Salton Sea on KCRA-TV

Published On May 15, 2011 | By Mike Carroll | DSLR, Greyhounds, Salton Sea, Shooting News, TV News Vault

This is our vacation home movie. Most people put some videos together, post them on Youtube or burn DVDs and mail them to family. I write up a script, edit my videos and have them broadcast on a network affiliate.

Yes, I put my vacation photos and videos out on the news. This story aired on KCRA-TV’s Common Ground at 6:30 PM on Sunday, May 15, 2011.

hb129 from Mike Carroll on Vimeo.

As a continuation from the two earlier posts about our trip to Southern California and the Salton Sea:

Just over a month ago Bonnie, Alex, Ava and I packed into the Toyota Sienna minivan and headed 520 miles south to Indio, just outside of Palm Springs, where we established a base camp at the Indio Motel 8, a really nice economy motel that accepts pets. And from there we continued south another 30 miles to our destination, the Salton Sea.

This was our first “family vacation” – hitting the road together like I used to do as a kid when my family went on vacation, which always involved a lot of driving. This last was why we traded in our KIA station wagon for the Toyota Sienna, so we’d all have plenty of room.

Having grown up in Missouri with its hills and trees and living for over twenty years now in Sacramento, known as The City of Trees, I have a deep affection and attraction to desert places and their barren landscapes – sand, exposed rock, scrub and raw western beauty.

We chose the Salton Sea as a place to explore with the dogs and for me to take pictures, which I intended only to post to the website.

The desert and shoreline around the Salton Sea is like stepping through a portal into a National Geographic location. Everywhere you turn is an otherworldly image that seems removed from another time and place. Fortunately, I had a 32 Gb extreme flash card in my Canon 7D because I was going to be burning up a lot of photos.

Technical data:
Canon 7D
Tokina 11-16mm F2.8 lens
ND 4 filter to cut down on depth of field in the bright sunlight
Polarizing filter to bunch up the sky

No external microphone, monitor, shoulder mount rig or mattebox.

All location audio was recorded using only the Canon 7D’s built-in mic.

Everywhere I turned I could see an image that could be a high-end art photograph worthy of framing and hanging on a wall. I knew these would be riveting in black & white. I didn’t want to go to all this effort to only display them on Flickr and the website. I wanted to share them with as wide an audience as possible.

Alex on point, as Bonnie holds the reigns and Ava luxuriates in the Salton Sea.

I had only planned on shooting art photos and video of Bonnie and the kids, but only for ourselves, and all of this was being shot hand held. Now my enthusiasm made me start thinking in bigger directions. Pulling out the Manfrotto tripod, I started framing up the shots with more precision on the tripod and to shoot the still photos, but then afterwards began rolling video in 1080 24p High Definition video of the same thing.

I’m a big fan of CBS Sunday Morning, a weekly 90-minute news magazine program that runs long-form stories that can be anywhere from three minutes to ten minutes or more. Every few weeks they profile a photographer and mix still photograph with footage of the artist at work. Ever since getting the Canon 7D I’ve wanted to explore doing my own long-form story that would combine both still photojournalism with video journalism. I suddenly started thinking that the day’s photo trip to the Salton Sea could be the maiden voyage of this idea.

The skeletal remains of a 1970s mobile home on Bombay Beach at the shore of the Salton Sea.

We got to the next leg on our journey, Bombay Beach, where there is an area that had once been a seaside mobile home community that was flooded during the mid-70s. Because of the pollutants in the lake the mobile homes had to be abandoned. The area has since become famous as a gradually deteriorating ghost town. In other words, a photographer’s paradise.

As I was taking still and video images on the tripod of this site, other day tourists started wandering through. I could overhear them commenting on the scene, how it came about and what a bizarre locale it is.

At this point I couldn’t help myself. The TV newsman in me kicked in. I took the Canon 7D off the tripod and started talking to people and casually interviewing them. I didn’t have my Rode Video mic with me, so I just held the 7D in my hand and rolled video, relying entirely on the Canon’s tiny built-in microphone. There is no way to monitor the sound you’re getting, and there was a slight breeze blowing in off the lake. I had no idea if it would be blown out and unusable or what, but I wasn’t going to get this chance again.

I kept my back to the wind and held the camera close in front of me and reasonably close to the people talking. When I talk to people like this I never hold the camera up to my eye to frame the picture. I was shooting with the super-wide angle Tokina 11-16mm lens so I just held the camera out from my chest a few inches and slightly angled up. I knew that with the super-wide angle lens that whatever picture I got would look cool.

Amazingly, with only a few exceptions, the sound came out very clear.

Bonnie with Ava and Alex and her new appendage – her iPhone.

By early afternoon it was starting to heat up. Bonnie was hungry and the dogs were hot and dusty. And there was no shade to be found anywhere. We piled back into the minivan to head back to our base camp.

As we were driving back Bonnie said, “We’re on vacation and you’re shooting news?”

“I’m shooting for myself. This is great stuff. When you see something like this you can’t just let it pass you by.”

“Whatever.”

When we got back to the motel room and gave the kids a bath to clean them and cool them off, I showed Bonnie the footage of Ava stepping out into the Salton Sea and lying down into the water up to her neck. This put a happy smile back on her face.

A few weeks after returning from the trip, after having time to review and log the video footage, do some research into the history of the Salton Sea – which I knew absolutely nothing of until after having been there – I wrote up a script. I knew this was going to be long so the long-form magazine format of Common Ground was going to be the perfect platform for having the story air in its entirety. On this show I would not be under the one-minute and fifteen second time constraint of a daily news story and can go four or five minutes or more, as long as I could keep the story interesting.

I had planned to edit on one of the KCRA laptops, which have Adobe Premier CS5 and can accommodate 1080 HD video. However, no sooner had I signed out one of the Dell laptops that I discovered that they were all going to be needed for training sessions for the rest of the week. I didn’t want to get started cutting the project and then have to put it off until the following week, so I put the Dell back and decided to cut on Final Cut Pro 6 on my own MacBook instead.

MacBook converting the Canon 7D 1080 HD files into Aplle ProRes files for editing in FCP 6.

This proved easier, because I wanted to animate the still photos so that they are always very subtly in motion, very slowly zooming forward or backward. But this also presented both an advantage and a disadvantage:

1) The Advantage: I’ve almost always got my MacBook with me, so where every I go, if I’m not working on one news story or I’ve got downtime, I can lift up the MacBook screen and go to work.

2) The Disadvantage: When I’m working on a project that I care passionately about I become obsessed. It no longer becomes a project I’m doing at work on company time. It becomes a labor of love that it’s hard to turn loose from until it’s done.

As a result, that night at home after dinner Bonnie was on the sofa, surrounded by greyhounds, watching American Idol and I had the MacBook open on my lap with earbuds on as I chipped away at the story. And when I woke up with the dawn the next morning at 5 AM, I made a cup of tea, flipped open the MacBook, plugged in the earbuds, and was right back at it. By 8 AM I had it essentially finished and played it for Bonnie before heading into work.

KCRA Common Ground – The Salton Sea from Mike Carroll on Vimeo.

After watching it she reacted, “Wow. It’s a lot more ethereal than I expected. Did you know any of that stuff about how the Sea was formed before we went there?”

“No, nothing.”

“It’s interesting. It really is. I had no idea. Now I want to go back and spend more time there.”

Once I got into the station I checked out the vacation scheduled and put in for another week in October, when the schools are back in session, vacation season is over, and the temperatures should be down in the Palm Springs area from the summer highs of 120+ degrees to the comfortable 70s and 80s.

In addition to exploring more of the Salton Sea we want to check out Joshua Tree National Park, on the north side of Highway 10.

Perhaps that will be another story!

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About The Author

Mike Carroll joined the digital revolution in 1999 with a Sony TRV900 camcorder and Final Cut Pro, when it was only Final Cut Pro and not version 2, 4 or a Suite.

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