Notes from the Pros: Dan Chung

Notes from the Pros

An ongoing series sharing words of wisdom from professionals

26 OCTOBER 2010


Dan Chung is a photojournalist working in Asia and regularly shoots multimedia news stories for organisations such as The Guardian using Canon HDLSRs.

“I’ve been shooting for 2 years on the Canon 5dMk2. In that time, it’s moved from a sideline tool to serious production tool used all over the world by TV, filmmakers and journalists. It’s taken most of the industry by surprise. I can now create a news event that has a more cinematic look.”

“The way I covered this was by using three Canon DSLRs. They’re small, and light, and you can put them in places where they would never have been put before. This is a big change because I just can’t carry more than one traditional news camera.

“There is an absolute meltdown in conventional media. They are all in trouble. The old-fashioned way is a dying way of doing news. I won’t expect to get a salary from the traditional job in 15-20 years – the jobs just won’t exist. But if you create something different now, you stand a much better chance of getting paid to do it.

“As a photographer, we have to adapt to the new world order. HD is everything, and the web is a powerful sharing platform, with good content, and some content I hate. But good imagery does stand the chance of getting an audience. This is the first time in history that someone can go out there, get great stuff and show it to a lot of people.

“Why this look for news? I think it looks much better than what you see on TV. We come from a heritage of shooting news on film and watching news in a cinema on film. This is a great way of looking at world, and we can learn again how to do it.

“I am a solo shooter working with no other help and it was previously impossible to do this so easily. When I say I’m out on my own, I’m lucky. I usually have a reporter with me, who happens to be my wife which is very handy, and an interpreter. The interpreter has helped me with carrying, but it is just me shooting.”


“For this story I also used two GoPro helmet cams.These are very famous at the moment since they were used for some of the Chile miner shots. You can easily cut them in with DSLR footage.

“This whole story was shot in less than 24 hours, and the production values are fantastic. Previously this would have been impossible. That is my rationale for using these cameras. They are for telling stories better than the standard news approach.

“We took a separate day at another race to shoot stills for The Guardian that were used for the centre spread.

“I used the 550d close to horses, because at such a low price, it is disposable, essentially. Some people may be surprised at that, but you do know the risks from your planning, and can make a choice.

“I don’t just use these cameras because they are funky new toys, but because they help you tell the news better, and I really do have to tell a story. This applies outside of news too. Any real, live event has to tell a story, a human story that will make the film more interesting and it will stand the test of time.

“So, technically what did it take? Everything has to fit in a ThinkTank bag. I normally take three camera bodies and I choose these according to job. It could be a couple of 60Ds and for low light,maybe a 1DMk4.

“One of my favourite lenses is the 100mm Canon macro. I like to shoot with very fast aperture lenses to know that the background is out of focus, but I most often shoot around f4 to f5.6. The 24 mm L-series is my single most used prime lens for when it’s very dark.

“Some people get very concerned about moiré from these cameras, but for me, most of audience is on the web. So they might notice, but don’t care because they’re more interested in the story.

“Since I’m in a news environment, I try to get colour, style and content right when I’m shooting rather than try to do it afterwards. It saves a lot of time.

“Sound is really, really important. It’s 50 per cent of video, and the hardest thing for a photographer to get their head around. I recommend that you listen carefully, and practice recording sound around you for the purposes of learning what is good sound.

“Other equipment: ND filters are absolutely critical to control the light. I have a pack of Tiffen ND filters of different strengths. Also, you’ll need to think about dolly and tripods.”


“I was amazed that they let us in. We had precisely one day notice, which included travelling to the North Korean embassy in Beijing to get a visa. There was no preparation time. It was ‘bang, you’re there, do it’. I had to shoot stills as well as video. Typically, if you shoot both, you will compromise on both. I was hoping it was not going to be a complete disaster.

“I had to update stills for The Guardian whilst the event was happening, which meant I could not edit video at the same time – it’s just impossible.

“My approach was again to use multiple cameras, with more than one on the go at any time. I had one focussed on Kim Jong Ilall the time, one on a track on the ground and one on a tripod with a medium telephoto lens.

“The main news crews can only carry one news camera, so I got much more variety in my shots. This was great, because the main audience is on web and they want to see alternative views of everyday news.”

“What I am doing is still photojournalism in my mind, but I am adding something different to a news story. I still have to do some things in the way news organisations currently need. So, they will need a story reported in there and then, but I can still offer something different to them by using two cameras at once to get multiple shots.”


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