WASHINGTON, DC, 30 September 2010 — Learn to document your story as it moves from one scene to another. Always shoot the journey, be it by foot, car, plane or train. Shoot your character’s feet hitting the pavement, hands on the steering wheel, face in the rear view mirror. Shoot through the windshield for the POV shot. Then shoot out the window as the scenery passes by. If possible, shoot the character moving into frame and out of the frame. Shoot him/her walking down the path. Down the alley. Across the road. From one scene to another. All this allows a smoother transition between scenes, and provides an opportunity to construct another dramatic arc. Before he/she leaves, ask, “Where are we going?” En route ask, “What are we doing now?” Upon arrival ask, “Where did we just get to?” (Photo by Bill Gentile from ABC’s Nightline With Ted Koppel, “Voice of Hope”)
WASHINGTON, DC, 27 September 2010 — Get accustomed to using the eyepiece instead of the display screen. You’ll be better able to tell when your subject is in focus, especially when there’s a backlight, which is a big issue with many of these hand-held cameras. Keep both eyes open. Otherwise you lose peripheral vision on the entire left side. Also, this way you can maintain eye contact with your subject. He/she is talking to you, instead of the man on the moon, or somebody way out in left field. Backpack journalists normally work alone so you will need to keep both eyes open to navigate your surroundings. (Photo by David Bathgate)
WASHINGTON, 26 SEPTEMBER 2010 — Backpack journalists use tripods on a very, very limited basis. The whole idea is to cut down on gear, to be mobile and to be unobtrusive. So learn how to turn your body into a tripod. Turn your left hip toward your subject. With your left hand as a base holding the camera, tuck your left elbow into your left rib cage just above your hip. Grasp the camera with your right hand and hold your right elbow tight to your torso. No chicken wings here! Your body becomes a tripod. Now, take a look at yourself in a mirror. This is going to be uncomfortable at first but you can hold a camera in place like this all day long. Otherwise, if you stand there holding the camera in front of your face with your elbows flapping in the wind you’ll last about three minutes before your shoulder muscles start screaming. (Photo by Esther Gentile)
SILVER SPRING, MD, 21 September 2010 — Rachel Ellis, a student in my “Photojournalism and Social Documentary” class at American University’s School of Communication, aims her camera during a field trip to the Pyramid Atlantic Art Center in downtown Silver Spring, MD. Another student, Sareen Hairabedian, is in the background.
I teach photojournalism as either an end unto itself or as a step in the progression from still images to images that move and that have sound, i.e., film and video. And the methodology of backpack journalism is built more on the foundation of still photojournalism, than it is on the foundation of television news reporting. Because of that, you may be looking at some of tomorrow’s backpack journalists.
Below, Solal Gaillard looks for a distinctive perspective on artists using a printing press.
(Photos by Bill Gentile)
WASHINGTON, DC, 19 September 2010 — I’ve opened up my photo archives to American University’s newly formed Center for Latin American and Latino Studies (CLALS) for publication on the center’s web site.
In the picture above, CLALS Administrative Coordinator Andrea Mesa (right) and Graduate Assistant Meredith Fender recently view color slides at the center while I look over their shoulders. The archive contains thousands of images in black and white, color negatives, color slides and prints that I generated while covering Latin America and the Caribbean as a photojournalist for United Press International and Newsweek Magazine for over 30 years. These include images of the 1979 Sandinista Revolution in Nicaragua and the Contra War of the 1980s, the Salvadoran civil war, civil strife and government repression in Guatemala, Fidel Castro’s Cuba, the U.S. invasions of Panama and Haiti, and much more. One of those images appears on the computer in the background.
It’s exciting to collaborate with the center, which I believe is making an important contribution not only to American University but also to the broader community in which we all live. (Photo by AU Graduate Student Maria Howell)
– Bill Gentile
WASHINGTON, DC, 17 September 2010 — I see backpack journalists standing flat-footed with their feet splayed out in the general direction of their subjects and it makes me cringe. A strong wind could blow them over, much less somebody not paying attention and who just happens to bump into them or, worse, somebody who wants to do them harm or grab their gear.
So position yourself for success: Point your left toe toward your subject and your right toe straight out in front of you. Bend your knees slightly. This is the way boxers and martial arts experts stand when confronting an opponent. Watch boxing or martial arts films to see what I’m talking about — how to properly position your feet for maximum stability and maneuverability. (Photo by Esther Gentile)
WASHINGTON, DC, 10 September 2010 — Below is the first in a series of Bill Gentile’s Essential Backpack Journalism QuickTips that you may find helpful in the field. I certainly have. Please feel free to send any feedback.
#1: Hold the Camera Properly
You have a left hand largely for one purpose: To hold the camera properly. So maximize this gift and learn how to hold the camera in a way that will make your work easier and more effective. Use the left hand as a base, or a foundation, upon which the camera rests. Keep the fingers of your left hand free to manipulate switches, buttons and focus/zoom rings. Grasp the camera firmly with the right hand. (Photo by Esther Gentile)
WASHINGTON, 14 September 2010 — Now that we’ve defined backpack journalism, again, the next question might be, “So what does it take to be a backpack journalist?” Here are the requirements, not necessarily in order of importance. I’ve blogged about this before, and have somewhat altered what I believe is “the right stuff” of backpack journalism. So here is the latest version:
VISUAL TALENT: The backpack journalist needs artistic talent to recognize compelling images. Images are the engine inside this medium. The famous radio correspondent Edward R. Murrow reportedly said once that television is nothing more than radio with pictures. He was wrong. Good television, as well as good video on the Internet, is powerful images that drive the message and that are complemented by clear natural sound and connected by intelligent narration. But it’s images first.
WRITING SKILL: To quote one of my earliest journalism professors, “Good writing is clear thinking made visible.” Stated differently, if you can think clearly and know how to use a typewriter, or a computer, or a pencil and pad, then you can write well. Though our craft is driven by visuals, we need to be strong writers.
TECHNICAL SKILL: The successful backpack journalist must know how to make the camera produce on tape or on a computer chip the images that his/her mind’s eye sees. You have to be able to multi-task. Composition. Focus. Light. Background. Sound. Story. Story. Story. All at once.
PHYSICAL STAMINA: This craft presents a physical and an intellectual challenge. Even with the lightweight, hand-held digital cameras of today, working the craft properly demands a significant amount of physical stamina. You can’t practice the craft effectively if you’re not in shape.
HEART: I used to list this as “courage,” but courage does not adequately define this characteristic, although in some instances the backpack journalist might need raw, physical courage as well. What I mean here is the heart to practice a fundamentally intrusive craft despite what may be a lack of understanding or cooperation – or downright opposition – from people who just don’t want to be filmed. And I mean the heart necessary to tell and to stand up for your version of the truth, just the way you see it, despite the potential fallout from all sides. Because this craft allows such a deep sense of personal authorship, the buck stops with you. You own it. It’s your version of the truth. I once filmed an explosives expert from a major metropolitan police force while he rigged up some C-4 during an operation in New Jersey. I had hooked him up for sound with a wireless microphone – which he apparently forgot about — so I could hear him talk to himself while he prepared the blast. “It’s all you now, Frankie,” I heard him repeat over and again. “It’s all you.” And he was exactly right.
(Photo of New York Times photojournalist Tyler Hicks by Bill Gentile. Helmand River Valley, Afghanistan. 2008)
– Bill Gentile
NEWINGTON, VA, 9 September 2010 — I stopped by the offices of Communications Engineering, Inc. (CEI) last week to check on the Bill Gentile Extreme Weather Bag that I’m designing in conjunction with CEI engineers and executives.
In the picture above, CEI Executive Vice President John Wesley Nash (R) looks on as I test the bag that houses the Sony NX-CAM, the centerpiece of our Backpack Journalism System. I’ve been working for months now with CEI to design the System and the Extreme Weather Bag and prepare them for market.
Both items are valuable tools for backpack journalists, or video journalists, especially those working in challenging, inhospitable terrain.
(Photo by Phil Whitebloom)
WASHINGTON, DC, 8 September 2010 — I participated in a conversation with bloggers on Rosenblum TV recently, which you may find interesting. Below see a version of my post about the transition from photojournalism to backpack journalism:
Photojournalists have difficulty making the transition to video partly because they’ve spent so much of their professional lives striving to capture what Henri Cartier-Bresson called, “decisive moment.” (See above photo by Cartier-Bresson) It’s the moment that encapsulates, embodies, or tells the entire story. For photojournalists, there is no beginning. No middle. No end. That moment in time IS the story.
I spent most of my early days as a journalist making pictures for United Press International and, later, for Newsweek Magazine. So I’m familiar with the predicament that we photojournalists often find ourselves in. I was fortunate, however, to have had the opportunity (or the financial necessity) to write. I spent my early days as a freelancer making photos but also writing and editing stories for UPI, as well as writing and reporting for ABC and NBC radio. So I developed a sense of “story” that extended beyond that decisive moment.
Most photojournalists are not that fortunate and Michael Rosenblum is right about the difficulty that so many of our colleagues have in making the transition. But their glasses are half full. What Michael refers to as “video journalism” and what I call “backpack journalism” are rooted more in the tradition and skill sets required for documentary photojournalism, than the 6 o’clock news.
The best photojournalists come to the new craft with an understanding of light, the absence of light, form, composition and motion. They understand how to make powerful images, these being the engine inside of visual communication.
This is not to say that transiting from the decisive moment to the dramatic arc is easy. It is not. But, given the skills they’ve acquired along the way, photojournalists bring a visual foundation to the craft that many others do not.
– Bill Gentile