August 25th, 2010

A whole bunch of reading

It’s amazing how much passes you by when you go away for a few weeks. Just now managing to catch up on some links I saved for reading later, which may be of interest:

The LA Times launched a new photo blog called Framework

5DtoRGB – A free professional transcoding application for Mac that claims to do better quality transcoding than Canon’s E1 plugin, albeit slower I think

Came across an old post on the ProLost blog about the advantages of using a flat, low-contrast, low-sharpness picture style for video-shooting on the Canon 5D MkII

Stuart Freedman wrote an interesting piece on the EPUK site about the state of photojournalism and professional ethics

Reporters without Borders updated its Handbook for Journalists – “for those going to dangerous parts of the world, listing international norms protecting them and containing practical advice on how to stay alive and safe”

VTZilla – a useful Firefox plugin that can be used to scan files on the internet against viruses and malware – before you download them

The Planet5D site launched an HDSLR news aggregator page showing lots of links to DSLR news from other sites on a single page

10,000 words published a list of 11 top news photoblogs

Photojournalist Zed Nelson gave a fascinating interview about his life and work to the UK’s Professional Photographer magazine

The Plymouth Herald in the UK came up with a clever strategic response to a ban on all media photographers at their local football club. Also see here

The Camera+ iPhone app introduced a great feature to use the volume button as a shutter button to take pictures on your iPhone, and was swiftly followed by Apple pulling the app for potentially “resulting in user confusion”. Jeez… Does anyone know a currently-working way to have this function, without jailbreaking?

Norwegian cameraman/journalist Paul Refsdal wrote an interesting article on the NYTimes Lede blog about embedding with the Taliban – a one-stop shop for converting audio, videos, images, documents, & ebooks between different formats without the need to install software

For those interested in Egypt, the Economist wrote a whole bunch of special features examining the current state of the country:
Thank you and goodbye – For good or ill, change is coming to Egypt and Saudi Arabia soon
America’s lieutenant – But Egypt’s role as a regional peacekeeper is getting harder to sustain
A slow learning curve – A rotten education system lets the country down
No paradise – Most Egyptians put up with a lot
Saving faith – Islam seems to be fading as a revolutionary force
After Mubarak -Change is bound to come, but when?

The last NCTJ photojournalism course in the UK closed down. I did this course in Sheffield before starting my career, and it’s a sad day. I wish the course’s head Paul Delmar – the source and subject of some legendary stories surely known to all who passed through there, all the best for his retirement.

August 23rd, 2008

Dexter Filkins / Iraq

Posted by Ben in General, Middle East

Dexter Filkins, a staff writer who covered Iraq for The New York Times from 2003 to 2006, looks back on his time there.
UPDATE: Filkins answers questions about the article from readers here and here

June 10th, 2008

Leica M8 field-tested in Iraq

© Michael Kamber, used with permission

Photojournalist Michael Kamber – currently attached to the Baghdad bureau of the New York Times – has posted a very thorough review of the Leica M8 on his website.
The review is a real-world, hands-on, in-the-field style review from the perspective of the camera’s use in combat situations. Mike is a long time Leica user but despite the advantages of the camera’s “unobtrusiveness” he found:

“the Leica M8 to be unreliable, poorly designed, and to deliver substandard results in most of the situations in which I have used it. I can’t think of any camera – or for that matter any electronic device I have recently used – that so thoroughly fails to live up to its potential and its heritage.”

Ouch. Read more here.

Update: Mike’s review has sparked a vigorous debate over at Lightstalkers with people comparing his review to more positive ones by the likes of Bruno Stevens and Ashley Gilberston and trying to work out how a camera can be both terrible and fantastic. If you like debates of the “Mac vs PC” or “Nikon vs Canon” variety, take a look at the threads here, here, and endlessly here.

May 21st, 2008

Errol Morris on Abu Ghraib image

Posted by Ben in General, Middle East, Photojournalism

Documentary filmmaker Errol Morris has posted a lengthy examination of one of the Abu Ghraib photographs – from a photographic viewpoint.
The nearly 12,000 word (!) analysis of this image has much of interest to photographers and those seeking to better understand the interaction that takes place between reader and photograph. Read “The Most Curious Thing

May 17th, 2008

Bakhtiari Nomads in Iran

I made a trip to Iran in December and had a multimedia piece about Iranian Bakhtiari nomads published by the AP, to accompany a story. Iran really is an amazing place to visit – if you ever get the chance to go, take it.
You can see the slideshow by clicking on the image below.

Bakhtiari Nomads

As usual it’s all created in Soundslides but this time it wasn’t me who edited it so I don’t have many technique details, except to say the audio was captured on a Samson Zoom H2 using the onboard mics.

All works are © Copyright 2007, The Associated Press.

November 12th, 2007

Marlboro Marine multimedia

Posted by Ben in General, Middle East, Photojournalism

MultimediaShooter alerted me to the particularly impressive “Marlboro Marine” three-part series of multimedia pieces by LA Times photographer Luis Sinco.
Stemming from Sinco’s emblematic photo of U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. James Blake Miller in Fallujah in 2004, the three-part series of stills/audio multimedia follows Miller after his return and through his subsequent depression and inability to re-adjust to post-Iraq life back home.
These multimedia pieces are exactly the kind of personal, long-term, and in-depth journalism that shows just what the multimedia format is capable of.
The photographs and audio are all by Luis Sinco and the production is by the always-impressive MediaStorm.
There’s also an accompanying article and photo gallery.

Luis Sinco/LA Times – The Marlboro Marine

November 11th, 2007

A second pair of eyes

Posted by Ben in General, Middle East, Photojournalism

Reuters staff photographer Jerry Lampen has written a good article over at the Reuters Photographers blog telling from firsthand experience the value of the countless drivers, fixers, and in his words “second pair of eyes” that are often behind the great images you see but most of the time remain invisible and anonymous.

November 11th, 2007

Egypt – Recycling as Necessity

Posted by Ben in General, Middle East, Multimedia

My first multimedia slideshow produced using Soundslides has just been published. It concerns the mini-industry of street repairmen who fix broken consumer goods in Egypt.

Egypt: Recycling as Necessity

The slideshow of my photos can be seen by clicking on the picture above… and the written story by AP reporter Anna Johnson, who also read the voiceover, can be read here. Multimedia editing/production was done by me.

All works are © Copyright 2007, The Associated Press.


Some technical details on the production for those interested in multimedia editing:

1. Photos – taken with a Canon EOS 1D MkII, saved in AdobeRGB colour space for print use, and separately in sRGB for the multimedia slideshow. I’ve found that sRGB displays much better online where the majority of people don’t use colour-managed web browsers (only Apple Safari and Mozilla Firefox 3 betas do proper colour-management) and therefore most machines assume images are sRGB. See more discussion on this here, here and here.

2. Audio – the natural sound was captured using an Olympus dictaphone, the voiceover recorded direct to a laptop with a Sennheiser ME66 microphone. The audio was then edited using the free, open-source & cross platform Audacity. Four audio clips were used – the sound of the telephone ringing, background street noise, a call to prayer from a nearby mosque and the voiceover – all joined with a few fade-ins and fade-outs and then mixed down to a single MP3 track.

3. Putting it together – The telephone sequence at the beginning is a sequence of stills shot on the camera’s 8fps motordrive. Nineteen of these images were then used with each having 0.3 secs duration and a 0.1 sec crossfade transition inbetween to give the flickering effect. The rest of the images were mostly equally spaced, trying to fit the audio as well as possible.

A few lessons learned from this first project:

Good quality audio capture is key – having a decent selection of clean clips to work with is essential. Therefore the audio really needs to be seriously thought-out as you are doing the story and in parallel with the picture-taking. This isn’t always easy. The Olympus dictaphone even on “extra high quality” mode records using the CELP+ADPCM codec and whilst this may be fine for dictation, it just doesn’t cut it for real audio recording. I’d like to use a real field recorder such as one of these next time.

Once all the photos and audio have been selected, you need to plan how it is going to fit it together – which is harder than it sounds. Soundslides does a great job of enabling you to fit the pictures to the audio by changing the sequence order and duration. BUT… you had better be 100% satisfied with your audio track before doing this, because if you need to re-edit and re-import the audio then most likely all your photo sequence work will be lost and you’ll have to start again from scratch (unless the new audio has identical length to the old one).

Multimedia is a somewhat chicken-and-egg scenario where each medium is interdependent with others, but I think the best workflow would be to start with a reasonable idea of which pictures are going to be used and in which order. Then edit the audio (and record the voiceover if one is being used) to roughly match this. Finally, arrange the pictures to accurately fit the edited audio track.

The audio editing wasn’t quite so complex as I thought it would be, although this project required only some pretty simple editing. Learning the basic audio terminology is key to understanding what is going on but once you’ve done that and understand the basics, I found many of the principles were remarkably similar to those used in digital photography.

The first time to do something like this was a bit of a steep learning curve but I’m sure it will be a lot easier and quicker the next time around. I do believe the stills and audio combination is a powerful one and I’m looking forward to trying it again soon.

Any comments welcome…

May 31st, 2007

Search for missing soldiers

Posts have been a bit thin here recently as I’ve been busy with work. So this is just a short one to point out a nice bit of multimedia storytelling by my friend Michael Kamber of the New York Times, travelling with the 10th Mountain Division, reporting on the search for missing U.S. soldiers south of Baghdad. It’s a six-minute audio slideshow with commentary by the photographer.

The Reach of War: A deadly search for missing soldiers

February 27th, 2007

Arabic translation

Posted by Ben in General, Middle East

Non-Arabic speakers who sometimes need to read arabic websites now have an easy option. Google has added English-to-Arabic and Arabic-to-English translation to its set of online translation tools enabling one to translate either a block of text or an entire website – in either direction.

I’ve no idea how accurate it is but this is how this site looks in arabic using the system.

Google Translate

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