A Video life

It seems that now every camera, and even mobile phones are capable of recording video, and video clips are everywhere.
However it certainly was not always thus, and due to sheer expense and the required technique, producing either video, and earlier moving pictures on film was an art for the privileged few.

I dabbled with movies from the early days, the same time as I began with still photography. My early efforts relied on second hand Super 8 movie cameras, picked up at junk sales for a few dollars, and lovingly self repaired with mostly rubber bands and sticky tape. Needless to say the results were not Spielberg like efforts, but kept me out of mischief.

When I met Mike Leyland in 1968 or thereabouts – he was later to become half of the world famous Leyland Brothers Films – and had the chance to watch him news gathering for NBN television with a ‘top of the line’ 16mm movie camera, on a tripod even, I was hooked, and decided that news gathering was what I wanted to do in life.

However 10 years went by, before I could even dream of buying such an expensive piece of kit, but one magical day in Wagga Wagga NSW, where I was enduring my first year as a fully fledged and ‘highly paid’ teacher, I was spirited into the back workroom of a TV/Radio repair shop on Baylis Street, where on the workbench, in a very well kept luxury leather case, was a mint condition, and only slightly used Bolex H, clockwork 16mm movie camera, for the extremely reasonable sum of $600.

Purely by serendipity, the next weekend, while testing out my new acquisition at the famous Gumi Boat races on the Murrumbidgee River, I was approached by the general manager of the almost brand new  television station in the town (RVN-2) , who was looking for local news stringers.

Of course I jumped at the chance, although it was a case of after school, and every weekend, roaming to various places, leather cased film camera over my shoulder on a bicycle.

My first effort which appeared on the news, I would regard as pure garbage if I saw it again these days, but then it was a small piece of filmic genius: coverage of a local Polo Tournament Gala Day.

Well, when I rocked up, what I knew about Polo was that it involved horses, and luckily for me, one team was in red strip, the other in blue.

It must have been OK, because a couple of crisp bills and a fresh can of film were pressed into my hand when I delivered it, and every opportunity afterwards was spent at the station under  the guiding hands of the news editor, watching and learning.

In those days, you as a stringer were given a canister of film, which would last four minutes of filming time. You were encouraged to cover two news events, allowing two minutes for each, so you quickly learned to arrive at an event just before the peak of the action, quickly evaluate the best shots, and who or what would make the best vision, and how you could tell an effective visual story in as few a shots as possible.

If you got the film back to the TV station by 4.00pm, your two minute story would be edited down even tighter to 20 to 30 seconds, each piece of footage held together not by slow and carefully glued edits, but by rough pieces of masking tape, and go to air, still dripping wet from the processing chemicals, during the news at 6.00.

However miss the deadline even by a few seconds and your work was wasted never to see the light of day, because you had missed the chemical developing cycle.

However that can of film I had so stretched my budget for to test out my new camera at the Gumi festival was the last I ever bought for myself.

Thousands of feet of film went through that camera, all supplied by television stations: first in Wagga, then later in Sydney, before the camera was reluctantly pensioned off to the storage cupboard.

I finally sold that mighty workhorse in the year 2000, for $600, the same amount I had paid for it, and it still showed very few signs of wear, or the hard use it had received.

I didn’t store my hard won news gathering  expertise away in a cupboard though, because then came the video revolution.

The first video camera I had access to, consisted of a recorder which weighed 35 lb, and was slung over the shoulder, and connected by a tangle of cables to an almost as heavy, and certainly more fragile camera which you heaved onto your other shoulder. The whole shemozzle recorded onto 1″ VHS tape, about the size of a half thickness brick, and had a resolution equal to shooting through the bottom of a coke bottle while rolling around drunk in a black and white fog.

Several generations of video gear later I did my last ENG work heaving an equally heavy Betacam around, the majority of it walking backwards focussing on some politician or celebrity while a sassy little reporter guided me with her hand firmly gripping the back of my pants.

My interest then turned to other things, but all the while the idea of producing video stock clips gnawed at the back of mind, but other things must have been gnawing at my wallet, because there was never a dollar or two left in there to put towards some decent camera gear.

I was almost enticed back to television news when I was commissioned to write a feasibility study, and then teach journalists to gather news as a one man operation rather than a two or three man team, but this was too far ahead of its time and got steep opposition, although it is standard practice these days.

And then Pond 5 video stock agency started up online, though running on nothing but chaos and adrenalin, began to succeed despite themselves.

About this time I discovered the superb and inspiring work of several stock video shooters, notably Andreas Hohl, who was doing great things with consumer level gear, and through his book “Shut Up and Shoot” was giving valuable information to anyone to get on the bandwagon.

So I took the risk and invested in a then top of the consumer HD camera which recorded on 5mm wide tape. This despite several other cameras purchased along the way, including a Standard Definition camera which produces such great video under good lighting and careful exposure that I defy anyone to pick it beside HD, this camera is still my main workhorse.

Yes 4k does beckon, especially now that good gear is as cheap as chips, or in some cases cheaper.

However when you take into account that, despite what the internet gurus say, most of the world’s TV is still broadcast in SD, some stations who proudly and loudly proclaim they broadcast in HD ( only HD 720 not full HD1080) are doing so from SD source material, and that the upgrade for the industry has been such an expensive upheaval from SD to HD that now that they have made the move…Australia’s premier independent broadcaster, the ABC only upgraded to HD earlier this year, and only at one of its stations…I can’t see a real change in the near future to anything else.

And just in case you were wondering, or about to do an ‘internet expert’ dummy spit, yes 4K televisions are all the rage, but they are only upsizing a signal broadcast in HD 720 ( that’s not even full HD which is HD 1080)

So armed with an HD 1080 tape driven video camera I venture forth to discover the world anew. Yes the gear may be old, and some would say out-dated, but so, my friend, am I.




Monika braves the dead of winter for her art: one or two goose bumps evident, but not a fried egg in sight.


Photographers have it easy these days, especially here in Australia, don’t they?

Just rock on down to the nearest beach, model in tow, and bob’s your uncle: sun and surf, pristine beaches, sparkling seas, glistening sands, and sensationally, sexy sirens  all for the taking.

Bang off a few snaps and magazine covers, exceptional portfolios, and international awards are at your fingertips.

As one marketing monkey put it: beautiful one day, perfect the next!

Or maybe not.

While amateurs, wannabes, and fauxpros fight with searing temperatures, teeming crowds of backpackers, and shadows which would put a panda bear to shame, more seasoned shooters avoid the Australian summer and schedule the majority of swimwear and beach shoots for the more gentle light, milder weather conditions and almost deserted locations at the very beginning of spring, and during the crisp, haze free days of the autumn months.

Which brings me to today.

Shoot with a beautiful bikini babe scheduled well ahead: babe ready, bikinis ready, batteries ready.

Weather forecast checked several times over the past week or so: sunny, pleasant temperatures, chance of rain 10% falling to 2% as the afternoon went on.

It’s a go!

Woke up this morning: raining, cold enough to freeze the tail off a tadpole, windy enough to blow the prawns out of their shells, and beaches closed to due enormous seas and dangerous swells.

Frustration strikes again!

Well what to do, but stand around all day and scratch my bum.

Well at least we are more civilized now than in the past…the ‘pre- digital’ age, when due to film processing times, and long magazine lead times, all swimsuit shoots…well if you wanted nice , sparkling seas and blue skies, and fantastically great pics for summer magazine covers,… took place in mid winter when the model slipped off her parka, her ugg boots, and balaclava, just long enough to smile in her string bikini before she froze her tits off, and the photographer’s finger froze onto the shutter button.

Those were the days when men were men, and photographers and models deserved awards.

Ah well, I’ve scratched my bum, nothing else to do but roll over and go back to sleep.