From the Field Live

A live blog by CBC reporter Phonse Jessome

  • I am at war with the app I use to post these random thoughts from the field.

    Scribble live is supposed to let me edit posts. The last version did. Now as you can see in the picture the edit options are grey not black. As in, there but not available to the user.

    I killed and reloaded the app. Same thing. Now you have to live with iPhone enhanced thumb doodling. I can see the mistakes when I look at the post. But out here I can't do a thing about them.

    Ain't technology grand.

  • This clip shows the limitations of the iPhone camera and the challenges we face using it to get quick images up for the web.

    The cop was about to head into the shooting (gun) scene. I had just finished shooting (camera) a sequence with my TV cam. I wanted a fresh bit for the web editor to post with the latest copy so I opted for the phone.

    You can see as he walks into the darkness there is no definition in the shot. I tap the screen to chase the iris but it makes no real difference. There are couple of better camera apps I've tried but they all fall short.

    With my real camera I could have pushed to the officer as he walked keeping the light level and focus in normal ranges and taken the viewer inside the apartment as he opened the door and stepped in. Much better viewing and story telling experience.

    iPhone clips are fast. I love it and use it everyday for web stills and short video clips. It is not, and never will be, good enough to cover a story or event. I keep hearing people in our business saying it is replacing the traditional camera. That's silly. I'm thinking those people have never worked with a real camera.

    At best it offers us a wide, flat, through the window view of a moment. It can't get you close or give you real framing options. Not yet anyway.

    Still that brief moment with the cop at the crime scene is available to our web audience in seconds. That I love.

  • (Hmm. I'd like to say I know what I did to post that video upside down but I don't. I think I had the camera upside which points to the advantage of the two person crew mentioned below. It did load into the server at work properly)

    Reporting on road conditions is always a challenge for a VJ. Safety is a big concern.

    This is where the two person news crew has the real advantage. The reporter can drive while the camera operator shoots.

    Technology does help. I recorded this brief video with the iPhone on the GPS mount a few minutes ago near Windsor. The big problem is I can only take my hand off the wheel and reach over to hit the record button as conditions ahead clear so I can't record the worst of it.

    Still I can use this video in my TV item tonight and also send it now to the CBC.CA/NS editor for posting in news stories.

  • And so begins another broadcast day. Weather is often a story. Even when we know what to expect. We are Canadians and we love to talk about snow in winter and heat in summer. So when it's bad we report on it.

    On a day like this it's also a safety issue. Canadian winter or not, people with all season tires will drive too fast in this. I'll be shooting their ditched cars from the side of the highway later.

    Covering bad weather can be a challenge in this new social media news cycle. Last winter I would stop where conditions were bad and get shots with the TV camera for a report later in the day.
    With the instant deadlines we now serve that doesn't work. I place my iPhone on the GPS mount and randomly pull the trigger hoping for a decent picture to tweet when I stop. Most shots are useless but it's not like I'm using up film. Remember film.

  • And so begins another broadcast day. Weather is often a story. Even when we know what to expect. We are Canadians and we love to talk about snow in winter and heat in summer. So when it's bad we report on it.

    On a day like this it's also a safety issue. Canadian winter or not, people with all season tires will drive too fast in this. I'll be shooting their ditched cars from the side of the highway later.

    Covering bad weather can be a challenge in this new social media news cycle. Last winter I would stop where conditions were bad and get shots with the TV camera for a report later in the day.
    With the instant deadlines we now serve that doesn't work. I place my iPhone on the GPS mount on the wind shield and randomly pull the trigger hoping for a decent picture to tweet when I stop. Most shots are useless but it's not like I'm using up film. Remember film.

  • Light temperature is always a challenge. This picture shows why.

    Changing light is why we constantly white balance cameras out here.

    My rule of thumb is when the light source changes even a little try to find a white spot and have the camera read it. That resets its reference and keeps everything in line.

    The toughest part of my gig is shooting outside at or just after sunrise. That's what I was dealing with on this frame. The sun was coming up fast but the street lights and the big lights on the outside of the courthouse were still the strongest source. At least I was betting on that still being the case when the suspect stepped out of the prisoner transport van.

    It's a juggling act because the sun keeps clawing its way over the horizon and at any second will become the dominant light source. There is no way to know for sure when a prisoner will step out. So you have to be ready. The camera has an auto white tracking mode. I just don't trust it enough.

    My colleague Craig Paisley shoots at the same time of day and has a sixth sense about light. I used his formula. Set the camera to 3200 for indoor light and flood the scene with the camera light to re-enforce what was coming from the pole and building lights.

    You can see by the prisoner's skin tone and jacket it was the right call. But look at the blue on the door behind and above him. The LED lights on the Sheriff transport van are natural daylight temperature around 5600.

    That's what his face will look like when the camera light and the pole lights are blown away by that rising sun. The sun always wins that battle.

    If I had to shoot the same thing two minutes later I'd have grabbed a daylight balance off the white van and kept my camera light out of the mix. I was having that argument with myself as the Sherriff unlocked the door.

    You never know if the choice you make is the right one until you see the pictures and by then It's too late.

  • Sometimes nature conspires against you. I waited all morning for the police to haul the exhibits out of a house they were searching. My only shot was from across a small lake. Of course the sun popped out the second they began to load the stuff into their truck. No way for me to get the big wide shot showing them moving from the house and then transition to the tighter follow shots. All I could do was push in tight and cut the sky out of the frame entirely. Shame the tranquil scene was a great story telling opportunity when contrasted with the crime and cops. Oh well, at least I knew they were going to be hauling stuff out of the place. I did get those shots.

  • The soft blue bleeding into the sky over the frozen lake looks pretty cool out here. So I figured I'd grab a shot and maybe find a way to write it into the TV piece later today. Might use it, might not.

    I often shoot scenes that grab my attention like that. Use them maybe 30% of the time. Creative shooting is fun but not always interesting enough to make the cut at edit time.

    So, I am framing the shot when the pain in my fingers begins to get more of my attention than the sky I want to shoot. Oh, quick point for those of you thinking of becoming a VJ. You can't work the camera with anything resembling real gloves. Buttons are too small. Can't feel the controls you need to use. It's not a point and shoot gig.

    I use ultra thin Under Armor golf gloves. Don't know anyone who golfs in this weather. I think they are just a placebo for me.

    So, as my fingers start to freeze I check the weather app and what do I see. I am shooting an art shot I may never use and The windchill is minus twenty what?

    So, safely back in the truck I post the second blog entry of the day. This counts as work too right?

  • Okay. It's 5:30 in the morning and I'm on a remote country lane waiting for something that might happen. It will happen I'm just not sure when.

    Stakeouts are a big part of a reporter's job. Even more frequent for those of us who shoot our own video.

    It would be easy to blame the TV monster for keeping me alone in coyote country at this hour but that wouldn't be entirely true.

    The first four hours of my job are all about morning radio and that often has me somewhere like this, near a crime scene ready to report live into the show and the newscasts.

    Morning radio news is still alive and well at CBC and more than 100 thousand bleary eyed people are about to turn on the coffee machine and the radio across the province. My job is to let them know what happened in their world while they slept.

    I remember being on a road just like this at a murder scene. It was summer but just as dark. A sheep dog the size of a small province jumped up on the passenger side window. His bark shook the truck more than his paws.

    Only the sheep dog and I know how cool I was when that happened.

    In order to prevent any surprises this morning I drove down the lane to tell the lone Mountie guarding the scene who it was in the suspicious vehicle at the end of the driveway. I don't want him calling for reinforcements.

    Sheep dogs are one thing. I've had a police dog jump on the side of the truck too. No thanks.

  • Note to self. When you arrive at a fire scene in a snow storm you need to grab more than the camera and mic. Toque and gloves would have been a good idea.

    Had to park a couple of hundred meters from scene. Hat and gloves were nice and warm on the passenger seat when I finished the shoot and walked back to the truck.

    I was neither. Ahh yes. Another VJ January.

  • You spend a lot of time at fire scenes in this business. In a case like this, when you arrive after the fire is out you spend half the time looking for good shots in the rubble and half looking for someone who shot video when it was still a fire.

    The best you can do with rubble is wisps of smoke and today ice hanging from burned timber. The best you can do with witness video is flames and not too much camera movement.

    It's usually easy to find video now. It was almost impossible a decade or so ago. Camera phones are everywhere now and while the video is usually marginal you can get a shot or two.

    The bigger challenge today was the wind chill. The warehouse was beside an open field and my throbbing finger tips tell me we were hitting better than a minus 20 chill.

    When you shoot in that kind of cold the tendency is to rush the shots to get back in the truck. In a word, don't. You still need the same volume of quality material in an edit suite.

    Hey, it's an outdoor gig. Sometimes that sucks. Still beats a desk. I think.

  • Yep. That's crime scene tape sticking out of my truck. Obviously I've run into a cop with a sense of humour out here recently.

  • Ever wonder how VJ's do on camera standups. That light stand in front of the camera is the secret. I put it where I want to stand, frame and expose the shot and then start recording.

    I step into the spot grab the light stand, place it off to the side and start talking to myself. I've actually had people step in between me and the camera. They think I am practicing because there is no one behind the camera.

    After finishing I replay it in the viewfinder to be sure I haven't cut my head off again. If I am in the frame I break down. Done.

    On the subject. People ask why I don't do standups anymore. I rarely do and it annoys the boss. I moved from radio to TV 27 years ago. I've done thousands. I figure that's enough. She disagrees.

    The better reason is I often get into messy situations hauling the gear.

    I did this one today because its early and I have no excuse. At least it is fodder for the blog out here.

  • I have to learn to trust the technology. Trouble is, thirty plus years in this gig have taught me something. Never trust the technology.

    These two memory cards are the limit of the new XD Cam. Fill them with two hours of video and you are done. You either delete stuff or try to find a new card. They are not cheap so we only get two in the field.

    My dilemma. Last week I shot a three part series that I will begin putting together tomorrow . It's all there on the bottom card. It is also ingested in the main computer in the newsroom.

    Now last month I would have set aside the original shoot tapes after ingesting the video and kept them hidden away until the items were cut. Just to be safe. Computers can eat your homework.

    Well that's not an option with this system. So this morning I find myself shooting as little as possible at the departure of HMCS Toronto, today's story. Trying to save space on the remaining card. That won't work. It's not fair to the story.

    Now both cards are almost full and if news happens I am going to have to delete the video from last week. Not a problem as long as I trust the technology in the ingest computer.

    Here's hoping for a quiet night.

  • Sometimes you gotta improvise. Take these tweets. They are from a series I sent mid afternoon. We'll get to the improv in a moment. First a glimpse at life out here.

    I'd been chasing the Bacchus story on the side as I did my other work. I knew it was coming but had other responsibilities. Knew what the new charges would be and had double sourced it. What I didn't know was when the charges would be filed in court. That was the dilemma.

    That's a reporters life. You have the story you are turning now and others you are working that may not pan out on that day.

    My guaranteed story was about hockey addicts in a bar at 5am watching Canada get pounded. The goat must be fed. By that I mean you must file a real story and not wait on a potential one. So I filed on the hockey and phone chased the outlaw biker tale.

    Take note young journalists. You will not be meeting sources in dark alleys, getting yellow envelopes with secret information and then calling it a day. Only to return tomorrow to examine the contents and then continue to pursue that lead unmolested by the needs of the news goat.

    Don't be too disappointed. I've been given yellow envelopes in alleys and met with people who insist I leave my cell phone behind so the GPS can't show where I've been. That happens. It's usually on your own time or in brief stops between shoots on what ever today's story is. Hockey one minute organized crime charges the next.

    So I cut and filed the hockey thing and then went to meet with someone who witnessed the incident that led to the organized crime charges against the Bacchus. Want to talk about a nervous guy.

    Anyway I met with him on the way home. I'll use what he gave me during an info am radio hit in the morning. I left that meeting and pulled into a parking lot to check my email. Sure enough the charges were filed.

    Minor fact from the hockey story comes in here. I dropped my dollar store reading glasses in the bar and someone stepped on them.

    So here I am. I have all the info ready to file but I can't see the tiny screen on the phone well enough to trust what I type. I've learned the iPhone will toss in some interesting thoughts of its own if it knows I can't tell what it's up to.

    Not to be beaten by my own phone I jumped out of my truck and ducked into a Shoppers Drug Mart.

    A minute later I am huddled at the end of an isle slamming out those tweets wearing a pair of reading glasses off the rack. The price tag slapping me in the face every time I hit send tweet. Improvise.

    If you are one of the people who murmured as you walked past. Hey give a guy a break. And yes I slipped them back on the rack and headed out to the truck after the last tweet . Sometimes the chase gets the best of me.

  • Strange and cold start to the year.

    8 this morning I ran to the back door of the Truro court house as a sheriff pulled up with prisoners.

    I felt around with my fingers trying to force the new camera into auto tracking white on the run as It bounced on my shoulder.
    Wind chill minus twenty two and I am in a sweater. No coat. No hat. No gloves.

    I Needed a shot of former Bacchus MC pres being brought inside and the van arrived at the same time I did. So I grabbed the camera and ran.

    Had my jacket off while driving from Halifax so I wouldn't overheat in the car and feel even colder outside.

    I'm sure the jacket did feel warm . Sitting in the car as I fumbled with the new buttons. Anyway finally got to ATW as he was being led from back of prisoner van.

    Paul Fowler stepped out in cuffs looked over and said morning Phonse. How are you. I almost said cold Paul, how about you.
  • The Avid colour correction tool bailed me out today. The grain is still an issue but in a way it adds atmosphere.

    I'll call it a win.

  • Just as I feared. Poor colour and too much grain. The colour I can chalk up to losing the ATW setting on shutdown without knowing it.

    The grain is another story. Should have seen it in the viewfinder. It is a black and white view finder so it wouldn't help the balance problem but grain shows.

    I set up the new camera with a lot of information available to me in the view finder and an enhanced peaking scheme. All that going on in front of my eye kept me from seeing the obvious. The shot was sub par at best.

    I know it's learning curve stuff with the new camera but I feel pretty lousy about screwing up in the field. This guy has a compelling story to tell and he agreed to share it. My job was to help him do that and I dropped the ball.

    Most of it will get fixed in the edit suite but not all.

  • High stress shoot on day one with the new camera. Worked the back alleys with John Gray as he collected recyclables in Halifax.

    Low light was the biggest challenge and audio a close second. Discovered the XG 500 resets when you turn it off. Thought it would stay in Auto Tracking White mode the way my SX did.

    I also lost Turbo gain setting when I shut it down. By the time I realized the thing had reset some of the best shots were behind me.

    This is an important story worth sharing. I hope the 3200 balance isn't too far off. Not sure how many shots are recorded under that balance instead of the more accurate and floating ATW.

    Ah well. I may need to hit the Avid suite for some recolouring. Have to tell the other shooters what I just learned the hard way.

  • Meet the new boss, just like the old boss....sort of. The Sony XDCam 500. Just getting to know each other this morning.

    It's part camera, part computer. Maybe more computer than camera. Lot of menu selections that could get a guy in trouble in the field. Maybe it would be best if you don't watch what I shoot for the next couple of weeks.

  • Add this to the almost file. Sometimes you are in the right place at the right time. Happened out here in Bedford about twenty minutes ago.

    I was headed one way when a police chase passed me going the other. I followed. Got there as they pinned the vehicle in at the side of the road. Had the camera out and on my shoulder for the arrest.

    No luck. Turned out to be a medical emergency. Driver was confused and unaware he was being followed. Good for a VO. That and practice for me.

    Till next time.

  • Heading out for what I expect will be the final day with a trusted friend. The new XD 500 cameras are being rolled out and that means this beast goes to pasture.

    I've gone through three generations of ENG cameras now and the SX has been by far the toughest and most reliable.

    This one took some of the best shots of Hurricane Juan at its fiercest. I braced it against the side of anything that wasn't moving as wind and rain pounded us and it still recorded great images.

    You can still see some of them used in promos about storm coverage and emergency preparedness. The shot of the boat slamming the side of the building on the waterfront or the young woman blown off her feet on Barrington street stand out even today.

    I remember sliding along an ice covered highway using it like a curling stone to get a cool perspective of a bunch of wrecked cars. Again, worked like a charm.

    I was sure I busted it when I strapped into a pro rally car and held it headlock style while the driver tried to shake it loose. Shots were shaky but so was the ride. It held up.

    I did bust it once. Well, a drug hyped, oversized moron with a superiority complex did. He pulled the lens free of the bayonet mount. Seems he objected to our shooting his biker bros. That little exchange got us on the front page of the Daily News.

    You can be sure if you've watched the Nova Scotia news in the past decade you've seen some of the history it recorded on the fly.

    No matter what I got us into it never failed me. The new 500 has a tough tripod to fill.

    How do you nominate a camera for the ENG hall of fame.

  • Sometimes in the field we chase stories that are pretty much over before we arrive.

    If the story is strong we still need to find a way to tell it. Not so hard for radio or the web. Bit of an issue for TV.

    I started this one with the shot of the silver car and not much else. I did a little incident recreation and got a photo taken at the scene. Hope I pulled it off.

  • The Sony XD 500's. These are the workhorses we will take into the field. They will replace the rockstar SX cams we've been using for more than a decade. They have a lot to live up to. We'll see.

  • This is the Sony XD 100. The new baby in the ENG family. The on board menus are amazing. They show it is capable of doing what the big brother can do. Its glass limits it in a big way. In the end it's all about the lens.

  • The future? This is the laptop editor I hope to have in the field with me early in the new year. Just wrapping up the training session with it today. Amazing software. Basically what used to be an Avid super suite for the road.

    In theory this laptop combined with the new camera will allow me to cut and feed items directly from the field. I may never go back to the newsroom.

  • This one without the squad car light is a little better.

  • The two shots above show the same crime scene. Usually when I arrive it is still dark. Not a big issue for the TV camera but a challenge when it comes to getting shots for the web with my phone. I try to use available light to create atmosphere and contrast. Here I used the light from the apartment and the Halifax skyline. Used the cruiser lights as well. Ultimately it's a dark shot but you can usually make it at least a little interesting.

  • For the next 12 weeks any day above zero is a bonus. But starting the shift at 14 degrees on December 11. Wow. I'll take that.

  • I've been living under the insane and non negotiable deadlines of broadcast news for so long I can hear the passage of time. It pounds in my head like a sledge hammer marking every beat of the second hand.

    Still, living life as a real-time scribe teaches you patience and context. That or it makes you crazy.

    Consider the slow evolution of a once fast breaking story playing out behind this door in the Kentville courthouse today. It started in January of 2007. It's not expected to end before the new year.

    This one started with the fist pounding indignation of the little guy squaring off against big government. That is always a great story. We all chased it. We all had to have it instantly. For a moment it was the sharp focus of the daily deadline.

    A store owner was squaring his shoulders for a fight with Premier Rodney MacDonald and Health Promotion minister Barry Barnet. The echoes of their voices have long faded at province house. Yet the fight grinds on.

    There are always stories that seem to last forever. The focus of the daily news chase is razor sharp but it dulls quickly with the passage of time.

    This case may change Nova Scotia's tobacco laws. It may not. Either way the urgency that launched it into the top of the news cycle is long forgotten.

    It's a reminder. We can fight the clock. We do it every day. But we can never beat the march of time. It doesn't really care about our deadlines anyway.

  • I know. It's a little blurry. But so am I. Here's the best advice I can offer at the end of a twelve hour 645 kilometre day.

    Take a look at the gas gauge. Never. Never put the truck away empty. It's like leaving your batteries dead or no tape in the camera.

    The odds of a breaking story happening hundreds of kilometres away increase dramatically if you have no gas in the tank. The moment when every second counts is not the time you want to pull up to the pumps.

    So ends another broadcast day.

  • Here is the part of field work that never really counts for much. Sometimes you spend more of your day driving to and from the story than you do working on it.

    I clocked 320 K on the trip meter by 8am before I even had the camera out of the truck. When I wrap the story and feed it from Yarmouth this afternoon that same 320 K awaits.

    Days like today it is more road work than field work.

  • Scrums at the leg are always a challenge. They are crowded and people constantly move in front of your lens. They also last longer than a traditional interview and can be brutal on your shoulder.

    The key if you are the reporter and camera operator is to select your clip as you hear it go by. Then move off for cutaways like this one. As you do that you listen to the audio in your headset so you know what is being said, in this case by the premier , while you gather video.

    To do that you need a friend in the pack willing to hold your mic and transmitter while you move around.

    Best advice. Avoid the leg.

  • There are many, many things that can go wrong in the field. Of course many of them can easily be avoided. Operator error tends to haunt many of my shoots. Since I am the operator I have no one to blame.

    Consider this shot. The entire row of green LED's should be lit at the start of a major announcement. Battery fully juiced. Should be.

    Of course you always check that before leaving the station. At least you always should. I forgot today.

    One green light is a very bad sign at the start of a shoot. Especially when I am shooting for a colleague and not myself. Fortunately today another colleague agreed to run out to my car and grab the spare. I owe her a coffee.

    Moral. Check the gear stupid. You know better.

  • Hurry up and wait. Photographers wait for the premier at one gov. Everybody wants the same shot at events like this.

    Truth is the shot rarely gets used. Just a chance to get something inside the camera before the real work begins.

  • Sometimes being in the field means being above the field. You really never know what to expect out here.

    Of course that is nothing compared to what the crew of this Hercules rescue aircraft faces on the job.

    Today they headed out to monitor the start of the Lobster fishery. By the end of the run they handled three real calls. They dropped a pump that bailed out a boat taking on water. Then they headed home to lunch.

    It's an interesting world out here.

  • Here's a look behind the curtain. You occasionally stay in the field for a day or two. When that happens you still have to get content back to the newsroom.

    This video shows the way we've been doing that for decades. Aliant has a series of these feed boxes at its locations across the province.

    To use it you book the feed line in fifteen minute blocks. The camera hooks up with a video cable and two audio cables. That's it.

    You'll see the shot in my viewfinder. I always pick an interesting landmark near the feed site. Standard practice says to select colour bars on the camera and feed that. I figure the editor sees enough bars back in the suite.

    I like to offer something from the field. It stands out when the editor is running through router channels looking for me.

    In this case he found the hotel in no time. I hit play on the camera and the tape fed real time. Video sent. Now off to the next shoot.

    In a matter of weeks all of this could change. Stay tuned for what the next generation of cameras has to offer.

  • The thing about working in the field is that it involves field work. By that I mean outdoor work. A lot of it.

    Don't get me wrong, I drove a desk once and give me snow and cold any day. But. There is always a but. Once a year I get that sinking feeling. It starts with that stuff on the ground. It's not just the snow it's the cold too.

    Consider today. There I was standing outside the Kentville courthouse waiting to get a shot of a suspect who is not in custody. Minus three degrees standing there with snow falling. I'm thinking three things.

    One. I need this shot. This is a suspect in a high profile case and so far we have no video. Not even a web still.

    Two. How long will this battery hold up at minus three. It's old and doesn't like the cold much. The spare was in the truck so I worried. You worry a lot in the field.

    Three. Does this weather have to start already. In truth that was probably number one.

    Of course the real sinking feeling came when the suspect slipped past me and used another door. Got her on the way out though. That made the chill go away.

  • Things are changing fast in the field. It seems every day there is a new way to do what we do.

    This is veteran news photographer Tim Krochak on the job. Yesterday he added something called an eye-fi card to his traditional camera.

    Here he is using it to wirelessly transfer a shot of a firefighter taken at a fire scene into his iPhone. While we talked he uploaded the shot from his iPhone to the Herald web site.

    Great shot taken with a high end professional camera by a news photographer in the field and you have it to look at while we are still here.

    Of course, Tim is still shooting that scene now and I am putting him in the blog just as quickly.

    News on the fly indeed.

  • Sometimes the road takes you to unexpected places where you meet fascinating people. Stopped by the province's new Medical Examiner Forensic Centre in burnside today.

    Dr Matt Bowes runs the place. At one minute he is anxious to explain how the new four station autopsy room uses solar heated rainwater to cut costs. Then he is just as keen to explain his love of things old. A book with real pages and a cup of tea.

    He admits his new gig combines both. Halifax gave birth to Canada's first ME. Dr. William D. Finn. He took office just in time to handle the Titanic recovery and the Halifax Explosion.

    Dr. Bowes says it is an honour to carry on that tradition in this modern morgue that carries Dr. Finn's name.

    The people you meet and the things that they do.

    by Phonse Jessome via mobile edited by Dean Gallant 11/21/2012 6:42:22 PM
  • Dr. Matt Bowes in his new morgue.

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