Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Who do you think you’re not?

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism, Freelance, Journalism, Next Generation Journalist by Adam Westbrook on November 26, 2010

Image credit: Dano on Flickr

“So, what do you do?”

It’s the question I dread at parties, bars and any social gathering.

“I’m a journalist” I say.

“And who do you write for?” is almost always the first response. The fact that I don’t write for many people (I make films or do training and consulting) plus the fact those I do write for are online publications immediately makes it all too difficult to explain.

“Oh, no-one you’ve heard of” ends up being my stock response, which makes me sound either unsuccessful or like a dick.

My problem is I haven’t really worked out what I do.  My first year in the freelance jungle and I’ve pretty much done everything that’s come my way: speaking, lecturing, films, audio slideshows, articles, copy writing, blog posts, consulting, writing books, photography; it’s difficult to tie that all into one job.

It’s not what you do – it’s what you don’t do.

It’s a similar headache when starting a new enterprise or freelance career. You think of all the things you love doing, and come up with markets to sell your markets or products to. And you end up with a list of several strings to your bow.

It’s hard when trying to establish yourself as a journalist, freelance or otherwise, to really understand what you’re about. That’s bad because it makes it almost impossible to market yourself properly. Take a look at my portfolio website for an example. What the hell am I? A film maker? A multimedia storyteller? An online video consultant?

I’m sure most people who see my site leave dazed and confused.

How to nail down what you do

Here’s a really effective way to hammer down to what you’re about: do the opposite. Write down all the things you don’t do.

You don’t make a great museum by putting all the art in the world into a single room. That’s a warehouse. What makes a museum great is the stuff that’s not on the walls.

Quoted in Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson (affiliate link)

Instead of thinking of all the people you could work for, identify the people you don’t work for. For example, you might be photojournalist and you want to specialise in doing shoots for high end lifestyle magazines. That means you don’t do shoots for companies, charities or local newspapers. It means you are not a paparazzi or a hard news photographer – so don’t pursue work in these fields.

Having fewer products or offerings means you can specialise in making them great.

If you do audio slideshows, then you don’t do video. Just focus on the slideshows and make them the best slideshows around. Become known for how good your slideshows are, so people identify you and your work with excellence and quality.

Apple know what they do, but they also know what they don’t do: you won’t get customisable, cheap and cheerful computers from them. RyanAir know they don’t do luxury flights, so they don’t even try in that market.

It’s not so black and white of course. If you can do video and you get offered a great commission then don’t stubbornly turn it down. And when you’re young or just starting out, it’s hard to know who you are, let alone who you aren’t. By all means play the field a little bit.

But working out what you don’t do is sometimes the best way to figuring out what you do do.


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Multimedia workshops in Siberia

Posted in Entrepreneurial Journalism, Freelance, Next Generation Journalist, Online Video by Adam Westbrook on November 22, 2010

Charles Maynes (US) and Ksenia (Russia) work on audio slideshows

I’ve spent the last week working with young radio & print journalists from all over Russia. We’d all converged in the city of Abakan, which if you check it out on Google Maps sits somewhere in the heart of Siberia, not far from the Mongolian border, in a landscape surrounded by vast mountains and dark icy rivers.

It was part of a festival organised by the Eurasia Foundation, and I’d been invited to speak about Next Generation Journalism, new business models for journalism and help out with a multimedia workshop.

It was great to speak with journalists with different perspectives about the future of news. Although ad revenues are down and the internet is fragmenting audiences, the impression I gathered was that job losses haven’t been as severe as in the UK and the US.

A freelance-free country?

In introducing my book Next Generation Journalist, and the concept of a portfolio career to audiences in Abakan, I got an interesting reaction. It turns out that in Russia, freelancing just isn’t an established way of earning a living.

There are all sorts of valid economical and historical reasons for this but it left many asking me how they’d actually start life as a freelancer. How do you pitch work? Do companies come to you, or the other way around?

What is similar though is the commitment to using multimedia to tell stories online. Home to mail.ru, one of the most valuable companies on the stock exchange right now, Russia is no internet backwater. Journalists there are experimenting with video and audio slideshows and working out how to incorporate it with their more traditional practice.

One group of young radio reporters from the Urals were able to turn around a wonderful slideshow, combining text, audio and music with photography to tell a powerful story about a tram accident. They used free software to make the whole thing work. (Reaper for audio editing – a new one on me; and Windows Movie Maker to assemble the photo sequence.)

But the big question of the week was: how do we juggle all these different mediums and still report accurately what is happening? As I wrote, after my own work in Iraq last year, the answer is ‘with great difficulty…but it gets easier with practice.’

And it sounds like these talented Russian journalists, not always working in the safest or easiest of conditions, are committed to practicing their new skills as much as possible.

Editing with Final Cut Pro and Reaper

Getting kitted up (again) for video journalism

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on April 28, 2010

For the first time since I wrote this article in 2008, I have been able to invest in some new kit.

Although my £500 all-in film making gear has given me a great start and helped me produce films in difficult environments, including Baghdad and Basra, I felt it was limiting me in some of the bigger projects I have planned for this year.

Meanwhile the fast moving camera market and an increased interest in audio slideshows have made video capable DSLRs a very practical option in the last year – and I’ve been desperate to get my hands on one.

The camera

The moment to take the plunge came as soon as Canon announced the release of the EOS 550D: a digital SLR camera from the same family as the revolutionary 5D MKII and 7D – but at a fraction of the price.

For between £600-800 you can pick up a 550D and it comes with many of the same features as its more upmarket siblings. Photographically, it does everything the majority of professional DSLRs can do, with high quality RAW images, a range of manual settings, a large sensor and a good LCD screen.

With video it gets interesting: it is more limited than the MKII or 7D but still powerful enough to work for professional video journalism. It shoots in 1080i High Definition at 24fps, and can get up to 50fps at 720 definition. You have full control over aperture, exposure and shutter speed.

The main reason to enter the DSLR market, as well as the fact it enables me to shoot images too, is the potential of the lens. At the moment I have the basic 18-55mm EF lens which will do your basic shots, but I hope to invest in a fast lens before the year is out.

The audio rig

The big  let down with DSLRs (even the best ones) is the poor audio quality. The 550D has an on-board microphone, but I wouldn’t use it to make a phone call, let alone record an interview. It comes with an external 3.5mm audio input, to which I have connected a Rode Videomic, a high quality camera microphone, (£80) as well as my cabled lapel microphone for interviews (£20).

Like all DSLRs this camera has only automatic gain control, so it’ll be interesting to see what the quality is like. You also can’t monitor your sound levels on the camera which is an issue.

As a back up, and for the production of audio slideshows, I have also invested in the Tascam DR-07, a portable audio recorder first recommended by David Stone at BroadcastJournalism.co.uk.

Many DSLR shooters are using audio recorders to record their audio in high quality separately and then syncing it in post production. Software like PluralEyes (www.singularsoftware.com/pluraleyes.html)  makes this possible, but it’s also nothing a simple clap when filming can’t solve.

I have yet to give these a good test yet, but it’ll be interesting to see whether audio becomes a deal breaker.

The extras

I’m recording onto a Class6 SD card, and I also needed a new tripod. Manfrotto’s Modo is both affordable (£40) and very light and small – but exceptionally versatile. With fully flexible legs and a good quality ball cam head it’s a big improvement on my previous rig.

I’m also keeping my Kodak Zi8 with me and for the time being I still have the handy Panasonic NVDX100, although probably not for much longer.

The Workflow

The one thing I’ve learned from experimenting with lots of different kit over the years is the importance of researching a workflow. That means the step-by-step process it would take to shoot footage and get it edited.

For example, did you know although the Canon 550D shoots in .mov format, it needs to be transcoded through Pro-Res before it can be used in Final Cut Pro? Experts like Dan Chung and Philip Bloom are good stops to find stuff like this out as well as all the forums out there.

I’m currently shooting my first commission with the new kit ahead of the General Election; as soon  as a finished product is available I’ll post it up.

DSLRs which shoot video remain a controversial topic, with some offering high praise, others critical of the set up. Personally I think they offer huge potential, if you’re prepared to work around some of the early problems. Sure, I never thought I’d have to sync audio from two different devices, but it really doesn’t add much to my time in the edit.

The Art of the Audio Slideshow

Posted in Adam, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on April 25, 2010

Last week I was planning on joining a prestigious line up of journalists and social media experts to speak at the International Journalism Festival in Perugia, Italy.

Unfortunately it now joins the long list of events, weddings, classes, finances and affairs around the globe affected by the volcano whose name shall remain unpronounceable.  I was due to speak to journalists about the ‘art of the audio slideshow‘ something I have talked about passionately in lectures, training events and Frontline Club events in the past.

Click on the image below to watch the presentation yourself.

Other speakers included Andrew Lyons from London based Ultraknowledge – I have written about their innovative work for the Independent Newspaper here – and here’s a video I shot with them – my first on the new Canon 550D (more on that in a future post).

Can you tell it’s conference season?

Posted in Adam, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on March 30, 2010

Image credit: Poulomi Basu/Digital Storytelling '10

Some card said on Twitter recently that they feared the Future of Journalism was ‘endless conferences on the Future of Journalism’.

They’re probably right, although if we can help it, the future of news will be defined with action rather than words.

Having said that I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to take part a whole host of interesting events and conferences so far this year including News Rewired in January and Digital Storytelling ’10 in March. There are some particularly good ones coming up too:

Frontline Club :: 6th April

I’ll be joining John Brazier and Anne Wollenberg at London’s Frontline Club to share my experiences of going freelance in the new digital age. It’s an event tailored just for freelancers so if you’re lucky enough to work for yourself or are thinking of giving it a go, then you’ll find it  really interesting. Click here to get tickets.

International Journalism Festival :: 19th – 25th April

I’m really excited about this one: 20,000 journalists from around the world, converging on the beautiful Italian town of Perugia. You’ll find me alongside the team from Media140 for a week of future of news chat, audio booing, qiks, slideshows and possibly even some pizza. I’ll be speaking on the Friday about the power and potential of audio slideshows, and throughout the week Claire Wardle, Ande Gregson, Christian Payne, Kate Pickering and I will be trying all sorts of multimedia nonsense to show off real time web.

Local Heroes 2010 :: 14th May

A one day conference to sort out the future for local news in the UK. It’s being held by The Press Gazette, at Kingston University, London, where I am currently Journalist-in-Residence. I’ll be speaking to news editors from across the country about “why video could be the answer for local news” and the rest of the line up looks excellent. Local journos sign up here!

If you’re going to any of these events drop me a line – it would be great to meet face-to-face!

Review: “The Digital Journalist’s Handbook” by Mark S. Luckie

Posted in Adam, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on March 29, 2010
Digital Journalist Handbook by Mark S Luckie

The Digital Journalist’s Handbook on Amazon 

It’s no secret we all need to tool up. And it’s no secret the thought of doing video or podcasts or data visualisations is pretty terrifying for anyone who’s just had a single discipline for much of their journalism career.

Enter The Digital Journalist Handbook, written by multimedia journalist and prominent digital journalist and blogger Mark S Luckie.

Mark’s the sort of guy with the right attitude: laid off from his staff job in the US last year, (which he says “devasted” him) he set about making the most of the opportunities presented by the digital revolution. He turned his blog (10000words.net) into a must read for any journalist – and then wrote this book.

“I was hungry and flat broke, but the book gave me something else to focus on and channel my energy into.”

Beats sitting at home watching Rikki Lake in your pants, right?

The very basics

The Digital Journalist’s Handbook is, I think, aimed at the complete novice in a range of disciplines. It gently introduces you into video, audio, flash, data visualisation, writing for the web, blogging and audio slideshows, assuming you had never heard of the terms before you picked up the book.

If you’re familiar with any of these disciplines you might find The Digital Journalist’s Handbook a tad frustrating.  But for the nervous novice, it’s a God send. For example, I didn’t get much from the chapters on blogging, video or audio, but as soon as I reached the dedicated chapters on Flash and Data Visualisation the learning began in earnest.

Mark introduces you to each medium, telling you how it’s used and what for and then offers practical advice on using the actual equipment involved. You’ll get introduced to Final Cut Pro, Audacity, Soundslides and Flash; just enough to get you started, but I think you’ll need the kit on your computer to really get the most out of it.

Support

The Digital Journalist’s Handbook is backed by a healthy dose of supporting materials. Clear diagrams and photographs adorn the pages, from a valuable visualisation of a video editing interface, to arguably over the top diagrams of a USB lead. But, then not everyone know’s what a USB lead is right?

And not content with a book alone, Mark has also created an excellent supporting website, referred to regularly within the pages, packed with extra goodies for readers, including extra tutorials and recommended software.

The ever changing  industry…

There’s a danger with publishing a physical tome for such a rapidly changing industry could put this book out of date too quickly, but after a thorough read through I think Mark S Luckie’s work will stand the test of time. Sure the industry will change around us, but for the forseeable future video, audio, slideshows, flash and data visualisation are permanent parts of the multimedia journalists tool kit.

The Digital Journalist’s Handbook is all about the practical skills, and doesn’t really touch on the all important mindset for the next generation journalist. It is a book written for journalists who want to make money the old way, on news desks or as a freelancer.

For more and more graduating students that isn’t a practical option any more.

However, even what I call Next Generation Journalists, looking for new work opportunities, would be foolish to pass over the skills contained in the Digital Journalist’s Handbook. Whatever path you choose, you’ll need the same skills.

Self-publishing

In true new journalist style, Mark has also shared how he made the book, a guide perfect for anyone thinking of self publishing:

“I decided to self-publish The Handbook to prove to myself and to others that it was no longer necessary to go through traditional channels to successfully publish and distribute a book.”

It wasn’t long before Mark was offered a staff job again, but he still keeps his hand in the blogging scene, and his posts are always worth checking out. Reflecting, Mark says he feels lucky to have lost his job when he did.

I think we should feel grateful too – without Mark losing his job, we’d probably be without this valuable (and currently unique) training handbook.

Have you read it? What do you think? Stick ’em in the comments below.

Click here to read The Digital Journalist’s Handbook

Still doubting the power of good audio?

Posted in Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on February 9, 2010

Cleverly used audio (both natural sound and music) can tell a story – even when the pictures are as simple as…well, a Google Search screenshot.

Here’s how Google used it to great effect with their Superbowl halftime ad:

Give audio a chance!

Want to know more about audio? Check out my 6×6 guide to using it properly, and tips on making a great audio slideshow.

The future of the Photobook?

Posted in Ideas for the future of news, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on December 9, 2009

Photo: Sarah Foye Photography

The very smart and forward-thinking people over at Livebooks are wondering what the next 10 years hold for the photobook.

Through their RESOLVE blog they’re creating a collaborative blog post asking people to think ahead to 2019. They ask these key questions:

What do you think photobooks will look like in 10 years? Will they be digital or physical? Open-source or proprietary? Will they be read on a Kindle or an iPhone? And what aesthetic innovations will have transformed them?

Click here if you want to contribute too.

Online or off?

Whether Photobooks will exist online or offline will be something fiercely debated as they develop. Some say, quite passionately, that the book will always survive because it is a physical, tangible product and about so much more than just the words or pictures. James Higgs for example wrote last month:

A book is a guarantee of permanence, and of ownership. There is no DRM baked into the printed word, and nothing stopping me reading a book I own whether I am in the middle of the Sahara or on my sofa. There is nothing stopping me lending it to a friend, and I don’t need to worry whether their reader device supports ePub, or whatever format.

When I buy a book, I’m buying a physical, real world object that has properties that can be appreciated beyond the words it contains. It can be beautifully bound, use attractive design elements, have respect for typography, and use the physical properties of the medium as part of the content.

But I was speaking to an innovative book publisher in London this week who’s convinced despite this books will all move online and he’s looking at new distribution models to that effect.

I think in 2019, the future belongs to both. If the Kindle and other mobile readers can keep up, they may offer an equally pleasant reading experience. A physical product will of course be so much more expensive to produce – and therefore buy.

Mobile

One thing is certain though, the future of the Photobook is mobile. Simply because the future of every other form of publishing is mobile too. By 2012, the sale of smartphones is expected to outweigh laptops as we become a society who want things on the move. Photobook publishers need to be prepared for this, and thinking towards apps which deliver high quality photographs.

Even my dear old Mum now reads most of her books on her iPhone.

The great thing about apps is you can sell the product, but then also charge (a small amount) for the app.

Multimedia

And being a multimedia journalist I also firmly believe the photobook in 2019 will be a multimedia product.

In what way? Well, we’ve already seen the power of the audio slideshow demonstrated time and time again: the combination of audio and photography is hugely potent and photographers should be looking to tool up on producing great audio to capitalise on this.

So you’ll open your photobook on a Kindle or equivalent, scroll through the electronic pages and click on an icon to hear the subject of the photograph speak, or hear natural sound.

They won’t be a slideshow as such – the great thing about photobooks is you can move through them at your own pace.

An exciting future

Does the photobook have a future, with so much other distractions? Yes. Among the cacophony of new media, social media, web 2.0 blah, blah, a solid foundation is emerging of people who want and appreciate awesome content. Attractive, well designed, well shot, well written content.

Sure, there are millions more photographs in the world than ever before, but most are bad quality, and all are seen in some small 720×526 compressed format. By 2019 people will be crying out for photographs presented in a way that sucks them into a new world. That’s always been the power of the photobook, and that power – I think – will continue.

So tool up, learn new multimedia skills, get your head around mobile…but at the end of the day go out and practice taking the most beautiful photographs ever.

The powers and problems of the audio slideshow

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on December 1, 2009

Match the absorbing power of a beautifully crafted photograph, with the intimacy of some crisp, clear audio and you have a potent force.

Yes, the audio slideshow has fast become a rising medium for multimedia journalists, and it’s unique because it’s been born from the digital revolution and not threatened by it. It only exists in digital form.

If you haven’t heard of an audio slideshow, the name pretty much gives it away: a sequence of photographs, soundtracked by audio, usually of a person speaking, plus music and “actuality” where possible.  I’ve been making them for about a year now, and spent last week both in meetings with radio producers about them and in classrooms teaching students about them.

I figured it’s time to give them some blog-respect.

The powers of the audio slideshow

I decided to show my photojournalism students some audio slideshows last week as an introduction to the medium. Most of them had never seen one before, but they were completely engaged by The New York Times’ sublime “1 in 8 million” and Duckrabbit’s new MSF project. Why?

01. the powerful combination

For nearly a century each, the mavens of both radio and photography have raved about the immense power of their particular medium.

Photography, as a powerful medium of expression and communications, offers and infinite variety of perception, interpretation and execution

Ansel Adams

A great advantage of the aural medium over print lies in the sound of the human voice – the warmth, the compassion, the anger, the pain and the laughter. A voice is capable of conveying much more than reported speech.

Robert McLeish

On their own great radio and great photographs pack a real punch. Think of the famous images of the D-Day landings, the Vietnam War or 9/11. Think of the lush vividness of Ed Murrow’s This is London reports, the intimacy of This American Life and the solemn colour in Richard Dimbleby’s report from Belsen.

Put together they hold equal if not greater power. Either through being able to see something you’re hearing, or to hear the richness of the voice of someone you’re looking at.

02. it’s not video #1

We hear all too often how video is the medium. How moving pictures are the ultimate way to tell stories and how film is more arresting that anything before it.

Now this may be true. But let me tell you if you don’t know already: video is also really hard to do. Don’t get me wrong, radio, print, podcasts, flash interactives, photography – they’re all really hard to get right. But video is another beast, and you can sweat piss, and still come out with a ropey product.

I’m not saying audio slideshows are easier…they’re less time consuming, less brainpower consuming – meaning you can focus on getting it really good, rather than just getting OK pictures.

03. it’s not video # 2

Equally, video is not only demanding on the sanity of the artist, but on the story too. Video stories have to be told in certain ways. We need sequences and visual grammar, and so storytellers must usually bend or break their craft to fit it into a 720×526 screen.

Again radio and photography are more flexible. And as a result, the audio slide show is not bound by the same rules and formulas which TV finds so hard to break free from.

04. cost of production

In terms of the kit you need, audio slideshows are cheaper to produce. A good enough Digital SLR camera will set you back hundreds, sure. But an audio recorder of a good standard need only cost you just over a hundred. And the editing kit – well the standard seems to be the Soundslides Software, which goes for just over £50.

And that’s a snip of your video costs.

The weaknesses of the audio slideshow

Now we’re seeing lots of audio slideshows being made. And some of them are pretty awesome. Websites like the New York Times and The Guardian have their own online sections dedicated to them. Hoorah. But they are still not gaining huge traction. How come?

01. it’s not video

Aha, this again. Well, sort of. Video’s popularity relies on several things: the fact we were all brought up on television and crave the moving picture, the glamour associated with television production also rubs off on video; we’re led to believe video is more real. And technology is forcing video to be popular with more and more smaller cheaper cameras.

This instantly gives the audio slideshow a disadvantage.

“What? The picture’s don’t move? This sucks!”

02. it’s slow

Video and television are a bit like crap magicians. If their trick is no good, they can stun you with a quick flash or spark. They do this with fast cuts, fancy transitions and montages.

Audio slideshows aren’t like that. They’re a lot slower. One image will stay on screen for 5 or more seconds, before slowly dissolving into another. In video, we see images lasting just a matter of frames.

To some, this lack of visual ecstacy makes audio slideshows appear duller, when really they’re not.

03. saboteurs

A lot of audio slideshows, especially in the mainstream media, aren’t very good. I wondered for a long time why this was. Why did the audio and pictures not match up? Why was the editing so bad?

Then I heard one photojournalist at an expo in London. He’s been trying audio slideshows out, and I asked him why more generally, many slideshows out there weren’t very good. He said he knew cases of newsroom journalists resenting being given multimedia work.

“They make it shit on purpose, so they won’t be asked to do it again” he said.  Incredible, really. A relief though, because it means just because so many slideshows are dull, does not mean the medium does not have potential.

04. the name

This came up in a meeting with radio producers in London last week.

“Audio Slideshow” is a crap name. It ain’t web 2.0 that’s for sure, and conjours an image of your aunty and uncle showing you their holiday snaps. Worst of all,  if people have not heard of one before, they can tell straight away what it is from the name, and draw their own (usually negative conclusions).

Compare that to the emergence of the podcast. It’s name is unusual and not self explanatory, so you’re forced to listen to one to investigate.

So here’s the deal: audio slideshows need a new name. Let’s find one.

I’m creating a poll to vote on a new name. It starts with the first idea I came up with, and you can add your own suggestions too. If you have an idea, put it in the comments box and I’ll add it to the poll manually. Everyone can then vote on the best ones. Ready? Here goes:

And while you’re thinking, here are some awesome examples of [INSERT NAME HERE] out there:

New York Times: 1 in 8 Million

Duckrabbit: Praying for the Rain

Ciara Leeming: Born Free

Eileen Mignoni: Facing Deportation

John D McHugh: Memorial

Adam Westbrook: Hirst v UK

BBC News/Paul Kerley: Tommies’ Tales

Nick Hand: Slowcoast

Resolve Blog’s coverage of audio slideshows

Why charities need multimedia journalists

Posted in Ideas for the future of news, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on November 30, 2009

Last week I showed my journalism students an audio slideshow by multimedia producers Duckrabbit. Sat in silence, they watched Francoise’ story and got into a healthy debate afterwards about the piece.

They loved the text on the screen, and the images; but most of all,  as one student put it “I like how she tells he own story without any reporter’s voice”.

Duckrabbit have just launched a powerful new series with Medicins Sans Frontiers, and if you speak to Ben Chesterton from Duckrabbit you’ll quickly learn letting people tell their own story is what he’s all about.

Told only in their own voices all the website asks you is to send a message of support. At first that might seem a bit daft…Surely what they need is cash right? Well if you watch their videos you can find out about their lives, you can find out they’re not much different to you and me…secondly your messages of support do make a difference. I worked in camps in Kenya and the thing that people were most frightened of was being forgotten, the sense that no-one cares.

A debate on this blog earlier this year asked the question: do people need to care in order to act?

Journalists realised a few years ago there is good work available telling the powerful stories of NGOs, charities and the people they help.

More NGOs though need to come round to that idea, and understand the journalist’s storytelling skills will add a punch that no black and white footage with dreary voice over ever could.

Comments Off on Why charities need multimedia journalists

Multimedia Journalism on the frontline

Posted in Broadcasting and Media by Adam Westbrook on October 29, 2009

Image: Adam Westbrook

I spent an afternoon at the Canon expo in London yesterday, a showcase for the latest photography kit, including some very sexy looking XL H1s and of course the 5D Mark II.

Hidden among the photo-geekery was photojournalist turned multimedia war reporter John D McHugh.

He was there to speak about his experiences reporting from Afghanistan between 2006-8, during which time he moved from producing just photographs, to audio slideshows and even full films.

He also experienced several fire fights, which he described as “fucking insane” and was even shot by insurgents for his trouble.

John D McHugh

“The power of the still image is still unsurpassed” he says, although he admits he loves the fact he now has lots of different ways to tell a story.

His aim is not to copy television though, rather to “emulate the newspaper tradition”, using multimedia to show more and give more understanding to a story.

But it is not without its challenges. He admitted it is difficult to juggle his SLR with a video camera and dictaphone – something I can totally relate to from my short time filming in Iraq earlier this year. For me the fear was always missing a good shot because I’m busy with something else, something John has just got used to.

“I’ve missed photos, sure” he says, “but then I’ve always missed photographs in my whole career. If I was going to write a book, I always said it was going to be called ‘Photos I Didn’t Take.””

He says each missed photograph is seared in his memory.

“This is never going to be ideal, but it’s the world we’re in.”

A talented, brave and determined photojournalist, John is very much on the frontline, both militarily, and inside the industry.

Getting to know The Gimp

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on September 21, 2009

I’ve spent quite a lot of the last few weeks getting to grips with The Gimp, the free and open-source alternative to the not-free Adobe Photoshop.

Image manipulation is an important part of any multimedia journalists toolkit, whether its to generate graphics or artistic images, or just to touch up your photographs, and if you haven’t got the Gimp, you really should (unless you’re lucky enough to have Photoshop of course).

A more heavily manipulated image using layers & curves

A heavily manipulated image using layers & curves for Viking FM

Test image for an audio slideshow

A shot from an audio slideshow I'm making with minor contrast edits and a light vignette effect

Short for GNU Image Manipulation Program, it is as complicated as its Adobe counterpart, at least at first appearance. But half the trick is learning what the Gimp’s important tools are. I have personally found the most important bits to grasp – at least at first – are:

  • layering
  • controlling curves
  • creating, feathering and manipulating sections

But as the iPhone is hypervalued by its homemade apps, the Gimp’s real value lies in a vast library of tutorials and guides…produced by Joe Public. Working on both my audio slideshow and the Viking FM graphics, I’ve been able to instantly get help just by visiting Youtube.

Here are five top tutorials to help you get to know the Gimp.

01. Using curves for selective exposure correction

02. using curves to improve night shots

03. a very basic introduction to layers

04. creating vintage/vignette effects

05. and some Gimp basics