Controversial Canon HDSLR news video of the Japan tsunami from Dan Chung

by planetmitch32 Comments

Should cinematic techniques be included in news coverage? The has Dan Chung in Japan covering the earthquake and tsunami and he's using the Canon HDSLRs (I think he has a Canon EOS 5D Mark II with him but I don't have confirmation). Dan posted one of their news videos on vimeo and it has raised some questions about cinematic techniques in news reporting – in a similar way to the questions raised about a video made last year after the Haitian earthquake. Before we get into the debate, please watch the video. Note there are two versions which enhance the debate.

UPDATE: April 1 – The conversation we had with Dan about this video is now online – please take the time to give it a watch! You might change your mind if you disliked the video.

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The news video:

Aftermath – The Japanese Tsunami from Dan Chung on Vimeo.

Images from what remains of the town of Shintona in Miyagi prefecture, one of the areas worst affected by the Tsunami.

Please read the accompanying article by reporter Jonathan Watts –​world/​2011/​mar/​13/​japan-earthquake-tsunami-miyagi-destruction.

For more see​world/​japan-earthquake-and-tsunami for more info

The controversy

There are two questions being raised in the comments in the video (and similar questions were raised with this video after the Haiti earthquake)

  • is the music appropriate? should there be any music at all?
  • is it appropriate to use equipment like the slider to give the video more impact?

Before getting into the conversation, with those questions in mind, watch this version of the video is online on the that has voice-overs from some locals with translation – which gives a different interpretation and certainly has a different impact on the viewer.


I've been watching the discussion off and on in the last 5 hours (over on vimeo) since Dan posted the story and I can see both sides of the discussion. Here are a couple of samples from the vimeo thread:

Interesting piece Dan but lose the music. This is still a rolling news story of which is sure to become Japans darkest hour.
For me, it is unacceptable to produce something like this so early on. Keep it for the one year anniversary.
As for the slider images, again… they will be invaluable in the future but not a good choice of filming style for now”

“Peter Simpson:
Appalling use of music. Hopelessly overused glidetrack. You're videoing a catastrophe not an advert.
On the one hand, there is something that really tugs at your heart with the music and that can be good – as some have commented, maybe it will urge people to donate to relief efforts.”

“Nino Leitner:
Heartbreaking, Dan. I disagree with some of my former commenters. This is respectful coverage. Using a slider doesn't make it disrespectful.

Shooting in disaster zones is always a moral ambiguity that a news shooter has to resolve for himself – it's will always feel weird to turn up with a camera at places where there is clearly something else needed. But this work is important, it is essential – people around the world need to know what's going on, they need to see it with their own eyes. Otherwise there won't be help, because nobody will know about it. Stuff like this makes people open their pockets and actually donate something, or even go there and help the people. ”

My take is this: it is not unusual to see material like this on the major networks (tho the slider shots may not be common) – there's certainly precedent for this type of video – Dan and the guardian are not alone – I just watched a small bit on CNN where they set some stills and video to music – and I bet you that all of the major TV networks have done similar pieces. It may be a bit surprising standing on its own like on vimeo, but if you were watching a TV report that concluded with a piece like this, I don't think you'd even really notice.

With two versions, it is very interesting to see exactly how audio influences the clip – having both one version with music and another with voice-overs really accentuates the impact audio has on a video topic.

What do you think? Too soon after the tragedy to have video and sentimental audio? Do the slider shots romanticize the video too much? Sound off in the comments!

(cover photo credit: snap from the video)

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  1. I see Dans work as honoring the people with a quality video. The tone is quiet serious. Slider shots don’t make it controversial in my mind.

  2. I find this question baffling. How could this be considered in any way controversial? These thing really happen! Open your eyes! There it is! Weather with music or commentary the images are stunning in their detail to portray the power of nature. The filmmaker is simply capturing the aftermath of a disaster. Do ones artistic capacity end when disaster strikes? Rubbish! It is another opportunity to convey in vivid images REAL LIFE!

  3. I see no harm to people sentiments in this video. It is shot quite aesthetically keeping in mind the sentiments. The job of a news reporter is really though but this is the best one could do. I don’t find it controversial or weird.

  4. In isolation your knee jerk response is it feels like a drama, something that had been staged. But I have seen similar thing on Sky news with dramatic music and colorised clips.

    I watched the Vimeo clip when it has been just uploaded without the comments. I didn’t have a problem with the method of filming or music. what I did feel though is I didn’t want to click the Heart, Like button as that seemed out of place.

    Vimeo need a new button for films like this or maybe Vimeo is just not the place for this film.

    It would be nice to hear from Dan on this one.

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  6. There is a tone where everything turns. Having done current affairs for many years, being there, even as an observer plays a part. A DSLR with a slider or a news camera with a matte box, these are just tools. Knowing there are bodies in the debris and people who need help while you shoot video… artistic or not makes a difference. This is not a war zone, its a disaster.

    For me it changes if you arrive with a film crew and treat it like a set.

    But this is not news. Its not impartial, its not simply facts, it conveys a message and its emotive. So if its not news.. what is it.. exactly?

  7. The shots (and tools used to make them) is not what makes this piece ‘controversial’.

    It’s the choice of music – it sets the tone of hope and joy.

    A soundtrack that conveys ‘somber and mourning’ would be a more appropriate and respectful tone to the this disaster where a lot of people lost loved ones and their very way of living.

  8. +1, the music is a bit to melodramatic for my taste and implies a staged feeling to me (or shot on stage). While the Natsot (natural sound) version with VO is poweful.

    I thought the slider was to much but it seems appropriate in the Voice overed version.

    Sound is tone and tone is how you engage the audience with a first hook. Perhaps in a couple weeks when the cleanup is under way the music would be more appropriate then.

  9. it’s a personal expression, an interpretation, and view from dan’s perspective captured through a camera. it’s not disrespecting anyone, or trivializing the event. there are countless examples of photojournalists taking beautiful photos of tragic events; i don’t see how this is different as an audio/visual medium.

  10. I don’t think tragedy should be reported with cinematic embellishments. As we have seen from this debate, the style becomes a focal point rather than the actuality of the events.

    The intentions may be good, but in my opinion it’s in poor taste.

  11. I can see where people could come from, using cinematic techniques to change someone opinion, however, I do not think that this video makes you change your view on the tsunami, I’m not now thinking “Ohh, theres nothing wrong.”.

    Everyone knows how bad it was, and this video is just another piece to go amongst all the other videos from this disaster.

    We all know news companies can be sometimes bias, and always try to make something more dramatic than it is, so you just got to sit back, and come to your own conclusions.

    1. I’ve read enough of the comments. I have been a TV news photojournalist for over 25 years and I think I know how to cover a news story. And although I agree that this piece would have been much more powerful with interviews from survivors who were affected by this disaster, I still think Dan’s story stands up on its own. Perhaps he did not want to invade those personal lives by asking questions of family members searching for the bodies of loved ones. I know how hard that can be. I have to knock on doors all the time asking relatives to talk about their dead loved ones. Not easy. As far as the slider shots go, just because it’s “news” does not mean it has to have that “handheld” look. Even on breaking news stories I try to use my sticks whenever possible with my heavy Sony XDCam 700. I suppose it I had the luxury of using a DSLR for my day job… I would use a slider too if it made the images look better or conveyed more emotion to the viewer. As far as the music goes, like I said, the piece would have been better with more nat sound and interviews woven into it, but maybe he could not get those at the time it was produced. The networks throw sad music into their “disaster recap” stories all the time. I don’t agree with it… but I will agree that it does add more emotion to a story when done correctly. Dan did a fine job documenting this horrible story without staging anything and without being intrusive. Let’s all pray now that the radiation does not become a major threat next…

      1. “It does add more emotion to a story” One is it the journalists job to “add emotion?” I know networks and current affairs shows love to turn news into entertainment but really man.Two if you need music and dolly shots to “add emotion” to that situation you’re not much of a cameraman

  12. The shots using the slider are certainly acceptable. The music may or may not be acceptable, depending on how it’s used. I believe the question is whether or not this is appropriate for a news story. Clearly, in my mind at least, the second version has a place in news coverage. The first version does not work as a stand alone news clip but it may be used as a bridge in and out of a commercial break during a “special”. I would have chosen different music but that’s my opinion.
    The job of a journalist is not to raise money, no matter how tragic a situation may be. We can certainly tell people where they may donate but the job of a journalist is to inform the public and provide insight and analysis.

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  14. I like some of the slider shots because they give you a very three dimensional look at the damage that I haven’t seen in any other way. Though after a while, it did get repetitive.

  15. I don’t feel that the use of a slider is inappropriate. I feel that the techniques used are respectful. The music isn’t to my taste, but not really something that conveys the magnitude or atmosphere of the tragedy. However, these treatments turn it into a documentary, and completely removes it from being a news story.

  16. If the purpose of this clip is “news reporting” then the use of the dolly and the music detracts. News reporting is covering facts. The use of these tools is cameraman as commentator, not reporter. The music and way he moves the camera is his personal statement on what he sees and feels. Not simply factual reporting. As an aside the music is somewhat obvious in it’s choice, and reflective in it’s style, evoking a sense of something past, as does the dolly moves in some way. Seems strange when this is very real and unfolding now. I think it’s a clumsy effort at “slapping on some art” at the scene of an ongoing emergency that is still unfolding.

  17. I thought it was well put together, but realistically there could be people trapped in those surroundings so its in questionable taste to be setting up dollys etc and getting cinematic shots instead of helping out more.

  18. I think it’s not so much about the slider shots and stuff but the editing. If this was a PSA for relief in Japan, intercut with some other footage and maybe a voiceover by Morgan Freeman letting us know “how we can help”…this would be a totally different video. But just pretty shots of carnage with cheesy music…seems not to work as well. It’s all about how the footage is used.

  19. Simply based on the fact this is considered a controversy just provides value to Dan’s piece. He brought something to the audience that affects them directly. Regardless if you are a filmmaker or photojournalist, we present images and when we’re successful, those images are memorable. Especially in this day in age, where you receive a zillion images a day. I tip my hat to Dan for providing memorable imagery.

  20. Thanks for comments as I have shot similar footage in disaster zones. For me after filming standard news footage it was a nice way to personally reflect on what I saw. I wouldn’t use tracks to tell a factual story, but if I can use it to help the audience ponder and reflect after all the tragedy and suffering, I think then it’s a good thing. I do however think it should be used when the time is right.

  21. From a cinematography standpoint, he simply overused and misused the slider altogether.

    And I will say it was awkward to watch him setting up staged shots with guards carrying dead bodies away.

    If he had a VoiceOver WITH the music and it was explaining the tragedy, then people wouldn’t have a problem. It would be telling a tragic story in an effective way.

    As it stands though, it’s more of a “here’s some cool shots from my trip to japan” video. It doesn’t seem to have any connection with the affected people of japan. That’s the reason people are finding it so abrasive…

  22. Having lived through several disasters, I’ve become a photographer and a trained first responder. Conveying honestly the emotion, angst, horror of a disaster scene is very hard to do. Cinematic techniques achieve this far, far better than any amount of hyperbole on camera by a newly-inserted, possibly shell-shocked journalist. Well done, Dan Chung.

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  24. I shot news for 10 years in a major market, (San Diego) and this is in no way “news coverage”. The music and slider are totally inappropriate, it is HARD NEWS. Using a slider on almost every shot is such a rookie move, I mean anyone with money can buy the gear but few can use it. Ridiculous.

  25. Controversy seems like a national hobby these days… I watched both videos and my immediate impression of the music only video was I was moved – I thought the slider use gave the images more scale than a static or rounded looking pan or handheld shot would have accomplished. I certainly didn’t feel hopeful as one commenter said about the music. While there are few slightly more upbeat scores in that music they were sync’d with the scenes of survivors starting to get on with their lives as tragic a path as that might be. Certainly did not get the distasteful feeling from it.

    I watched the VO version and was moved in a different way. It struck different emotions. I am not sure what the original intent was for either of these clips but both could serve different purposes. A video tied to a news organization does not always have to be a running through the carnage…

    While the slider may be always moving right or used too much… I’ll leave that for the critics – I watched and was moved.. period.

  26. To me the first piece is straight up disaster porn, an insensitive use of other people’s tragedy as fodder for pretty (if cliched) camerawork. It gives us no information and even as imagery alone doesn’t have much of the emotional impact of good stills we’ve seen at the NY Times and elsewhere.

    The use of the music is offensive, tacky. It suggests more interest in a vimeo camera exercise than in the story and the human beings involved. As mentioned, networks sometimes use music with their news coverage (also often distasteful as in the movie-score treatment of the buildup to the Iraq war) but its usually restricted to show opening graphics, never throughout a ‘piece’ if that’s what this was.

    Slider work is way overdone and again suggests someone trying to manufacture pretty pictures than observe what is there.

    The second piece with some vo’s and no music has some potential, though – as others have said – as a more soulful, retrospective piece that might work months from now. And in that case slider work would fit. But as it stands now it’s not a coherent piece, just a few elements that don’t add up.

    I’m surprised The Guardian, a respectable news organization, l thought, allows this on their site, Is the use of video that foreign to them?

  27. Really bad videography, I live in japan and this video is really a joke, it doesn’t capture any glimpse of the actual reality, The fact that it’s getting so much attention is even sadder, all my photojournalist friends agree that this should be deleted and something more tasteful and in touch with the reality of the situation put in it’s place that will do justice to the people hit by this devastation
    It’s just bad use of video

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