Great Ape Diaries Social Media – One Step Towards One Million

social media platforms

Great Ape Diaries social media network includes Facebook, Twitter, multiple WordPress blogs,, Google+, Vimeo and Youtube channels, and we are just getting started!

Teams come together in a multitude of fashions, some by design, so ad hoc, some start with baby steps and grow with each stride, creating the Great Ape Diaries social media network has been the latter.

We now have a team, one that is filled with energy and excitement about what we are about to launch, do and say.  But most of all we’re excited about the amazing opportunity to take each of you on this incredible journey.  A journey around the world, in places you never imagined, and experience them in ways you never thought possible. We plan to do that in large part through the magic of pictures, sound and social media.

Jesse Hambley

Our "on loan" web guru Jesse Hambley hammering away over the weekend before the GAD website launch Jan 31st.

This team is a far cry from what we would have assembled even a decade ago. Then a full media company would have been interviewed, selected and paid a small fortune. Today, the human-friendly nature of the resources and their user-friendly implementation enables making it a communal effort – personally I love that aspect of it. It feels critical to the cause. Our goal is crazy – one million active followers! Our goal is to create change and we can only do that together. So why not create the tools to do that by creating a community – a team.

Now despite the “ease” of the current collects of social media tools and apps, it still takes a concentration of time and effort. We haven’t got the final calculation on total hours the team has put in on making GAD’s social media outreach work, but we are nearing a 100 hrs. We are tracking it, and will share it in a future post.  THANKS to everyone so far!

Here’s a start on how to follow us:

  • Website – Starting January 31st, 2012 the best place to start–a portal for everything we are doing on the Great Ape Diaries project
  • GAD Blog – where to follow the
  • The “Making Of” Blog – our behind the scenes creation of Great Ape Diaries
  • Facebook –
  • Twitter – @greatapediaries

and if you don’t want to check all those sources you can have us in one neat digital package by subscribing to the –

  • Great Ape Daily – need to focus your time – subscribe to GA Daily a great aggregate digital newspaper that shows up on your computer or pad highlighting all we have tweeted, blogged and FB’d in the past 24 hours

Live blog and tweet postings begin Feb. 6, 2012 from Borneo

We look forward to bringing you an amazing story about great apes, us and our planet!


More Tests, More Cameras – the pile of gear keeps growing

Canon 60D camera body

Canon 60D camera body with its filp-out, swivel screen.

After this past weekend it was clear something was missing from our palette of tools for Borneo and Sumatra. Do this long enough and you just get a sinking feeling every time you look at the camera bags, but you just can’t put your finger on it, then BAM! it hits you.

How are we going to track low-level forest POVs?

We weren’t, not without an addition to the palette. After a couple quick calls – one to equipment guru and good friend Michael Durham – it was time to test a Canon 60D body.

flip screen on Canon 60D camera body

Flip screen on Canon 60D camera body rotated 180 degrees towards the subject will help when Gerry will have to conduct interviews and Skye is not available.

The guys at Pro Photo Supply loaned us a body for the weekend to run through its paces. After a few minutes it was obvious we needed this body, it will accept the lens system we are already taking, and it would allow us to have another backup body for stills should we need it.  Other considerations were the fact that it uses the same battery as the Canon 7D and all the sound equipment we have. From a video standpoint – and that’s the point of this camera going along – it has HD video recording at 1080 p30/25/24 or 720p60/50 plus cropped 640 x 480 movie mode.

One minor issue is recording media – the 60D records onto SD versus the 7D’s CF cards, but so does the Zoom H4n so we would be packing several SD cards anyway. The cards allow the 60D to run cooler than its big brothers the 7D and 5D; best on SDXC cards rated at Speed Class 10+.

So, it’s add another 3 pounds to the carry-on. Once again this is why these last three weeks are considered crunch time for sorting out every last thing we need on the journey to Borneo and Sumatra.

Camera Straps: Blackrapid DR-1

Over the years one of my biggest ISSUES – and I mean issues in caps – has been camera straps. I hate them. They are a pain in the arse. At times, however, they are a very valuable necessary pain in the arse. Finally, I think, I have come across a camera strap worth favorably commenting on – the Blackrapid. Specifically the Blackrapid DR-1 dual camera strap.

Blackrapid DR-1 dual camera strap.

Blackrapid DR-1 dual camera strap with Canon 7D w/80-200mm & 7D w/11-16mm

As background, especially on a project like Great Ape Diaries, I need to shoot with two cameras. In the style of enviro-photojournalism I’m practicing my ideal general filming combo is a body with a Canon 80-200mm f/2.8 and a body with a super-wide, currently my two are Canon 8-15mm f/4 and Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8.  Any one who has tried working with two cameras knows keeping them from clanging into one another and from bashing into other objects as you move, run, jump, etc. is a challenge. The DR-1 enables both cameras to stay separated and in place on hips or behind your back.

Blackrapid DR-1 FastenR-3

Blackrapid FastenR-3 thread into camera and lens tripod 1/4" thread hole - and attach to staps with thread-locking swivel loop-rings

Okay, so far I have only tested the strap in and around Portland – life may change in Borneo in a couple of weeks – but I think it will hold up – I’ll post an update here on Feb 15th when we get back into Kota Kinabalu (Sabah) after the first week in the bush.

From the Blackrapid website:

The DR-1 is the ultimate solution for two-camera shooters. Ergonomic and sleek, it works with BlackRapid’s MODS system of attachments so you can customise your strap to your exact needs. One side can even be detached for use as a single R-Strap. Simple, fast, and intuitive, you’ll wonder how you lived without it. The DR-1 comes with two FastenR-3 connectors.

Spendy – but I think worth the money – finally!

Rob @Pro Photo Supply thanks for all the advice on strap options.

Three Weeks And Counting…

hiking shoesToday we are three weeks out from boarding a flight to Hong Kong and on down to Bornean Malaysia. Crunch time. Why now? Over my career a simple mathematical formula for planning has bubbled to the surface, that is, what ever the length of the trip then half that time is my crunch time. This upcoming trip is six-weeks in length, so half that is three-weeks = crunch time.

A friend emailed and asked:

“I thought it would be very interesting to your readers to have a post about how one does prepare for heading out to remote places to do conservation work like you are currently doing.  We imagine a life like yours and other nature photographers in a romanticized fashion, and indeed, the adventure and beauty you have experienced is most certainly the exclusive domain of few.  But there also must be downsides and frantic moments.  (I still recall remember our conversation at the original TG training about the lack of stability in your life.)  But I [am] truly curious as to how one preps for a major expedition…”

Wow.  Well, I won’t get much done if I spend the next few weeks writing all the preparation. But here are a few tips of the iceberg.

Skye and I are going through slightly different preparation.  Skye is recovering from a nasty lung infection and no longer filming for the HBO production being done locally.  His focus is recovering and editing our Kickstarter film as well as final clarification of the equipment list.

Shaping Up

Physical health is critical, both Skye and I take our physical prep very seriously. Staying healthy in the field is paramount to succeeding. In the case of great apes that also means being responsible and not spreading disease like colds.

Along with general physical conditioning three days a week I do two other workouts – one physical, the other physical/technical.

The first seems silly – I walk.  Yip, I put on my trekking shoes and walk briskly three-days a week 4-5 miles (= 1 hour) over uneven trails, rain or shine (or snow.) That regime started a couple weeks ago and now will begin including a weighted backpack. Working in the bush, with people such as trackers, anti-poaching patrols, forest rangers, etc. is walk-demanding and they are conditioning everyday in the course of their work – not sitting for hours at a computer screen which is often the case in my work. Skye and I need to show up ready to work along side these people, to document their work without encumbering their effort, other wise we aren’t accurately telling THEIR story.

Second, is a camera exercise I have been doing for years and find invaluable. I practice speed focusing 30mins each day starting this week until I depart. Years ago I worked out a routine of rolling a tennis ball across the floor, swinging one from the ceiling on a monofilament line, and bouncing it off walls, all the while tracking the ball and trying to maintain sharp focus using medium and long focal length lenses (100mm up to 400mm.) This exercise strengthens my forearms and wrists, and refines my reflexes and anticipation: great images don’t often give you second chances.

The above camera exercise also conditions my hands, eyes and body, and maybe most importantly my brain, to being united with the camera.  That may sound a bit odd, but over years of teaching photography I found much of the interruption in translating what the eye-brain see and what the hands-camera create comes from lack of familiarity. The less you think, and the more you react, the cleaner the space between inspiration and creation.  As Henri Cartier-Bresson put it, you must go click, “quick, quick, quick, like a cat”. When a cat pounces it’s reacting not thinking.

Endless Emails

A week from now I’ll be unidentifiable based on finger-prints – they will have been worn clean on this keyboard.  Emails, emails, emails. This week tying up travel and logistics is paramount. Working with people 16 hours in the future and rarely sitting at their computer means answers are never immediate and often require a trio of forth and back emails for clarity. My iPhone has become my new best friend, 24 hours a day, in an attempt to avoid delaying an email response to anyone we are trying to work with.

Testing Time Trickles Out

Time for equipment testing is running out. We are still trying to get an audio recording assembly setup finalized. We know what we are going to use – a Zoom H4n recorder, a BODE mini-shotgun, and where need a Sennheiser wireless lavallière mic set – it is about as compact as we can get, but exactly how to attach it to the camera so that the cameras stay completely unencumbered is continuing to prove challenging. (We are taking plenty of gaffer-tape just in case :”))

Highest unchecked item on the check list is the microcam that will mount to my (Gerry’s) Canon 7D camera body. Frustratingly both Skye and I know that we will still be fiddling with this setup throughout the trip.  More on this later, but what any unresolved equipment issue forces is extra stuff which equals extra baggage which equals extra cost. Taking the kitchen sink is a crappy solution, but maybe necessary.

Testing isn’t just cameras. Yesterday I sat on my reading glasses, a style no longer available, so need two more pair fast. And the work shirts I have been wearing for nearly two decades have been changed, ordering a sample of the new shirt before ordering more. website

early draft for the new Great Ape Diaries website - portal... coming very soon

Finally, we are very close to launching the Great Ape Diaries website – portal really – where this and the other blogs, along with Photo of the Week, podcasts, videos and everything else we are doing will be accessible to all of you through one easy web portal.  To get there means meetings with Jesse our web guy and site map redesigns, navigation decisions, etc.

Speed Reading Hell

I’m not a fast reader. I never took an Evelyn Wood Speed Reading course when younger. So pouring over research materials is a labour – even if I love it. My one saving grace is memory, I do remember most of what I read. Currently I have a stack of 9 books awaiting completion (I decided to reread all past great ape books over the past 20 years) and a cue of 37 web articles lined up behind those little eye glasses (reading list) on my Safari browser.

Planning It Forward

Finally, if planning Borneo and Sumatra were not enough Rwanda, Uganda, DRCongo, and Cameroon await us as soon as we return from Indo-Malaysia in March. All the same needs for Borneo and Sumatra are there for Africa only the email responses are often slower, logistics are harder to coordinate and number of countries traveling in an out (border crossings) of is double. All that on top of the fact that political unrest seems just around the corner most months.

This is were planning becomes most challenging – your brain is constantly in two places at once. That dual-focus weaves through ever activity, after a while you feel like a gypsy wandering between mild schizophrenia and a person with the attention span of a trout.

And on top of it all I’m back to French lessons an hour a day which I hope will pay dividends during travels in West Africa.


Still, I wouldn’t trade this job for anything in the world :”)

Sounds Like… The Search For Great DSLR Audio

After testing and configuring a number of recording devices and mics we have settled on the following set-up.  The upcoming Borneo/Sumatra trip will be the first full field test so we’ll post more from the field and when we are back in March.  Until then, here are our initial challenges to address:

  • Portability/Low battery drain
  • Universal recording medium (cards)
  • Size – Ability to attach to our cameras in a compact manner
  • Field dependability

That sounds like a pretty simple request.  It is if you are recording in downtown Portland or anywhere you can bolt off and get replacement parts and batteries should any element of the system falter; Not so convenient in the remote rainforests of Borneo and Sumatra.

Zoom H4n recorder, RØDE VideoMic Pro, and Sennheiser ew 112-p G3 wireless mic/receiver

Our GAD field recording system - clockwise from center bottom - Zoom H4n recorder, RØDE VideoMic Pro, and Sennheiser ew 112-p G3 wireless mic/receiver - all have small sealable plastic containers and silica jell (only the Zoom comes shipped with a container.)


This was perhaps the biggest no-brainer. The Zoom H4n recorder is considered state-of -the-art for portable recording. It’s been called the Swiss-Army knife of handheld digital recorders. The H4n uses compact SD or high-capacity SDHC memory cards of up to 32GB. Unlike other media such as tape or discs, SD cards produce no mechanical noise, are not disturbed by vibrations and the cards are available globally.

The Pros:  Intuitive and easy to use. Really convenient to play back the previous recording with the press of a button to make sure you got everything – that ease is critical security when we simply can’t re-record one-off field opportunities. Back-lit LCD screen is invaluable in the tropics. Battery – power save mode (sacrificing a few features) otherwise average (about 4-5 hours?) on 4-AAs. Getting XLR inputs and phantom power – great.

Cons: No belt clip – kinda an “oh duh.” (Perhaps more here after this first rugged extended field test – I will link here to an update at that point.)


Mics were a bit more problematic.  We needed two solutions – one for interviews, a wireless mic, and one for general and ambient sound.

For the interviews we will be starting with the Sennheiser ew 112-p G3. The small wireless unit is pretty much the industry standard – small, portable, wonderfully accurate and “full”-sounding. Belt clips are super secure and allow attaching the transmitter to folks like trackers and anti-poacher who often run through the forest and stress the unit. Threaded mounts for all the cables are great – we only wish all our other mounts were so securely designed.

RØDE VideoMic Pro on Canon 7D

Skye testing RØDE VideoMic Pro atop Canon 7D with 80-200mm f/2.8

The most challenging element was a small shotgun with full-sound and of quality we could rely, we chose the RØDE VideoMic Pro.  The mic is designed as a true DSLR and camcorder mic. A super-cardioid polar pattern ensures that surrounding audio is minimised, and your recording is focused on the subject directly in-front of the camera. Audio is both measurable and subjective – and we found the RØDE gave a “fullness” we weren’t hearing in the sound reproduced by other brands. Size on the RØDE VideoMic Pro was critical as many mics we tested projected too far forward intruding into the field-of-view on our super wide lenses (Canon 8-15mm and Tokina 11-16mm.)


A special thanks to Brenda @Pro Photo Supply for all her help on audio gear.
As mentioned previously – Skye and I will post all our audio thoughts here and links to this posting when we return in mid-March from this initial field work.

Jobs Not Qualified For… But The Web Makes Me Do Them

GAD Making ofI heard a radio story last week that talked about the “self-jobs”, I think they called them.  Those jobs that other people once did and now because of the Wonderful Web World we all get to try to figure out how we have to do them.  I’m sure you could make a list – find a doctor, or a plumber, compare movie or restaurant reviews, and my favorite, play travel agent.

Running a small project production team like Great Ape Diaries requires doing a lot of “self-jobs” – jobs I’m not sure we are qualified for doing, but with a departure deadline to Borneo and Sumatra looming just four weeks away, it comes down to do them or they don’t get done.  The latter is not an option.

So here’s sharing a couple of “self-jobs” hints for success.

For starters, during project development, forget you are an artist or anything related – try thinking like your engineer, CFO or software designer type friends. Heck, even ask them for organizational advice… just don’t let them touch your cameras!  The key is find a way to organize and save things you critically need for planning.  Things like your Web searches and the rental car phone number in Borneo.

  • Learn to save every link of possible value. Bookmarking alone doesn’t do it for me.  What I have found works best is to work with ‘Tabs’ on single subject areas and then save those as “Add Bookmarks for these Tabs”  with a single logical title – like the name of the location, “Gunung Palung NP.”  Be certain to re-save the Tabs as a new Bookmark if you add or change the Tabs.
  • Little reading glasses – in an open Safari (Apple browser) there is a reading glasses icon in the upper left corner.  This is a brilliant little organizer for tracking webpages you want to come back and read/review. It’s amazing how many Safari users are unaware of it. Drag the http icon of the webpage article you are on onto the reading glasses icon and poof, it’s saved.  Click open the reading glasses and find displayed the articles you have saved. Invaluable research tool when you discover articles worth reviewing , but not relevant to the immediate web search you are on (for me that’s always.)

    reading glasses

    Safari 'Reading glasses'

  • Use social networks.  Yes, I said it, the deadly SN.  Mine your networks like blogs, Facebook, Linked in, Google+, etc. Twice in the past week I have been stuck trying to make arrangements in Sumatra and found a contact phone number via my current network on SNs.
  • Test everything the minute it arrives – drop everything and TEST.  This includes new clothing you bought, battery chargers, you name it.  Deadlines and departure dates swoop up on you before you can blink, and then it’s too late to change or costs you too much change to change.
  • When contacts don’t respond CALL THEM.  Skye and I are old school so this is less a problem, but I know someone who had been emailing a lead for weeks without response – finally I suggested he call the person. This will come as a shock – NOT EVERYONE IS ADDICTED TO THEIR EMAIL. Especially in far-flung locales, reliable internet may still be a luxury/miracle.

Okay, more later – I still need to work at getting a better deal on a rental car in Borneo.

Kickstarter Funding Film – planning and storyboarding

Great Ape Diaries Skye Fitzgerald Gerry Ellis

Skye and Gerry going over Kickstarter fundraising video storyboard in between filming segments. Photo courtesy Nick Blackbourn.

Fund-raising is always a challenge – years of independent success by both Skye and me doesn’t make raising funding easier, just more efficient and approachable, and maybe a bit less intimidating.

The bottom line is THERE IS funding out there, even in these reportedly hard financial times. Success at finding funding boils down to these three factors: one-part knowing where to look, one-part having the courage to tell your story (which you first have to know) and ask (more about the Ask in another posting), and one-part talking to people who are interested in your story and have the resources (or connection to) to help.

After a short discussion about previous options that have worked for both of us – grants, private funding, exclusive content access by the media, advances by publishers, and the less attractive – self-financing, street-performing for spare change, begging, petty robbery, etc.  Skye and I decided one direction was to focus on a Kickstarter funding program – that also took advantage of our skill sets as image-makers.

A starting point both of us have learned over the years is planning and storyboarding.  Time invested in each of these pays huge dividends.  That is especially true in the early stages of a project like Great Ape Diaries in which neither of us are getting paid.  That means every minute we spend on GAD now is time we aren’t spending on a currently paying gig.  BTW – neither of us are independently rich. Unfortunately!

Kickstarter planning

So here were the first scribbled planning notes.

1) Planning the video, including story-board, script, shooting and post
2) Build the social media marketing support needed to make a fund-raising effort successful
3) Defining our ‘ask’: our goal, the giving tiers, and the tier rewards


“The Pitch Video” is any Kickstarter campaign’s central identity. It’s been called the “beating and living heart” of a fund-raising effort. It’s the most prominent feature on any Kickstarter campaign page and is the most direct and clearest message deliver vehicle to  potential donors. The Pitch Video also serves as a featured graphic component of promotional links on social media sites like Facebook, our blog posts, and the front page of our GAD website.  As a consequence we anticipate our video we be seen more than any other element we create.

We had worked the basic story-board concept out last week in a planned Kickstarter meeting.  Previously to that meeting we had broken the Kickstarter effort into three key steps – which we will post separate blogs to as we go along:

We storyboarded our film in three segments:

1) set the stage in Gerry’s office and establish his history and credibility,
2) move us (the viewer) between Gerry’s office and Skye’s studio via quintessential Portland transport – the bicycle, and
3) segment 3 of 3 in Skye’s studio, establishing his credibility and body of documentary film-making as well as introducing other members of the team and sponsors and their future expertise and support.

None of the above was set in stone.  Like the GAD project itself, it required flexibility and fluidity.  Perhaps what has made Skye and I most successful working internationally over the years is flexibility. We, with input from invaluable Nick Blackbourn (who had volunteered to shoot still, drive, hold stuff when our hands were full, fetch everything, etc.) made changes on an ongoing basis and as a better idea emerge or planned idea simply wasn’t going to work.

Filming Style and Approach:

“Breaking the Fourth Wall” or speaking directly to or otherwise acknowledging the audience through the camera, and establishing our meta-style method of filming the entire GAD journey – metafilm is a style of film-making which presents the film as a story about film production – which is how we will be filming our entire Great Ape Diaries journey. We call it the ‘paired-approach.’

If you aren’t familiar with BtFW check out Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986) – Ferris Bueller has to be one of the most famous examples of breaking the fourth wall. He does it all through out the film. Right from the very beginning of the film he begins talking directly at the audience giving us pointers as to how to fake out your parents if you want to play hooky. In one scene he is taking a shower and he covers our eyes (the camera) so we don’t see him washing his privates.

Great Ape Diaries Kickstarter video

Gerry showing Nick (far left) the camera angle needed for first encounter between Skye and Gerry after bicycle sequence - where Skye will turn directly addressing the camera - “Breaking the Fourth Wall” or speaking directly to or otherwise acknowledging the audience through the camera. Photo courtesy Lauren Roden.

While GAD isn’t intended to be comedic (at least not all the time) by combining BtFW and a metafilming style we think we can bring the story of great apes alive.  Our goal is not to have people watching GAD, but engaged in journey. Creating a presentation style that is inclusive (of the audience) is critical.  We hope it works – if it doesn’t work perfectly we’ll be flexible and improvise until we make it work – your feedback will be the most critical to making us successful.

Great Ape Diaries Kickstarter video

Flexibility can add to the creativity and can also create production nightmares if new scenes dreamed up on the fly are not thoroughly connected front and back to planned scenes. Skye and Gerry going back over segways or bridges needed between new scenes to make certain they have everything before moving forward. Photo courtesy Nick Blackbourn.

Our Kickstarter fund-raising program will launch in early 2012 – bit of work on the marketing set up to do first.