The Digital Journalist
Platypus Workshop:
Summer Camp 2006

by James Colburn

September 2006

You don't really have to take a Platypus Workshop if you are a still photographer and you want to learn how to shoot video.

The Digital Journalist's Jim Colburn works at editing his final piece at the Maine Platypus Workshop.

Joan Gramatte
You can buy yourself a camera (figure on spending $2,000-$4,000 for something good with standard def and $4,500-$9,000 for something that will handle high def). You'll need a decent tripod (figure on $600-$1,000), some lights (around $1,000 for a new Lowel kit), a computer (you probably already have one) and some editing software (Final Cut Pro HD is only $1,300). Then you'll need a few good books (I highly recommend Final Cut Pro HD For Dummies as a good reference) and, oh, a couple of months to plod through everything.

Platypus Workshop Director Dirck Halstead demonstrates use of the Canon XLH camera at the Maine Photo Workshop.

Joan Gramatte
You'll probably spend some extra cash on a few dozen MiniDV tapes since you'll be experimenting a lot and an understanding spouse or partner would be handy to have as you'll be doing a bit of screaming and swearing as you fail to connect cord A to the correct port or forget to hit Apple S a lot and lose the last hour of an edit.

On the other hand, you can spend a pleasant couple of weeks in Maine (at The Workshops in Rockport) or California (at Brooks in Ventura) using HD cameras supplied by Canon (no, you don't get to take one home) and computers pre-loaded with Final Cut Pro (no, you don't get to take them home either).

The summer 2006 Platypus class in front of their classroom at the Maine Photo Workshop. From left (front) Dirck Halstead (Director), Jim Colburn, Wilton Castillo, John Rybicki (TA), Francis Wolf (TA), Andre Danylevich (TA);(second row) Lisette Lemus, Mauricio Castro, Brynne Keith-Jennings, Jodi Hilton; (back row) Brian Greene, PF Bentley (Edit Instructor), Jerry Mennenga, Drew Brown, Eric Madsen, Andrew Nelson.

Joan Gramatte
You'll get some decent hands-on training in camera use and a few new rules that you'll have to follow if you want someone to actually pay you for your work at some point in the future (the "180 degree rule" doesn't initially make sense to a still shooter but Dirck and my film-student daughter say it's all the rage… and has been since around 1915).

Students from El Diario De Hoy in El Salvador with their Canon XLH camera at the 2006 Maine Photo Workshop. From left: Wilton Castillio, Mauricio Castro and Lisette Lemus.

Dirck Halstead
The crack (some would say cracked) staff will run with you as you delve into the intricacies of Final Cut, save you a few weeks of heartache by telling you the Preference settings that you ought to start with and say "Save Your Work" at irregular intervals so that it gets to be pretty automatic. Saved work is a good thing. Really.

You'll be laughed at, laughed with, encouraged and discouraged. You'll find out some interesting things about yourself (like the student who shall remain nameless Brian, who kept saying that he wasn't a good photographer and that his video was going to look like crap and then showed some really excellent footage containing images that any good still shooter would be happy to have in his or her portfolio).

At the end of the two-week course you'll have a 3- to 5-minute story that will probably surprise you. Mine sure surprised me. I managed to find a great subject (George Gunner, a Maine carver) that I hung out with and filmed for two days. It would have been a wonderful two days if I'd just been able to hang out with the guy and listen to him talk, so the fact that I got to record him and what he does is almost a bonus on some time well spent. Is the piece perfect? Nope. It needs some tweaking before I'll consider it really finished but I'm proud of it and when it's done it'll probably be the first thing on my "reel."

Platypus Workshop Director Dirck Halstead critiques Drew Brown of McClatchy Newspapers following the showing of his final project at the Maine Photo Workshop.

James Colburn
Dirck's been riding me for the past seven years or so to take a Platypus Workshop and I'm glad I finally did. The fact that he turns out to be right about stuff more often as not is annoying but the fact that this Platypus thing has come as far as it has is pretty amazing.

© James Colburn
Contributing Writer