The Digital Journalist

The Platypu Papers
Part Three

by Dirck Halstead

For the still photographers who had emerged from the video journalism training at Video News International, there was universal agreement that an important new dimension had been instilled in their work.

Their eyes were as keen as ever, interpreting their stories in visual moments, but now sound had been added, and they realized how much they had been missing in their stories. With sound, they could add mood, texture and exposition.

In the grand days of LIFE and LOOK, there was the luxury of space that would allow the photojournalist to develop these elements in a visual structure over a series of spreads. However, in today's world of single illustrations, it became necessary to "posterize" complex story lines, leaving exposition to the writer, who in most cases, had little reference to or regard for the image.

The key point that VNI hammered home is that now the video journalist would be entirely responsible for developing the story. That went from concept through reporting, writing the script, and overseeing the edit. As important to the success of the story as the eye of the photographer was the interview with the subject . . the sound bites that provided the narrative.

So important was the sound that a lot of attention had to paid to the quality that the mike could deliver. If you close your eyes while watching 60 Minutes, you will find that you can absorb the story with no problem. The images enhance the story, but it is the sound that is vital to understanding.

Recently I visited a major New York photo agency with Brian Storm who is the lead multimedia picture editor for MSNBC ON LINE, and listened as the agency head offered stories to on-line use. Storm made the point that in the future the needs of the new media will be for not only still photo stories, but also for those stories that have multimedia elements, chief of which is sound.

The reality is that today, very few of these resources exist.

So, I can imagine you saying to yourself as you read this . . "he must be nuts ! It's all I can do to get the pictures, let alone mess around with sound!"

In many cases, this is true. If you are trying to get a quick shot for the next edition, obviously this doesn't apply . . however, for the other times, when you are working on features and more importantly personal projects (which everyone should be doing), you have time to add this extra dimension. I recommend that to start you get a simple handycam, which probably most of you already have. Most of these 8mm video cameras already have hifi mikes built in. They are just fine for collecting "nat sound" . .the sound that you hear as part of the background while you are shooting your stills. Then, you can move that camera in inches from a subject to collect interview sound bites.

You will note that I have not been talking about video. I am talking about using this little camera simply for acquiring audio. You could do the same thing with a professional quality tape recorder, but you will note again I said "Professional quality." The fact is that the handycam mike is going to be better than all but the most expensive broadcast recorders. As time goes on, you can add more expensive shotgun mikes to this inexpensive video camera, simply by plugging them into the auxiliary input.

So, how do you do this without interfering with your still photography?

The fact is that in most cases still and television moments exist in a separate time-space continuum. Still photographs must be acquired at precise moments in time . . they are moments of interaction between subjects. Television on the other hand, is largely about sequences, the moments that lead up to and follow the still photo moment. Interviews can be done when it is convenient for the journalist and the subject. Just think about how often as a photographer you have sat around while the reporter interviewed the subject, or just waited for the next photo moment to occur.

It is this time that you will start to take advantage of to produce your multimedia reports.

If you are covering a speech or a press conference, the video camera can be simply turned on and left running, acquiring sound while you go about taking your pictures.

This simple technique gets you through the door of multimedia.

As time and practice continues, you will become more expert at integrating these practices. But the key is a thought process . .

It is "I alone am responsible for my story".


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