A collaborative online community that brings together photographers and creative professionals of every kind to find ways to keep photography relevant, respected, and profitable.
Want us to find an answer to your question? Interested in becoming a contributor?Email us
Throughout the recent digital revolution in photography, I have continued to shoot film, but there is one area where I have happily adopted new lightweight digital capture — audio. With the technology jumping leaps and bounds, audio that previously required large, complex recorders can now be captured on small digital recorders, perfect for the kind of multimedia storytelling that I’m exploring.
I’ve been intrigued with the advance of multimedia in the last few year, and especially how it can be used to enhance the art of storytelling. I have a deep respect for still photographers moving into video — like Tim Hetherington with his award-winning documentary Restrepo — but I’m not ready to turn in my viewfinder for a video camera yet. What feels right to me right now is the multimedia slideshow.
You see, I love to write and I enjoy the process of preparing a script to accompany imagery. The multimedia slideshow allows me to go one step beyond the still image with regards to storytelling, but still aligns with my belief that still images are more powerful than moving ones.
My first dabble in multimedia, I decided to create a slideshow (above) of my black-and-white fine-art project on Chinese Turkestan in an attempt to reach a wider audience. In my visits to the region several times a year for the last several years, I began recording audio with a small hand-held recorder. For the slideshow’s audio I used a “Call to Prayer,” essentially a man who stands on the top of the mosque and calls everyone to come and pray several times per day. It is something I hear all the time while working in the region and I thought it was fitting.
My goal here was never to produce a “news” piece or include various clips of audio with fuller storytelling. I wanted to create a space for the viewer to fully experience the still image. For that reason, the sequencing was incredibly important, and difficult. I payed particular attention to composition and flow, and I’m still working on it, since the project itself is not yet complete.
One of the exciting things about this first foray into multimedia is starting to think about how this slideshow can support the still images in terms of publicity and marketing. For instance, I integrated the slideshow into my presentations at a few universities and galleries during a recent trip to the U.S. I was very pleased with both the impact of the slideshow and the feedback I received. Remembering that the end goal is to have my images reach the widest possible audience, I believe an audio slideshow contribute to that in many ways.
I have several more videos currently in production, including ones with a narrative as well as more audio from locations. You can follow the process on my blog.
I signed up with my very first company that offered an “archive hosting” service five years ago. At that time, my idea of what that meant was vague at best. Would they sell my pictures or just provide storage and display? Would the web system be user friendly? Would I need to buy a complicated manual? Did I need to hire an assistant for this?
Today archive hosting companies typically provide storage space, online galleries, search and client features, a user-friendly back-end management system, FTP, downloading, and hundreds of other functions that are incredibly useful if properly understood. All of this is usually bundled into a package that might cost roughly USD 50 per month. For a photographer like me, who is constantly moving, I find the service indispensable.
Today the main player in this game seems to be Photoshelter. After transferring my archive to their servers a year ago, I can say with some level of confidence that they provide a superior service, strong customer support, and a huge variety of functions (without trying to do too much, the most important thing in my opinion).
So how exactly do I manage my own archive? When I complete shoots for newspapers, magazines, and corporate clients, I upload the images to my archive, so that I can FTP the images to clients, share the work with friends and family using public light-boxes, display work to potential new clients, and allow regular clients to search for stock images to license. That might sound like a lot of work — and it is. But make no mistake, this hard work pays dividends.
I particularly find the online archive a useful tool when working on longer-term stories or projects, because as work is completed it can be uploaded and shared for client or peer review. For example I recently photographed the construction of one of Shanghai’s tallest buildings. The building owners wanted to see a monthly edit from my shoots, a progress report, as we went. During the more than two years the project lasted, I was able to bring them up to speed with new imagery, as well as service the download needs of their staff in Shanghai and Japan. My archive created a seamless delivery system — no more burning disks, no more Fedex. The online, hosted, and managed archive is here to stay.
A close friend of mine challenged my position on archive hosting by insisting that my agency should take care of all that “back-end” work for me. A lovely idea, but full-service agencies are pretty much a thing of the past. (In my experience anyway; if I’m missing some full-service agencies still out there, please let me know.) The new trend seems to be the fully functioning, independent photographer who manages his or her own pictures.
Although my photographic work is represented by Corbis, they are far from a full-service agency. They don’t have an assignment division and rely on photographers to upload on their own. They don’t scan film, they don’t do captioning and key-wording, and they edit as they see fit. This is all actually a good thing, because it allows them to focus on the most important part of the process, selling my images.
Of course, that means a lot of the work agencies used to do is now the photographer’s responsibility. While that may be a negative for some, it’s a positive for me, because I get to control the quality, layout, and organization of my own work, and then share it anyway I like. It allows me to have a closer relationship with my editors and — for a young photographer like me who sometimes feels overwhelmed with a rapidly changing industry — this offers a very rare sense of control. Plus I can link to my archive just about everywhere, post public light-boxes online using social media, and fully integrate my Photoshelter archive with my liveBooks website, in the hope that editors and image buyers can find what they are looking for with ease.
On a final note, in my particular situation, having an archive based in the U.S. is a crucial part of my business plan. Because I live behind The Great Fire Wall of China, FTP-ing work out of the country is a nightmare, so it’s best that I only have to do it once. Once I upload to my archive, it’s an easy click of the button to share work with multiple clients. Plus I never have to worry about missing a deadline because it takes 14 minutes to upload one image to a server outside of China!
I recently had an exhibition of my work from Chinese Turkistan, or Xinjiang, China, in Toronto, Canada. It was my first solo exhibition, but similar shows will happen in Europe and China next year. Putting on a gallery show can be a very trying experience for any photographer, emerging or established. But as I learned, the rewards outweigh all the hard work that goes into it.
In the early days of my time in China, I realized that I had a strong connection to the province of Xinjiang, the mainly Muslim region in northwest China. The Chinese portion of the Silk Road, once known as Chinese Turkistan, is changing before our eyes. Ancient mud brick homes and labyrinth-like towns are being torn down in the name of “progress.” I had traveled in the region often and felt an immediate passion to tell the stories of its people, but I didn’t actually make images there until some years later, in 2005, when I visited the region on assignment.
I’d made the images for myself, but wanted to share them with the world. I like to contact the galleries I’m familiar with by email and set up face-to-face meetings to show prints. Some galleries are very open minded and want to meet emerging photographers. Most galleries don’t even reply. It’s a competitive, in some cases cut-throat, industry — and the economic crisis has made it that much more difficult to get started. More »
For years I’ve been hiking in China, and just about any time I can squeeze out a few free days, I jump on a plane to Sichuan or Yunnan province, in Southwest China. I always shoot during my trips and have grown adept at both executing these treks and coming back with images suitable for a published story. In other words, I’m well versed in extreme altitude, extreme weather, and cameras.
So it was with delight that I took an assignment in June to document the religious mountain of Meili Xue Shan in Southeastern Tibet. The “holy mountain” is sacred to Tibetan Buddhists and is home to a kora, or “holy trek,” that is ranked China’s most difficult trek by the China Mountaineering Association. Pilgrims make the trek around the holy mountain, a complete circumnavigation that is said to cleanse the soul.
Sitting in my apartment in Shanghai, it was difficult to contemplate a ten-day, 300-kilometer trek through Tibet. A series of questions began running through my mind: How was I supposed to walk 12 hours a day and still make strong images? Was there a road? Was there mobile phone access? Was there electricity?
My first decision was to shoot film — digital just wasn’t going to cut it for this trip. Not only would electricity be scarce, but extreme temperature fluctuations would drain the batteries and potentially be too tough for my Canon 5D MII’s. So I dusted off my Canon 1Ns and bought 200 rolls of Fuji Provia. Luckily I already had all the gear, clothes, and footwear to attempt such a journey. Excitement was beginning to sink in.
A few days later, fear began to sink in, too. When I researched, I was disturbed by how little information existed about this trek, including crucial details like the length of the trek, it’s difficulty, and possible villages along the route. I was finally dug up two resources: a China Trekking site compiled by a person who had obviously never trekked in his/her life and a travel website by two German hikers who had done the trek 3-4 years earlier.
The Germans had estimated the kora to be around 300 km (185 miles), meaning that I needed to cover 15-to-20 miles a day to complete the trek in a reasonable amount of time. That meant I probably needed to sleep in a tent every night, cook my own food, and walk for 8-to-10 hours a day — at altitude — all while visually documenting the journey. Did I mention that each day was a vertical assent or descent? And that there are three passes over 4,500 meters (15,000 feet)? This was starting to sound like mission impossible.
I decided to travel with a writer for two reasons. First, we are very close friends and we’ve been hiking together in the Himalayas since well before either of us was getting published. Second, he is an expert in the region. It’s rare to find someone you can hike 12 hours a day with, for 10 days, and still be on speaking terms with, but we complement each other and I would never have considered going alone.
I knew to never go wandering into Tibet without a Tibetan. In this part of the world, people die on the mountains — the only safety you can count on is experience. Finding a guide proved difficult, and in the end I decided that I would find the right person in the village where I would start my journey. That was a potentially risky move, but like everywhere in the world, you can usually make things happen once you are on the ground.
My flight to Zhongdian, now named Shangri-la, was easy enough. Zhongdian is the first town on the Tibetan plateau in China’s Southwestern Yunnan province. I decided to fly in and rest there for two days; at 3,200 meters (10,500 feet) it would be an ideal place to acclimatize before making more aggressive moves into the mountains. Taking the time to acclimatize in this part of the world is as essential as remembering to bring film for your camera. Without spending the first day or two resting, you are setting yourself up for attitude sickness and possibly worse.
From there, getting to the mountains was easy enough. And as the initial adrenaline rush gave way to reality, the trek revealed itself to be the most visually beautiful, emotionally rewarding, and physically and mentally challenging experience of my life. And all that was crammed into just nine days.
Without giving away too much of a story that is not yet published, I can say that the Germans were wrong in their calculations — the trek is around 400km (250 miles), when taking into account the switch backs and detours. That made for about 30 miles a day.
My writing partner and I completed the journey in nine days and suffered some of the most extreme weather conditions I’ve witnessed in my decade of traveling in the region. We were rained on, snowed on, and hailed on. On the last day, it was 25C (77F) when we woke up and -20C (-4F) just seven hours later, at 4,900 meters, with wind strong enough to knock you off your feet. I lost about 20 pounds in the process and gained a completely new respect for our Tibetan guides, who floated effortlessly over high passes and across windy plateaus.
As far as the gear was concerned, the Northface tent, sleeping bags, and jackets performed wonderfully, especially with violent temperature fluctuations. The Canon 1Ns held up beautifully in rain, snow, and sleet. The Fuji Provia was, as always, the right color film for the job. And after walking up and down mountains for ten hours a day in the remote Himalaya’s, I feel as though I could face down Michael Phelps, on dry land at least.