Q & A: Lucy Nicholson
An award-winning photographer reveals how she found a new angle to an old story when she video-profiled 'The Naked Cowboy' for a MediaStorm workshop.
April 2009

Lucy Nicholson is the award-winning senior staff photographer for Reuters. She was born in London, is based in Los Angeles, and has also worked in Mexico City, Chile and Northern Ireland. She has photographed major sporting events, including the Olympics, Superbowl, NBA Finals, Stanley Cup, World Series and U.S. Open. Her photos frequently appear in such publications as Time, Newsweek, The Washington Post, The New York Times, USA Today, Sports Illustrated and MSNBC. She is in the vanguard of photojournalists who are successfully making the transition to multimedia and videojournalism.

Lucy Nicholson
Nicholson told KobreGuide about producing "One Man Brand," a video about the inner life of the Times Square musician who calls himself The Naked Cowboy – as told from the unusual perspective of his girlfriend.

Q: What was the impetus or inspiration for telling this story?

A: I made the multimedia project with Jassim Ahmad, Reuters' Head of Visual Projects, and MediaStorm producer Bob Sacha at a week-long MediaStorm multimedia workshop.

Reuters wanted us to make the piece in a place in New York that was recognizable internationally -- somewhere like Times Square or the New York Stock Exchange. So we made Times Square our location, read about the history, and then went out to talk to people there in an effort to find a story we could focus on.

Originally the concept was that we would see Times Square through the eyes of some of the regulars – a hot dog vendor who had been there for decades, a cop, The Naked Cowboy, an immigrant pedi-cab driver, etc. But once we started interviewing and filming all these people (and then transcribing the interviews), we realized we weren't able to spend enough time to do all of them in depth. And that it would be complex to visually weave their stories into our Times Square location.

Award-winning Reuters photographer Lucy Nicholson worked with MediaStorm to produce "One Man Brand," a video about the inner life of the Times Square musician who calls himself The Naked Cowboy – as told from the unusual perspective of his girlfriend.
When we met The Naked Cowboy and he invited us to his home in New Jersey and we then happened upon his girlfriend, who was able to talk about another side to him, we realized it would make more sense to just concentrate on him, as an icon of Times Square, and have him as the prism through which our viewers would see the place.

Q: What were some of the challenges you faced?

A: The biggest challenge was finding a compelling story and the second biggest challenge was shooting and editing it in the time remaining.

The biggest technical challenge was learning a lot of new equipment and having to make choices on the fly which were far from instinctive. It was also hard to visualize the edit, and shoot what I needed for it, when I haven't done that much Final Cut Pro editing.

It seems to work way better when you plan, decide whether you're going to do audio, video or photos for a specific interview or shot and then just concentrate on that one thing. The two most obvious mistakes I kept making in the beginning were: (a) not using a tripod with video, and (b) not asking questions which required the interviewee to respond with a full sentence in audio interviews.

Q: How was your approach different than all those previous reports on the same subject?

A: The Naked Cowboy is known as an icon of Times Square, who performs year-round wearing nothing more than a cowboy hat, boots and briefs.

Recent reports have detailed his pending $6 million lawsuit against M&Ms candy maker Mars Inc. for trademark infringement.

We aimed to portray the man behind the performer through the eyes of his girlfriend, to get a sense of his motivation, history, and life outside of work.

Q: How did you collaborate with other team members? How were the duties divided?

A: Jassim Ahmad and Bob Sacha were both awesome to work with – full of ideas and very encouraging and collaborative. Bob was teaching us as well as being our producer. He put in as much time as we needed, and stayed working with us at night till we all couldn't stay awake, which is probably not a typical working relationship! Jassim and Bob helped shoot and gather audio, and I helped transcribe and edit -– there was a lot of overlap. That's perhaps the difference with multimedia projects – it's a complete collaboration or it doesn't work. I needed to keep going back to them to ask what the story was becoming and what was missing, so I could go look for those pieces out in the field.

Q: How did audio help shape your story?

A: Good audio immerses the viewer in the location. It was a challenge to record specific sounds in the cacophony of Times Square.

We were fortunate to have permission from TMR Records to use songs from The Naked Cowboy's album “What The Naked Cowboy Wants to Hear,” so we didn't have to struggle with recording them on location.

So we recorded ambient sound and short quotes of people's reaction to The Naked Cowboy in Times Square, and did the interviews in quieter locations.

Q: What other technical lessons did you learn while producing this story?

A: I learned to not record video and audio indiscriminately, to think about specific shots needed for an edit and deliberately plan how best to get them. To always use a tripod for video (where possible) and headphones for audio.

I think one of the hardest lessons to learn is to not fall in love with your material.  Whole days of footage and creative, pretty shots have to be discarded for the good of a clear, concise story. This is a lesson I have to keep telling myself to learn over and over again!

The biggest technical constraint with the video camera was that it could not be manually focused. So it would be nice to be able to do that in the future and make off-center compositions.

Q: What surprised you most in preparing this story?

A: A surprise I'd like to have over and over again: When you collaborate with talented people and work hard on a project, but don't see where it's going. And then suddenly everything comes together for an end result which is greater than what you have personally contributed – it's a cool feeling.

Q: What else would you like to let people know about what went into producing this story?

A: I think MediaStorm is creating some of the best multimedia out there, so just picking up their way of doing things was valuable in itself. There's no correct formula with mixing audio, stills and video for the Web, so it's good to have people who really know what they're doing give you a formula to start with. The course gave me a lot of confidence. I have a lot to learn, but at least I feel like I'm going in the right direction.

Lucy Nicholson's Equipment:
• Canon Mark III Digital SLR camera
• Canon 5D Digital SLR camera
• Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L Telephoto zoom lens
• Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L Wide Angle zoom lens
• Canon HV20 camcorder & tripod
• Marantz PMD660 CF Digital Audio Recorder
• Beyer M-58 Omni-directional microphone
• Audio-Technica 3-pin XLR
• Lavalier microphone
• Sony headphones
• Final Cut Pro on Mac computer





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