Week One – Teaching in China

I’ve just wrapped up week one, teaching Chinese photojournalists, in Beijing, to think and shoot in motion.  Like any new job or new experience – the first day or the first week – is always the hardest.  The week flowed like any good story, with “ups” and “downs” but by Friday afternoon – my students triumphed and amazed me.

It’s difficult to teach any “still” photographer “motion” because so many photographers are so gear oriented, they underestimate the most important part of the process – thinking and shooting in motion.  I find that many times, still photographers think that all they need to do is switch their DSLR’s to “video mode” and shoot.  There’s a certain attitude amongst some professional photographers – that all they really need to do is get a camera that’s capable of shooting video.  But they quickly realize that there is a lot more to learn.

Day one, we talked about thinking and shooting in sequencing.  It took longer to get this message across, simply because everything needed to be translated into Chinese.  I showed examples that helped and then gave them an assignment to shoot a sequence of video clips that told the story.  The next day we reviewed the work of the students and they quickly understood the successful attempts and the not so successful results.  They also realized how different shooting motion is from shooting stills.  I had told them in class that “stills are moments in time” and “video is time in motion” but until they actually tried to shoot that way – and then analyzed their results in the critique – did they begin to understand. Many made the common mistake of moving the camera, rather than letting the motion happen in front of the camera and many produced video clips that didn’t relate to one another.

Day two we started to talk about audio.  That’s a subject that all still photographers underestimate because they don’t realize the importance of capturing good audio.  They think that their camera mics are sufficient in this task. After all, they are capturing sound.  It’s not until they can hear the difference between good audio and bad audio that they really begin to understand that audio is more important than the visual.  I could see the light bulbs going off the next day in the critique that they were beginning to understand this important concept.

Day three we talked more about the importance of audio and that when shooting with a DSLR camera, it is essential that they capture audio with an external microphone and a separate digital audio recorder.  After a morning in the classroom, we all headed out for a field trip.  I set up a situation where I did an interview of a subject and they shot the b-roll.  That evening, we broke into 3 groups (video is a collaborative effort) and they set off to capture a story, using everything we had learned in the past 3 days

Day four, we put a small dent into learning the vast editing application, Adobe Premiere.  That was perhaps the most challenging day for all of us.  I’m somewhat new to Premiere, since I’ve been editing in Final Cut Pro for the last 10 years, but it was the most viable solution since most of the students were using PC’s and Premiere is cross plat formed.  We learned the basics in the morning and in the afternoon – the hard work began.  The next day, we would be joining the other 3 groups who had been learning things like lighting and Lightroom and the clock was ticking to get their assignments edited.  I cannot even begin to tell you how amazed I was at how far these students had come in just 4 days – it was remarkable.

The next morning we showed our completed projects to the entire student body and other faculty.  Based on the resounding applause – I believe we amazed them as well. That evening we were all beyond exhausted, but my students invited me out for a “banquet”.  I was lucky  – many in my group spoke some English – so the evening was spent sharing stories and cultural experiences and food and drink.  It created a bank of memories that I will cherish.

We had two days of rest and our first day; we headed to a remote area of the Great Wall.  I shot some still images and then I needed to just take pause.  As the other 3 teachers continued to shoot – I knew I needed to stop and just take a moment to put the camera down and really “see” where I was.  I needed that time to absorb not only the week I had spent but to relish the “now” and think about where I was in the context of the world.  It’s those moments, when I put the camera down, that always create the memories that linger in my mind forever more.

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4 thoughts on “Week One – Teaching in China

  1. edmcdonald April 29, 2012 / 10:01 am

    Amen Gail! Glad you are taking time for the moment, so very important for our spiritual well being. Nice to see the results of your work with the students, very rewarding. Be well.

  2. Stasia July 31, 2013 / 10:44 am

    Gail,

    I was stumbling around the internet and found your blog. You are doing or did what I would LOVE to do. How did you find this opportunity? I have been working in broadcasting, and video production for 20 years, I actually lived in Hong Kong as a child an was able to return to China for a 2 week trip in 2006. Any advice for a person who would like to follow in your footsteps?

    • Gail Mooney July 31, 2013 / 4:34 pm

      I was approached by a member of my trade association who had contacts in China. It usually comes down to networking and who you know.

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