Archive for September, 2007|Monthly archive page

Having two audio recorders at the scene

NewsLab has collected some really good tips, offered by professional photojournalists, on how to gather audio. Part of the advice is related to the use of sound recorders. It was interesting for me that the article suggested using at least two audio recorders at the scene.

One sound recorder should be connected to either a wireless lav or a shotgun microphone, to get clear audio of the main subject we are interviewing or even just taking pictures of. This could have been very useful for me when I was taking photos of a couple and their child having dinner today. As I was taking photos of the family, we were chatting with each other, and they told some interesting things about who they are and what they do. They sounded so natural and comfortable, and I’m not sure if my future interview with them would sound as natural as today’s.

The article also suggests having a separate recorder on from the beginning of the photo shoot to the end, to grab the whole background sound. If I had an audio recorder on while I was taking the pictures, I could record the sound of the child’s crying. I have a cute picture of her crying, and it would be nice to complement it with the sound of crying. I don’t have the sound now, and I can’t record the sound of crying later due to the ethics of audio editing. Therefore, I have to go back and take another cute photo of the child’s crying!

I wish I had read the article before shooting the photos!


built-in or external microphone?

Hal Robertson has some recommendations for collecting natural sound or “nat sot” for video. Some of these recommendations apply to making slide shows as well, and some of them don’t. For example, we can’t use the built in microphone of a camera to record audio while we are taking pictures, because, obviously, the camera’s built-in microphone only works with video. However, his advice on the nature of the sound and its relevance to the video can be used in taking audio for slide shows as well.

As Robertson mentions, the process of gathering audio depends very much to the complexity of the type of sound we want to record. We can either use our built-in microphone of our sound recorder or an external microphone based on the subject of the audio. Robertson speculates that a high quality built-in microphone of the camera would be a good device for gathering background audio that complements the video footage. Similarly, my guess is that using the built-in microphone of our sound recorder would be better for collecting background sound, than using an external microphone. I think that way because a good external microphone records only the sounds close to it. In fact, a good microphone blocks out most of the surrounding sounds and therefore is great for interviews. However, if we want to grab a sense of the whole environment, the built-in sound recorder that records all its surrounding sounds would be a better option.

Robertson says:

If you shot the production footage, you know the environment of the scene and how close the subject was to background noisemakers. Using your ears as a guide, find a recording location that closely matches the original footage.

Does that mean we should use the external microphone but put it close to the main background sound that has been closer to the subject of our video/picture? What do you think about this? Have you ever had any experience with recording the background sound with both a built-in microphone and an external microphone? If yes, which one works better?

Understanding photojournalism: beyond knowing how to use a camera (Part One)

Before Journalists’ Toolkit class, my only encounter with photography, or let’s say photojournalism, was my online conversations with Arash Ashourinia, one of my best friends who is a freelance photojournalist living in Iran. Arash runs a photoblog and has taken shots from various protests and unrests in Tehran, where no other photographer, including photographers working for international news agencies in Tehran, were present. Often, these photos, along with narratives in Persian blogs, become the only evidence of activists’ protests and police brutality in Tehran. BBC Persian website has republished his photos a couple of times, and one of his photos was published in both online and paper editions of Washington Post.

After a protest happens in Tehran, I usually find Arash online on my Yahoo! Messenger to see his photos, help him choose the best shots, and translate the captions of his photos to English. I comment on his photos from an amateur’s point of view though. I look for the shots that tell me the story better, show the conflict more vividly, and are eye-catching.

Last week, I read parts of Kenneth Kobre’s book Photojournalism: The Professionals’ Approach, and as part of my class assignment I took various shots from a classmate. This whole experience helped me realize that there is much more to photojournalism than knowing the technical issues related to using cameras professionally. Of course it is important to master photography as a technique to become a professional photojournalist, but there are so many other elements involved in producing good photojournalism.

The first thing I learned from Kobre’s book and practiced as part of my class assignment was “assuring visual variety” through taking three forms of shots:

1- Overall shot:

This form is a panoramic shot that gives an idea of the whole scene where an event is taking place, and as Kobre says “allows viewers to orient themselves to the scene,” “defines the relative position of the participants,” and allows “to evaluate the magnitude of the event.” (P. 13)

My assignment was about taking photos of my classmate while she was taking photos of a crowd of bicycles parked somewhere on campus. I stood on top of something far from her (as advised by Kobre to elevate ourselves for taking overall shots, p.14) and took some photos that included her, most of the bikes, and part of the campus. I thought I did a good job of capturing an overall picture of the scene, but my overall shots turned out to be useless! They were too far from my main subject, which was my classmate, and she was almost lost in the crowd of bikes and the trees behind her. I realized that just capturing the magnitude is not enough all the time, and I should not forget the main subject of the shot.

2- Medium shot:

This shot captures part of the scene, as well as the participants. As Kobre says, medium shot should “tell the story,” is “close enough” to show “the participants’ action” but at the same time “far enough away to show their relationship to one another and to their environment.” (p.14)

I ended up with one acceptable medium shot of my classmate, where she is on her knees while taking pictures in the middle of two bikes. The photo tells the story by showing the participant’s action, i.e. taking photos from the bikes, and shows the relationship between the photographer and her environment, i.e. the bikes and the green grass. I think this photo turned out to be good because it was taken at the right distance; close enough, yet far enough. So I learned that the right distance matters a lot.

3- Close-up:

A close-up shot, as its name suggests, shows us a closely-taken picture of something or someone. As Kobre says, a close-up should “isolate and emphasize one element.” It “adds drama” by putting the viewer into “eyeball-to-eyeball contact with the subject.”

Two of my close-up shots turned out to be acceptable. They were good shots because they had proper focus on one element; one of them being the hands of my classmate holding the camera, and the other one being a close figure of her arms, head, and camera, which all created a circle. Both of these pictures could convey one message and isolate and emphasize one elemnt: “photography.” And that was actually my aim, because the subject of my shots was “photography” itself.


Back to my photographer friend Arash, I now appreciate his work of taking photos of a women’s rally in Tehran on June 12, 2006 more. He knew police wouldn’t allow people to take photos of the event and would arrest photographers. His friends who worked for Iranian and international news agencies told him that they were advised by their agencies not to go to the scene. He prepared himself and went on the roof of a friend’s office at the scene, both to be in a safe place and to be in a good angle for taking overall shots. He also had the right gear, including the necessary lenses that helped him with taking “close enough, yet far enough” medium shots from the top of the building. Of course he couldn’t take many close-ups, but his medium shots were enough to tell the drama. (I later made a slide-show of his photos with his own narration for my advanced online media class last spring.)

RSS feed of all the blogs of our class

I just subscribed to all the blogs of our class in my Google Reader, since it would take me a lot of time to check out all the blogs regularly, and I assume the blogs won’t be updated too frequently.

Anyway, I made the subscriptions public, in case anybody is interested.

Also, if you want to show the latest posts from your classmates and professor on your blog, you can do it through adding the RSS widget to your Word Press blog.

All you should do is to go to Presentation, and then Widgets. Then drag the RSS widget to your sidebar. Click on the right side of the widget. A light box window opens. Enter this RSS feed URL, give it a suitable name (I named it J-Toolkit’s Blogs feeds), and choose the number of posts you want to be shown in your blog (I chose 5). Close the window and click save. That’s it! This way you don’t need to check all the blogs constantly to see if they have any updates. Of course to write comments you need to actually go and visit the blogs.

My new blog on online journalism

After 6 years of running personal/political blogs in Persian and English, now I’m starting a new “serious” blog on online journalism for my Journalists’ Toolkit class at UF College of Journalism. It’s been a while I wanted to discuss what I learn at journalism school and my observations about the ways online journalism is practiced around the globe, but I was afraid I would lose my readers who are used to my diary-style writing. I’m happy that our assignment for this class to maintain a professional blog is giving me a chance to experience a new way of writing and share my knowledge or questions about the field with others. After all, I’ve been involved with online journalism for 5 years now, since I started the first online magazine in Iran called Cappuccino with a group of bloggers and amateur journalists.

I have witnessed how blogging and online media have given a new voice to Iranian women, social activists, and political dissidents in an environment that censorship increases on a daily basis. I have also been witness to how the Internet has revived the women’s movement in Iran and helped Iranian women’s rights activists to network, mobilize resources, recruit, and organize numerous campaigns to resist gender-discriminatory practices in Iran. Along with discussing what I learn in Journalists’ Toolkit class, I will also try to highlight some of the ways Iranian civil society is using online media to further their social activism, since my main research at grad school is focused on this issue.

At the main page of the course syllabus of Journalists’ Toolkit class we read:

This course prepares the student to work as a journalist in today’s newsrooms where the online and digital platforms are at least as important as the traditional print or broadcast platforms.

I hope I can improve my skills in Journalists’ Toolkit class to use online and digital platforms such as audio, video, slide shows, and blogging to tell the story of social activists around the world.

My English is not very good, at least not good enough to be a print journalist in English, but I’m glad that various online and digital platforms give journalists the opportunity to tell their stories beyond the boundaries of written words. I’m looking forward to improve my skills and learn new ways in Journalists’ Toolkit class to show, rather than tell, my stories.