BBC cameraman Christian Parkinson tells all in his new e-book – Camera Confidential

Guest post by Christian Parkinson:

photo-3 copy

I’ve just published a new book about working as a TV news and documentary shooter. Camera Confidential is for image makers who love to tell stories. No matter what you call yourself – cameraman, video journalist, shoot/edit, multimedia journalist, backpack journalist, SoJo, photog, shooter, photojournalist, video producer or visual journalist – this book will have something for you.

It draws on my experiences as a cameraman, editor and video journalist for the BBC, which I joined 12 years ago after starting out as a trainee at ITN News. I’ve covered conflict in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Ivory Coast, Libya, the DRC and Gaza. I spent four years with the BBC Africa bureau and have been lucky enough to work with some of the best correspondents and producers in the world.

Filming in Helmund province, Afghanistan.

Filming in Helmund province, Afghanistan.

Camera Confidential is also the product of numerous interviews with media colleagues: people like four times Royal Television Society cameraman of the year Darren “DC” Conway, former Sky News cameraman turned filmmaker Phillip Bloom and others from around the world including experienced reporters and security advisors.

Working as a cameraman or video journalist in news is one of the toughest but also one of the most satisfying jobs in the world. The years you spend shooting news and telling stories will stand you in excellent stead for any other challenge within the industry. I think Philip Bloom said it well when he told me – “I learnt from some amazing cameramen at Sky news. I knew nothing when I started. News cameramen work fast, think fast and react fast. I would always prefer to work with someone from a news background. You can always spot them. I would love to see the cameramen who look down on news shooters try it for a week! To create quality images under immense pressure is testament to the quality of people out there.”

Camera Confidential is not about the technical side of video journalism. It doesn’t explain white balancing, the difference between CCD and CMOS sensors or different camera specs – I’ll leave that to the guys here at Newsshooter. Instead, this is the book I wish somebody had given to me when I started shooting many years ago. It will answer questions such as: How do I find my first job? What paperwork do I need to complete when travelling with kit? What gear should I carry in a war zone? How should I protect my camera when shooting in the desert/snow/jungle? How do I shoot an anonymous interview?

Filming a volcano in Congo

Filming a volcano in Congo

All the proceeds from the book go to charity  I never set out to make any money from it and so I jumped at the chance to publish it in partnership with the Rory Peck Trust. Why the Rory Peck Trust? I am in the fortunate position of being full-time staff with the BBC, but often I see freelancers producing amazing work in risky situations. The Trust helps by offering training bursaries, grants and also support to freelancers who are in a crisis or been injured. With all the major conflicts and disasters ongoing worldwide I think it is more important than ever to support the Rory Peck Trust. Even if you decide that this book isn’t for you, please do have a look at their website and consider supporting their great work.

You can buy Camera Confidential for £4.99 via the Rory Peck Trust website here.

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Posted on July 17th, 2014 by Christian Parkinson | Category: Journalism | Permalink | Comments (0)

Go Creative show tackles drones – Talks legalities with attorneys and features viral fireworks film creator Jos Stiglingh

By site editor Dan Chung:

GCS036 Drone Zone

This week the Go Creative show is focussing on probably the most contentious subject in video journalism right now – drones. Host Ben Consoli has a great lineup of guests to discuss the practicalities of drone filmmaking and also the legal issues surrounding their use in the United States.

Jos Stiglingh the creator of the viral video “Fireworks filmed with a drone” talks about how he created it and how it came to get several million view. Filmmaker Paul Antico talks about he uses the DJI Phantom 2 and H3-3D gimbal to get professional results.

Also on the show are two lawyers, Matt Saunders, a copyright attorney who discusses the legality of drones and the copyright issues that go with it and Jonathan Rupprecht, an attorney, commercial pilot and unmanned aircraft consultant that discusses the current FAA regulations.

Click below to listen in:

Below is Jos Stiglingh’s viral video:

And this is Paul Antico’s very useful look at the DJI Phantom 2 equipped with a Zenmuse H3-3D gimbal and ND filter:

DJI Phantom 2 Zenmuse H3-3D 3 Axis Gimbal: The Anti-Jello Real World Review from Anticipate Media on Vimeo.

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Posted on July 15th, 2014 by Dan Chung | Category: Drones, Go Creative show, Journalism | Permalink | Comments (0)

Jonah Kessel on shooting Cabbage with Canon C100 Dual Pixel CMOS AF

Guest post by Jonah Kessel:

A few months back at a music festival in Beijing a man walked by me dragging a cabbage. Perplexed and trapped between two mediocre metal bands, I asked my friend what the deal was. She told me that the cabbage symbolized economic inequality and the act was a form of protest.

In China the cabbage has quite the history compared to other vegetables. In harsher times, it was the main source of sustenance for many and having cabbage actually symbolized wealth — because you could afford to eat.

However, when I got home I started seeing reports online with other explanations. “Lonely teenagers in China who feel life is pointless and who struggle to find friends have taken to befriending the lowly vegetables as the perfect, undemanding companions,” said the Austrian Times, complete with quotes from psychologists and Chinese teens.

Within days, lots of explanations started surfacing. But a quick Google search actually showed that this was something of a performance art and it wasn’t a new thing at all. In fact, its been going on for over 10-years by the Beijing-based artist named Han Bing. A couple of text messages later and some quick networking and I found the guys contact details and decided to give him a call.

A week later, I spent a day with Mr. Bing to get to the bottom of it. After all, how often would I get a chance to strap a GoPro to a cabbage?

The Man Who Took His Cabbage for a Walk from Jonah Kessel on Vimeo.

While this video is relatively simple there’s a couple tech details going on here of note. It was filmed with the Canon C100′s relatively new Dual Pixel CMOS AF upgrade. When Canon announced this was going to happen I actually had mixed feelings about it. I asked myself if I needed, or even wanted to autofocus at all. Would it be better to have auto focus? or use the Zeiss primes I have grown to love?

I let my curiosity get the better of me and paid for the upgrade A couple months after getting the installation the answer is very clear: if you shoot journalism with the C100 the update is an absolute necessity. I’ve found the feature useful in number of common situation for solo video journalists. With my Glidecam I can not only follow people with a much more shallow depth of field, but I can change my position in relativity to the subject and still maintain focus without a focus puller and wireless system (not that I have ever had those in the field).

Another tremendously useful use is the ability to track things at longer focal lengths. Tracking a fast moving cabbage at 300mm is simply much easier now. With video journalism, we tend not to have the ability to ask subjects to do things twice, so getting a shot on first take is essential.

Hong Kong Screams ‘Democracy’ from Jonah Kessel on Vimeo.

Breaking news environments is another scenario where I’ve found the feature to be extremely valuable. On a recent assignment in Hong Kong, I attended a protest where over 500,000 people voiced their concerns about Chinese growing influence in the territory. The video was filmed, edited and published within 48 hours. There wasn’t too much tracking or focus pulling going on, but in a large crowd I could get shots quicker and more accurately with the AF. It was a tough situation to navigate and the AF just made life easier, which actually helps meet deadlines.

The feature has become invaluable to me but I do hope for continued firmware improvements to it. Currently, the system does not allow you to change the point of focus within your frame – unlike cameras like the Panasonic GH4 or Canon’s own 70D. This means you can’t chose what point the camera is tracking – it is always in the centre. I’ve reprogramed my camera’s buttons to have a quick focus lock, I can focus and recompose if needed, but it would be nicer to have more control here.

The C100 set up for an interview

The C100 set up for an interview

Being able to control the speed at which the camera focuses would also be very useful. Currently the AF is so quick it can look a little bit unnatural – perhaps lacking emotion. Having the ability to tell the lens to pull focus more gradually would give you the ability to change focus with a little more style.

While I hope Canon will give us these features with an update (ed – don’t hold your breath), the Dual Pixel CMOS AF already makes the C100 more valuable for video journalists and documentarians. It has in fact changed the way I shoot and sped up my workflow in fast paced environments.

Of course I also took my GoPro for a ride on the cabbage

Of course I also took my GoPro for a ride on the cabbage

Jonah M. Kessel is a video journalist with the New York Times. He contributed to a Pulitzer Prize winning series and been awarded the Robert F. Kennedy Award for Justice and Human Rights. See more of his work at

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Posted on July 6th, 2014 by Jonah Kessel | Category: Canon C100, Journalism | Permalink | Comments (2)

BBC College of Journalism shares free training resources to the world

By site editor Dan Chung:

BBC training

The BBC College of Journalism last week opened up their training website for free to a global audience. On it are a wealth of resources originally created for an internal BBC audience by some of its most experienced journalists. The college say the opening up of the site is a trial that will last at least 12 months.

There are videos and podcasts on basic three point lighting, safety with lights, how a TV news package is produced, self shooting video journalism, iPhone journalism, audio and many more.

There are videos and podcasts on basic three point lighting, safety with lights, how a TV news package is produced, self shooting video journalism, iPhone journalism, audio and many more. There are even videos on how to use a BGAN sat phone in the field and how to do tracking shots from a car safely.

Some of my favourite articles include ones on shooting for the edit, immersive documentary making, getting good audio for factual programs, secret filming and digital file delivery to broadcasters (this one is UK specific).

There is plenty of important information that trainee and even seasoned news shooters should find useful.

One area which I believe is especially important to all news shooters is safety. The college has videos on public order awareness and first aid in hostile environments that are well worth watching. Be warned the video below has some graphic simulations:

You can see all the videos, articles and podcasts on the BBC Academy website here.

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Posted on July 5th, 2014 by Dan Chung | Category: Journalism | Permalink | Comments (2)

The making of One Day in Boston: Project Right

Guest post by Rick Macomber:

One Day in Boston – Project Right from Rick Macomber on Vimeo.

Slate for One Day in Boston Photo by Pictures From The Sky

Slate for One Day in Boston Photo by Pictures From The Sky

One Day in Boston is one of those passion projects I try to do every year. It can be fun and challenging to dig up a good story to shoot all in one day that’s both emotionally charged and interesting to watch. I’ve been participating in this project since it began in 2010 when it was called One Day on Earth 10-10-10. It’s still part of One Day on Earth, which was co-founded by Kyle Ruddick and Brandon Litman.  However this year instead of filmmakers producing stories shot around the entire globe, they decided to concentrate on documenting organizations and individuals as they access opportunity in major metropolitan cities in the United States. Filmmakers were asked to investigate ten specific questions about the future of their cities on April 26, 2014. All of the stories and raw footage will be uploaded and placed in an interactive geo-tagged archive on the One Day on Earth’s websites dedicated to each of those major cities. Our story will appear on the One Day in Boston website. One Day on Earth producers will also be creating a TV series about the future of the American city.


We wear many hats in TV news. To survive we need to have skills as field producers, directors, shooters and editors. The last few times I participated in One Day on Earth I covered them as a “one man band.” This year however, the One Day in Boston project date was scheduled at the same time I was recovering from left rotator cuff surgery. Since I couldn’t physically shoot this year, if I wanted to produce this short film I needed to try to put together a team of Boston filmmakers to assist me – without ever lifting a camera to my shoulder. The call went out on Facebook and Twitter. I got quite a quick response. Todd Mahoney agreed to shoot with my Canon C300 cinema camera. Brian Arata, Daniel Berube and Ron Risman jumped on board to shoot some amazing time-lapse films for us. Mike Magee and Louise Michaud of Pictures From The Sky had just purchased a new Freefly MoVI M5 motion rig and agreed to shoot all our motion shots, some great BTS clips and stills to boot. Jovan Tanasijevik, Frederico Creatini and Emilie Pickering of Above Summit Films offered up a couple of gorgeous aerial shots of Boston.

Checking C300 camera settings with Todd Mahoney. Photo by Pictures From The Sky

Checking C300 camera settings with Todd Mahoney.
Photo by Pictures From The Sky

Mike Sutton setting up new Freefly MoVI M5 for Mike Magee and Louise Michaud

Mike Sutton setting up new Freefly MoVI M5 for Mike Magee and Louise Michaud

Our focus this year was on an organization from Grove Hall in the Dorchester section of Boston called Project Right. I don’t want to spoil too much of the story but I will tell you what attracted me to Project Right was the fact that the inner city stuff happening at their office struck a chord with me. They do good work there. In addition to the activities they offer to younger kids, they also work with local youth gangs with their gun buy back program. In addition they offer help transitioning former gang members back into the community and give support to family members. Isabel Torres of Project Right said it best: “We’re just where we need to be. Where the people are.”

Isabel Torres speaks candidly. Canon C300 screen grab

Isabel Torres speaks candidly. Canon C300 screen grab

Here’s why this particular story pulled on my heart strings. In the nineties I was covering the inner city gang problem, standing by at a local coffee shop with paramedics every night monitoring shootings on the Boston police scanner frequencies. What we covered back then was graphic. My partner and I would sometimes times arrive on scene with paramedics even before police got there. It was disturbing and frustrating for me and my fellow colleagues to be thrust into what had become a media circus and the lead story almost every night. We were not only covering the stories, we were also in a round about way perpetuating more violence by reporters and anchors using the names of the gangs involved when the stories we shot aired. Gangs saw it as getting their props on TV for murdering people – in some instances innocent children struck by stray bullets. This situation was beginning to make me re-evaluate why I got into this business. This wasn’t what I had signed up for when I had decided to become a television news photojournalist. So now you know why I was drawn so intensely to this particular subject matter. Perhaps it was a way to help resolve what I had witnessed and documented through my lens for a good ten year period of my professional life as a news shooter.

Gang shooting from 1990s from video screen grab

Gang shooting from 1990s from video screen grab

Because of the rain, we had no choice but to set up in one small room for the interviews. It was quiet in there and the window light was gorgeous – very soft. The other rooms were filled with kids who were stuck inside doing indoor activities.

Isabel Torres and Kevin Thomas did an amazing job answering some very difficult personal questions about their lives, their families and their city. There were some moments that nearly brought me to tears when Isabel described her father’s addiction to heroin and how family members had to leave him alone in the bathroom with the door locked for sometimes hours at a time. It brought back painful memories of my childhood when I had witnessed similar situations in my own extended family.

Interview with Isabel Torres. Photo by Pictures From The Sky

Interview with Isabel Torres. Photo by Pictures From The Sky

Kevin Thomas posing in front of gun buy back poster - C300 screen grab

Kevin Thomas posing in front of gun buy back poster – C300 screen grab

Other than not being able to grab the camera and operate it with my own hands, the most challenging and frustrating part of this shoot was the fact that most of the activities that would serve as our b-roll shots for the story were cancelled due to the rain. Remember that One Day On Earth is all about producing stories that happens on a particular day. The same applies to One Day in Boston and all the activities had be shot on the one April day. So the better b-roll we had intended on including in this film was lost due to cancellation. There was suppose to be a gun buy back program set up in the park across the street, among other outdoor camera worthy activities. We had to scramble outside for the walking MoVI motion shots when the rain showers abated for brief periods of time.

5D mkIII with 24mm on MoVI.  Screen grab from playground by Mike Magee

5D mkIII with 24mm on MoVI. Screen grab from playground by Mike Magee

Directing Mike Magee on MoVI with 5D mkIII. Photo by Pictures From The Sky

Directing Mike Magee on MoVI with 5D mkIII.
Photo by Pictures From The Sky

We had some nice motion in the playground with Isabel and her daughter. We also got a nice low angle shot of all the kids running through the hallways of Project Right. Later in the day Todd and I had to jump in the car and shoot lots of moving shots of the Grove Hall neighborhood and downtown Boston out of the passenger side window on the bumpy pothole filled streets of Boston, all of which needed to be stabilized with Warp Stabilizer in post production.

Me directing some b-roll shots. Todd on the Canon C300. Photo by Pictures From The Sky

Me directing some b-roll shots. Todd on the Canon C300.
Photo by Pictures From The Sky

The only organically stable shots we had from the car came from the GoPro mounted to the hood, but because of scheduling issues, most of those were shot collected during downpours! If it had not been for the additional time-lapse clips and the breathtaking aerials we added, the story would not have been as effective in my opinion. This was really a true collaboration of many Boston professionals.

For the interviews and some interior B-roll we used a minimally rigged Canon EOS C300 and the awesome Sigma 18-35mm f1.8 lens. A Canon 5D mkIII with a 24mm f1.4 was used on the Freefly MoVI M5.  The MoVI worked like a champ. Speed was important working outside with all the intermittent rain. Having that rig all set up and ready to go was a dream. A GoPro Hero 3 Black was mounted on the hood of the car for some driving shots. In the skies Summit Films used one hex and one quadcopter, also equipped with GoPro Hero 3 Black cameras and stabilizing gimbals.

The Switronix Torch LED BOLT

The Switronix Torch LED BOLT

The only additional light used to supplement the gorgeous window light was a Switronix Torch LED BOLT for a little bit of fill. The time-lapse shots were done using Canon 5D mkIII cameras as well as a Canon 7D with 70-200mm f2.8 and 16-35mm f2.8 L lenses, eMotimo TB3 Black and Dynamic Perception Stage One Dolly along with this new must have piece of kit: The Xsories Weye Feye Wi-Fi device that can monitor your camera images from an iPhone or iPad.

Xsories Weye Feye Wi-Fi device

Xsories Weye Feye Wi-Fi device

Dan Berube and Ron Risman time-lapse setup at Zakim Bridge

Dan Berube and Ron Risman time-lapse setup at Zakim Bridge

I must give the time-lapse and aerial photography teams lots of credit for standing outside in the cold rain – especially those time-lapse guys who stood outside for hours! Thank you so much! I believe this was an important story to be told. It is organizations like Project Right that are unpretentiously educating, saving and re-building inner city communities with little public recognition. Thank you Project Right and to One Day on Earth organizer Cecily Tyler for pointing me in their direction.

HARD: The ink on Kevin's eyelid tells the story. Canon C300 screen grab

HARD: The ink on Kevin’s eyelid tells the story. Canon C300 screen grab

PROJECT RIGHT: Isabel Torres, Kevin Thomas
CAMERA: Todd Mahoney
TIMELAPSE FOOTAGE: Brian Arata, Dan Berube, Ron Risman
AERIALS: Above Summit Films
EDITOR: Rick Macomber
BTS FOOTAGE: Mike Magee, Louise Michaud
SOUNDTRACK: “Barely Baked” and “John Stockton Slow Drag”

DP/Director and photojournalist Rick Macomber is owner of Macomber Productions. He is the winner of four prestigious Emmy Awards, nominated for eight Emmys in Videography and Editing and ten time first place winner for the Boston Press Photographers’ Association. His coverage of the Cambodian refugee camps in Thailand for CBS Boston has won him a prestigious Boston Press Photographers “Best of Show” award. Rick has interviewed three US presidents and countless Hollywood and sports celebrities and has covered stories around the globe such as the horror of 9-11 from Ground Zero in NYC and the 50th Anniversary of D-Day from the beaches of Normandy, France.

Rick’s website:

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Posted on June 20th, 2014 by Rick Macomber | Category: Canon C300, Canon EOS 5D MkIII, Journalism | Permalink | Comments (0)

The symbiosis of photography and video – A Photojournalist’s Perspective

Guest post by Sean Gallagher:

The Toxic Price of Leather from Sean Gallagher on Vimeo.

For many photojournalists, the transition into shooting video has been a path paved with slight trepidation and hesitation. There seems to be a lot of pressure for video to automatically be part of a shooter’s repertoire of skills and producing video content, along with traditional photo-essays, now seems to be expected on assignments. It’s been a difficult evolution for many.

Some ten years ago, at the beginning of my career, I was to be found filing slides and prints away in cabinets at the Magnum office in London, during a one-year internship. I overheard no conversations about ‘multimedia’, ‘Final Cut’ or ‘DSLR video’. Digital photography was still in its relative infancy amongst professional photojournalists and attention was still mostly on film.

Fast-forward to 2014 and the landscape of photojournalism has changed drastically. In the first 10 years of my career as a freelance photographer, my goal has changed from primarily being a photojournalist telling stories with stills, to now using all tools at my disposal, including video, to tell my stories on a ‘multimedia’ platform.

Like many, I have started to use more and more video in my work over the past four to five years. I have tried to  develop my photography and video side-by-side with one another, rather than in conflict. One of my most recent projects is a good example of this.

In late 2013 I received my sixth grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, which funds projects that highlight underreported issues around the world. Our latest collaboration focused on issues surrounding pollution in India. The Pulitzer Center highly encourages its grant applicants to incorporate multiple forms of story-telling into their projects, so those which combine photography, video and writing are favoured. This pressure to incorporate other forms of story-telling – in my case, video – has pushed my work on further and helped me discover new ways to tell the stories I want to cover.

In many situations, I have found that video has been a better tool for conveying a certain story or feeling. For example, in my latest short film ‘The Toxic Price of Leather’, I focus on the effects of severe pollution on communities in the city of Kanpur, India. The pollution is caused by the city’s leather tannery industry and I wanted to let the people of the area tell the story.

Javad Akhter, a local politician who appears towards the end of the video, had a heartbreaking story of how he lost his wife to asthma, caused by the severe air pollution which continually hangs over the city. As I interviewed him on camera, we talked about many things but when he talked about his wife he became very emotional. At one point during the interview his eyes welled up and he was on the verge of breaking down in tears as he questioned what was left in his life after her death. It was a very emotional moment and makes me sad every time I re-watch it. The reaction from audiences to his story has been very strong.

Using video and allowing people to look into his eyes as he recounts what happened has more impact than a single frame, for example, of him in that moment. That’s not to say that a photograph combined with other images from the whole story wouldn’t have impact; I just think that in this particular situation, video more vividly communicated the impact of pollution on this man and his community. The combination of being able to look into someone’s eyes and also hear their voice, is a powerful one.

So now this story exists as a short film, a photo-essay and a written article. Each one tells the story of what is happening in Kanpur in a slightly different way, but they complement one another. On a practical note, I also have different options for marketing the work.

Shooting in Punjab. India. 2013

Shooting in Punjab. India. 2013

One of the main challenges is knowing when to shoot video and when to shoot stills. The more you place yourself in different situations, the better you get at knowing when it’s time to do one or the other. It also depends a lot on the aim of your story, or goals on any given shooting day. Inevitably, there will be times when you will miss a good photo when you’re recording video, and vice versa. You have to accept that if you want to do both.

In terms of equipment, I subscribe to the ‘backpack journalism’ school of thought. When I am on assignment, I need everything to fit in one small backpack which will be as inconspicuous as possible. This comes directly from my photojournalism background, where I am trying my best to create as little distraction as possible in the scene I am photographing.

At work with my trusty 5D

At work with my the 5D

For the ‘Toxic Price of Leather’, I had two cameras: A Canon 5D mkIII with three lenses -  a 35mm f1.4, 50mm f1.8 and 70-200 f4.0 – and a Canon XF105 camcorder. The latter camera was a new addition to my kit, which I added to give me  more flexibility while shooting video. The XF105 is a broadcast quality compact camcorder from Canon and is very light and easy to travel with, making it an attractive addition when looking to keep kitbag weight down. The picture quality is very good too and it seemed to match well in post-production when put side by side with the footage shot on the 5D mkIII. Can you tell which clips in the short film are shot on which?

For audio, I used a simple Rode VideoMic on my 5D mkIII and a compact Sony ECM-NV1 directional microphone on the XF105. During interviews, and in other situations where I wanted particularly good audio, I used a Zoom H6 audio recorder.

The only other piece of equipment of note (apart from the obligatory array of batteries, memory cards, chargers etc) was a Manfrotto 190CXPRO3 carbon fiber tripod: a super-light, compact tripod which reduces bag weight significantly.

Meet The Journalist – Sean Gallagher from Sean Gallagher on Vimeo.

For me, video and photography now happily sit side by side with one another. Neither is forcing the other out. They are merely the tools I have to tell the story I want, or need, to.

At the beginning of my career I did not envision this transition, but I think we must evolve as storytellers and use new technology for its most important purpose: telling stories better and making them more engaging for our audiences. Just pick up whichever camera will tell the story best. 

Sean Gallagher is a freelance photojournalist who has been based in Asia for nearly a decade. His work specialises in highlighting underreported environmental issues in countries such as China, India and Indonesia. He is a six-time recipient of the Pulitzer Center travel grant and is represented by National Geographic Creative. You can see more of his work at

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Posted on June 2nd, 2014 by Sean Gallagher | Category: documentary, Journalism | Permalink | Comments (0)

Comment: Social Media And The Future of TV News

An opinion by Matt Allard:

Shooting on an ENG camera in Sri Lanka

Shooting on an ENG camera in Sri Lanka

It’s a difficult time to be employed in the news industry. Whether you’re a cameraman, photographer, editor, producer, reporter or do any of the other countless jobs in our industry you will have been personally affected by cuts or know someone who has. Many of the people I greatly admire and respect have also left staff positions by choice and countless people I used to work with in Australia are now out of jobs. Ironically, at the ACS (Australian Cinematography Society) Awards held last week, all the winners in the News and current affairs categories were freelancers and not staff. This is the first time this has ever happened. It tells me a lot about the poor state of our industry.

Logically, you would expect there to be more work available now than there has ever been. Surely, with more content being required, more people are needed to create it. So why is the news industry making massive cuts and laying off staff in record numbers?

People’s lives have become increasingly busy and they don’t have time to sit down and watch whole news bulletins or read a newspaper. Unfortunately, it is society that dictates in a lot of ways what we do and how we do it. In the old days your job probably finished at 5pm and you were home by 5.30. You lived closer to where you worked and your wife probably didn’t have to go to work.

Now, while this is a bit of a stereotypical example, it is an insight into why the media landscape has changed and traditional models no longer work. If you don’t have an viewer at home to watch your 6pm bulletin or you a reader sitting down at a breakfast table with a newspaper, how is your business model going to succeed?

The majority of potential viewers are now getting their content online and this is especially true of news content. Whether this be on an iPad, smart phone or their home computer, viewers no longer need to sit down and watch broadcast television on their TV or read a physical newspaper. There still are those people who watch free-to-air television but they don’t tend to be in the core 15-35 demographic, where most of the advertising dollars are aimed. Traditional media organizations such as commercial television networks are clinging on to the old business models and squeezing out every last penny they can.  


TV news and current affairs used to be edgy and in-depth, and I think the fact that programmes have moved away from these values is part and parcel of the continuing demise. A tongue-in-cheek tweet I saw the other day said: “I watch TV news to see what happened on Twitter yesterday.”

Traditional 6pm TV broadcasts used to work because they were the only way, apart from radio, to find out what had happened during the day. For newspapers, you had to wait until the next day to find out. The internet and particularly social media have taken away the edge that TV and newspapers used to have. Sure, 140 characters in a tweet and a small video clip on Facebook can’t give you in-depth coverage like a TV report or newspaper article could but they don’t need to. Social media has dramatically affected not only traditional local news bulletins but 24 hour news as well. A 24 hour news channel used to have a great advantage in breaking news situations as it could deliver you the information first but that is not the case anymore. Why tune in to see some reporter telling you about what is going on from a live position when you can find out on Twitter earlier? Why wait to see pictures or a news report when I can already see video of something on Facebook? These are the questions our industry is facing and we need to come up with answers.

The problem with social media is that most of it is citizen journalism and the facts can’t be verified; nor can you be completely sure it is not being used to promote an agenda. This is where proper news organisations should have the advantage, but they don’t seem to have moved with the times. If you look at a lot of international 24 hour news networks’ websites they are clunky, hard to use and seem to be there for the sake of having a website because people are going online for news more and more. To be fair, they have improved in recent years, but are they really focusing their attention enough on developing this platform? If you look at the staffing and budgets for online compared to normal 24 hour news coverage, there is a staggering difference.

If you want to compete in today’s online age you need to offer the customer something different. 24 hour news will never be able to compete with social media for speed. What they can provide, which social media can’t, is in-depth analysis of what is going on. Certainly, it is important to be first, but if your competition – social media – is beating you to the punch, you need to do something differently. For example, making sure somebody can find out quickly what is going on from your website and get access to in-depth analysis via a story. It’s the equivalent of reading a newspaper headline and then working out if you want to know more.

Despite the rapid advances in technology, the overall standard of TV news camerawork, editing and reporting doesn’t seem to have gone along for the ride. Does the audience really care about quality? I think it does. You don’t have to be in the industry to work out if something is good or not. You don’t keep watching a TV show or a movie if it’s bad – so why should TV news be any different? Unfortunately, in 24 hour news the live cross has come to dominate content. While in theory there is nothing wrong with this, it is often done in a location where you can’t see what is happening because of the technology needed to transmit, or ends up with the reporter simply standing in the same spot for hours on end waiting to tell you that nothing has happened since the last time they spoke. Instead of covering the story, reporters and cameramen are getting tied to live positions.Twenty-four hour news is a hungry beast that needs to be fed at all times and unfortunately live crosses are like a Big Mac, with stories reduced to being the side order of fries.

But in 2013 PricewaterhouseCoopers conducted a study that showed for the first time more money was being spent on internet advertising than on free-to-air TV ads. This is a huge statistic and one that the free-to-air TV networks in particular don’t seem to have to cottoned onto. If your main source of revenue is from advertising and the advertisers are shifting those dollars away from TV and into online media, you should know something needs to change. If you run an ice-cream parlour and suddenly most customers stop eating strawberry ice-cream and start eating chocolate, why would you continue to buy large amounts of strawberry? Nightly news bulletins with a good reputation can bring in a much larger audience by drawing viewers in and keeping them through primetime. In a lot of ways, news is like the warm-up act for the main performance.  If the viewers tune in and then stay on the same channel you are keeping that audience in the prime advertising time slots. That said, the TV business is expensive. By the time you figure in equipment costs, satellite feeds, salaries and the myriad of other associated costs, it’s hard to imagine turning a profit unless you have a strong viewership.

Hunter S. Thompson once wrote: “The TV business is uglier than most things. It is normally perceived as some kind of cruel and shallow money trench through the heart of the journalism industry, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs, for no good reason.”  This is the problem. Because TV news is expensive to produce, if people aren’t watching or the station is doing badly in other areas, the first to go are normally the news people. Just this week, Network Ten Australia announced that 150 jobs in news would be cut. Less than four years ago the network was running a combination of news and current affairs programs for two hours a night and had employed large numbers of new staff. In 2012, 100 staff members were let go and now another 150 have lost their jobs. I don’t think this is all to do with viewers moving to online content, but that is certainly a part of it. Ten has had a rather chequered history over the last 20 years of program successes and failures in the news arena. Across the globe, networks like CNN, BBC and newspapers like the Chicago Sun-Times have seen lay
offs and staff reductions.

So what is the future for people in our industry? It doesn’t look good. I don’t see the trend of staff job losses changing any time soon. As content creators, it’s important for us to keep the standards high and to find new and interesting ways to tell our stories before it becomes too late.

This week I spoke to award-winning journalist Aela Callan, who is currently undertaking the John S. Knight Fellowship at Stanford University about the current state of broadcast media, what the media is doing wrong and why social media is something we should use to our advantage instead of worrying about it taking our jobs. Watch below:

Journalism And Social Media from Matthew Allard ACS on Vimeo.

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Posted on May 28th, 2014 by Matthew Allard | Category: Journalism | Permalink | Comments (0)

Telling A Story With No Words – Matt Allard on filming Maestro Wu

By technical editor Matt Allard:

MAESTRO WU from Matthew Allard ACS on Vimeo.

As the world continues to shrink and technology allows our work to be seen by far more people there can still be one barrier: language. Anything involving the spoken word that isn’t in your native language is usually accompanied by subtitles or a voiceover. The mix of two different voices at once or distracting words on the screen can often take the viewer away from the story. Imagine for a second that you were deaf. If you turned off the sound, would you still be able to follow what was going on? Just try it for a minute and see. This is an extreme example, as I think a good piece should be accompanied by sound, but not always words or dialogue. It should be able to tell you the story without you hearing a single word.

Think about how you would shoot a story if it was not going to be accompanied by any words or dialogue.  This will force you into thinking about how visuals alone can tell a story – and at the end of the day, that is our job as visual story tellers. If you look at the film All Is Lost with Robert Redford, it is the perfect example of how visuals, music and natural sound tell a story without dialogue. There are only a couple of words spoken in the entire movie, Robert Redford is the only character and the story takes place on a small yacht. To keep an audience’s attention for more than 1.5hrs is very difficult.

When shooting Maestro Wu, I wanted to show his concentration and craft without words getting in the way. The Taiwanese craftsman has been designing and making knives for over 60 years on Kinmen Island. In World War II, the serious lack of materials – especially steel – prompted him to collect the artillery shells dropped by Allied troops and use the metal in those. Later, artillery bombardment from the mainland left hundreds of thousands more shells. The Kinmen Steel Knife now enjoys an international reputation.

I wanted the viewer to be immersed by what was going on and to be focused on the attention to detail and the beauty of what he was doing. For something like this to work you have to think about the style in which you want to shoot and also the best way to convey what you want the audience to see. I utilized almost entirely high speed frame rates for this piece. I didn’t do this just because I thought it would be cool to shoot high speed, but to help tell the story.

A lot of skill and precision goes into making the knives, but it it is really hard to see unless you see it up close. By shooting a lot of tight shots and at high speed I could take the viewer into the world of Maestro Wu. When you’re shooting, every shot should tell its own story. They should be unique and well thought out.  A great piece can be ruined by one or two poor shots.  

This one was shot in just a few hours and I had no real plan when I started to shoot it. I asked Maestro Wu after he finished making the knife whether he has an idea in his head before he starts and he told me that it usually just comes to him while he’s doing it. I thought about this for a while and realised that in a lot of instances that is how I shoot. For me, the story or the ideas evolve during the shoot. I find in news and documentary shooting that trying to do too much planning in advance often does not produce a good result. Actors are good at being able to do something exactly as you want it done; that is why they are actors. Everyday people are not. They always seem awkward or the situation seems forced. I prefer to let things happen in front of me with as little intervention as possible. In saying this, of course I have a plan of how I want to shoot or the style I want to shoot it in, but the specifics always change and evolve as I go.  

As far as the technical and equipment side of things go it was shot mostly on a Sony FS700 and a little bit was done with the Sony F3. The FS700 material was all shot at 200fps and all captured internally to AVCHD. The F3 was recorded internally to SxS cards at 35Mb/s.  There are a few F3 shots that were done at 50p at 720p.   I only used one light – a Nila Varsa. This was mainly used as a strong backlight when shooting the high speed frame rates on the FS700. I have found that from previous experience that a strong backlight works really well when shooting fine details in high speed. It meant all the little bits of metal and dust that were coming up got illuminated instead of being masked by a strong key source. Using just the one light also gave me a dark background to highlight what he was doing. When he is hammering the steel, all I want the viewer to focus on is that. If the background was illuminated then it would have been distracting.

There were no log profiles used on any of this shoot. The look was created in camera. I edited it in FCPX and did only a few small colour tweaks inside the same NLE. Zeiss ZF2 lenses were used. 

While I have focused on the importance of visuals, there was one other big component to making this whole shoot work: SOUND. Without the sound it’s still interesting, but it is the sound that takes you into Maestro Wu’s workshop. A lot of people make the mistake of just shooting some pretty pictures and adding some music. While there is nothing wrong with this in some cases, it leaves the viewers in their lounges and doesn’t take them to the place of the story. I used music to give it a mood and feel, but I used natural sound to make viewers feel they were standing in that workshop. When shooting high speed, you have to be very aware that there is no sound being recorded.  You need to record your sound externally, pay attention to it and not just get caught up with visuals. I used the Zoom H4n to record all my audio. It really is important to capture sound as close to the source as possible; a microphone placed 20ft away from your subject isn’t going to sound as good as one 2ft away. That said, I did at one stage put the H4N too close to the heat and ended up melting some of the plastic casing.  

My H4n recorder got melted during the shoot

My H4n recorder got melted during the shoot

I’ve also placed two other projects below. I did them many years ago and they were shot in the same style, using no dialogue to tell the story.  

The Sword Maker & The Swordsman from Matthew Allard ACS on Vimeo.

The Geisha from Matthew Allard ACS on Vimeo.

Just remember that your working in a visual medium.  It’s the visuals that carry a story and not necessarily the dialogue.  There are of course exceptions to every rule and cases where the visuals can’t tell the story by themselves.   Next time you shoot just try thinking about how you would tell the story If no words were used.  Even if there is ultimately going to be dialogue or subtitles in the piece it will help you as a cameraman tell the story if you think on a purely visual level.  

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Posted on May 16th, 2014 by Matthew Allard | Category: Journalism, Sony F3, Sony FS700, Zeiss | Permalink | Comments (0)

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