Interview lighting in a hurry

When you're on a tight deadline and need to conduct several interviews quickly, the temptation is sometimes there to get rolling and pay very little attention to how your shooting looks. But if you have just five minutes to think you can often cut a few corners and still make your interviews look rather nice.

Here's how I do it:

1) If lighting and weather allow, why not shoot your interviews outside? Finding a shady spot with a shady background will allow you to record an acceptable looking interview without the need to use a reflector or any lighting at all. If the sun is in the right place, you can use that natural night as spill for the background, or even to cast a warming glow onto your subject's face. I've tried to achieve both effects in the shot below.

2) If you can't do your interview outdoors, or it doesn't make sense editorially, then you have several indoor options that will speed things up for you. Try to use natural light to your advantage.

If the layout of the room allows, face your interviewee straight on towards a window. You can often adjust the lighting using blinds, so long as they don't cast a shadow.

3) You can use natural light from windows to help you in other ways, for example, to cast some light onto the shoulder or hair. But most importantly, don't allow it to cause ugly shadows on your subject's face.

4) If you find you have no natural light to work with, try to use the ceiling or other lights already in the room. Lights that you can dim are particularly good for creating a nice looking background.

5) Overhead lights do not help you very much with lighting the face.

In the shot above, the only light I have used is a camera-top LED panel. I've used overheads to light the background, and a small spotlight to create the glint on the fireplace. All in all, it took about 10 minutes from arriving at the interview location to rolling.

When you're running and gunning you will often have very little time to perfect the lighting on an interview. And the examples I have given above are far from perfect, but the techniques I've tried to outline usually help me get a decent, broadcastable result.


Shooting news video with DSLRs

I've been interested for quite a while in how news shooters view the new generation of DSLR cameras with regards to their ability to capture video.

My interest was piqued again when I edited a recent feature for the PBS NewsHour which was predominantly shot with a new Canon DSLR camera. I have several observations based on that experience:

1) Ingestion time: The files from the camera took a long time to ingest into Final Cut Pro from a Firewire 800 drive using the Log and Transfer plug-in. I tried both unwrapping the raw MXF files, and getting the plug-in to convert to a more editing-friendly Apple ProRes format. Both methods took hours, and there was probably only two hours of footage.

2) Shallow DOF: The enormous size of DSLR sensors - along with the ability to use lenses of varying focal length - can create very narrow depth, and a cinematic look that many movie producers who shoot on video are fond of. But in a news environment where speed is often of the essence, and do-overs are usually not an option, movement often seems to result in objects coming in and out of focus. I find this distracting.

3) Picture texture: While I love the rich texture of the DSLR image, I'm not entirely sold on its appropriateness for news. This is especially the case when a story - such as the one I edited - involves footage from both a DSLR and a traditional pro camcorder - a Sony XDCAM EX3. Trying to match the images is impossible. And the difference when cutting from one format to the other just seemed too jarring to me.

4) White balance: I haven't shot video in a serious way on a DSLR myself, but in viewing the rushes it seemed to me that the colors often didn't appear accurate. They often seemed too red or too green. I'm not sure if this was user error, auto white balance, or just an inherent issue with DSLR cameras.

5) Audio: The sound on all the interviews using an external lavaliere microphone were over-modulated. I have heard from various shooters that audio remains a problem on DSLR cameras. Obviously, audio is of critical importance in television.

Having said all that, I am very interested in future developments in DSLR video cameras, particularly when manufacturers start to incorporate more functions of use in news gathering. There are a couple of really good blogs that are worth checking out if you are interested in the subject and want to keep up with DSLR video technology:

DSLR Video Shooter and Learning DSLR Video are great resources. While not tailored to news shooting, they are very authoritative on the issues and developments in DSLR video. For example, in the video below from Learning DSLR, author Dave Dugdale comprehensively compares two brands of DSLR.

As ever, I'm interested in what my readers think. Have you had success shooting news video with a DSLR. If so, let me know. And I'm keen to hear about the drawbacks too.


New blog tackles ethics in journalism

There's an excellent new journalism blog worth checking out.

Colorado Public Radio's Assistant News Director Judith Smelser's blog "Scribbles and Scruples" tackles issues in the world of journalism, public radio and ethics in the digital age.

Early topics tackled on the blog include "Host/Reporters: How to Make the Most of Your Reporting Time" and "Women Journalists, Could We Be Perpetuating the Glass Ceiling?"

It's a great read, especially for those in public media who are interested in writing, script editing and the ethical dilemmas that face journalists as they do their jobs.

Check out "Scribbles and Scruples" here.


What shooters should do to avoid the chop

Here is a link to an article I just finished reading in GOOD Magazine.

It's another piece on the inevitable decline of the photo/videojournalist. The author is talking about photographers who just take photographs, or videographers who only shoot videos.

To make the point that photojournalists are going the way of the dinosaurs, the piece quotes a memo from Jack Womack, CNN's senior vice president of domestic news operations in which he outlines some more layoffs among the ranks of the network's shooters:

"We looked at production demands, down time, and international deployments. We looked at the impact of user-generated content and social media, CNN iReporters and of course our affiliate contributions in breaking news. Consumer and pro-sumer technologies are simpler and more accessible. Small cameras are now high broadcast quality. More of this technology is in the hands of more people. After completing this analysis, CNN determined that some photojournalists will be departing the company."

The article goes on to explain that CNN is laying off shooters because it is "receiving so many photo submissions via its user-generated iReport platform." This is clearly the case. In a breaking news medium, getting pictures from the field fast is paramount. The iPhone 4 can shoot HD pictures, but when pulling in stills or video from the public, quality isn't even that important. You have to get the visuals on the air immediately.

The problem is, then what? When the breaking news has happened and the public turns to CNN or another network to get some coverage, context or analysis, the broadcasters will, at some stage, require photo or videojournalists (professionals) to pick up where the public left off. Viewers of TV news will eventually need more than shaky, grainy video, or poorly framed stills. Plus, not all news is "breaking." Don't expect someone with an iPhone to go out and shoot a feature for you.

While news organizations will, undoubtedly, require fewer video/photojournalists, they will require some. The article quotes Darrow Montgomery from Washington's City Paper: "If the metric is to get the best, most telling, evocative picture of a given situation, and to be able to do that repeatedly, then the professional will win almost every time."

But video or photojournalists are their own worst enemies sometimes. They are, at least in part, responsible for their own demise. The article above quotes a former news shooter, now a wedding photographer: "Photographers need to figure out what exactly separates them from pedestrians with nice cameras." This could not be more true, especially when it comes to video.

There is a pervasive sense of misery among videojournalists who just shoot video. They feel they're doomed and that there is nothing they can do about it. But in fact there is something they can do about it. They have to learn some new skills to compete, it's just that simple. It's true that you're not going to be able to compete with a member of the public with an iPhone that is in the right place at the right time. But a photographer or videojournalist will stand a much better chance of keeping their job if they're able to do more than just shoot. The way of the future in television or online video is the shooter who is a reporter, writer, editor and producer as well.

I hear a lot about quality declining with the rise of the one-man-band reporter. But that rise is just the way it is and people should get used to it. I also hear people say things like "I'm too old to learn all this new stuff." I believe that anyone who thinks that way deserves to lose their job. One-skill specialists who look down on the one-man-band reporter may feel a sense of superiority, but that's not going to get them far when they get a pink-slip.

The answer to the challenge of figuring out how video/photojournalists should "separate themselves from pedestrians with nice cameras" is to learn how do be a reporter, editor or producer too. Learn some new tricks. Make yourself as valuable as three people. If you can't or wont do that then you are "going the way of the pterodactyl."


Spanish-language TV grows, advertisers hold back

This week I'll be wrapping up a story on the Spanish-language television market in the United States.

It's a segment that is growing at a very fast rate, and more Hispanic broadcast and cable nets in the US are producing their own programming, instead of simply buying in content from production houses in Latin America. 

But many advertisers remain to be convinced of the power of the Hispanic dollar. Spanish-language TV commands a much higher proportion of the overall US television audience than ad spending would suggest.

I'll be visiting the studios of Telemundo in Miami to examine this phenomenon, and how America's shifting demographics are changing the broadcast landscape. Look out for the story from AFP TV.

Steve Mort - US correspondent, Miami