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June 6th, 2014

PDN Video Pick: Making Beautiful, Dramatic Video Portraits

At several Washington, DC schools, kids are interacting with infants as part of an innovative anti-bullying program, and Washington Post multimedia producer Brad Horn recently visited Maury Elementary school to shoot a story about it. Instead of approaching it as “a standard news story” with bright TV lighting and talking head administrators, Horn combined intimate interviews of kids talking about their own experiences with bullying and rich, out-of-the-ordinary video portraits.

Horn, whose work and advice we featured in our article “Create Smooth Video Tracking Shots on the Fly (And On a Budget),” talked to PDN about some of the lighting and tracking techniques he used to create the Maury School video.

PDN: How did you do the tracking shots?
BH: I used a [Kessler] Pocket Jib.

PDN: Did you operate it yourself?
BH: As a one-man band, I did. But they’re big and heavy. You have to be really strong and kind of crazy to do this by yourself. It took all my strength to move the jib around the school once I got it set up.  I had to carry everything up three flights of stairs. Then there was set-up time, and I had no idea how to use it. I was having to watch YouTube videos right there in the classroom to figure it out.

PDN: You’d never used a jib? Why did you suddenly decide to use it for this job?
BH: I like to spice things up. I love portraiture. if I want to marry portraiture and video portraiture–video portraits can be kind of static. After a while, you want to try something new. A lot of people use sliders, but they’re getting to be cliche–maybe not cliche, but they’re so common. I wanted to try something a little different, something cutting edge, and get people to notice.

PDN: What tips do you have for making good video portraits?
BH: You want to get far away with a long lens, to shorten depth of field and blow out the background. Also, pull the subject away from the background. Lighting is key, though. A lot of people are trained to do TV-style lighting: three lights, with even light across the face. It makes people too brightly lit, and it’s not cinematic, so I like to do Rembrandt-style lighting.

One of Brad Horn's video portrait set-ups at Maury Elementary school.

One of Brad Horn’s video portrait set-ups at Maury Elementary school. Photo by Carolyne Albert-Garvey

 

PDN: How do you achieve that?
BH: I use a Lowel Rifa-Lite eX88, which is pretty big. It’s a softbox. Then I have an egg crate that goes over [the] top of it [to control light spill]. I just use one light, and light subjects from the side, so there’s a  dramatic fall-off of light across the subject’s face. One side is noticeably darker.

PDN: The light and color have a rich, dark quality throughout the video in general. How did you get that?
BH: Mostly with the softbox. What took me probably too long to realize was not to mix daylight and tungsten. The tungsten lights are very warm. The trick is to use daylight-balanced bulbs. Then I mess around a lot with saturation: desaturating the dark colors, and saturating the light colors. I also increase the contrast. I’ll mess around with color balance as well. A lot of people tend to warm things up, but sometimes I make things cooler. So [the look] is the interplay of a lot of things.

PDN: Were there any other challenges to making this video that aren’t obvious from watching it?
BH: There was a whole sausage factory aspect to it. Bringing the Pocket Jib into the classroom, bringing a boy into a bathroom to film him. I had to explain a lot–that boy was bullied in the bathroom. The setting was important– but they’re still like, “You’re a grown man, bringing a kid into a bathroom.” When you have a strong vision, you’re going to get raised eyebrows. You just have to fight through it, and get to the heart of the story–in this case, the pain of being a kid.

Related article:
Frames Per Second: Create Smooth Video and Tracking Shots on the Fly (and On a Budget)

June 3rd, 2014

Photo Agencies Test Consumer Market with Prints–and T-shirts

One of seven images offered for sale in "Seven x 7 x VII-Print Flash Sale" this week. Photo © Ashley Gilbertson.

One of seven images offered for sale in “Seven x 7 x VII-Print Flash Sale” this week. Photo © Ashley Gilbertson.

In a week-long “flash sale” intended to raise cash for operations and test new ways of engaging with audiences, VII is offering signed 8×10″ prints for $100. Meanwhile, Magnum has announced a 67-hour flash sale of its own, offering signed 6×6″ prints for $100 starting on June 17. In addition, Magnum has struck a deal with Photo.Clothing to emblazon works by various Magnum photographers on t-shirts.

The ventures reflect a new reality for the venerable photo agencies, which have until now steered clear of mass consumer markets to protect their elite brands, and the high value of their members’ work. But their traditional markets and existing streams of revenue may no longer be enough, forcing them to test consumer markets.

“We had a pretty animated discussion about this at the [VII general meeting] in Paris, [and] some questioned whether their prints would lose value if they were to be involved,”  says VII Photo member Ashley Gilbertson.

“Many of us don’t believe that we live in a world that demands we choose to be squarely in the museum / collector side or selling to the public at a far more affordable cost. We can do both, and have been diligent in this sale and will be in the future to protect the higher end print market with edition prints and such.”

For one week only, VII Photo is offering signed prints by six photographers for $100 each. The photographers participating in the sale are Gilbertson, Antonin Kratochvil, Gary Knight, Ed Kashi, Christopher Morris, Anastasia Taylor-Lind, and John Stanmeyer. The sale began May 30 and ends June 6.

Gilbertson says all proceeds from the sale will go to support the business operation of VII, which were recently “slimmed down to give us a chance to grow in different ways.”

The sale lasts only a week because the agency doesn’t have the staff resources to sustain it on an ongoing basis. “Additionally, I think it’s more interesting as something that pops up and then disappears - the prints are an open edition, but there is an inherent value in the photographs only being offered for a short window,” Gilbertson says.

The agency is planning to do two more sales, each featuring the work of different photographers, “to eventually include everyone at the agency,” Gilbertson adds.

Gilbertson says selling images directly to the public expands the audience for VII photographers’ work. “Why should our work live in major collections alone? It shouldn’t. These images have just as much power on the wall, or even on the ‘fridge, in the home of a citizen. Communication is our game, and this is the right move that supports that goal.”

For its part, Magnum has announced a special offer of signed 6×6″ prints of a selection of photos to be announced in the days prior to the start of the sale on June 17. The agency, which did not respond to PDN’s repeated requests via phone and email for an interview, says the 67-hour sale is intended to commemorate its 67th anniversary.

Magnum has also struck a deal with start-up company Photo.Clothing to provide images by several photographers for reproduction on t-shirts. The t-shirts offered for sale so far through Photo.Clothing’s Kickstarter page feature images by Martin Parr, Chris Steele-Perkins, Bruce Gilden, Richard Kalvar and David Alan Harvey, according to the UK-based magazine Creative Review.

So far, seven backers have contributed about $400 toward Photo.Clothing’s Kickstarter goal of $20,000.

June 3rd, 2014

PDN Video Pick: A Year-Long Documentary Project for Stella Artois

Dustin Cohen’s “Made in Brooklyn” project is a character-driven video series about Brooklyn artisans, and after it went viral last year, Cohen started landing assignments. One was a year-long project for beer brand Stella Artois that is just coming to fruition in the form of a 26-minute documentary called “The Chalice Symphony.” It is about the design and construction of four one-of a kind instruments that use Stella Artois chalices to make musical sounds in different ways. At the center of the story is artist/engineer Andy Cavatorta, the instrument builder, and rock band Cold War Kids, which composed a symphony for performance on Cavatorta’s beer chalice creations.

The full video will be released during the next few weeks, but in the meantime, Cohen and Stella Artois have released a series of short, stand-alone excerpts, including the one shown here.

Cohen told us about the project in a brief interview:

PDN: What was the assignment from Stella Artois and the ad agency?
Dustin Cohen: It was to document Andy Cavatorta and his team building four instruments. It’s a process video, but character driven, from inception to completion of the instruments.

PDN: Did you storyboard it in any way at the outset?
DC: It’s documentary in nature, but knowing we had many months of filming in front of us, we had a brief outline of points we wanted to hit–the process of Andy making these instruments, the problem solving, working with his team, the band composing the song–but we didn’t draw out storyboard per se.

PDN: Did you expect it to take a year?
DC: It took longer to complete them than we had planned. There were a lot of elements that had to come together, and it went at its own pace.

PDN: Was your approach to shooting any different from the Made in Brooklyn videos?
DC: Visually speaking, it’s not different. But the scope of this was huge, so there were many more people involved–art directors and creative directors from the agency, and people at Stella Artois.

PDN: That sounds like a lot of bosses. Was that a problem?
DC: I wouldn’t call it a problem. For Made in Brooklyn, I had only myself to answer to. But when you sign up for a project like this, and money is on line, the opinions of other people matter, and some are people with a lot of weight. There were times when it was harder than others, but I’m super proud of the documentary we made.

PDN: What kind of crew did you have? Were you the DP as well as the director?
DC: It depended on the day, but most days, the crew was four or five people: two cameras, a sound person and a DIT (data tech/producer). I directed all the videos, and I grabbed a camera and shot a good amount of it. On a few days, the crew was triple that, when we needed beauty shots or had really important interviews where we needed lighting. We had three cameras, an art department, and grips.

PDN: What advice would you give someone else about to take on a big project like this?
DC: Surround yourself with people that care–production company and crew. There are so many things that change, and you’re going to want to put in so many more things than the budget allows. Having a project we were pumped on made the extra days and hours totally worth it. You’re going to work a lot harder and longer than you think. Be ready, be excited, and surround yourself with other people who are willing to do the same.

Related:
Personal Work That Lands Assignments: Dustin Cohen’s Made in Brooklyn Project (for PDN subscribers)

May 21st, 2014

Advice From the Trenches for Graduating Photography Students

Classes in photography can be a leg up to landing a job as an assistant or getting started in the photography business, but real-world experience often teaches practical lessons not taught in photo schools. What are the important lessons photographers didn’t learn in school, that photographers found themselves scrambling to make up after college?  We recently rounded up some advice for recent graduates (published on PDNOnline). We also asked photographers David Brandon Geeting, Cody Cloud and Andrew Burkle for their perspectives.

Geeting, a Brooklyn-based editorial photographer, graduated from the School of Visual Arts in 2011, and worked as a photo assistant and did other jobs before going into business for himself in 2012. Burkle, a food photographer shooting advertising for national brands, graduated from Ohio University in 2009, and worked as a photo assistant in Chicago before opening a studio last year in Cleveland with photographer David Hagen. Cody Cloud shoots fashion in Los Angeles with his partner, Julia Galdo. He earned his MFA from San Francisco Art Institute in 2005.

Here’s what they told us about the things they wished they’d learned in school, and their advice for new graduates.

What skills do you wish you’d learned while you were in school–but didn’t– that would have helped you most when you got out?

David Brandon Geeting: I wish I would have taken more studio classes and learned more lighting techniques. I shoot a lot of work in the studio now, and everything I do is totally self-taught. When I was in school, I just walked around with a 35mm point-and-shoot camera and made C-prints of off-kilter moments and funny trash on the street. I had no plans of shooting commercially – I thought I would make a living as an artist. I thought I’d be having solo exhibitions and publishing weird books. That is still the goal, but in the meantime I am doing the best I can to survive with self-taught techniques that I could have learned before graduating.

Andrew Burkle: I really wish I had gotten more input on how to price myself and bid on jobs. The problem was that we learned invoicing but not bidding, [which] is a hard skill to teach and standardize. In the beginning I was probably under bidding and getting work, but vastly under valuing myself as well as inadvertently lowering the standard cost for other bidding photographers.  I think that is a common young photographers mistake though. It is an important step to start pricing yourself correctly.  Even if that means losing out on some work.  If you know your work has value, you have to stick to your price.

Cody Cloud: I wish we would have learned more technical lighting and more Photoshop. Where I went to school they didn’t emphasize the technical side, and coming out of school, my [Photoshop] skills weren’t up to par for jumping into the real world. I assisted a long time. That’s how I learned to light. Julia [Galdo] does the Photoshop so the partnership works out good.

What advice do you wish you had gotten (or heeded) before you graduated?

Geeting: The best piece of advice I got in school was from Joseph Maida, my junior seminar teacher. The thing he said that stuck with me was, “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader,” which is actually a Robert Frost quote, but it applies so well to photography. I didn’t pay much attention to these words at that time – I was too busy being a self-righteous college kid – but they were always in the back of my mind. Today, I might have a pre-conceived idea before I start shooting, and even if that idea is illustrated exactly as I had imagined in my mind, there’s a good chance that it won’t be very interesting to look at. If you are not surprised by what you are shooting as you are shooting it, no one else will be. Being able to adapt is so important. Leaving room for change and happy accidents is something I have built my practice on.

Burkle: I learned this eventually on my own: Very few [people], if any, will appreciate you. You have to work hard, work often and keep your head up. You will most likely be poor for a while. However, once you’ve proven to people that you are hard working, persistent, talented and easy to work with, the world will start to take notice.  This process can take a few months or even a few years.  Unfortunately, your degree in photography is for your own peace of mind.  The photo world estimates your worth in real-world experience.

What professional advice do you have for students who are just graduating?

Geeting: GET A BLOG. And update it every day. Make something every day. If you really love what you’re doing, it shouldn’t be a chore. You don’t need to spend a bunch of money on a leather portfolio or promo cards or whatever people think will get them noticed. Just make the work. And then get up the next day and make it again. If you are putting in the work, good things will happen to you. That’s just how the world works – the energy you exert will come back to return the favor. I really believe that.

Burkle: Keep on top of your technology–cameras, capture software, photoshop, new equipment and techniques, archiving software, etc.–and shoot as much as possible for yourself.  The latter seems obvious, but I fell victim to this early after graduating. When you start working 60 hour weeks for someone else and you don’t have much access to studio time, shooting for yourself becomes a struggle  very quickly.  FInd the time.  Work on weekends.  No one will hire you for the portfolio you “want” to create.  Clients hire photographers, not assistant with potential.

Cloud: I would tell students to work on talking about their work. In every meeting, you have to pitch your ideas. Clients need to hear exactly what you’re going to do and the reason for it. You have to articulate it so they can get it. That’s going to help you get jobs.

Related stories:
So You’ve Just Graduated With a Photography Degree. Now What?
What I  Didn’t Learn in Art School: Life Lessons from 10 Photographers (for PDN subscribers)
Creative Pitches That Land Advertising Clients
The Money Issue: Estimating 2.0: Bidding on an All-Media Library Shoot (for PDN subscribers)

May 20th, 2014

Open Society, Smith Memorial Fund, Burn Magazine, Boulat Association Calling for Grant Applications

The W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund,  Open Society Foundations, Association Pierre et Alexandra Boulat, and Burn Magazine are all soliciting applications for major photojournalism grants. Deadlines are fast approaching.

The W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund has issued its last call for entries for its $30,000 Grant in Humanistic Photography. There is a $50 application fee, and the deadline for entries is May 31.

The grant is awarded annually to a photographer whose past work and proposed project follows the documentary tradition of legendary photojournalist W. Eugene Smith. Recent winners include Robin Hammond, Peter van Agtmael, and Krisanne Johnson.

The W. Eugene Smith Memorial fund is also calling for entries for the $5,000 Howard Chapnick Grant, which is awarded for education, research, or special projects undertaken in support of the field of photojournalism. Applications for that grant are due July 15, and there is no application fee. See smithfund.org for full details.

The Association Pierre et Alexandra Boulat, based in Paris, has put out a call for entries for the 8,000 euro (about $11,000) Pierre & Alexandra Boulat Grant for photojournalism. The grant is given “in order to allow the winner to produce a story that has never been told but that the photographer cannot find support for within the media,” the association says on its web site. Past winners include Arnau Bach, Maciek Nabrdalik, and Lizzie Saadin.

Applications are due by June 7. There is no application fee. See the association’s web site for an application and guidelines.

The Open Society Foundations Documentary Photography Project is soliciting proposals for its 2014 Audience Engagement Grant program. The grants, in varying amounts, are designed to help documentary photographers and photo-based artists use their work to affect change by engaging with NGO partners to reach targeted audiences. The deadline for applications is July 8, 2014.

For the first time, OSF is awarding Audience Engagement Grants for training workshops, to help applicants develop their projects, as well as grants for project implementation. See the OSF web site for additional details and application guidelines.

Burn Magazine has announced a call for entries for its $10,000 Emerging Photographer Fund grant. There is a $25 application fee, and the deadline for entries is July 31. The grant, initiated in 2008 by Burn magazine founder David Alan Harvey, is intended to support the continuation of the winners’ personal projects. Past winners have included Diana Markosian, Matt Lutton, and Davide Monteleone. More information is available on the Burn magazine web site.

Related:

Open Society Announces 2013 Audience Engagement Grant Winners
Anatomy of a Successful Grant Application: Joseph Rodriguez on the Audience Engagement Grant (PDN subscription required)
Robin Hammond Wins $30,000 W. Eugene Smith Fund Grant

May 20th, 2014

Wal-mart Sues Photographer’s Widow Claiming Copyright to Decades of Portraits of Walton Family

Wal-mart Stores Inc. and the Walton family, which owns the company, have filed suit to force the widow of an Arkansas portrait photographer to hand over all prints, negatives and proofs of Walton family members made between 1950 and 1994, Professional Photographers of America (PPA) and the Arkansas Times reports. The widow, who reportedly had refused an offer of $2,000 for the pictures, has counter-sued, claiming she owns the copyright.

The Walton family is claiming the photographs belong to them because Bob’s Studio of Photography in Fayetteville made the portraits under the Walton family’s “supervision.” The Walton family says in its lawsuit that the portrait studio stored the photographs as a courtesy, according to the PPA and Arkansas Times reports. More than 200 photographs are in dispute, the reports say.

David Huff and his father, Robert A. Huff, owned Bob’s Studio of Photography. Both are now deceased.

The defendant in the case is Helen B. M. Huff, widow of David Huff. She is countersuing on the grounds that she owns copyright to the photographs because her late husband and his father shot the photographs as private contractors, using their own equipment. She is seeking an injunction against the Walton family and Wal-mart to force them to stop using the photographs without her permission.

A court date is set for July 7.

May 14th, 2014

Kidnapped, Beaten, and Shot in Syria, Photographer and Writer Manage to Escape

Photographer Jack Hill and reporter Anthony Lloyd of The Times of London escaped to Turkey after they were kidnapped, beaten and shot by a rebel gang in Syria, the newspaper has reported.

The two journalists had been in Aleppo accompanied by bodyguards, and were returning to Turkey when their car was forced off the road and they were taken hostage by about seven men.

Hill was forced into the trunk of a car, and “savagely beaten” when he tried to escape, The Times reported. Lloyd was held in the back seat of the car, and was shot twice in the leg during the ordeal.

The two journalists eventually fled to safety in Turkey, although details about how they escaped were not immediately available.

Related:
Spanish Journalists Freed After 194 Days in Captivity in Syria
Freelance Photographer Killed in Syria

May 13th, 2014

Collector Sues Chicago Gallery for Damaging 54 of His Vivian Maier Prints

A photo collector who bought part of the Vivian Maier photo trove when Maier’s storage locker was auctioned off in 2007 has sued a Chicago gallery, Corbett vs. Dempsey, for damaging 54 images during a 2012 exhibition of the work, according to a report today in the Chicago Reader.

Vivian Maier, who was unknown as a photographer when she died in 2009, has since been promoted to stardom by the PR machine of collectors John Maloof and Jeffrey Goldstein. They bought the lion’s share of Maier’s negatives and prints at the 2007 auction and are not involved in the claim against Corbett vs. Dempsey.

The collector suing the gallery is Ron Slattery, who bought several thousand of Maier’s negatives and several thousand prints when her storage locker was auctioned. According to the Chicago Reader report, Slattery provided 56 of the prints to Corbett vs. Dempsey for an exhibition and sale that ran from June through December, 2012.

Two of the prints sold. The gallery returned the other 54 prints in damaged condition, Slattery claims. He alleges that the gallery used too much hinge glue to mount the photographs, and it soaked through the print paper, “severely distorting the images.”

Slattery’s claim also that the damage was “exacerbated” by exposure of the prints to “excessive heat,” and he alleges the gallery tried to cover up the damage, according to the Chicago Reader report.

The gallery says it admitted the damage to Slattery upon return of the images, and claims have made “multiple” offers to settle the claim for $8,700–the cost of repairs estimated by a restorer consulted by the gallery.

Slattery is seeking $200,000 in actual damages to the photographs, plus $2 million in punitive damages.

May 6th, 2014

New Free Web Service Claims to Offer Solution to Runaway Image Fakery

San Jose-based Fourandsix Technologies has announced plans to capitalize on “a growing distrust of manipulated images” with the launch of new forensic tool “to prove that hosted photos have not been modified with Photoshop or other tools,” according to a press release.

The tool is available for free to individual users at izitru.com. A developer API making it possible to integrate the photo authentication software into any website is available to third parties for a fee.

“Viewers are unsure of what to trust, whether they’re looking at a selfie on Facebook, an item for sale on eBay, or a dramatic storm cloud photo on Twitter,” the company says in its announcement.

The izitru.com website prompts users to upload their JPEG images, which are then subjected to six different forensic tests to distinguish original camera files from “subsequent derivations”–ie, files altered with Photoshop or other tools.  “Images that pass all six of these tests get the highest trust rating,” the company says in its announcement.

One of our first questions was, Can this tool be used to determine the authenticity of images already posted online–such as winners of major awards in photojournalism contests, or any other news images, for that matter? (more…)

May 2nd, 2014

Bon Appétit, W, National Geographic, Glamour Win National Magazine Awards for Visuals

bon appetit cover2Bon Appétit, National Geographic, W, and Glamour were the winners of the photography, multimedia and video category awards in the 2014 the National Magazine Awards competition, the American Society of Magazine Editors (ASME) has announced. The winners were honored at a ceremony last night in New York.

Bon Appétit won the Photography award for overall excellence in print magazine photography. The magazine also won the Style and Design award for fashion, decorating, design and travel coverage.  Alex Grossman and Alex Pollack serve as the magazine’s creative director and photo director, respectively.

W magazine won the Feature Photography award for a May 2013 feature titled “Stranger Than Paradise” with a series of fanciful photographs of Tilda Swinton by Tim Walker.

National Geographic won the Mulitmedia award for “The Last Chase” by Robert Draper, a story about storm chaser Tim Samaras’s death last May 31 in a tornado near El Reno, Oklahoma.

National Geographic also won the Tablet Magazine award for its August, October and November iPad editions.

Glamour won the Video award for three videos from its “Screw You Cancer” series: “Confronting Cancer: BRCA1 & BRCA2 Gene Mutations,”  “Recovery: Meds. And Love,” and “Life Post-Surgery: Back on Stage.” All were posted on Glamour.com last October.

According to ASME, which sponsors the awards, sixty-six magazines were honored as finalists in 24 categories, and 17 magazines won awards. Among the other winners were Fast Company, which won Magazine of the Year; New York magazine, which won the General Interest, Design, and Website awards; and TIME magazine, which won the Public Interest award. The Magazine Editors’ Hall of Fame Award went to Graydon Carter, the editor of Vanity Fair since 1992.

A complete list of winners and finalists is posted on the ASME website.