Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

‘Digital Cinema’: a new way of looking at video journalism?

Posted in Adam, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on July 1, 2010


This month I had the privilege of joining top film makers Dan Chung and Rodney Charters ASC in judging the Digital Cinema category of of the Press Photographer’s Year awards.

The PPY is different from, say, the Concentra Video Journalism Awards because it’s aimed at photographers, and still asks for film work rooted within photojournalism.

It’s extremely exciting to see new film makers, photographers and journalists experimenting with different styles – and the winners we chose really reflected that trend. The PPY called the category we judged ‘digital cinema’ a term which I think sums up the notion of the cinematic aesthetic quite well.

The first and second prize films were both shot on Canon 5d MKII digital SLR camera – another increasing trend.

I’ve just summed up our thoughts on the winners over at the DSLR Newsshooter blog – check it out here.

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Learn multimedia on the cheap – and how to make money from it

Posted in Adam, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on June 15, 2010

Image: StarbuckGuy on Flickr (cc)

I’ve been preparing for a day-long course this coming weekend for photojournalists wishing to make the leap into multimedia.

Run by multimedia evangelists Duckrabbit and hosted by Rhubarb Rhubarb, Photography Still Moving is what the industry needs more of – training with an optimistic edge. I’ll be there running a session on how to get kitted up to do video, audio and slideshows at affordable prices; the day ends with advice on how to turn skills into money.

Interested? Here are some details for you.

The running order for the day goes like this:

  • WTF is multimedia?
  • Getting to grips with the kit (on a budget)
  • Sound for idiots (interviewing techniques)
  • I got pictures, I got sound, now what?
  • Show me the money

What’s more, at £45 it’s some of the cheapest training you’ll find – and there are spaces still available! So what will you be doing on Saturday? Face-palming at another England howler from the night before? Probably. But then get out of bed, get your camera and come and learn some new skills.

If you’re interested, click here to get yourself a ticket.

Why 19th June is a good day for photojournalists

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on May 26, 2010

More and more photographers are appreciating the creative satisfaction, revenue potential and damn necessity of getting tooled up for multimedia.

From experienced photojournalists like John D. McHugh and Paul Treacy teaching themselves how to produce film and audio slideshows, to the dozens of excellent pieces showcased at Foto8’s monthly Slideslam Carousel, the trend is clear.

There are many, many photojournalists who haven’t taken the leap yet – if you’re one of them and you’re not sure where to start, then help is at hand.

My good multimedia friends Duckrabbit have teamed up with Rhubarb Rhubarb to offer a day long course in London, at quite astonishing value.

The details

When: 19th June 2010

Where: Direct Studios, London

What:

Photography Still Moving will explore just how still photographers from all disciplines can make the leap to digital storytelling.  We’ll show you the tools you need, as well as sharing how you can make money from multimedia.  One lucky participant who submits a set of pictures in advance will also have their work transformed into a multimedia feature on the day.

Price: £45…yes you read that right, £45!

I’ll be there, running a session on the kit you need to go multimedia, and how to do it without giving your bank manager, or husband, or wife an aneurysm; as well as benefiting from the knowledge of multimedia masters Ben Chesterton, David White and Anna Stevens one person who submits their images early gets it made into multimedia during the day.

I think it might be cheapest day long course of this quality there is, so places are bound to be booked up hyper-fast. Don’t delay!

Click here to book tickets.

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Journalism =

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on May 4, 2010

Journalism = ?

We’re at a stage where we’re fortunate enough to be able redefine what journalism is. Earlier this year I interviewed an entrepreneur and coach Nick Williams (who has absolutely nothing to do with journalism) for my new e-book (details here).

He suggested journalists need to redefine what they do and be prepared to be flexible with how we define the trade; he makes his living selling information & inspiration…why can’t journalists do the same?

Journalism = access

Last week I had the pleasure of spending the day mentoring MA journalism students at Birmingham City University on Video & Photo Journalism. We talked about visual storytelling, developing a narrative arc, and the potential of video and audio slideshows as tools for journalism.

One of the things we watched was a film, first posted by Cliff Etzel, called Last Minutes with Oden. (Warning: distressing scenes if you don’t like animals being upset, or, err, dead.)

If we choose we can marvel at the technical elements, the beautiful shots taken on a Canon 7D; but more importantly we can dig into what is a fantastically well told story. The narrative arc here is spellbinding, and masterfully handled.

But most of all this is about the access.

This is a personal, intimate story – one man in grief, and he has agreed to let the film makers join him and share it with the rest of us. That is what journalism–no matter what platform–is: we as journalists must have access to something the rest of the world does not have access too, whether that’s a person, facts or media; and we must have the storytelling nouse not to blow that access on a crap narrative.

  • Business journalism is in profit because journalists have access to financial/market data the rest of us can’t get.
  • Sport journalism will always be strong because journalists can speak to Alex Ferguson every week, when the rest of us can’t.
  • Celebrity news will always have value because the journalists have access to the premieres, press pools and parties the rest of us don’t get to go to.
  • Breaking news is value-less because once something goes online we can all share it.

What do you have access too?

Why the DSLR is changing video journalism

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on March 15, 2010

Photo: Dan Chung

This isn’t the first time I’ve harped on about the need for video journalism to break away from the rules and conventions of TV news. Other, smarter, people have done it too.

Thing is, where are we seeing this happen? Video journalists working with traditional (albeit smaller) cameras are generally producing “TV” news, solo.

Flipcams, like the Kodak Zi8, are proving they can compete with the big boys in some instances…although still mimicking the old guard.

One camera is threatening to give the rules the rewriting they deserve.

A new range of digital SLR cameras are now capable of shooting HD video, through the most awesome quality photographic lenses. And it’s getting photographers and videographers very excited.

At the top of the pile is Canon’s 5D MkII which comes in at a hefty £2,5000. Cheaper, but still very high quality is the Canon 7D, roughly just over £1,000. And now Canon have brought out their cheapest one yet – the 550D. It shoots HD video at either 25 frames per second or up to 60 frames per second at a lower quality. It’s got an external microphone input, so you’ll get good quality sound, and you can attach any Canon lens onto it to get a wide range of gorgeous images…it’ll set you back £700.

In the right hands these cameras are bringing a cinematic feel to video journalism. There are no hands better than Beijing based photojournalist and VJ Dan Chung. Check out this film he shot for the Guardian. He trialled the 550D, and put it on some cheap movable rigs to add motion to the shots. Used subtly it doesn’t distract from the story, but adds a wonderful texture to it.

I am hoping to invest in the 550D in the very near future. I hope DSLRs, in whatever form or price inspire a real visual revolution. It’s about time.

Three remarkable films shot on a Digital SLR

Posted in Journalism by Adam Westbrook on February 3, 2010

If you occasionally peer out of your journalism cocoon and hang out with camera operators, directors and film makers, you might have overheard some buzz about the potential of digital SLR’s for shooting video.

In particular I’m talking about the Canon 5D Mk II and the Canon 7D: both capable of shooting High Definition video as well as taking photographs.

So what?

Well these cameras beat even some of the best video-only cameras in several places:

  • they’ve got bigger and better lenses, allowing for beautiful images
  • they’ve got detachable and therefore interchangable lenses, meaning you can shoot wide angle and telephoto with the same camera
  • they’ve got bigger apertures allowing for extraordinary depth of field
  • they’re smaller, lighter and allow a photojournalist to shoot video without changing cameras

…essentially what I’m talking about is in 1 second of video you have 25 individually beautiful images which could be photographs in their own right. It’s seeing the the dawn of an exciting new aesthetic – wouldn’t it be great if documentaries and TV news looked more like these?

Three remarkable films shot on DLSR

Sri Lanka Tamils by Mark Allard

At the Races in Singapore by Dan Chung

Battle for Hearts and Minds by Danfung Dennis

For more great examples of the potential of the DLSR check out DSLR News Shooter. And I got to see some of these great cameras in action at the Canon Expo in London last autumn – the details are right here.

Idea 005: the digital magazine

Posted in Ideas for the future of news by Adam Westbrook on December 17, 2009

In Ideas for the Future of News I’m collecting positive, tangible, practical examples of business models, products and content which could pave the future.

To catch up on previous ideas, head to the Ideas for the Future of News page.

Idea 005: Mag+ concept

By: Berg London and Bonnier R&D

Magazines have a value above newspapers: people don’t just read the words, they buy them for the amazing photographs, lifestyle statements, and sometimes just because it looks great on the coffee table.

Magazines will be revolutionised by technology – but in a really positive way. For proof, see the work of Berg London and Bonnier R&D.

They’ve had a really good think about how future e-readers (like the much mooted Apple Tablet) could work with magazines – and crucially they have started with the benefits of magazines and worked from there. As the creaters explain:

“The concept aims to capture the essence of magazine reading which people have been enjoying for decades: an engaging and unique reader experience in which high quality writing and stunning imagery build up immersive stories.”

They’ve looked not at the e-readers themselves, but how magazine layouts should adapt to them. They have created, I think, a very enjoyable reading experience, which will add huge value to magazines.

“We don’t want to interrupt the core reading experience,” says Jack Shulze from Berg, “we’re very keen to make sure the UI doesn’t get in the way of the experience – it’s not covered in buttons.”

It’s 8 minutes long, but I highly recommend you watch this video, a demo of Mag+ in action.

(Hat tip: Hull Digital)

A business model?

Could the e-reader provide a financial saviour for magazines? In short, yes. For two reasons: firstly, as I mentioned they add extra value to the magazine itself. The experience of scrolling through pages on a touch screen is so enjoyable, people may buy mags just for that.

And more importantly people will pay to download an electronic magazine and experience it on these e-readers.  They won’t pay to view the content on a website.

Berg London and Bonnier R&D’s ideas are very new, but magazine owners should waste no time in chasing this concept and making it a reality. Newspapers too need to wake up to the possibilities and ask how the Mag+ concept could help them.

Their success though depends on the readers themselves. Who will make them and how much will they cost? Magazines will need to think about subscription models again, but that shouldn’t be too hard as that’s how many magazines make money anyway. And how will you download the content? Will it take long?

But these creases will no doubt be ironed out over the next two to three years.

As well as keeping current magazines afloat, they could also inspire a new generation of magazines, and most importantly keep journalists in business doing what they do best: writing great content and presenting it with great designs and pictures.

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.

Some awesome photographic panoramas

Posted in International Development, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on December 6, 2009

Here’s a couple of innovative photographic panoramas which have caught my eye over the weekend.

Nairobi by Steve Bloom

The first, which has been tweeted healthily, is a huge panorama of a Nairobi street. It’s author, Steve Bloom, thinks it may be the longest photographic panorama in the world; sure enough it takes more than six minutes to explore it all in video form:

Kroo Bay by Anna Kari & Guilhem Alandry (for Save The Children)

Thanks to Tewfic El-Sawy over at The Travel Photographer for highlighting this multimedia beauty. Using video and audio slideshows to tell the stories of the people living in this Sierra Leone slum isn’t particularly new of course; but each story is presented within quite remarkable interactive 360 degree panoramas.

Kroo Bay for Save the children

The images are of exceptional quality and I was taken aback by how effectively it brought me into their world. The use of natural sound in the background (such a powerful tool, please use it lots!) sucks you straight in. I could almost smell the sewers again.

In particular check out Scene 3, a colourful portrait of Kroo Bay’s most popular musicians. Not every slum story has to be about diarrhoea, malaria and poverty. You can donate to Save The Children clicking here.

What makes these two work? Exceptional photographs, great use of sound, and the authors do not intrude in the storytelling. More please!

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Your chance to get involved in the future of news

Posted in Ideas for the future of news, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on November 10, 2009

There’s lots and lots of talk about the future of journalism at the moment.

You can read it on blogs like this one, this one and this one.

You can occasionally read something new in one of the papers, like this one.

You can even pay some money and go to conferences.

And while they are all fantastic hotbeds for debate, they’re not really regular enough to be good forums for that most crucial currency of all: new ideas.

That’s why I’ve set up a new meet-up group to get things moving.

Futureofnews-meet1

It’s called the UK Future of News Group. If you are in the UK, or even better, in London then please think about joining and coming along to an informal meet up. It’s free, and you don’t even need to be a journalist- just interested about the future of journalism.

It’s perfect for bloggers, J-students, young journalists, J-entrepreneurs, hyper-locallers, lecturers not to mention seasoned old hacks. You could be working online, in print, on radio or with a camera.

The first meet-ups going to be in a bar near Waterloo, on the 7th December.

(hopefully avoiding any early Christmas parties)

What it isn’t, is an arena to repeatedly lament the death of print, or the end of quality journalism, or to go around saying  “paywalls must be the answer, journalists have got to eat!”

What it is, is a place where people can think positively, about tangible new ideas to determine the future of journalism. I hope someone will pitch a few ideas which we can all thrash out and stew over.

And maybe one of them will come up with the next big thing.

But most of all, I want it to be a forum where we can all have a say on the future of our craft, without having to pay hundreds in conference fees.

Interested? Sign up now!

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.

War reporting – on crack

Posted in Broadcasting and Media, Journalism by Adam Westbrook on October 15, 2009

Here’s  a snippet of war reporting…as you’ve probably never seen it before:

Danfung Dennis‘ upcoming online feature Battle for Hearts & Minds resembles the sort of thing Michael Bay might have put together if he’d decided to become a journalist rather than a movie director.

First of all, his access is quite extraordinary: the trailer suggests he’s been given some quite rare access to frontline troops, and allowed to film and publish what he wants, without censorship. Presuming he had an attached media-ops officer with him, they seemed not to mind him running ahead of advancing troops with a glidecam.

Secondly, visually it is extremely impressive. It’s a great example of the elegance the Canon 5D Mk II allows. The DSLR Newshooter blog has published an interview with Dennis in which he explains his rig in more detail:

I used a Sennheiser ME- 66 shotgun mic and G2 wireless system running into a Beachtek DXA-2s (I’ve since upgraded to a Juicedlink CX-231 with the Magic Lantern hack) which converts professional XLR mics into a minijack suitable for the 5D. I built custom aluminum ‘wings’ in a workshop to hold this audio setup…

I mounted my whole system onto a Glidecam 2000 HD with custom rubber pads on the mount and a foam ear plug to suppress the vibration of the the lens.

The combination of the 5D Mk II with the Glidecam is quite effective – and quite affordable too.

Third, no doubt the storytelling will pack a punch too…but what kind of story will this tell of the war in Afghanistan? Although we can only go on the trailer at this point, does it glorify war? Is that something journalists should do?

The use of the music in this trailer, if anything else, seems to serve that purpose.

I know from my own experiences of being embedded, I felt a pressure within myself not to glamourise conflict, or perpetuate The Old Lie, as gung-ho as it can be sometimes.