ASSIGNMENT: Reading, Watching, Listening and Nouns & Verbs

So, a bunch of things for you to work on this week …

Let’s start with this New York Times piece by Jessica Bennett on failing. A big chunk of this class is about making mistakes – big ones at first, little ones later on – but then learning from them. You will make hundreds, if not thousands, of mistakes – and that is both okay and fully encouraged.

(Aside: While your reading that Times piece, look at the portraits – what do you think of the work Lauren Lancaster did there?)

Done with that? Okay, let’s watch this short video about Randy Olson, an amazing visual journalist …

Intrigued? Go check out some of his work now, spend a few minutes learning about the work he does with Melissa Farlow and then come back here.

Now, let’s jump back in time. Photojournalism has had a couple of Golden Ages, and one of the most prominent would have to be during the Civil Rights Movement. Charles Moore was one of those who was on the front line and made many of the iconic images you’ve seen in history books and documentaries.

This video, titled, “I Fight With My Camera,” will give you an understanding of why he did what he did.

But not everything is always as it seems … Bill Hudson made another of the iconic images of the time, similar to one of Moore’s images of a German Shepherd attacking a protestor. Hudson’s was turned into a statue, but the story behind it, as told through the Revisionist History podcast, will have you questioning what you believe to be true about images. Put that on your phone and listen while walking to class one day.

Let’s hop back to modern times. Interested in how politics is covered in Washington these days? Then you need to know who J. Scott Applewhite is – one of the best in the business.

So, that was a lot of stuff to get through before getting to your assignment. Your first one, are you a little nervous? Don’t be.

This is an exercise in exercising your fingers, your brain and your eye. The only way to do this wrong is to not do it. You have to get to a point where your fingers just move without you having to think about them. It’s like playing a piano or running hurdles – so much of those are about muscle memory. And the only way you develop that muscle memory is by practicing.

So, here it is – Nouns and Verbs.

Between now and next Friday, September 1, you need to shoot at least 400 photos – more is better. Shoot all of these (and all of your assignments this semester) on the manual exposure mode using manual focus. If you go into the auto modes it will show up in your metadata. I strongly recommend that you set your ISO to 400 and just leave it, trying to think in three variables is much harder than two.

The first 200 or so should be nouns – just objects. Trees, fire hydrants, food wrappers – doesn’t matter what it is, this is a chance to practice. Pick a subject and try it at maximum aperture and f/16, at the wide end of your lens and the telephoto end. Shoot with the light at your back and behind the subject. Try to think of as many ways to photograph an object as you can.

Once you’ve got your first 200 frames, move on to verbs – motion, action. This will be tougher as objects in motion don’t wait for you to set your focus and exposure, but so much of what you’ll shoot later in this class will be candid photography.

Here’s a tip for the verbs: Your camera defaults to the single-frame mode, meaning you press the shutter it takes one frame. Look for the continuous mode in the manual and try that. What happens?

Don’t try to shoot these indoors or at night, the low light levels will wreak havoc upon your exposure settings and neither you nor I will get much from this experience. Carve out a little time each day to play.

If you run into any issues or questions, let me know – by email or in person, whatever works for you.

Focusing tip: It’s easier to focus at the telephoto end of your lens than it is at the wide end, so try zooming in, setting the focus, then zooming back out for the composition you want.

Exposure tip: Many of you will try to set your exposure on the display screen of the camera – don’t do that. Set it while looking through the viewfinder. Part of this assignment is learning how to manipulate the controls without looking at them. But the larger issue is if you’re holding the camera so you can see the screen, the lens (and meter) are not looking at your subject – your exposures could end up being way, way off.

You will need to watch the tutorial on Adobe Bridge (below) to learn how to batch process your images – they will need to be renamed and captioned. We will discuss some of this in class next week, but you need to watch the video first.

To submit this assignment, you will need to compress (zip) the folder of images and upload it to ELC by noon on Friday, September 1. You will get some additional instructions on how to resize and compress your images next week. (ELC has a file size limit and this first assignment will massively exceed it – this is a one-time issue for the class, all your other assignments will come through just fine.)

Questions? Comments? Concerns? Send me a message or stop by, I’m here to help you get through all of this.

Week One Reading

First off, welcome to the Photo Cave. It’s a magical place.

Second, you need to spend some time with the syllabus, please make sure that you read through all of it and the policies page so you understand what’s expected of you. It’s possible you’ll be quizzed on it plus it’ll give you a clearer vision of what’s ahead.

You have some other reading to do, as well:

  • In the McNally book, please read the Foreword, Introduction and Part One
  • Please read your camera manual. Yes, the whole thing – it has great details but not much of a plot. You need to understand everything that’s in there, that camera must disappear in your hands, become an extension of your hands and eyes. (If you don’t have your manual, most manufacturers have PDFs posted online.) Pay close attention to the sections on controls, manual exposure and how to set the three main inputs (ISO, aperture and shutter speed). There may be a quiz on your camera some day, be prepared.
  • This Michael Johnston piece has little to do with photojournalism but much to do with learning to see and make images.

You also need to carve out an hour to watch this Amy Herman talk on Visual Intelligence. One of our struggles will be in how we talk about images, how do we develop a visual vocabulary. This will help.

Make sure that you’re checking back in here from time to time as anything that’s posted more than 24 hours before class you’re responsible for.

I’ll be sending out a survey later this week to help me help you, keep an eye out for that.

Good things ahead.

Welcome and Prepping

We are a week away from starting and, in a shocking turn of events, I have a syllabus posted online.

I don’t know what’s wrong with me, it’s almost like after a dozen years of teaching here I am learning how to prepare. Which is good, because what we’ll be talking about this semester, a lot, is … bring prepared.

Please take some time to read through both the Syllabus and the Policies pages, there’s a bunch of information in there you need and some you don’t understand. When you get to those, drop me a note and I’ll see what I can do to answer them.

You’ll also see that I’ve left the posts from previous semesters here on the site. If you want to take a look at them, feel free as they will give you a sense of the assignments. There will be some changes, I tend to tweak around the edges quite a bit.

If you want a little depth, hit up the Errata category – those are things I think you should know about, sometimes tied to class and sometimes not.

About the photo above … that’s what a Wednesday afternoon tends to look like in my office. If I seem a little behind at times, that may give you some insight.


Your final portfolio is due on eLC by 5 p.m. on Tuesday, May 2. That is an absolute deadline – at 5 p.m., eLC will stop taking in work, even if you have started the upload before then it has to be finished by then. Please do not tempt fate on that day – get your portfolio in early.

Your portfolio is ten images that were made this semester, fully captioned, cropped and appropriately toned. They should show a variety of image types (long, medium, closeup, portrait, news, feature, etc.) to demonstrate the competencies you have mastered. Look for great light, good moments, clean compositions and storytelling.

That last part – storytelling – means a lot. It also means images without stories don’t belong here, so nothing from the Nouns & Verbs, 36 Faces or Depth of Field assignments.

You may have packages of 2-3 photos from the same subject (each image will be considered as one image), but those photos need to work as a package. You can use images from your multimedia project so long as they are not the same or substantially similar.

Do not, under any circumstances, submit images that bring your ethics into question. No friends, no family members, no fraternity brothers or sorority sisters, no one from clubs, churches or other organizations you’re a part of. An image with a provable conflict of interest issue will result in a grade of zero.

To submit, create a folder titled LastName_portfolio and inside that put your ten images plus the final version of your multimedia project, compress it and upload it.

Things to watch out for …

  • Not saving files as true JPGs – We’ve seen many images come in as Photoshop (.psd) or raw files, make sure you are doing a Save As out of Photoshop and setting the Format pull down to JPG. Just changing the extension will not work. Images not saved as a JPG will not be accepted.
  • Errors on your captions – Have someone proofread your captions. Refer back to the handout from earlier this semester, all you need is two sentences, to style, with your credit info and their contact info properly formatted. This is a bad place to be giving up points.
  • Having your caption in the wrong field – In the Adobe software, your caption goes in the Description box. Don’t put it in the Keywords field as that will be considered a missing caption.
  • Not properly naming your images – Double check to make sure the coding is right: six digit date code, your initials, story or assignment name, sequence number. We’re still seeing some images coming in with camera-assigned or improperly formatted file names. Improperly named files won’t be accepted.
  • Not having ten images – Silly, but it happens.
  • Turning in images that are not sharp – By now, you should be able to recognize an image that is sharp or not sharp. Look for fine detail, if it isn’t there it isn’t sharp.
  • Turning in images that are not properly exposed – Same thing, if it’s significantly under or over exposed, it doesn’t belong in your portfolio.

Multimedia Samples and Tips

Some options to look at as you work on your multimedia project …

  • Overcoming Arthritis – The matches between her narration and the images are very nicely done in here. The visual variety is strong, but there are some technical issues with exposure.
  • Opening Day – There are nice matches in this project and a lot of variety. Look at the way some of the images are layered, look at the why light is bouncing around and being used as a fill.
  • Club Gymnastics – This was shot amazingly clean, pay attention to the foreground and background relationships here. Nice matches, great details – the visual variety helps this flow. There’s a nice sequence in here of her tumbling, as well, and some strong natural sounds.

As you’re building your multimedia piece, check these things:

  • Is your audio recording quality clean? Are there any errant noises in the background? Is there an annoying hum? Have someone else listen to it using headphones, what do they hear?
  • Do you have some natural sound in there? Does the placement make sense for the story? Does it transition in and out easily and logically?
  • Does the audio story make sense? Is there something in the opening few seconds that will serve as a good hook, something to hold your audience’s attention, to pique their curiosity?
  • Are the images sharp? Are they properly exposed? By this point in the semester, those should be givens – if an image doesn’t demonstrate technical excellence, it doesn’t belong in here.
  • Are the images well controlled? Have you cropped for impact? Are the edges clean? Is the background under control?
  • Do you have strong moments and interactions?
  • Do you have strong visual variety? If you don’t, the images will start to feel redundant.
  • Do you have an introductory title slide or lower third graphic that tells us what the story is about and/or who is in it?
  • Do you have a closing slide with your credit and copyright information?
  • Have you exported the video properly? Be very careful that you upload the correct file – it should have either a .mov or .mp4 extension at the end. If you upload the .prproj file, that’s not playable. Check the size of the file – if it’s less than a couple of megabytes, something has gone wrong or you have the wrong file. I’d expect files in the 60-150 MB size range.

You should find most of the answers to technical problems in the handout and video tutorials on this site. If you can’t get an answer there, remember you have access to through the university. And, as always, Google is your BFF.

I’ll be in my office Tuesday (until 11:15) and Thursday morning, happy to answer any questions you have. Stop on by.

ASSIGNMENT: Multimedia

For this assignment, you need to produce an audio slideshow that is 90-120 seconds in length. This project should bring everything you have learned together in one portfolio quality story.

Every image should be technically flawless – sharp, properly exposed and with good color rendering. Every image should be exceptionally well controlled – a dynamic composition with great background and edge control. And every image should add some level of knowledge to the viewer’s understanding.

The audio should be clean (think carefully about where you interview) and have some natural sounds layered in.

You need to choose a person to profile – think about someone who is newsworthy, who does something visual and who exists in good light. (I can’t stress this enough: don’t torture yourself with fighting low light situations. Don’t choose the night watchman, don’t choose the early morning chef at your favorite diner. We won’t care how amazing her story is if all your images are a wreck.)

On your first visit, pay attention to who they are and why they do the thing they do. Look for interactions, look for details. Start thinking about what your story is, what are the key elements.

On your second visit, plan on doing your interview. Find a quiet place to record – that may not be where they work. Sketch out in your head the questions you want to ask them. Remember to be flexible – if you come in with seven questions written down and stick to those seven, you might miss a great opportunity to tell a story.

After listening to your interview, start thinking about how the audio will be sequenced together – do you have visuals to match what they say?

The third visit should be to round out your photos and collect the nat sound pops that will add life to your story.

Once you have all that done, edit your audio. Use the videos and handouts on the Tutorials page, I’ll answer questions if I can. Once the audio is exported, start getting your images together. Crop and tone them in Photoshop, saving them into one folder (preferably the folder with your exported audio).

Once they’re done, you’re ready to get into Premiere and build your audio slideshow. Again, the Tutorials page has videos and a handout. Pay close attention – there’s one setting in Premiere that if you miss, your life becomes much more difficult than it needs to be.

Build it, tweak it and export it. It’s due on eLC by 12 noon on Friday, April 21.

Warnings: Based off of past classes, these are the things that hurt:

  • Waiting to decide – if you delay, your options on subject matter narrow and you end up trying to force a bad idea
  • Waiting to start – if you delay, you won’t have the images you need
  • Waiting to record – if you delay, they may not be available
  • Waiting to start production – as a general rule, a minute of audio will take you an hour of editing; video production will take longer
  • Waiting to export – video rendering takes a long time unless you have a high end computer, do not wait until deadline day to do this
  • Waiting to upload – your internet connection is not that fast, this will be a big file, akin to the size of Nouns and Verbs. Plan on uploading the night before at the absolute latest.

Happy to answer questions as they arise, but be aware I may take some time – I won’t be answering emails at 3 a.m. on deadline day. (Unless something has really gone wrong in my life … which is possible.)

Train Track Tragedies

Jeff Rossen tries to listen for a train coming at 25 mph – he can’t hear it at this distance.


Watch this. NOW.

And stop taking stupid photos on train tracks.

Only thing I disagree with is his statement about “trains plowing through without warning.” The train belongs there, the photographers and models are the ones there without warning.

ASSIGNMENT: Audio Practice

This is an interstitial type assignment. You need to practice recording and editing audio.

For the recording, watch the Audio Recording tutorial to get started. Then, listen for a story you can tell with no words – just natural sounds. Listen for five to ten elements that you can piece together to make a story.

Then, go ahead and edit the audio. Again, watch the Audio Editing tutorial to get started. The tutorial is based on using Audacity, which is a free program available for both Windows and Macintosh operating systems.

You can use Garage Band, Audition or Pro Tools if you have/have access to them – just make sure you know how to use them and can export the final piece as a WAV file. That WAV file needs to be uploaded to eLC by 5 p.m. on Sunday, April 9.

Don’t overthink this, just find some (non-coffee) sound story. Have a little fun with it.

Here’s an interview with Scott Strazzante , worth reading to get his take on the impact of Common Ground on both the audience but him, as well. And here’s the Facebook group where he posted some other diptychs again.

More on Seeing Something New

A couple of things to ponder …

This video, by the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows, is intriguing and a little depressing:

This piece by Arthur Lubow at The New York Times’ Lens blog looks at the work of Garry Winogrand and Vivian Maier and is worth a read. If you’re on Netflix, there’s an excellent documentary on Maier that is well worth your time – her story, told posthumously, is pretty amazing.

The following two videos will help guide you as you start working on your multimedia piece – it’s about finding a story that hasn’t been told and then getting access to it.

One Little Hammer: Randy Olson from Blue Chalk on Vimeo.