Duke-ify Your Zoom Backgrounds

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Duke-ifiy your Zoom backgrounds with custom Duke imagery.

The Ucomms team has curated a collection of Duke images that are perfect for “Duke-ified” zoom backgrounds.

You can download these images from Duke’s Asset Management System (NETID required). The system is a wonderful resource of over 7,000 images. It is refreshed regularly with community-sourced photos as well as new imagery captured by the University Communications team.

Follow these steps to login and start downloading Duke imagery on your desktop or laptop.

Step 1: Go to https://duke.webdamdb.com/

Step 2: Log on using your NetID and password

Step 3: Select the “Explore” link

The image shows landing page for duke.webdamdb.com

Select the “Explore” link

Step 4: Scroll down the left column until you see the “Selections by Theme” folder

The image shows a page from duke.webdamdb.com

Scroll down the column on the left side until you see the “Selections by Theme” folder.

Step 5: Select the “Selections by Theme” folder. You will see 12 themed subfolders. Each collection has a variety of Duke images to choose from.

The image shows a page from duke.webdamdb.com

Explore the many galleries and download your favorite Duke images.

Step 6: Explore the collections and download your favorite images and use them in your marketing and communications efforts.

  • Users have unlimited downloads, so feel free to download several images or video clips.
  • Users can also explore other folders on the site and use the search function to find specific images and video clips.

This tutorial shows you how to upload photos and videos as a virtual background for your zoom meeting.

* Please note that Zoom’s virtual background feature may not be available for all computers/laptops

Using a mobile device? Follow this “how-to” guide to logon

go to https://duke.webdamdb.com/bp/#/You will be prompted to logon you will be directed to Shibboleth Logon You will be prompted to logon using your Duke NetID and password You will be directed to the https://duke.webdamdb.com/bp/#/ homepage Start by selecting an image folder to explore Choose an image and click download Click on the "Submit" button to start the download Upload your image to zoom!

Using Zoom to Record Videos on Your Computer

The images depicts a young woman sitting in front of a laptop for video conferencing.

These steps will guide you through the process of creating video recordings using zoom.

Step 1. Install Zoom meetings software

Zoom is available to Duke students, faculty, and staff free of charge.

You can download it here:

https://duke.zoom.us/download

Step 2. Under Zoom preferences, adjust the following settings

Audio Settings
  • Under audio settings, select “automatically adjust microphone volume
The image shows the location of the option to have zoom automatically adjust volume.

Be sure to select the option to “automatically adjust microphone volume” to ensure the best results.

Video Settings
  • Under video settings, select “16:9 (widescreen)”
  • Under video settings, select “enable HD”
The image shows the location of the video settings in zoom.

Select the 16:9 (Widescreen) option and the “Enable HD option for best results.

Recording Settings
  • Under “local recordings” at the very top, pick a spot on your computer to store your video recordings. (for instance, you can create a folder on your desktop called “Zoom recordings” and send all your clips there.)
  • Under recordings, select “optimize for 3rd party editor” which will make the video clips ready for editing.
This image show the location of the option to "optimize for 3rd party video editing" on zoom.

Under “local recordings” at the very top, pick a spot on your computer to store your video recordings. Then select “optimize for 3rd party editor” which will make the video clips ready for editing.

Step 3. Launch Zoom and select “new meeting,” which is the orange icon on the top row
  • If prompted, allow Zoom to access your computer’s video camera and microphone
  • When the next screen pops up, you should be able to see a video of yourself
This image shows the location of the " "Join With Computer Audio" tab on zoom.

When prompted, select the “Join With Computer Audio” tab.

Step 4. Select “unmute”

Be sure that you are “unmute” (on the lower-left corner of the recording screen) so the computer will record your voice

This image shows the location of the mute button on zoom. It is located in the lower left corner of the screen.

The mute button is located on the lower-left corner of the screen. Make sure you are not muted when you begin your recording.

Step 5. Begin recording
  • In the menu bar on the bottom of the screen, select “record” and choose whether you’d like to save your recording to the computer or cloud
  • Direct your gaze toward the top of the computer screen where the camera is located
  • Speak clearly at your normal volume.
The image shows the location of the record button on zoom. It is located on the bottom of the screen, toward the middle.

The record button is located on the bottom of the screen, toward the middle on the screen.

Step 6. Conclude recording
  • Press “stop recording” on the top left of the screen
  • Then select “end meeting” on the bottom right of the screen
  • At that point, your video will convert to a .mp4 video file
  • You can share the file through Duke Box

*If you use a smartphone or tablet for video recordings, make sure to record video in one of the following settings:

  • 1080 HD at 24 or 30 frames per second (this option will take up less recording space on your device)
  • 4K at 24 or 30 fps

Look Your Best During Virtual Meetings and Video Recordings

We’ve put together a few tips for looking your best during video calls and while making video recordings.

The image depicts a young woman sitting at kitchen table in front of a laptop. Her face in being illuminated with a desk lamp.

Achieving flattering lighting doesn’t have to be complicated. Use a simple desk lamp or window to illuminate yourself during video conferences or when recording a video.

Dress for success
  • Choose your outfit based on your dress for an in-office meeting.
  • Solid colors, muted earth tones or blues work well.
  • Bright colors and white clothes reflect lots of light and are not the best choices.
  • Patterns, stripes, and plaids can blur and be distracting on camera.
  • Avoid any accessory that jingles or makes noise.
Find a well-lit recording location
The image shows how to set up a desk lamp so that it properly illuminates a subject's face for a video conference or recording session.

The desk lamp is pointed toward the subject’s face. Experiment with the angle and position of the lamp to find the most flattering position for your next video meeting or recording session.

  • For filming inside, position yourself facing towards the window so the natural light illuminates your face.
  • You can also use a lamp or other large light source to illuminate your face.
  • Avoid sitting with your back against the window because it will create a dark silhouette.
  • If you’re filming yourself outside, either film in all shade or all sun to avoid mixed lighting on your face.
  • Remember that there will be more ambient noise when filming outside.

The video shows how using a simple desk lamp to illuminate your face during a video meeting or video recording can improve the overall quality of the video.

Choose a neutral background
  • Before you start your call or video, take a moment to look at your background.
  • Remove any items that may be distracting.
  • If you are using Zoom, you might be able to use the virtual background feature. If so, you can choose from the preloaded options or upload a custom image or video of your choosing.
  • Check out our post on how to Duke-ify your Zoom backgrounds using Duke images from our collection!
Maintain good eye contact
  • Position your device so that it is slightly above your eye-level. You might need to place your device on a stack of books or other flat, sturdy household items.
  • Experiment with the distance between you and your camera to find the distance where you look your best.
  • Remember to look at the camera and not your screen when talking.
The image depicts a young woman sitting at a kitchen table in front of a laptop.

Stack your laptop on top of a few books in order to get the camera just above eye level. If you are using a desk lamp as a light source, you may need to also elevate it, so that the light evenly illuminates your face.

Tips to Minimize the Spread of Germs During Video and Photo Sessions

Camera bag with two canisters of disinfecting wipes and a bottle of hand sanitizer

Remember to clean your camera equipment with disinfecting wipes before and after use.

We’re all adjusting to life during COVID-19  and for creatives who are used to working closely with others, this means adjusting our workflows to ensure that we are following social distancing practices and thoroughly sanitizing our equipment, especially pieces of gear that come in contact with our faces.

As a team, we’ve adopted these practices to keep our equipment sanitized.

  • Wash your hands before and after touching any equipment.
  • Wipe down gear before and after each session (including equipment cases)
  • Use hand sanitizer during sessions, especially if you are readjusting equipment.
  • Wipe down the lav mic kit before and after interviews with a wipe or disinfectant foam 
  • Guide interview subjects in putting on the lav mic themselves.
  • Keep a safe distance during filming.
  • Remember to pack wipes and hand sanitizer in your equipment kits!

First and foremost, recognize the seriousness of this pandemic and try to postpone video and photo sessions. We are reaching out to our subjects and encouraging them to reschedule their sessions. If the session is time-sensitive, see if your subjects can record themselves using Zoom, Microsoft Teams or other recording software.

If you absolutely need to record an in-person session, we recommend practicing social distancing by staying at least three feet away from your subject.

Stay safe, be smart, and keep washing your hands and equipment.


Instructions on filming Zoom interviews/messages

Step 1. Install Zoom meetings software: https://duke.zoom.us/download

Step 2. Under Zoom preferences, adjust the following settings:

  • Under audio settings, select “automatically adjust microphone volume”
  • Under video settings, select “16:9 (widescreen)”
  • Under recordings, it’s best to choose a spot to store your video recordings. Under “local recordings” at the very top, you can pick a spot on your computer to do this. For instance, you can create a folder on your desktop called “Zoom recordings” and send all your clips there.
  • Under recordings, select “optimize for 3rd party editor” which will make the video clips ready for editing.

Step 3. Launch zoom and select “new meeting,” which is the orange icon on the top row. If prompted, allow Zoom to access your computer’s video camera and microphone. When the next screen pops up, you should be able to see video yourself.

Step 4. On the lower left corner of the recording screen, make sure to select “unmute” so your voice is audible during the recording.

Step 5. In the menu bar on the bottom of the screen, select “record” and choose whether you’d like to record to your message to the computer or cloud.

Step 6. When recording your message, direct your gaze toward to the top of the computer screen where the camera is located. Speak clearly at your normal volume.

Step 7. When you’ve finished your message, press “stop recording” on the top left of the screen. Then select “end meeting” on the bottom right of the screen. At that point your video will convert to an .mp4 video file. You can upload the video file to Duke box to share it for further editing  such as adding name supers and Duke bumpers or share the file directly on your communication channels.


Producing Something Special Under a Very Tight Deadline

Last fall, I was given one of my toughest challenges yet—to produce a video highlighting the Duke President’s strategic plan in about ONE MONTH. The video needed to be done quickly to showcase at pre-scheduled alumni events around the country. I wanted the video to do justice to President Vincent Price’s vision. Usually it takes a couple months of work (storyboarding, scouting locations, filming, editing, reviewing) to bring a video of this magnitude to life. Luckily, I work with an incredibly talented creative team. I knew that I would need their help to make this happen and they were more than happy to work together on this major project.

I prioritized the two things I felt were most important. First, finding the best way to showcase President Price immersed in campus. Since fall is such a beautiful time of year at Duke, it felt crucial to place President Price in Duke’s natural backdrop. Second, it was also important to showcase President Price interacting with students to symbolize him sharing his vision for the future of Duke with them. Meeting with students is something President Price naturally does all the time and I wanted the opportunity to bring those special moments to life.

I asked my colleague Megan Mendenhall to scout possible locations for the scenes with President Price on West Campus. From spots by Duke’s clocktower to the Chapel, Megan narrowed down beautiful 11 spots. After reading the final script for the video, I settled on filming in Few Quad because Duke’s first President William Preston Few is referenced numerous times throughout the video. The quad is also tucked away a bit from a lot traffic and noise that occurs on West Campus.

Along with the colorful trees in Few Quad, I liked the natural foot traffic that occurred as students walked from their residential hall to other parts of campus. My vision was for students to continue walking by as President Price spoke on camera. However, I was concerned students would be startled by our large lighting and camera set up and, of course, Duke’s President right in the middle of the quad. In hopes of keep students moving along, I created a large sign that read “Just Keep Walking” and asked my colleague Caroline Pate to hold it up during the shoot. It worked perfectly. Students kept walking right through the shot in a natural way allowing us to showcase campus life at its best.

For the video’s special on campus moment, I also wanted to try out something a little different by creating a dolly-like movement as President Price spoke on camera. After a couple trial runs, the karma grip stabilizer with the go pro did not produce a smooth enough shot. My colleague Bill Snead and Sam Huntley tested out walking backwards while hand-holding a drone and using the drone gimbal as a steady cam. It worked nicely because there was no noise coming from the drone and it was very smooth. On the day of the shoot, we first captured a traditional shot of the President on camera to make sure we had something usable. Then we captured the drone walking shot. In the end, we used the walking shot because it created the more personalized, dynamic feel.

Since we had a 30-minute window with President Price, we wanted to use the time frame to also capture him with students in Few Quad. Bill Snead, our talented drone pilot, quickly filmed some lovely shots of President Price in natural conversation with three students.

President Vincent Price talks with students in the Few Quad during a nice Fall afternoon.

After the outdoor shoot, I got to work editing. But the capture did not end there. Bill captured beautiful campus drone imagery that included movement and campus activity. Megan and Jared Lazarus filmed engaging classroom moments and library studying scenes. Once we got all the footage back in house, my creative director Blyth Morrell and I combed through all the material to pinpoint which shots mapped closely to the five planks in President Price’s vision.

In the end, our creative team produced a video I am very proud of and, more importantly, President Price feels good about it. Looking back, I learned some important lessons in the process. A big takeaway includes not getting intimidated by a tight deadline. Having a vision along with an action plan can go a long way. I discovered it’s also crucial to realize that you don’t have to do everything by yourself. In some cases, it’s impossible. I’m fortunate to have a talented team to collaborate with. I’m still in awe of the way everyone came together so quickly and efficiently. Even a task that may have seemed like a small role, such as holding a sign, made a huge difference in the end. As daunting as the timeline may have been at the beginning of the project, I think it pushed us all to be our very best and resulted in something really special.

Pursuit of Dancers in the Cube

I began chasing this picture of the Rubenstein Arts Center – kinetic students in the second floor fishbowl space known as the Cube – for the past 14 months, but started thinking about it months before. A beautiful visual representation of learning, teaching and discovery inside Duke’s blossoming arts scene and the crown jewel on Central Campus.

On Oct. 10, 2018, after photographing a Hoof n’ Horn dress rehearsal, I walked out of the Ruby at 10:30pm to see Street Medicine practicing their dance moves inside the large space adjacent to the street. I worked the scene for the next half hour from multiple views, and liked this frame enough to post on our #dukephotoaday, but knew the upper level would be a more dramatic and interesting composition.­­­­­

The lower level of the Rubenstein Arts Center at night.

I also figured that twilight or “blue hour” – that short window of time just after sunset or before sunrise – would be an ideal time as the sky begins to darken to a rich purply blue, matched in brightness by the glow of incandescent, fluorescent or LED light indoors. This harmonious light lasts only 10-15 min., until the sky becomes a dark inky blue and the indoor light appears washed out in contrast.

So I reached out to the dance program to find out their schedule of classes and began my quest last November.

I brought along a 10 ft. ladder, but even after moving it closer to the high ground near the intersection, the dancers were still too hidden from view.

The upper level of the Rubenstein Arts Center, as seen from a ladder.

I then coordinated with the Ruby’s tech. person, John Kolba, who had offered the use of their lift. We set up the lift just inside the front door, but the reflections from the glass and the scarcity of energetic movement led to a lackluster result.

The upper level of the Rubenstein Arts Center, as seen from the lift in the building.

By now, it was the end of Fall 2018 and the photo would have to wait until all the elements were in sync again.

On my commutes home I would cross Anderson Street on Campus Drive, occasionally glimpsing a dance class teasing me in the Cube.

During the summer, my colleague Bill Snead, our digital assets manager, had obtained his remote pilot license and we talked about doing the shoot with a drone during the coming Fall 2019.

The stakes were higher now: my colleague’s time, coordinating the drone rental from the Innovation Co-Lab, and finding the right dance class to photograph.

Additional emails were exchanged. Would a student dance group work? No, because they practice later at night, well past twilight.

The director of the dance program now became involved because they had recently started a Master of Fine Arts in Dance synthesized with a new undergraduate curriculum. It was important to the dance program to photograph a class that best represented thoughtful embodied movement, which investigates the deeper nuances of the mind and body as a whole, and explores multiple genres, multiple methodologies, and inter-cultural styles. We settled on Andrea Woods’ Modern Dance class.

On Nov. 5, 2019, Bill and I began prepping at the Ruby about 4:30pm for blue hour beginning at 5:32pm. We began flying about 5:15pm and decided to make some initial passes as the drone captured video of the class, but due to excessive interference we were unable to continue flying.

The Rubenstein Arts Center as captured by a drone.

Now was the time to ask John Kolba a big favor – can we use their lift outside, which he had previously said he doesn’t like doing for safety reasons (i.e. – uneven ground, wind, etc.).

John agreed and we set the date for the next attempt, Dec. 3 with set up at 4pm.

Shooting from the lift, I would have to be deliberate about the position because once blue hour started at 5:18pm, we wouldn’t have enough time to reset the lift.

I chose a spot near the tree in the outdoor courtyard – I helped John stabilize the lift with plywood boards…too close…we repeated this process three times until I found the spot I liked.

I set my camera on a tripod and waited for peak flurries of dancer activity, all the while hoping for the Duke bus to anchor the composition in the lower right corner. The bus came at 5:27pm but didn’t have its interior lights on as it stopped. A very colorful bus arrived at 5:40pm with interior lights on, but the dancers were static, taking direction. The sky was a bit dark by then but could be brightened in Photoshop.

The initial photo of the upper level of the Rubenstein Arts Center, as captured on an outdoor lift.

I kept shooting until I was happy with the dancers’ movements at 5:54pm.

A darker shot of dancers in the upper level of the Rubenstein Arts Center.

Bill, a Photoshop master, then worked up the base shot of the dancers and grabbed the right hand portion of the earlier frame with the sky, bus and street, and finessed the straight lines from the building.

The final image was all I had hoped and imagined on those rides home with students dancing in the Cube in my mind.

The final shot of dancers in the Rubenstein Arts Center, after being edited in Photoshop.

Behind the scenes of the New Faculty Profile Portraits

One of the toughest challenges with the New Faculty Profiles portrait series is finding a way to visually represent the faculty member’s research into the portrait. This was just the challenge I faced when photographing Professor Neil Gong, an Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, who is an expert in cybersecurity and data privacy technologies.

A screenshot of Professor Gong's website. I always try to find out as much as possible about a faculty member's area of study so that I can suggest portrait locations and backgrounds that relate to their work.

A screenshot of Professor Gong’s website. I always try to find out as much as possible about a faculty member’s area of study so that I can suggest portrait locations and backgrounds that relate to their work.

In the past, I’ve solved this problem by finding a visually interesting image from the faculty member’s research papers to use a backdrop for their portrait. However, Professor Gong didn’t have an image that would work. So, I decided to look through his website and research papers to see if I could find or create a background image from charts and diagrams included in his papers.

I am by no means a coding expert, but I know that some computer languages resemble patterns that I find visually interesting. So, when I saw a link to source code documents that he used for one of his research projects, I downloaded it, hoping to find something that could work as a backdrop image.

I ended up finding a text document with columns of four-digit numbers. I have NO idea what the numbers represent or how they are used, but they formed an interesting pattern. After adding a few adjustments to the original document, I had a dynamic background image that referenced Professor Gong’s field of study.

A test shot with the final version of the text image projected onto a background and subject. (Ignore the UNC symbol on the subject's shirt. Good test subjects are hard to find and sometimes you have to work with what is available. )

A test shot with the final version of the text image projected onto a background and subject. (Ignore the UNC symbol on the subject’s shirt. Good test subjects are hard to find and sometimes you have to work with what is available. )

A hand-drawn lighting diagram for Professor Gong's portrait.

A hand-drawn lighting diagram for Professor Gong’s portrait.

After got the background image working, I to add a fill light and a hair light. I opted to use video lights so that I could easily switch between stills and video.

I ended up using a slider to create the video clip because I really wanted the numbers to have the appearance of moving.  After an hour of practice pulls with the slider, I was ready for Professor Gong’s portrait session.

For the portrait session, I used an LED video light as a fill light on Professor Gong's face and a second LED light as a hair light to provide separation between Professor Gong and the background image.

For the portrait session, I used an LED video light as a fill light on Professor Gong’s face and a second LED light as a hair light to provide separation between Professor Gong and the background image.

Building A New Duke Tradition

Every August, the entire first-year class gathers on the East Campus Quad for the annual group photo. This activity is one of only two experiences that the entire class participates in together as a group — the other is commencement.

A grid of Duke first-year class photos from 2011 to 2011.

First-year class photos through the years.

We wanted to build on this event by transforming it into an experience. One of the ways that we accomplished this is by using a drone to record video footage of the class of 2023. The second is with the addition of confetti!

Using the Drone:

Bill practices operating the drone over the East Campus Quad.

Bill practices operating the drone over the East Campus Quad.

My colleague Bill Snead, who aced his commercial drone license exam, piloted the mission. Prior to the big day, he logged over 16 hours of practice time on East Campus. He used a DJI Mavic quadcopter, which we checked out from the Innovation Co-Lab for the event and practice sessions.

Prior to each drone flight, Bill runs through a pre-flight checklist.

Prior to each drone flight, Bill runs through a pre-flight checklist.

Each practice session was approved by Duke and we also notified Duke Life Flight and Duke Police before each session. Before each flight, he went through a detailed pre-flight checklist, which included the purchase of insurance.

Adding Confetti:

Our number one goal was to use the class photo event to give the incoming students a fun and welcoming experience at Duke. We wanted the photo to have the feel and excitement of a pep rally. We toyed around with several ideas, but we ultimately arrived on confetti because its colorful motion looks great on video! We worked with Ultra Mix Events, who provided the confetti blowers and tech crew.

First-year students spell out "2023" during the annual Class Photo on the East Campus Quad.

First-year students spell out “2023” during the annual Class Photo on the East Campus Quad.

By The Numbers:

The key to getting the students to spell out their graduation year is to outline the numbers onto the quad.

The diagram for creating the Class of 2023 photo. It has become a Duke tradition for every incoming first-year class to take a group photo.

The diagram for creating the Class of 2023 photo. It has become a Duke tradition for every incoming first-year class to take a group photo.

Megan Mendenhall, left, and Bill Snead, right, use a measuring tape to mark the outline of the class photo.  This year, the temperatures were in the high 90s, so our team took frequent breaks and drank plenty of water.

Megan Mendenhall, left, and Bill Snead, right, use a measuring tape to mark the outline of the class photo.
This year, the temperatures were in the high 90s, so our team took frequent breaks and drank plenty of water.

We’ve been doing this project so long that we have measurements for 0 – 9. So, creating the diagram for each class simply involves combining the appropriate numbers into a diagram. The tough part is actually painting the outline of the numbers onto the quad, especially in the heat and humidity of late August.

Jared Lazarus, left, Caroline Pate, center, and Sam Huntley, right, stand in the outline of the number 3, as other team members (not pictured) view the numbers from above.  This year, the temperatures were in the high 90s, so our team took frequent breaks and drank plenty of water.

Jared Lazarus, left, Caroline Pate, center, and Sam Huntley, right, stand in the outline of the number 3, as other team members (not pictured) view the numbers from above.

We start by roping off a giant rectangle on the quad. Next, we section the rectangle into four equal rectangles. Each of these smaller rectangles is turned into individual numbers by adding the appropriate angles and lines.

The Big Moment:

We wanted the drone to be in a position to capture the students as the confetti rained down. To accomplish this shot, we needed to communicate with Bill, the drone pilot, and members of the confetti crew, who were spread out in four different locations on the quad.

Left to right, Blyth Morrell, Coach Cutcliffe, Rebecca Fiorentino, Megan Mendenhall, and Matt Carden, signal to the ground crew to start the confetti blowers.

Left to right, Blyth Morrell, Coach Cutcliffe, Rebecca Fiorentino, Megan Mendenhall, and Matt Carden, signal to the ground crew to start the confetti blowers.

In order to keep everyone on the same page, we used the PA system to play music to cue the confetti team and Bill Snead, the drone pilot. As you can see in the video, the music not only worked as a great system for communicating with the different crews, but it also added to the upbeat feel of the experience.

 

Dean’s cabinet photo

At the beginning of last Fall, our office received a request from Hallie Knuffman in the Provost’s Office to take a group photo of the Dean’s Cabinet – all 10 deans, the Provost and President – and I was asked to spearhead this project.

I was excited by this opportunity because I don’t think this has ever done at Duke – I have never seen a historical photo like this and university archivist Valerie Gillispie hadn’t either.

What I didn’t realize at the time was how challenging it would be to find a Dean’s Cabinet meeting when all the Deans were actually present. In mid-Sept. one of the Deans couldn’t make the meeting and then in the beginning of October two deans were out, and we kept pushing back the shoot date every two weeks until their next meeting. This went on and on until February when it was decided it wasn’t going to happen in the Spring and to set our sights on the first meeting of the academic year when all of the Deans should be in attendance, August 26.

I’ve done hundreds of School of Medicine departmental and divisional group photos, as well as group photos with every professional school on campus. Usually these are taken on steps and done in a formal fashion, with the participants lined up like soldiers, and several frames later (perhaps two minutes), everyone is on their way.

A tradition group shot of people arranged on the steps of a building

I didn’t want to approach the Dean’s Cabinet this way. I wanted to make it special and different, relaxed and contemporary.

I’ve been a big fan of Annie Leibovitz’s work for more than 25 years and I admire her group photos in Vanity Fair. They seem so timeless and effortless, though there’s no doubt the opposite is true and photo assistants, publicity handlers, and furniture/props people are involved in some way before or during the creation of this image.

An Annie Leibovitz Vanity Fair photo that inspired this project

But as critical as the end result was the experience – we wanted the shoot to be smooth and efficient, so the Deans’ Cabinet could get on with the important business of the day. Hallie had told me we could have 15 minutes and possibly up to 30 minutes for the photo session. I felt confident we could do the photo in 20 minutes but felt like we could do it in 15 if we had to. I had photographed a group of Heart Center leadership several years before with a similar approach in mind and the photo took 15-20 minutes – most of this time was spent on posing the doctors to look more relaxed. My director, Blyth Morrell, asked me to take no more than 15 minutes of their time, and I felt like we could compromise a little bit on the styling and still create a natural looking arrangement with relaxed poses in this amount of time. 

A photo of doctors posed in a lab used as inspiration for this project

I had scouted multiple locations near the Allen Board Room that we could potentially use for the photo to look at space, light, etc. and had come up with the Gothic Reading Room and Brodhead Center. But neither of those spaces were going to work on the first day of classes, so Blyth suggested we do the shoot in the Karsh Alumni Center’s Moyle Board Room. I was nervous in July and August as Claudia Attarian with Alumni Affairs kept me updated on the furniture delays from England, but a week before the shoot, the tables, chairs and couches arrived and we were finally able to look at all the elements together – space, furniture, and sunlight – as well as figure out where the President, Provost, and each Dean would be positioned in the photo.

A sketch of how everyone will be positioned in the photo

Then, five days before the shoot, Claudia (on behalf of director of operations Scott Greenwood) asked us to move the shoot to the atrium so the Deans could have their meeting in the Moyle Board Room – the setup and breakdown of the lighting equipment would be disruptive to the meeting so we needed a different space for the photo.

We hadn’t really considered this space before and I immediately liked the brighter, airy space, though the rays of sunlight at 10am looked like they could become problematic and create uneven light across the group. The forecast was showing rain all weekend and 98% cloud cover for Monday so I liked my chances.

On Saturday morning, Claudia graciously opened up the Karsh Center for my colleague Megan and I – she photographed the Price family earlier that morning in the Moyle Board Room. We then set up four large softboxes and experimented with different furniture arrangements – two chairs and a loveseat, two loveseats, until we settled on five chairs near the center of the room.

The night before the shoot, I rehearsed running through a quick 30 second intro to what we were trying to accomplish – a natural looking group picture in which everyone looked relaxed in their individualized pose. I showed a Vanity Fair photo as a reference, though I knew this would bring laughter because one of the participants was lying across the floor. I assured them I wouldn’t ask anyone to do this.

On Monday at 7:30am, I fine tuned the lighting, tethered my camera to my laptop for immediate feedback, and reset the furniture that the cleaners had put back.

At 9am, we began doing test shots. I had sketched out where each Dean would sit or stand and we had several stand ins: Blyth, my colleagues Sam Huntley (web developer/information designer) and Caroline Pate (web developer/information designer), Claudia and her colleagues Courtney Hill and Emily Deahl, Hallie and her teammate Mary Greenway. I tweaked the lighting for several minutes – it was looking too flat and I wanted more ratio between light and shadow on the faces – until it was to my liking. The skies outside were still overcast but my anxiety rose as clouds were starting to reveal some sunlight. Blyth suggested we swap in three stools instead for two of the chairs to create some height differences, which I favored to make the group appear less rigid and formal.

A test shot with volunteers occupying the positions of the Deans

Shortly after, my colleagues Megan, Julie Schoonmaker (video manager), and Bill Snead (digital assets manger and Photoshop master) arrived from capturing exterior drone footage of the Karsh Alumni Center, to be used in a video announcing its opening.

Most of the Deans had arrived several minutes before 10am and Hallie asked if I wanted to begin arranging people. I’ve made this mistake before – as soon as people are sitting down for the photo they become more anxious and impatient as the shoot progresses. I said they should keep talking and catching up for a couple more minutes. By 10am we started – turning Dean Ravi from right to left, angling Dean Steelman to the camera, moving Dean Broome several inches to her left, shooting several frames as we kept making adjustments. The clouds had parted by now and a ray of sunlight was creating an unwanted halo effect on Dean Klotman’s hair. I stopped shooting and looked at the lighting on my laptop with Bill, and he assured me he could swap her hair from another frame in which the exposure was good.

A behind the scenes shot of the photo being taken showing camera and light setup

I kept shooting, all the while Blyth, Hallie, Sam, Bill and myself helping to fine tune the grouping and poses. About ¾ into the shoot things visibly gelled – expressions, poses, body language, all coming together – and 48 frames later it was a wrap. The Deans, President Price and Provost Kornbluth crowded around my laptop to look at the photo and everyone seemed happy with the end result as Julie captured several behind the scenes moments with her phone.

The final Dean's Cabinet photo

Blyth looked at her watch and was smiling as she declared I did it in 15 minutes. I felt good, relieved that we had finally pulled off this picture I had envisioned and planned for months.

Mary Magdalene discovery

One of the biggest challenges I face as a higher ed video creator is how to bring historical research to life. Because this sort of research involves things that have happened in the past, it can be challenging to find a captivating visual way to explain the findings. Recently, I was recently asked to showcase the research of Elizabeth Schrader, a graduate student from Duke Divinity School. She discovered Mary Magdalene’s name had been altered by scribes in numerous copies of the Bible to downplay her prominence. I asked Elizabeth to meet me at Duke’s Rubenstein Library archives where she’d found an example of the change to Mary’s name in a 12th-century manuscript. I planned to capture a few slider shots of her looking at the manuscript. I thought the visual would make a nice compliment to my colleague’s article on her research.

When I met with Elizabeth, we struck up a casual conversation and she described in detail the exact thing she’d discovered. On two adjacent bible pages, she showed me Mary’s name, Martha’s name and a third name where Mary’s name was altered to Martha’s name. Seeing all three ancient Greek words while simultaneously hearing Elizabeth’s explanation brought her discovery to life before my eyes. I wanted to help the public understand her work. A simple slider shot would not do her research justice.

I scrapped my initial visual plan. Instead, I asked my colleague to photograph the two bible pages where the three examples occurred.

I recorded audio of Elizabeth explaining her findings. Then I found each name in the digital version of the same manuscript pages and cropped them out.

Using Premiere Pro, I matched the three names to the actual spot in the Bible photograph where they appear. I laid the voice track of Elizabeth’s explanation below the visual.      

I used Premiere Pro’s spotlight effect to highlight each name as Elizabeth described them in detail.

The final visual showcased Elizabeth’s research in a way that made her discovery easy to comprehend.

The experience reminded me to take the time to talk to researchers I work with and really understand their work, which will result in finding the best possible way to showcase it.

I was also flexible and open to shifting gears on the fly, which can be tough to do but was the right move in telling this story effectively.

Shortly after Duke’s Communications Office shared her story, Elizabeth sent me an email:

 “Julie your videos are AMAZING!!! I am so impressed with the work you’ve done! Those videos are simply spectacular. They are so easy to understand, and pretty too. It makes the article stand out so much! … This is incredible work – thank you thank you for this amazing contribution to helping make people aware of my research! I hope our paths cross again soon so I can thank you in person :)”

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