Blogging on photojournalism, video, television news, technology, and other media issues.
Working it! One shot at a time. That's what I do. Having had a camera up to my eyes since I was 14 has made me who I am today. I've met so many people, traveled to so many places, and lived my life through various focal lengths of glass. In fact, I can't think of too many things I've done without a photographic reference coming to mind. The World Trade Centers, 1973: My first camera, a Minolta Hi-Matic, Tri-X film. Israel, 1980: Nikon F2, 105mm and 35mm, Kodachrome. The New York Stock Exchange, 1986: Nikon FM2, 300mm f 2.8 and 24mm, Fujichrome. The birth of my twin boys, 1995: Minolta CLE, Nikon FE2, Canon Sure-shot, Fujicolor. Montana, Fishing on the Yellowstone River, 2010: Canon Rebel XTi, 28mm-135mm, 10 megapixels. Occupy Wall Street, NYC, 2011: Sony PDW-510, XDCAM, Fujinon 20X lens.
If you've lived your life through photography, film, or video, then we have something in common. Or, if you're new to this passion of creating images and telling stories visually, I'd love to hear about your discoveries and your reactions to mine. It's a great time to have a camera to your eye. We're living through this fast-paced, digital revolution together. So much change, but the bottom line is still the same: Working it. From one moment to the next. One shot, one exposure at a time. Visually we communicate ideas, inform and, hopefully, touch others emotionally, all the while maintaining a level of integrity with the intended message. Let's keep the dialogue open.
Sunday, December 4, 2011
The hype: For the second month anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street in New York the pressure was building. Only a few days earlier, Mayor Bloomberg cleared the tents from Liberty Park (aka, Zuccotti Park) in lower Manhattan in the pre-dawn hours and now it was standing or sitting only, no more camping overnight. The park had wrap-around steel fences with only one entry point and private security guards stationed inside and police on the perimeter.
At around 7:45 a.m. on November 17, 2011, thousands began their march toward Wall Street. The drums were beating. Whistles were blowing. Cops on scooters and horseback lined the streets making for some interesting visual juxtapositions. Moreover, there were more video and still cameras (not to mention iPhones and Droids) than I've seen in a very long time. Nobody stayed home. I followed the front of march and focused on as much of the drama as possible. So long as I remained close to the police, the taunting protesters weren't far behind.
Suddenly, I got squeezed up against a parked car with the rush of the mob behind me pressing hard with nowhere to go. People were screaming for the cops to let us pass. Finally, they relented and we made our way to Pine and William Streets, about three blocks from the New York Stock Exchange.
A few dozen protesters sat down in the intersection and soon the arrests began. I jumped out to capture the action and to my surprise a cop elbowed me in the chest. He said nothing. So much for having a press pass! Another cop ordered me back on the sidewalk. They were using their nightsticks to push and intimidate. At one point someone grabbed a night stick from a cop and threw it. I saw it fly through the air, but I wasn't recording. A missed moment I wasn't happy about that! I was fighting for a good angle as arrests were being made about 15 feet away.
In the mood of collaboration a college-aged kid started telling people that "his" cameraman (me) needed to get out in front. He helped push people apart so I could squeeze in and focus and have some elbow room. A cop shouted at him to move and he said he was with me. I turned to the kid and said, "Are you serious? You're gonna get us both arrested!" Then I pushed him back and said, "I don't need your help! But thanks."
You never know what you're going to get when you're roaming the streets covering a protest. You try to be careful, but if you're not close enough it's hard to get the pieces of the story you're there to cover. It might be exciting at times (even an adrenaline rush) covering a historic movement, but after a few hours of following the crowds I was back at the satellite truck resting--exhausted physically and mentally. I needed time to refuel. Wouldn't you know it that during my respite, a bloody confrontation broke out at Zuccotti Park? Missed that one just two blocks away. Should of, could of, would of!
Occupy Wall Street originated with a group of people who brought their diverse voices to New York to raise the heat on the government and spotlight the economic inequality this country is facing. The tents came and the movement spread. The politicians and police reacted.
The digital cameras captured every move--by amateurs with smart phones and by the established media through stills and video. As I've said before, it's a lot like fishing: some days you get lucky and some days you come up dry. Nevertheless, if you keep "working it," you'll tell the story one shot at a time and hopefully come out unscathed!
Saturday, November 26, 2011
I did this trip once before as still photographer 25 years ago; it was a lot simpler back then--one small camera bag, two Nikon bodies and a few lenses, and some Kodachrome film. Now, as a TV news photographer, I had my shoulder-mounted, broadcast video camera, a hard Pelican case containing a powerful daylight-balanced light, three additional heavy duty camera batteries, a laptop computer, assorted microphones, plenty of cables, my tool bag, a tripod and a 4G up-link backpack unit for video transmission. All of the equipment I tethered to a four-wheeled cart with several bungee cords. Our deadline for air was 3:30 p.m. and our satellite truck would be parked back in Battery Park. But, just in case we couldn't get back in time, the up link unit would allow us to send our footage back to the broadcast center in New York.
My biggest surprise this early morning was seeing the new security measures with the magnetometers and X-ray machines making hopping on the ferry at Battery Park about as fun as going through J.F.K airport on Thanksgiving. Lucky for me I had company in ace field producer Dave Hawthorne, who's traveled the world covering wars, tsunamis, and earthquakes, and CBS News correspondent, Bigad Shaban, a seasoned journalist.
The old Boy Scout credo of “be prepared” holds true on location. Anytime. Anywhere. Anything can go wrong. I also brought along a step ladder just in case my view was obstructed as these kinds of events are known to have dozens of photographers all jockeying for the same shot. It is highly unpredictable. But as I approached the huge tent where the ceremony was about to get started, I couldn't help but say "thank you" to the photo gods. Our subject, a Navy reservists born in Nigeria, was sitting in the front row. Yes!
Whenever my angle challenges are solved, I can relax and concentrate on my subject seeking the moments needed to tell the story. In this case, the soon-to-be American citizen was anxious
but obviously bursting with pride. I hooked him up with a wireless microphone and shot away. At first I stayed in off to the right of the stage on the tripod, but after a few minutes I knelt down right in the center directly in front of him. The lighting? A non-issue. The see-through tent filtering sunlight through made the light easy to work with and quite beautiful. It was hitting him straight on. At one point I walked over to get even with where his chair was and shot a profile shot --admiring just how the light was sculpting his face from the side. Moments before the candidates finished reciting the words that would make them official U.S. citizens, one could feel the level of joy rising. It was a special moment I didn't want to miss. I checked my focus, my exposure, my sound levels, and started a slow zoom in as I had my man in the cross hairs and framed in the center with his neighbors to his left and right. I was listening carefully and with the words, "So help me God," I felt goosebumps as I observed him react with the purest of emotion. He nervously began waving his American flag and then shook hands with the men on either side of him. He was holding back tears.
Though we had met and interviewed our subject the day before, we interviewed him again immediately following the ceremony. Once more with feeling! And since part of the story was that Lady Liberty was closing for a year for renovations beginning on this day, I was off to get some shots of the statute. It was bathed in the morning sunlight. I couldn't resist and thought how weird it was that a quarter century ago my media of choice was Kodachrome film. Now it's all digital--video and stills. I used my "super telephoto" 2X setting on the Fujinon 20X video lens and shot detailed fragments, some slow tilts, and a couple of wide shots.
There's a reason this icon is so revered: it's an amazing work of art and, in this light, you could see the rivets that keep her together!
Once back on the ferry, we still had some work to do. I shot Bigad doing his pieces-to-camera (standup and teases) and shot a few minutes of footage as we passed by a fire boat shooting water into the air as part of the birthday celebration.
Once on land we hooked up with our satellite truck, sent our footage back to the broadcast center where a producer and editor would put it all together, and set up for live shots. I couldn't help but notice that the line of tourists waiting to get onto the ferry was several blocks long snaking around us as far as the eye could see. She really is one very popular Lady, even 125 years young.
Sunday, June 19, 2011
I pulled up behind them and followed them off the highway exit to their staging area.
Often, we find out in advance where that is. But today, the only address I had was where our satellite truck was parked since early morning. So I was feeling a bit lucky having the staging area reveal itself with such ease.I followed the last fire engine into the parking lot of the Basketball Hall of Fame and saw the National Guard out in full force. There, I met Geraldino, who was driving up from New York City, and we shot some footage from the planning meeting just getting under way, got our coordinates, and moved on to find where the devastation was.
Then we decide to turn around and head out of the downtown area. Traffic is a touch-and-go. Trees and power lines are down everywhere. Police have major intersections closed off. Signs from businesses are strewn about and windows are broken. The cleanup effort by shopkeepers is in full force. As we make our way through bumper-to-bumper traffic, I glance down a side street and I let out a scream! I can't believe what I'm seeing. A woman wielding an ax is chopping a tree on top of her car. I think, "Money shot!" It has all the elements we need.
The sound of the ax coming down on the tree is unnerving. I get in place and start shooting. Her ax misses once in a while and hits her front windshield or the hood of the car. "This is nuts," I'm saying to myself, "but certainly entertaining!" Geraldino interviews a few of the women who have taken turns with the ax. The owner of the car says it's her graduation day and she needs the car to run some errands, not knowing if it's been cancelled. I shoot close-ups of the ax hitting the tree, of their faces grimacing, of the car that is totaled swallowed up by this five-story tall tree, then step back and shoot wide shots.
Geraldino calls the producer in New York and tells him about our find. We film a stand-up to camera and decide we've got enough material. Time to find the truck which our GPS tells us is two miles away. Our segment featuring the ax-lady makes it into all of the packages from noon until evening.
A look at the clock and it was only 8:15 a.m. But already we had our f.8 and be there moment! Anything else we find that day would be gravy.
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
This is not something new. And certainly, other photographers have made this fish-photo analogy. But I find myself pursuing the ever-elusive so often that I can honestly say there's something of an addiction going on here.
Fishing and photography. It's you against the elements. The roaring river, the slippery rocks, the biting cold. Do you have the right lure, the right fly? Is it at the right depth? The right time of day? The right time of year? Have you remained out of sight or did you startle the fish?
The same is true about filming, producing, and getting your subject framed just right. Have you put your subjects at ease for an interview or portrait session? Is the lighting just right? Do you have the right microphones for the conditions that exist? Is everything in place--including you, the news gatherer? Moreover, do you have to set up hours before, laying cable, and is the generator functioning? Stand in a blizzard? No problem. Properly clothed? Of course. Endure the intense heat and humidity and blazing sunlight? Totally!
As a news photographer for broadcast television, the logistics are so much more important to success that often setting up the camera on the tripod and striking the lights are an afterthought. Similarly, on a still photo shoot, you or your editor may have spent months on the phone with your subject, or some authority granting you permission to do a shoot, helping you to ultimately gain access, clear the rights issues, etc., that when the day of the shoot finally arrives it's almost like an out-of-body experience. Is this really happening? You've spent hundreds of hours imagining how it will look; now it's time for the magic, the surprise, the moment of truth, or just plain luck that it goes your way.
And by getting the image or covering the story, you find yourself in some of the strangest situations. You might get too close to the action--more than your mother would have recommended! I remember thinking this when I was a newspaper photographer in Buffalo, New York. The city's armory was on fire. About 50 fire engines responded. The munitions stored in the National Guard's trucks were exploding through the roof. Firey embers were shooting into the sky. I was across the street in the backyard of a private home, half a block away, taking photos of the explosions, but hiding under a picnic table. It wasn't enough protection. My jacket was smoldering from the glowing-orange pieces of wood landing on me. Great pictures, but getting them required some tactical navigation.
I've staked out and stalked politicians, criminals, athletes, even priests and rabbis. I've followed doctors, clowns, stockbrokers, pole vaulters, game wardens. I've found high angles in catwalks above arenas, trading floors, and hanging out of helicopters. From minus 25 degrees in Siberia's oil fields to 125 degrees capturing molten gold bars being poured in west Africa. I haven't covered wars, but I've covered protests with bricks and spit flying over head.
Nobody ever said photojournalism--both in stills and moving images--was going to be without risks. I guess that's where I'm going with this fishing metaphor. If you have done both, you'll quickly recall where you were, and the level of fear, when you risked life and limb to get the fish--to get the picture.
I fish a lot less these days. That's because I have a son who loves to fish even more than me. So, what has happened is I've combined two loves. Well, actually, three. Fishing, photography and watching my son fish through my lens.
We've made it a point to go fishing often. Last year, we went to Montana and experienced the Madison, the Yellowstone, and the Rock Creek. But we've gone on so many fishing trips over a dozen years--deep sea, river, lake, surf casting--that if I found all the pictures and put them in one place I bet it would be make a nice collection.
It's all about the element of surprise. Revelations beneath the surface. And for those of us passionate enough, a reason for breathing.
All photographs copyright by Ken Kerbs.
Saturday, March 19, 2011
So, I thought I was prepared to cover Mardi Gras.
I was until my correspondent, Karen Brown, told me she wanted to hop aboard a float. Turned away by several New Orleans' police officers and turned down by a half-dozen float drivers on tractors, we finally found one to jump aboard. Karen had no problem climbing the ladder and being pulled up by the necklace-throwing army of men. My logistics were a bit of an issue: the float wasn't about to come to a halt for me. I handed over my knapsack to producer Reed Watson who stayed on the street and trailed us from behind. Then, I placed my PDW-510 Sony XDCam on the floor of the float (complete with battery brick, light and microphones weighing in at approximately 20 lbs.) while Karen reached down to grab hold of the handle. OK, full disclosure: it was probably only moving at five miles an hour! Yet, I had to climb up the ladder fast. It was awkward and seemed a little risky. (In the back of my mind I thought one of the officers who was adamant that we could not go on a float would see me and come from behind to yank me off!)
I made it and got my bearings. What a relief! And what a great view! Karen was right. We found a great spot for coverage of the parade. The music was blaring. The spectators screaming below as the men on this float tossed beaded necklaces like there was no tomorrow. It was, after all, Spring Break!
One of the funniest moments came when Karen was interviewing a float elder, an 80-year-old, whose face was covered with a shiny yellow fabric. Speaking through it muffled the sound, so Karen had to lift the mask and stick the mic underneath close to his mouth.
The other issue was the music. We were less than five feet from a mounted speaker. There was no way to get them to turn it off the, so we just moved away from it. Surprisingly, the sound came out better than I thought it would. Anytime there's a lot of ambient noise during an interview, I always dial back the levels and move the mic in super-close--almost touching the subject's mouth.
And then there was the lighting. There were hundreds of small incandescent (think Tungsten) bulbs all over the place. Street lamps were bright on passing but gave a blue/green cast. On my camera I stayed in Tungsten mode, 2800 Kelvin, with a Frezzi atop, but covered it with a layer of Roscoe Tough Spun so it would act as fill especially under the eyes and not be that obvious. And in low light, I upped my gain sensitivity to 9db--making the 720 x 480 SD image appear more grainy than I usually prefer.
Staying steady on a moving float shooting an interview was challenging. I leaned my body against the railing and sometimes found myself using my left arm over my head to cling to the ceiling above. In a moving situation you do what you must to find stability. At some point the float stopped, but we just kept shooting, grabbing any b-roll images off the float of the people cheering below, and finishing up our interview. Then, when it started rolling again, we shot Karen's standup bridge-to-camera.
So that was my introduction to Mardi Gras. A float-hopping, Fat Tuesday in and around Canal and Bourbon Streets. What a spectacle! Dodging necklaces being thrown our way, the incredible mass of people, the silly costumes and lack thereof, and the stench!
One near accident. While buying some orange juice at a fast-food place at 4:30 a.m., I was in the middle of two guys lunging at each other in a fist fight. It started when a very drunk and exhausted college-aged punk spilled his iced-tea on a very husky sober guy! Pushed aside and losing my balance, I high-tailed it out of there while police on horseback were racing to break it up and make an arrest.
My camera and I made it out alive. My lesson in a nutshell: Be prepared 'cause at Mardi Gras anything goes!
Saturday, January 1, 2011
One, Al Paglione, made a great impression on me. He passed away in April, 2010 while I was away on assignment and I didn't hear about his death until several weeks later.
So the other day while capturing some of the activities in and around Times Square (including the police installing barricades, men in cherry pickers fixing a Jumbotron's LED screen, and a Mickey Mouse Santa posing with tourists in front of the Disney store), I saw something and immediately thought of Al.
Al would have liked that.
I last saw him about 18 years ago and I wish I stayed in touch. I'm sorry I missed saying goodbye to him. But I realized the other day, that Al is with me more than I'm conscious of whenever I have a video camera on my shoulder or my still camera up to my eye.
Thank you, Al Paglione.
You can read about what a special person Al Paglione was and about his accomplishments here: http://www.northjersey.com/obituaries/042910_paglione.html
Saturday, December 11, 2010
details the artists put into to these figures. I swore she was about to sneeze!
Shot on location in New York on December 9, 2010.