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Miki Johnson: Tell me a little about what you learned when you were teaching, photographing, and writing all at once. It seems that your work at TCI brings all those skills together.
David Bathgate: The short answer to this is that it’s improved my own communication skills with a camera and in words. Mentoring students draws on skills I’ve acquired and brings things I’ve learned through experience to a more conscious level. From here, I can better analyze what I see in student images at TCI and thus be more constructive in the critiques and advice I give.
MJ: What was your initial goal for starting TCI and where do you see it going?
DB: My initial and continuing aim is to offer an alternative to increasingly more expensive “on-location” photo and video workshops. One of things that will be changing soon, however, is the temporal format for courses. Instead of continuing with our original and current four- and six-week offerings with a set start and end date, students will be able to enroll and begin their course immediately — whenever they want.
Our new “subscription” system will provide students with two, four, or six months (Mentor Program) to complete each course’s six assignments and upload them to the TCI website for instructor comments and critiques. Additionally, students will have course-related access to their instructor throughout their subscription period and be able (for an additional fee) to obtain a full portfolio review of their work and arrange an hour-long Skype appointment to discuss their course progress in full.
TCI’s new approach is designed to take optimum advantage of the internet’s on-demand convenience and real-time capability. We are confident the change will add great functionality and robustness to our already proven “virtual classroom” experience.
A strong social networking component is also in the works. With this, both those establishing a free on-site account with us, as well as currently enrolled and past students, will be able to upload photos and/or video to a personal gallery and communicate with a group of like-minded people.
What the future holds for the TCI depends to large degree on the evolution of the internet itself. Our goal here is to make our classrooms as real as possible and to have our courses deliver not just a valuable educational experience, but and enjoyable one, too.
Still another avenue we are pursuing is that of accreditation. To this end, we’ve already opened discussions with several universities in the U.S. and Europe and hope to add “college credit available” to our brand soon.
MJ: Were there other online classes when TCI was launched? What are the advantages to the students and instructors of online classes?
DB: We actually began with a “beta” version of TCI in mid-2005. At that time there were a couple of online schools offering photography courses of the “basic” kind or not involving instructor interaction at all. The TCI groundstone was laid to offer instruction not only to newcomers, but also to serious amateurs and aspiring professionals. These are our roots and from this we continue to grow, as technology and the internet offer ever more fertile ground for our evolution.
For TCI students this means guaranteed educational value, as well as an enjoyable experience void of the cost, scheduling, and time-consuming hassle of making one’s way to a distant photography or videography course or workshop.
For TCI instructors, the venue and its rich functionality means being able to teach a course successfully and interactively from just about anywhere on the planet. Instructors can access their courses while on assignment or from the comfort of their very own studio. No need to allocate large blocks of time for teaching.
For example, I can critique student assignments and answer questions from a wifi hotspot in Dubai’s International Airport while in transit. Then when I arrive at my assignment destination in Kabul, Afghanistan, I can connect my laptop to a guesthouse ethernet cable and continue the process of running a “classroom” in an effective and efficient manner. For everyone — students and instructors — online, interactive teaching as TCI does it is a great alternative for anyone seeking quality, professionally-led photography or video production learning experience.
MJ: What are a few of the most important things for visual storytellers to understand about the market right now and in the near future?
DB: The most important thing as I see it, is to begin thinking beyond the traditional outlets for visual storytelling like magazines and newspapers. It’s becoming nearly cliche, but it’s true. Costs of production and evaporating advertising revenues are driving these long-established venues to extinction. By consensus, the internet is the “new frontier” for publishing — and rightfully so. Its speed, its expansiveness, and its accessibility yields far more room for all sorts of publication and exposure potential. This is where I want to take The Compelling Image into the future.
Name: Joe Riis
Location: Moose, Wyoming right now and moving to Bijou Hills, South Dakota, early in 2010. I want to live in a cabin on the prairie.
Full-time job: Wildlife photographer and videographer
Personal project name and short description
Pronghorn Passage, a conservation photography project that focuses on the Grand Teton National Park pronghorn migration. Each fall a herd of 400 pronghorn antelope migrate from Grand Teton National Park down into the Upper Green River Basin of Wyoming, a total round-trip journey of 300 miles. This migration is the second longest overland mammal migration in the western hemisphere (after caribou in Alaska). The migration corridor is being squeezed down by residential development and mineral extraction on the private and public lands that it crosses. Pronghorn Passage is a collaborative project between myself and essayist Emilene Ostlind.
When and why did you start it?
The project was actually Emilene’s idea; she approached me and wanted to work together. She is a writer, and was just finishing up working at National Geographic Magazine and as Steve Winter’s assistant on his snow leopard story in India. She was coming back home to Wyoming to write a selection of essays about the pronghorn migration and wanted me to photograph it. At the time, I was just finishing up a 2-year conservation photography project on environmental threats to the Missouri River. I was ready to start photographing something new, and the pronghorn project, which had never been photographed before, seemed like a great idea.
I started researching and filling out grant applications in November 2007, and started my fieldwork in May 2008, the day after I graduated from the University of Wyoming with a bachelor’s in Wildlife Biology. We got the project fully funded through the National Geographic Expeditions Council, The Banff Centre, University of Wyoming, North American Nature Photographers Association, Grand Teton National Park, and Patagonia the clothing company. I feel very fortunate to have received so much financial backing for the project, which has allowed me to focus all my efforts on fieldwork.
I am still surprised by the support we got, but the bottom line is that the pronghorn story had all the elements to a good wildlife story. A small herd of pronghorn migrating a super long distance over an incredible landscape, under threat, that had never been photographed before — plus we were two young Wyomingites who wanted to live with pronghorn. The reason is hadn’t been photographed before is because it takes a huge time commitment, at least a full year. No one knew exactly where they were migrating so I had to do field biology before I could photograph it. Because most of my work is by camera trap, I have to know exactly where the animals are moving.
Do you have a particular image you are especially drawn to so far? More »
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I returned from my six weeks of travel with about 2,500 images; I have never been a prolific shooter, probably because I started out shooting slide film and knowing the cost of each frame. Throughout my trip, I made a point of downloading and categorizing my images as I made them. To keep all the files in order, I created folders for each location I visited with RAW and JPEG sub-folders.
Since I was traveling for such a long time, I knew it was imperative to keep on top of my images so I didn’t face a nightmare editing session when I returned home. My organizational efforts also allowed me to keep track of where I was with the story, making edits in the evenings, following how my narrative was developing.
The Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting, which funded this project, asked me to write weekly blog posts about my travel experiences. This discipline helped me enormously because it made me stop and think about the importance of each stage of my trip. This further helped me keep track of my narrative and helped me stay focused on the main themes I wanted to explore through the work.
On my return to my home in Beijing, I found that my meticulous filing in the field meant my editing was half done already. I could go straight to post-processing the images and then seriously think about edits for publishing outlets. More »
When Joe McNally, a legendary photojournalist and lighting guru, stopped by the liveBooks office during some rare down time in San Francisco, I couldn’t resist setting up a video interview. (Thanks to videographer Drew Gurian.) Joe has contributed to National Geographic for 20 years and was a staff photographer for LIFE magazine. He works with huge commercial clients and produced a seminal portrait series of September 11 heroes. He’s also the author of two must-read instructional books and writes a very popular blog — which brings us to the video below.
Joe started his blog in 2008 after prodding from friends (and avid bloggers) including Moose Peterson, David Hobby, and Scott Kelby. Now the blog is an important part of his business, especially since “big pipelines” for assignments have dried up in recent years.
“Any photographer out there now is stitching together things,” he says. “Work comes now in all sorts of strange ways.” Smart photographers like Joe understand that blogs and social media are an important part of that patchwork. They bring in assignments, create buzz, and help build community with other top professionals. (If you haven’t seen Joe’s parody of Chase Jarvis’ Consequences of Creativity video, I recommend you watch that too.)
“Part of the project I’m working on here in New Guinea is documenting endangered languages and helping them revitalize that. So we bring them computers, we bring them video cameras, still cameras, audio recording systems. And we empower people, where invited, to do their own revitalization, to bring back their language, to maintain their language, and to maintain and revitalize their culture.
It doesn’t mean because a new technology comes along that it necessarily has to replace the old technology, the ancient technology, the ancient rituals.”
No one has more power to change the world than photographers. Yes, yes, doctors are regarded as the human deities of the world, but with few exceptions photographers are embraced with open arms everywhere they go. Because whatever your photographic discipline, and no matter where you travel, you can barter your talent as a shooter for just about anything. Including the well being of children in a far away country.
A week and a half ago photographer Gustavo Fernandez packed up his Harley Davidson to be shipped back to California from New York. He had successfully concluded his second annual “Hog for Kids” motorcycle ride across the United States in a bid to raise money for impoverished children in the Dominican Republic, where Fernandez was born.
In his first career, as a pharmaceutical rep, Gustavo frequently contributed to Children International, a Kansas City-based organization that aids needy children around the world. When he left that steady paycheck last year and plunged into a new career as a photographer, Gustavo (like most making that transition) was watching his bank account with a frugal eye. His budget wouldn’t accommodate his annual donation to his favorite charity.
Unwilling to abandon the kids of the Dominican Republic, Gustavo went on a motorcycle ride to conjure a creative solution. He was sitting on the answer. He loves riding his Harley and he loves making pictures. Thus emerged Hog for Kids.
As he rode east to New York, Gustavo shot portraits of the children along the way — in exchange, the families contributed his room, board, and a $264 annual ($22 monthly) sponsorship of a child through Children International. This year’s successful trip took 28 days and received international attention. Gustavo says he is looking forward to riding again next year — provided he gets the feeling back in ass by then.
There is no other art form that is so versatile in it’s adaptability and portability for aiding others than photography. As Gustavo demonstrated, all that’s required is the will and the application. Your efforts don’t need to be as grand as a motorcycle ride across the country, but I do urge you to try and find a charitable application of your talent at least once a year. Not only is it good for your soul, it’s good for your career.
As Gustavo discovered, any experience with a camera in your hand, paid or charitable, will always make you a better shooter than you were the day before. He returned from his first Hog for Kids ride a markedly better shooter than before he left. When you place yourself in photographic situations that are unfamiliar and require you to adapt quickly, you’ll be improving by a significant factor. If those situations are charitable in nature, you have more latitude for mistakes, which will ultimately prepare you for the times when mistakes are less tolerable.
Photography is a unique profession that is a golden key to the world. Don’t keep it all for yourself.
Miki Johnson: Let’s talk a little bit about your book.
Ian Shive: The book is a 224-page, hard cover, coffee table book on the American National Parks. This is the latest and a most updated look at the parks, a modern look at a classic subject. We included six or seven places that you’ll know — the other 185 pages you’ll have to read the caption to know where that is.
The layout is also unusual. Traditionally national park books have been grouped by region or park. We bounced back and forth across all these different parks. We might show a red maple leaf on a brown pine needles in Maine, and then that color or shape relates to something in Yellowstone National Park in the middle of winter. It was our goal to show the colors and collaborations that happen in nature and are so similar no matter where you go.
MJ: And was this something that the national parks came to you about? Or was this an idea you had?
IS: The parks turn 100 years old in 2016, and I wanted to do a book on the Centennial. I have great collection of images, and I decided to work on a book over five years and develop this idea. So I started sending some emails around to gauge interest from publishers.
Cristina Mittermeier at International League of Conservation Photographers hooked me up with a publisher in California. They called and were like, we love your idea — how would you like to do the book in four months? I said okay, but I needed to pick up a few shots in the meantime. It’s pretty exciting because, from what I understand, every Borders in the country is going to having it on their front table.
MJ: That’s exciting. Is that something that you arranged or the publisher did? How did that happen?
IS: It was through the publisher. And once I had made the deal with the publisher to do this book I brought in the National Park Conservation Association as a partner. I had done a lot of work with them, and the two lead editors of the magazine have been instrumental in guiding my career as a national park photographer. So I asked them to write two essays for the front of the book, and then the president of the organization also contributed the book’s forward. They also have an insert in the book, so it helps further their message, and I’ve given a percentage of the proceeds back to the NPCA.
MJ: So tell me about these webisodes you’re doing.
IS: I’ve been working on multimedia for a while, exploring the collaboration between film, video, and still photography. For the book I had to go and pick up some shots; I had this great archive of national park sites but I didn’t have the obvious shots of Old Faithful, or Delicate Arch, or the Grand Canyon from Angel Point. The publisher said, you can do whatever you want on the other 200 pages, but there’s certain things that we need in a national park book from a market perspective. And I agreed.
So I put together a road trip to travel through the entire American West over about five weeks. I brought Russell Chadwick, who is my partner in video and multimedia, and he shot footage with his HD video camera. The idea was to get a little bit of the park, show me doing my thing, and build a multimedia piece for the web. At first we were just going to do one piece, about the making of the book, as a promo tool.
When we got back and looked at everything, the footage was stunning. We had time lapses of fog going over the mountains in Glacier and Logan Pass, and thunderstorms in White Sands, New Mexico. We had so much stuff, we decided to turn it into four six-minute segments, called Wild Exposure.
I came from a strong motion picture background, so I shared the videos with some friends in the industry and they were like, this is incredible. You’ve got to do something else with it. So I showed it around to a few people in the television network world, which has been a more arduous journey than I anticipated. But I’ve persevered, and the show’s scheduled to air this week on Current Television.
I had a meeting in San Francisco and shared the first segment with them. They thought it was really different and it fit really well with their programming. They weren’t all about changing it. They were into what the show embodies, the kind of Zen moments and a soft conservation message. They’ve agreed to run the four-part series, so 50 million U.S. households and 142,000 web visitors a day will be exposed to the show.
MJ: And they’re running these short pieces?
IS: Current has a unique approach to how they do the programming. It’s not like ABC where something begins at 7:00 and ends at 7:30 and has seven minutes worth of commercials or whatever. They have five-minute shows, two-minute shows, twenty-three-minute shows, and they all flow together. So there was no need to expand or force an expansion on the pieces.
We feel like the web has really shortened people’s attention spans. To get somebody to sit down and watch a show for 30 minutes is difficult these days. One of the strengths with Current is you can do a tightly edited, compelling six-minute show and achieve your goal, either a message of conservation or even advertising. So the show will exist as six-minute units that are spaced out. We are also looking at potentially marrying all four to be a twenty-four-minute segment.
MJ: So how do these episodes fit into your larger marketing strategy for the book?
IS: I think getting people to invest in what you’re doing is the most important part of marketing. Let’s say you walk into a Borders and you look at this book, but you’ve never seen anything else besides it. It might sell itself, certainly. But you can really augment that emotional connection that people have to the book if they have seen this six-minute segment on Glacier National Park. Somehow they feel a more personal connection with what you’re doing, and that’s when they actually buy to the book. Or they decide to crack it open and give it a longer look than they would have before.
MJ: Have you thought about how the book and episodes translate into increased visibility for you as a photographer?
IS: With 50 million U.S. households, it’s going to be very interesting. I have no idea what I’m in for. I’m hoping nothing. The last thing I want to do is get to a national park and have a ranger ask if I have a commercial filming permit.
I hope that Wild Exposure will continue beyond the book. And one thing that I have begun to discuss with the network is making the show more interactive. How cool would it be to have me in the field, and let’s say I’m doing a story on poaching in Africa, you can actually meet that poacher and hear his perspective, then introduce other characters who embody this type of conservation photography.
I also want it to stay true to Current’s prime demographic, which is 18- to 34-year-olds. I want it to continue to appeal to a younger, sophisticated, edgier, hip audience. I feel like that group is so often overlooked — certainly in nature photography. I think it’s usually geared toward older audiences, but the conservation message is all over.
MJ: Did you fund these Wild Exposure episodes yourself?
IS: I did. The payoff is the marketing. Right now there’s no money being made off it. It’s purely a marketing and promotional tool that I hope will grow into something that generates income at some point, maybe as a regular television series. Or at the very least, you know, just boosting my profile as a photographer. It’s an incredibly crowded marketplace, and everybody’s looking to get their voice heard. If you’re a book publisher and you’re looking to do a book on anything, and if your photographer shooting things, then producing a series that can be placed on the web or television seems obvious.
MJ: It sounds like it’s all paying off, but I suppose it’s always a gamble.
IS: It is. People might not respond to it. It’s very exciting, but I’m putting myself out there in many ways. I’m putting myself out there not only in print in a book, but also the show, too. People are seeing me peeking out of a tent. They’re seeing what I’m shooting, how I’m shooting it, what results I’m getting, and then they see the product I’m putting out. One thing about today’s media, and especially the web, there is a brutal honesty that I love, but it’s also brutally honest. So I’m prepared a little bit for that. I just hope people like what I’m putting out there so that I can continue to do what I love.