It’s called death watch…

…the stories you go on “just in case”…

Routine almost to the point of boring.   Hop on over to Amanda Emily’s The Dope Sheet and check it out.

Addendum April 13, 2014. Just noticed how many folks are clicking through on the link above and think I’d better explain a bit. A lot of times news crews are given routine assignments that may or may not end with something on air/published. The intent is more to be present just in case something happens. There are crews routinely assigned to follow and travel with the President and other world dignitaries. Some days the images captured never go anywhere…but the crews are still there. Just in case. Think of past attempts to take down the President…those are the times having a crew on scene paid off. Think about the Hindenburg…crews on scene captured that tragedy. It’s a bet…a gamble…one you don’t even want to come true. But. Crews are there.

How do I choose a camera?

Panasonic AG-HMC150 and Samsung NX-1000

Panasonic AG-HMC150 and Samsung NX-1000

Dangerous ground…especially if you don’t know enough to know what you should be looking for.

This blog posting is for those who want to stretch their knowledge and move beyond simple P&S (point and shoot) folks who just use their cameras to take family photos or video or LAMIGABEC! (Look at me – I’ve got a big expensive camera!) types who are all about impressing folks.

This blog posting is for those of you who just know somehow you’re missing out on the real secrets of shooting and editing video…what makes the magic. As mentioned in a previous posting, it’s not the wand…it is the magician waving the wand that makes the magic. But you do, after all, need a wand…and right now it seems you’re ready to move up to a more powerful one…

Before anything…you must consider what you will be using the camera for. Are you into news video? Documentaries? Movie-making? Event videography? Although this may not affect your decision a lot, you should have some idea of where you want to take your journey.

Next – budget. Don’t even think about buying gear until you have a rough idea of your budget. The low end is not the problem – it’s the high end you need to set. And set it firmly. Once you start shopping you may find yourself wanting to stretch that budget “just a little bit more” for a slightly better camera…and then want to stretch it again…and again. I went through the same throes about three years when I set a camera budget of $3000 and found myself looking at $10,000 cameras. A quick reality check and I had to back off. Finally got a Panasonic AG-HMC150 for around $2700 and had enough left for spare batteries and cards.

Part of the reality check includes a few things you will need to budget for in addition to media and accessories. Media tops the list after the camera. Hopefully you’ve already picked up a (somewhat workable) tripod somewhere. You can get by with one battery initially. But you will need a microphone other than what’s built-in to the camera. And you WILL need to pay taxes and shipping (which can run you over budget if you’re not thinking).

Now…on to choosing the camera. Fist, think about form. The choices are pretty simple: DSLR, Micro 4/3 – basically still cameras and camcorder/video cameras. If you’re serious you want a camera/camcorder with a microphone input, headset out (to monitor audio) and some way to manually control aperture, shutter speed, ISO.

Video cameras are meant to shoot video. Prices for a camera with the features mentioned above generally start at a higher price point than the still camera choices. On the low end they have attached lens and controls accessible by menu. On the higher end the controls are located where you can see and access them on the camera body. The camera itself is meant to be hand-held (or tripod-mounted). You can monitor your visuals through either the LCD or a viewfinder (for shooting in bright sunlight). The camera has a built-in microphone/usually a shotgun or directional mike. But you can also plug in an external mike through either 3.5mm/mini-jack inputs or XLR/professional connectors. On the lower end of the price range the lenses are part of the camera…as you hit mid-range pricing (say around $3,000 to $4,000) you can get cameras with detachable lenses, giving you more options for shooting extreme wide angle or tele shots.

Still cameras are meant to shoot still photographs, but many today also shoot video. Again, you want the same features if you’re serious. Mike input, headset out, manual controls. One of the primary advantages of this category of camera is that even with the lower end cameras you can get detachable lenses or buy adapters and use old film lenses and get shallow depth of field – meaning you can selectively choose what is in focus and what is not. Although the same effect can be achieved with camcorders, it takes more knowledge and is not always as effective (until – once again – you get into being able to detach and choose lenses). The form factor of still cameras does not always lend itself to handheld…these cameras are designed to be held while following and shooting stills. It is more difficult to hold them steady for video clips. So you may need a rig – a contraption that helps you hold the camera steady while hand-holding. The built-in microphones on still cameras are not as effective as those on video cameras. You need to search and make sure you purchase a camera with both an LCD and viewfinder…preferable an orientable LCD so you can slap that camera on the ground or hold over your head and still be able to monitor your images. Still cameras with mike inputs all use 3.5/mini-jack inputs. Or (if your budget is low) there may not be an input for an external mike at all. So…more choices. If no mike input, purchase a digital audio recorder…something you can place or hold out to get clear audio. Of course you’re going to have to synch the audio and video up in editing, which adds to your production time. Next – purchase microphones with mini-jack terminals. Third, get an XLR adapter so you can use professional mikes. Regarding manual controls…still cameras tend to be menu driven, although at the higher end there are more options for external control.

Now I’ve shot with both video cameras (a lot) and a micro 4/3 (a bit) and the images are stunning on both. The micro 4/3 I have does not have any mike inputs so I’ve had to resort to holding a little DAR/digital audio recorder out the same way I would hold a stick mike to do interviews. It works fine…and for around $280 for the still camera vs. $2700 for the video camera…I can do that.

If you’re on a learning curve…look at all of the alternative affordable options and work your way up the food chain of cameras.
Happy trails!

Victim or perpetrator?

I follow Carlos Miller’s Photography Is Not a Crime blog for a reason. Ninety-nine percent of the time photographers are harassed due to either ignorance about First Amendment rights by law enforcement and other agencies or at times those agencies or employees deliberately ignoring the rights of media and citizens.

First – the media has no more nor less rights than any citizen of this great country. So if a videojournalist is pushed back and locals are allowed to stay near a homicide scene that is wrong – illegal. Journalists can, however, be allowed closer and are even protected under some state laws so they can have access to disaster and other areas closed off to the general public for safety reasons.

So all of this leads to what appears at first glance to be yet another case of cop v. citizen caught on a cell phone. Take a look at the videos here and then let me explain my take on it.

If you watched all nine videos you’ll note some are extremely short, which I’ll attribute to Ikhinmwin possibly either having difficulty uploading or editing or both (those are the one or two second clips).

I went to her youtube channel fully intending to support her and find fault with the police…and after watching the videos and reading the comments, I find fault with both the police and her.

The police could have ignored her…but they did have a point in the fact her bike was legally on the street/over the curb. You can even see that in her own video. And refusing to move a bike because you don’t want the tires to get dirty? Hmmmm…

This is a case that (at least to me) is up in the air – still out waiting for more information. If Ikhnmwin shot this as one clip, it has been edited. It is possible she shot multiple clips…and I for one would like to know which is the case because what is posted does not bode well for her. Her own video shows her bike was on the street and her reason for not moving it seems rather petty. I do think the officer came after her too harshly…and between the two of them, the situation escalated. And the officer is the one who should have been professional enough to let it go. But – there was absolutely no cooperation or courtesy from Ikhnmwin either.

Final score? The cops came out smelling worse but the so-called victim doesn’t come off much better. And if the court of public comments has anything to say (and be warned some of them are pretty nasty) simple courtesy might have averted an arrest.

Thought for the day…

…picked this up from Dieter Melhorn over on b-roll.

…it’s not the wand, it’s the magician waving it…

that makes the magic. So for you myriad producers, wanna-be’s, and everyone else. No matter which camera you use, the person behind the camera is who makes the difference between crap and creativity. They have the technical chops to know how to use whatever camera they’re given and the aesthetic and practical workflow knowledge to squeeze the most out of said camera.

Once again…a pricy camera in the hands of an idiot produces high quality crap. Hire for experience and brains, not because someone happens to have access to a dream camera.

The International community is coming together…

…on facebook. Inevitable.

Michael Mandela/Kenya

Michael Mandela/Kenya

Like seeks like…and I like a number of pages that allow me to communicate with those with similar interests. They include everything from BEA/Broadcast Education Association to videojournalist (thanks Ruud Elmendorp) to Global VJs and then find a journalist…around the world (which I help administer) and others.

I learn so much about how news is covered in other countries and by other cultures…the similarities in the process and the varying struggles with both gear, law, and ethics.

Suparna Gangal/India

Suparna Gangal/India

But the grand thing is the open discussion among professionals with a passion for storytelling. Interestingly enough gear is the least discussed. Where and how to find work tops the list…followed by a need for comradery and a willingness to help each other. And the need to keep it professional and focused on providing genuine journalism…real stories. Stories that allow those elsewhere to glimpse lifestyles which draw us together as a world community.

Ruud Elmendorp/Nairobi

Ruud Elmendorp/Nairobi

…and to be called friend – as in a real friend – by videojournalists I have never encountered in the flesh…is meaningful.

The domino effect…

SAMSUNG CSC …is how I once got a job. Had applied for a shooter position at KPIX in San Francisco and got a call one day from Harry Fuller (I think but can’t accurately remember if he was the AD at the time), who proceeded to tell me I was his second choice for the job. And I’m thinking, “Second??? Then why the heck are you calling???” Fuller went on to tell me that he’d hired a cameraman from KQED…AND that there would be an opening there within the next few days.

Domino effect.

When one job is filled, more than likely another will open when the new hire moves into his or her new gig.

And, depending on how little experience you have and how desperate you are, you can follow that string of dominoes back quite a way. Good luck and you’re welcome.

BTW – I got the job at KQED.