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The “V” Word

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For the past two weeks, I’ve been shooting with a new camera. It’s always nice to get a new piece of equipment to update the old stuff that been used to the point of falling apart. And the technology is always better.

This time was a bit different, though. With the booming trend of online video, newspaper websites are trying to jump on the bandwagon. So shooting video is now part of my, um, arsenal. And it’s a bittersweet start to a new way of journalistic storytelling.

On Saturday, during coverage of the Rolex Cross County jumping event, I had a minute to talk to veteran Sports Illustrated photographer Bill Frakes. As we were both shooting the traditional digital stills, I mentioned that the next time he saw me at the Kentucky Derby, I’d be shooting video. The look on his face was one of disbelief. He honestly looked like someone had died. I’d gone to the dark side.

Now, Frakes is never one to shirk new technology, so I was a bit puzzled by his reaction. Every still photographer will argue the merits and the power of a single image. And Frakes is a perfectionist. He, like many of us, want our work to be held to a high standard no matter the medium. And he, like many of us, aren’t seeing a whole lot of good video coming out of newspaper websites around the country. I’m pretty sure that he figures that my work with a video camera won’t be nearly as good as my still photography. And I’m pretty sure that he’s right.

Fast forward (yikes, a did I just say that?) to Wednesday morning: I’m working on the backside of Churchill Downs (shooting video for Kentucky.com and heraldleaderphoto.com) and have a moment to talk to veteran Associated Press Photographer Ed Reinke. The first time I saw Ed this week, I was carrying the video camera and he just shook his head at me. It was kind of a "I’m sorry" and "I wondered when that might happen" kind of a look.

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Wednesday morning, though, Ed was gracious enough to compliment a photo of mine he saw printed in the Herald-Leader Tuesday morning. Then I had to tell him the bad news (it’s all a matter of perspective, you know): The photo he loved so much was what we call a frame grab – an image taken from the video (see above photo). The look on his face was the same one I had seen on Bill Frakes’ face only days before. It was a look of disbelief, surprise, and kind of a sadness.

The ability to shoot photojournalism on video has opened up a whole new world for newspaper photographers. It is so, so, different than what many of us have been doing for years and years (nearly 20 for me). It’s hard to embrace. But it’s curiously challenging. It’s frustrating, but liberating, too (heck, I can shoot video AND stills at the SAME TIME???!!). Until now, the technology behind frame grabs has been so poor, that we’ve never considered using it this way. But with the new high-def mini digital video recorders, it’s sometimes possible now to use video frames in the paper and on the web and most people can’t tell the difference, including the professionals in the business.

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The debate among photojournalists regarding the best use of video on websites (journalistically speaking) will continue indefinitely. That’s how we’ll get better. The technology will also continue to improve. And hopefully, the pendulum will swing away from the trend-induced, must-have frenzy that encourages mediocrity. My guess is that video will just become part of our tool kit and in a few years will be a normal part of our routine.

But for now, I’ll learn the new technology, learn the software, learn the new shooting and editing techniques and surely make a few mistakes along the way. I’ll do it because I have to, and I’ll do it because I want to. I won’t kid myself that online video will save our industry, (which, for the most part, is dreadfully shortsighted, under the thumb of Wall Street, and looking for anything and everything to stop declining readership).

And hopefully I won’t disappoint our readers, Bill Frakes, or Ed Reinke along the way.
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Now for the technical stuff for those of you who care:

All of the above photos by me are examples of the video frames. I’ve posted them at 1000 px wide, but the originals are about twice that size. They have not been sharpened, toned, or manipulated in any manner so you can judge for yourself the image quality.

My new video camera is a Canon XH-A1 HDMiniDV

I use a MacBookPro and Final Cut Pro for editing. I use Flash video encoding for the videos I’ve posted so far on heraldleaderphoto.com.

And here’s a shot of me at work on the backside at Churchill this week (photo by Bill Luster).
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Comments

4 Responses to “The “V” Word”
  1. Rebecca Tyler says:

    I have enjoyed seeing your pictures during the week. They have been so good!!! As always, keep up the good work!

  2. Once again you guys have taken “covering” an event to a whole new stratosphere. Great job.

  3. Lorna says:

    You are the best!

  4. Jennifer says:

    Proud of you ‘lil bro…

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