Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Q&A with 'Real Florida' VJ Maurice Rivenbark

Every weekday, KobreGuide selects and showcases an example of the best videojournalism on the Web. We shoot for a variety of topics, themes, and sources. This week, we're trying something a little different. As we noted on Monday, we're devoting all five slots this week to a single videojournalist, Maurice Rivenbark, featuring stellar videos from his "Real Florida" series on the St. Petersburg Times Website.

"Mo" Rivenbark has been a staff photojournalist at the St. Petersburg Times since 1981. He has photographed stories throughout Florida, across the United States and abroad. Over the last couple of years Rivenbark has additionally been producing video stories for the paper .

Rivenbark often collaborates with Times columnist Jeff Klinkenberg, producing video reports to accompany and augment the writer’s “Real Florida” series about Florida culture and people who make the state unique.

So far this week, we've featured "The Classy Bikini Bicyclist" (pictured), "Clyde Butcher Photographs on Lake Kissimmee," and "The Gator Symphony." Look for the next two this Thursday and Friday.

We emailed Rivenbark some questions about his work. Here are his generous responses:

1. Can you tell us what the biggest challenges have been in putting together these videos?

Thinking ahead and thinking about the story as you shoot it, especially the audio. To produce these reports without voice-overs, you have to get the subjects to tell you the story in ways you can use. Sometimes that is from a sit-down interview and often it's interviewing as you shoot.

2. What is your impetus/inspiration for telling these stories?

I've worked with Jeff on stories over the years and always enjoyed it. Most of his stories make great video reports online in addition to our printed newspaper. Additionally, I've been focusing on stories that I can shoot in high definition and then pull the stills from the video for print. It's been working very well on these and we are now starting to expand the process into daily reports.

3. Do you face any particular technical challenges?

Obtaining solid audio, be it natural sound or interviews, is always something I pay close attention to. And since I depend on the video images for the stills, it can be very challenging working in low light conditions to get clean sharp video frames at times. However, I find it a far smoother process to not switch between shooting stills and video, but to use one tool to its full potential. Up to this point that tool has been the a true video camera. As I start using the new DSLRs which capture HD video, it may make switching easier switching between stills and video, but I expect I will still shoot mostly video and pulls stills from the video. Much of that has to do with the somewhat different approach you take in producing a video story and knowing when simply shooting a still would be best. In the past when I have shot stills in addition to video, I have most always ending up going with frame grabs in the end.

4. As a still photographer, what have you had to learn about audio?

Without a doubt, audio is the center of the video story. Coming from a still photo background, it took me a bit to realize that you can have great video images, but without complete audio you are sunk. Often much of the audio and natural sound comes from having the subject wear a wireless mic throughout the shoot.

5. What surprised you most in preparing these stories?

I continue to be amazed at how folks are so willing to share their stories and for the most part how comfortable they are with the process. I expected the video camera to be a major barrier between myself and the subjects, yet far more often than not, it's a bond between us.

6. How are these video reports different from those you have done in the past as a still photographer?

The stories are quite the same, but the process and the reward are much different for me. I have to know and understand the story clearly and gather far more material to work with than I would have in the past. Many of the good sequences in the video are a small picture story in themselves, something I'm still working to improve. Next the video editing process takes far more time than editing, toning and captioning the stills alone. Cutting or editing the video is similar to the writing process. While I have no talent for writing, I find great reward in producing a video report that compliments the printed story or can stand on its own.

7. How do you collaborate with the print reporter and editor? Challenges? Division of duties?

Jeff and I work much the same way we use to. Generally I'm listening and shooting during his interview and reporting. Sometimes I'll ask questions - just as I would have in the past. The real difference now is that I generally do another short interview to get the audio that I'll need to weave the story together. When I proposed the idea of video reports to Jeff in the beginning, his only concern was that we not turn it into a broadcast TV type of report and on that front I think we've been quite successful.

8. Because so many of our viewers are either professional or student photographers or videojournalists, we like to tell them a little about the technical aspects of putting together a story. What equipment do you use?

SLR camera: Canon
Video camera: The primary camera I use is the Canon XH A1, sometimes the Canon Vixia series and even the Canon PowerShot SXi was used for one of the stories entirely.
Lenses: Canon - various still lenses
Tripod: Manfrotto carbon with video head
Shotgun mic: Sennheiser
Wireless mic: Sennheiser
Lavalier mic: Sennheiser
Computer: MacPro desktop and MacBook in the field
Editing software: Final Cut Pro

9. Any other comments about your stories you’d like to share with our viewers?

While we were late to start into video at the Times, we learned from what others were already doing. In addition to looking online at places like the Washington Post, I made a trip to the Dallas Morning News early on which helped me grow. But from the beginning the knowledge and direction that our Senior Video Producer Jack Rowland brought to the table has been invaluable.

I am convinced that as the industry moves forward, every photojournalist needs to be skilled in in producing a solid video story in addition to powerful still images. The cameras we all will soon be using will make that possible - and I know our audience will surely expect it.

No comments: