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January 9th, 2015

National Geographic’s Photo Engineering at Work

Striving for new and unusual ways to photograph subjects from land, sea, and air, National Geographic photographers often turn for technical assistance to NG photo engineers Kenji Yamaguchi and David Mathews. The two men, who are the subjects of an article in January PDN and now on PDN online, devise ingenious tools for making pictures that would otherwise be too dangerous or difficult for photographers to make. ““These guys are the unsung heroes of the Geographic,” says long-time contributor George Steinmetz.

Yamaguchi and Mathews worked behind the scenes on Nick Nichols’s Serengeti lions project, Steve Winter’s snow leopards project, and various projects by underwater photographer David Doubilet, to name just a few examples. Here are some videos that show their technical ingenuity in action:

 


Nick Nichols and his assistant, Nathan Williamson, at work on the Serengeti lions project with a robotic camera tank and a camera drone.

 


Steve Winter explains how he used camera traps to photograph a mountain lion at night under the Hollywood sign.

 


The Photo Engineering department faces possible budget cuts, but National Geographic recently profiled of Kenji Yamaguchi, with this video showing him at work in the publisher’s Photo Engineering lab.

 

Addition videos on National Geographic’s web site:

Steve Winter describes his 2008 snow leopard project in northern India. Scenes of Winter setting up remote cameras and strobes on snow leopard trails start at 2:47.

An encounter, narrated by Steve Winter, between a tiger and a robotic camera vehicle developed by NG Photo Engineering.

Scenes from the sinking of a ship for the creation of an artificial reef, featuring David Doubilet’s remote camera images from the ship’s deck as engineers set explosive charges, then detonated them. Remote camera images begin at 1:21.

Related Article:
The Technical Ingenuity of National Geographic’s Photo Engineering Department

December 23rd, 2014

PDNPulse: Top Stories of 2014

As another fascinating year in the world of professional photography comes to a close, we look back on the stories that drew the most interest from PDNPulse readers this year.

From manipulated news photos, to photographers arrested for doing their jobs, to collaborative efforts between photographers and an interview with one of photography’s most influential star makers, these stories capture some of the highs and lows of the photography business today.

1: George Steinmetz Wonders: Was It Worth Getting Arrested for National Geographic Cover Story Photos

2: 2014 Winter Olympics Op-Ed: Everything You’ve Read About Problems for Photographers in Sochi is True

3: PDN Video: Lens Blog’s James Estrin’s Career Tips for Photojournalists

4: Photographers Share Intimate Images of Loved Ones for Curated Photo Website

5: AP Severs Ties With Photographer Narciso Contreras Over Photoshopped Image
5a: Photographer Fired by AP Says Decision Was Fair, But Process Wasn’t

6: How Much Do Editorial Clients Pay? “Wiki” Gives Names and Fees

7: If that Kim Kardashian Photo Looks Familiar…

8: Calumet Photographic to Liquidate, Closes U.S. Stores

9: Photographer Creates Free iPhone App for His Signature Style

10: Wal-mart Sues Photographer’s Widow Claiming Copyright for Decades of Portraits of Walton Family

11: Suffolk County Pays $200K to Settle News Photographer’s Unlawful Arrest Claim

12: How Should Clients React to Sexual Coercion Allegations Against Terry Richardson?

13: AP Photographer Anja Niedringhaus Killed in Afghanistan

14: Cowboy Lifestyle Photographer David Stoecklein Dies, 65

15: Photojournalist Camille Lapage, 26, “Murdered” in Central African Republic

December 4th, 2014

PDN Video Pick: A Spotlight on Underage Victims of the Illegal Sex Trade

(click “Play All” option for a two-minute trailer for the web version; click “Theatrical Version” to launch a 2:45 introduction to that version.)

Seattle photographer Tim Matsui and MediaStorm have just released The Long Night, a documentary film about teenage victims of illegal sex trade in King County, Washington. Matsui has focused on stories about sexual violence and human trafficking for more than a decade, and his new film is part of his multi-pronged project called “Leaving the Life.”

“I see the film as a broad audience outreach tool; it builds awareness,” he says, with hopes that it also serves as a catalyst for community dialogue.  His ultimate goal, he says, is to facilitate “a shift in cultural and institutional norms.”

He explains, “Some of the solutions lie in harm reduction, criminal justice reform, and police training,” to treat underage prostitutes as victims rather than criminals. “Others [solutions] are more generational: Are we teaching our daughters to be strong and self confident? Are we showing our sons how to respect and value women?”

Support for The Long Night included a $25,000 Women’s Initiative Fund grant awarded to Matsui by the Alexia Foundation in 2012. The Alexia foundation also provided post-production funding to MediaStorm.

The film is available in two versions: a 70-minute “theatrical release,” and a web version that’s presented in a series of short chapters. “We felt that breaking it down into components makes it a little more usable” to viewers who often can’t or won’t sit through an hour-long video online, says MediaStorm principal Brian Storm.

Both versions are available free-of-charge through December 7. The theatrical release is available on Matsui’s website; the web version is at MediaStorm.  After December 7, MediaStorm will charge a fee for the theatrical version, which will be available only on MediaStorm’s Vimeo feed. The fee, to be determined, will help defray production costs, Storm says. The web version will continue to be available for free on MediaStorm’s website.

Related:
Anatomy of a Successful Grant Application: Tim Matsui on the Women’s Initiative Grant (for PDN subscribers)

November 21st, 2014

PDN Video Pick: Pitchfork’s Interactive Mini-Site for the 2014 Basilica Soundscape Festival

Basilica Soundscape

Pitchfork, the influential music website that has grown to include a quarterly print magazine and three art and music festivals, has launched a new mini-site to showcase videos made during September’s Basilica Soundscape Festival. The custom site, which lives at basilica.pitchfork.com, features videos of 12 artists performing at the third iteration of the annual festival, held on September 12 & 13, 2014, in Hudson, NY. Each video is a performance from the festival interspersed with meditative footage shot in the idyllic town and countryside surrounding the festival venue.

The Basilica mini-site was designed and developed by William Colby, who co-directed the videos with Jim Larson. Both are part of the in-house video team at Pitchfork.

Pitchfork has been at the vanguard of creating innovative displays of photos and videos on the Internet, as we highlighted in our feature (subscription required) on the site’s “cover stories” in late 2013.

On the Basilica site, it’s possible to watch every video without a single click, thanks to the site’s minimal design: There’s a small navigation menu at the top right of the page, but visitors can scroll down through each auto-playing video. The performances run the gamut from modern metal like White Lung and Deafheaven, to a string quartet led by the Arcade Fire’s Richard Reed Parry, and a deliciously funny reading of an essay on the gender politics of authenticity by Meredith Graves, of the hardcore band Perfect Pussy.

The mini-site is visually compelling, and is yet another example of Pitchfork’s commitment to experiment with new ways to deliver images to its readers.

 

 

October 27th, 2014

PDN Video: Marcus Smith on How to Develop Your Brand Identity

Marcus Smith, Part 2: How to Develop Your Brand Identity from PDNOnline on Vimeo.

In a previous PDN Video, advertising photographer Marcus Smith explained how he used personal work to land his dream clients. After winning his first few commercial assignments, though, Smith decided he needed a stronger brand identity to maintain momentum. In this video, he explains how he figured out the right brand message for his business, communicated it to a designer, and got a professional-looking brand identity on a tight budget.

Smith will speak at Photo Plus Expo on a panel called “PDN’s 30: Strategies for Young Working Photographers” on Saturday, November 1 at the Javits Convention Center in New York City. Others speaking on the panel include Dina Litovsky, Greer Muldowney, Keren Sachs, and Tony Gale. For complete details about Photo Plus Expo seminars and events, see the Photo Plus Expo website.

Related:
PDN Video: Marcus Smith on How to Attract the Clients You Want

September 24th, 2014

PDN Video: Marcus Smith on How to Attract the Clients You Want

Marcus Smith: How to Get Hired by the Clients You Want from PDNOnline on Vimeo.

When photographer (and sports fan) Marcus Smith stopped assisting to go out on his own, he wanted to shoot for Nike and other national athletic brands. But he was an unknown photographer with almost no sports photography in his portfolio. So he took some wise advice that his mother gave him about how to succeed in business, started a personal project, and soon had assignments from Nike and its subsidiary Jordan Brand. Busy with advertising assignments ever since, Smith explains how he got the attention of the clients he wanted.

Related:
Personal Work That Lands Assignments: Marcus Smith (for PDN subscribers)

September 4th, 2014

Video Pick: Wildlife Advocate’s Story Wins Yale e360 Video Prize

Yale-360-home“Badru’s Story,” a video by the documentary photography/video team of Benjamin Drummond and  Sara Joy Steele about efforts to monitor the effects of climate change on biodiversity in Uganda’s Bwindi National Park, has won first place in a video contest held by Yale Environment 360, the online publication of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. The team will receive $2,000, and their video will be shown on e360.yale.edu for 30 days; the second- and third-place winners will be shown in the coming weeks.

The video follows researcher Badru Mugerwa as he leads a team cutting through the dense forest to set 60 camera traps that will record the movement of wildlife. After making into into the dense growth and painstakingly setting each camera trap, Mugerwa says, “You better have interesting things on this camera after 30 days.” He is part of the Tropical Ecological Assessment & Monitoring (TEAM) Network, a global network of field station which records similar data across the tropics. “Badru’s Story” includes some of the thousands of images the camera traps in Bwindi have recorded, including photos of elephants, gorilla families, chimpanzees (some of whom check out the cameras quite closely), anteaters, leopards, and numerous birds. A representative of the Ugandan Wildlife Authority interviewed in the video notes that Bwindi is one of the few forests in the world “where you find gorillas and chimpanzees feeding together.”

Drummond and Steele, whose work has often focused on the human effects of climate change, also show, in video and stills, the community living around the park

TEAM Network: Badru’s Story from Benjamin Drummond / Sara Steele on Vimeo.

The Yale e360 video contest was judged by editor Roger Cohn; Elizabeth Kolbert, an environmental writer for The New Yorker and e360, and documentary filmmaker Thomas Lennon. Yale e360 supports and publishes documentary work on environmental issues. (See PDN’s article on their support of Evan Abramson’s video about the conflict over water resources on the Kenya and  Ethiopia border.)

Related Articles:
Video Pick: One Family Business Copes with Climate Change

An Under-Reported War Over Water [A Project Supported by Yale e360)

August 22nd, 2014

PDN Video: Gerd Ludwig on Why He’s Risked His Life at Chernobyl

In 1993, photographer Gerd Ludwig began documenting the consequences of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster while on assignment for National Geographic. “I got involved accidentally [while] covering a story about pollution in the [former] Soviet Union,” he says. “I was struck by the post-apocalyptic feel of the whole zone.” He ended up returning nine times over 20 years to tell the story of a human and environmental catastrophe that continues to reverberate, and he recently published The Long Shadow of Chernobyl, a 252-page tri-lingual book about the disaster. In this video, Ludwig describes the challenge and drama of photographing inside the destroyed nuclear reactor, and what drove him to take great personal risk to tell the story.

July 10th, 2014

PDN Video: Mary Virginia Swanson on Selling Prints to Corporations

Mary Virginia Swanson on Selling Prints to Corporations from PDNOnline on Vimeo.

The corporate market for fine art prints has expanded on two fronts, says art photography consultant Mary Virginia Swanson. Corporations and corporate art consultants are both big purchasers of art, including photographic prints, for the walls of hotels, healthcare facilities, office buildings, and other business settings. In this video, Swanson explains the markets, and offers advice about how to tap into them, and price your prints for corporate buyers.

Related:
What to Expect from the Photographer/Gallery Relationship
Mary Virginia Swanson: How to Get the Most Out of a Portfolio Review
What Collectors Want (for PDN subscribers)

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)