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.
You are currently browsing the archives for the – PDN Video Picks – category.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Personal Work That Lands Assignments: Dustin Cohen’s Made in Brooklyn Project (for PDN subscribers)
It’s not easy to create an engaging video, let alone a brief, engaging video. Jamie Back and Kevin Burg of Ann Street Studio recently did just that with this 15-second flick featuring Lucky Magazine market editor Laurel Pantin in a big white bed wearing colorful fashions from Chanel’s Spring/Summer 2014 collection. The video is part of a collaboration between Ann Street Studio and Chanel. The brand reached out to Beck and Burg, who are best-known for their creation of Cinemagraphs, as part of their marketing for their new collection, Burg told PDN via email.
The concept for the video “came together organically,” Burg says, evolving from the still-image shoot they did with Pantin. “On set we were thinking about motion, and I had the idea that she could change outfits after every time she pulled the covers over herself. And then we had fun with it. Jamie would be at her feet pulling [the covers] off her, like a parent waking their kid up when they want to sleep in.” The idea to show a new outfit for each day of the week, Burg says, “came together in the editing process, and it became this kind of ‘waking up for school’ idea… in luxury fashion.”
The images and video were featured on the Ann Street Studio site and social media channels. The video was created with Instagram in mind, hence the 15-second length. Brands often ask Ann Street Studio to create editorial-style work and release it via their channels, Burg says. “Sometimes brand work is for [the client] and sometimes it’s exclusively published by us.”
Related: Building a Better GIF
James Estrin, founder and co-editor of Lens, the popular New York Times photography blog, talks about how to launch a successful career as a photojournalist. His tips and insight cover how to choose meaningful projects, the importance of photojournalistic process, and practical advice about portfolios, mentors, and relationship-building with editors and peers.
PDN Video: Is Your Photo Project a Contender for Lens Blog?
PDN Video: How to Get the Most Out of a Portfolio Review
PDN’s 30 Photographers Provide Career Tips to Aspiring Photographers
PDN’s 30 2014: New and Emerging Photographers to Watch
Ora DeKornfeld, a communications major at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, won first prize for her video “Sensei” in the Multimedia Feature category of the 2014 Pictures of the Year International competition. Brilliantly shot and edited, DeKornfeld’s video tells the powerful story of a rape victim’s survival, resilience and determination. DeKornfeld explains how she won her subject’s trust, found a way to portray events in the past through evocative imagery, and produced a tight, dramatic narrative.
PDN: What was this project was for? How did it get started?
Ora DeKornfeld: That project was made as a final documentary piece for a journalism class. The assignment was to make a vérité documentary. It was a challenge for us to [record] something actually happening, instead of fully relying on B-roll over interview audio. My professor [Chad Stevens] assigned the project knowing that was unrealistic, so this project deviated greatly from that initial assignment, but that’s how it started.
PDN: How did you find this subject, and how get her to open up?
OD: I went to this neighborhood in Durham (North Carolina)–a pretty dynamic low-income neighborhood, and I saw a flyer for self-defense classes and that’s something I have always been personally interested in, and I wanted to do a piece that touched on women’s issues. So I called the number and ended up talking to Brenda, the subject, and she was immediately open. She told me that the reason she got into martial arts was because she was a victim of a violent crime. I didn’t push that at the time, but it was an immediate indicator that she had a real deep experience that motivated her. So I said, would it be OK if I made a documentary about you? She was really open to it.
I went to her karate class on Tuesday and Saturday for two weeks, then I asked if I could come to her house, meet her family and start hanging out with her there. And I kind of just stayed until she said, “OK, Ora, you need to get out of my house.” But through that experience we bonded. (more…)
One of our “Studio Tour” features this month goes inside the studio of fine-art photographer Adrien Broom, where she builds the large sets for “The Color Project,” her ongoing series of fantastical narratives. Located in the old Erector Set toy factory in New Haven, Connecticut, the 900-square-foot space has an open plan, large windows and a lot of storage for many of the props and gear she needs when she and her team are spending weeks building the sets. “I have painted the floors over at least ten times, and the walls a few times as well,” she notes. To learn more about the complicated productions she mounts in her studio, we looked at some of the behind-the-scenes videos she has created while working on “The Color Project.” In addition to showing Broom at work, they give a sense of what it takes to turn her workspace into, say, the ocean floor.
All Broom’s behind-the-scenes and stop-motion videos can be found on her Vimeo page.
Studio Tour: Adrien Broom’s Place to Work and Play
Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, news photographers have been subject to police intimidation and arrest, as if photography is a crime. But federal law protects photography and photographers, as Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel to the National Press Photographers Association, explains in this video. The challenge for photographers is knowing how to assert your rights in tense situations, without getting arrested. Osterreicher offers practical tips for staying out of trouble while getting the pictures you need. And for photographers unfortunate enough to get arrested, he suggests places to call for legal help.
Portfolio review events geared toward photographers have proliferated in recent years, and they’re “a great place to meet a peer group, and start a dialogue about your photographs,” says photography consultant Mary Virginia Swanson. But at a cost of several hundred dollars, not including travel expenses, portfolio reviews are an investment. In this video Swanson offers tips about how to get the most out of a review, including information about how to select reviewers, how much work to present, and some of the questions to ask reviewers about opportunities to sell or license your work.