Convergence – Defining Yourself By Your Vision – Not Your Tool

It’s 4AM as I write this entry.  I can’t sleep.  That often happens when my mind is in overdrive as it has been all week – over stimulated by the process of editing video. I’ve also spent a lot of time this past week speaking with quite a few photographers who are working in both the still photography and video mediums.  Some shooters I spoke with got into video because the entry level became cheaper when hybrid cameras that shoot both stills and video came on the market.  Other people I talked to weren’t “camera operators” at all – they were DP’s or Directors of Photography on high-end commercial broadcast productions.

One question I asked these shooters was “What do you call yourself these days?” Personally I’m struggling with that question myself.  Am I a  photographer?, a videographer? (I hate that term), a DP?, a media producer?  Who am I ?  What do I call myself? I have yet to answer that question for myself, but the answers that I got from everyone I spoke with, ran the gamut, encompassing all the titles above.  As I replayed these conversations in my head, I realized that for me the problem was I was trying to define myself by my tool.  And that just doesn’t work.

The problem is if we define ours by our tools – then we are diminishing the value of our creativity or our visionboy_viewer in the process.  We aren’t placing the value on what is unique in all of us – our vision. At the same time we’re placing too much value on the tool – in this case the camera.  As technology accelerates the production of more sophisticated cameras that are cheaper and easier to use – and we’ve placed our value on being the technician – we’re in big trouble.  Because ultimately anyone with a vision who has the “ability” to realize that vision, can put together a crew of technicians to facilitate their vision or idea – and do it cheaper these days because of technology.  And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Professional photographers get defensive when a potential client places no value on what is unique about them (their vision) and approaches them with the attitude that if you won’t work for the prices they dictate – they will just find another photographer.  But what they are really saying is that they feel that they can “just” find another camera operator. The problem is that these photographers haven’t presented their vision and because of that they are perceived as being interchangeable. That’s not a good place to be and never will be.  And for that reason when a professional still photographer comes to me and says that they are interested in getting into video and asks the question “What video camera should I buy?” I gently tell them – well sometimes not so gently tell them – it’s not about the camera.

How does one define what they are?  Great question that has a lot of answers, as it should.  Technology is amazing – but it’s the human part of the process that excites me because we’re all so different in how we see.


Are You a DP or a Hybrid? – What’s the Difference?

I’m searching for “the word” the “title” of what I am these days.  I’m a photographer.  I also shoot video but I hate the word “videographer” because it sounds a bit cheap to me or at least dated. I generally think to myself that I’m a “visionographer” but I tend to “title” myself as a “media producer”. With all the talk recently about getting into video, I feel the need to make a distinction between being a shooter or a DP as opposed to a producer.

There is nothing new about still photographers moving forward in their careers and segwaying into commercial motion work.  Traditionally they take on the role of the DP (Director of Photography).  Many times they don’t man the camera but direct the shooter instead.  Generally speaking they work in large crews and with agencies.  The biggest distinction is that most times it’s a “work for hire” situation because the production company owns the finished product.

With the explosion of video and in particular web video, come new buyers for this medium.  Buyers from the corporate world as well as institutions and even ad agencies that may have been historically just “print”.  With the advancement of technology and being able to deliver a high end product because of it – leaner and meaner small production companies have come along.  When you have a shooter using the RED and able to deliver not only the motion part of the job but able to pull stills from the shoot, once again still photographers feel threatened.

When I got started in video, I made a conscious decision to take on the producer’s role.  I could choose to shoot or edit or I could delegate these roles to outside contractors.  I could also form partnerships that were fluid as the needs may be.  But more importantly, I maintained ownership of the final product – which was what I was used to coming from my still photographer background.

Still photographers are essentially producers anyway so it’s not such a mental leap.  So when your client comes to you and asks you if you shoot video (and you don’t) think before you answer that with a NO answer.  It may be better to form some partnerships with people who do and not only keep the money in house – but not send your client off to someone who does.

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