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'No Future in Photojournalism' Interview: Dan Chung

Barney Britton | Video Capture | Published Feb 10, 2012

Dan Chung is an award-winning photojournalist who made his name
shooting for The Guardian newspaper in the UK. In recent years he has
shifted his focus away from still imaging and towards video.

Dan, you made your name as a stills photographer but you’re mainly shooting video now, what changed?

'Photojournalism as a profession has taken a bit of a nosedive in recent years. Although I’ve been fortunate enough to be in continuous employment, I’m not immune to the longer-term trend, which is pretty desperate if you’re talking about make a living. I took a strategic decision to get more into video and it’s been reasonably successful.'

Aftermath - The Japanese Tsunami from Dan Chung on Vimeo.

What sort of work are you doing now?

'Initially I was shooting a lot of web video for The Guardian which I still do, but now I’m shooting more and more for TV, news, plus the odd advert here and there. I took the decision to stay basically within documentary and news shooting rather than go off and try and be a Hollywood filmmaker just yet!'

'I don’t really see a future in photojournalism, if I’m completely honest, as a way to earn a living. But also there are a lot of creative opportunities with moving images that you couldn’t possibly dream of doing with stills. I’m surprised though that relatively few other photographers have made that conversion.'

Why do you think that is?

'I divide my time between the UK and China and it seems to me that photojournalists in the UK have been really slow to adopt video whereas China and in fact Asia in general there’s a much higher take-up and the same is true of the US.'

'A lot of it has to do with what editors are asking photographers to do and my impression is that editors are basically asking for video more in the US and Asia than they are in the UK. I’ve been running DSLR video workshops in the UK now for a year and they’re always packed out, so there’s obviously an appetite there, but it’s early days.'

North Korea's Military parade in Slow Motion from Dan Chung on Vimeo.

Was moving to video a hard choice for you?

'It wasn’t really a choice at all. The way I look at it is convert or die. It’s a very steep learning curve but once you get into it, it’s like anything - you get into your stride and away you go. I’m constantly amazed by the fact that amateurs seem to do a much better job of adapting to new ways of working than professionals.'

'If you look at Vimeo.com there’s a lot of really good stuff on there, shot by amateurs. A lot of them have come from a stills photography background, and might have never shot a movie before, haven’t been to film school, and don’t know one end of a video camera from the other, but that doesn’t stop them from going out and shooting great-looking videos.'

What does the future hold?

'The arrival of DSLR video has been a great creative revolution and in the long run I think the beneficiaries are actually amateurs. Maybe they don’t know it yet, and maybe not all of them realise the potential of video. Things like Nikon’s Motion Snapshot mode on the V1 and J1 might seem kind of wacky right now, but maybe in a few years time functions like that will be perfectly normal.'

'I’m very upbeat about DSLR video actually, and I think it’s here to stay. The functionality is getting better and better, and it’s giving lots of people an opportunity to start doing some really creative multimedia shooting, mixing stills and video and everything else.'

Mongolian Racer from Dan Chung on Vimeo.

'We're looking at the tip of the iceberg really. Broadcast professionals have already figured out what to do with this technology and are using it, and are investing in a new generation of more expensive, pro-oriented cameras. For the rest of us, the increase in quality in DSLR video from a new generation of cameras like the Nikon D4 and the Canon EOS 1-DX means is that you don’t need to go out and spend tens of thousands of dollars in order to compete.'

'Increasingly, as an enthusiast or semi-pro videographer, the quality of DSLR video is getting so good that it really doesn’t matter what you shoot on. The technology isn’t the barrier any more, the barrier is imagination.'


About Dan Chung

Award-winning photojournalist and videomaker Dan Chung made his name working as a staff photographer at both The Guardian and Reuters news agency, and has since pioneered the use of DSLRs in filmmaking, particularly in news coverage.

Iraqi families leave Basra via a bridge manned by British soldiers, in March 2003. This photo earned Dan the Photographer Of The Year Award at The Picture Editor Awards 2004. (Dan Chung, Pool Photo)

Dan's many accolades include the Picture Editors' Guild Photographer of the Year 2004, the Nikon Press Photographer of the Year awards in 2002 and he also won the Digital film category in the 2011 Press Photographer's Year.

Dan now lives and works in China, but travels the world on assignment. He also runs the industry blog www.dslrnewsshooter.com