Photographers/Filmmakers as Publishers/Producers

It’s been a busy year, trying to manage jobs and lots of road trips giving seminars for ASMP to photographers who may be contemplating video.  I’ve enjoyed meeting my peers and sharing information through my presentations as well as on my blog, but I need to take some time to get back in the field and capture my own “moments” and “motion”. I need to spend some time “doing” right now and ultimately that will make what I have to share that more valuable and meaningful. So I will be embarking in a couple of weeks on a “passion project” that will take me around the world for 99 days.

It’s an exciting time to be working on a personal project because of various distribution possibilities and portals that are in everybody’s hands.  Ten years ago when I got started in video, technology made it possible for me to create documentaries and films without the need of large crews and big budgets.  And now with the web, fast download speeds, video host sites, mobile devices and itunes – I can – we all can be publishers and producers and get our content out globally. The pipelines have been democratized and it’s a very empowering position.

I’ve spent a career on the road and on assignment for various publications and corporations.  I’ve been fortunate to have worked for magazines like National Geographic Traveler, Smithsonian and Travel & Leisure shooting stories on destinations and people all over the world. I suppose you could say that I lived the life I dreamed of. I was shooting these assignments at a time when magazines were giving me ample time in the field to come back with a story – back when travel magazines ran stories as opposed to survey pieces or celebrity profiles. More importantly, I maintained the copyright of my images and was free to market them as I wished after a standard embargo period was over – usually around 90 days.

These days many publishers issue “work for hire” contracts, so essentially photographers are giving up their copyright. Photographers have always been strong advocates for copyright and I include myself in that position.  But in our advocacy to keep strong copyright laws in place, we end up fighting for that right for large corporations and publishing empires who ultimately take away our copyright in lopsided contracts.  And for the most part these contracts are not negotiable.  You either agree and take the job or you don’t.

These days because of technology we can be our own publishers and deliver our stories and other content in a number of different ways.  Sure it means taking the risk up front but that in itself brings its own rewards. It’s very liberating to be shooting and answering only to myself – not second-guessing someone else.  I take more chances creatively because I’m not afraid to fail.  And every time I’ve ever done that, I’ve grown and the rewards have been many – both creatively and financially.

I don’t know exactly how and where my Opening Our Eyes project will be distributed when I complete my journey.  But these days – it could be a book, a multimedia exhibition, a feature film distributed through itunes or on a DVD through Amazon, various magazine articles or broadcast.  I could package the journey and the back-story and give talks to universities.  An endless sea of possibilities.  What an amazing time we live in where we can all make our dreams come true.

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Gearing Up For A HDSLR Documentary

Most people have no idea of how much really goes into planning for even the simplest films. My biggest job was to come up with the right mix of gear that would enable me to shoot both still images and video in a high-end way, yet remaining to be portable and lean as far as what we would be bringing with us. That can be an overwhelming task – but the more I break it down and prepare for it with a Plan A, B and C – the more confident and relaxed I feel as our departure date nears.

Please watch the  video that I created (nothing fancy) showing the gear that I’ll be bringing around the world on a 99 day shoot for my passion project Opening Our Eyes.

I’m embracing the HDSLR system since I want to shoot both stills and video but by no means is it streamlining my equipment needs. Quite the contrary, I’m bringing an assortment of lenses that I wouldn’t be taking if I were shooting with a traditional camera, as well as a lot of third party gear to augment audio capture and rigging for stabilization. What you don’t see in the video are the two (redundant) MacBooks that are essential when shooting any tapeless workflow.

Of course there are a million other details to cover for a 3 month trip around the world.
I’m still trying to determine my mobile phone and service needs. I’ve set up Skype on both laptops – yes 2 laptops because when you’re shooting tape less you are totally dependent on a computer and a back up if one fails. I’ll most likely upgrade my Blackberry because it’s been two years and that’s light-years in the tech world of communications. And I need to activate travel/medical emergency insurance as well as register my equipment with US Customs and add new gear to my business insurance policy.

There are also accommodations for 99 nights and a slew of internal airline tickets that needed to be taken care of. Read about it more at: Opening Our Eyes

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The Race To The Bottom and/or Video

I’m waking up to a beautiful day in San Diego and thinking about my old California days when I lived in Santa Barbara and attended Brooks Institute.  That was a long time ago but whenever I’m in southern California, my head goes back to my beginnings – my beginnings with my husband and partner and my beginnings of my career as a photographer.

Sounds funny now when I mention career and photographer in the same sentence.  But that’s the way it was back then (mid ‘70’s) when you had to be technically savvy to make a good photograph – a technically good photograph that is.  These days just about anybody can create a technically good photograph because of how technology has changed the tools of our trade.  And that’s why it’s gotten harder and harder to make a career out of photography.

It seems like there’s a race to the bottom in photography these days. By that I mean that a lot of photographers will do just about anything to get the job – from giving away rights to almost doing the job for nothing.  I almost can’t blame them when they are facing mounting bills and the phone rings less and less and they consistently get undercut by their peers.  On the other hand I have to wonder, is technology totally to blame for the race to the bottom or did we do it to ourselves?

I talk to lots of photographers these days because I give short seminars about video. A lot of photographers have clients who are asking for video and they want to respond to that.  A lot of photographers see their business dwindling as print needs dry up and as we move to electronic publishing. With that of course comes even more of a demand for video content. And a lot of photographers are there because still cameras are now capable of shooting video.

I cringe when I hear that someone’s motivation for getting into video is because of a tool.  I cringe because I know that it’s not about the tool and that one should really focus on what makes them unique – and how they “see” things.  Right now, you have to still be technically savvy to be able to produce decent videos – with good sound and edited well. Is it only a matter of time before technology makes these tools so good that just about anybody can shoot good video? Perhaps.

I strongly suggest that photographers get out of their solo independent ways of thinking and embrace collaboration when they move into video.  Get away from the tool centric way of thinking.  Surround yourself with people who you can work with – sound people, editors, and musicians.  Place more importance on thinking in motion and storytelling in motion.  And most importantly, produce your own videos, even if that means taking a chance.  Work directly with clients instead of being just one rung on the ladder.  Otherwise you’ll be on the content rung, which is way down at the bottom of ladders these days.

So, while I’m sitting here on a beautiful morning in San Diego and California dreaming – I’m remembering a lot of my peers from my old Brooks Institute days.  I think about what they are doing now – are they still working in photography?  I think the ones who are the ones who shot images that had some soul and went way beyond being technically perfect.

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Gearing Up With HD DSLR’s

Last week was incredibly stressful. I had been dealing with obtaining visas – a somewhat monumental task of which I had no control over, in preparation for my upcoming project Opening Our Eyes, that will literally take me around the world.

On one of my many trips to New York City, I went to B&H and purchased some gear I needed for the Opening Our Eyes documentary that I will be shooting. The gear I bought included – Canon 5D and Canon 7D cameras with extra batteries, (2) 16 GB Sandisk Extreme compact flash cards (I’ll need more), Manfrotto 190CX3 light weight carbon fiber tripod with the Manfrotto 701 fluid head (I needed a small tripod and head that will fit in a backpack),  Samson Zoom H4N digital audio recorder, 2 GB Sandisk SD card for audio, recorder, Rode Shotgun mic with “dead cat”, Delvcam Camera Mount Adaptor (this attaches to bottom of H4N Zoom recorder giving it a hot shoe plate), Rycote Hot Shoe Extension/Extender (this attaches to the hot shoe on the top of the camera giving you extra room for devices – for me, the H4N Zoom recorder and a shock mount for the Rode mic) an adaptor so I can hardwire my Tram lav to the Zoom digital recorder, XLR cords of various lengths, and a couple of Rugged Lacie portable hard drives (500GB)

This weekend, I decided to familiarize myself with the new gear and do some testing. I was looking forward to getting back to my “purpose” for the trip and leave the administrative nightmares behind. I am not a shopper, nor am I a gadget freak. I buy new equipment when I have a need for it as opposed to because it exists. There’s something to be said about sticking with gear that you are comfortable with so that you can concentrate solely on the creative, but because of the pace of technology we are somewhat forced to keep current with our tools.

Whenever I add a new tool to my bag of tricks – I go through a process. First experiencing the thrill of something brand new in my hands. When I first took the Samson H4N Zoom out if it’s little coffin like plastic case and held it in my hands it was a sensual experience because of its design and what they make it out of. The second phase of the “new gear process” is reading the manuals and figuring out how things work. With the Zoom this was a bit frustrating and I am one who is already familiar with audio devices, so I can only imagine the frustration for someone who is not audio savvy. It’s such a sophisticated little mixer with so many choices that it took some time getting used to it. After much testing I settled on the 4Channel mode.

Over the weekend I tested both the Canon 5D and 7D cameras, recording sound with their internal mics as well as with a shotgun mic on camera plugged directly into the camera with an XLR to mini plug cord. I also tested both cameras, recording the audio separately through the H4N Zoom using the shotgun on the camera, and with the shotgun on a boom closer to the subject. Then I tested my Tram mic hard wired into the recorder and finally I did a test with the Tram and shotgun mics recorded on separate tracks on the Zoom.

After the tests, I brought both the video and audio files into Final Cut Pro. I had also purchased Philip Blooms 7D tutorial and in the workflow section he mentions how sluggish and problematic it is to work with the H264 files that come directly out of the camera. He recommends converting the files to Apple Pro Res LT either using compressor or MPEG StreamClip which is faster. I tried it both ways and he’s right the MPEG StreamClip is much faster. After I converted the files into Apple Pro Res LT, I imported them into Final Cut along with the WAV audio files. Incidentally, I shot everything at 24 frames a second and recorded the audio as WAV files at 48KHZ. In addition, I recorded sound through the camera, even though I was capturing my audio with an independent device. I knew I would use it as a reference when syncing the sound in post. My next step was to sync the audio files with the video/audio files coming from the camera. I used a clapper when recording so syncing was pretty easy. Philip Bloom mention using a software called PluralEyes for help with syncing audio and video in post but I have not yet purchased it. I did find out that you need to keep good organizational notes when shooting so that you can easily match up the audio files with the camera files later on. I decided that I like using the 4Channel mode with the digital recorder and using two external mics along with the stereo pair on the recorder. In post I can uncheck “stereo pair” and work on each channel independently.

So after a weekend of playing with the new gear, I went through the gamut of emotions from the thrill of newness to the incredible frustration of learning something new before the light bulb goes off. It will take a while to get to the third phase of the “new gear process” and that’s becoming very comfortable with the tools. And I can almost guarantee when that comfortable feeling start to happen, there will be something new that I’ll need to buy.

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Some DOs and DON’Ts of Social Media

This past weekend I put together a presentation on Social Media Tips for the group, Professional Women Photographers, this coming Wednesday, Jan. 6th in New York City.
Here are a couple of tips that I will talk about.

• Be consistent and strategic with your “brand” – Create a plan. Who are you? What do you have to say?
• Listen first – then engage in the conversation.
• Build your community – Who will you follow? Who do you want to attract?
• Be authentic and share – provide value – relevant and useful content.
• Don’t sell.
• Use links – provide news.
• Create and sort groups of Facebook “friends” – separate personal and business “friends”
• Set up a Facebook Fan Page for your business – complete the profile, including photo.
• Take part in discussions or answers on Linkedin.
• Set up an editorial calendar for blog – this will give you a structure.
• Comment on other blogs – become an expert.
• Use tools like Hootsuite, Tweetdeck, SocialOomph, SocialToo,, involver – to organize and automate tweets.
• Don’t create tweets with more than 120 characters – leave room for retweets
• Use for topics and people
• Set up “alerts” with Google alert or tweetbeep – to see where your name is being mentioned
• Use @(name) in tweet for someone who is not a follower
• Set up a daily routine – will help with time management

Please add to the list. Interact and share.

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Video News

I came across some interesting things this week, so I am passing them along.

One was the much anticipated announcement of the debut of the Scarlet – a new camera from the same company that makes The Red. There have been a lot of rumors about this camera over the past year and it will be rolled out in 2010.  Check out Philip Bloom’s blog about it. And here’s another post on FreshDV with information about the Scarlet.

If you’re a Sony EX-1 shooter, here’s an interesting tip along with a how-to-video on using the Zacuto Z-finder with that camera. This viewfinder was made for the Canon 5d, but Martijn Schroevers found a clever way to attach it to the LCD of the Sony EX-1.

Next up is yet another new video camera format from Sony – NXCAM. The NXCAM can record 1920 x 1080 images at 24Mbps (50i or 25p), as well as supporting 720/50p and Standard Definition recording.
Very interesting but I wish these camera manufacturers would standardize formats and codecs.

I also came across a very interesting company called Wistia. They allow you to share and host your videos but in addition they offer heatmap tracking which gives you a visual spectrum of how your visitors watch your videos and what attracts them or confuses them.

And to give you an idea of how much web video viewing has exploded, here’s an online channel Expotv where consumers send in video product reviews. No fancy production values but an interesting concept of sharing information that has really caught on.

With all those news items I figured it was about time I changed my header – gone is that template blue – replaced by something more relevant to the blogger.

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Tools of Change and New Distribution

Up early again, my mind restless and spinning with ideas, thoughts and reflections on last week’s Photo Expo in New York City.  Ironically this year’s Expo didn’t really reveal anything “new” for me in the way of new toys and tools of the trade.  What was new was the obvious absence of Adobe on the exhibitor floor – a sign of the economic times?  Or is it  a sign of how the photographic business is shifting – from professional to prosumer?

While in NYC I took time to see Robert Frank’s exhibition “The Americans” at the MET.  His beautiful images have stayed in my head and no doubt will provoke me to jump-start one of the many projects that continue to bubble to the surface in my mind.  But there was one thing I read in context of the exhibition and that was a statement made about the camera being a “tool of change” during Frank’s time. I started thinking about that and realize that the camera, whether it be a still camera or a motion camera is still a “tool of change”.  James Natchwey’s images are powerful examples of that.

What is radically different today is our means of distribution – of getting our imagery seen.  No tool has the power to make a difference or a change if what it creates is never seen.  I started thinking about the demise of newspapers and print in general and I was dismayed about the future Temple of Horus, Edfu, Egyptand the still photos that may never be seen.

With the Internet and global distribution, the playing field has been leveled and democratized and anyone can share anything they create with the rest of the world – right?  Maybe not – because ultimately the web is controlled.  It’s controlled by what search engines find and how information is ranked. Listen to Eric Schmidt, Google’s CEO talk about the Internet of the future.  Even Facebook now is deciding which friends will see our news feed.  That default can be changed of course – but you have to be aware of it to change it.  How many of us are aware? And I mean that in the broadest sense, meaning aware of what and how our information is delivered.

All the “free” content we get these days over the web excites us all.  It’s great – but even free comes at a price.  I can only hope that future generations will understand the underlying cost of  “free content” and be aware of who is controlling distribution in this new paradigm.

Video and Social Media – A Great Partnership

Facebook hit one billion video views last month. There are four times as many video views as actual Facebook members. That’s astounding. It also speaks volumes about how much video has become a part of our lives. With Facebook, people are sending video messages to “friends” without sharing them globally on You Tube or other video host sites. Social networkers can also embed their Facebook videos on other web sites or blogs.

But if you think one billion video views in a month’s time is amazing, then you’ll be stunned to hear that YouTube gets over one billion views in a day!

And let’s not forget the new iphoneG3 that is not only a display tool for video, but a tool that can create video content as well. And this is not one of the new hybrid still cameras that also shoots video files – it’s a phone!

So between the new tools that create video content, coupled with the new tools that allow us to share video content, video is becoming a new “norm” in how we communicate. And with these new tools it has become easier for the consumer to use video to communicate. Does that mean video professionals should feel threatened. Not at all. To me it means that because video is becoming the new “norm” there is more and more of a demand for it. And that means that for my clients who have only worked in print before, are now finding a need to deliver their message in video to consumers who have come to expect it. And that’s good for me and my business.

Mobile Video Explosion

Apple’s new iPhone 3Gs has had a huge impact on YouTube since it’s debut this month. In fact video uploads are up 400% each day since the new iPhone came on the market. But aside from the impact of the iPhone, YouTube uploads have increased 1700% over the last six months.

Those statistics are not only phenomenal, but could be the tip of the iceberg when it comes to uploading and sharing videos. No doubt there will be a deluge of some really bad videos that will be bounced around.  But just think how this technology can effectively  convey your message or your company’s message – if presented in a creative, and strategic way. When a web video is done well – it can circle the globe exponentially and virally in a matter of hours. Never before has it been as easy to share video.

The downside of course to any new technology or gadgets is that people jump on the bandwagon without first defining what it is they want to do with it – and why. Just like with the rise in popularity of social media marketing, a business needs to determine how and when to embrace these new tools and do so in a way that’s consistent with their brand or message.

Some thoughts on how you can utilize web videos in your business:
1. How to’s or instructional videos
2. Behind the scenes showing how you or your staff work
3. Client testimonials
4. Relaying your company’s message

And remember just because every one is doing it – doesn’t mean it’s right for you. You need to answer that question for yourself.  But if you do embrace video in your marketing efforts – if done right, it can create awareness around the world and it’s never been easier.

It’s The Idea

I’m often asked by people “What kind of video camera should I buy?”. I must confess that question drives me crazy. It’s kind of like someone asking me what kind of car they should buy. But at least with cars – the end result is pretty much the same – you need something to get you from here to there.

I think in this time of fast moving technology with even 10 year olds uploading videos to You Tube that they’ve created that we’ve all started to believe that if we just buy a camera – we too can be videographers. It’s “just” that easy.

But what we seem to be forgetting is – what are we trying to visually communicate? That message or idea is EVERYTHING. I think we’ve all seen enough big budget films that are flops because they’ve lacked a story.

I’ve always been a means to an end type person. I first think about what I’m interested in and what I want to communicate and share with others. Then I concentrate on what “tools” will get me there.

No matter how technologically advanced we are – we all need to remember – why did we shoot this video to begin with? What is it we are trying to say? Seems sublimely simple? It is – but without something to say – you may end up with a lot of “packaging and fizz” if you’re lucky or worse yet a really poorly executed video that no one cares to watch.

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