Category Photojournalism

The Value of Metadata

My colleague Kyser Lough sent this along – a look back in time to when Jose R. Lopez photographed Ruth Bader Ginsburg on her first day on the Supreme Court.

Why is this important? Aside from it being a very strong image, it was his ability to find that image, 27 years after it was made – this is a story about the value of metadata.

An old friend of mine has been scanning photos of trains of late, posting them to Facebook. He had notes on the slides about the type of train and where it was photographed for most of them, but not all – his metadata is incomplete.

Appending locations and notes to our files is easier now than ever before – there is absolutely no reason not to have all of that on every image. But it means you have to commit to it, make it part of your workflow.

App Failures and Lost Images

Within the last week, two significant coding errors wreaked havoc on Photographer’s who relied on a pair of popular imaging platforms.

It appears that image.canon was hit with a ransom ware attack and an Adobe Lightroom update wiped out images and presets for users on iOS.

This is another example of why why it’s critical that you establish and execute a robust digital asset management plan, and that means both online and offline backups of files. Keeping everything in just one place is tempting fate or, at least, hackers and bad coders.

Ethics, Automation and the Humanist Disconnect

A lot of turmoil swirling around Magnum, one of the pre-eminent photographic agencies. This piece by Andy Day asks a lot of questions and is a must-read for those of us in the industry right now.

At the end, he lists a series of questions that Magnum must answer about the images (particularly of children documented in sexual situations) within its archive and the sudden removal of that archive from public view.

But there’s a deeper series of questions we in the industry need to wrestle with, a series that begins with the place of automation. In ye olden times, a publisher would ring up an agency and explain what they needed images of and how they were going to be used. An editor would go through the archive and pull a series of options, then send them over for review and begin the licensing discussion. There were many sets of eyes that were put on every image, both when it came in from the photographer and was added to the archive and its index as well as when an editor pulled the image for consideration.

Much of that process is now automated or outsourced – who is responsible for adding keywords and metadata to the electronic index? Is it an editor or a coder? (And if you think this can’t be automated, look at the photos app on your phone or computer – I bet it will generate albums based on its content assessment.)

Do we have more images being produced? Yes – outtakes used to just be a few frames from each roll, now there are thousands of images coming in from every assignment. Do we have more uses for images? Yes again – print and digital are using more images than ever before?

Are we using images with the same care as we used to? No, not in how we select them or how we publish them. And that’s a discussion even bigger than Magnum that we must have.

(Thanks to Lauren Steel for the link.)

Road Trip Portraits

I love this idea to do portraits through a truck’s windows. That Brian Bowen Smith ended up putting 11,000 miles on his 1958 Ford F100 while criss-crossing the country this summer … well, that just makes it so much cooler.

Time to tune up my 66 Mustang, I think …

Control, Don’t Clean

My mentor and friend David Sutherland delivered the same message to first-year photography students at Syracuse University for four decades:

Fill your frame. Control your backgrounds. Wait for moments.

I still teach this mantra today (though I add a fourth: Care).

My friend Stanley Leary has written about his mentor and friend, Don Rutledge, and the way he used backgrounds to layer more information into his images. A deeper exploration and explanation of how building images carefully can deepen your audience’s understanding.

Seattle County Court Orders Media to Turn Over Raw Material

A King County judge Washington state has ordered that the Seattle Times and several television stations turn over all photos and videos f a May 30 protest. Local officials have said the material is necessary for the identification of individuals who committed crimes after breaking off from the main protest.

The National Press Photographers Association has issued a statement that says, in part:

It is dangerous enough for visual journalists to be covering the COVID-19 pandemic and the protests over the death of George Floyd. The last thing visual journalists want is to be seen as an arm of law enforcement, aiding attempts to gather evidence. In an era where there are cameras on nearly every corner and in every pocket in America, it strains belief that police cannot get the evidence that they need elsewhere. This is exactly what state shield laws are meant to protect against.

Associated Press Switching to Sony for all Still and Video Photojournalist

If you ever needed a sign that mirrorless was the future, it’s today’s news that the Associated Press is moving to Sony equipment for both their still and video photojournalists.

While not a huge sale (or lease, more likely), the impact on both profesisonals and amateurs of this move could be immense. Canon and Nikon have had a stranglehold on the professional photojournalism world for almost half a century, so the fact that the AP (which may be the largest employer of photojournalists in the world) is switching is … shocking.

Maybe I need to try one of them out …

(H/T to my colleague Kyser Lough for the initial tipoff.)

Detroit Officer Charged for Firing at Photojournalists

Corporal Daniel Debono has been charged with felony assault after firing rubber pellets at three photojournalists covering protests in late May, according to The New York Times.

All three were leaving the scene of a protest and had identified themselves as journalists when the incident happened.

Color in a Dark Time


You can look at this post on the Leica blog two ways: with lust over the newest Leica rangefinder or with lusciousness at the images Huw John created with it.

I, I choose both.

Covering Protests

Current and former students are now covering protests across the country. We spent some time in classes on spot news coverage, but nothing we did prepared them for the events of our times.

Some thoughts on what to do before, during and after covering major protests, regardless of where they occur.

BEFORE YOUR COVERAGE

Assess your technology. How much gear do you have to have? You want to be nimble, so lugging every lens you own is probably not ideal. You also need to ask what happens if you lose equipment, to damage, seizure or theft. Can you get back to work the next day?

Pull out your phone and make a few changes. Biometric logins are great, but are also a risk. Turn off the fingerprint sensor and face recognition for login. If you’re arrested and need to protect the information on that device, you cannot be compelled to give them a password. And, while you’re at it, upgrade to a more complex password.

On your phone, turn on location sharing with your editors or colleagues – if something goes wrong, that gives them a chance to figure out where you are.

Lastly, ask yourself why are you going – and this is especially relevant for students. If you do not have an audience, a platform ready to publish your images, you need to think very critically about putting yourself at risk. This is absolutely not a great opportunity to build your portfolio. There are significant risks in this coverage and if you don’t have the infrastructure in place to help you, you stand a great chance of becoming the news rather than covering it.

If you’re injured, who will cover your medical costs? If you are unable to work, who will cover your rent and utilities? If you are detained or arrested, who will bail you out? If you are arraigned, who will represent you?

DURING YOUR COVERAGE

Two words: Situational Awareness.

You have to be hyper-cognizant of everything going on around you. If you have to think about how to adjust your camera, this is not a place for you to be – your attention needs to be on all the fluidity around you. You have to instantly assess every person near you, where they are moving, why they are moving in that direction, what their body language is saying – your reporting tool, be it a camera or recorder, must not be something you have to consciously think about it.

Listen carefully to both what people are saying and how they are saying it. Not the chants and songs, but the conversations. You need to be reading the crowd. Simultaneously, you need to be reading the activities of the law enforcement agencies – sometimes they will kneel or hug a protestor, sometimes they will charge their vehicles into the crowds. You have to be ready – work the edges and think about your escape routes, don’t get yourself boxed in.

Balance your coverage as you’re doing it. Crowds, smoke and conflict are the standard images here, but is that what this story, this particular protest, is about? What makes the scene in front of you unique? There is a place for broad-based coverage, but there is a need to help your audience connect with those involved in these events. A protest is a large collection of individuals who share a common grievance – ensure that some of those individual stories are being told.

One of the best pieces I’ve seen is this two minute video by Ryon Horne and Ben Gray of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution – look how it changes at the 24 second mark. Stunning.

AFTER YOUR COVERAGE

Take a few minutes to calm and center yourself. Adrenaline is going to be racing through your body, you need to let that subside so you can take a critical look at what you have just witnessed.

Dive into your workflow. You have a procedure for processing images, videos and notes – now is not the time to skip it. Back up your data, get your metadata in order. You are covering historic moments, you don’t want to risk losing this work.

You are going to have a strong desire to edit for the most dramatic moments, but is that the story you need to tell right now? Live video and social media have already saturated the internet from whatever event you were at, now you need to piece together what you heard, saw and felt into a cohesive body of work.

You, as a journalist, don’t need to do a highlight reel – you need to unpack the narrative, you need to give your audience an intellectual understanding of what happened, not just provide an emotional response. Avoid the temptation of a card dump, where everything that’s reasonable sharp ends up in a 100+ image gallery – that’s not journalism.

Set the scene, give your audience a sense of scale, give them a sense of the emotions at play, show the passions, show the fears, show the interactions, show the aftermath. Show the why.

Once you’ve published, assess your data and gear. Double-check that your workflow worked, that you have multiple copies of your data and that the metadata is in place. Was anything damaged? Clean your lenses, wipe down your mics and cameras, charge your batteries, repack your bag,

Lastly, remember you are the professional. That means that you act accordingly all the way through. You prepare appropriately, you act appropriately and you publish appropriately. As hard as it is, you don’t chant, you don’t hold a sign, you don’t wear a slogan-inscribed t-shirt, you remain as impartial as you possibly can – your coverage of the event is your way of signifying its importance.