Photographers, Like Boy Scouts, Need To Be Prepared

As a former Boy Scout, one of the lessons I have taken to heart is the Scout motto – “Be Prepared.” Visual Journalists – video and photo have to haul a lot of gear to a lot of places. And what you never want to do is go back or worse be too far to go back for something you are missing. One of the best habits you can learn as a VJ is to check your gear.

As a teacher and journalist for about 20 years now, I understand and try to always prepare as much as I can before hand. When you are going on a shoot – make a list. Even if you only need 3-4 things, make a list. Check it off as you pack your bag.

If it is a major shoot, where you will need extra equipment that you don’t normally take every day – you really need to make a list. Then you need to make a list of your baggage. How many bags, boxes or containers will you need to haul the gear.

How will you get the gear from point A to point B? How much crew will be required to set up? Do you need electric? If so, you need to make sure it is available. Bring extra cables, power strips, etc.

Some of my students recently put on a rock show at the school, but forgot mic stands. They brought thousands of dollars of speakers, mixers, cables, instruments, etc. But the concert was nearly foiled because they didn’t have mic stands.

You can never be too prepared, but you can be too unprepared.

Fun Grammar Quiz – Whose Gooder?

Are you “Gooder At Grammar?” Take the quiz – fun!  I actually scored 100 percent.

Still Much To Learn About Histograms

I like to call them little mountains to my students and I know enough to correctly use a histogram to color correct a photo using Levels in Photoshop. But, I’m still learning how to use a histogram when I shoot.

I am going to try “exposing to the right” a technique that I’ve heard about from several sources like Advancing The Story and Luminous Landscape. Both have some valuable information about improving your exposures by exposing the histogram to the right side of the graph.

Happy Shooting.

Mr. C

How Much Does It Cost To Create Media?

With so many pro newspaper and magazines trying to create video on their own web sites, it is a good time to visit how much does it cost? Over the years our Journalism department has morphed into a Media department as we have added a TV program, a web site and now a video program. I now have a yearbook, newspaper, video, web design and television program.

How much does all this cost? Just like pros, we have to deal with all the issues of cost.

As a media teacher or principal who is trying to decide how much to budget, first you have to decide if you are going to go first class, budget or somewhere in between.

I’m going to go with numbers based on a 20-seat lab with 2-student crews for video/broadcast.

Computers: Mac mini with 120 GB HD, 1GB RAM & Superdrive $800/Dell Insprion 531 250GB HD 1GB RAM & DVD/CDR Plus 1394 Card and DVD buner @$700
Cameras: Canon ZR800 – one of the last mini DV cameras with a mic input. $200-350 plus a 4 pin to 6 pin 1394 (firewire) cable.
Software: iMovie or Moviemaker (free with OS)
Tripods: Canon Tripods $40 ea.
Total: $19,500

Computers: same as above, but could upgrade to better processors.
Software: Adobe Premiere Elements $99 per seat, Final Cut Express $99 per seat
Cameras: HV20 Canon $1000
Total: $25,000

Pro Level:
Computers: 24 in iMac 500 GB HD, 2GB RAM, superdrive ($2299) or Dell XPS 420 500 GB HD, 3GB RAM DVDR Drive ($1699)
Software: Adobe Premiere Pro ($3000 Lab Pack), Final Cut Studio ($14,000)
Camera: Canon XL2 $2500 ea.
Total: $68,000-79,000

This doesn’t even cover any kind of studio or remote shoot capability or disposables and extras like tapes, mics, etc. So to do video right will cost a minimum of $20,000 to $80,000 to do right.

Now, of course some of these items you might already have or have supplied by your district – like the computers.

Now, other programs are not so intensive to set up, but a Newspaper or Yearbook class is still going to need MS Office (@1,200 lab pack) and Adobe InDesign CS3 (@$3,000 lab pack). Plus of course computers, printers, etc. It would also do well to have a few cameras (Canon Powershot A560 $140) plus one or two good pro SLR cameras for sports (with a long lens 70-300mm). (Canon Rebel EOS Digital $500 plus $400 lens).

Web design is similar, but I would recommend a CMS (content management system program like Adobe Contribute $99 a seat) plus a solid web design application like Adobe GoLive ($3,000 for a lab pack). You will also need FTP (file transfer application) and an application like MS Word or a simple text app to write HTML and CSS files. You will also need a web browser, but Safari and Explorer are free and so is Firefox.

And for all of these programs, you should have Adobe Photoshop CS3 ($3,000 for a lab pack).

So, you can see that Media is not cheap.  It is very computer and software/hardware intensive.  There are some Open Source (free) alternatives, but they are not as polished as pro products and have no tech support.  Plus there is no substitute for using industry standard software and equipment.

Mr. C

Recruiting The Best: You Gotta Have High Standards

For too long journalism has not had high enough standards. From the pros allowing Jason Blair or Stephen Glass to get by on personality, and not having enough focus on the web, to colleges not requiring enough math, business and technology classes for j-majors, down to high school programs not competing hard enough for the top talent. It has to stop.

I’ve decided that I’m not gonna take it anymore. I’ve seen my program sabotaged too many times by one bad apple. If you want to be the best, you have to work with the best. The pros know it. We can’t let a little competition keep us from the kids that really want to be in our program.

We also can’t be too focused on retention. This has been a big problem of mine. It is hard not to want to keep good kids for 3-4 years. But if you get a good kid, light them on fire with a passion right now! You may not have them next semester or next year. Be excited and push them to work as hard as their ability and training will allow – right now.

Last year, we moved our TV show from once every 2 weeks to every week. We really improve the quantity of segments in our broadcast. This year, I have focused on quality. If a segment is not good enough, then it does not air. The producer can redo it or they can take a grade on it as is – but it will not air.

It has raised the quality of our broadcast and increased viewership. Now we have to be more aggressive when we recruit. We have to identify and then capture the best, most motivated and brightest kids who want to learn how to do a great TV program. I know it can be done – and done well.

Mr. C

Blogging Is Weird, But Fun

I started this blog back in April as a place to keep useful links to web resources that I find useful in teaching journalism and media.  I also use it as a place to share things with other teachers I know and to record my thoughts and ideas about teaching.

It sometimes strikes my funny bone when a post is “successful” like the one I wrote about Apples vs. PCs (Windows).  As of today it is the most successful post I’ve ever had.  It had more than 250 hits in 24 hours and four comments – I’ve never had a post with more than two before.   But the audience for this post is not my core readers (media teachers).

After looking at my traffic and what posts have been the most successful, I have found that I have two audiences – one who has made successful posts out of Yearbook Ladders and lists of Journalism Movies and another audience that reads my comments on iMovie, Final Cut and Apple computers.

I’m also amazed that I have 168 posts and 10,000 hits in less than a year too.  I hope I hit 200 quality posts before my blog is a year old.  They say the first 1000 posts are the hardest and about a month ago I thought that I had run out of stuff to write about.  But so far, still going.

Keep on blogging.

Mr. C

Apple vs. PC – Does it Matter?

When I first started teaching, back in the dark ages before the dinosaurs, 13 years ago – we in the publishing business were the weirdos.  Why?  Because most of us used Macs and shunned Wintel (Windows/Intel) boxes.

There were a lot of good reasons for this too.  This was the days of Windows 95 and Aldus Pagemaker (not Adobe).  Aldus did make Pagemaker for Windows, but it was buggy – as was Windows 95.   Computers were also hugely expensive back then.  We bought a $3000 machine that is less powerful than the cheapest iPod today.  But basically Apple had a better platform for publishing and was ahead of the game with graphics and user interface.  Their fonts were smoother too and 95% of the time – it just worked.

But there were problems too.  Macs were more expensive and they didn’t work with industry standard connectors that most scanners, printers, etc. had.  And software was harder to find.

And then Apple hit a rough patch in the late ’90s.  Their machines were overpriced and buggy.  In fact, they were junk.  Tons of schools began to switch to PCs – mainly for price.  PCs were junk too, but they were cheap.  And Windows 98 was actually fairly stable.

Adobe bought out Aldus and they had Pagemaker and Photoshop for both Mac and PCs.  Things were looking bad for Macs.  And at my school, if it had not been for the fact that the IT department didn’t want to replace all 10 of my computers in the lab at once – we would have switched to PC too.  But back then, Mac and PC didn’t work together well.  And I told the IT dept. that we wouldn’t use a mixed lab.

So, we stuck with Macs.

I’m glad we did.  Because the iMac, iMovie and iPod have made all the difference.

The iMac saved Apple.  It was cool again.  It had OSX – a rock solid Unix based operating system.  And each new version (through 10.4.11) has been more solid than the last.  iMovie allowed us to build a broadcast program on the cheap, which is the only way most schools can do anything.  And the iPod has made Apple cool yet again.  We are the only Mac lab in the building – so that makes us the cool kids.

A lot of people wonder if Apple is in trouble because it is no longer the “underdog,” but only people over 30 think that way.  The under 30 crowd think of Apple as a cool company that built the iPod.  They listen to music and watch video on their iPods.  Go to almost anywhere kids 16-25 hang out with their laptops and you will see nearly as many or more white apple logos as you will HP or Dell logos put together.

Today Apple computers can use almost any standard add on hardware such as cameras, scanners, printers, etc. if they use a USB or Firewire connector – and usually without having to download any drivers or software.   Plug in digital camera or thumb drive and It Just Works!   Just stay away from Sony’s stuff – because they hate Macs.  They don’t work too well with PCs either.

“It Just Works” should be on every Apple box right next to the logo.  And now with Intel chips, there are at least three different ways to run Windows on a Mac too.   At full speed, natively, without emulation.

When someone can’t get something to work at my school, they almost always end up in my classroom.  I can’t always get it to work, but usually it is just a matter of plug and play.

I’ll stick with Macs.

Mr. C

Why TV News Is Losing Viewers

This CNN Graph says it all.  Too many commercials, too much fluff, not enough news.

When you want news, go to the net.  Find what you want to read about, waste little time, done.  TV and Newspapers just don’t get it.  No wonder they are dying.

Mr. C

Don’t Stop Learning – Or Using What You’ve Learned

While reading a blog post I began to think that the end of a year (calendar, not school) is a good time to take stock.  What have I learned this year?  How can it help us?  What actions should we take on it?

The blog, freelance switch, recommends answering five questions to see what you have learned from last year that you can use next year.

1)  What did you achieve this last year?

2)  What worked and what didn’t?

3)  What would you like to accomplish in the next 365 days?

4)  If you change nothing, what will happen?  

5) What is the biggest thing you learned in the last year and how are  you going to use it in the future?

OK, here goes –

1)  What did you achieve this last year?

We were able to bring our bi-weekly TV show up to a weekly TV show.  We brought our yearbook out of the red and into the black.  We shut down our unprofitable newspaper.  We now update our school web site at least once a week – usually more often.  We had some success in UIL News Writing.

2)  What worked and what didn’t?

Most of the things we tried worked, such as raising our standards and expectations (see above), most of our fund raisers, and becoming more user focused on the yearbook.

What didn’t work were things like UIL writing  for headlines and editorials, trying certain fund raisers – like t-shirt sales and expecting yearbook sales to go up.

3)  What would you like to accomplish in the next 365 days?

I’d like to have a daily announcement show for the school, improve our yearbook work flow, restart our school newspaper as an online only news paper and make our TV show look more professional.

4)  If you change nothing, what will happen? 

If we change nothing, we will probably begin to fall backwards – it has happened before.

5) What is the biggest thing you learned in the last year and how are  you going to use it in the future?

Invested kids work better.  Stop trying so hard to get kids who don’t care to work hard.  They won’t.  Keep a smaller, more dedicated staff and get rid of the dead wood.

Mr. C

Don’t Know Much About Histograms?

As with all things digital, there is always a learning curve when trying something new. If you are using digital photography for your yearbook or newspaper, then you really should be using levels or curves to “fix” your digital photos before press.

One of the most difficult thing is getting good color consistently from a digital image – especially if your images come from a variety of sources. One thing that can help is learning how to read a histogram – that mountain-like image that most photo editing software (like Photoshop) will show you when you use levels. If you are not sure what the various parts of the histogram are showing you, or what RGB are, then you might want to check out the Professional Photographer’s article on how to read a histogram. It is one of the better resources I’ve found on the web for what it all means and how to use one to get better images.

Mr. C