The Shoot + The Edit = The Sh!t!

I broke sound barrier in photojournalism last year. Assigned to cover a college football game, I captioned, cropped, toned and transmitted 148 photographs from my shooting position on the field. During the game. Shooting RAW files.

Sending 148 photos was incredibly cool as well as incredibly stupid. This post will be all about how cool it was. Down the road I’ll write about why it was also incredibly stupid (for those of you who don’t already feel that way).

There is no greater feeling than when you’re sitting on the baseline at a basketball game or the sideline of a football game when the second half is about to kick off and you notice that your competitors are nowhere to be seen. You’re the only photographer ready to shoot because everyone else is still back in the press room working on their photos. You are going to get some second half action all to yourself. It’s the best.

A couple years ago I was the only one on the field when a player tied an NCAA record on the first kickoff of the second half, and it was all because my workflow was fast and tight, from the field of play.

Why should it happen? We all have the same cameras, the same computers, the same software. Let me explain how to bring it all together…

Photojournalism used to work like this:

You Shoot.

You Edit.

Photographers would shoot, then they would go and edit. Two separate tasks, never done together. Editing while shooting was impossible in the film days and that mentality has carried over into our digital workflow. But to be fast and efficient today, you need to merge shooting and editing into one step.

There are four steps to shooting and editing simultaneously during an assignment. Each step takes progressively more time, so you hit them as time and the situation allows. Even getting in the habit of doing step one alone will save you a lot of time going forward.

As you go out on assignments this week, observe what happens. Every assignment or event has moments where nothing important is going on. These moments are when you squeeze in some editing time. It could be during a TV timeout at a sporting event, or during a long-winded speech at a press conference. It’s when you’re tempted to pull out your phone because you’re so bored with what’s going in front of you. You and I both know it happens a lot.

When you notice these slow moments on an assignment, start doing step 1. Then when you have time do step 2, or step 3, etc. The steps are organized by the amount of time they take and how much they take you away from shooting, with the first steps being quick. You can get back to shooting immediately from step 1. Step 3 takes a little more time and workspace. With practice you’ll learn what you’re capable of.

Through it all, there is one rule you need to always follow:

You are a shooter. Shooting always takes priority over editing.

If there is a photo to be made, shoot it. The edit can wait. This is critical. You do not want to miss photos. Ignoring this rule will only bring you pain and suffering.

Okay, here are the steps to merging the shoot and the edit:

Step 1. When there is downtime in what you’re covering, tag photos on your camera.

That’s right: CHIMP. There is no reason not to. Being able to see what you’re getting immediately on location has been the biggest improvement in the history of photography. Don’t be afraid to chimp just because so many people have said it isn’t cool. Chimping is very cool, provided you aren’t missing shots. Missing shots is not cool.

Don’t chimp in a position where you can’t instantly go back to shooting. Hold the camera at the ready when chimping so you can see what’s happening around you. Don’t chimp with the lens pointed at your crotch forcing you to look down at the floor. At a sporting event, never chimp while there is action on the field. At a news event, don’t chimp when things are in motion. You will miss shots and that means you’re screwing up.

At football I’ll chimp after every play, as time allows. During a press conference, I might only need to shoot the first minute of a politician’s twenty minute speech. Look for the moments you can fit in some chimping without missing a shot. It’s a skill you can develop.

When I chimp, I’m tagging any photo that I want to see bigger on my laptop. I’m not zooming in and checking sharpness or anything like that. It’s just a quick decision – is this frame worth looking at big on my laptop screen? That’s it. If a frame is out of focus, I’ll filter it out on the laptop.

Step 2. When you have a moment, dump your cards.

If you are able to have your laptop next to you at an event, do so. And every practical chance you have, dump your cards using PhotoMechanic’s very efficient ingest card feature.

It takes me about ten seconds to start the ingest of a card:

1. Put the card into the card reader
2. Hit return when the dialog box comes up
3. Put a new card in my camera
4. Go back to shooting while the images are copied to my laptop

There’s no time wasted dragging and dropping files into folders. PhotoMechanic does this in one keystroke.

Every time I shoot around 70 photos at a football game, I’ll start ingesting that card into my laptop as soon as I have a spare ten seconds. This saves me the amount of time it takes to copy the files, allowing me to shoot 16 megapixel RAW files without worrying about the extra time copying those large files. At the next timeout I’ll be able start editing immediately.

Another thing I’ve been doing for step 2 is shooting straight into the laptop. Using a regular old ethernet cord, my photos go straight from camera to laptop as I’m shooting. I’ll post more about that workflow another time (it’s with a Nikon D4). I’ve been able to use this technique from a single shooting position (like basketball) as well as on the street covering a parade (walking several blocks). It’s a game-changer.

Step 3. When you have time, like during a longer TV timeout at a game, pull out your laptop and get to work. Go through your tagged images on your larger laptop screen and decide what is worth transmitting. You can quickly select the tagged images (command-T), preview them (command-R), and use the arrow keys to move through them, hitting D to discard the ones you don’t want to send.

Once you’ve got your edit narrowed down, add captions. I have a boilerplate caption added automatically upon ingest and for sports I use code replacements to fill in the names of the players in the photo. For a news event, I have my caption written before the event starts. Any caption that you can write before the game or event, you should. Write those in a text file that you can copy and paste from.

Step 4. When I have even more time, I do a basic crop and tone on my selects, very quickly in Lightroom, and transmit a JPEG back to the office. (I’ve added a couple tricks to my PhotoMechanic and Lightroom workflow but you can see most of it in this video: http://trenthead.com/2012/06/photo-mechanic-and-lightroom-workflow-video/)

That’s pretty much it. Four steps to bring the edit into the shoot.

A couple of closing words and disclaimers…

Don’t expect this to all work perfectly the first time. Good workflow is a process that requires constant refining. Keep at it and you’ll figure out your best version of this system.

But do start now. Get a head start on your competitors and start pushing your limits, every time out the door.

Sending 148 photos from a football game is not the goal. Delivering quality images quickly and throughout an event, where practical, is the goal.

During my 148-photo game, both teams were local, which meant that my editors would be interested in any play, any player, any coach, any fan. I also had a co-worker shooting at the other end of the field, which freed me up to stay in one spot and crank things up.

Shooting and editing continuously during a 3+ hour football game can be pretty hectic. There are no times for breaks and you’ll get a little fried.

A week or so after the 148-photo game, a colleague and I used these same techniques and we rocked it, sending dozens of photos from a late football game to our editors’ delight.

While we were shooting that game someone made a gigapan of the entire stadium. We examined it closely, paying specific attention to the sidelines. Across the field from each other my colleague and I were both pictured in the gigapan with our laptops out, working on our photos during a timeout. The other photographers around us in the gigapan, and there were at least a dozen, were all staring off into space with their cameras at their sides. Doing nothing at all.

Welcome to the future. Embrace it.

Here’s a timelapse video from a college football game, showing you how it works in real life…

Elephant Rides

Esar Met listens during his murder trial in Salt Lake City, Tuesday January 7, 2014. Met is accused of killing 7-year-old Hser Ner Moo in 2008

You know horsey rides, right? Where you get down on all fours and a child climbs on your back and you gallop and buck and horse around? I guess people in other countries do it, too. That’s what the defense attorney said as he asked the members of the jury to keep their minds open about Esar Met’s guilt or innocence.

Defense attorney Michael Peterson brings out a world map during the defense's opening at the murder trial of Esar Met in Salt Lake City, Tuesday January 7, 2014. Met is accused of killing 7-year-old Hser Ner Moo in 2008

People from Southeast Asia, like the Burmese refugee kids at the South Park apartment complex, call horsey rides elephant rides. Esar Met would give them elephant rides and the attorney told the jury that that might explain why 7-year-old Hser Ner Moo’s blood was found on Met’s denim jacket when he was arrested for her murder. His DNA was under her fingernails as well.

Then the prosecution started to show the crime scene photos. Nothing really explains how one of Hser Ner Moo’s tiny purple shoes landed in that filthy toilet in the basement, the other shoe falling behind and beneath the porcelain. Or why the little girl ended up murdered, face down in the shower.

A photo the basement bathroom of the apartment where Hser Ner Noo was found, displayed during the murder trial of Esar Met in Salt Lake City, Tuesday January 7, 2014. Met is accused of killing 7-year-old Hser Ner Moo in 2008

I photographed some of the evidence photos shown during the trial. The ones I didn’t photograph, the ones too disturbing to show, will be burned in my mind for a long time. They were pretty horrifying, just as we had been warned.

I photographed Hser Ner Moo’s father, Cartoon Wah, while the search for the missing child was still underway at the South Park apartments. You can read about that here: http://trenthead.com/2008/04/hser-goes-missing.

If you want more from the trial, reporter @Marissa_Jae is there.

My 2013 Memories as a Salt Lake Tribune photographer

I have the best job in the world. Here are some of the people and moments that left their mark on me over the past year…

NOTE: the photos might load a little slow- be patient. heavy traffic coming in just now.

Stephanie Cook’s mother, Bobbi Campbell, went missing 19 years ago. Balloons were released on the anniversary of her disappearance in a quick and quiet ceremony. Attached to the balloons- an ultrasound picture of the child Stephanie was expecting.
balloon release for bobbi campbell, missing for 19 years

The Marriott Center was crazy loud until Matthew Dellavedova hit the game-winning shot to beat BYU at the buzzer. It was one of the greatest endings to a game I’ve ever seen. What a moment. Even Cosmo couldn’t believe it.
matthew dellavedova hits game-winning shot vs. byu

I met Andrew Brown at a night out for children with autism. We made an awesome team, my motor-drive and his endless supply of cool poses. What a fun kid.
andrew brown

To my knowledge, no one had ever photographed a fundamentalist religious service before we were invited into a humble church in Short Creek. To the people who invited us in, thanks for trusting us with your story. We did our best to be respectful and quiet. I hope you feel we treated you fairly.
william e. jessop's fundamentalist church

Being watched and tracked by this security camera in the FLDS-controlled town of Hildale while a swarm of passing cars blared their horns would have freaked me out several years ago. These days? I’m kind of used to it.
flds security camera

I was lucky to photograph the national champion Lone Peak High School basketball team three times this season. Congratulations to the Knights.
lone peak basketball, 2013 national champions

Model Deena Marie Manzanares and I were told that we could use “the green scooter in the parking garage” as a prop for our fashion shoot. Only after we pushed it out of the garage and around the block for an hour or so did we realize we had the wrong one. Grand Theft Scooter. Hopefully the owner never noticed.
Deena Marie Manzanares

Canon was kind enough to loan us some of their latest equipment for a week or so. I shot this comparison of our old gear and the new. See if you can guess which half of the frame is which.

And while we’re talking about old cameras, this frame came out of one just before I was able to retire it for a pair of Nikon D4s. Thing was freaking out! But you know, it’s actually a pretty cool effect.

Siyani Chambers put on a show, leading Harvard to their first NCAA basketball tournament win ever (left frame). The second game, at right, was a little tougher. He chipped a tooth in the loss but stayed in the game, trying to will his team to victory. They lost, but what a show of heart.
Siyani Chambers

I don’t know who you are, but girl, you made my day when you made this hilarious face when I was photographing young Mormon women at the LDS Conference Center. Thanks for that look!
LDS young women

Bryce Longaker, a veteran of two deployments to Iraq and a Unified Fire Authority firefighter and medic, is no longer with us. His brother Erik and mother Paula Garner received a standing ovation as they were presented with a posthumous award their loved one had earned through his heroic actions. This was a tough night for his family members, one of many I’m sure. I want to thank them for allowing me to be there. I was honored.

A lighter moment from a family birthday party, where my young niece encouraged the piñata bashers to strike harder. I laughed out loud when she yelled out, “Hit it like it’s a person!”
piñata

I continue to be amazed by the FLDS story and the many moments where we’re able to photograph something that previously seemed impossible. This time we were able to tour a home that had been built for Warren Jeffs. I never thought I’d see inside those 10-12 foot high walls.
home built for warren jeffs

Sometimes you can’t believe your good fortune. Like when there’s a flood on Lazy River Drive.
flood on Lazy River Drive

Nikki Breedlove is one of the toughest people I met this year. Hit by a car and suffering a major head injury, she was facing another surgery when we talked. Only later did I find out she used to do my wife’s hair. I hope you’re doing well, Nikki.
Nikki Breedlove

The family of LDS church leader Thomas Monson was grieving their matriarch, Monson’s wife Frances, who passed away earlier this day. Ann Monson Dibb put on a brave face and spent an afternoon talking to various media outlets about the life of her mother. Sadly, we had the last interview of the day and by the time our turn came she seemed drained. Who wouldn’t be? Thanks for taking the time to talk to us on this tough day.
Ann Monson Dibb

Snow Canyon players honored their fallen teammate Kreg “K.J.” Harrison, who drowned last year, by holding his jersey aloft following their championship win. He must be proud of you guys.
Snow Canyon players honored their fallen teammate Kreg K.J. Harrison

These girls eating candy at the state softball championships made my day. I remember all the time I spent at sporting events as a child. My heart is always with the kids hovering around the snack shack.
girls eating candy

Being honored at Westminster College’s graduation, commencement speaker Robert Redford cracked me up with a quick bit of physical comedy, tugging on his collar.
robert redford, westminster college graduation

The tension between the supporters of Matthew Stewart and the supporters of the Odgen Police Department was the most I’ve felt in a long time. There was so much emotion in the air that I felt frustrated as a photojournalist. There seemed to be no way to possibly capture the intensity of the moment. Not in pictures, words, or video. It was a something you could feel more than you could see.
supporters of Matthew Stewart and the supporters of the Odgen Police Department

We were lucky to get some time to photograph in the LDS Church’s Missionary Training Center (MTC). It was a quick ninety minutes so I shot everything I could. Everyone kept staring at me. I stood out from everyone with my camera and beard. But also, everyone was so friendly. I was trying to make a candid shot in this hallway as missionaries walked past portraits of former church leaders when this fresh faced kid went by smiling at the camera. Normally I’d discard such a photo but in this case his reaction says a lot about the MTC, where everyone I saw was very happy and very friendly.
LDS Church's Missionary Training Center (MTC)

It was really cool covering the stocking of nearly 5,000 golden trout into a remote mountain lake. But sometimes I think I should have been a reporter. While I was running around with a bunch of heavy equipment shooting video and stills, the reporter seemed very relaxed with only a small notebook, a GoPro and a fly rod. Someone has their job figured out better than I do.
golden trout in echo lake

The Stadium of Fire. So over the top, year after year. It’s a photographer’s dream assignment.
Stadium of Fire

The Tour of Utah was my highlight of the year. Riding on the back of a motorcycle from Panguitch to Torrey, going in and out of the peloton, was the most thrilling thing ever. These riders are superhuman. We were so close I could have reached out and touched these guys.
Tour of Utah

And as the motorcycle raced along in the Tour of Utah, there were so many amazing scenes as fans lined the route. This is one of my favorite photographs ever. Just look at these cool kids out to cheer on the cyclists with their pots and spoons. You guys are amazing.
fans at Tour of Utah

Before the government shutdown, Senator Mike Lee held a town hall meeting in Spanish Fork. I couldn’t believe my ears when he opened with a joke from Emo Phillips’ 1985 record E=MO2, one of my favorite comedy recordings. The rest of Lee’s material? Whether it was funny or not is up to you to decide.
senator mike lee, town hall meeting in spanish fork

Joshua Petersen was seated alone in the jury box, waiting to plead guilty to killing his infant son. What a tragedy. I took one shot. He heard the camera go off, looked at me, and tears started to pour out of his eyes. He covered his face and put his head in his hands. So sad, and so alone…
Joshua Petersen pleads guilty

This is the view from my desk on Paul Fraughton’s last day at the Tribune. We lost a lot of good journalists this year. I’ve been horrible about keeping in touch – dreadful really – but I miss all those we lost and wish you the best in the future.

The Milky Way over Torrey, Utah. Thanks to the great friends who gave us a place to relax for one weekend, out in the dark, away from the city. It was a wonderful break, at just the right time. Little did I know the government shutdown would keep me working out of town driving hundreds of miles and staying in multiple hotels, for a full week right after this pleasant break.
The Milky Way over Torrey, Utah

This scene, FLDS boys playing on an old tractor, reminded me of a similar one I photographed on my first real trip to Short Creek in 2005. I have a dozen or so frames in both cases that come close to a masterpiece. But it’s hard to capture the magic of a scene from a block or more away. The excitement and frustration from watching scenes like this bring me back to Short Creek time after time. Imagine the photographs I could make if the people didn’t run away when they spotted me.
FLDS boys playing on an old tractor

Utah Attorney General John Swallow spent much of the year under investigation. I shot this one during his historic resignation speech.
Utah Attorney General John Swallow resigns

I was lucky enough to photograph Real Salt Lake in the Western Conference Finals (Portland) and the MLS Cup (Kansas City). I came away with tons of great action and celebration shots. But the this one meant the most: RSL coach Jason Kreis with a tear in his eye after the win in Portland.
RSL coach Jason Kreis with a tear in his eye after the win in Portland

We got new cameras in November. They are amazing. I got out before the sun rose one snowy morning and shot this dark scene hand-held. The shot was very popular online, where some readers claimed it had been photoshopped or shot as an HDR image. Actually, this is pretty much how it looked straight out of the Nikon D4. I made only a few minor adjustments to tone, white balance and saturation in Lightroom. Within hours this photo had nearly 600 likes on Facebook but it was never published in the paper.
snow in sugar house, utah

I drove out to the Christiansen Family Farm in Vernon to photograph kids and turkeys. The bacon they gave me was so good I’ll never be able to eat grocery store bacon ever again. Thank you! What a beautiful place. I could have posted a photo of the family or the turkeys, or even the bacon. It was a great assignment with all the right ingredients: good subject, wonderful people, and also my favorite thing… on the way there, lots of open road. There it is…
desert road

Let’s see what the open road brings to all of us in 2014. Best to you all.

Back to Nikon: Week One

IMG 1666
So long to old gear.

That middle finger? It’s not a Nikon vs. Canon thing. It’s about old gear. Nikon and Canon are comparable systems with some of the best cameras ever made in their current lineups. If you’re a good enough photographer that one would be better for your situation, you already know it. Otherwise buy a camera that feels right, has decent reviews, stop reading and start shooting.

You will judged by your photographs, not what you shot them with.

I put all my old gear into a box and turned it in. The decision was made by my employer: I’m switching from Canon to Nikon. I couldn’t be more excited. Using outdated, inferior equipment for so long has been a wound. (For the record: I started with Canon, switched to Nikon, switched to Canon, now to Nikon again.)

Here’s what I’ve learned in the first week with the Nikon D4.

New gear is no magic wand, turning everything into an amazing photograph. First night I went out on a walk expecting to come back with a ton of amazing photos. Didn’t happen. You need good subjects and good situations to make great photographs, not just great equipment. All I got out of that walk was the proof that my 24-70 is razor sharp…

11 11 2013 79
6400 ISO, handheld at 1/25th of a second

Screen Shot 2013 11 16 at 8 51 41 AM
Here’s a 100% section of the above image

11 11 2013 97
And I learned that I could now shoot handheld even in the dark.

Day two I shot a couple of assignments and played around in the park. Lesson learned – the 70-200 is also razor sharp.

11 12 2013 85
detail below

Screen Shot 2013 11 16 at 8 54 15 AM
And a 100% blowup. The sensor is clearly amazing.

11 12 2013 308
These from a walk after my shift, with a 35/2.0 lens I bought in 1998:
11 12 2013 299

Day three

11 13 2013 162
Self-assigned this shot before another assignment

11 13 2013 538
Cathedral choir rehearsal

11 13 2013 432
Then ran down to catch the Jazz win their first game.

Bball
At left is the Nikon D4, at right is the same angle showing what I was getting with the Canon Mark IV and my 2005 era 70-200. Big difference in clarity and color, and focus tracking much improved.

Day four:

11 14 2013 881
This with a 14mm, which is much too wide for just about every situation.

11 14 2013 823
200-400 for football. Figured out that it’s much more effective to put your left hand over the top to zoom with that lens.

Day five:

TLN1436
Self-assigned this one.

Screen Shot 2013 11 16 at 9 03 21 AM
Here’s a 100% detail from it.

Day six:

TLN2245

This was the kind of pouring rain and snow that in the past would have forced me to manual focus. The D4′s autofocus never seemed to miss a beat.

TLN2454

Right now my complaints are either common to the D4 or personal preferences I’ll adjust to.

1. LCD screen is not accurate – and green. A known, unfortunate issue. Good thing I shoot everything RAW.
2. No SD card slot. Ouch – I had a great workflow with SD cards, using my MacBook Air’s internal SD reader so I wouldn’t have a card reader dangling off my laptop. I’ll have to figure a good alternative out.
3. Zoom lenses zoom in the opposite direction of the Canon zooms. Even after nine years zooming the other way, it only took a week to train myself to reverse zoom. Working a basketball game was key. The reverse thing on Nikon gear has always been bizarre to me. In second grade I learned the number line, with negative numbers on the left side of zero. Don’t know why Nikon lenses and cameras often put the smnaller numbers on the right.

I think this is going to work out. It’s still early on. It takes time to learn a new camera’s strengths and weaknesses.