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.”


Notes from the Pros: Brett Harkness

Notes from the Pros

An ongoing series sharing words of wisdom from professionals

27 OCTOBER 2010


Brett Harkness is a photographer working in Manchester. He began his working career with a six year tour of duty in the Caribbean as a photographer on cruise ships. He met his wife Christy whilst working there, and she is now his business partner in their photo business. Brett covers all aspects of travel and social photography from weddings and lifestyle to fashion and commercial.


Brett learnt the fundamentals of  social photography working on Caribbean cruise ships.

“I learnt how to approach people with a camera and how to put people at ease around me and my camera. I learnt to work long hours and to see quickly and compose in second. It took me six years to master this but gives me a big advantage when I have, for example, 10 minutes with a bride and groom. And I learned to go around the back of people because you will often find better light or a better view.”

Back from the Caribbean and working from a 12 square foot studio above a bridal shop in Rochdale , Brett started shooting weddings for £150-350 each with  a couple of rolls of film. It was a nightmare and nearly quashed his desire to do wedding photography. But the £180 cheque for his first photography was an emotional moment and the start of real business. That cheque is now proudly framed on the studio wall.

by Brett Harkness, on Flickr

“There are three things that people don’t stress enough that are required to be a successful photographer:  passion, hardwork, and belief. Without belief then we have nothing. Without passion you won’t be able make your photography stand out. There is a quote from David Bailey that I like about photography: ‘You need more imagination than a painter to see the extraordinary because everything looks ordinary’.”

“Digital allows you to shoot too much, so it is important to reign yourself in. And don’t shoot 50 weddings a year because you can. Shoot 15 weddings a year with passion and you will be a better photographer.”


by Brett Harkness, on Flickr

Brett’s photography drips with luminous light across the whole frame bringing you right into the picture to join the story.

A respectful mischievousness determines the framing and placing of subjects so that the juxtaposition of elements often surprises: Detail of small black fingers gripping a ledge turns into a young gorilla, an Indian shepherd gazes proudly at the lens with two favourite animals one under each arm, or a moment of (deliberate?) symmetry spotted when a gorilla and a small girl lean against opposite sides of a pillar and both pick their noses.

“There is a client for every photographer and every style, and some styles are more interesting than others. Above all else learn to create your own style, and realise what you are not good at.

“Go on training courses but use them as a starting point. No amount technical perfection will sell photos if you don’t have a style that is different.

“Around the Brett Harkness studio we always have brochures to nit-pick the lighting techniques of big marketing and stay contemporary.

“I hate vintage which is all the rage at the moment. I try to make images that show the experience, like getting a bride to run through a field.

“Our clients get into the photography too. For travel, weddings, people are prepared to pay you for experiencing the day with them. They never say ‘Thanks for the photos’. They say, ‘Thanks for bringing us to the beach and giving us such a great day.’ They get involved in the activities of the photography.

“You have to give your client a different experience every time they come back to you. Otherwise they won’t return to you.


“I shoot JPEG, not RAW, so I can see exactly what I am getting, and I  don’t offer the client a disc.

“50 mm is my lens of choice for environmental portraiture. It causes you to look around. I used to zoom too much. Now I am making the shot by what’s around them.

“Fashion, I’ve jumped into big time this year. Fashion is a way to experiment.

“I started using Elinchrom flash lights this April and it’s opened up a new creativity. Flash gives you depth and clarity, and flexibility, particularly outdoors.

“If I flash people from the side, it keeps fabric folds emphasised in the shots. I saw this amazing shot of the bride and bridesmaids as we were leaving the house. The two dark wood doors give the frame, and with flash from side, they are radiant.

“Now I go and seek out the rain. I used to be afraid of it. Now those lovely glistening rain drops are so tempting.”


by Brett Harkness, on Flickr

“I am a massive believer in tangible things people can hold. Our brochures are the most expensive things we produce for marketing and they are a great help in conveying the quality of the photography. One potential customer looking through the brochure remarked ‘you feel too expensive’ which meant that we didn’t waste our time talking about something that wasn’t going to happen. But many people come in to the studio to see what they want to work towards. Successful selling works by giving them a taster, and then allowing them to buy the things they want. What they buy will then be emotional to them and have more value.

“Networking is of course key to our success. And most importantly, networking with the right people, and making sure the right people are talking about us. It’s other people who can sell your photos for you.

“Social networking is a massive business tool for us. We’ve had training courses booked in an hour and since April when we started out using Twitter, we’ve had two wedding bookings, one commercial, and one social booking.

“Viral sharing is massive. We now watermark a small selection of 6-7 photos from a shoot and then give them to people for them to share with their friends on Facebook, websites, email. People get to know what we do and share the pleasure of the event, and have the opportunity to buy prints. It works in curious ways. Recently we got a £1000 album booking from a bridesmaid at a wedding because she loved the photos we took.”


Notes from the Pros: James Tonkin, Hangman Studios



Notes from the Pros

An ongoing series sharing words of wisdom from professionals



26 OCTOBER 2010



James Tonkin says that Final Cut Studio and DSLR cameras are a creative rebel’s dream combination. Both can be used to create work that far outscales the cost of the tools and allows story, ideas and good execution to lead the way. The impressive sound design, multi-textured graphic overlays and pacy edits are a common feature of his elegant visual style.


“This is a promo film for an auction house in Beijing with a collection of very expensive watches to auction. I had a very short time on the project. The client wanted to use stills originally, but then we decided to shoot video to make the presentation better.

“Planning in advance, I booked the fight, get a visa, and arrange hiring of Canon MPE65 macro lens,and  5x macro lens zoom in order to get all the details of the watches. I used no image stabilisation, had to become a ninja of camera moves, and use Smoothcam Final Cut plug-in.

“The film explores the Chinese philosophy of time. A lot was shot in London and during the 5 am Beijing rush hour. I went to Athens for the timelapse.90% of the work was done on a laptop and the equipment put into a carry-on suitcase.

“For the shoot, I got a small fluid head and a ringlight from friends, and flew to Beijing. I had two days there, arriving at 8 am and by 11 am I’d started shooting.

“ I used the natural daylight by a window so I could set up quickly to make the watches look elegant. Lighting was a couple of Ikea desk lamps and the ring light. This was very low budget but I wanted to get the most out of the watches. I had no space for something like a dolly pocket slider, so I used the tripod standing on some wheels I found lying around the office.

“I edited the majority of this on the flight on the way back from Beijing, getting back 6am Thursday. Then there was 2.5 days to work in the studio, get some better looks etc, then I took everything to Athens and did the rest there.”

Before showing the watches, James builds interest by combining the video material with studio shots of ink dripping into water. Graphical overlays and treatments give phrases in Chinese characters and English: ‘Time sits, time stands, time goes backwards’. Over the Beijing and Athens city video and timelapse the pace quickens: ‘Time crawls, time flies, time changes, time tells the truth’. The watches appear in stunning detail shot with macro lenses enabling buyers to see the beauty of the working watches, beauty that would have been completely lost using still photography.

“The text was all completed in motion. This is an amazing application and very under used. It’s good for real time editing and you never have to render text in Motion. Other software used was Compressor, DVD Pro, Soundtrack, and Logic, with all the audio done in Logic.

“The project was all on time and in budget and the client was very pleased. I’d FTP things to the client and they’d respond very quickly, often in five minutes. I used Skype with the client to change the text, and it was almost as if they are in the same room.

“This has been the most creatively rewarding job this year, all done myself with just a laptop and a DSLR.”


James covered a live concert in Athens using 10 DSLR cameras. Planning took six months and included a test at an Archive concert in Paris using a Canon 7D, Zacuto Z-finder and a monopod, with the resulting film used as a trailer on the bands website.

“The 12 minute record limit means there are lots of clips. They’re also difficult to monitor, so there would be no live video gallery for picture switching. I planed that each camera would be pre-briefed and would then shoot undirected for 2.5 hours.

“The production used 10 DSLR, 1 Sony EX3, and 1 RED for a 4k wide shot giving a detailed continuous view of the stage. In post, I could zoom in and out of this wide shot, and since I was finishing in a 1080 HD sequence, the 4k picture allowed me to zoom in without degrading.

“I used the EX3 on a crane jib for the continuous record since the Canon 5DMK2 would be too tricky to sort out.

“If I had had a bigger budget, I would have shot all with RED because they have amazing resolution over DSLRs and EX3s would not have given same look. For RED, it would have been around £1k per camera plus operator, but for DSLRs it is around £0.5k.

“I chose experienced DSLR solo camera shooters and I got good footage to work from. The operators brought their own cameras. There were a couple of Canon 550Ds, and the rest were 7Ds and 5DMK2s and the colours were mainly well-balanced.

“Lenses used included the Canon IS fast lenses such as 70-200mm f2.8 or 24-105mm f4. These are very good lenses. There was also one roving camera with an IS lens shooting out of the crowd. A 550D with a Nikon lens gave the best shot.

“With the shutter speed set at 1/50 s, I had to ask for more light onto stage, to allow shooting at ISO 640 to give correct exposure.

“Most cameras had 7” Marshal monitors with battery on the back, and one camera had a SmallHD monitor. Anton Bauer batteries were on most of the cameras so as to minimise the number of things to worry about during shooting. Each camera was given a 32GB compact flash card, which were swapped when it got to the encores. Camera onboard sound was synched to the band master desk audio.

“I had 40 hours of rushes, including Athens and backstage, that was transcoded to ProRes Proxy, the lowest form of ProRes. I output them all at once and then flipped through shots like I would in a gallery.

“It was a problem synching 18 clips x 10 cameras, but the PluralEyes plug-in for FCP saved my life because I spent one day synching the camera angles. It would have taken a week without it. It took 100 hours to transcode RED footage and that slowed down edit. Grading and finishing was done in Colour and then MPEG Streamclip used to convert to h.264.”


Christopher Nolan talks physics and film

I was delighted to find Christopher Nolan casually talking physics in the middle of a discussion at the Hero Complex Film Festival Hollywood in June, and reported in the Los Angeles Times. It emphasises how intrinsic physics is to cinematography, and to the director creating his vision.

When asked about the current craze for 3-D cinema, Nolan said he resented the suggestion that cinema was somehow flat without those special glasses for 3-D viewing, and said that he was not a huge fan.

“The truth is, I think it’s a misnomer to call it 3-D versus 2-D. The whole point of cinematic imagery is it’s three-dimensional. … You know, 95% of our depth cues come from occlusion, resolution,

color and so forth, so the idea of calling a 2-D movie a ‘2-D movie’ is a little misleading,” he said.

The Los Angeles times recounts that he nodded to the movie screen behind him, and told the audience that he, literally, had a dim view of the 3-D releases he’d watched: “The truth of it is when you watch a film in here, you’re looking at 16 foot-lamberts, When you watch through any of the conventional 3-D processes you’re giving up three foot-lamberts. A massive difference. You’re not that aware of it because once you’re ‘in that world,’ your eye compensates, but having struggled for years to get theaters get up to the proper brightness, we’re not sticking polarized filters in everything.”

So, that’s physics of illumination, depth perception and human vision. Not bad for a film talk.