Sunday, January 30, 2005

Freedom isn't free

"OPFOR BRIEFING" by Patrick Farrell, Fort Irwin, California 1988

Both Fayrouz and I are awake until sunrise or later to watch the Iraqi elections. She's making periodic blog updates as we read/see/hear reports. The emotional waves of pride flowing through our home are intense.

My thanks go out to the bravery of the Iraqi voters, the soldiers and the journalists. All are doing their part and bringing honor upon themselves and their homelands.

Some of each are likely to die today. This is an unfortunate price to allow freedom for all. Freedom isn't free. It's bought with courage, resolve and unfortunately with blood and lives.

To the soldier-readers from a Cold War veteran Polar Bear (I'm the one crouching with a demolition bag in the painting), I salute you. "For Country."

Enough for now,

Saturday, January 29, 2005

To tilt or not

Heather Ainsworth, division director of Robert Half Finance and Accounting, poses for a portrait at her office in Dallas on Monday, November 22, 2004. She manages a group which specializes in full-time placement of accounting professionals.

Photos © Mark M. Hancock and The Dallas Morning News

These are images from a tough situation. I could only shoot in their conference room. Compositionally, it's further complicated by having only one subject.

I tried to make the image more interesting. I snooted the light, I used her reflection on the polished wood table and I even tilted the frame. The non-tilted image ran as expected.

I'll admit a tilted view makes a boring image more interesting. There's the problem. Tilting a view is controversial to PJs because it makes a boring image more interesting.

The general composition rule is horizontal lines are horizontal and vertical lines are vertical because this is the way people see. Leading lines can be diagonal because they imply distance.

For those who tilt frames (deliberately turn the camera to violate the compositional norm), the rule is abstract and artificial. The rule can be considered a nuisance or an outright affront to creative expression.

For traditionalists, tilting frames is sloppy and unprofessional.

For most working PJs, it just happens. At other times, it's a tool to keep in the bag for when it's warranted. Sometimes it works, sometimes it's sloppy. Each image dictates its applicability.

To tilt
Most PJs have it hammered into our heads to make any situation visual or don't bother coming back to the newsroom. It's the PJ's job to sift through the scene and locate the single interesting image. When there is absolutely nothing – an extremely rare occurrence - a tilt may be warranted.

On equally rare occurrences, a tilt could be the only way to keep all visual elements within a frame. In these circumstances, the only other way to keep all the elements is to back up too far and include too much extraneous information that the image is degraded.

Lastly, the most legitimate use of a tilt is chaos. The PJ is running to or from something horrible and the camera was tilted due to other actions of the PJ. It's not a deliberate tilt as much as the PJ is darn lucky there are any useful frames at all.

No tilt
The strongest argument of the no-tilt camp is sloppiness or lack of creativity on the part of the PJ. If the PJ didn't work the situation hard enough, they may have simply tilted because it was an easy or faster way out of a situation.

In the viewfinder of most decent cameras are lines. These are normally part of the ground glass and vary from a single straight line with serifs to a complete grid. Many modern cameras allow the ground glass to be replaced with either preference.

While viewing the scene, PJs can align these guides to known standard bases to set the orientation and alignment of the frame.

To double check the tilt, most decent tripod heads have integrated bubble levels. I wouldn't suggest limiting the composition to where the bubble aligns, but it's a tool to use when the scene itself is somewhat askew.

Reasonable rule
Personally, my predilection is toward the no-tilt side. However, I understand compositional rules are meant to be broken at the right time with the right knowledge. A reasonable composition rule maximizes the use of the frame.

Locate one item within the frame to justify the vertical or horizontal pitch. As an example, it's relatively acceptable to match the frame tilt with a particular spoke of a bicycle tire or tree branch. Although the remainder of the frame is “tilted,” there is a defined “base” for the tilt.

Along this same line, when shooting ultra-tight, a tilt maximizes the frame by keeping the subject's main facial features within the frame while cropping the remainder. However, I'd still suggest some traditional frames before returning to the newsroom. If the tilted frame is interesting enough, an editor might be convinced with logical evidence to use it.

How to align in PS
There are two ways to align images in Photoshop. The measure tool method is easiest and most reliable. The crop box method is often required when multiple angles and/or a wide-angle lens are at play. Although it isn't as exact, it often looks better because the PJ determines what looks correct considering all the variables.

Measure tool method
As stated, this is the most exact method to align an image. It's often the easiest method when longer lenses are used because angles have less curvature.

While the file is open, move the mouse over the eyedropper tool. Click and hold the mouse until the alternative tools appear. Select the measure tool (it looks like a ruler).

Chose a straight line (vert or horizontal) within the image to use as a plane base. A longer line leads to a more accurate rotation. Move the cursor to one end of the line. Depress the mouse button and move the mouse to stretch the line across the entire length of the plane base. Release the mouse

To adjust the line, use the mouse to grab and move the plus symbols on the ends of the line.

Once a straight line is produced in the appropriate place, it's time to rotate the image. Go to "Image" and select "Rotate Canvas" then select "Arbitrary..." When the dialog box appears, it'll be set for the accurate angle rotation and direction. Hit "OK."

The image should now appear straight as set by the plane base. If not, "Undo" the rotation and try again until it appears visually correct. With ultra-wide images, very few things are going to be "straight" due to barrel distortion. As long as the crop line intersects a curve at an equal distance to maintain symmetry, it's close enough.

Next, crop the excess (background colored areas) from the image. The image is smaller, but it is properly aligned.

Crop box method
Because many tilts are accidental and only slightly off level, it might be best to align the frame in Photoshop before the final edit. The process is easy.

While the file is open, create a crop box. Stretch the crop edge along a chosen line (vert or horizontal). A longer line leads to a more accurate crop. Move the cursor outside the crop box until it makes a curved symbol. Depress the mouse button and move the mouse to rotate the crop box until the edge aligns with the chosen base line. Release the mouse button.

Next, stretch the crop box edges until they form a good crop while remaining completely within the image area. Move the cursor within the crop box and double-click to set the crop.

The image should now appear straight as set by the base element. If not, “Undo” the crop and try again until it appears visually correct. With ultra-wide images, very few things are going to be “straight” due to barrel distortion. As long as the crop line intersects a curve at an equal distance to maintain symmetry, it's close enough.

A Leeson lesson on tilts
David Leeson is known to tilt some frames. He wanted to voice his view on this subject as well.
The issue is to get your mind off it. It’s not about whether you tilt or don’t tilt. For me personally, it’s simply shooting in a way that communicates most effectively. With that said, I think people use tilting as a gimmick.

It’s so obvious they simply tilted the image because it makes it look cooler. I have a bigger pet peeve than that. I have a much bigger one and that’s people who put those really cool little black borders around all their stuff. These are digital images and they’re putting them like it’s a film edge. It almost always makes the image look cooler.

I just don't like gimmicks.

I've been guilty of it myself many times – using a gimmick. But I hate it whenever even I do it. I despise it. I look at myself and say, 'That's disgusting. Why'd you even do that?'

It's because you didn't want to give it the extra effort or you were completely, flat-out busted and couldn't think of anything else. You just didn't know what to do. You're stuck. It's a lack of confidence.

It's not knowing how to follow a story. You just didn't approach it right.

Think of some of the world's greatest images and then think about if they would be better if you tilted them. We don't do that. Do we?

On the other hand, think of some of the world's greatest images that are tilted. You'll find out when you look at those, they're not tilted because someone wanted to use a gimmick. They're tilted for a purpose or reason. Maybe it's because the photographer was running like hell. Maybe it's a grab shot. The whole point was that it was supposed to be from the hip, and it's supposed to have that kind of feeling. In other words, the photographer isn't even thinking about whether they were tilting or not.

A lot of the tilts that you see in my images, I'm not purposely tilted. I don't even notice it because I'm shooting quick. I shoot from the hip a lot.

I used to challenge young photographers to try sometimes on an assignment instead of seeing the image, try to feel the image. Try to shoot by what you feel, not what you see. Get rid of what you see. Practice actually experiencing the feeling of that situation.

A lot of times when I was doing that, I wasn't even looking through the camera. Obviously, it wasn't always straight either because I'm not lining it up.

I don't really think about it myself. I have some tilts. Sometimes I don't. I don't really know. But, I do not ever knowingly say, 'This would look cooler tilted.' I just don't do that. I don't even think about it.

If you look at Eugene Richards, his stuff is tilted like crazy. Now, he's an amazing photographer, no one is going to question the brilliance of Eugene Richards. Yet, so much of his work is tilted.

But if you really study those images, you'll see that it's tilted for a purpose. Look at what he included in the frame. Those tilts have a purpose behind them. I promise you, go and look at that work. It’s absolutely amazing because you can see how the tilted frame included some detail in the frame – additional content perhaps – that helped make the image.

The only way he could have got it in there using the lens length that he was using would be to tilt it. You'll see it. So it's not a gimmick.
Enough for now,

The dreaded buffer post

I'm not silly enough to place an entry or photo after David's interview. So the top part of the next post leads us back to my junk, while the bottom is David's take on tilts. It's a visual transition even if it's not linear.

Enough for now,

Friday, January 28, 2005

David Leeson interview – Part B

Hopefully, everyone has had a chance to read David Leeson's biography and Part A of this interview. Below is the final part of his interview. I thought about writing it in standard format, but I think the PhotoJournalism readers would probably prefer the complete answers in context. So, I went with a Q&A format. I hope you enjoy and learn.

What keeps you motivated as a photojournalist?
What keeps me motivated to this day is the fact that I can make a difference. I was just discussing it the other day - through tears I might add - with my wife because I was having one of my tough moments. I'd just been writing about some previous experience years ago in Angola, and it was completely difficult. It was late at night – maybe two in the morning – you know, some of it gets to you. I was keeping it together until I said, ‘You know, I think one thing that keeps me sane is knowing what I did and the sacrifices that I've personally made maybe they make a difference. Maybe somebody's life somewhere is affected.’ I said, ‘Outside of that, I don't know what I'd do.’

I don't know anybody who would want to put themselves through some of those circumstances and not truly believe that somehow it matters. That's probably the greatest motivation today. It's still a profound belief that people care and if I can just show them how to respond or show them a need to respond, then they will respond. That's a pretty good motivator to keep you out there.
What advice do you have for young photojournalists?
I've never said this before to anyone else, but I think I'll repeat what was said to me whenever I was 14 years old. I rode my bike – I made an appointment with an ad agency in Abilene, Texas to go speak with a guy that does the commercials. I didn't know anyone else. I wanted to be a director. I wanted to be a film maker. So I went to him and I said, ‘What does it take to be a great director?’

I remember only one thing about the conversation, and he said, ‘Experience everything you can possibly experience. Keep the good. Throw out the bad.’ It made sense to me. I thought about that a lot throughout my career. About gaining experience. About going ahead and going for the moment and trying something different. Challenging myself and going places that maybe others might not want to go because I just wanted to experience it. I wanted to know what this is like.

There was a point where I used to refer to myself not as a photographer but as an experience collector. That's what I felt like I was doing. Now, I think that's going to the extreme. Again, that's passion without a sense of mission. It's unguided. It's unfocused. It's not about just going out and collecting experiences. That's just going out and having a good time.

I'm saying though that experience does play a role. One of the things that you can do as a young photographer is to gain as much of it as you can, as quickly as you can without going insane.
How would a kid in Kansas do it?
I just spoke with some kids in Kansas not too long ago when I was on the Flying Short Course. I remember the conversation. We talked about this vary thing. ‘You know, I'm in a small college in a small town in Kansas. What do I do? I'm not going anyplace great.’
I said, ‘The best thing you can do is get out and have your camera with you at all times. Always be shooting. That's all. Just find things to photograph. People are incredibly interesting.

Just to give a thought process or an idea to think about is I always wanted to do a story about ‘the common man’ or ‘the common woman.’ Just the ordinary guy. Because we have this stereotype of what's ordinary, what's normal. We say the ordinary guy has maybe an 8-to-5 job, he has a wife and a couple of kids, he doesn't get in any trouble, he goes to church on Sundays, he takes care of his business, he's nice to his neighbors, he supports his family, he's not strung out on drugs or alcohol or anything else, he's just got a nice, regular, normal, stable life. He's not out there protesting. He's not out there doing anything. He doesn't get involved in much because he's too dad-gum busy feeding his family and taking care of his business. He lives a relatively happy life. He's happy to mow his lawn and so on and so forth.

The truth is that person doesn't exist because every person is incredibly and powerfully unique.

So, what do you do if you're in this small town? Well, you get out and meet the so-called ordinary man and find out the incredible diversity that's out there in your own community. There's a 1,000 stories right there in a small town. It's just a matter of getting out and opening your eyes and caring enough about people to do it.

I should mention that a prerequisite for photojournalists is caring. It's about caring for people. If you don't care about people you're not going to do well in this business.

You might make a good portrait photographer or something in a studio at Main and Elm, but you're not going to be a good photojournalist. You might as well just give it up because you really got to care about people's lives. That's one of the things that drives you to know. They want you to get out there and hang out with a local farmer or something. Watch what they do. Be an observer.

I realized many years later that I didn't think of myself as a photographer. I'm a journalist. I'm just trying to tell a story. It didn't really matter to me if it's a camera or a notepad or video camera or audio or I don't care. I just want to get out there and meet people. The best part about my profession and my experience has been meeting people – even the jerks. It gives me something to talk about.

Another good way to advance yourself is simply to study photography. I don't mean study by going and taking a course. Maybe that's a good idea. I mean, go to a store and find a book with photographs in it that you really appreciate and touch you in some way. Take it home with you and don't just look at it once. Look at it over and over again. Stop just looking at it, but actually try to see what's going on with it. Why do you like it? What's happening with the image? How did they shoot it? How do you think they shot it? Why do you think it's affecting you in the way it's affecting you? How come it's touching you?

When you start asking those kinds of questions, you cannot help but grow. Not only as a photographer, but as an individual as well.

You don't actually have to go and do the stuff in order to actually have that. Some people are never going to go and cover a conflict. I think that's perfectly fine. In fact, I kind of regret that people know me more for the foreign work I've done in my career then they do for what I've done in the community.

The fact is the foreign work in my career has been miniscule in comparison to what I've done in the community – my daily work as a daily newspaper photographer. Maybe 99 percent of my whole career and every photograph I've taken has been local.
Most PhotoJournalism readers know you as a nature photographer.
Ho ho, that's wonderful! You just made my evening. Tell them that's just fine. They know the nature photography. That's wonderful because I've been working very hard to grow as a nature photographer and hopefully one day be able to make an actual full-time living doing nothing but that. We'll see.
What does it take to be successful in this profession? (skills & mentality)
Caring about people. We've talked about inventiveness, passion and sense of mission. We talked about making a difference. Although I would add you can make a difference without a camera. Sometimes you can make a difference in someone's life just by smiling at them at the right time. I know that sounds trite and kind of cheesy, but it's true.

Outside of that, it's like any profession. This is the part where you get into it. It's like this isn't just intrinsic to photojournalism. It's intrinsic to life. That would be ambition to get up, get out and do it. Stop talking about it. Go do it.

I always had a lot of drive and ambition, maybe a little too much of it. In fact, that's probably one of those weak and strong situations. Because that drive and ambition can turn around and be one of your worst enemies and cause you to overlook some of those things in life that you ought to be paying attention to in your own personal life and the lives of other people.

I've made a lot of mistakes in that area. To me, it just comes down to get out there and work hard. If you care about people, and you have a sense of mission, or you'd like to develop a sense of mission you'll probably do just fine with it. You'll probably be more successful than you could possibly imagine.

Obviously, you need to learn how to shoot. Those are the toughest questions because you need to know how to focus a camera. You need to know how to put your card in if you're using digital. If not, you need to know how to use film. You need to know how to expose it properly. You probably should learn how to use a strobe. Obviously there's a lot of technical aspects to photography – it is a technical field in some ways – but I never put a lot of emphasis on those skills.

I measured my skills on my intimacy with the equipment itself. When I started doing more video, I remember the thrill of one day being able to reach inside the bag where the video camera was, and I knew exactly what every control was. I knew how far when I turned it what it would be setting on so I could literally operate it completely in the dark. That's a level of intimacy that I think you have to get to with your gear before you can finally do what the whole point of that intimacy is for and that is to forget about it. The idea is to become so technically proficient, so confident in your technical skills that you just don't think about it anymore. That's the way I am today.

There have been times where my overconfidence in my skills and my intimacy with my camera has actually been one of my downfalls. It happened just a few months ago. I went and shot something. It was beautiful. It was a great moment, great situation and I was shooting. I even came home and showed the digital screen to my wife Kim and said, ‘Hey, check this out. Look! I kicked some butt today. Look at this. Oh yes, sweet.’ I was really excited about this image. I liked it. It was good.

Then I put it in the Powerbook, fired it up and looked at it large and realized it was totally out of focus. I got to tell you that I was so confident of my ability to shoot. For shooting that photo I didn't even look through the viewfinder. I didn't see any need to. This is pure confidence. Why would I even need to look through the viewfinder, I know I've got it.

I was autofocus. Pushing the little button, you know, hit a few frames. I wasn't really paying attention. I wasn't actually looking through the finder. If I was looking through the finder, I would have seen how out of focus it was.

It was really out of focus. We're not talking a little bit, I'm talking marshmallow.
If you could change anything along the way, what would it be?
Ed note: this question was meant to address professional decisions (ie. “I should have taken a business class in college, etc...”). David chose to follow it as personal decisions. I considered dropping this question, but we can all learn from his answer.
That's always been a tough one for me. I talk about it quite often with my friends. I sometimes wonder what the balance is between profession and personal life. Ultimately when you ask that question, that's what it's going to come down to. It will come down to what things did you do that harmed others or harmed yourself and hurt your personal life.

I used to say I didn't have any regrets about anything I'd ever done. I don't feel that way anymore. I think I've matured quite a bit since those days. I actually do have a lot of regrets, and I'm actually grateful for those regrets. Now this is the odd thing, I don't know if I would have changed them. Because I know that to change them I would be someone completely different today.

Would I be better? I don't know. Who's to say. At some point, you have to look back and say, ‘I did the best I could with what I had.’

I was growing. I was learning. I never wanted or sought to hurt anyone in my personal life or myself. There were times that I did. I wished I hadn't. How can you change those things? How do I know? How do I know that going back and making a different decision might not leave me in a worse place today? That's how I feel.

I think a better thing to do than to sit around regretting what you've done is to look at what you can do today. So, I stay pretty focused on my opportunities today and my choices I'm making today. I hope I learned from the past and try not to make those mistakes again. But, I'm pretty happy with my life.

I love knowing that at 47 years old I can look back on my life and my career and know I spent it the way I was supposed to. That's a real sense of peace.
What do you see in the future for news photographers?
Nobody likes it when I say this, but the future of photojournalism is video. Everyone freaks. Everyone calm down. Everyone needs to just relax. Take a deep breath. I said video. I didn't say the death of the still image. I didn't say that still photography is no more, it's going to be all video. I'm not saying that.

I'm saying in the future for photojournalist – particularly those working for newspapers – if you don't develop those skills in multi-media – whether it just be audio or audio and video – you're going to have a lot tougher time advancing in your career or getting a job in the first place.

It's already showing up. There are already people doing it. There are already students who probably know how to do it already. They're going to have those skills and those skills are going to be put into play.

Let's face it. The demographics continue to decline for readership. Newspapers across the country are putting more and more emphasis on their digital product, being the Web. And if they own TV stations there's a lot of work being put into those.

I don't want to declare the death of newspapers yet, because I think they still have quite a bit of life left in them. But I don't think we have to discus what's going to happen to newspapers in order to have a meaningful discussion about what is going to happen with the Web. The Web is going to continue to grow. We have an opportunity here to make a difference in another medium.

People ask me, ‘Why should I be interested in video or audio? Why should we do it?’ I say, ‘Because you can.’ Because you can do things and speak in ways with motion and sound that you cannot do with a still image.

By the same token, the power of an image is inarguable. Nothing that I know of – any media – can form an entire icon for chapters of history. That speaks to the power of the still image. Everybody would agree with that.

I have a little lesson I like to pose to high school students because I talk about the power of the still image. They don't get it. I can see they're not. So I say, ‘Sometimes it's just content alone has power. If you don't believe it then how about I show you a photograph of your girlfriend with another guy making out.’ It wouldn't even need to be focused to affect your life in a powerful way. So, content alone – visual content – can make a difference. Of course we go far beyond that hopefully.

So we're not arguing the veracity of still photography. I would hope that conversation was done decades ago. But we are arguing about the veracity of motion and sound. I like to say that rather than video because the moment I say video people think ‘journalist + video camera = TV.’ No it doesn't necessarily equal TV.

That's what I've been working in for the last four years or more. My work has been experimenting with the process of translating still images into motion and sound. That does not mean I'm taking still photographs and putting them in video and calling it a video. No, I'm actually using a video camera and using it just as I would a still camera.

It's a very powerful medium. I'm hoping to learn to exploit it more. I think that we're going to see some of the world's greatest films will come out of what's happening right now as more and more people have the opportunity to take a relatively inexpensive DV camera and non-linear editing like your iMovie and create your own film in a weekend.

I've done seven documentaries and last year started to win television awards: the Edward R. Murrow Award, the National Headliner Award for best television documentary (“War Stories”). I won a regional Emmy Award for television documentary. I was also finalist for “Best Short Film” at the USA Film Festival last year. All different [documentaries].

I'm coming to realize my own style, my own approach and ways to do it. It's not easy, but it's not that difficult. Some people who teach this say you have to start over. You have to re-learn everything. It's a different medium. You have to learn things differently. It's not the same approach.

I take an entirely different approach to it, and I say any decent photojournalist is a good storyteller, and they're probably not too bad technically. You have virtually every skill you need right now in order to go out and use that video camera. There's only a few small things you'll have to learn additionally.

It's just like back when we used to shoot all black and white and then they gave us color. Color was just another layer that I had to deal with in an image. Before, I was just looking at the quality of light. Now I was looking at quality and color of light, and the color of an image and how that played a role in telling a story. Now, I've added two more layers. Now I've added sound and motion.

I look at it as communicating and now I have two more layers to work with in order to tell a story. But it does not replace still photography. It never will. Still photography is here from now on as it should be as it will be. Because why? Because it's a different medium. Let's get past that argument. Let's move on to the fact that you can make a difference to an entire different group of audiences speaking in a different language that has just as much power and veracity to affect people's lives as the still image.
What is your finest moment?
I guess we're talking about professional life because if my wife saw it she would say, ‘You mean it wasn't your wedding day?’ or ‘It wasn't the birth of our baby?’ Of course those are amazing moments.

A moment when I was particularly thrilled. I wanted people to understand the veracity of using video in combination with shooting still photography. I had encountered some resistance from higher-ups at the newspaper for taking a video camera with me to Iraq. But I was convinced I knew exactly how to work with both of them. So I told them, ‘You don't need to worry about the content of the photographs. You don't have to worry about the photography. If I give you my word that it's going to be top level, that's good. Just leave it alone. But, I'm going to do this video. I'm taking it with me.’

It really wasn't up for negotiation. I'm taking it, period. And there was one fine moment that stands out when I found out that on the day that one of my still photographs had been published on the front page of I think they said 43 newspapers nationwide on the very same day, later that evening, on World News Tonight with Peter Jennings one of my videos aired. So I had network news and 43 front pages nationwide. And that was the day the video camera died. At the last possible moment, when I had one last chance.

It illustrates so powerfully how you can do both, and you can do both really well. For those who don't know about TV or video, it's just not that easy to get something on World News Tonight. It has to be pretty good for it to make it. It has to be incredibly unique or something. There's a lot of video shot every day. It doesn't all make it because there's a limited time there. By the same token, it's not that easy to hit that many front pages in a single day. The fact that it happened on the same day was a big moment.

By the way, that's not like my biggest moment in life because I don't know what it would be. It was a great moment, but my life has been filled with a lot of great moments. I've had an incredible life. I could die tomorrow and no reason to shed tears for me because I've lived more than I was supposed to be able to live.
Enough for now,

Thursday, January 27, 2005

David Leeson interview - Part A

Hopefully, everyone has had a chance to read David Leeson's biography. Below is his interview. I thought about writing it in standard format, but I think the PhotoJournalism readers would probably prefer the complete answers in context. So, I went with a Q&A format. I hope you enjoy and learn.

Marie in North Carolina said her questions were existential in nature. First, she was curious as to what dimension the act of photojournalism and the art of photography has added to the life of each photojournalist.
Boy existentialism is right. It sounds like a very specific question, but actually that one’s very broad. It’d be like asking an attorney how has their career affected their lives.

Photojournalism in general tends to be incestuous in nature. Photographers tend to see there is something extraordinarily neat in the very field of photojournalism or in photography. Perhaps that’s more akin to the art field. Artists have a tendency to feel that way. At some level there are aspects of any career that really apply to all of us.

There are three things that have been important to me in my career. One of them is invention. At the earliest level, invention is just trying to think. It’s whenever a person gets a new lens, and they go nuts with it.

It’s going through all the gimmicks. But it is inventive. It is ways that you’re learning, you’re growing, you’re finding things out.

It’s like a baby. I have a new baby at my house. One of the things he’ll be doing to learn about his world is trying to taste everything eventually and touch everything. All of these things are good for the growth process and invention plays an enormous role there.

Think of it as a beginning cook, who in the beginning just adds new spices to change up a recipe. At the end of the career, he’s actually changing the entire recipe to create his own.

The second thing that’s important is passion. I don’t think anybody in any career is going to go very far without passion for what they’re doing. There must be some love, some drive within you that compels you to go out there and be inventive. Otherwise, why cook if you don’t like to cook? Beyond that, how much more can you go if you not only like to cook, but you love to cook.

Lastly, and I think this is the key, is a sense of mission. Without a sense of mission, none of the others really matter because they’re completely self-serving or they’re wildly directed in the wrong places. You have to have some sense of mission. What is the point behind what I’m doing? Why am I doing what I’m doing? That sense of mission will help drive the other two as well.

As a photojournalist, one of the things that is quite different from many other careers is the fact that we travel. We see this wide range of life from the richest to the poorest, the joy of victory and the agony of defeat, and everything in between. We see them healthy and strong and in all walks of life and all cultures. So, it’s a unique profession in that sense. And, yes, I think that might affect you in ways that might be different that might be different than an attorney, who may be passionate about their career and doing pro-bono work and has a very strong sense of mission.

Tough question because it’s so broad.

Every person is affected uniquely. I think if you’ve got two photojournalists who are advanced in their career and sat them down talking, we would have a lot of things in common. I would have a lot of things in common with a beginning photographer, but maybe less so in some areas.

On the other hand, we’re unique in that my travels and some of the conflict coverage. That’s an area that has affected me deeply - in some ways, very negatively. In other ways, I wouldn’t trade for those.

Thank you Marie.
Marie also wanted David to compare and contrast himself as a young photojournalist to where he is now no only in his career, but in his personal life and how being a photojournalist has affected him.
I was always a photographer. I wanted to be a writer, but I didn’t get a job as a writer. I took the job as a photographer hoping they would hire me as a writer. Of course they never did, and I fell in love about two months later.

Well, I didn’t really get it. To me it was like taking pictures. It was fun. Somebody gets to do it. Somebody’s got to do it, and it sure was a cool job. But then when I first realized the amazing power of an image to affect people’s lives, I realized that I had something magical and powerful in my hands. I didn’t want to let go of it, and I never have.

I was so na├»ve when I started that I didn’t know anything about photojournalism. I didn’t know what photojournalism was. I thought a photojournalist meant somebody who took photos and wrote a story.

Very soon thereafter, I learned that the combination of the two usually is not a very good idea. Writers out taking photographs never was a very smart idea for newspapers - certainly not without giving them any training.

I was that stupid about what photojournalism was. I was completely uninitiated. Unlike a lot of photographers today. Today, to get a job at a newspaper as a photojournalist, my gosh, what do you have to have these days? A degree, maybe years and years of experience, a strong portfolio, great people skills, maybe even a great grade point average these days. I don’t know.

I just know that I’m not sure that I could have gotten a job as a photojournalist if I had to do what you guys are having to do. I don’t know how they do it. You have to really develop some skills early on. You’re going to need to get that passion early on. I didn’t have it because I didn’t understand it. I didn’t know what it really was. I did have a passion for taking photographs, and I also had a real passion for telling stories. I think if there is one key element here that makes me somewhat similar to some of the young photographers is thinking back from my earliest age – even in junior high school – I always enjoyed being a story teller.

The logical thing for a storyteller is what? A writer. That’s the first thing one thinks of. I certainly never thought of photography as story telling because I didn’t have any training. I was not initiated to photojournalism. So, I kind of discovered it after I already got the job. They just hired me because I knew how to process film, because I liked taking pictures and I had my own darkroom.

I used to take photographs up to them – the Abilene Reporter News – I used to try to get them to run it. They never did use any of the stuff.

I was in college, and I got my job at the newspaper while I was still in college. I was working full time at the Abilene Reporter News while I was a junior in college. I was taking heavy loads. I was even took extra courses in high school in the summer so I could get out of school because I just despised school. I didn’t like it. I love to learn about a lot of things. I love education in general, but I didn’t like the school systems. I never much cared for that. I appreciate them more today than when I was in it.

The university I chose was one of the best universities I could find within reach – Abilene Christian University – I’m very proud to be an [alumni] there, but I was really ready to get through that too because I wanted to get out and start my career. I wanted to get a jump on people to be honest.

That’s another thing that I had too that really probably helped me a lot in photojournalism. I was highly competitive. But, I’ve always been a very sensitive person. I’m still sensitive to a flaw to this day. It’s been a tough burden to live with sometimes. Yet, I’ve always considered it one of my greatest strengths. There’s a verse in the Bible that says when your weak, that’s when you’re strong. There’s a lot of truth to that. A lot of our very worst aspects, are also our best attributes at the same time.

The passion sometimes knows no bounds and that’s a very weak character flaw sometimes. And yet at times it’s also the absolute best. And so the trick is learning how do we channel those things. I think that’s the part that changes as we mature as photographers, as people, as our character grows, as we grow as individuals, as we get more experiences. We learn how to function with our own flaws and allow them to be strengths more than they are flaws.
Michael in Portland also asked two questions. First, what’s in your bag when you go to shoot in a war zone. What kind of extra equipment do you bring, what’s your lens preference (prime or zoom, mm).
That’s a good question. It’s kind of a fun question. First, I’m not at all a technical person. For years I had a nickname at The Dallas Morning News. They called me the “Prints of Darkness” because my prints were so dark. I usually shoot things underexposed. Well, actually these days with digital, I shoot everything at least a stop underexposed, maybe more. Sometimes as much as two stops and on a rare occasion 2.5 to three stops. I do that to lower the contrast, purposely, so I can hold the highlights. I cannot stand blown-out highlights. That’s about the extent of my technical talk, ‘cause I really don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know the ultimate effect of it except to say that I think I know how to get to what I want. I figured out my own way of doing it, and I haven’t got a clue as to whether it’s right or wrong and don’t really care.

My equipment, you almost have to answer that question based on back then and today. In the past, it was pretty simple. In any conflict situation, you need to be very light and mobile. So, I would usually have two bodies. I always did a motor. On a rare occasion, I would take one motor and leave the other one as just a body – without a motor – just to save weight. I always found that having another motor with a camera body didn’t really affect performance. It wasn’t that much of a burden to carry that additional weight for me. It was worth it because I like to have it handy.

I don’t like having to use two different types of bodies. I want the weight, the feel, the heft, the way you grip it and all the controls to fit into my hand exactly the same as the other camera with the only exception being the lens you have on it. I never did like the thought that I could lose a few seconds or even a second switching to a camera and have to actually hold it a little bit differently because it didn’t have a motor on it or a different design of the body. So whenever possible, I always have the same thing.

I’d have two bodies with motors and generally a 20mm lens and a 200mm lens, and that was it. I always use prime lenses. In fact, to this day, I still don’t own a zoom. That doesn’t mean I don’t want one, I’ve been thinking about buying one. I’m not anti-zoom.
I think you have to look back on the fact that I’ve been in the business quite a while. It’s coming up on 28 years.

When I first started out, zoom lenses were not the quality that they are today. You couldn’t get the kinds of zooms that you can buy now. So, I’ve stuck with my prime lenses and always used prime.

Believe it or not, the bulk of my career was using the old Nikons – Nikon F2s, F3s, then I went to F4s for a while. The F4 was such an atrocious camera that I think that was the end of my Nikon era.

I actually went backwards. After I reached the F4, which I had with me during the Gulf War – the first Gulf War, it was a fine camera, but it just wasn’t the same. I just thought they had ruined it. So, I went back to my F3s, because I like the F3P a lot. I thought it was a great camera, but then I decided I was going to go back to the F2.

I went through a really serious slump many years ago. I wanted to return to some basics. I wanted to get back to where I was before so I could start all over and rebuild from there, and see what I had done wrong that had lead me to a slump.

Again, invention. Doing something different to the recipe to affect the outcome. In the end, I was using F2s that were 27-year-old bodies.
Back in the Nikon Days, it would have been a 180mm f/2.8 and a 20mm f/2.8. The 20mm was a staple of my photography for well over two decades. I still use a 20mm even on my digital camera.

I just know that I’m not as wide anymore. I don’t care.
Iraq seemed wider.
The work I did in Iraq was not [prime lenses]. I did use zooms there. I borrowed them from my wife, who is a photographer also. I borrowed her 17~35mm f/2.8 and her 80~200 f/2.8. I borrowed those for the trip because I wanted to cut down on weight. I also took a converter. Throughout my travels, I usually took a 1.4 converter with me. ‘Cause you never know if you need to extend that 180mm or 200mm to get more out of it.

Back in the old days – 10 years ago – then I would just carry a lot of film with me. On some stories, we were having to file daily stuff. That was a real job because you had to carry an entire darkroom with you, and set it up in bathrooms. You put your trays in the bathtub, set the enlarger on the toilet seat, process your film on reels, tape off the bathroom door. It was a big job and then you’d use the old drum transmitters – AP drum transmitters – it would take upwards of 32 minutes to send a single color image. It took eight minutes per separation and there are four separations.

Strangely enough, in the digital age during the Iraq conflict, actually carrying the gear just to support the job itself was just outrageous. Now it was not only the equipment – the lenses and the bodies – now it’s the disks, which are lighter than carrying 200 rolls of film. Then you have to have the chargers for all those things and the Powerbook for doing your scans. I guess in one point it’s actually lighter than it was in the old days. At least it wasn’t a full darkroom. But, it’s still burdensome. Of course, then you have a big satellite dish too. Although some photographers are just using those [satellite] phones.

Mine is about the size of another thick laptop - a really heavy laptop. Remember those old Powerbooks years ago that were real thick as bricks. It’s about that size. And then, part of it folds out to be an antenna.

The big issue is getting them charged up every day.

I took inverters with me also. I blew them both out. So, I didn’t have any more inverters. I also took a generator. It worked for about four days. It got choked up and died. I left it there. It was a brand new $800 generator.

I gave it to a captain in the Army. I saw him months later, and he said he got it back home and got it fixed. It needed a new filter or something. He was kind enough to offer it back to me, but I said, ‘No, you carried it all the way across Iraq. You can keep it.’ I think that’s only fair. If he didn’t take it, I was going to leave it anyway.

The part that I think people maybe even more interested in is I carry earplugs with me. In the Iraq War, I carried a video camera. I also carried a small medical kit everywhere I went. In a few situations I had to carry my own tent. In some places – depends on where you’re going – a water purification system. There’s a lot of odds and ends. Those change depending on where you’re going.

At one point I was carrying a very small survival gear, which includes like a fish hook and stuff like that. I also have made a point throughout my career to always carry a couple of my own hypodermic needles. That’s because in third-world countries they re-use needles. I always planned - if I needed one and I was conscious - I was going to hand them my needle. ‘Use mine because it’s sterilized and I know it’s good.’
Michael also wanted to know about access and ethics in conflict areas.
Access varies widely. There’s really no answer for it. You don’t really know. Some places are completely wide open. For instance, covering Central America, it was like if you had the nerve to go someplace, then no one was going to stop you. The army wouldn’t. They’d say, ‘Hey, it’s your neck. Have at it if you’re stupid enough to do it. We’ll let you, but we’re not coming for you.’

They’d just leave you alone.

Contrast that to the first Gulf War, where I spent most of the war fighting Marines trying to stop me from taking photographs. Some of my best images were shot illegally. It could have got me thrown out or worse. I did it for history because I thought it was important to be there and cover it, and I wasn’t going to abide by the rules.

Let’s fast-forward to he embed program, which the word ‘embedded’ means ‘stuck.’ I thought that’s what it was going to be because my experience in covering things with the U.S. military had always been very negative. So I wasn’t particularly thrilled about doing it. I didn’t know anything about embed programs. They just tossed me in and said, ‘You’re doing it.’

I had probably more freedom than I’ve known in my entire career. I had complete and total access, unfettered, no censorship, no one saying ‘No,’ anywhere I wanted to go, anything I want to shoot. That simple.

I’m not talking about the ground rules. There were ground rules that said if you photograph a U.S. casualty, you have to give it 48 hours for notification of next of kin. Which to me, the ground rules were either common sense or common decency. Out of common decency, I would hopefully not send a photograph back before next of kin was notified anyway. ‘Cause I don’t want to notify someone’s mother by her seeing her son on the front of her newspaper. I don’t think that’s right. I think it’s wrong. It’s incredibly poor ethics, and I would never do it.

They tell me that’s a rule, and I have to follow it. And I’m like, ‘You wouldn’t have to tell me to do that.’ But I understand some journalists you probably would – unfortunately.
Another one is like you wouldn’t [transmit] your location. We all had GPS. I could have given the exact coordinates of where I was at any given point. And they had maps back at the office where they could have said, he’s exactly right here. But, I didn’t do that. That’s common sense. Why would I want to risk someone targeting us – particularly me – with a mortar round. That’s common sense.

The exception is being able to go where you want. You can’t leave the unit. You are with that unit the whole time.

I would have loved to have gone with the scouts. The scouts are crammed into these Hum-Vs packed with gear. They got no place for you man. It’s not that they don’t want you there, or that they would have refused. It’s just they have an operation to do and they have no place for you. The same [is true] with the Bradleys. The Bradleys, oh my gosh, it looks like one of those clown acts at a rodeo where they keep coming out of the car. I can’t believe how many poor guys they shove in the back of these Bradleys. Amazing.

It’s all filled up. There are not a whole lot of options for you to just jump in and travel. Again, it’s not because they didn’t want you there, there’s no place.
That’s why I was in a M113 (armored personnel carrier), which was also crammed. At least they made room for me. They did put me 7th vehicle in line though. At any given point, I was seeing the lead tank. So I was at the very front lines. Of course, obviously that’s why I have some of the photos I got. If it were not for that, you wouldn’t see a lot of that stuff because it’s overwith by the time the back of the line gets there. These convoys can extend four kilometers.

There was a TV crew embedded in the same unit. They put them at the very back. I went weeks and never saw them, but they were with us.

The lead units would normally spend a day or two fighting before they would bring up the thinner-skinned vehicles, light-skinned Hum-Vs and communications equipment.

That’s where those guys were.

They kind of got a bum deal out of that. Again, they really didn’t have a place for them. They had a place for me, and I think being just one person really helped. They were two people and they had an unbelievable amount of gear with them, and I didn’t. I was traveling very light.

Enough for now,

Please also see Part B of this interview.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

David Leeson (1957 - 2022) 2004 Pulitzer Prize winner

David Leeson was born in Abilene, Texas on October 18, 1957. He is known for covering major conflicts throughout the world and advancing the use of video as a means of storytelling. 

 He has been a senior staff photographer at The Dallas Morning News since 1984. Prior to DMN, he was a photojournalist at The Times-Picayune/The States-Item in New Orleans (1982-84) and the Abilene Reporter News (1977-82).

 His assignments have taken him to more than 60 countries and 11 conflict zones in 20 years. His conflict coverage includes Iraq (1991 and 2004), Angola, Bosnia, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, South Africa, Sudan, Turkey and Colombia’s drug wars.

 Leeson won the Pulitzer Prize in 2004 for his coverage of the invasion of Iraq. Leeson was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1985 for his photo coverage of apartheid in South Africa and in 1994 for an image of a family evacuating floodwaters in southeast Texas.

 He has won two Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Awards for Outstanding Coverage of the Problems of the Disadvantaged. In 1986 he lived on the streets of Dallas with the homeless for two months.

 In 1994 he covered the civil war in Angola. He also worked for 14 months on an essay about death row in the United States.

 Leeson began shooting video for The Dallas Morning News in 2000. It made him one of the first staff photographers in the nation to shoot video for a newspaper on a full-time basis. Since then he has completed more than 70 short features and seven documentaries. 

These works have won him numerous awards in film and television including a national Edward R. Murrow award, National Headliners award and a regional Emmy award for best television documentary. He was a finalist for best short film at the USA Film Festival in 2004.

 Leeson has five children and is married to Kim Ritzenthaler who is also a photojournalist at The Dallas Morning News. To see more of Leeson's work visit and 

 Please also see interview Part A and Part B

I'll add profiles

I finished the interview with David Leeson. I'll do a few more while I have access to some folks of interest. Since some readers may not know who David, Cheryl, William or others are, I'll post some contemporary biographies from time to time. Bios are better than obits. :-)

As I conduct interviews, I'll break them up to make the post length reasonable.

Enough for now,

Biography Form

Professional news photojournalists* (PJs) and collegiate PJ seniors are invited to include a biography and one representative work to be posted on the PhotoJournalism blog. A representative work can be a single jpg image, a small size slideshow link or a small video link.

Please use the form below to let PhotoJournalism readers know more about yourself. Please copy the information below, complete the form and e-mail the completed form to Mark along with one jpg image (450 ppi on longest side) or proper HTML code to embed link (object to /object) to a slideshow or video. Please see previous biographies here.

Thanks for your participation!

(Name) was born in (place) on (date).

S/He is currently (title and/or publication or other activities).
S/He has (degrees, certificates, and professional affiliations)
S/He has worked (publications and/or small client list).
S/He wrote (book list, movie, music credits).
S/He won (award list - organizations only).
S/He shot/participated in (major projects).
Additional images can be seen at (Blog, Web, other portfolio).
(* Optional) S/He resides in (City, State, Country), is (married/single to Name) and has (number) children (names/genders/ages).

* News PJs are defined as PJs who earns the majority of their income from news organizations. We reserve the right to exclude anyone not meeting minimum acceptable professional standards or qualifications. All images and text must be acceptable for a general audience.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Aunt Emmy

Emily Lusby is amused by a ceramic pig she got as a gift during her surprise 80th birthday party at Cross Timbers Community Church in Argyle, Texas on Saturday, January 22, 2004.

© Mark M. Hancock

I got to attend my Aunt's 80th birthday party this weekend. It's always good to see her because she is young-at-heart. If I ever live near her age, I hope to be as cheerful, loving and happy.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Airport biker

© Mark M. Hancock and The Dallas Morning News

Chip Tredo poses for a portrait near DFW Airport on Thursday, January 20, 2005. He commutes on his bicycle from his home in The Colony to his job as a TSA baggage screener at DFW Airport.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Use names in police stories

The warrant roundup is an annual occurrence. The marshal's office invites the media (TV and press) along for some pre-dawn raids of people with outstanding domestic abuse warrants on the Saturday before Christmas.

Since most detainees said they were innocent while being processed at a remote location, we can only assume everyone is indeed innocent of everything. However, the marshal's office still had an outstanding warrant to serve. So, this is tax dollars at work.

Before I continue, PJs mostly cover tax dollars at work. When we cover wrecks, fires and such, we focus on what the police and firefighters are doing. This is why we are there. We also cover the people affected by the event to get them help from the community. Lastly, we cover the people who may have caused the commotion in the first place (hostage takers, etc...).

With those who claimed innocence (most) during the roundup, we gave them the opportunity to give us their names so we could research their case. All those I photographed politely declined their names to me. Because 24 folks were arrested on this one day, there is no clear-cut way to get names for the people in the photos from the arrest records.

In general, whenever PJs have the names of the people in photos, they should submit them to run. In reality, editors sometimes re-write cutlines to exclude names. Editors have their own reasons, but it happens. As long as PJs do everything possible to correctly identify the people in the image, PJs have done their job.

The easiest and best way to get names is to ask the people photographed. They know the proper spelling of their own name and frequently give it to PJs. However, they aren't required to give their names and may refuse.

Next, PJs need to ask for the name of the reporting police officer. This is the officer who is designated to file the police report on the incident. The officer includes the names of all people involved in the police report.

The police report is available under open records. Police departments can delay reporting, but often they'll work with local newspapers (they want the "Officer of the Year" banquet covered). Either the PJ or the police beat reporter can get the names from the police report.

If the incident (wreck or arrest) involves one person, it's easy to identify the person in the photo. If the incident involves two people of different sexes it's also easy to identify the people. Beyond this point, it often becomes too difficult to clearly differentiate folks and a generic cutline is required. NEVER guess who's who.

Before leaving the newsroom, it's good to know the policy of each newspaper. These policies should be written into the newsroom guidelines. It's a clear line about when names are used and when they are not.

For example, most newspapers don't publish the names of living juvenile victims in criminal stories. However, they might run the names of juveniles who were arrested while covered in blood and holding a knife over their parents. Even then, the newspaper probably still has a team of lawyers look at the story and surrounding facts.

Likewise, suicides are typically not reported unless they were public in some way or part of a homicide-suicide.

While covering the scene, it sometimes becomes obvious no names are going to be available. Then, it's often best to make unnamed people the direct objects in images rather than the subject. I know, this is a writers strategy, but it works visually as well.

For example: Officer Bob Smith handcuffs a suspect.

In the example, the officer is the subject while the suspect is the direct object. Consider the options PJs have to make this image. Likewise, PJs might invoke the 6th (people aren't individually identified in images with more than five people). Both approaches solve the problem.

Enough for now,

Monday, January 17, 2005


© Mark M. Hancock

I was returning a favor and making a portrait of some friends yesterday (1/16/05) when I got intrigued by their reflection in the pond. So if anyone is still confused about the difference between a photograph and photojournalism, this is a photograph.

Set up a database

An archive of images isn't very useful by itself. PJs need some way to organize and quickly retrieve images from their library. A database is the final piece of a personal digital workflow.

What's a database?
A database is basically an electronic card catalog. It's a way to quickly store, sort and retrieve information. Most major software manufacturers offer different levels of database programs.

Large organizations use SCC MediaGrid to store and retrieve images and the text associated with them (cutlines and assignments). Individual PJs and smaller organizations use consumer database software programs.

Each database program differs slightly, but they all can be customized to fit most small business needs. For PJs, separate databases may be kept for the archive, assignments, clients, sales and many other uses.

Any large set of distinct information could be stored in a database. Modern databases also include mathematical functions to allow them to work as spreadsheets as well.

Types of databases
Any collection of static information can go into a database. PJs commonly use them to store and locate specific information. For PJs, databases can be broken down into two main types: past and future.

Past databases are useful for storing confirmed information. Typically, a past database would contain an archive library, client lists, address books and such.

Future databases are useful for planning and organizing. Typically a future database lists upcoming events or assignments. It can also detail marketing plans or images needed (for stock).

Depending on how the databases are arranged, information from the future database can easily import into the past database once time has passed or the assignments are complete.

Likewise, past information can be added to future databases to plan for regularly occurring events (weekly, monthly or annual meetings, holidays, or particular community functions). Most need adjustments for the next occurrence.

Database fields
Each field in a database is a package of specific information. A field may contain text, numbers or a combination of both. A database contains several fields for each separate entry.

As an example, an assignment is an entry and the fields would be such items as event, time, date, location, contact, etc... The collection of these entries makes the database.

A database can be viewed as either a form or a table. Form views allow the user to see all information contained within each field of a single entry. Table views allow the user to see multiple entries, but only display a portion of each field.

Table views are best for an initial search while form views are best for seeing detailed information about a specific shoot.

Archive or photo library
This is the single most useful database PJs could maintain. As part of the personal digital image workflow, PJs should make an entry into their archive database. This allows the PJ to quickly locate appropriate images at a later date.

The archive should contain useful information for PJs. Primary entry fields should include: date, event, contact, phone, location, client name, and library location. Additional fields could include: cutline names and notes, keywords, e-mail addresses, Web sites, notes, choice frames and more.

It's good to include useful keywords for future searches. In addition to "eagle," it might be good to include words like "bird of prey," "raptor" and "animal" in a personal archive database. However, the single word "bird" would not need to be repeated because it's already included in "bird of prey."

To avoid problems, use singular (as opposed to plural) keywords. Later, when performing a search, always search for the singular "fly" (the insect) rather than "flies."

Client lists
A separate database can function as an address book for client lists and potential clients. Entry fields might include: names, titles, phone numbers, addresses, billing addresses, pay rates, invoice numbers and other notes.

From personal experience, try to only include information in a client database once contact has been made with the client. It's very easy to make huge lists of potential clients. It's harder to contact the client and get a gig. PJs need gigs to pay the bills, not a list of names and phone numbers.

Planning databases could contain the same information as the archive database. However, it should also include specific times and other information to assist the PJ organize the day and complete all required steps before the event (credentials, travel plans, equipment rentals, etc...).

How to use the database
Everyone reading this information has used a search engine on the Internet. The database performs a similar sorting function. However, it only searches information previously entered or imported into the database. This is why it's important to enter complete and accurate information into each entry.

If clients request images of eagles, PJs search their archive databases for "eagle" and each occurrence is displayed. Each displayed entry should allow PJs to locate the CDs or film within their archive and transmit images rapidly to the client. Both the client and the PJ are well served by an accurate and up-to-date database.

Don't be redundant
Because it's simple to fill entire columns with information, some might be tempted to include semi-useful information. Balance the worth of the information against input and retrieval speed.

If PJs shoot different film formats on chrome, B&W and color negative as well as digital each day, this information might be useful. However, if the PJ hasn't shot anything but 35mm digital for the last 10 years, it's pointless to include a field for this information.

Don't waste time
PJs with obsessive personalities (i.e. most PJs) need to keep everything in perspective. No matter how complete and detailed the database is, it doesn't buy new equipment or put a dime in anyone's pocket. It's merely a way to store and locate information.

Instead of spending premium hours perfecting a database, use the time to make new images. Enter information into the database as time allows and tweak it later when there is no light or nothing happening. Like everything else in photography, the system refines with time and experience.

Enough for now,

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Create a personal digital workflow

We've already discussed How professional digital work flows. We discovered a professional workflow uses several powerful software programs to give PJs and image administrators control over images on a primarily Mac platform.

Frequently, the individual PJ doesn't have the resources to purchase all these software programs or the hardware to support them. This entry is geared toward PJs who need to accomplish many of the same initial steps without the overhead expenses and with a standard personal computer (PC).

This is a long post because all of these steps are required for each set of images. Consequently, there's no way to break it down to reasonable bites. The example below uses one flash card with a single reader.

PJs with personal PCs are expected to have the following minimum core elements: a computer (PC or Mac), a monitor, one or more card readers, a CD writer and a full version of Adobe Photoshop.

Calibration is important. I'll need to completely expand on this one day. For now, PJs can calibrate their home monitor to images at NPPA (they removed the contest calibration image). Open the image and adjust the monitor settings until the test image appears as expected.

In short, there is no "industry standard" because each system is calibrated backward from a particular press. However, this test image is the standard for international competition and is fine for most PC users. Once calibrated, monitors should display acceptable brightness, contrast and color balance for use on the PJ's personal system or the Web.

If the test image appears washed out or extremely dark even after all adjustments have been made, it might be time to have the monitor checked or get a new one.

Check supplies
Before PJs start into the home workflow, they need to verify they have all image cards, any assignment forms and cutline information. If something is missing, get it before starting.

The first few steps are difficult and mistakes can add expense (CDs and time) if PJs aren't adequately prepared.

Create work folders
Work folders should help PJs organize their files. For this example, we'll assume all images were shot on one date at one location or (at least) under one manageable theme. If multiple subjects are recorded onto one card, the PJ should consider creating a folder for each distinct subject. It'll make sense in a moment as to why.

Create a folder on the computer desktop for the images on the card. Title the folder with a date and a one-word slug. For sorting and archive purposes, it's best to format the folder name as YYYYMMDD-slug (for example: 20050115-Birds).

In all cases, the point of the first step is to back-up the images from the flashcard onto a second (hopefully stable) platform. As long as two copies of the images exist, PJs can begin to breathe easier.

Place the card into a card reader. Copy images directly into the desktop folder. Once all images are copied, remove the flash card from the reader to avoid permanent mistakes. Secure the card in a card wallet.

Without sophisticated ingestion programs, PJs must work through Photoshop to infuse information into the images. The infused information allows PJs to quickly prepare images for resale or presentation. Although I don't personally know of a way to search the Web for imbedded file attributes, I'm sure someone knows how or is working on a way to recover this information. This ability will mean a secure income for PJs of the future if their images are imbedded with proper copyright notices.

This process looks difficult at first glance, but becomes second nature over time. It also saves countless hours of digging through shoeboxes of crumpled papers for cutline information.

Set attributes
Open any of the image files. Open the File Info dialog box. Complete the sections labeled: Author, Caption, Caption Writer, Copyright Status, Copyright Notice, Owner URL, Date Created, City, State/Province and Country.

Different versions of Photoshop locate these boxes in different order under "Section." Include a stable e-mail address or phone number in the Credit box. Additional keywords can be added to the keyword section if desired.

Make the caption (cutline) as specific as possible in general information (day, date, place), but leave some wiggle room for variances. Because these files are probably personal property and copyright, consider taking the time to include all possible names, notes and phone numbers into the caption field. Again, it's virtually impossible to include too much searchable information into your own archive system.

Once all the boxes are complete, Save the File Info. A dialog box requests a location and name. Use the slug word for the name and save it inside the desktop folder with the images. Hit OK. Close the image file, you don't need to save the image file now.

Automate attributes
Next, we'll automate the attributes to infuse all with the same information. Open any image file. Open Actions from the Window menu in Photoshop. If the Actions are in button mode, change to record mode. From Actions, select New Action. Name the new action "Attributes" or "Cutlines" or "Bob" if you want to be a smartypants. The program will add .XMP to the file name. Hit Record.

Open the File Info dialog box. Hit Load. When the caution box opens, it's OK to overwrite existing information (i.e. add info to blank info). Choose the (*.XMP) file you saved a moment ago. Hit OK. Select Save, select Close. Hit the Stop Recording button on the Actions box.

From the Photoshop menu, choose "File, Automate, Batch..." Choose the correct Source Folder (the current image folder on the desktop) and choose "Folder" for the destination folder. Make sure the "Attributes" (or whatever you named it) Action is selected. Hit OK and your computer starts freaking out (it's supposed to do so).

The batch file opens each file individually, applies the attributes, saves and closes the file for the entire folder. Once the process is done, open any image file and check the File Info to certify the attributes are now imbedded.

Cut CD
The CD is the de facto archive. At this point, the PJ should have the original digital files safely on the original card as well as a copy of the images infused with attributes. Cut a CD of the infused copy images.

Common CD burning programs are Toast (Mac) and Easy Media Creator (PC), both by Roxio.

Check the CD to ensure images are located and accessible on the CD. If so, remove the burned CD, use a bold permanent marker and mark it with assignment number (if applies), date, PJ's name and content keywords (i.e. East vs. West boys soccer, tanker explosion, etc...). Place the CD in a protective sleeve or case and store it in the permanent archive.

Now change the music from Enya to AC/DC because your are covered baby. :-)

Additional steps
If time allows, PJs should update their archive database and may choose to create and run additional batch commands to prepare images for use or edit images from the copy file on the desktop. Prepare the images and write specific cutlines for edited images. If something goes wrong, start again from the secure CD.

Enough for now,

Sunday, January 09, 2005

How professional digital work flows

Apparently digital workflow is a big issue to some folks. For most PJs it's only a minor part of the job. It has a specific rote pattern. However, it must be followed semi-exactly, like processing film or making a print. This entry is geared toward folks who haven't been in a professional scanning room (the modern equivalent of a darkroom). We'll discuss personal digital workflow in a different entry.

This is a long post because all of these steps are required for each assignment. Consequently, there's no way to break it down to reasonable bites. The example below uses one assignment. For non-immediate deadline assignments, repeat each step for each assignment before moving to the next step while processing multiple assignments.

I doubt any two scanning rooms around the world are exactly alike. Different organizations use different software and hardware. It's important for freelancers to rapidly adjust to whatever situation they face at different locations. It's also important to know what steps each organization uses and allow time for these processes.

Scanning stations
In a large scanning room there can be 20 or more scanning stations. Each station is configured slightly different depending on when equipment was last replaced. Obviously, it's best to use the most powerful computer with the biggest screen and the fastest CD writer. However, other issues ultimately determine which stations different PJs prefer.

Most digital scanning stations have the same core elements: a computer (normally a Mac), a large-screen monitor, one or more card readers (internal or external), a CD writer, a negative scanner, a small articulated desk lamp, a phone, an adjustable desk, an adjustable chair and normally a dictionary within reach. Often phone and style books are located in one central location for the entire scanning room.

The station is normally connected to the local area network (LAN) for access to the central server, the Internet and printers. Some scanning rooms and LANs may be wireless and require PJs to transmit from office desks via laptop Airport connections.

Personal preferences
Sometimes the combination of equipment isn't calibrated exactly to the press or has some strange quirk which might slow the PJ down. Over time, PJs adjust to a set of stations they find acceptable to their shooting style, work patterns and eyesight (color balance and brightness). Each PJ gravitates toward certain machines as a result and the scanning room has a certain chaotic calmness.

Honestly, it's better to work on a slightly slower computer PJs know than a new computer with new problems to overcome. By all means learn the new computer when there's time, but don't blow deadline because the Wiz-Bang 10,000 is available and you always wanted to try it. Knock out the work first and then tinker.

As an example, the most powerful computer in the newsroom at my university required the user to occasionally remove the case and bang on the hard drive with a metal scissors handle. This isn't something someone needs to learn with 10 minutes until deadline.

Check supplies
Depending on the scanning room and how close to major deadlines PJs arrive, station time is limited. Before PJs start into the workflow, they need to verify they have all image cards, assignment forms and cutline information. If something is missing, get it before starting.

Often, it's a matter of going to the car to get what the PJ forgot to bring into the office. Sometimes, it requires a call to verify information. It's best to make calls before starting the process so everything is resolved simultaneously rather than waiting for a call back as deadline approaches.

In all cases, the point of the first step is to back-up the images from the flashcard onto a second (hopefully stable) platform. As long as two copies of the images exist, PJs can begin to breathe easier.

Place the card into a reader (an adapter may be required). Many organizations use Photo Mechanic, for the initial sequences. Smaller organizations may immediately cut CDs or even copy images directly onto the hard drive of a single computer.

With Photo Mechanic, PJs are required to complete a template of information before the images are ingested and stored onto the hard drive. PJs write a generic cutline which applies to all images on the card. They also fill out fields for locations, assignment numbers, slug lines, PJ's name, assigning departments and so forth. Double check all information for accuracy before ingesting. If something is wrong, it takes twice as long to fix it later.

Specifically notate any changes from the assignment at the bottom of the cutline field with a triple-asterisk lead (***). This is normally considered notes to the editor for review and confirmation. For example: *** Subject's name is Marri with two "r"s and an "i." She's from Detroit not Seattle.

Upon the command to ingest, all information is imbedded (copied into) the file for each image as the images are copied and stored on the hard drive of the ingesting computer.

The ingestion process takes a few minutes. Once complete, remove the flashcard and place it in a safe location (card wallet).

Cut CD
Many large systems don't require CDs anymore due to more efficient, redundant backup measures elsewhere in the workflow. For smaller organizations, the CD becomes the de facto archive. For freelancers, it's always important to cut a CD for personal archives.

Common CD burning programs are Toast (Mac) and Easy Media Creator (PC), both by Roxio.

This step can be moved further down the workflow for tight deadline assignments. However, it's best to have the CD at this point in the workflow. Something could happen to the network, computer or electrical system and CDs are the singular multi-platform copy of the images.

Remove the burned CD, use a bold permanent marker and label it with assignment number, date, PJ's name and content keywords (i.e. East vs. West boys soccer, tanker explosion, etc...). Place the CD in a protective sleeve or case and set aside.

In this step, images are transferred from the computer hard drive to a central server of a high-capacity archive system. Unless the organization routinely deals with thousands of images each day, this step may not be incorporated into the workflow.

On really high-tech systems, a copy of the actual photo assignment is automatically imbedded into the file via the assignment number (as noted above).

Once the images are successfully transferred, they can be accessed in real time by anyone on the appropriate LAN (typically via SCC MediaGrid) by assignment number or any key word(s) within the cutline or photo assignment.

This process takes several minutes and may take even longer depending on image traffic. It's best to have this process work in the background while the next workflow step is completed using images on the local hard drive.

Polling software
Particularly busy systems may have polling software on the server. Polling software programs evenly distribute images into multiple folders from multiple users. The purpose is to avoid informational blockages and log jams.

PJs drag-and-drop or select images from one folder and place it into the polling software. The software then distributes it to 30 or more subfolders. The server then employs a well-trained chicken selects images to copy onto the main server from these sub-folders. If one image has a fatal error, only one folder blocks up rather than all. The main advantage of this system is the speed at which PJs can begin to see their images on the main system rather than being trapped behind every PJ in order of transfer.

Smart Copy
A common server polling software is Smart Copy. Personally, I don't like Smart Copy and bypass it every time. Instead, I drop images directly into the distributing folder of the program.

Depending on how the Smart Copy preferences are set on each scanning station, the program may completely delete all images if it's allowed control. This isn't as big a problem to Canon shooters as it is to Nikon shooters. The way Smart Copy dumps and deletes sub-folders can eliminate a Nikon shoot if the flatten folders box is left unchecked. The images vanish forever.

While images are copying to the server in the background, switch back to Photo Mechanic and open the folder as a contact sheet. If pre-editing in MediaGrid, skip the next sub-section, but understand it takes several minutes to load images into the grid and images caught in the system won't be visible.

Photo Mechanic
Here's another personal preference point. If you're a low-volume shooter (less than 100) and not on deadline, select all and view each image at a higher resolution in preview mode to select the absolute best images. If you're a high-volume shooter (300+) on deadline, you'll need to hold down the shift key and select potential images from the contact sheet view. Then view the selected images at the higher resolution.

Go through the selected images and checkmark those worth a second pass. Go back to contact sheet view. Hit Apple & "T" and Photo Mechanic highlights the checked frames.

Get a pen and, on the back of the assignment, write down each frame number along with a quality code as you make the second pass in preview mode. My quality code is blank for "meets the basic requirements," I use a "+" to set a crop mark, "++" to set a crop mark and frame marker, "+++" as best (crop and mark).

If one jumps out as amazing, I'll only use a "++" on the first pass, otherwise the frames are blank or "+." Then I do a quick second pass of the "+" images to see which are worth publication. I add one plus to the outstanding images and select the "best" image from this pass.

Open the appropriate MediaGrid folder where unedited images are stored. Most should be loaded by this point.

If PJs don't use Photo Mechanic, they can perform similar initial steps as above in MediaGrid. However, image resolution won't be as good in the preview screen and might lead to a soft image for the final selection. Additionally, PJs often won't know if images are missing (caught in the system).

If PJs used Photo Mechanic, open MediaGrid and locate the specific assignment (via verity search). Using the list on the back of the assignment, crop and mark images as noted on the back of the assignment.

Desk Edit
Take the assignment form to the photo desk and retrieve the assignment. Select your "best" first, then marked images and finally cropped (unmarked) and pull them up in preview mode (4x4 is good for comparison).

A photo editor looks at the assignment instructions and asks about the assignment. This is when PJs can present quick suggestions about which image is best for the story and why.

The editor then looks through the selected images and notes some images for approval. If the editor is satisfied, s/he copies some into the selected folder. If not, or if the editor has time, s/he looks through the raw take to see if any nice images were overlooked.

Occasionally, the editor gives some feedback about technique, composition or subject matter for future use. Remember, this is only a critique on the images presented. Otherwise, assume you’re worthless and hang your head in shame... or weep uncontrollably. Both have the same results. ;-)

Image preparation
Go back to the scanning room (hopefully nobody took your station or changed the stereo) prepare the images and write cutlines using Photoshop and the SpellTools plug-in. Export the images into the main MediaGrid folder.

Print and check
Make a format print of each image (image with cutline). Take it to the light and look at the image for image problems (color balance, hot spots, etc...) if any. Carefully read the cutline for any errors in each data field. Double-check spellings of each proper noun. Make changes and reprint if necessary.

Desk verification and delivery
Take the absolutely correct prints (about one to four per assignment) to the photo desk. Give the prints to the photo editor. The editor looks at the print with a pen in hand. This is your signal to read out the spellings of each proper noun (in order) on the print in hand. We'll skip what happens if there is an error at this point (hint: it's really bad).

As each print is approved, the photo editor signs their initials on the print. Then, depending on the images' sections, the editor either keeps or hands the prints back to the PJ. Those handed back need to be filed in the local section drawer or elsewhere the building (Lifestyles, Business, Sports, etc...).

Once prints are delivered, go back to the scanning room and fold (trifold, then in half) the assignment and all cutline information. Place this information in the sleeve with the CD.

At very large papers, this step is skipped by staffers because all the cutline information was shot by the PJ at the end of the shoot, and all images are streamed onto a digital platter jukebox in one or more other locations.

At smaller publications, file the CD in the archive drawers by assignment or archive number.

Depending on the contract, freelancers keep the CD and cutline information for their own files or make an additional copy of the CD and cutline info for the archive.

Breaking news
When PJs arrive "hot," most of the steps above may be completely skipped. If it's really hot, the PJ shows the raw take to the photo editor directly from the flashcard. The editor pulls up one or two images in Photoshop, the PJ corrects and writes cutlines on the spot. Format print the images. The editor verifies, and it's sent to layout.

Total time allowed: less than five minutes.

Then, follow most of the steps above to include all images properly in the archive.

Since it's contest season, the speed at which contest judges make decisions is appropriate after we understand the speed at which digital workflow of images takes place in the newsroom.

Typically everything listed above transpires in less than 30 minutes for a single assignment (about two to four images) or less than an hour for about three assignments (about eight to 12 images).

It also begins to show how busy the desk can become when there are more than 30 PJs reporting to a single location while editors from all other sections of the newspaper and outside sources (wires, etc.) are requesting images from the desk.

Enough for now,

Please also see Create a personal digital workflow