Where is this road leading us?

Where is this road leading us?

I’ve been preparing for a set of interviews over the last few weeks. The interviews are with prominent photojournalist. In preparing questions for them I keep coming across the same thought, “Where is photojournalism headed?” I know that this is a broad question and one that isn’t easy to answer. But there are certainly trends that we can follow. At least one trend is being led, or rather pushed upon us by the camera manufacturers. Video. We’ve talked about it here before. Is video really a trend that the photojournalist/photographer has to buy into? I’m not sure. But it certainly does seem to be where lot of journalists are going.

There used to be a term I heard growing up; Renaissance Man. It referred to someone who was knowledgeable in many areas. Are we needing a new term for a new type ofย  journalists now? Renaissance Journalists? The journalist who can take a photograph, shoot video, write the story, edit the story, edit the video, edit and produce photographs and combine them all into a multimedia project on the net? I can see how this will save editors time and money. But, will it produce the best stories? Can we really be effective and in fact, excel at each one of those tasks? I think there are some people that might be able to, but they are a handful. Some of the most talented people I know can write and shoot photos. People like David duChemin, Joe McNally and a few others. But even David and Joe don’t shoot and edit video.

Are editors willing to invest in a project and that project produce long-term change or are we headed into fast food journalism? The down and dirty, the cheap and quick. I truly believe that journalism is where it is today because of financial decisions of the past. Newspapers and magazines were all about the bottom line and less about the story. If there is any Renaissance Journalists today it has to be Brian Storm. Brian is leading the way for a new breed of journalists. To be more accurate, it might be better stated, he is not creating a new breed, but reviving the old breed. MediaSorm, is company started several years ago is all about product and story and less about profit. Not that they don’t make a profit. In fact-he showing that solid product produces profit.

If Brian Storms model shows me anything, it’s that quality sells, but it takes time.

One of the participants on this latest Lumen Dei workshop had an inexpensive Nikon DSLR. This guy took amazing images with this low-end camera. He took his time, he developed his shot in the camera and then he took it. Yesterday, I got a tweet from some one who asked me what was the “best all-around easy-to-use DSLR under $2000 4 India travels?” My answer was it really doesn’t matter. Find a camera that you enjoy and can easily use. Then learn how to use it to take great images. It’s the photographer not the camera that takes the picture. And if the photographer is in a hurry or trying to circumvent understanding the process of creating a great image, then it doesn’t matter if they have an expensive camera. In the end, their images will just be mediocre at best.

So where are we headed? Full circle I hope. From the profit driven magazine back to the story driven media. Will it be video and still images? I am not sure. I hope it will be still and video photographers working together to bring the best and most moving story. Time will tell where the road is leading us.

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About The Author

Matt Brandon

Matt is a Malaysia based humanitarian and travel photographer. Well known as a photographer and international workshop instructor, Mattโ€™s images have been used by business and organizations around the globe. Matt also on the design board for Think Tank Photo, a camera bag manufacturer. In 2013 Matt founded the On Field Media Project to train the staff of non-profits to use appropriate technology to produce timely as well as quality images.

16 Comments

  1. Wayne Rowe

    Thought provoking post Matt. I fear it’s people like me who are feeding the clients ability to push for a ‘Jack-of-all-trades’ solution. Having said that, at a personal level, I’m enjoying being able to use both photography and video to tell the stories as well as being involved in the story editing process. Am I any good at it? I don’t know, but I’m improving all the time. I’m sure the best route to obtain the highest quality work is to use the specialised services of experts in a particular field but unfortunately, the fact is that many organisations simply can’t afford to do that. It’s a difficult question but in my experience the market tends to forge out the answer.

    Thanks for making me think about it though.

    Reply
    • Matt Brandon

      Wayne, if you can pull it off, then more power to you!

      Reply
      • Wayne Rowe

        Having re-read my comment I realised it may have come across rather full of myself which I really didn’t intend. But thanks anyway Matt, only time will tell if I’m able to pull it off. Cheers.

        Reply
        • Matt Brandon

          Wayne, I did not take it that way. Cheers!

          Reply
  2. Paul Dymond

    Great post Matt, and like you it’s one that has me pondering as well. For over a decade I worked as a travel photojournalist – ie a travel writer and photographer. I started out purely as a travel photographer but quickly figured out that it was a lot easier in my part of the world (Australia) if you wrote words to go with the pictures and provided a whole package.

    The only thing was I always felt like one or the other suffered. If I was working as a writer invariably the photography suffered because I was in a place at the wrong time, or I didn’t have time to wait for nice light or something interesting to happen. There was always more information to get for the article. On the other hand if I concentrated on getting great images I found that I wasn’t concentrating enough on remembering all the details to write down later. In other words it was really different to concentrate on both at the same time and produce really wonderful work – either written or photographic. Publishable? Not a problem. Truly memorable? Only rarely.

    I agree that the publishing world demanded this, and still does, but I think quality has suffered as a result. I worry that if we all rush out to shoot video, even if we don’t necessarily want to, that we’ll just end up with a further lowering of the quality of published photography and video footage that gets published. I would prefer to keep things separate and have the best artist for the job doing both.

    If some people can do both then good luck to them but I don’t think I can. For the record I gave up the travel writing side of things because I felt in the end it was diluting the quality of my photography too much. Now I just write about photography, and always after the fact. When I’m on site I just want to concentrate on the imagery.

    Reply
    • Matt Brandon

      Paul, thanks for your honest reply. After reading your response a thought occurred to me, it’s not so much about one person doing it all. Though of course that is an issue. It might actually be how much time can we give to a project. If you look at the projects presented by MediaStorm you can tell these were not shot in a week. Any good story takes a long time to develop and get inside. I very rarely have any more than a week to a maximum of two weeks with the client. Of course, I’m not really a photojournalist, I’m more of a gun for hire. I think a bigger question is, are websites and digital magazines willing to pay to keep the photographer on the field long enough to develop a meaty in-depth story with all the visuals and audio they need?

      Reply
  3. ian furniss

    Hi Matt, interesting post and one that has me with multiple abstract thoughts that i’ll try and put into a coherent point. Apologies if I don’t manage it lol.

    The first thought that comes to me when journalism is mentioned, is a discussion that took place between Noam Chomsky and Andrew Marr. In it, Marr had questioned a point that Chomsky had made to which Chomsky further replied “I don’t say you’re self-censoring. I’m sure you believe everything you’re saying. But what I’m saying is, if you believed something different you wouldn’t be sitting where you’re sitting.”.

    I think there’s a certain element of that which suggest not only the point Chomsky was making, but also the thought that if you want to succeed, almost within anything, then you have to supply what the market demands. In the context of journalism that would be the stories the market wants to hear, presented in the way that the market wants to see them. Go against that, and you are at best ‘less’ likely to reach the pinnacles of your field, although it is still possible.

    In my mind there’s no doubt that the market will push towards a multi-purpose photographer who can do video and record sound. To me that just seems like economic common sense in an increasingly constrained market. Everyone wants more for less. At the same time, it would seem equally logical that within that, there will be an equivalent drop in the quality of the product produced. In short, I don’t care how good you (3rd person context) are, you can’t do everything at once. Something has to give and choices need to be made about your priority in a given situation.

    Putting that aside for a moment and my general thought is that if i’m lucky and have a good innings, i’m half way through my life already and set to push up the daisies in 20, 30, 40 years or whatever. I’m not going to change the world unless it’s by a miracle. At that point, I might as well concentrate on doing what pleases me and what I believe in for the remaining time I have.

    If quality drops in the way I predicted in the previous paragraph, then that would suggest that somewhere there would still be a market, albeit a smaller niche market, for high quality specialist work. If doing that is what pleased me and was what I believed in, then I would ignore the crowd and instead make sure I owned that niche market. The bonus would be that where previously I was one photographer amongst millions, I might become one photographer amongst hundreds. That would make me a specialist and my prices would increase accordingly.

    When one market closes, another opens.

    Hopefully that makes sense, apologies for being a little long-winded …as usual ๐Ÿ™‚

    Reply
    • Matt Brandon

      Ian, Well said. If fact, I think you nailed it. I think this is exactly what is going to take place. The cream will rise to the top, but there will always be someone wanting the skimmed milk ๐Ÿ˜‰

      Reply
  4. Ray Ketcham

    Matt great questions and some I have been wrestling with for a while now. My co-op (for lack of a better word) has been in the video for web world for about 7 yrs and if we have discovered one thing it is video is expensive. The latest addition of video capability for DSLRs has created a real buzz in the market but it hasn’t created a lot of really great video in my estimation or a lot of places that can afford it. The time and effort to make video is not as simple as just having the capability in a camera.
    I do believe there is going to be a real shift in the way information is sold and presented and that for some this will be video. However it will be those that can afford a crew and have the money to finance that sort of large endeavor. The independent and smaller ‘one man bands’ would be much better served following your example of audio slideshows. This kind of multimedia is something that a single person can handle in most situations and makes for a much more compelling experience than mediocre video.
    It really is the story and how it is told that has impact and I have yet to see a video that stays with me the way a single image does. Images with sound combined put a viewer in the moment and allow for a deeper understanding than any ‘zip by’ 24 fps can. Then again maybe I am old fashioned and want a deeper experience than today’s viewer raised on the make it move and entertain me crowd.
    It really boils down to can you tell the story and make the viewer care about it, not how it got there.

    Reply
  5. Anonymous

    Matt – excellent post. I would suggest also checking out the essay posted by Pulitzer Prize winner David Leeson, which the NPPA linked to yesterday ( http://www.american.edu/soc/backpack/david-leeson-essay.cfm). I think I first truly encountered the questions you are asking 15 years ago at the Southwester Photojournalism conference when Dirck Halstead spoke about the coming of the Platypus (a blend of still and video journalism). His project over at digitaljournalist.org seems to be an attempt to answer some of the questions you raise.

    And you are right about quality taking time. While it’s possible to throw up minimally-edited video up, quality multimedia such as Brian Storm’s takes time. I believe I remember Brian said it took 8-12 hours to edit 30 sec of “multimedia” for the Kurds project that he did with Ed Kashi for National Geographic. If multimedia is to enhance the story-telling in a significant way, it takes vision and effort.

    And you left out recording sound, editing the sound tracks and mixing audio in post in your Renaissance list above. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Reply
    • Matt Brandon

      Matthew, The link that you gave for David Leeson was for me worth writing this post for. What a great read. A long read, but well worth it. It was full of familiar history for us older folks. I remember using the rubber modem phone coupler at phone booths in India and then later using alligator clips attached to the phone wires in my room at the Delhi Y to access the Singapore dial-up number for CompuServe. Doesn’t seem do long ago. I think David gives us a great look at the past to help us see the future.

      Reply
  6. Piet

    For me, video is an entirely different beast with it’s own aesthetics and it’s own rules. It’s hard enough to do stills. Throw in words, that’s two balls to juggle. Add video, and you become a performer in Cirque du Soleil… Still, economics dictate the evolution to some extent: in Belgium, one newspaper has started issuing their journalists with cameras so they can take pictures to accompany the story. Exit the pro photographer. They will still need the ‘pro’ for the more compelling pictures, but the ‘mugshots’ are now taken by the reporter.
    And about David: he’s doing timelapses already. So video might be next :-).

    Reply
  7. cfimages

    Interesting times right now, that’s for sure.

    I think it’s going to go both ways. There’ll be content produced by generalists that will be lapped up by the more tabloid type news organizations and is geared towards the short attention spans of people who just want a quick overview of the news. This kind of stuff will only become more prevalent as iPad’s and the like become common amongst the general public.

    On the other hand though, there’ll be more opportunities for more specialist type stuff. I think more and more photographers will partner with videographers and work as a team. Maybe the photographer also does the writing/narrative and the video guy does audio.Instead of sending a single person on assignment from the US to Asia and expecting them to do it all, I can see organizations looking to location based teams and having them do the work where possible. There are distinct advantages, in both local knowledge and economics, to having a photo/video living in the area produce a story rather than assigning a single person to fly half way round the world and do it all. Which for photographers comes back to the importance of marketing and reaching the right people – a photo buyer/editor may not take the time to search out an unknown photographer in a region but if they already know you’re there because you’ve previously reached out to them, and can offer them a team package, then you become a viable option that will (hopefully) produce better results as it’s not just one person doing everything.

    I hope all that makes sense – what’s in my head about this topic doesn’t seem to be transitioning well to the screen.

    As for the tweet about sub-$2000 DSLR’s for India, my suggestion would be buy a sub-$1000 DSLR and use the extra $1000 for my time in country, or a side trip to Nepal or Bangladesh or somewhere. $1000 could give an extra couple of months on the ground in some places.

    Reply
    • Luke

      Regarding the side trip, I second that. I have spent 8 months in Bangladesh and would jump on a plane for that country in a heart beat if I could. I wish I had made it up to Nepal, too!

      Reply
  8. peter berg

    matt, brilliant discussion here, – I’ll have a crack at some thoughts.

    Takes me back a bit to the introduction of the ‘computer’ in the design industry, – where suddenly bosses thought that their receptionists could take care of the ‘desktop publishing’ needs of the company because they purchased MS Publisher ๐Ÿ™‚ Yep, the 5D can produce some beautiful video, but only in the right hands, and might not get seen unless it sits within a story that entices the viewer to watch.

    I’m first to stick my hand up as a wanna-be video maker / photographer and I’ve learned over and again (yes, the hard way) that story is king. I’ve also learned that to shooting vid/photo at the same time is difficult, and you have to have a pretty clear picture in your head of what the brief/script is, or have a pretty good director in your ear.

    I’m also toying with the idea that to tell the best stories, we need to have an ’embedded-ness’ (i’m working on this term..) and tell the story from within. I think if we spend some time over at Media Storm, we’ll see that yes, stories take time, and are perhaps better told from within (requiring relationship) rather than from just observing from a fly-in shoot-it fly-out mentality.

    However, my experience is that organisations that need stories told don’t have the cash to tell them, so beginners like me get the chance to learn the hard way ๐Ÿ™‚ I found out earlier this year however that working with a writer/director is by far more efficient and effective rather than a one man show. The ‘hybrid’ guy/girl is an attractive model for some organisations, but personally, I can’t tell a story solo as good as I could from within a team. The skillset needed to be the ‘hybrid-solo’ guy is a long list indeed.

    Reply
  9. Serge Van Cauwenberg

    Matt, this is one of the most interesting posts and discussions I have read on the internet in a long time! Thank you!

    About video. It’s a difficult debate. I was involved into video and film when I was a student at filmschool in 1992/1993. I made several short films with some friends and the difficulties we encountered made me eventually step away from the medium. But the past two years, since video came available in DSLR, it’s tempting to return to video, however, those difficulties I was talking about will remain the same.

    I was watching an introduction into HDDSLR by Vincent Laforet (creativeLIVE) lately and I can recommend everyone to do so. Don’t forget that video, audio and editing are three different jobs, in fact, you need three experts. Telling a story using photos or video is completely different, not only because of the moving image but also because of the sound (soundtrack, ambient sounds, interviews, etc.). And in the end, you have to edit all these elements into a high-quality presentation. Mediastorm is a very good example how it should be done but it takes time (and money I presume). I will give you another example: I follow a photographer who worked with a non-profit organization recently and he also shot video and recorded sound. He also uses some accessories like a steadycam. When I watched his video I felt that those accessories were used in a wrong way. You shouldn’t use all the accessoires you have just because you have them, in my opinion you should only use them if it fits the purpose of your story. There is another pitfall: lots of expensive accessories will increase the budget if you step into video.

    In my opinion, the most dangerous pitfall will be the possible decrease in quality when you become a “Jack-of-all-trades”. Paul is talking about a concentration loss when writing and photographing at the same time. I know the feeling. The problem is that you can’t be merely a photographer these days: you have to have knowledge about writing, capturing sound, recording video, editing, webdesign, etc. Sure, I want to be a specialist in all these fields, but let’s be honest, that won’t happen.

    I honestly don’t know what the future will bring and for me personally, I have not yet chosen the path of video. I agree what Ian said about the niche market. I think it’s going to be important to be an expert in your niche market.

    Reply

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