Gear, Access and/or Vision

I’ve been a professional photographer my entire adult life. Here are my thoughts about photo gear, access and vision.

Gear: Gear talk has never really interested me. I’ve always looked at gear as the tools of my trade and used what I felt was the best tool for the job. I don’t buy gear simply because it’s new or it’s the latest. I buy it if I need it to tell the story I want to tell. I’ve been a Nikon shooter, a Canon shooter and now a Sony (mirrorless) shooter. I can’t honestly say that my favorite images Blackpool, Englandor my most successful images were shot with one particular camera or brand. However, I’m  most proud of the images that I obtained the hard way – before auto everything cameras or Photoshop.

Access: Access is everything and is more important today than ever before. But it’s kind of like the chicken and the egg. What comes first – a good portfolio that leads to an assignment with great access or access that leads to a good portfolio? I spent a great deal of my time at the beginning of my career shooting travel. But I don’t feel that one needs to travel to the other side of the earth in order to get great travel images. It may help (or it used to) in catching someone’s eye but a good travel photographer should be able to make good images anywhere. I learned that early in my career when legendary National Geographic photography director Bob Gilka asked me to show him what I shot in my own backyard.

Vision: I have actually grown to dislike this word because it has been overused. I think that it should go without saying that all you really have that is unique is your vision or perspective. When it comes down to it your perspective and vision is what’s worth sharing. I suppose that’s why I’ve never tried to emulate someone else’s style. I’ve always used my tools as a means to an end – the end being what I want to say or share. Styles come and go. No doubt my style has changed but it happened organically as I got older and saw things from a different perspective.

What’s most important to you? That’s something you have to find out on your own. I’ve learned a lot at workshops over the years but I’ve never taken a workshop that defined my priorities.

Note:  I’m looking for subject for a project.  If you are someone or know someone who has been dismissed simply because they’ve gotten older (between the ages of 40 – 60) and have a story to tell please dm me.  I’m hoping to hear stories that had a happy ending because it nudged them to a better situation.

 

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VR – Virtual Reality – Will it Replace the Real Experience?

I just returned from the NAB (National Association of Broadcasters) Show held annually each April in Las Vegas. With 4 huge convention halls displaying the latest and greatest technology and gear used in broadcasting, it’s simply overwhelming. Since I’ve never been enamored with just the NAB 2016gear component of my business (still photography and video), but rather in how I can apply or enhance the story that I’m working on, I spend most of my time attending the conference tracks.

Every year, there seems to be a new buzzword. Two years ago it was all about 4K. Last year it was drones (UAVs) and this year it was all about VR (virtual reality) but not the VR of the 1980’s. I’m talking about VR that provides a totally immersive experience for the viewer. Even though I was a bit skeptical and didn’t really see opportunities beyond the gaming sector, I made it a point to check out the VR Pavilion and take a look at some cameras ranging from Kodak’s PixPro SP360 4 K ($499-$899) to Spericam’s V2 a 360° video camera (actually 6 cameras) no bigger than a tennis ball that records in 4K with automatic-stitching, WiFi and streaming baked right in, making viewing and sharing content easy (around $2500), to the high end Nokia Ozo selling for $60,000! As far as the viewer end, here are some of the headset options out there: Oculus Rift, Google Cardboard, and Samsung Gear VR

It wasn’t until I attended a session entitled, Being There – VR in News & Documentary that I began to realize the potential and possibilities of this technology. The panel consisted of filmmakers, journalists, and creative directors from news outlets (USA Today and Sky TV) who talked about how they were applying the tools and utilizing the medium. Like any new technology there are plenty of challenges in both the production and postproduction process, but with technology’s fast moving pace in this niche it’s only a matter of time before just about anyone and everyone will be able to create using this medium. One challenge right now is in stitching together the content in post that is created by 6 -10 cameras. It can be cumbersome and slow accompanied by hours of angst if the cameras haven’t been perfectly aligned and in sync with one another. A question was raised about the reluctance that viewers might have with not wanting to wear the necessary headset, which was one of the obstacles that kept 3D TV sets from being ubiquitous in all of our homes. The panelists answered by predicting that in a year’s time the headset will give way to a contact lens worn by the viewer.

As a story driven content creator, I needed to know why I would want to deliver a story in VR. After this session the light bulbs went off. Because it’s an immersive experience for the viewer, it can also be an incredibly empathic and emotional medium. Imagine the possibilities – red carpet events, concerts or documentaries where you want the viewer to have a truly immersive experience. VR also provides an opportunity for authenticity because it removes the layers between the journalist and the viewer as opposed to 2D, which could have been created on a sound stage.

Even though the principles of storytelling haven’t changed this is a medium that requires a new language or lexicon with new rules. For instance, there is no cropping in VR. There are two important considerations when creating VR. One is proximity and you have to get the camera in close – no more than 2 feet from a subject that the camera may be following. The other component is to have a narrator or presenter – a kind of tour guide that can direct the viewer through the experience. Usually it’s the journalist rather than a voiceover talent, which can be a bit unnerving in this medium or like the voice of God coming out of nowhere. An alternative to using a narrator would be to use graphical overlays that guide the viewer visually. All the panelists agreed that because it’s such an authentic experience for the viewer it’s a medium that’s conducive to creating empathy and moving people to take action. Some said because it is so authentic it may mislead people inadvertently to disconnect because they have no sense of danger and we run the risk of viewers becoming numb to the experience but only if the filmmaker doesn’t provide the opportunity for a call to action. Live streaming in VR is a game changer because now filmmakers can influence in real time.

I’m not yet convinced that it’s a medium for me or if I’m ready to be a pioneer and deal with what comes with that. The rewards and opportunities are there, as they usually are for frontrunners. That is if it isn’t just a passing fad and you’re willing to take that risk. There is already a trade association for VR creators, IVRPA (The International Virtual Reality Photography Association) so my guess is it’s more than a passing fad. In a world of couch potatoes or those stifled by fear, there may be plenty of people who will choose VR over the real experience.

Check it out for yourself.

VR Stories by USA Today Network

Immerse Yourself in Stories of America 

Google Play
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.gannett.vrstories&hl=enand

iTunes App Store
https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/vr-stories-by-usa-today/id975006820?mt=8

Condition One*
Experience a Perilous World with At-Risk Species, and at a Factory Farm

Google Play
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.conditionone.vrplayer_cardboard&hl=en

Platform agnostic streaming with or without Cardboard:
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC3VWeehBnL_VL-92K6VImiw

Ryot – VR
Go Around the World to See New Perspectives, Regions, Cultures and People

Google Play
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.apto.ryot_vr&hl=en

iTunes App Store
https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/ryot-vr/id1046058227?mt=8

Platform agnostic streaming with or without Cardboard:
http://www.ryot.org/virtualreality/the-second-line-a-parade-against-violence
(This piece is a RYOT and AP collaboration. Go inside New Orleans, one of our nation’s most culturally rich cities in a socially, politically, and emotionally potent moment in time.)

Google Cardboard
Launch Your Favorite VR Experiences, Discover New Apps, and Set Up a Viewer

Google Play
https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.google.samples.apps.cardboarddemo&hl=en

iTunes App Store
https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/google-cardboard/id987962261?mt=8

Platform agnostic streaming with or without Cardboard:
youtube.com/360

 

Planes, Trains and Automobiles – With Photo Gear

I am about a third of the way through my 3-month round the world trip working on a personal project and documentary, Opening Our Eyes. I’m holding up pretty well – better than I thought actually. After all, it’s a whole lot different putting myself to this test this time, more than 35 years after my first adventure around the world. Besides being older, I’m carrying a lot more expensive photo and video gear with me and I have a job to do. Yes, it’s a personal project and not an assigned job, but for someone like me, I take it with the same commitment and responsibility that I would if I was shooting for a client. In fact, if anything I have a more vested interest and push myself harder. But I’m not alone, I’m traveling and working with my 23 year old daughter Erin

Erin wearing a GoPro Helmet Cam at Spice Bazaar in Istanbul

and having her along has made all the difference in the Without her, this project would have been much different and harder on me. Besides being attentive to the travel logistics with the multitude of flights we need to make, the hotels we need to arrange and find once we arrive at our destinations and coordinating our subjects all over the globe, we need to be constantly attentive to our security and safety. When traveling with photo equipment – and a lot of it – my daughter and I must be forever diligent and aware of our surroundings. I’m fortunate that my daughter is along for this trip because we watch each other’s backs, especially when shooting in bazaars or traveling on public transportation.

Many days I feel like I have two jobs to do – one being that of a creative and making sure I get the images and video that I need for our project and the other being that of a travel agent. Fortunately for me, I’ve been facilitating my own travel arrangements as long as I can remember and I’m good at it. I’ve also built up a kind of sixth sense and I’m streetwise which seems to keep us out of trouble and harm’s way. I sense danger and go the other direction.

We’ve managed to keep a balance of down time and project time, leaving a little room for error because not everything goes according to plan. Plus, travel does take its toll and some days we just need to give into our bodies telling us to take time out. When I’ve finished this sojourn, I could write a book – in fact I could probably write a couple of books – on travel – on passion projects or on shooting a documentary with HDSLR’s. Maybe I will after I get the postproduction done on this project. Or maybe I’ll just take a vacation – at home.

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