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)

April 30th, 2012

Student Photographer Claims Falling Bear Photos Were Infringed

You may not know the name of photographer Andy Duann, but you may have seen his work. Duann, a photographer with the CU Independent, the student paper of the University of Colorado Boulder, photographed the bear that fell out of the tree on the school campus after it was tranquilized by wildlife officials (landing gently on some pads below). The CU Independent distributed his images to the Associated Press (AP), the Denver Post, the Colorado Daily  and other outlets. As the Poynter.org mediawire reported on Friday, Duann claimed that the school had no right to resell the images, because he holds the copyright.

Today Poynter reports that, in light of Duann’s complaint, the AP has yanked his falling-bear photos, and issued an advisory to its members to scrub the pics from their archives.

What’s at issue here is whether the student photographer is considered an employee of the university’s paper—and thus his images are automatically “works for hire”—or an independent contractor—and thus retains copyright to the images unless he’s signed a work-for-hire agreement. The faculty advisor to the paper says Duann’s an employee, but an attorney for the Student Press Law Center says no. A student is not in an employee/employer relationship with his school, and federal law requires a specific work-for-hire contract, not a general understanding, for the copyright to be transferred from the creator. (The attorney, Adam Goldstein, also provides a succinct and clear explanation of when work-for-hire does and does not apply. You might find it useful the next time a client hires you for an assignment and says, “But why don’t we own the copyright?”)

Poynter reporter Andrew Beaujon explains that as soon as Duann saw his photo on the Washington Post and elsewhere, he headed to the university law school to find out his options.

Hey, don’t say the young photographers of tomorrow don’t understand their intellectual property rights!

You can read the whole saga, including the story of how Beaujon got inadvertently involved in the copyright dispute, at Poynter.org/latest-news/mediawire. You can see other photos of the bear in mid-air, not taken by Duann, here.

Update: Some copyright information for student photographers has been posted at Student Press Law Center, splc.org.

March 9th, 2012

Behind the Photo of Invisible Children’s Founders Posing with Guns

© Glenna Gordon. Photo: Founders of Invisible Children pose with members of the Sudan People Liberation Army near the Sudan-Congo border, April 2008.

The Stop Kony2012 campaign video, which has now been viewed 55 million times on YouTube, has unleashed criticism about the video’s creators, followed by a backlash against the backlash.

The video, created by the charity Invisible Children, calls for intervention to bring Ugandan rebel Joseph Kony, leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, to justice. It is being criticized by Ugandans, NGOs working in Uganda and neigboring countries where the LRA operates, academics and the press.

Amidst the controversy there has been an outcry over a 2008 news photo showing Invisible Children’s founders posing with machine guns amidst members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army (SPLA), which has battled the LRA. Photographer Glenna Gordon took the photo on assignment for AP in 2008, Ri-Kwangba, on the Sudan-Congo border, during peace talks between the Ugandan government and the LRA.
Gordon notes on her blog, www.scarlettlion.com that Vice magazine used the image without her permission –and without a caption – to illustrate its article “Should I Donate Money to Invisible Children?” That’s a valid question, she says, but just as the Kony 2012 video is being criticized for its lack of context, Gordon says her photo needs context, too. Without it, she says, the image “continues to perpetuate misinformation and to mythologize the film makers as bad asses, a practice I do not support.”  She says she tried to publish more information about what she calls the “questionable practices” of the founders but “no publication would bite.”

The Washington Post has just published an extensive interview with Gordon.  She is asked for her reaction to Invisible Children’s work and the video, and her thoughts on the photo:

Q. Invisible Children has received some criticism that their efforts and this photo seem “colonialist,” or hint at the “white man’s burden.” What do you say to that?
Gordon: I think all of those things are true. The photo plays into the myth that Invisible Children are very much actively trying to create. They even used the photo on their official response page. I don’t think they think there is a problem with the idea that they are colonial. This photo is the epitome of it, like, we are even going to hold your guns for you.

Invisible Children’s Jason Russell disagrees, the Post reports. Russell, who is shown in the photo along with colleagues Bobby Bailey and Laren Poole of Invisible Children, says they wanted to meet and film members of the SPLA to get their reaction to the peace talks.

“And because Bobby, Laren and I are friends and had been doing this for 5 years, we thought it would be funny to bring back to our friends and family a joke photo. You know, ‘Haha – they have bazookas in their hands but they’re actually fighting for peace.’ The ironic thing about this photo is that I HATE guns. I always have. Back in 2008 I wanted this war to end, like we all did, peacefully, through peace talks. But Kony was not interested in that; he kept killing.”

The full interview with Gordon, and links to both criticism of the campaign and the reaction by Invisible Children, is on Washington Post.

Correction: an earlier version of this story misstated the location at which the image was taken. Apologies for this error.