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Video+Photo Working Group Macro Workshop in Duke Gardens

About 20 communicators across Duke, many of whom had not been on campus since the lockdown 15 months ago, participated in a macro photography and videography workshop in Sarah P. Duke Gardens on Wednesday June 9, 2021. Armed with mirrorless cameras, DSLR’s, GoPro’s, iPhones and Androids, the Video and Photo Working Group participants walked from the University Communications office to the Gardens Terraces for the field trip.  “Macro photography takes a little bit of specialized gear, and a whole lot of patience,” Bill Snead, digital asset manager for Digital and Brand Strategy in University Communications, told his fellow communicators.

Communicators from across Duke participate in a Video-Photo Working Group meeting to learn about macro capture at the Sarah P. Duke Gardens.

The working group, led by Julie Schoonmaker, video producer for Digital and Brand Strategy in University Communications and Shaun King, Senior Public Relations Specialist for Trinity College of Arts & Sciences, has been hosting topics like “Small Cameras, Big Pictures,” “Creating Effective Virtual Events & Ceremonies,” and “Documenting the COVID-19 Pandemic” through monthly Zoom sessions since February 2020, and before that, in person at the University Communications office. Snead, who also has a commercial remote pilot’s license and has been doing aerial photos and video on campus for two years, was a great choice to lead a macro talk. “I got into macro photography as a way to deal with being a landscape photographer in western New York, an area devoid of any real dramatic landscape features like mountains or oceans,” said Snead. “It’s essentially a vast glacial plain. Turning my focus to the macro world allowed me to explore micro-landscapes that were much more interesting.”

Video+Photo Working Group macro workshop in the Gardens' Terraces.

Video+Photo Working Group macro workshop in the Gardens’ Terraces.

“It may take you many minutes to frame up and focus onto a mini landscape barely noticeable to others, and you may end up waiting a really long time for that dragonfly to re-alite on the leaf you’ve previously focused on, or for the wind to stop blowing it around. And you’re often doing all that while kneeling, sitting or laying on the ground. It’s not for everyone, but when you come away with a unique image that offers others a peek into the microverse, it can all be worth it.”

Dew drops on Eastern Tent Caterpillar during a morning rain, Hillsborough NC

Some of Snead’s suggestions included a tripod for camera stabilization and focus, and a reflector for bouncing light onto an object or acting as a scrim to block harsh mid-day sun. He also suggested purchasing a used, cheap ($50-70) manual focus lens that could be attached to a current model camera with an adapter. Bill’s go-to macro lens is a 1974 model Nikon 55mm f3.5 lens, mounted with a micro 4/3 adapter to his Olympus E-M1 Mark II camera. “This lens is as sharp or sharper than anything you could buy today.” Snead also recommended extension tubes as a cheaper alternative to an expensive macro lens. Extension tubes are designed to enable a lens to focus closer than normal.  Other iPhone or Android options include macro diopter close-up screw on attachments or clip-on macro lenses, for $15-40.

Bill Snead, digital asset manager with Digital and Brand Strategy/University Communications, offers helpful advice for macro capture.

Bill Snead, digital asset manager with Digital and Brand Strategy/University Communications, offers helpful advice for macro capture.

Julie Wynmor, program coordinator for the Department of Gender, Sexuality, & Feminist Studies, photographs students and faculty for department news stories and website acknowledgements, as well as in classrooms, meetings and program events.

Julie Wynmor, Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies communicator, practices capturing macro shots during the workshop in the Gardens.

“I went to the workshop for two reasons, one is that I joined the group while we were remote, so it was a fun opportunity to meet people that I’ve only seen on Zoom,’ said Wymor. “The second reason is I’m always looking to learn more and whether its Zoom or in person the Photo/video working group meetings have been very interesting, diverse and informative.”

Julie Wynmor's cactus close-up.

Julie Wynmor’s cactus close-up.

Schoonmaker, who edits and produces overarching, strategic videos like “Duke Commencement 2021 Glory”, “Toward Our Second Century,” and “Presidential Awards Virtual Ceremony,” started the working group with King five years ago. The group now has 111 email subscribers with 20-25 who participate in the monthly meetings. “We began the group with the goal of offering our Duke videographers and photographers ranging in experience a place to connect, exchange information, learn and grow,” said Schoonmaker. “After over a year of only meeting through Zoom, it was wonderful to finally see each other in-person and return to hands-on teaching and learning together.”

Julie Schoonmaker, foreground, video producer for Digital and Brand Strategy in University Communications, and other communicators capture footage of Canada geese walking through the Terraces.

Veronique Koch, science producer with University Communications, recently did a virtual tour of the Duke Greenhouse, and Snead tagged along to capture some macro shots. “His videos and still were just gorgeous… I was delighted when I heard he was willing to give a masterclass to our video and photo group,” Koch said.  To prepare for the workshop, Koch purchased a clip-on lens kit for her iPhone, which included a macro and wide angle lens, as well as a small light, and a mini tripod, all for $57. “I didn’t want to invest in too much expensive gear right away,” she said.

Veronique Koch, science producer with University Communications, practices capturing macro shots with the new setup on her iPhone.

“I was really surprised at how well they worked, and learning his tips and tricks during his class, and getting to practice on my own in the Duke Gardens was so much fun. I made some mistakes but I got a couple of great shots that I am very proud of. I can’t wait to practice some more.”

Koch captured this bumblebee visiting flowers.

Koch captured this bumblebee visiting flowers.

Koch photographed this detail of a flower.

Koch photographed this detail of a flower.

 

 

 

 

Behind the Scenes of our Class of 2021 Celebration video

Our team wanted to create a special experience for the graduating Class of 2021. In March we weren’t even sure if the Commencement ceremony would be in-person or virtual, so we came up with a plan to film about a dozen seniors reflecting on their time at Duke, as well as film those same seniors jumping, tossing caps, blowing bubbles, etc. for a second celebration video. My colleague Megan Mendenhall would edit the Reflections piece, and I would be responsible for editing the celebration video.

Julie Schoonmaker, our video manager, reached out to the Special Events office, who was planning Commencement, to help us find seniors. Terry Chambliss and Kaitlin Briggs recruited 13 amazing seniors from the Dukes and Duchesses to participate.

Our filming session was set for March 9 and everything went smoothly – the 13 seniors we filmed were a joy to work with and made for some great moments.

Members of the Digital Brand Strategy team, from left, Megan Mendenhall, Bill Snead, Blyth Morrell, Jared Lazarus, and Julie Schoonmaker.

Members of the Digital Brand Strategy team, from left, Megan Mendenhall, Bill Snead, Blyth Morrell, Jared Lazarus, and Julie Schoonmaker.

While editing the video, I wished we had even more seniors to include. I decided to create a 90 second video that showed two three-second clips of each senior, but couldn’t help but think if I was graduating I would wonder why only 13 students were chosen for a video that had space to show them each two times. I decided to complete the video and see if my teammates felt the same way. A week later when I shared the video, my feelings were confirmed when Julie suggested we film at least 15 more students for the celebration video. One of the seniors in the video brought along two friends in her Covid bubble and those moments were among the most special because they showed the wonderful friendships made over four years at Duke.

Seniors Emine Arcasoy, Serena Lim-Strutt, and Molly Mendoza celebrate together during our filming session.

Seniors Emine Arcasoy, Serena Lim-Strutt, and Molly Mendoza celebrate together during our filming session.

Another senior happened to be in an acappella group and was a natural performer, so his scenes were some of the most entertaining.

Senior Andrew Zheng brings comedic flair to our filming session.

Senior Andrew Zheng brings comedic flair to our filming session.

I also knew that a big effort was needed to make the video as rich in diversity as our student body.

I emailed James Todd at Duke Chapel to see if we could film in the arcade again and also to work out logistics for running extension cords for our lighting. With the date secure, I went to Sign Up Genius and created a sign-up for our second filming session on Thurs. April 8 with 22 timeslots from 1:30-6pm.

And I drafted emails – the first letters I sent out on Mon. March 29 were to every a cappella group on campus, which I thought would help me check all of the boxes for fun, outgoing and diverse. One might not know this, but there are actually nine a cappella groups on campus: the coed Rhythm & Blue and all-male The Pitchforks are perhaps the most well-known, but others include Out of the Blue, Deja Blue and Lady Blue, and quite possibly my favorite name for a student group ever, the Temptasians.

The Temptasians, Duke's own Asian-interest co-ed a cappella group, perform on the Bryan Center Plaza during the 2018 Mid-Autumn Festival.

The Temptasians, Duke’s own Asian-interest co-ed a cappella group, perform on the Bryan Center Plaza during the 2018 Mid-Autumn Festival.

I also emailed every student dance group I could find, 10 groups including Kpop dance team Pureun, Latin dance group Sabrosura, Bollywood fusion team Duke Rhydhun, and multicultural dance group Defining Movement.

Seniors Shalin Kapil, Meghana Giri, and Aneesha Raj perform a Bhangra dance on the Chapel steps during the filming of our celebration video.

Seniors Shalin Kapil, Meghana Giri, and Aneesha Raj perform a Bhangra dance on the Chapel steps during the filming of our celebration video.

But by Fri. eve, only eight of our slots were full, so on Sat. April 3, I began emailing students directly who I photographed in the Fall, juniors from last Spring, and so on, and attached a photo to refresh their memory and also to help incentivize their participation. Now seniors, I had captured these students studying and socializing on the quad, in a Bass Connections Project Team, with puppies from Puppy Kindergarten, and whenever I happen to photograph a group of about four or fewer students I’ll typically get their names and their year. Here’s one of those emails:

Hi Allayne, Katlyn & Martin, I photographed you during Spring ‘19 in front of Brownstone (see below) when you were sophomores. I’m with University Communications and we’re looking for seniors to film in celebratory poses for a video that will play on the Jumbotron during Commencement ’21 in Wallace Wade Stadium and also be available on the Commencement ’21 website. Will you please consider participating in or sharing this fun opportunity with your fellow classmates. The filming session is on Thurs. April 8 in the Chapel arcade (raindate will be Tues. April 13). Please sign up for yourself or bring a few friends in your Covid bubble. Outgoing personality and diversity encouraged! Here’s the sign-up link: xxxxx

Hi Allayne, Katlyn & Martin, I photographed you during Spring ‘19 in front of Brownstone (see below) when you were sophomores. I’m with University Communications and we’re looking for seniors to film in celebratory poses for a video that will play on the Jumbotron during Commencement ’21 in Wallace Wade Stadium and also be available on the Commencement ’21 website. Will you please consider participating in or sharing this fun opportunity with your fellow classmates. The filming session is on Thurs. April 8 in the Chapel arcade (raindate will be Tues. April 13). Please sign up for yourself or bring a few friends in your Covid bubble. Outgoing personality and diversity encouraged! Here’s the sign-up link: xxxxx

Almost immediately after sending an email like this directly to students that knew me, one or more of them would sign up, so the spots started filling up more quickly now. That night I went out to eat with my family at Bonefish Grill and sitting next to us outside was what appeared to be a Duke student (he was wearing a Duke polo and was the right age) with his parents. My wife Kelly is more talkative than me, so she began chatting with the parents and we discovered their son, Daniel Wright, was a forward on the Duke men’s soccer team graduating in May. I call this serendipity and of course asked Daniel if he would consider participating in our filming session.

Seniors Daniel Wright and Tess Boade, from the Duke men's and women's soccer team, head each other the ball during our filming session.

Seniors Daniel Wright and Tess Boade, from the Duke men’s and women’s soccer team, head each other the ball during our filming session.

During our team meeting on Monday April 5, our director Blyth Morrell suggested we include the Blue Devil in the filming session and worked out the $100 appearance fee. It was a great idea, and I was excited about filming the Devil with Daniel and two of the Dancing Devils I recruited. I had met and filmed one of them, Hannah Folks, kayaking at the Duke Marine Lab when she was a sophomore and she asked a friend to tag along.

Hannah Folks, then a rising sophomore, enjoys a sunrise paddle at the Duke Marine Lab in Beaufort, NC during summer 2018.

Hannah Folks, then a rising sophomore, enjoys a sunrise paddle at the Duke Marine Lab in Beaufort, NC during summer 2018.

Dancing Devils seniors Hannah Folks and Alyssa Nicholas perform with the Blue Devil during our filming session.

Dancing Devils seniors Hannah Folks and Alyssa Nicholas perform with the Blue Devil during our filming session.

After our meeting, I ordered a 24 pack of big bubble wands and 20 pack of no mess streamers from Amazon.

By Tues. April 6, I was still sending emails to seniors, trying to fill the remaining handful of spots. By Wednesday April 7 about 10pm, more than 60 emails later, I had filled all 22 spots.

I made a few mistakes with my sign up that would create hours of additional work in my efforts to get organized before our session. I did not include a space for a phone number and make this required, and I did not ask the students to write the names of the seniors they would be bringing along. In general, students are hit or miss at returning emails, often requiring a second reminder email to get additional info. So I spent most of the day before the shoot gathering the names of every senior we would be expecting and creating a log, as well as swapping several timeslots for those who needed to reschedule.

I made a few mistakes with my sign up that would create hours of additional work in my efforts to get organized before our session. I did not include a space for a phone number and make this required, and I did not ask the students to write the names of the seniors they would be bringing along. In general, students are hit or miss at returning emails, often requiring a second reminder email to get additional info. So I spent most of the day before the shoot gathering the names of every senior we would be expecting and creating a log, as well as swapping several timeslots for those who needed to reschedule.

I laid out three lights, stands, extension cords, gaffers tape, some caps and gowns we acquired,  and our fun props for me, Megan and Bill Snead, our digital asset manager and resident drone pilot, a couple of days before the shoot. Megan brought large helium balloon numbers to spell out 2021, which would be a perfect way to help kick off the video.

Seniors Lavonne Hoang, Alice Zheng, Genoveva Ntirugelgwa, and Sonia Lau celebrate with 2021 balloons during our filming session.

Seniors Lavonne Hoang, Alice Zheng, Genoveva Ntirugelgwa, and Sonia Lau celebrate with 2021 balloons during our filming session.

Megan would capture the groups from a different angle with a GoPro and also shoot with a telephoto lens to help create a wider variety of imagery. Bill would use his mirrorless camera that has a slow motion setting to capture in slo-mo and also transition to the drone in the afternoon to give us some nice aerial footage.­ ­­­

We all met at the studio at 11:45am on April 8 to load up. Blyth and our student intern, Anna Markey, would greet the students and help us run on schedule, and Blyth would also help direct scenes and our overall coverage.

Blyth and Anna were essential in helping us stay organized as I created an ambitious shooting schedule with a different student group arriving every 10 minutes for 4.5 straight hrs. with a 30 min. recharge/bathroom break and a couple of additional 10 min. breaks built in.

The Blue Devil arrived at 1:30pm and stayed until 2:30 so we were able to use the Devil in our first five student groups. All three of us were capturing these fun scenes from different perspectives, focal lengths and frame rates.

Slow-motion of seniors Akylah Cox and Elise Malone doing a "High School Musical" jump with the Blue Devil during our filming session for the celebration video.

Slow-motion of seniors Akylah Cox and Elise Malone doing a “High School Musical” jump with the Blue Devil during our filming session for the celebration video.

We had a short break as our next group was at 2:40pm, and Blyth and Megan were rightly concerned that if the three of us continued to shoot every student group for the rest of the afternoon we would be overwhelmed with footage to edit. So we decided to break up into two different shooting stations to help streamline our coverage and tackle the groups that were beginning to arrive either five minutes early or five minutes late. Next time around, I’ll likely schedule every 15 min. so there’s not as much overlap and to give us more breathing room.

Also at this time, Bill got the drone ready and was mostly flying from 3-6pm, creating beautiful perspectives and shots with skilled pilot maneuvers.

Seniors Rishika Gundi, Saloni Bulchandani, Anisha Watwe, and Rand Alotaibi throw their caps as drone pilot Bill Snead maneuvers toward the top of the Chapel.

Seniors Rishika Gundi, Saloni Bulchandani, Anisha Watwe, and Rand Alotaibi throw their caps as drone pilot Bill Snead maneuvers toward the top of the Chapel.

Megan put away the C-200 and would use the GoPro for the rest of the afternoon to be more nimble – creating fun, intimate, and ultra-wide angle views.

Seniors Jiwoo Kim, Martin Trinh, Lenique Huggins and Allayne Thomas blow bubbles as Megan Mendenhall pans the action with a GoPro.

Seniors Jiwoo Kim, Martin Trinh, Lenique Huggins and Allayne Thomas blow bubbles as Megan Mendenhall pans the action with a GoPro.

We filmed 60 different seniors in groups of mostly two-four on April 8, so combined with the 15 from March 9, and five more I found at the Chapel doing cap and gown shots two weeks later (as I was wrapping up the editing), we had 80 faces in 47 scenes of our 3.5 min. Duke Class of 2021 Commencement Celebration video!

Content Planning for Commencement 2021

Timeline of Duke's Commencement Announcement - March 2, 2021: Duke announces plans to hold an in-person commencement ceremony for seniors only. Marching 31, 2021: Duke invites remote seniors and students who graduated early to the in-person ceremony. April 8, 2021: Duke allows seniors to bring two guests each to the 2021 in-person ceremony. May 2, 2021: Duke holds an in-person commencement for all members of the Class of 2021 and allows each senior to bring two guests each to the ceremony.

Infographic timeline showing the dates of Duke’s Commencement Announcements.

In a typical year, our team starts planning for commencement in January, but 2021 is not a typical year.

We knew that we needed to plan content for commencement, but due to COVID-19, no one knew if the ceremony could be an in-person event, a virtual ceremony, or a hybrid of both. In many ways, we were chasing a moving target.

We decided to create short videos because this format can be incorporated into websites, e-newsletters, shared on social media platforms and even shared during in-person ceremonies. This decision proved to be wise because the scope of the ceremony changed twice from the time Duke’s initial announcement that it was holding an in-person ceremony to May 2, the date of the ceremony.

After a brainstorming session, we decided to focus on producing four videos.

Class of 2021 Memories, Moments & Milestones

The Class of 2021 Memories, Moments & Milestones piece recapped the events of the past year years. Our reason for producing this piece was to provide a virtual walk down memory lane for the graduates and their families that could work as a part of a virtual or in-person event. 

Family Messages for Duke Class of 2021

Initially, family and friends could not attend the in-person ceremony, so we produced Family Messages for Duke’s Class of 2021, a video montage of tributes from parents and siblings of the Class of 2021. Thankfully, as we got closer to May 2 and the number of infections decreased, Duke allowed a limited number of guests to attend the ceremony. This piece would have been a must for a virtual ceremony. However, it also worked well for the in-person event because it allowed multiple family members and friends to celebrate their graduates.

Class of 2021 Reflections

The Class of 2021 Reflections video featured interviews with members of the class speaking about their time at Duke and thanking those who supported them. For this video, the students spoke directly into the camera, and we combined their voices with slow-motion clips of them looking into the camera. This approach mimicked an in-person conversation and allowed the viewers to feel connected with the students highlighted in the piece.

While this piece ended up not being used in the ceremony, we re-edited it into two shorter promotional videos and both of these videos were widely shared. 

Duke University Class of 2021 Commencement Celebration

The idea for the Duke University Class of 2021 Commencement Celebration video was to create a video that could serve as a stand-in for in-person congratulatory high-fives and hat tosses, should Duke have to have all virtual ceremony. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case, but the video is just fun to watch and was a fantastic way to close our in-person ceremony. Check out Jared Lazarus’s blog post and learn more about the work that went into making the video.

Commencement Communicators Kit

To help Duke’s communicators’ network plan for in-person and virtual commencement ceremonies and tributes to the Class of 2021, we created a commencement communicators kit with downloadable assets including stock imagery, virtual backgrounds, graphics, video elements, GIFS, and more.

Duke graduates spin around holding balloons spelling out their class year, 2021.

GIF of graduates celebrating with 2021 balloons.


In an effort to give all of Duke’s commencement content a similar look and feel, the elements in the kit contained uniformed Duke branding including colors, fonts, and style. We made this material available over a month in advance of commencement and it proved to be an extremely valuable resource with more than 3,736 downloads.
Graphic explaining the total downloads in the Duke Commencement Communicators Toolkit. As of May 4, 2021, total downloads: 3,736. Most popular individual downloads: Zoom backgrounds: 1,024, Professional School photos/broll: 1,043, Logos: 621, GIFS: 330, Commencement Signs: 197

Figures highlighting the communicators kit downloads.

We will remember this commencement as a moving target in terms of planning (thanks, COVID). However, we’re proud to have produced
a wide collection of content that proved beneficial for use in a variety of settings and publications.
Check out our full coverage of Duke’s 2021 commencement at commencement.duke.edu

And congratulations to the Class of 2021!

A 3D model from the heart

Back in February, our video manager Julie Schoonmaker pitched a story about the cardiac 3D printing program at Duke. As a collaboration between the Co-Lab 3D printing team and Duke Pediatric and Congenital Heart Center to create heart models to prepare patients for surgery, our team thought it was important to produce a comprehensive and engaging story to show this important intersection of work between Duke University and Duke Hospital.

 

This story needed 3D heart visuals front and center. Luckily, we were able to obtain multiple renderings of the 3D heart printing process from Cardiac sonographer Greg Sturgeon. This allowed us to be able to give readers an interactive experience of what the 3D hearts look like, even though they wouldn’t be able to hold an actual model of a 3D printed heart.

3D printed pediatric and adult hearts from scans give pediatric cardiologists a road map for correcting the defects in surgery.

3D printed pediatric and adult hearts from scans give pediatric cardiologists a road map for correcting the defects in surgery.

I had always been interested in using a JavaScript library to represent 3D objects like Three.js, now I finally had a project that would allow me to do that. My goal was to create an in-browser representation that the user could rotate and explore themselves, but as I’d never done anything of the sort before, the prospect seemed daunting.

 

One of the extensions of the files Greg sent was wholly unfamiliar to me: .STL. A trip to Google quicky told me it was a file that described the surface geometry of a three-dimensional object, which sounded just like the kind of thing I would need. After scanning through the Three,js documentation and a few web searches that were different permutations of “.STL”, “3D” and “Three.js”, I thankfully found this incredibly helpful tutorial from developer Anthony Biondo that turned out to be just the thing I needed.

 

After following the tutorial and tweaking the size, rotation speed, and colors of the STL viewer, I had just the thing I was looking for. After realizing I’d be unable to host the code on the same website as the story, I uploaded the code and the .STL file to a separate server so I could put it in the story as an iframe.

 

Once the iframe was successfully in the story, I was so excited about what I’d been able to accomplish surprisingly easily. But my supervisor Blyth Morrell quickly noted that the interactive needed a click-through overlay so mobile users didn’t get stuck helplessly scrolling through the interactive and not the story – another important reminder that if you spend all your energy making something you think is “cool”, that effort will be totally wasted if it isn’t also user-friendly. Styling up an overlay div with a small click-to-hide JavaScript function fixed that problem handily (although figuring out if that needed to be on the story page or on the server hosting the iframe took a little tweaking). And finally, voila – not quite a heart you can hold in your hands, but one you can explore almost as closely via your internet browser.

Behind the Scenes of Merry & Bright

 

    By the Numbers Infographic outlining the following stats; 8,000 blue string lights; 1,00 luminaries; 300 lbs of sand; 6 grill lighters; 3 ladders; 1 treeAfter brainstorming a few ideas, we decided to use blue string lights and luminarias to light the residential quad on the west campus. The lights and luminarias represent our thankfulness for getting through 2020 and our hope for a brighter future.

Wrapping a 25-foot-tall tree in lights

Stringing holiday lights around a 25-foot-tall tree is no easy task, and not having access to a lift made the job more challenging. We used ladders, and a modified pole saw to string the lights half-way up the tree, but we couldn’t reach the top half of the tree, even with a 16-foot ladder. We experimented with many ideas, including using a slingshot and a frisbee to launch the lights into the tree’s upper part, but none of those worked.

Bill Snead, our photographer and digital assets manager, came up with the idea of using a pully system to string the lights into the upper part of the tree. First, he taped twine to a baseball, and then he threw the ball over the tree. Next, he tied a strand of lights to one end of the twine and then pulled the other end of the twine, dragging the strand of lights into the top of the tree.
The only challenge with the pulley idea was throwing the baseball high enough to clear a 25-foot-tall tree. Thankfully, Ashley Wolf, our Social media Coordinator and former division one softball player, is on our team. She cleared the tree on her second try.

Adding an extra touch of “Duke”

Even with the blue string lights and the gothic architecture of the west campus, our message was missing a signature DUKE element. Fortunately, our director, Blyth Morrell, remembered that Alumni Affairs has a set of four-foot-tall cardboard letters that spell out “DUKE.” After a few (several) emails, she tracked them down, and we transported the cardboard letters from the Karsh Center to West Campus. They added the perfect touch of “Duke” to the festive scene.

A thousand luminarias of light

Teamwork makes the dream work, which was the case for creating, placing, and lighting 1,000 luminarias. Making the luminarias were straightforward. One group folded the bags; another group added sand and candles to the bags, while a third group began placing the completed bags on the quad.
Timing the lighting of the luminarias was tricky. We wanted to capture the twilight, so all of them had to be lit by 4:45 pm. But, lighting them too early would cause them to burn out before we got our nighttime shots. To make the timing work, we had six people with grill lighters simultaneously lighting luminarias. We finished lighting them just as dusk arrived.

Merry & Bright

This year’s holiday message was one of the most ambitious projects of 2020. It was a multi-day effort involving over a dozen people, hours of planning, creative problem-solving, and teamwork. However, the result speaks for itself; the glowing luminarias and blue lights transformed the quad into a magical wonderland.

 

Virtual Veterans Day Ceremony

Back in September, our Creative Team received a request from Paul Grantham, Asst. VP of Communication Services, to produce a virtual version of the annual Veterans Day ceremony, which was exciting and anxiety-inducing at the same time because we’ve never done anything like this before.

We have produced components of events – history of Founder’s Day video, short videos for Marking the Moment, and even the New Student Convocation ceremony, which was mainly speeches.

But this was a production from start to finish of an event with multiple moving parts: ROTC color guard, speeches from administration, highlights from Duke staff and faculty talking about what it means to be a veteran, cadets and staff paying tribute at the Memorial Wall outside the Chapel, the National Anthem, and a bagpiper.

To coordinate all of these efforts, components were assigned to individual team members and we used Monday.com to post updates about in-the-weeds details and progress for each segment with real-time feedback. My colleague Megan Mendenhall created a storyboard detailing the elements for each production.

Megan also took on the intro for the video, diving into the Library archives for historical photos illustrating Duke’s long history of engagement with the Armed Forces. Megan was also in charge of all of the filming at the Memorial Wall. Our video manager, Julie Schoonmaker, spearheaded the efforts to film all of the speeches from Duke leaders and was responsible for editing the entire production. I led the Color Guard efforts. But each of these components was a team effort, many of them involving four members of our team.

My component was the Color Guard. I started thinking about what would be the ideal time of day to film this. Usually, the Veterans Day ceremony is at 11am, but by then the sun is high, creating flat, unattractive light with harsh shadows in the eyes. Since we had flexibility to film the cadets separately from the administration, I wanted to film the Color Guard at sunrise when the light is prettiest and most dramatic. We did some test shots beginning before sunrise until the sun was high enough in the sky that the shadows on the Chapel doors became problematic, and pinpointed a start and end time for the filming. We only wanted to ask for one hour of the students’ time. I then created a shot list with four different camera angles, including a a GoPro for on-the-go, documentary style footage, and a drone for flyovers. Our digital assets manager Bill Snead has a commercial pilots license and this been creating amazing aerial views of campus for the past two years.

During this time, we were still waiting on one of the two OIT drones checked out to students to come back from loan so we could use it, as our office didn’t own a drone. But those drones had not been returned since the pandemic began after Spring Break and we had no idea if or when they would be available. We had been hoping to purchase our own drone for more than a year, so our director, Blyth Morrell, used this opportunity to put in a special $2499 purchase request for a drone and fortunately it was approved, after showing the multiple photography and videography uses in everything from #dukeuniversity to presidential messaging videos to Duke’s annual financial report.

Julie reached out to numerous Duke staff and faculty who are veterans to see if they would be interested in participating in the ceremony, and if so, film themselves speaking with a smartphone. She also lined up the dates to film the various administration’s speeches, including President Vincent Price; Kyle Cavanaugh, VP of administration; Antwan Lofton, asst. VP of human resources; and Paul Crews, director of the Durham VA., as well as a morning to film James Chambers, the bagpiper.

We tried to film everything on as few dates as possible to streamline the production and also to strive for consistency with light. But we ended up having to film over multiple mornings due to various schedules, with both full sun and cloud cover.

We soon realized with our shooting schedule, spread out over a few weeks, that a traditional wreath with fresh flowers wouldn’t work so Bill volunteered to make one with plastic flowers from Walmart. Though smaller than the typical wreath, the end result was beautiful and subbed in nicely.

We had to reschedule our filming of the Color Guard multiple times due to overcast and rainy weather, as I was holding out hope for that sunny morning I envisioned. The nearly two-week delay in shooting was a plus and minus for us. Our new drone arrived the day before, so that was a huge bonus. Otherwise the drone footage would have been of just the Chapel without the cadets. But we ended up having to shoot without our key video team member Julie, out on vacation, so I divided up her shots and asked Blyth to operate the GoPro and help keep us on schedule.

After filming the Color Guard, we then transitioned to the Memorial Wall, where Megan and Julie had scouted and strategized about different camera angles and shots of the cadets paying tribute to fallen soldiers.

We learned that a director to oversee each shot and camera angle was key. Another lesson: it was virtually impossible to film any aerials while any other filming was going on because our crew and gear were in the shots.

Once I saw the awe-inspiring drone flyover of the cadets up to the top of the Chapel spires, I realized I needed to find equally inspiring National Anthem music to match. After sending out a handful of emails, including an alum who I photographed with Hoof ‘n’ Horn, I was connected with junior Logan Welborn, also with Hoof ‘n’ Horn, Out of the Blue, and a recording artist in her own right with Small Town Records. About a week later Logan sent a beautiful rendition of The Star-Spangled Banner, recorded on her iPhone.

Julie was able to line up James the bagpiper immediately after our session with President Price, so this was another busy morning. Since we took the opportunity with Pres. Price to film multiple different messages, we set up two locations with lighting before his arrival. Since one of the locations was in the Chapel archway, Bill and I stood on either side holding signs asking pedestrians to stay quiet while passing through, while Julie and Megan filmed Pres. Price.

 

We then spent a fun hour with James filming him in the varied positions Megan and Julie had worked out, and ended the shoot with him walking under the canopied woods behind the Chapel as Bill filmed from above with the drone.

All told, team members posted 57 virtual Veterans Day ceremony updates in Monday.com from the initial request on Sept. 11 to project completion on Nov. 10. We set Fri. Nov. 6 as the date for completion and review by Paul, Pres. Price, and Mike Schoenfeld, VP for Public Affairs and Government Relations, and the video was approved on Mon. Nov. 9. But in sharing the video with Army ROTC, I discovered I needed to make a minor change to the sequencing of the color guard, so we ended up finishing it a day before the ceremony.

Now with the added title of video and event producers – I say this half-joking – our team is poised for more challenges and adventure in the year ahead.

Behind the scenes: Class of 2024 Welcome Mural

The Duke DISCO team creates a chalk mural to welcome the class of 2024 to campus for the Fall in front of Duke Chapel.

Members of the Duke DISCO team create a chalk mural to welcome the class of 2024 to campus for the Fall in front of Duke Chapel.

We caused the sidewalk chalk shortage in Durham, NC. But we did it for a good reason; to welcome the newest members of the Duke family, the class of 2024!

 

This year’s new student orientation will be a mostly virtual experience, and our student affairs asked our team to create a short welcome video to kick off orientation. After a brain-storming session, we came up with the idea that would welcome students to campus and highlight Duke’s commitment to campus safety. Our approach was to welcome the students to college by creating a visual narrative where First-Year Advisory Counselor (FAC) students create a welcome mural out of sidewalk chalk to greet the class of 2024.

Bringing the mural to life

By the Numbers Infographic outlining the following stats for the making of the 2024 Class Mural; 76 stick of sidewalk chalk; 9 face masks; 3 friendly FACs, 2 bottles of hand sanitizer; 1 Vice Provost for Undergrad Education

We wanted an aerial shot of the chalk mural with the Chapel in the background, so we opted for an early morning filming session to take advantage of the soft morning light and avoid the high temperatures of North Carolina’s summers.

University photographer Megan Mendenhall, left, uses a crumpled plastic bag to blend the chalk by wiping it over the chalk in a circular motion.

University Photographer Megan Mendenhall, left, uses a crumpled plastic bag to blend the chalk by wiping it over the chalk in a circular motion.

Making a chalk mural was a new experience for the entire team. But thanks to a few “how-to” videos, we learned a helpful tip: crumpled plastic bags are the perfect tool for blending chalk. They save your hands from getting scraped by the rough pavement and create a smooth transition when mixing two different colors.

Welcome home, class of 2024!

Smart Phone Filming Cheat Sheet

Since everyone has been working from home for the past couple months, I’ve received at least 100 video files, maybe more, from students, faculty, staff and alumni. With a little bit of video editing work, I’ve turned the self-recorded videos into video messages or montages with video reflections strung together to tell a story or share collective thoughts.

I’ve been impressed with the quality of some videos I’ve received, especially the ones filmed on smartphones. The majority of our cell phones now capture video in 4K resolution, so it makes sense the image would come across crisp and clear, making it simple to edit the footage and share it on websites, video sharing platforms and social channels.

Our creative team has run into problems with quite a few of the videos that have been recorded using web conferencing technology. In many cases, the settings have not been updated to capture footage in high definition, so we receive video files that have very low resolution. Those small files make editing brutal because no matter how great the message is, the footage is blurry especially when appearing next to another clip captured in HD.

To ensure the best resolution possible on your at home video recordings, our creative team created a cheat sheet to make sure your video messages shine when viewed online. We recommend to keep it simple and use your smart phone to record, make sure it’s turned in the horizontal position and prop it against a makeshift tripod to keep your phone stable and eye-level. It’s also key to find a quiet place to record videos with a nice backdrop that’s well-lit. The hope is, once you have a good recording system in place, it will be simple to record video messages on a regular basis without thinking much about your set up.

Smart Phone Filming Cheat Sheet. Find a quiet, well-lit filming location. Final a pleasant, neutral backrop like a home office or book shelf. For filming inside, face a window (with indirect sunlight) or light source so light appears pleasant with gentle shadows. Avoid sitting with your back against the window because it will create a dark silhouette. Stabilize your phone for filming. Lean your phone against something stable and sturdy like a computer monitor or stack of books. Position your camera at eye-level. Position your phone. Filming in the horizontal/landscape position will ensure the recorded video fills the screen; this is preferable for a video that will be posted on a web page or YouTube. Record the video. Check camera settings to ensure your phone is set to film in 1080p HD or 4K at 24 or 30 frames per second. Bring up your phone's video camera and press record. Speak at a natural volume and look towards your device's camera. Distribute the video. After the recording is complete, send the video file to the appropriate parties via email, text or Duke Box app. Common question: what should I wear on camera? Bright, jewel tones look best. Avoid prints and patterns which can be distracting.

Instructions for filming video messages or interviews from home using your smart phone.

Download the Cheat Sheet as a PDF

A picture is worth: Baldwin’s Supermoon

On January 31st, 2018 we experienced a “Blue Moon” – the second of two full moons in one calendar month – that was also at a super-close apogee making it appear really large (supermoon), which also happened to be passing through the Earth’s umbra at Moonrise giving it a ruddy glow (bloodmoon). This “Super-Blue-Blood Moon” event was too good to pass up, but what to do with it? I had a couple of photos in mind, one of which entailed capturing this “Super-Blue-Blood Moon” over Duke somehow. But how?

I eventually made two photos that day – one of the Moonset early in the morning out at the Outer Banks, and another that evening of the subsequent Moonrise over Duke. Here’s how I did it.

Using an app called PhotoPills (https://www.photopills.com), I was able to determine just where and when each moonrise and moonset would be relative to locations I wanted to photograph with it in. The moon, like the sun, rises in the east and sets in the west, but unlike the sun, the moon can rise and set at various times of the day through the seasons. On this day, the “Super-Blue-Blood Moon” would set early that morning, and rise again that evening. This gave me two chances to photograph it against the horizon, which is where I’d need it for the images I had planned. The idea? To get a familiar object small enough to fit near or inside the moon itself, like this example from Photopills:

This isn’t a post-production or photoshop trick. It’s merely one of perspective. Since the moon is approximately 225,000 miles away, you can’t really effectively change your distance from it in any meaningful way visually. But, you can effectively and easily change your distance from earth-bound objects. And objects far away tend to appear smaller to us versus objects that are closer. So, if the moon stays effectively the same size no matter what, but you get far enough away from something to make it appear smaller, say a mile or two, and place it against the moonscape, then the moon effectively appears very, very large. That’s the basic technique.

I initially wanted to get Duke Chapel in or against the moon somehow, but the Chapel actually sits in a depression lower than its surrounding area and I was unable to find a location East of (for moonset) or West of (for moonrise) the Chapel that would let me photograph it against the horizon. But, I discovered in my experimentation, that from the perspective of the Chapel Tower, the “Super-Blue-Blood Moon” would be rising very near to Baldwin Auditorium on east Campus. But Baldwin is much bigger than a person, so to have it “fit” inside the circumference of the moon would necessitate me being many miles away. As it is, Baldwin is only about 2 miles from the Chapel as the crow flies, so this would just have to be a “be there and see how it goes” kinda thing.

With the height, angle and time set for my attempt to capture moonrise over Baldwin, I worked on my calculations for moonset due earlier that morning. North Carolina is thankfully still a state with very many trees. While this is great from a conservation perspective, its less so if you’re trying to get a clear shot of the moon AND an object together on the horizon from very far away. You either have to get very high (chapel tower) or look for a very wide open area. One of the largest areas with an open westerly view that I could think of was our very own Outer Banks, so a friend and I headed out to Jockey’s Ridge the night before to scout and setup my second idea, which ended up being the first photo that day as the Super-Blue-Blood Moon set just before sunrise. Since we were in the vicinity of Kitty Hawk, I wanted to capture her flying a kite against the supermoon. But it was barely in the teens out on the dunes, so we’re both quite bundled up, so the scene is a bit of a non-sequitur (women all bundled up, flying a kite against a full-moon? What’s that about?), but it was a fun and challenging experiment, and that’s half the point. I was about a half-mile away from her position – here’s the photo we captured:

Super-Blue-Blood Moon at Jockey’s Ridge. 420mm, 200iso, f/4, 1/8 sec

Super-Blue-Blood Moon at Jockey’s Ridge. 420mm, 200iso, f/4, 1/8 sec

After we warmed up over a nice OBX breakfast, I headed back onto campus in time for the evening photo of the same super-moon rising over East campus after sunset almost 12 hours later. Joni Harris, program Director at the Chapel, was nice enough to arrange access for us as she joined me on the climb up the 10,000 239 steps up to the Chapel Tower. Toting my camera, tripod, and longest lens up those stairs, I’m glad I use Micro-four thirds gear, as its size and weight is a fraction of full-frame gear. After setting up and framing Baldwin in my sights, it wasn’t long before the moon made its appearance and I got my photo:

Super-Blue-Blood Moon rising over Baldwin Auditorium. 420mm, 200iso, f/5.6, 1/5 sec

Super-Blue-Blood Moon rising over Baldwin Auditorium. 420mm, 200iso, f/5.6, 1/5 sec

Neither photo is perfect: atmospheric haze and too-slow shutter speeds prevent them from being as tack sharp as I would have liked. To do them over again, I would use a higher iso and faster shutter speeds. There are also now even longer focal length lenses available for my system, so I’d likely rent one of those for even better magnification. Still, for a first time experiment, I’m happy with these for what they are. And, post-production/photoshop work is minimal other than cropping, and I did remove one distracting twig in the sand of the OBX photo.

I hope this gives you a sense of what can go into the making of a photo, and that it might inspire you to get out and make some of your own.

A picture’s worth: Duke’s South Clinic and North Hospital

Last spring, I set out to capture the “busy-ness” of activity around some of Duke’s Health facilities. I was also looking for a way to connect the health system with the University, and so I was looking for viewpoints that would show some of both Medical and University campuses.

My goal was to tell a story of University/Medical connections, locate the photos as being of Duke, hint at the role of technology and expansion of capabilities, and portray the hive of human activity and care the Medical campus can be. All in one photo.

In scouting locations and times of day for this project, I considered a daytime timelapse portraying the human foot traffic in and out of Duke North and South Clinic. But I did not think daytime lighting would be dynamic enough for what I wanted to portray. No, this would be a nighttime photo, but from where?

I’ve always been intrigued with the aerial perspective, as it unmoors us from the usual convention of seeing things from head-height, but a drone flight after civil-twilight was out of the question at this time. Luckily, both South Clinic and Duke North Hospital have parking decks located nearby.

To show an idea of activity and busyness, I decided I would need a long exposure – to capture accumulating light trails of vehicle traffic. This would necessitate the use of a tripod, a remote release (however softly, the action of manually pressing a shutter release will introduce enough vibration to prevent the photo from being as sharp as it could be), and a lot of patience waiting for the right conditions as the temperatures dipped after sunset.

Duke North Hospital

Duke North Hospital

For this photo of Duke North Hospital, I chose a vantage point atop the Duke Hospital parking garage across Erwin Rd from the Hospital (always alert the proper authorities when you’re going to be skulking around on rooftops with tripods – just sayin’). I had to choose a moment when the fading light of the twilight sky would allow the lights from the hospital and traffic to show up distinctly, yet still show an illuminated sky not in complete blackness (while a black sky can be dramatic, in the city it is rarely so, and usually lit up by the green-orange glow of sodium vapor lamps and not what I was wanting here). What I was after was a blue sky, to contrast against the warmer colors of incandescent lighting I was hoping to capture.

To keep the fading twilight of the sky, and yet capture the light trails of many vehicles going by, I would need a very long exposure – many minutes, not just seconds, long. The problem with very long exposures in digital photography is that the sensors get very warm and generate a lot of “noise”, sometimes to the point of rendering the image unusable. Fortunately, the camera system I use allows for a feature they call “Live Composite”, which allows for combining many short exposures (say, just 0.5, 1, or 2 seconds long) into one long minutes or hours long exposure. Without getting into too much nitty gritty details, this blend of optical and computational photography can provide the ISO and noise results from a much shorter exposure, but “stacks” or “adds” these together over a much longer exposure time. In the case of the Duke North photo, my initial exposure was half a second for the main exposure, but accumulated any new objects (such as new approaching vehicles) onto the base image over a 6 minute time span, producing the results of a 6-minute long exposure but with the noise and exposure of a half-second exposure. As both darkness and temperatures began to fall, I headed over to the Duke Medicine Circle garage for a go at the South Clinic:

Duke South Clinic

Duke South Clinic

While not as dramatic as the North Hospital results, I was eventually able to find a viewpoint to show parts of the clinic, the main walkway, some construction cranes and of course, our iconic Duke Chapel in the distance. I became intrigued by the bus stop activity, and set out to try to capture that in some way.

After some captures of single busses at each stop, I changed settings to allow for an even longer overall exposure (8 minutes I think), and managed to capture a bus at each stop, which I thought was a much more satisfactory photo. As it is, it’s the same bus – stopping just long enough at each stop to register in the exposure. I really liked this two-bus composition better than any of the other shots I made from this location, but there were only a few other cars that had driven through the frame and I just didn’t have as many light trails as I wanted. And I could see from my rooftop vantage point, that there wasn’t much more traffic coming soon. So, I hopped into my car, hurried down the garage ramps and drove back and forth several times to add my own light trails. As it happened, several other vehicles did drive by about the same time, giving me the diversity I needed to pull it all together. I’m not really happy about the dead space near the lower third of the photo, but c’est la vie.

The nice thing though, essential really, in creating long-exposure work like this is the ability for digital cameras to show you the photo as it “develops” on the back of the camera. In the old days, it would be an educated guess as to what results you’d get (or not get). In this case, I could “see” that I had the busses where I wanted, but not enough light trails, so I could paint the light as I went along in real time. In another example, I was at first using a much “wider” aperture to benefit the exposure. But the artificial lights just didn’t “pop”, so I stopped down to a smaller aperture, which often has the effect of creating the little “star-bursts” that you can see around the specular highlights, which I could preview in real time, choosing the aperture that gave me the desired results.

By the way, both of these photos are, as they say, “Out of Camera”. No elements were added or removed in post-production.

I hope this gives you a sense of what can go into the making of a photo, and that it might inspire you to get out at night and make some of your own.

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