by Edmond Terakopian
How we all miss the golden era of photojournalism, when Life magazine and Picture Post were at their peak. When every issue brought amazing picture stories by Robert Capa, Henri Cartier Bresson or the king of the art, W. Eugene Smith. A few years later we had the brilliant Sunday Times Magazine which would carry picture stories by the great Don McCullin.
Apple’s Aperture which allows image editing, captioning, RAW conversion and export of images. A very handy feature is that it also builds up your fully searchable image database as you continue using it. After having searched through several terabytes of images, I’ve imported my selection into Aperture to make my final edit and corrections.
Alas those days are gone as publishers decide that more and more pages should be sold to advertisers, and the remaining pages dedicated to celebrity nonsense.
However, all is not lost. We’re now beginning to explore the internet and its infinite number of pages; pages which can be as large as our monitors and not destroyed by adverts. Once, the internet was for computer savvy nerds, but it has now grown in popularity to the extent that all age groups, from all walks of life, are completely at ease using the web. Even mobile devices now allow us now to access the web from practically anywhere.
All is not good news though as publishers now look at the internet and ask, “What can we do with it?” Instead of the thought out approach of using this as a vehicle for promoting and delivering great photojournalism, its being used as a delivery mechanism for video. I guess they think that a moving colour image with sound is much more ‘modern’, so our talented photographers are being asked to “shoot it in video” as well as using their skills to capture the story in the single image. In one particular paper in the States, the whole photography team has had their stills cameras replaced by video. Obviously there are two main problems with this approach; firstly, no one remembers great video of a particular event as its always the still image which springs to mind. Secondly, how can anyone use two different apparatus at the same time? The decisive moment will probably be lost as the photographer is busy switching from one to the other.
In the better case scenario where only a video camera is provided, where does the skill of the single decisive moment come when everything is caught on camera in a horizontal format at many frames per second? How will we remember great stills pictures if there are none taken by the press corps?
The Roland Edirol R-09 is a field audio recorder with built in stereo microphones, and is now part of my everyday kit. Its superb at recording interviews or ambient sounds, which can really add to the mood of a series of pictures.
My personal thoughts are that we should look at alternative ways of story telling, and embrace any technology that enhances this. I think the operative word is enhance. It’s similar to someone buying their first fish eye lens; you can’t put it down as its such an amazing effect and you end up using it on every image, sadly ruining most of them! A fish eye is a great tool for the correct circumstance, but a disaster elsewhere. Its the same with the alternative means of story telling. Use it if it enhances the story, not just because you can.
This is where new media or multimedia comes in. Slide shows are by no means a new thing. However, the internet and ADSL means that we have a modern equivalent to the Kodak Carrousel and tatty off-white slide screen - which never stayed quite straight.
I think as photographers we have our own ways of looking at things; our own way of capturing little snippets of life frozen in time by our shutters. The whole approach is different from that of the moving image. However, by going back in time to the golden era of Capa, Bresson and Eugene Smith, we can bring the same approach to story telling into the modern way of delivery; the internet. A step further brings us back to the slideshow. There are various ways of delivering slideshows, of which a little later.
Using this new media we can use our skills as photographers and construct picture stories to be delivered as a slideshow. Whilst some subjects look just fine as silent slide shows, others benefit by having sound with them. This can either be in the form of music, or a recording made of the subject, including audio interviews and ambient sounds.
My own wake up call came when a paper I work for called me to do a shift. I gladly accepted the fashion assignment, but then came the request from the picture editor that he wanted it shot in video for the paper’s web site. I had lost my first shift to video! I spent a few weeks looking into video; the courses and equipment. It was depressing as my love is for the magic of stills. But I started to explore to see how I could expand my repertoire. Audio visual slideshows was my answer.
This still leaves a huge amount to be learnt. As far a
s the stills image, one still uses the pure discipline of constructing a picture story. In very basic terms, it needs a beginning, a middle and an ending. Every image needs to be shot and included in the edit because it brings something new to the viewer as far as understanding the story. The audio, is where its all new.
If you study the TV news or movies, it becomes very apparent just how important good sound is. Good content with clean and neat recordings are paramount. A bad choice of music, or a bad recording of the subject, either technically or content wise, will distract the viewer of your slideshow and loose the impact of your pictures.
The Nitty Gritty
To put together a slideshow, we naturally need a set of pictures on the same topic and the audio to go with it. Also, we need software to prepare the still images, more software for the audio, and yet more software to marry the two with timings and transitions.
My personal arsenal consists of:
Apple Aperture - Image editing, captioning and conversion
Apple Soundtrack Pro 2 (part of Final Cut Studio 2) - Audio editing
Apple iMovie - For arranging images and audio together and making a Quicktime movie.
Sound Slides - For doing exactly the same as iM
ovie, but in a Flash format ideal for speedier web delivery.
I have also been exploring Final Cut Pro and the Express version, and once mastered, these will replace iMovie in my workflow.
Soundtrack Pro 2 which is part of Apple’s Final Cut Studio 2, allows full audio imports and multi track editing. The audio for the project has several tracks (ambient sounds from the program’s own library, a recording of camera shutters and the music track), with various volume settings. Using this program made the editing and combining of the tracks very straight forward. The final track was output as an MP3 file.
On the hardware side, I shoot with two Canon EOS-1D MkII bodies and two Canon EOS 5D bodies, choosing between them depending on the assignment to hand, and a range of Canon lenses from the EF 15mm f/2.8 to the EF 500mm f/4L IS USM. On the audio side of things I use a Roland Edirol R-09. All of this and my Apple MacBook Pro are carried around in various ThinkTank Photo bags and pouches.
The Edirol is a very neat little package, about the size of an iPod. It records onto SD cards and uses a couple of AA batteries which seem to last forever. It also has a stereo microphone built in. For an even better recording quality, it does allow you to plug in an external microphone and Roland make a very neat one specifically designed to work with it. On the side of the unit is a set of buttons for adjusting the recording level, and a display on the front which lets you monitor the recording level. You can also plug in some earphones to hear the recording.
The most important aspect of a sound recording is to get the microphone as close to your subject as possible and to set the correct recording level. Too low and you will get a very noticeable hiss. Too high and you will get clipping and distortion. Think of it as exposing your picture perfectly keeping all the highlight and shadow detail intact.
When using music, naturally you will have to buy royalty free tracks. A quick search on the internet will show several companies selling downloadable MP3 content for which you can buy the royalty free license. It may be tempting to use a favourite track in the charts, but you will be breaking the law. Just as you’d be upset if someone stole one of your images, so the musicians and their recording companies get upset if you steal their music.
Choosing the right track can take many hours of listening. You need to make sure that the mood and tempo of your chosen music works with and enhances the mood of your images.
As I mentioned earlier, the subject needs to lend itself to a picture story. This method of delivery won’t suit all subjects. The more journalistic the images, the more they will benefit from this treatment.
I’ve been fortunate to cover London Fashion Week for years. My very first time was very stressful and I felt totally out of place as I was surrounded by photographers who travel the world just covering fashion. However as the days went by and I was assigned to other fashion weeks, I totally fell in love with the assignment. Its a great mixture of imagery and its up to the photographer to find these. My first trip back stage at a Basso and Brooke show really opened my eyes to the images that could be made. The energy and speed with which models are brought in, changed, made up and then moved to the catwalk was amazing. Keeping an eye open for nice candids, working in sometimes very low light and all the while trying not to get underfoot all provide their own challenges, but also yield beautiful journalistic images.
Then comes the catwalk (or runway) itself, at the end of which you will always find a large number of photographers doing an impression of sardines. Space is at a premium and everyone squashes together, filling every centimeter. Nowhere else will you find such a concentrated amount of 70-200mm and 300mm jutting out from such a small space.
On the face of it, its all pretty straight forward. There is a long catwalk, and models walk up and down it, wearing the designers’ new seasonal range. This is where it gets interesting though; you can photograph it in a very straight forward fashion (which on certain occasions works well) or you can get creative and use wide lenses, play with the light or move completely away from the “pit” and try the sidelines.
For this slideshow I decided that I was going to find my favourite images shot over the last four years. After collecting them all I did all the conversions needed in Aperture and output them all at 800 pixels across, using a preset I had already made.
For the next part I spent a while listening to music and finally found a song with the right energy for the catwalk sequence. Unfortunately I didn’t have any ambient recordings made backstage so I found a suitable track in Sound Track Pro’s library.
I wanted to convey some of the excitement of cameras being fired so decided to make a recording of the shutter being fired on a 1D MkII and 5D. After recording these separately, I imported them into Sound Track Pro and overlaid them, making the finished track begin slowly and build to a climax which sounds like hundreds of cameras being fired. The whole thing though was only two cameras. Lastly came the mastering of the final sound track which was combining all three.
I had already decided that I wanted to show each image for three seconds, so a few calculations showed that I had a few too many pictures in my edit. After deleting four of them, I had the lengths just right.
Sound Slides makes it very easy to combine the pictures and audio together. It then outputs a folder containing a flash file and related image and sound files, ready for publishing to the web.
Using Sound Slides I imported the photographs and the sound track, and after spending another minute filling in the credits and choosing the colour scheme, I was done.
The other possible way of doing this project is to import the images and audio in iMovie (or Final Cut) and make a Quicktime movie of the slideshow. This method gives much more control on speed and transition.
For examples of stories, please visit here.
This article was originally written for, and published on the Canon Professional Network web site.