Phone-ography…

A paradigm (para-dime) is typical pattern or model of something.

One of the paradigms of visual storytelling has been a certain type of camera. For years these cameras were the domain of professionals…large, extremely expensive, totally amazing pieces of technology. It took big bucks to get one and you made big bucks if you had not only the technical knowledge but the aesthetic sense and storytelling ability to use one.

Then…the paradigm shifted in the early 2000s. The big boys still made big bucks with big gear…but suddenly there was a new class of camera…halfway between the little consumer cams and the big professional guns. The pro-sumer camcorder. It had many of the nifty features of the pro cams, such as good glass and three chips and professional audio inputs. Manual controls. Good stuff all around, although noticeably not really up to pro standards.

And these little baby-cams began to gain in popularity as more and more people began to use them for an audience who demanded more and more video. The digital explosion send shock waves across the planet with the better quality cameras and affordable non-linear editing programs brought a new technology into the hands of the citizenry.

Another paradigm shift is going on right now and we see it every day and don’t even think about it. Cell phones began sprouting up in the 1990s…then morphed into phones that could take pretty lousy still shots…then not-so-bad stills. Then by leaps and bounds these little wonders turned into do-it-all mobile devices. Talk. Text. Surf the ‘Net. Shoot stills – and video. Not just plain ole video and stills, but high def stuff.

And they are taking over. Some years back when I began this blog I did a posting on Dinosaurs Fighting or Survival. Times had changed and if the pros who shot news (both still and video) didn’t change with them, they were out a job.

But back then the pros were either flocking over to the new technology or resisting mightily. It was a threat to their way of life – what they knew and could do.

Then technology ramped up its game and the gear got so good that the definition of “professional” took on a whole new meaning as more and more folks acquired the new smaller cameras. It quickly became apparent that the size of the lens and the heft of the camera had little to do with the ability to communicate. What mattered (and still very much matters) is a sense of aesthetics and storytelling. AND knowing how to make the gear you are working with work with you to tell the most powerful story possible.

But even the pro-sumer cameras (and many consumer cams too) had the familiar look to them. Lens in front, kinda boxy and rectangular. LCD on the side. It still looked like a real camcorder.

Enter the new mobile devices…thin, flat and less than the size of the palm of your hand. No optical zoom and minimal digital zoom. A new style of shooting and storytelling came with these new devices.

No longer able to pull in a far-away shot, you now had to zoom with your feet (or arms) to get in closer. The camera is no longer part of your body (hold it close to keep it steady…tripod it, cradle it). The camera is now an extension of your arm…your hand. In order to get a variety of shots you really need to get intimate with your subject. As in, arms-length close. Or closer.

And the storytelling end has had to change too. Rather than full-blown packages (including interviews, variety of shots, lotsa b-roll) stories are simpler. One long shot of an event such as a parade or riot. An interview covered with b-roll of an event or meeting. Impressions rather than full explanation. These “impressions” are often paired on the Internet with text and more information, which together tell a full story. The audience can choose to view the video and get the background from the other resources available or just read the information or just view the video to get a sense of what happened.

I doubt very much that mobile devices are going to take over the visual storytelling world any more than consumer or prosumer camcorders took over from professional gear. What they do is open up an entirely new way and new possibilities in visual storytelling to even more storytellers.

Yeah – it’s nice to belong to an exclusive club. Been there. Done that. But the new wave of stories coming at us will open our eyes and the world even more. And can that be a bad thing?

Transparency: Co-author Larry Nance and I have been discussing how to include all levels of gear in our pending textbook,The Basics of Videojournalism. He is a big proponent of technology and not only keeping up with the latest, but staying on the cresting wave as it thunders across the ocean. So expect full inclusion of not only prosumer and consumer and DSLR…but also mobile devices in the book.

Update – forgot that an earlier posting has a number of examples of mobile storytelling (using a Kodak Playtouch). Check it out.

Story Ideas 9.20.10

This week a bugaboo that has been sitting in my brain for some time. Are schools REALLY keeping up with technology and learning? As youth become more and more techno-savy, as their learning styles change, are their schools adapting and making use of technology that will reach out and connect…or just making gestures?

Today’s primary and secondary students absorb information differently than old geeks like me. My generation (and a few that followed) learned by the book…seat time. Yeah, we had multimedia…filmstrips, movies. I even remember the first time i saw a TV in the classroom – on the day President Kennedy was assassinated. Not a lot of fanfare, but remarkable at the time. Principal and upper grades teacher Malen Stroh hauled a small TV out of somewhere, set it up, and introduced us to live news – a watershed moment in history and our lives.

But what is happening today? Teachers are encouraged to use technology, but at the same time most districts bind their hands and feet with rules and regulations meant to “protect” everyone. Too many schools love to point out the computers in the classrooms as the “be-all” solution. So while I was teaching video production, I couldn’t have open access to youtube or news videos to show my students. Cell phones and personal electronic devices were forbidden in the classroom (even as certain teachers ignored the rule in favor of creative uses such as recording music to rehearse the choir, bluetoothing music from cell phones to my personal laptop so they could move by thumb drive to their editing station).

Story idea: try this. Survey the students in one school to see what personal electronic devices they use in their everyday lives. Then as how these devices dovetail into their academic lives and how. If at all. Good luck.

Oh – and here’s number two. Take a drive with a fellow employee at rush hour. One of you concentrate on keeping out of trouble…driving. The other have a still or video camera and tape the number of folks who are multitasking as they commute. You can focus on carpoolers, but the really interesting ones are those driving alone. I’ve seen everything from drinking coffee to cell phoning to putting on mascara (with both hands yet at 70mph in the fast lane) to texting with both hands while merging at 55mph.

Story idea: this is a visual story only. You don’t need words when a picture is worth a cool thousand. See how many variations of “look ma, no hands” you can get in one commute session.

Now be careful out there…