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The “V” Word


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 and 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.


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.


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.

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

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

Good ‘Ol Standby: The 50mm

January 30, 2007 by David Perry  
Filed under David Perry, Sports, Web/Camera Tech

I often advise amateurs who want an interchangeable lens camera to NOT buy the 50mm lens that often comes with it. The “normal” focal length lens isn’t nearly as useful as a room filling wide angle or a moderate telephoto. Well, the camera manufacturers have gotten the message in the last few years and are offering cheap, but slow zooms (say, maybe a 18mm to 85mm ) with their entry level single lens reflexes. They are of limited use indoors without flash, as the 85mm end usually has a f5.6 maximum aperture. But going against my own advice, I still have a 50mm f1.8 in the camera bag. My professional f2.8 80-200 and 17-35mm zooms sometimes aren’t fast enough. Which brings me to last Saturday’s swim meet:

(Seth Broster, Tates Creek, winner of 100 yd. butterfly)
The Fayette County Public Schools Swim Meet was held at Transy. Normally, the skylights offer really great light, but not last Saturday, and not at 5pm with a thick cloud cover. I was pushing the limit of my Nikon D2-H, trying to shoot 1/250th at f.28 at 1250 ISO, and even THAT was yielding underexposed frames. I finally gave up and attached the 50mm 1.8. That yielded an action stopping 1/500th /sec. at 1.8 at 1250 ISO. Now, luckily, butterfly swimmers come up for air often and so this shot (above) was within a reasonable distance of the 50mm. The freesyle event photos weren’t so good. Of course, when action is difficult technically, you can always shoot reaction (bottom photo) with a slower, longer lens. (1/200th, ISO 1250, f2.8. 80-200 zoon at 145mm. Auto white balance.)

(Kelsey Floyd, Tates Creek, winner of 100 yd. butterfly)
One other thing about the 50mm: if you don’t want to spring the big bucks for a maco closeup lens, try buying a closeup lens filter for the 50mm. Several of our staff photogs are doing just that. We never know when we will need macro capability for copying, nature, food, etc. in the field.

The 500mm Mirror F8

September 19, 2006 by David Perry  
Filed under David Perry, Web/Camera Tech

Now that the 5191 crash events have settled down, the 911 anniversary is over, and there is a little bit of breathing room between sporting events, I’d thought I’d let the newer members of the photo community see why I always have a dinosaur in my gear–that is, a Nikkor 500mm f8 reflex mirror lens made in the mid-1970s. It’s very lightweight, and it works on the same principal as a mirror reflex telescope. The lens belonged to my late friend, photographer, and photofinisher extraordinaire, Paul Lambert. I’ve used it for about three years now.
On the day of the Comair 5191 crash, there was no time to grab a shared “pool” 500mm f4 auto focus lens from the office, so when I found myself assigned, quickly, to run over to the Campbell House hotel to photograph victims’ families arriving for briefings from Comair, I pulled out the 500mm f8 mirror. The media were kept about 100 yards from the front door (as you can see, below). Also, you can see a full-frame outtake I shot from the press position we were given. An 80-200 zoom just wouldn’t have been enough.
So, while the 500 f8 mirror lens has a lot of limitations (outdoor use only because it’s so slow, and it’s only aperture is f8, AND it’s manual focus), this old dinosaur can be handy.




The reason this old lens works on modern cameras is that since it has only one aperture, no electronic couplings are needed to “feed” information back to the camera. Just put the camera on aperture priority, and set a plus 1 exposure compensation. The reason for the plus 1 compensation: without the feedback from the lens, the camera defaults to “thinking” there’s a f5.6 setting on the lens. Of course, you can also shoot with manuel settings.

Lexington From 2,000 Feet

June 22, 2006 by Janet Worne  
Filed under Behind the Photo, Web/Camera Tech

Lexington from 2,000 feet is an eye-opening site. When you drive by a new development under construction, you see a sign. Beyond that, you get a glimpse of freshly scraped earth and the skeletal beginnings of houses and businesses. But you never really see the scope of what is being done until you see it from the air.

Yesterday I rented an airplane and flew over some construction sites around Lexington and Versailles. I’m always conflicted about taking aerial photographs. The view is great and it’s fun, but it always leaves me a bit queasy. So, I took my Dramamine and packed a plastic bag with my gear.

It was beautiful weather and my pilot, Dan, was a master at maneuvering the plane into just the right position to get the pictures I needed. I always ask for a plane with overhead wings and a window that will open. The open window makes better pictures and had the added benefit of keeping the cabin tolerably cool on a hot day.

The photo above is of new developments South of Hamburg Place. The road that is running along the left is I-75 and the view is looking North toward the shopping area. I shot it on a wide-angle zoom set at 17mm. The ISO was 400, the aperture was set to f/4.5 and the shutter speed was at 3,000th of a second.

Not much green space left, is there?

Multimedia from the Boys’ Sweet 16


Herald-Leader reporter Todd VanCampen and Helena Hau, from our imaging desk, (pictured above in a photo by Charles Bertram) have been working hard behind the scenes of the Boys’ Sweet 16 basketball tournament at Rupp Arena this week to bring our internet viewers something they have never had before in our basketball coverage – sound. We’ve mentioned multimedia frequently in our blog posts, and we felt like this coverage deserves a mention here as well. We’ve been getting a few questions about how we are producing it, so here’s a technical behind-the-scenes, how-it’s-done explanation.

As the photographers (David Stephenson, Charles Bertram, Frank Anderson, and freelancer Jo Rey Au – also in the picture above) are shooting the game. Helena and Todd are gathering ambient sound of fans or other arena noises. Between games, Helena begins to assemble the sound in Soundtrack Pro while Todd writes up a brief game wrap-up. Todd records himself reading the game notes and Helena incorporates that into her edit.

We primarily use two pieces of software for our online galleries: Soundslides and Slideshowpro. Soundslides is a great application for pairing audio with images, but we decided to stick with our usual way of displaying our game albums since Slideshowpro gives us the option of having sound or not.

Within an hour or two after a game when the sound and images are completely edited to a predetermined length and number, the show is uploaded to the internet for the fans to enjoy. In addition to our first-ever multimedia coverage of the Sweet 16, reporter Mike Fields is blogging all through the tournament.

-David Stephenson

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