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January 12th, 2015

PDN Video Pick: Ed Kashi and Matt Black for The New Yorker

For PDN’s January 2015 print edition, we spoke with photographer Matt Black about the photo essay he made for The New Yorker about the drought in California’s Central Valley. Black, who lives in Exeter, California, has been documenting the valley—which produces much of the country’s food—for more than 15 years.

But the story in The New Yorker was assigned before Black ever got involved; months earlier, photographer Ed Kashi had successfully pitched a story on the drought to Whitney Johnson, the magazine’s director of photography. When it came time to shoot the story, however, Kashi realized that Black—his former assistant—was not just embedded, but invested, in the valley, and would be a perfect collaborator.

“I was thinking, I’ll never, in the week or so I have of field time, produce the body of still work that this man has produced over 15 years,” Kashi says. “So why try to reinvent the wheel?”

Kashi proposed that he would shoot motion, and Black would shoot stills, and Johnson was quickly on board. Sky Dylan-Robbins, a video producer at The New Yorker, would edit their work into the 7-minute video that ran on newyorker.com.

“It was fun,” Kashi admits. “We were like two little kids in a way, photo buddies who were just looking for visuals and trying to figure out how to put the narrative together without getting bogged down in the weeds of the issue. Because the issue of water in California is insanely complicated.”

Related:

Matt Black on Dorothea Lange

Matt Black and Ed Kashi Bring California’s Dried-Out Central Valley to The New Yorker

NewYorker.com: The Dry Land

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

January 8th, 2015

Mamiya Leaf Credo 50 in the Wild

The January issue of PDN features a review of the Mamiya Leaf Credo 50 medium format camera system.

You can get a sneak peek in this video starring our frequent co-tester, David Patiño, who used the Credo 50 in a marathon product catalog shoot late last year (among other things). Enjoy!

Special thanks to Generic Brand Human for producing the video.

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.

 

 

November 20th, 2014

Gear Roundup: Must-rent Equipment from CSI Rentals

Sponsored by CSI Rentals

For many photographers and videographers, few things in life are more precious than gear. As the page turns on 2015, visual storytellers have a surplus of technological riches available to them, and at equipment rental hotspots like CSI Rentals in New York City, it’s easy to keep up with changing technology and trends. CSI makes the process even easier with perks like a mobile website to reserve gear, and nationwide shipping for shoots that take you outside of the city. Here are a few products to keep on your radar for your next project.

1) Canon Cinema C100 with Dual Pixel AF Sensor
Canon C100
CSI Rentals offers many different cinema cameras and packages. Among them is the new, upgraded Canon C100 with Dual Pixel CMOS AF technology. The EOS C100 offers an autofocus mode to help ensure sharp focus and smooth focus transitions. The upgrade provides a new Continuous AF (Autofocus) function for all autofocus lenses, using Dual Pixel CMOS AF technology.
CSI Rentals daily / weekend rate: $195

2) Canon 7D Mark II

canon 7d mark ii
CSI Rentals also now rents the latest Canon 7D Mark II, the first EOS DSLR to run dual DIGIC 6 processors, a one-two computational punch that powers a 10 frames per second (fps) burst mode. Canon bumped up the buffer to accommodate up to 31 RAW images or 1,900 JPEGs, vastly surpassing the original 7D’s 130-JPEG buffer. The 7D Mark II also employs a new 65 cross-type AF system for better low light focusing as well as an improved version of the Dual Pixel CMOS AF found in the C100 above.

The 20-megapixel 7D Mark II uses a newly developed APS-C-sized sensor with a native ISO range of 100 to 16,000 for stills and video. The camera records 1920 x 1080/60p HD and features a 3-inch display or a viewfinder with a 100-percent field of view that can overlay data such as an electronic level display or a grid. Built-in GPS is also on hand for geo-tagging images. The 7D Mark II’s magnesium alloy body offers four times the moisture and dust resistance of the original 7D so inclement weather shouldn’t be an obstacle to your shoot.
CSI Rentals Daily/weekend rental rate: $60

 

3) DJI Ronin Handheld Gimbal
DJI_RONIN
CSI Rentals has a full line of camera rigs, sliders, and stabilizers, and has recently added the new DJI Ronin handheld gimbal to its lineup. Famous for its drones, DJI has its own brushless gimbal based around the company’s 3-axis stabilized Zenmuse technology—the same found on its flying machines—for run-and-gun filmmaking. The Ronin will support a wide range of camera bodies—from Micro Four Thirds cameras like Panasonic’s GH4 to cinema cams like the RED Scarlet. A tool-less balance adjustment system simplifies your set-up and DJI promises you’ll be up and shooting (and running) in five minutes. A SmoothTrack Control features gives a single camera operator the ability to turn rapid tilting and panning into smooth, stabilized movements. The included remote control lets a second operator wirelessly pan and tilt the Ronin while the first operator physically moves the device to compose a shot. An Upright Mode lets you flip the gimbal over so you can bring the camera closer to eye level.
CSI Rentals Daily / Weekend rental rate: $225

 

4) Blackmagic Design URSA
Blackmagic-URSA-PL-Camera
Designed to be operated by either large crews or a single operator, the URSA sports a pair of 5-inch touch screen displays on both sides for control over audio and other camera settings. There’s a huge 10-inch flip-out LCD for framing your scene or navigating through the camera’s menu. The guts of the URSA are composed of a Super 35mm-sized, 4K image sensor that supports frame rates up to 60p and 12 stops of dynamic range. It also boasts a global shutter. BlackMagic’s pitch with the URSA is its future-proofing. The sensor and lens mount assembly can be changed so sensors can be field-upgradeable and you can mount either EF or PL lenses to the camera body to suit your needs. You can record either ProRes or Ultra HD 12-bit lossless Cinema DNG RAW to a pair of hot-swappable CFast cards.
CSI Rentals Day / Weekend Rental Daily rate: $350

 

5) iKan iLED 312
ikan led 312
There are plenty of new lights to illuminate your production. Among the newcomers that caught our eye is the iKan iLED 312. This on-camera LED delivers a wide-angle 60-degree beam for consistent lighting with a variable color temperature between 3200 tungsten and 5600K daylight. A dimmer can adjust light intensity from 10 to 100 percent and a built-in LCD display gives you a read out on all of the light’s vitals: brightness level, color temperature and remaining battery life.
CSI Rentals Daily/ Weekend rate: $35

 

6) Profoto B1
profoto-b1-feat2
Another lighting must-rent is Profoto’s B1 500. This battery-powered monolight lets you cut the cord so your flash can always be with you. Compatible with the full range of Profoto light modifiers, the B1 offers TTL metering for Canon and Nikon cameras with the company’s Air Remote. At 500 Watts, it’s about 10x more powerful than speedlights for when freezing action and getting studio results outdoors is a must.
CSI Rentals Daily / Weekend rate: $50

If you’re in the New York City area, you can stop by CSI Rental locations in Manhattan or Brooklyn to speak with a rental expert onsite. It’s one thing to watch a YouTube tutorial, quite another to speak with an expert in the flesh with the technology in hand.  Visit www.csirentals.com to see their locations, inventory and rates, and check out their app for iOS and Android mobile devices.

November 12th, 2014

Forest Service Chief Says Journalists Don’t Need Permits to Photograph in National Forests

When the United States Forest Service released a vaguely worded directive that suggested journalists would have to pay up to $1500 for a permit to photograph or film in national forests, photographers and first amendment activists were alarmed. The controversial directive, issued as a draft in September, was first reported by The Oregonian newspaper.

Following the outcry, U.S. Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell has clarified the USFS’s position with regard to photography and film for journalistic purposes, rather than commercial use. In a letter written to Forest Service officials, sent on November 4, he said the clarification was needed because “considerable response” from the public “raised significant concerns beyond the intended scope of the directive.”

“News coverage on NFS lands is protected by the Constitution, and it is our responsibility to safeguard this right on the lands we manage for all Americans,” Tidwell wrote.

He outlined how USFS officials should differentiate between journalism and other activities: “The following question should be asked: Is the primary purpose of the filming activity to inform the public, or is it to sell a product for a profit? If the primary purpose is to inform the public, then no permit is required and no fees assessed.”

Tidwell clarified USFS’s position with regard to commercial film and photography. “Permit fees should be primarily viewed as land-use fees. If the activity presents no more impact on the land than that of the general public, then it shall be exempt from permit requirements.”

Read the full text of Tidwell’s letter here.

Via The Oregonian.

October 7th, 2014

FREE Travel Photography Video Tutorial

If you missed Pulitzer-prize winning photographer Brian Smith’s live presentation on travel photography at B&H Photo in New York City last month, you can now see it online for free. Brought to you by Sony, this inspiring and educational one-hour video is filled with stunning images, practical tips and technical advice to help you capture better travel photos. Take it from Brian, he’s traveled six continents, taken thousands of photos as a Sony Artisan of Imagery and built a stunning collection of travel photos that will motivate you to get brave and creative with your camera, especially when you travel.

Brian-Smith-Sony-A7R
Brian Smith with the Sony a7R

Sponsored by Sony, creator of Sony Alpha-series mirrorless and DSLR cameras

October 2nd, 2014

“How Come This Stuff Isn’t Animated?” The Story of Mr. GIF

Pop star Miley Cyrus and the rapper 2 Chainz backstage at Jeremy Scott's S/S 2015 show at New York fashion week. © Mr. GIF

Pop star Miley Cyrus and the rapper 2 Chainz backstage at Jeremy Scott’s S/S 2015 show at New York fashion week. © Mr. GIF for Milk Made

Mr. GIF wants to animate the Internet. The creative duo has made photographing and illustrating GIFs—the 27-year-old bitmap image format that supports crude animation—their calling card. They’re the team that Marc Ecko, Evian and Transamerica tap when they need to quickly make strong, easily shareable moving images for whatever they’re selling. In just a few short years, they evolved from a pair of daydreaming MTV plebes to shooting Miley Cyrus and 2Chainz backstage at fashion week. To them, still images that move were obviously taylor-made for the Internet and its thousands of screens. But can you really make a career of making GIFs?

The duo, Jimmy Repeat and Mark Portillo, are college buddies. They studied advertising design together at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Their studies were almost irrelevant—Portillo didn’t even finish—but the renowned art and design school is where the two would meet. Less than seven years later, they would quit their jobs to make GIFs—the full-time for clients like and others. Even an insurance company.

Having gone their separate ways after school, Repeat and Portillo reconnected under the umbrella of Viacom, at MTV’s “Geek” vertical, which covers cartoons, comics and videogames. Doing research for work, they devoured the same comics, but were struck by the format’s limitations.

Maria Sharapova for Evian at the U.S. Open © Mr. GIF

Maria Sharapova for Evian at the U.S. Open © Mr. GIF

“We were like, ‘How come this stuff isn’t animated yet?’” Portillo remembers. “We read Akira and we were like, “If this background was giving me seizures, it would be so much better.’”

So they dreamed up a GIF comic over smoke breaks outside Viacom’s Times Square HQ, and quickly learned why animation was so expensive (it’s a lot of work!). They abandoned the book idea, throwing the frames they’d finished up on Tumblr. But they were having fun. Illustrations gave way to photos, and a thought: “How is the GIF better than the JPEG?”

“We saw the potential,” Repeat says. “Everywhere you look, there’s a screen.”

As relative neophytes—Repeat especially—they were intrigued by the technology of photography. They experimented with odd cameras well-suited to the medium; at first, digital models like the Fujifilm FinePix Real3D W3, but they would later become obsessed with the aesthetics of analog. Toy cameras like Lomography’s Pop 9 (a nine-lens camera that makes nine exposures at once) and ActionSampler (four lenses, four consecutive frames), even 3D film cameras like the Nimslo 3D. The multi-exposure cameras helped streamline their workflow—helpful, as they had to develop and scan each frame to animate their GIFs. They found creative ways to merge digital and analog, using a DSLR to make time-lapse clips of instant film as it developed. They have a lot of cameras.

Marc Ecko, founder of Eckō Enterprises, Mr. GIF’s first big client. © Mr. GIF

They spent their nights and weekends making GIFs and posting them to Tumblr for free. It wasn’t long before Mark Ecko came calling (tweeting, actually) with their first paid gig, animating his upcoming TEDx presentation. They powered through it in three days. “I think we made 200-300 GIFs in one night,” Portillo says. “It was intense.”

“That was the beginning of the end for our day jobs,” Repeat says. “Like, ‘Oh, this is what a good client’s like?” Ecko dug the work, and they started to get more gigs. They GIF’d the U.S. Open for Evian, and fashion week for Tumblr. By 2013, they had quit MTV, and would soon score a huge project: a year-long Tumblr promoting the San Francisco-based insurance company Transamerica’s “Transform Tomorrow” campaign.

The pair convinced Transamerica to send them across the country making GIFs of America’s cities. They flew drones over rooftop gardens in Detroit, Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota and, of course, San Francisco and the iconic Transamerica building. They booked a room at a luxury hotel with the perfect view for a 24-hour time-lapse of the skyline. Transamerica was skeptical of the format—until they saw the popularity of the first clip they posted. Now, when you go to www.transformtomorrow.com, their fancy hotel view of San Francisco graces the background, the current time of day reflected by the time of day in the 24-hour time-lapse they made.

A time-lapse GIF of the San Francisco skyline, that Mr. GIF made for Transamerica, prominently featuring their iconic headquarters. © Mr. GIF

A time-lapse GIF of the San Francisco skyline, that Mr. GIF made for Transamerica, prominently featuring their iconic headquarters. © Mr. GIF

Now certified pros, they’re still almost instinctively inventive with their resources. When a client that was supposed to fly them out and put them up in Austin, TX, to shoot a SXSW panel told them that they had to pay their own way, they got their drive down to Texas sponsored. Their friends at Tumblr would connect them with Transamerica, but it was the GIFs they shot on the trip to Austin that would help them land the gig. When a job for St. Ives took them to Hawaii, they stayed an extra week and shot Honolulu for Transamerica. Since they like to shoot film (which is expensive to buy and process), rather than go to a professional processing house, they trained the local CVS employees how to prep and cut their negatives, adding a healthy tip for their trouble.

One thing they learned early on is that new work leads to new work. They needed to show clients they could make the work, so before they had paid work to show, they just did it for free, and for fun. The fun shows up in the work, and it works.

September 12th, 2014

Sony Courts Filmmakers with New Full Frame Lens

Sony’s continued its push to make its full frame mirrorless system attractive to filmmakers with the new FE PZ 28-135mm F G OSS, the first full-frame lens with a power zoom for smoother focusing. SELP28135G_A-1200

The new E-mount lens is part of Sony’s effort to boost its full frame cameras among filmmakers by tackling three issues that bedevil still photo lenses during video shoots: changes in angle of view during focusing, focus shifts during zoom and the movement of the optical axis during zooming.

The new lens will combat these maladies with a supersonic wave motor drive and a double linear motor to reduce focus noise.

The FE PZ 28-135 will also have separate control rings for focus, zoom and aperture and features a maximum aperture of f/4. Optical image stabilization is also on hand to keep things steady—it can be switched off via a button on the lens barrel.

The new lens is set to ship in December for $2,499.

July 23rd, 2014

Tim Matsui Wins $25K Fledgling Fund Grant for Sex Trafficking Project

From "Leaving the Life:" Lisa in her robe. ©Tim Matsui

From “Leaving the Life:” Lisa in her robe. ©Tim Matsui

Photographer Tim Matsui, who has focused on stories about sexual violence and human trafficking for the past decade, has won a $25,000 Fledgling Fund grant for his project called “Leaving the Life.” Matsui will use the grant to engage audiences and spur dialogue about sex trafficking of minors in the US. He plans to produce several videos, each about 15 minutes in length, tailored for different audiences.  For instance, one of the videos will examine prostitution among minors from the perspective of law enforcement, which traditionally treats minors in the sex trade as criminals rather than victims. Another short video will present the issue from the perspective of young sex workers.

“Fledgling is supporting the initial creation of this campaign which include several live screenings of the [short videos] and a basic web platform which, in the future, will be built out,” Matusi explains.

Fledgling Fund administrators did not respond to a request for comment.

Matsui won an Alexia Foundation Women’s Initiative Grant in 2012 to document new approaches by officials in Seattle to addressing the problem of the sex trafficking of minors. He will use footage he’s already shot for that project to produce the short videos for “Leaving the Life.” Separately, he has produced a longer documentary in conjunction with MediaStorm called “The Long Night.”

The Fledgling Fund, established in 2005, provides filmmakers with grants to “move audiences to action” with outreach and audience engagement initiatives. The fund has provided nearly $12 million to support 333 projects to date.

Related:
Anatomy of a Successful Grant Application: Tim Matsui on the Women’s Initiative Grant (for PDN subscribers)
Frames Per Second: A Corporate Story, Told by a Journalist