Being prepared for post-production

A new dilemma emerges. When the video footage plays across the screen, I look for an image, or a selection of images, that will translate my experience into a few brief bites.  But the results have often been disappointing.

When taking photos with my digital camera, I rarely think of narrative structure. Instead, I think of light and composition.  I try to think about the technical wizardry of the digital equipment.  I think about a singular image.

But we are primed to find satisfaction in the narrative arc that culminates in a neat resolution. We are the children of storytellers.

Now I also want to think about how those singular images build a story.

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The best way to be prepared is to put in the effort to be prepared.

So, before my recent weekend trip to the Blue Mountains, I stood in front of the butcher’s paper with felt-tip marker poised hopefully in mid-air, ready to record some bright ideas.  The aim was to confront my dilemma before the holiday started, before I got the camera out and well before I sat down to process the photos and video footage I returned with.

The question to be answered … what images are needed to create a satisfying story? The aim was to ensure the video camera was running when needed.

This is what that felt-tipped marker recorded:

Butchers Paper Planning

Sorry for my messy writing. I wasn’t expecting to write this up in a post.

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I recommend the following:

1. Start the day thinking about both daybreak and sunset. This will likely give you an opening and closing sequence, particularly useful if you later decide to present your day chronologically rather than thematically.  Then ponder how the day might play out in between.

2. For each thing you do that day, there will be an entrance and exit. These could be the beginning and end of each sequence or series of shots.  Between them the narrative arc of the event will run. Most importantly, though, don’t forget the exit. It could be difficult to “resolve” or end each story without it.

3. There are many types of events. It could be something you’ve never done before. It could be an intersection, where decisions are made … this way or that. Or it could be confirmation of something you already knew about yourself: “I will always love bungee jumping!!!” (Not me. It’s just an example.  “I will always love bushwalking” just doesn’t have the same zing.)

The most important thing to remember … the process of documenting the event must not overwhelm the experience. Without the experience, there is no story.

4. Then, for visual interest, get some long shots, some details and some comfortable shots of the middle range. If you’re getting involved in what’s happening around you, just ensure the video camera is pointing in the direction you’re looking.  When I decide to turn the camera on, I wander around with it on my upturned palm and glance only occasionally at the screen.  The camera doesn’t have to sit at eye level.

Did my plan run to plan?

I’ve nearly finished editing the video footage, and I can report that being prepared has helped. The story is proving much easier to tell than my previous, as yet unfinished, attempts.

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Other posts reflecting on my travels

♦  Travelling with camera in tow

♦  Travelling with cameras (plural) and a handycam

Weekly Photo Challenge: Dreamy

Field of Birds

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The Daily Press photo challenge this week is Dreamy and, of course, I went looking for shots of mist and cloud. I stumbled upon this instead.

The delight associated with this state of being can only occur in counterpoint; when something else seems in comparison as unnecessarily stark or bleak or mundane.

I had this experience a few months ago, but in reverse. Weighed down by the fog through which I drove while struggling up a steep hill, “dreamy” occurred when my little car burst forth into the sunlight above. Gibraltor Falls was high enough in the mountains to sit above the winter fog that engulfed Canberra that morning.

Dreamy can also occur sitting at one’s laptop processing the shots taken earlier. The image I’ve selected for today’s post is just such an example.

I noticed the birds in the field when I was wandering along Old Wells Station Road and turned my camera in that direction. I could see their heads bobbing up and down in the distance. I took a couple of shots but not with a telephoto lens and not with a tripod.

Before Cropping

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Back home on the laptop, I cropped one of the photos quite severely and found delight in a small patch of field and smiled. It’s not a perfect composition, but dreamy isn’t ever perfect?

Instead, it’s a little patch of motivation amid the ordinary and familiar.

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Blue Mountains NSW

There are two types of holidays. There’s the one with so much crammed into each day that you regret not taking time to soak in the particulars of each place. Then there’s the other where you take it slow, with a splash of spontaneity, and then regret not doing this or that or the other. There should be a middle option, but I’m starting to think it’s not a continuum. It will always be one or the other.

We stayed at Blackheath in the Blue Mountains of NSW for two nights, thus ensuring we had an entire day, from sun up to sun down, during which to explore.

We walked. We stood. And we walked some more. We wore ourselves out.

The walking was great. The standing triggered ideas about comparisons and closely-packed contrasts.

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We started our day at Govett’s Leap Lookout and then headed off along the Fairfax track. This track was chosen because it was categorised as “Easy”. And it was. But significantly, it was packed with interesting things to stop and see. Different types of trees and bark. A fascinating nest built into a tree hollow. My first wild waratah.

Enlivened by the experience, we selected another short walk, this time along the cliff top to the Bridal Veil Falls and back. We could tell it was short because the sign said 15mins. We didn’t realise it was so steep; a lot of standing while we caught our collective breath.

Panic is interesting. While walking down to the falls, the realisation that one has to walk back up was ever present in the red and sweaty faces of the people we passed. The panic didn’t hit me until I actually started up the steps. There’s that moment early in a long walk uphill when you feel as if the wind has been knocked out of your sails. You gasp for breath. The imperative is to stop and turn back. Unfortunately, there was no turning back this day. It was onwards and upwards, or sit and rot.

Standing there, looking through the trees at the gorge below, gasping for breath, I reminded myself – out loud – that I’ve been in this situation before, that I would get my second wind, so no point in panicking. Do you find that saying things out loud helps?

We’ve yet to work out why the walk up the stairs seemed shorter than the walk down when, technically, all the stopping made it longer.

For the afternoon, I thought a bit of rainforest would be an interesting contrast to the traditional Australian bushland at Govetts Leap. Scenic World at Katoomba is a theme park. The “rides” are there to facilitate your experiences of nature and history by getting you to the valley floor. Instead, they overwhelm almost everything, particularly if you include the time queuing. Scenic World must be a tour operator’s delight. They can sell one stop as both exciting and educational, a thrilling ride with the added advantage of being able to tell those at home you’ve “seen” the Australian bush. Visitors don’t even have to set foot in the dirt.

I am a bit harsh, but I’m not complaining. I checked the website first and decided experiencing the world’s steepest railway was not to be passed up. However, I’m sure it didn’t travel so fast when it was full of coal miners back in its working days. Mum was right. It would have been interesting if it had been slower.

After submersion in the latest tourist blockbuster, it was necessary to end the day back in the National Park, to re-establish a sense of wonder at something not man-made, to overwrite the bright red of commercialism. We called in at Evans Head Lookout, back at Blackheath, and drank in the setting sun bouncing across cliff faces opposite.

The view from Evan’s Head Lookout, bathed in the setting sun.

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But, to begin, it’s the gentle morning light at Govett’s Leap Lookout.

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Fairfax Heritage Track, flat, paved and a great start for beginner walkers, even if you start at the bottom and head uphill.

Fairfax Heritage Track: flat, paved and a great for beginner walkers, even if you start at the bottom and head uphill.

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In contast, the boxed-in stairs and tunnels we slowly moved through when queuing for the Scenic World railway …

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… and the stairs we tackled on the Bridal Veil walk.

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There was the tentative red of the budding waratah …

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... and the brash red of metal.

… and the brash red of protective metal.

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This view of Bridal Veil from Govett's Leap should have been a clue to how far down, and then how far up, we would have to walk!

This view of Bridal Veil from Govett’s Leap should have been a clue to how far down, and then how far up, we would have to walk!

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The railway platform

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The view from the valley floor …

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… where the surfaces of rocks receive very little sunlight.

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On the cliff top, exposure to the weather creates a myriad of colours.

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The end of the day, heading towards Evans Head …

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… to remind ourselves what it’s really all about.

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Looking back, I’ve decided that this trip was the second type of holiday. The Folder of Possibilities contained numerous pages printed from the internet, but we only managed two of them that day.  I had hoped for about four.  We did this and that, but missed out on the others.

Nevertheless, the weekend was a success. We explored and experienced.

… and, to top it off, great company to explore with!

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Related Posts

If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy

♦  Gibraltar Falls

♦  Borenore Caves

 

 

Manging tenses

Tensely managing tenses

I noted a trend when I looked over past field trips. The first couple of write ups were a hotchpotch of past and present tense, not from deliberate choice but because I just didn’t take enough care.

Then I shifted into writing in past tense. Each night during my holiday in Victoria, I posted some highlights and photos for family and friends back home. These were written as if they were a letter home or a diary entry; “Today, we walked …”. Notes made along the way came in handy when I returned home and wrote up some reflections on the experience.

This pattern started to change with a visit to the Canberra balloon festival. The text I wrapped around the images was a mixture of past and present tense. The events were written in past tense. But in the middle there was personal reflection which was written in present tense.  I was writing after the event but this state of mind was still “present”. Writing it as such felt natural.

I deliberately started adding more present tense when writing up my field trips. Alas, the hotchpotch returned. I was aiming for something but didn’t know what. Trial and error ensued.

I think I now know

There is an immediacy to present tense. You are reading this Now; your present. If I write my experience as if it were happening now, I’m allowing you direct access. You can share the immediacy of the experience with me.

My first attempt at a fully present post was the trip to Gibraltar Falls.  However, I’ve just re-read it and there’s a problem. It feels current, as intended, but it does not have the authority of “Today, we walked …”  This lack of authority makes it seem lighter. It’s a story rather than a diary. It feels like fiction rather than reality.

Is there a middle ground?

The cinematic world sometimes uses a narrator who is obviously reflecting on past events. In a movie, each event happens while we are watching. Tricks are required to signify the relationship between events when they appear out of chronological order. One of those tricks is to use a narrator. This adds that air of authority, something has indeed happened, while reinforcing the idea that the movie is giving the viewer direct access to that experience.

Next steps

I have no clear solution to my problem but at least I have a general aim. I’ve just come back from a weekend away, returning with photos and ideas I’d like to share. When writing up this latest field trip, my aim will be to find a balance between the Then and Now. I suspect a little more trial and error but hopefully I’ll keep learning, keep improving.

New Objectivity in a Woden Car Park

Objectivity Header

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Around the base of each tree is a metal cage, perhaps designed to protect them in their younger days. These cages intrigue me. There are so many contrasts to investigate.

I tried to document them a couple of weeks back, but the results were disappointing. A failure is just a false start. A false start is not a failure.  The field trip turned into a challenge, followed by a post describing my dilemma and the solution I found – Know your depth of field.

So, armed with a deeper understanding of the intricacies of my digital camera, it was back to the car park, bright and early on an overcast Sunday morning.

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New Objectivity

In the mid-1920s, painters and photographers reacted against the dominant styles of the day and sought instead to present the world as realistically as possible. The Mannheim Art Gallery, in Germany, held the first exhibition of these realistic work and applied the label “New Objectivity”. The gallery’s director tried to explain the positives and negatives of this new phenomenon…

“Cynicism and resignation are the negative side of New Objectivity; the positive side expresses itself in the enthusiasm for immediate reality”.

I am strangely enthusiastic about the relationship between these metal cages and the trees they contain. They are an “immediate reality”, yet the passage of time is evident. There is resignation, born from abandonment and neglect. But cynicism? I’m not sure there’s any distrust of other people’s motives evident here.

Nevertheless, I see both positive and negative traits of New Objectivity when I look across this car park. There is enough to justify using this photographic style.

The Set Up

There are rules to follow, according to a TV documentary I saw recently. For this project, I borrow from a 1920s-era German photographer whose name I did not write down. First, the sky must be overcast to eliminate strong shadows. Second, the camera must be at the very centre of the image, horizontally and vertically, to avoid distorting perspective. Then, as you move around the tree, take a photo every 45 degrees. That will produce eight photos per tree.

The rules are the easy part.

Set ISO to 100. Check white balance. F stop to 5. Auto focus on. Decide on exposure setting. Set auto exposure bracketing. Plug in shutter release. Position tripod. Adjust height of tripod.

Now. Don’t. Touch. Anything!

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The Set Up

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Editing

It takes a long time to download 600 files. It takes a longer time to decide how to crop the photographs to produce images that fit the Mannheim Art Gallery’s description of New Objectivity.

My first attempt was a standard 16 x 9 landscape format to capture the full width of the concrete surround. The tree and it’s cage are clearly the subject of the image, but their insignificance has grown against a domineering background. There’s too much concrete and, at times, too much colour.

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16 x 9 6

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This is supposed to be New Objectivity. The resulting image should be strong. No distractions … limited distractions. An image sufficiently strong that any potential distractions loose that potentiality. Which size would achieve this? 5 x 5? 9 x 16? 8 x 10?

My second, third … sixth attempts included vertical and square formats of various sizes. I printed each set of eight, looked long and pondered, compared and contrasted, selected and deselected features in my quest for an image that would meet the criteria. And then there was a final question … In each set of eight, should the tree dance within the cage, or should the cage dance around the tree?

It seems a little of the romantic has crept into the process.

Compare for yourself. In the first set below, the widest points of the cage decide where the edge of the image will be. Effectively, the cage is the centring device. The tree dances.

In the second set, the cage seems to dance because the tree occupies the centre third of each image. The changing relationship is more obvious.

(To see the photos up close, click on the first one of each set.  This opens the gallery.  When you’re finished, hit the ESC key.)

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I’m voting for the second set. Even though a cage sometimes wins, and the tree is removed, the immediate factor here is the reality of THIS tree’s survival. It is surviving not because it is flexible and nimble but because it is straight and solid. Yet, one can’t help but note that future growth will be limited. There is an impending fate evident, and the severity of the problem depends on the viewpoint. Only from certain angles can the true limit be seen.

Although … if realism is the aim here, then it should be noted that some trees do fight back. It’s not the cynicism and resignation of New Objectivity’s original definition, but this apparent resilience should not be portrayed as some romantic hope either. The reality is some of these trees are gone and some have survived within their cage.  And with the amount of redevelopment that surrounds them, one day they will all be gone.

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Metal cages in car park

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References

Janson H W and Janson A F, 1997, History of Art, fifth edition revised, published Thames and Hudson Ltd, London.

Gersheim, H, 1962, Creative Photography: Aesthetic Trends, 1839-1960, published 1991 by Dover Publications Inc, Mineola, New York.

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