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Spreading the Message

Q&A With Tom Kelly

© Shawn G. Henry

The ASMP Bulletin’s Spring 2011 issue featured the article Spreading the Message: Behind the Scenes with ASMP’s “I Am A Professional” Marketing Campaign, which describes the full scope of the campaign and details the efforts of ASMP portrait studio crew members Tom Kelly, Shawn G. Henry, Ramon Purcell, Ed McDonald and Kevin Lock to create member portraits and recorded statements. As a companion to the article in print, we asked Tom Kelly some questions about recording the audio during the first portrait shoot at PDN PhotoPlus Expo in New York.


ASMP: How did you first become involved in the ASMP member portrait project?


Tom Kelly: Early in 2010, I spoke with ASMP education director Susan Carr about her potential video needs after learning of the new SB3 series that was being planned. Back in 2007, my partner Gail Mooney and I had participated in the production of the video promotions for SB2, interviewing and creating video profiles of some name brand veteran photographers, including past ASMP president Barbara Bordnick. Once Susan had a clear vision for what ASMP wanted to create, she informed me of the plan and asked me for a proposal to record audio of photographers speaking to the value they found as a member of ASMP. A little later in the proposal process, I learned that Shawn G. Henry had offered his photography fee pro-bono to the project. I thought that was a plausible rationale and so I made a similar offer to volunteer my services as well.


ASMP: All told, approximately how much time did you spend in recording and editing sound for this project? Were there other tasks involved?


TK: Actually, I spent considerable time researching the best options for acoustic deadening materials for pulling this off, knowing both space and budget were factors. Once I gathered all the needed elements for this production, I submitted a proposal for the logistical and material expenses. Those material items needed to be ordered and shipped.


The production day, which included set up and teardown twice, was about 14 hours door-to-door.


I recorded in two locations within the Javits Center over about ten hours.


The editing took about two days of work to cull the best sound bites, place identifiers for each voice on the editing timeline and output to disk.


ASMP: Please set the scene for the first event to capture member portraits and statements at the Javits Center during PDN PhotoPlus Expo.


TK: The situation was challenging as the entire crew, five of us, had just one small classroom type space in which to work. I got there early, ahead of the rest, to scout and study how we would share the room for a photo shoot as well as a recording studio to take member statements. I didn’t need much space but I was extremely concerned with the size and acoustics of the room. I got a head start and had most of my recording area set up and the rest of the room cleared of tables and chairs for a space in which Shawn could shoot.


ASMP: Please describe your full kit for audio recording and the function/relative import of each of the elements you work with.


TK: For this gig, which had a certain amount of unknowns and huge potential for variables and distractions, I decided to work with equipment with which I was experienced and comfortable.


Even though we own the Zoom H4N digital audio recorder, for this situation I utilized our Sony EX1 HD video camera. The EX1 recorded the high quality audio signals from a dual array of a Sennheiser ME66 and Rode NTG-2 shotgun mics via XLR cables so I would have redundant, dual channel audio recording. I provided two pairs of Sony MDR 7506 Studio Monitor headphones connected to a splitter so both my subject and I could hear and focus on the sound of the recordings. Since the Sony is a tapeless camera I also needed to stay on top of my card downloads into the MacBookPro and external hard drive.


ASMP: What kind of audio booth or recording area did you set up?


TK: I started by stacking all the classroom tables up and put them to the side. All the chairs were stacked up as well. I built a fortress out of three classroom tables at the end of the room. One table was set on its long edge on top of my working tables and I covered the table and wall surfaces surrounding me with professional acoustic blankets. The whole recording set up took about 30 percent of the room, leaving an ample but smallish studio set where Shawn shot the portraits.


Both mics were situated inside of a really cool mobile recording booth I discovered called a Porta-Booth-Pro. This mini recording isolation booth helped to minimize the already noisy environment, which included voices from the photo shoot going as well as overhead ventilation fans.


ASMP: What was the average length of the sound bites you recorded?


TK: In the beginning of the day we had each contributing member for about 10 to 15 minutes. But as the word spread and the day got going, a waiting line grew. It became clear that I needed to limit each member’s mic time to about 5 minutes, concentrating on getting the essential sound bites.


ASMP: How did you begin each recording session and how did you end them? Did you work from a set script of questions?


TK: I worked from printed list of questions and a small set of statements, which we would record if the participants were comfortable with the words. We started with the subject’s name and then worked through the following statement list:
“I am innovative”
“I run a business”
“I never stop learning”
“I carry liability insurance”
“I give my best to my client”
“I am a professional”
“I am ASMP”, and so on.


Then I would ask members to ad lib and complete the following:

  • What does being a “professional” photographer mean to you?
  • What do you think of first when you think of ASMP and its benefits?
  • How does ASMP help you run your business?
  • How does ASMP help you learn and innovate?
  • Do you have anything you’d like to add? (Short - concise!)


ASMP: What was the most common thing that members shared in their statements?


TK: That the value of benefits that they received from being an ASMP member, such as peer camaraderie, professional programs and professional business forms made the cost of membership seem insignificant.


ASMP: Were there any members whose statements were particularly distinctive or unique?


TK: Many responses were unique. John Giammatteo said: “As a professional, staying ahead of the advances, technology, business issues and copyright problems is really important. ASMP gives me that edge.”


ASMP: Did you prompt subjects at all in the process of recording their statements? Do you ever use non-verbal prompting methods?


TK: Absolutely! As I saw it, that was my job. Many of these folks, some whom were sitting down in front of a microphone for the very first time, told me they felt some intimidation.


Honestly, most responses were flat and dull. I had to help pump them up by delivering it to the subjects in my voice so they got the idea that I needed some energy, some inflection from them. A simple pause after a word or change in emphasis from one word to the next in a phrase would transform the delivery of the message. I instructed subjects to repeat the same line over several times. It made a huge difference. I was constantly using my hands to help punctuate their delivery.


The most frequent response I heard was; “Wow, this was much harder than I thought!”


ASMP: When capturing sound, how many takes are usually required for various types of end uses? How do you determine when to do multiple takes?


TK: Just the same as when I shoot, whether it be a portrait or a video interview: I work it until I feel that we’ve got the best performance I can from my subjects within the available timeframe.


ASMP: What strategies, if any, do you use to ensure that subjects speak clearly when being recorded for the best possible end result?


TK: I let them know that in most cases, the best editable material is a concise thought in the form of a sound bite. Rambling dialogue is very hard to work with, because it is difficult to edit. Often, after a person would make a statement I would suggest that they try it another way. Sometimes I would suggest that they flip the order of the response around.


ASMP: When making recordings of different subjects within tight time constraints, are there any particular considerations to follow or tips to maximize recording quality?


TK: I instructed my subjects to stay in close to the mics, in this case about six inches or a fist’s distance between lips and mic. Yet, in cases when a subject is on camera when recording sound, this would not be possible. Then the mics would be positioned above, on a boom stand just out of frame.


With regard to the tight time restraints, my constant coaching to get interesting delivery kept the subjects moving.


ASMP: Please describe your interactions with the rest of the crew during the shoot. Were there any specific communication methods employed during the day to keep things organized and minimize confusion or distraction?


TK: Honestly (and Shawn can attest to this since it was such a small room) I had to shout out a few times “quiet please!” to remind the photo crew that we were recording sound!


ASMP: After this first event, were any changes or improvements made to the general procedures and workflow for capturing the images and sound? If so, please elaborate.


TK: We only recorded sound that one day at the Jacob Javits Center. However, after a full day of work both sound and photo crews broke everything down and moved to the hallway outside of the seminar rooms. We set everything up again there to catch more ASMP subjects as they arrived for the ASMP member meeting in early evening. This was even more challenging, since we were out on the open hallway with people on all sides, a very noisy situation.


ASMP: What kind of software did you use to record the audio and what amount of editing was done to the raw recordings before passing them along for production?


TK: The entire day’s recordings were later imported into Final Cut Pro and all placed on an editing timeline. On the timeline, I identified each person with an on-screen title slide for ease of keeping track. Then all small talk and bad takes were edited down to what I believed was the best material. Copies were sent to Susan Carr and Jay Kinghorn on DVD.


ASMP: Are there additional uses planned for the recorded statements beyond the current video campaign?


TK: Many of the statements were used in print with the production of ASMP’s “I’m a Professional” handbook, distributed at the SB3 conferences. The book was beautifully designed by The Grillo Group and printed and produced by A & I Books.


ASMP: Do you have any recommendations for resources, classes or other helpful tips to offer image-makers who do not have audio experience but are interested to add these skills to their business?


TK: Good audio techniques are usually incorporated into good video production instruction. That’s how I learned.


Here are some good resources to start:


Author Bio:
Tom Kelly and his partner Gail Mooney are a professional photographic team working in the mediums of still photography and video to deliver client messages in print, broadcast and online. Possessing more than thirty years of experience, they have traveled the world on assignment for countless magazines, corporations and advertising campaigns, both as a team and as independent image makers. Their full-service digital media production company, Kelly/Mooney Productions, has received recognition and awards from numerous organizations including Communication Arts, AR 100, the New Jersey Art Directors Club, the SATW Photographer Shootout and Photographer of the Year Single Subject (Gold Portfolio Winners). For further details, visit their Web site at