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Chase Jarvis interview by Gordon Laing

  Chase Jarvis and Gordon Laing in Queenstown, September 2009
Chase Jarvis is one of the best-known and most respected photographers today, delivering commercial campaigns for clients including Apple, Nike, Volvo, Emirates and Red Bull. It was during his campaign for the Nikon D90 though that many of us were first introduced to his behind-the-scenes work. Across numerous tweets, blog posts, and Facebook updates, many of us have enjoyed a fascinating glimpse into the work behind a commercial shoot.

Indeed it was on Chase’s very own blog that I discovered he was on a commercial shoot for SanDisk in Queenstown, the adventure capital of New Zealand, and also the home of Camera Labs. During some of his rare downtime, I caught-up with Chase to find out about the equipment he uses, his love of social networking and the demands of becoming and being a successful commercial photographer.

The interview was filmed during September 2009 towards the end of Queenstown’s Winter Season when there was still a blanket of snow on the ski slopes. Only a few days later Chase launched “The Best Camera”, his application, book and online community celebrating iPhone photography. His love of the iPhone certainly comes across during the interview where he also alludes to this project. If you enjoy the interview, please consider buying Chase's book or application from the links alongside - thanks!

Chase Jarvis interview part 1 - on the commissioning process.

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Chase Jarvis interview part 2 - on choosing the right equipment, social networking and becoming a pro.

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Best Camera


The equipment

A long-term Nikon user, Chase talks about the D90, D300s and D3x during the interview. See our Nikon D90, Nikon D300s and Nikon D3x reviews and test reports for more details on these models.

Behind the scenes

Over 17 years of journalism I’ve interviewed a number of people, but this was the first time I’d filmed one with the intention of editing and presenting the footage here. This proved to be a bigger challenge than I’d anticipated, not least in terms of equipment. So in true Chase Jarvis style, here’s a behind-the-scenes look at the technicalities behind filming this interview.

I knew I needed at least two cameras in order to allow cutaway shots, and as luck would have it, I own a pair of camcorders, a Canon HV30 and a Sony DCR-HC96E. Unfortunately they employ completely different standards: the former is an American HDV model, capturing a 1440x1080 interlaced frame at 60Hz, while the latter is a UK DV model, capturing a 720x576 interlaced frame at 50Hz. I had no idea how footage from both could be integrated into a single project, nor which standard to use as the base, but I decided the Canon would be Camera-1, filming Chase in HD, while the Sony would be Camera-2, capturing cutaway shots of Chase at a different angle. If I could use the latter in the same project, great, but if not, it wasn’t the end of the world.

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Ideally I also needed a third camera to film my own questions and reactions, but with both camcorders deployed, I had no choice but to employ the movie mode of a digital camera. I toyed with the idea of using a Nikon D90 I had on test at that time, but the five minute maximum file length would be a limiting factor in an interview, not to mention the introduction of a third frame rate to integrate: 24fps. Instead the job of Camera-3 fell to the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ35 / FZ38 I also had on test at that time.

This offers the choice of movie modes: Motion JPEG and AVCHD Lite. I chose the latter as even though it’s harder to edit the native files, it could keep recording until I ran out of memory, which was essential for unattended filming during the interview. This time the camera was capturing a 1280x720 progressive frame at 30fps. Yet another new frame size, although at least the 30fps rate would integrate better with the 60Hz footage from Camera-1. I was really impressed with the FZ35, which happily captured 45 minutes of uninterrupted HD footage, although note the European FZ38 is restricted to individual clip-lengths of 29 minutes and 59 seconds. See my Panasonic Lumix DMC FZ35 / FZ38 review for more details.

As for audio, I’m afraid I didn’t have access to a lapel microphone, so the audio you hear was captured by the built-in microphones – and in what became an increasingly noisy bar too. Luckily we were coming towards the end of the interview when the cashier decided to start counting coins!

I should also return to the earlier point about unattended filming. Without an assistant, I was a one-man operation and once all three cameras were rolling, I had to walk away and hope they still had the subjects in-frame, not to mention were still actually recording. It was pretty nerve-wracking. As you'll see, I gradually leaned forward and further out of frame as the interview progressed!

Upon returning back to base I nervously played the footage from each camera. Camera-1 looked fine albeit with increasing image noise as the room became gradually darker, but in order to capture an establishing shot with the equipment on the table, the camera was positioned at some distance from Chase with the audio greatly suffering as a result.

Camera-2’s footage looked okay albeit lacking contrast, but Chase ended-up almost in profile, which isn’t the most flattering angle to use in an interview. The good news though was the audio sounded the best of all three cameras, for both Chase and myself. Onto Camera-3 and the Panasonic managed to capture a nice clean image, although the framing wasn’t ideal: I was too large, the angle was looking slightly up (while the cameras on Chase were aimed slightly down) and worst of all, I was facing in the same direction – we were both on the left side of the frame, facing right. This is a big problem in a filmed interview, as the subject and interviewer should both be facing in opposite directions – otherwise when cutting between them, they don’t look like they’re actually talking to each other.

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Intensity Pro HDMI capture card

It was looking increasingly unlikely I’d be able to salvage a workable video from the footage and I briefly considered simply transcribing it for a written article. But as an experiment, I loaded the footage from all three cameras into an Adobe Premiere Pro CS4 project, using a 720x576 frame size to allow cropping on the HD material if necessary. Note rather than work with the Panasonic’s native AVCHD files though, I recaptured the footage over HDMI using an Intensity Pro card in the Motion JPEG format. This is an excellent solution for anyone who wants to capture material over HDMI, and I regularly use it for the screengrabs in my reviews and video tours. See my Black Magic Intensity Pro card review for more details.

To my astonishment with a little nudging here and there, Premiere CS4 managed to fairly successfully sync the audio from Camera-2 with the footage from Camera-1 and 3. It was amazing to watch the footage from the Canon and Panasonic with the consistent sound from the Sony.

But there was still the problem of us both facing to the right of the frame. I solved that one by simply flipping the footage of me, so what you’re seeing is effectively a mirror image – normally this can look a little odd, but I think I’ve got away with it here and the only real giveaway is seeing the open side of the shirt which wouldn’t normally be visible when viewed from this side.

With the sound synced and me facing in the correct direction, it was then a case of editing the footage. I had about 45 minutes of raw material, but for hosting purposes needed to edit that down to two 15 minute segments. This sadly meant losing an interesting section where Chase discussed his side-project, “Songs For Eating and Drinking” where a variety of musicians are gathered in a room with some great food and the results photographed and filmed. You'll also notice in part one of the interview I've stuck to footage from Cameras one and three, whereas I've included some side-cuts from Camera 2 in part two - I'd be interested to hear what you think in the Camera Labs forum!

What I’d do differently next time...

There’s a steep learning curve involved in doing anything for the first time, and you inevitably learn a lot from your mistakes. If I were to film another interview, I’d try and do the following:

1: Aim for more flattering and consistent framing with the cameras. I’d position the cameras (and subjects) at the same height, and avoid profile shots. Studying almost any interview on the TV would be a great start. I’d additionally ensure the cameras were on the same side, so the subject and interviewer were facing opposite sides of the frame. In the perfect world I’d have an assistant check the cameras during the interview and recompose if necessary. If not, then I would zoom-out and capture a wider frame from the start because you can always crop-in when editing, but you can’t pull-back for greater coverage.

2: Use the same type of camera, or at least the same format. Premiere Pro CS4 did a great job of syncing my three very different camera formats, but ideally they should be the same for consistent frame sizes, frame rates and processing style.

3: Record the audio with a decent microphone(s) positioned close to the subject(s). For decent sound quality, you need to get your microphones close to the source. Ideally I’d also choose a quieter location and one which was better-lit for lower image noise.

4: Film or source cutaway shots where appropriate. In this particular interview, it would have been good to have additional close-up footage of the cameras being discussed, while some footage of Chase at work would have improved the introduction and set the scene.

Ultimately despite a number of technical hitches, I hope you enjoy the interview and find some of the information useful. I very much enjoyed talking with Chase who’s as friendly and enthusiastic as he comes across in his videos. Thanks again to Chase and his team for their time.

For more information, please visit Chase Jarvis Blog and Songs For Eating and Drinking. And don't forget if you enjoyed the interview, please support us by buying Chase's iPhone book or application (or indeed anything at all!) from the links above or at our partner stores page - thanks!

All words, images, videos and layout, copyright 2005-2017 Gordon Laing. May not be used without permission.

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