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|| News Item: Posted 2006-07-03

Putting the Multi in Your Media for On-Line Galleries
By Nhat Meyer, San Jose Mercury News

Photo by

Meyer's slideshow from home run #715
The world of the newspaper photographer is changing, we can no longer work on a story and merely think visually we also need to think aurally. With more and more readers moving to the web a whole new way of communicating stories has being created to cater to them; the audio slideshow. The early adapters are benefiting with new job opportunities and a new way of story telling which allows a photographer to show multiple images instead of just one or two.

We can't just look, we have to listen. There are two types of audio we have to deal with: ambient (or live) and interview audio - you can use either one or a combination. One of the challenges of gathering live sound is not capturing the distracting clicking sound cameras make, in other words you have to balance interviews and ambient sound with photographs. Sometimes you have to give up a shot when taking audio in order to not overlap. Another option is to arrive early or stay later just to get ambient sound.

"About the only thing I try really hard to do is not overlap shooting and sound gathering --- nothing pisses me off more than hearing shutter clicks in an ambient or the like," say Gerry McCarthy, staff photographer with the Columbia Daily Tribune. "Simply put, we should strive for quality images AND audio, so neither should come at the expense of the other."

There are occasions when it just isn't possible to eliminate the shutter sound - especially if there are multiple photographers. For sports assignments you can take live audio during the game and if you want an interview you can attend the press conference or interview a player or coach after the game or even a fan.

For interviews you can either chose to ask questions before or after the event you're photographing is over. I've done both. The majority of the time I get to an assignment I talk with a subject for several minutes before shooting a frame - so why not take live audio during that time? It's also beneficial to interview a person afterwards, once you know what you've photographed you should have a general idea of how you are going to sculpt the slide show and you can thus ask questions which relate to your vision.

Richard Koci Hernandez, Deputy Director of Photography and Multimedia for the San Jose Mercury News, prefers conducting interviews after shooting. "After is best for me, by then I have a better sense of what the story really is, not what the assignment says. Plus I have already worked the situation for the best image. Getting the best story-telling image is and should still be the most important task. Around about the time I would normally say goodbye to the subject, I pull out the recorder for the interview."

Photo by

Meyer's slideshows that he put together from home runs 714 (top) and 715 with Soundslides.
Another option is the candid interview - one where the subject is talking to someone else.

"Hold the mic close to face for interviews. Open your ears up to notice annoying sounds like air conditioners, refrigerators, street traffic..." says Sean Connelley, Co-Founder/49th parallel productions and Senior Multimedia Producer at the Oakland Tribune.

"If possible I keep my back to the offending noise. [I use] wireless to get audio of people while their doing something like riding a bike or working."

An interview is like a portrait, when you shoot a portrait you might ask someone to turn a certain way or smile, etc. "Interviews are different then recording live audio," says Katy Newton, Multimedia Producer at 49th parallel productions. "Live audio is hands off. Interviews you craft. The best thing to do is watch your reporters. They dig for the answers. I remind them to try to speak in complete sentences, for instance... if I ask them what their favorite color is? I want them to answer 'my favorite color is blue.' As opposed to just saying 'blue.'"

Richard goes on to say "the rest is just about asking the right question in the right way, like always using the word 'describe' 'describe for me what is was like...'"

The biggest key to knocking out these slides shows under deadline is to take the least amount of audio you can. The smaller amount you have the shorter amount of time it takes to edit. Another key is to listen to the audio you're taking - if there is a key play or comment then you know to find a certain audio clip.

"I'm trying to keep them between 1:30-2:30, more or less, " says Gerry. "Any more than about 2:30 and I think it gets boring, like a photo story/essay with too many pictures. I think because the medium is so new to us, people aren't thinking as critically yet... that's why there's so many 3+ minutes pieces, you know? I get bored of most of them after about 2:30, and start thinking about ways they could be shorter."

When shooting long-term, in-depth projects the slide shows can run 5-10 minutes sometimes more. 49th parallel productions' "Little by Little," which won Best Multimedia Package for smaller affiliated sites in the 2006 Best of Photojournalism contest, contains 25 minutes of content, including video

Not all assignments are slide-show worthy and I know I've seen my share of "well that was boring" or "why?"

Photo by Nhat V. Meyer / Mercury News

Photo by Nhat V. Meyer / Mercury News

M-Audio recorder with a Sony microphone attached taking audio during the Giants versus A's game on Saturday, May 20, 2006. Barry Bonds hit his 714th career home run on this day.
"Some stories are no-brainers," says Gary Reyes of the San Jose Mercury News, about deciding whether or not to produce a slide show, "but there are some that at the onset, don't seem like good candidates. Sometimes if you dig deeper, and discover great audio along the way, you can craft a nice Soundslide [slideshow]."

When I know I'm producing a slide show for an assignment my shooting style does change. A 1:30 second slide show needs about 18 images (at 5 seconds per image) to fill up the show. You don't want to have to throw in one or two crappy images just to fill out the slideshow so every frame becomes more important.

I've typically been a low shooter (as-in I don't shoot a lot of frames) but when I'm on an assignment and I know I'll be doing a slide show then I will make a conscience effort to shoot quite a bit more. I always shoot a wide, medium and detail shot from every assignment, something I learned from then-DOP August Miller during my internship at the Ogden Standard-Examiner. These days I'm thinking about an opening image and a closing image, the possibility of a sequence, and do the images match the audio. The cool thing is that images I know will never run in the paper I can put in the slideshow because I have 99% control over what goes into the slideshow.

A big issue with shrinking staffs will be the amount of time it takes to produce a multimedia piece. More time on the front end and more on the back end. If you're just doing ambient sound then it shouldn't take more than 30 minutes to an hour to produce a one to two minute show using Sound Slides. But once you come back with 30 minutes of interviews the time it takes to produce the show multiplies exponentially. The more audio you take the longer it will take you to produce a show. If you take two hours of audio it will take you two hours just to listen to all of the audio, unless you're trying to find a specific clip.

But in the end it's really worth all the extra time and effort. "I've stopped being a zombie and 'walking through' assignments, meaning doing just what is required for the paper," says Richard. "I have been doing this for 15 years. I can do an assignment with my eyes closed, so-to-speak. Now I think about every assignment more in depth, even if it is something simple. I am asking questions like 'Do I have enough story-telling images for the web, do I have details or transition images, is the sound clean?' Come-on let's face it, the paper doesn't have room for eight images from this Little League game, but the web does."

This, to me, is the greatest benefit of doing multimedia slideshows - you have to actually think about what you're doing. We are no longer going out and shooting for one or two pictures and going home. "It has made me think more of the story arc," Sean aptly notes. "It has made me more aware of the little things that tell a story. It has brought happiness back into my life."

While covering Barry Bonds' attempt at breaking Babe Ruth's record I tried to make the process of collecting audio as simple as possible. I would sit down in my photo position and go over what I needed: cameras, PocketWizards for remotes, foot pedal, candy, M-Audio sound recorder, microphone, Apple laptop computer, a non-alcoholic beverage, Verizon high-speed data card for transmitting, compact flash card reader, sunflower seeds. Nine out of 10 times I would forget one or more of these things. I would always try to remember to start recording audio while Bonds was in the on-deck circle since I didn't know how long the current batter would be at the plate and I wanted the audio of "Now batting left fielder Barry Bonds."

Photo by

Meyer compiled clips from audacity in Garageband.
Once I hit the "record" button I didn't even think about audio until after he either got a hit, a walk, a home run, etc. On the nights Bonds didn't hit anything I would record ambient sounds throughout the game. For example when there was a man on second base or a 3-2 count. About halfway through my Bonds coverage, I purchased an extension cord, which allowed me to put the microphone further away from other photographers. That gave me a greater chance of not getting camera clicking noises.

For number 714 (in Oakland) the audio recorder was pointed towards the crowd. For 715 (in San Francisco) the audio recorder was pointed towards home plate. Following 714 and 715 I attended the press conferences in order to get quotes (voice sound clips) from Bonds. The guy who caught homer 714 was whisked away before the game even ended. The guy who caught 715 held a press conference following Bonds' press conference.

The Soundslides software ( is amazingly easy to use. Edit your images and edit your sound into one clip. Place the images you want to use in a folder. Import your images and audio file as instructed on the opening page of Soundslides. Soundslides builds the show, resizes, and compiles the images and audio. Edit captions if need be. You can change the timings of images to correspond with audio using the movable bars in-between the images at the bottom of the window. Once you're finished export the show into an .swf file, which is then posted on-line.

I have produced 23 slideshows all but two of the shows contained ambient sound. The majority of the slide shows were two or three ambient sound clips equaling about a minute to a minute and a half, making it super easy to edit. I was able to knock out the slide shows in about 30-60 minutes. Slide shows for homers 714 and 715 took me about an hour and half to produce because of quotes.

Photo by

Audacity audio of the guy who caught Bonds' 715th homerun.
I would typically come back with 10-15 minutes of audio and most of the time I knew exactly which of the sound clips I wanted. I would adjust the levels, length and fade-in, fade-outs in Audacity, typically two or three sound clips. I would then import the clips into Apple's GarageBand where I would compile the clips and export it into a single .aiff file.

I'll be the first to admit that some of the slide shows were successful and some were not. Just like some of the games, some of the slide shows were kind of boring, but I had made a commitment to myself to produce a slide show after every game. But the cool thing is that I had control over what images were used, what the story line would be (depending on what happened during the game or what audio I recorded), the sequencing, etc. I can't remember a single time a picture editor called and asked me to change anything.

I was not asked to produce a slide show from these games. One of the main reasons I started producing the slide shows was because I knew the games we were covering were basic regular season games and the paper would only run one or two images, if at all. So the slideshows were a great way to display images from the game. I also knew the company was spending a lot of money on the trips and I felt I could help justify the cost by producing audio slideshows after each game.

Here's the boring technical mumbo-jumbo that I use: Audio taken with a M-Audio digital recorder, edited on a Apple G4 PowerBook using Audacity and GarageBand, compile slideshow with Soundslides.


(Nhat Meyer is a staff photographer with the San Jose Mercury-News. His member gallery can be viewed at:

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