The creative impulse

I’ve been talking with too many photographers lately, and as expected, they all think I should take more pictures.  Funny how that works.  All I can say is that in 1-5 weeks I will have a very good reason for taking many pictures for a long time.  I’ll try to give the cameras a better workout than I usually do with the cats and the occasional walk on the beach.

I shoot little bits of video for work, but it’s not always the same feeling.  There’s little spontaneity in a well-thought-out two-minute video feature, where walking in with a solid storyboard in my head is an advantage, especially on deadline.  I’m satisfied with the document, but it doesn’t necessarily stick with me in the same way as a still.

But that’s just me.  I was raised by photographers in the wild suburbs, so take this all with a grain of silver halide.

Photographs coming soon.

Newspaper Video: Who shoots it and how do they do it

The corner of the media blogosphere I hang out in has been buzzing with some great tips, clues, hints, debate, and analysis of newspaper video lately, and I’ve been too damn busy to chime in much, but here’s a few key pivot points for the uninitiated:

Who:

  • Photographers toting around HD cams to shoot video, record audio, and grab still frames from for print and Web use? It’s happening, right now, at the Mercury News, and Merc Web Editor Mike Bazeley argues that your photographers should be leading the way to good-looking visuals across platforms at your newspaper. Makes sense to me, but budgets, time, and training are all obstacles to adoption. I’m guessing this is easier at papers with more money, gear, staff, and a younger group of shooters.
  • Reporters with sub-$400 point & shoot digital still cameras that shoot decent video in their jacket pockets? Again, already happening, in places like Bakersfield. Howard Owens likes it, and I tend to agree with him on this. Think of video journalism as an element in the overall story: It doesn’t need to be a three-minute standalone feature to serve your audience’s desire to know more. Twenty seconds of reporter-shot video at the scene of a car wreck, of the game-winning homer in a high school softball game, or in the kitchen of a restaurant getting reviewed can have just as potent an effect as the feature-length version. Andy Dickinson provides a counter-argument of sorts: “If they want YouTube, I’m sorry to say, they will go to YouTube. We need to give them something else.”

How:

  • If you’re going the reporters-with-point-and-shoots route, Bakersfield Web Editor Davin McHenry is ready with tips on the “Soft Sell,” or how to ease reporters into shooting video without making them feel like they’re leftist revolutionaries/interlopers/clumsy. Here’s one:

    “When we started, we basically put cameras in reporters hands and sent them out. When they came back with footage we gave them feedback and made every effort to put what they had shot online. Nothing kills enthusiasm more than spending time on footage and then seeing it go in the trash. If you can, put up video that isn’t perfect to send the message that this is something worth their time.”

  • If you’ve been tasked with shooting video for the first time, whether you’re a reporter, shooter, or Web department newcomer to news, Chuck Fadely has an awesome list of practical and physical guidelines — this is required reading for anyone trying to record news video.
  • Don’t know a MCU from an SWF? Mindy McAdams reviews the video vocab that I take for granted, having learned it first in Ms. Spicer’s TV Studio class in ninth grade, and then over and over again in film school.
  • For those of us with the job of actually getting the darn stuff up on the Web after it’s in the can, Mercury News multimedia guru Richard Hernandez runs down his favorite apps for handling, encoding, and posting video, audio slideshows, and other multimedia projects.

So where do you start?

What’s the first step in getting anyone at all to shoot video at your newspaper?

Here’s the plan we’re putting into action where I work:

  1. Start with talking head in the newsroom video updates. Yeah, it feels like broadcast, but it will get your readers accustomed to seeing video on your site, and it will get your newsroom accustomed to having a camera around.
  2. Add still photos to the video updates. Break up the talking head with actual pictures of the events he or she is talking about. Works wonders.
  3. Get photographers and reporters to start shooting short video clips on morning assignments and cut those into the video update. Now you have a reporter talking over stills and video from the day’s news.
  4. After you’ve been doing this for some time, photographers and reporters should be getting more familiar with the medium. Start putting together a 2-3 minute feature video once or twice a week, and cut a bit of that into your video update on the day it runs. Now you’ve got feature video, plus a promotional tool for it in the video update.

We’re somewhere at the beginning of Step 2 right now. I’ll let you know how it goes.

What’s going on in your newsroom? Who shoots feature video? Are your reporters afraid of getting *behind* the camera, or are the taking to video like a camcorder-toting father of a 1-year-old?

Ryan’s best advice for new videographers:

So, did the editors hand you the camera and ask you to shoot the daily news update? First time out on assignment, doing person-on-the-street interviews of passerby?

Here’s the single best piece of advice about photography I have to offer.

I’m pretty sure my mom taught me this one.

Never shoot a woman from below.

Trust me, stick with this, and you’ll thank yourself later. So will that reporter who is still a little anxious about showing up on the homepage of the site. (Hint: she’s not that anxious, really, but making her look good will make you look good.)

That’s it.

Not that you asked for my opinion*

*In which I make another disingenuous attempt at a regular feature, reviewing several items that have come across my desk/eyes/ears in the last little while.

  • The Departed: Best Scorsese flick since GoodFellas, although some might debate the merits of this one vs. Gangs of New York.
  • This year’s Santa Cruz Marching Band Review: Substantially more peaceful than last year’s, as far as my block was concerned. Also, we left the house for most of the day, which helped. (We live right across from the high school field where the buses start dropping bands off at the crack of dawn. Then they start working through their scales. Even the bass drums get warmed up.)
  • Bay Photo ROES, the online photo printing service my local lab runs: Once you get the Java applet running, it’s simple, relatively intuitive, and most importantly, the prints are perfect.
  • New Morning, an old Bob Dylan record: Contains “The Man in Me,” which you heard in The Big Lebowski. The whole thing is just as good.

That’s all for now. If you have opinions of your own about any of these, drop ’em in the comments.