The Narrative Process – My Tech Munch Presentation

May 21st, 2012
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Last Friday, I took part in a panel for the TechMunch Conference, a food blogger gathering, to discuss the narrative process. In it, Tricia Okin led a discussion with me, Liza de Guia of Food. Curated. And Kasey Hickey of Evernote Food about how each of us comes to the stories we publish.
Time limitations (and nerves) prevented me from hitting all my points, so I thought I’d post my whole planned talk here, after the jump.


David Kinch in the Bon Appetit test kitchen
Food/Work:
My photo project is about the people and the labor that brings our food to us. There’s a process behind everything that gets to our plate and, for all the chatter and star-gazing that we have in food media, I still don’t think that’s appreciated enough. So, I started shooting butchers. Then I’d sit at open kitchens and shoot while I ate. Then, I managed to get some photo assignments shooting cooking events or online articles.
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Finding subjects:
I just ask. Not everyone is going to let me into their kitchen. Some are skeptical, some are just too busy for a visitor, but the worse they can do is say no. Spending a lot of time shooting food events and meeting people in the industry, I’ve had more trouble finding time to shoot than finding subjects.
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Shooting:
I take a fly on the wall approach. I want to show what’s happening everyday, so I try to keep out of the way and let the professionals do what they do.
While shooting, I look for the details that catch my eye, the unusual pieces of equipment or intricate processes that people are working on. Sometimes it’s a four foot tall meat grinder or someone maki squid ink pasta by hand. The best way I can tell a story is by looking at what interests me and pointing my camera at it.
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My most recent post in the Food/Work series took a look in the kitchen of Bed-Stuy’s Filipino restaurant Umi Nom. I’d met the chef/owner King … Many times, both while shooting food events and as a customer at the restaurant. He’s super friendly and was more than happy to let me come into the restaurant to photograph his team.
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The first time I visited the kitchen, it was a slow evening and not much was happening for me to shoot. Eventually, I packed up my gear and sat down to have dinner with a friend. Ten minutes later, another couple parties came in and the kitchen was hopping. The lesson was clearly to have some patience and don’t be too quick to pack up.
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I don’t always get to make a second visit, but King was more than happy to let me back in as many times as I wanted, so I took the opportunity. I often like to follow a particular dish from end to end when building these stories and nothing had quite jumped out at me yet. This time, however, I found of the pork adobo.
It’s a delicious braised dish that cooks for hours. I’d gotten photos of the end of the process, but missed the beginning. And so, I ended up planning visit number three.
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Intake:
Once all the shoots are done, it’s time to download. Sometimes there are thousands of images to go through and you’re only looking for a handful for a post. I still find it important to go through all of them and often hold onto them for different uses. You never know what you’re going to want weeks, months or years from now.
My images download using PhotoMechanic, which applies tags and metadata in a batch, while downloading. If you shoot RAW, you’ve no doubt been stuck at some point waiting and waiting for your program to generate jpg previews of each image. Photo Mechanic bypasses that, letting you get a quick look at RAW files without generating preview. It won’t let you edit them, but when you just need to know if you got the shot, it’s very, very useful.
It also has the benefit of embedding metadata into the files rather than keeping them Ina database that can corrupt or get lost.
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Editing:
Most of my editing takes place in Aperture. I’m no photoshop whiz, I mostly just adjust basic settings – color, brightness, cropping and straightening. Aperture is where I do my primary ranking of images, using a system of stars to decide which are good enough to get posted.
It’s also where I do my uploading to Flickr and my Photoshelter site, claywilliamsphoto.com.
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Sequencing/Selection:
In the last year, since I got an iPad, a new part of my process has developed. I’ve found that the photo app and it’s super-intuitive interface make building galleries and sequencing them ridiculously easy. I started using the iPad just to display images – its bright and sharp and makes everything look crisp. Then I realized I could build new albums on the fly and arrange the photos how I want, on the fly.
Now, I spend my commute in the mornings picking and choosing photos from various shoots to build portfolios, blog posts or presentations like this one.
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Text:
As I’ve made the shift from text-based to photo based, I’ve spent less time worrying about what to write, a task that i enjoy, but which always takes me much more time than it ever should. This, of course, varies from site to site. On Midtown Lunch, my images are used to illustrate text while with Nona Brooklyn, the text is just a brief caption for the photographs.
Like arranging photos on the iPad, I often find the best time to write without distraction is while on the subway, commuting. There’s a lot of benefit to having a forced time without an Internet connection or the distractions of home.
I use a program called Awesome Note (or aNote), but notepad or Evernote work just fine. When I’ve finished my draft – or gotten to my stop – I send myself an email with the text and paste it into the CMS I’m working with for the particular blog or project.
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When the final product is up and posted, I make a point of letting my networks know that it’s available via Facebook, twitter, Pinterest and whatever else is out there.

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