KCRA — 200-Year-Old Oak Saved — Going Pro with GoPro
A number of times over the years I’ve on here about stories I’ve done on the Land Park Volunteer Corps, area residents who pitch in one Saturday a month to help keep William S. Land Park clean and beautiful, augmenting the City Park maintenance staff, which was severely downsized several years ago, during the national economic downturn, from a full-time staff of over 50 down to just three or four.
Several weeks ago I got a call from Rick telling me about the efforts they had been making over the past two years to save and am ailing oak tree, which was somewhere between 175 and 200 years old, or possibly even older. A large, sprawling tree that dates back to the great Gold Rush of 1848 and the creation of the state of California in 1850.
Rick told me that the Land Park Volunteers were receiving an award from the city for their efforts. I expressed interest in doing a story and pitched it to one of KCRA’s assignment managers the next day. This was in the week leading up to the recent California primary, a time when everything that we were doing was about the primary an election, so the managers’ interests were focused on other things.
Ironically, that very morning I was sent out to cover a short news event that involved US Congresswoman Doris Matsui. While I was shooting an interview with her, I asked if she was back in town for the primary?
“No,” she responded, “I’m town for to a banquet tonight where I am presenting an award to some people who saved a 200-year-old tree in Land Park.”
“You mean the oak that the Land Park Volunteer Corps saved?”
“Yes! You’ve heard about it?”
“Oh yes,” I said. “I’m all about the trees of Land Park.”
I then shot a second short interview with Congresswoman Matsui about the park and the importance of trees and preserving them. When I got back to the station I mentioned this to my assignment managers, who were amazed and asked if I could set up to do a story on the oak tree once we got past the primary.
Having a sound bit in the can with a US Representative in Congress, about something that was not political was also a big plus.
GoPro and giving the 200-year-old Oak new life
I met up with Rick and Willie Carroll with Tree Care, which volunteered their services in bringing back the ailing oak tree, a few days later.
So many of the times, when I’ve seen TV news stories about something like this, a story dealing with nature, they’re always shot the same way: – On tripod. – Static interview show – Static, although beautiful, shots of trees, branches, leaves, etc. – Tripod/static shots of trees, because the trees are static and don’t move.
OK, I get that.
But it’s sooooooooo boring.
This is a story about a tree that was near death, and that now stands a very good chance of living for another—200 years!
I wanted the story to visually convey as much life as there was coursing through the limbs and branches of this tree. A story about LIFE.
So my camera was always moving.
On my news camera I put a wide-angle attachment over the zoom lens and shot handheld and low and up, so that as much as possible I had my interview subjects, Rick or Willie Carroll, framed with the tree behind them and with the camera moving as they were pointing out things on the tree.
I also used the GoPro 3+ extensively. Having it on the end of a telescopic pole, and set to the widest angle, so that I could have the GoPro almost on the ground and looking up with the humans in the foreground against massive tree that towered over them and dominated the frame.
I also put the go Pro up over my head, moving it along branches of the tree to convey life coursing through the tree.
Not just random, wild shooting, but concentrated filming with a Point of View that was trying to convey life.
And, yes, there were some shots achieved on the tripod. However, with those I always had the camera zooming in or away from the tree. Again, conveying movement and life.
Shooting News—News as Jazz—Going Improv & Following the Notes
When I first arrived at the park for the shoot I lugged my tripod along with me, because I still wasn’t sure how I was going to shoot the story. But once I got there to shoot the interviews, I left the tripod off to the side and shot virtually everything handheld.
Note: When I set out to shoot a news story I may frequently have some sort of a visual concept in mind. But it is just an idea. Very unspecific. I am a strong believer are in going with the flow of the moment.
We are, after all, talking about photojournalism, which I view it as same-day documentary work. The important thing is to respond to what’s happening around you and to capture it. And try to capture it in a way that will be interesting for the viewer.
Shooting by the seat of your pants?
Well, sometimes, yes!
So, when you are filming, always try to have some comfortable pants!!