The Digital Journalist

The IMMF Hanoi Photo Workshop
June 2005

by Charles Dharapak

Being invited back to Vietnam a second time by Horst Faas to teach at the IMMF's second workshop for Vietnamese photojournalists was a great thrill for me, especially now that I am based in Washington, D.C., far from the life and assignments I covered while based in Southeast Asia for 10 years, of which eight were for The Associated Press. Horst's sudden illness just before the workshop's start and absence for its duration hung heavily on the tutors, but we were determined to carry it through, because that's what Horst would have wanted.

Our hosts were the Vietnamese News Agency, who were very gracious in providing us their auditorium-like meeting room which we used for daily editing sessions and presentations all under the watchful gaze of a larger-than-life plaster bust of Vietnamese nationalist leader Ho Chi Minh.

Charles Dharapak, left, and Jim Caccavo, right, look through students' images as Chau Doan, IMMF Vietnam Coordinator, rear left, looks on.

Photograph by Dang Huu Thang
Unlike the first workshop in Ho Chi Minh City in 2002, where most of the work was shot on film, this workshop was to be completely digital. The theme of the workshop was "Practical News Journalism," where the students would be tasked with photographing the multiple facets of news photography, amongst which are daily life features, sports, spot news, culture and the arts.

For me, the thought of coordinating the "technical side" of the workshop familiarizing the students with digital cameras (many of whom used one for the first time in this workshop), managing the image production and editing workflow for 33 Vietnamese photographers divided among six tutors (including myself) was a daunting task.

Canon Vietnam was integral in supplying the workshop with over $150,000 worth of their latest digital camera equipment. For the duration of the eight-day workshop, each student was dispatched with lenses and a digital camera body from the latest top-of-the-line 16-megapixel Canon 1Ds Mark II to the "entry level" Canon EOS Digital Rebel XT.

Canon Vietnam's Nguyen Thanh Minh, left, and Canon Singapore's Roland Poon, right, make final preparations before distributing Canon digital equipment to workshop participants.

In addition to the photographic equipment, Canon also provided A3- and A1-sized inkjet photo printers with which the day's best pictures were printed and taped onto the workshop walls.

The AP's Discminder software was perfect for ingesting and managing the raw files from the photographers' disks when they came back from their assignments. The raw images were copied onto a central server and then each tutor would browse the images and make selects with PhotoMechanic software.

The students were excited. Aside from the three or four who had participated in the first workshop, most of the others had never before experienced being tutored by Western photojournalists. Armed with the latest in Canon digital technology, they came back from the first morning's shoot with a whopping 12 gigabytes of jpeg images.

Digital became advantageous as an ideal teaching and coaching tool for the tutors and students. Since most of the Vietnamese photographers are color negative shooters, habits such as overexposing were evident (good for printing negatives; very bad for digital exposure). Camera settings were immediately reviewable while browsing the raw files, and students were able to address technical errors they were making in the field.

After eight days, 30,000 images were shot, taking up a whopping 60 gigabytes of disk space. From that, 33 singles images from each photographer and 10 essays were hung on the walls.

© Charles Dharapak

Charles Dharapak is a staff photographer for The Associated Press, based in Washington, D.C., where he covers the White House and national politics. He joined the Associated Press in 1995 as a staff photographer in Bangkok, Thailand, and was based in Jakarta, Indonesia, from 1997-2003, where he was chief photographer and photo editor. During that turbulent time he covered the downfall of Suharto and Indonesia's transition to democracy, including East Timor's independence struggle. In addition to covering various news and feature stories throughout his eight years in Asia for the AP, he has completed lengthy assignments in the Middle East covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. His work has received awards from the National Press Photographers' Association, the White House News Photographers' Association and the Associated Press Managing Editors' Award.