapid and massive change, is the concept of love also changing? This is what we wanted to find out when we started shooting the documentary The People’s Republic of Love. But after criss-crossing China and conducting 45 interviews, we had answers to other questions as well. Such as: why would a Chinese TV dating show feature a 48-year-old virgin? How does a Communist government matchmaking agency find dates for secret service agents? Why are Chinese lesbians marrying gay men? And what is the best way to put a GPS tracker in someone’s car?
The genesis for The People’s Republic of Love was a short video about love in Beijing I previously made with producer Connie Young. Connie was a CBS News producer in Beijing at the time, and I’d been shooting a lot of news with her. Strictly for fun, we filmed In Love, In Beijing on a Canon5D mkII over a few weeks.
What is love?
The idea was to ask Chinese people: “What is love?” and then have their answer in hand-written graphics next to them, introduced with an arty b-roll. There were three things I really wanted to do in the video: shoot underwater, show a gay couple, and include someone whose partner had died. We succeeded in all those, even though I had to film the underwater part with a freshly-broken toe, thanks to my dining room table leg!
The project turned out pretty well, but we wanted to do something bigger and full-length. So we teamed up with producer Joe Xu (of ChinaSMACK.com fame), and nine months later we’d wrapped shooting.
I’m a cameraman first, and this is the first documentary I’ve directed. When you let a cameraman be director, DoP and editor, the final product is probably going to be very good visually. That was certainly my aim with this project.
I’ve shot a great deal on 5D mkII and 7D cameras, for clients ranging from CNN to National Geographic. I love DSLRs; their size and form-factor are perfect for shooting in a place like China but unfixable problems like moire and aliasing are a constant issue, as is the soft image. Below is my showreel shot with those DSLRs.
I decided to shoot instead with the C300 because I already had a bunch of Canon lenses, and I needed peaking and zebras. For years I was shooting on full-size ENG cameras, which ALL have peaking and zebras. If you’re shooting a documentary and want your shots to consistently be in focus and properly exposed, you need them. Histograms can help, but you’re going to be slower if you have to check a histogram. For run-and-gun it’s much easier to just see zebras at different exposures, overlaid right on the image.
A lot of international broadcasters won’t accept films made with the 5D. National Geographic and Discovery have rules limiting the amount of 5D footage you can use, and even how you can shoot it. For instance, when I was shooting ‘Green China Rising’ for National Geographic, our B-cameras were two 5D’s and a 7D (the main camera was Arri Alexa). Nat Geo dictated that 5D shooting had to be done on a locked-off tripod but the director was cool and knew we couldn’t always follow the rules. When we were filming deep underground in a coal mine, he wisely chose to put the 5D down there instead of his company’s Alexa. High-end channels want a high-end camera, and the 5D doesn’t always cut it because of its codec.
Shooting the People’s Republic of Love with the Canon C300
The image from the C300 is very, very sharp. So sharp that I didn’t use the 5D as an interview B-camera like I’d originally planned. For the web, you could get away with it but if your film is going to be broadcast and viewed in HD, there are many instances where C300 and 5D will not mix well.
In retrospect, shooting C300 was absolutely the right choice. I like the size of 5D, and I like full-frame much more than APS-C sensors. For me though, the sharp image and professional features, like peaking and zebras, make C300 worth the high price tag.
In part 2, I give my tips for documentary-style shooting with the C300.