6 Ways Video has Made Me a Better Photographer

Lately, I’m finding that I “get the job” because I know how to shoot video. What’s odd is that these are still photography assignments and I was NOT hired to shoot video, but because I knew how to shoot video. What I’ve discovered is that many clients love the “eye” of the “hybrid”.

I’ve been thinking about what is it about the “eye of a hybrid” that clients are finding attractive. Forty Deuce burlesque club, Las Vegas, Nevada In a nutshell, it’s the eye of a master storyteller.  That’s because the medium of video is the perfect medium for telling a story. It encompasses movement, action, pace, rhythm and sound to engage, entice and feel.

I got a call this week for an editorial still photo assignment.  As usual, there was the customary business paperwork, but the client also provided a “shot list”.  I’ve been shooting editorial assignments for over 35 years and have had all kinds of direction. Sometimes, I’m given a writer’s manuscript and I’ve come up with my own shot list and sometimes I’m just told to come up with a variety of images.  But this “shot list” was intriguing because it read more like a shooting script for a video project.  As I read through the list, I could see how the person who had written it – had the “eye of a hybrid”.

Here are some of the suggested shots and “direction” from the list they provided:

(This is how I think and shoot in video. It has made me a better still photographer)

Cover it – Get comprehensive coverage – different perspectives, focal lengths, wide, medium and close-ups.  When I shoot video I will get a variety of angles as well as a variety of focal lengths because I know I will need plenty of b-roll to work with when editing the story together.

Get sequences – Get a variety of mini stories with people interacting. I am accustomed to thinking about how my “shots” will come together as part of the whole video that I’m working on.  Now, I approach a still editorial assignment like this as well. It’s kind of like of a moving pagination of imagery in my head.

Get storytelling images – With still photography I need to make sure those independent shots or moments in time also tell a story and stand on their own.  They can’t just be “wowy zowy” photos as Bob Gilka of the National Geographic used to say when I showed him an eye grabbing and colorful, abstract image.

Action/motion – make the images “feel”.  One that that motivated me to start exploring motion was because I was finding that it was difficult for me to convey the feeling of motion in a still image.  I’m finding that it’s easier for me to convey movement in a still image now because my eye is trained to look for it.

Give the images sound – (like a hammer hammering)Natural sound gives a video the element of reality.  It’s almost like it gives the video a well-needed extra layer or dimension.  When I’m shooting still images, I look for images that will illustrate the “sound” of an environment.

Shoot more – Give me more to choose from.  Again, you can never have enough b-roll when you are shooting video so I have naturally started shooting more on still photography shoots and my clients love having the abundance of choice.


Ten Things Photographers Should do in 2013

Be optimistic – I’m going to start with the hardest one of all, because it’s really difficult to be optimistic these days.  But I find that if I can maintain a positive attitude and turn my thoughts to what is possible, I actually open myself up to more opportunities in my life, instead of creating more roadblocks.

Be open to possibilities. – Be more flexible in how you perceive things and who you are. 500x_housecanon copyChange is always happening, but it’s usually gradual.  Most people don’t take notice until “change” forces their hand to act.  It’s always better to be proactive than reactive so embrace “change” as an ever-present fact of life that creates opportunities for those who are open to seeing them.

Collaborate – Photographers are very independent creatures and collaboration is not part of their norm. As the “photography” business continues to change, photographers will find that collaborating with other artists will make their own businesses stronger.

Diversify – I’m not quite so sure why so many photographers are so rigid in how they define who they are and what they do.  Having a “style” is great, but the trick is to not to be so narrowly defined by that style, so that when styles change, you don’t find yourself obsolete by your own design. It’s kind of like being type cast, where your audience or your clients can only see you in one way.

Concentrate more on “the story”– I had the opportunity to speak with a lot of still photographers and filmmakers this past year and I began to notice a difference in the conversations I was having with each.  Most times, filmmakers would be telling me a story, whereas still photographers would be telling me how they executed a photograph, or essentially telling me the “back story” of the creation of the image. It’s all interesting but “the story” is the bottom line – if that doesn’t come through to the viewer – the rest doesn’t matter – including how it was executed.

Be authentic – be true to yourself.  That means that you have to trust your gut instead of second guessing it.  This is hard, especially when things don’t always work out the way you had hoped.  Step away from the “noise” and listen to the voice inside.

Fail more. – Rejection is a tough pill to swallow but it usually means that you are either pushing yourself to try new things, you are too far ahead of your time or it just wasn’t meant to be.  If you look at successful people you’ll see that most have had failures and rejections in their lives but they stuck with it – instead of letting failure defeat them.

Self-Initiate more projects. – I don’t like to call non-commissioned work, “personal projects”. That co notates that there is no monetary value and these days, just the opposite could be true.  With more and more lopsided contracts  being presented to photographers for commissioned work, a photographer has a better chance to make more money and keep ownership of their work by creating self-initiated projects.  But they need to be prepared to work hard.

Forget about the past except to learn from mistakes. – You can’t change the past but you can learn from it and then, move on.  Look toward the future but make sure you take time to enjoy the “now”.

Realize that in the scheme of things, you are just one small speck in the universe. – I think we all get way too stressed about things that really don’t matter and we let those things control our life.  When we become more conscious of that, we really begin to live life.

Moving Into Motion – What is Your Why?

Over the last couple of years, in addition to maintaining my video production company and making a feature film, I have been teaching seminars and consulting still photographers who are thinking of getting into “motion”.  Many times I start out by asking participants why they want to get into motion.  The most common answer I get is “because it seems like that is where everyone is headed”.  That is perhaps the worst answer and reason a photographer – or anyone else, can give.

I suppose I could just do a show and tell and demonstrate the cool gear I have and how to use it, and I do talk about gear, but I would be remiss if I didn’t stress the “why” question.  Video is a medium that is all about story telling.  While a still photograph can also tell a story, video, by it’s very nature of incorporating visuals and sound, has the power to deliver a message or story in a very emotional way.  This is why many non-profits use video in their fund raising efforts – they have found that when they deliver their message with video – people give more money.

I got a call recently from someone who had just lost a close relative and they wanted their personal affects photographed.  My first question of course was why.  The obvious answer would be that they wanted these “things” archived.  But what they really wanted or the why in this case was that, these items evoked memories and memories are attached to feelings and it is those feelings that people want to archive when someone close to them dies. So, I felt my job was to capture and preserve those feelings for the ones who are left behind.  I knew if I didn’t approach the job like that, I would end up with images of just “things” and that would be more like a catalog of objects.

I was trying to unravel the “why” because that is what I’m best at.  My cameras and other tools of my trade – don’t do that for me – my heart and mind play a major role in that process and I believe that many times, this is what sets me apart from my competition. Photographers who don’t question the why, end up with images or video that may be beautifully executed but don’t emote or tell the story in a meaningful way.

I thought that perhaps the best way to approach this “job” would be to add a voice to it.  Even though the deceased can’t tell their story – their family and friends – can.  I also knew that I didn’t want to confuse the issue with video interviews because it could be a distraction, rather than add to the overall piece.  The decision was made to approach the job as a multimedia piece, using still images and sound recordings from relatives.

Interviewing is an art and it’s also something that can either make a piece strong – or end up as a disaster.  Like a bad script, an interview can either strengthen a piece or just as easily, weaken it.  It really is dependent on the person who is doing the interview. When done well, interviews will bring a unique voice and point of view to a project and that cannot be copied.  For example, I could do an interview with someone and hit all the right marks that I’m going for, as far as tone, emotion and connection.  I could give someone else the same list of questions and ask them to interview the same subject and they would get entirely different results.  It all comes down to rapport and that is not a one size fits all type of thing. Interviewing skills are difficult to teach, because invariably people want more of a black and white list of do’s and don’ts of the process. A great interview is really about having a good conversation with someone – but you leave your part out of the piece, when you edit it.  It’s comes down to good listening skills and rapport.  Sounds easy, but people either have these skills or they don’t.

I’ve thought about this a lot over the years that I’ve been shooting video and I always start with the “why”.  Why is it that I am really good at interviewing my subjects?  I can’t really pinpoint the reason(s), other than to say that I’m really interested in what people are telling me – and they sense that.  That’s just me and it always has been.

I became a photographer because of my insatiable curiosity in peoples’ stories – not because I was interested in photography.  My camera is a means to that end, whether it is a video camera, a still camera or a camera that is capable of shooting both.  I always start with the “why” and pick the camera and medium that best answers that question.

I am currently working on my 3rd ePub.  It is about the business of motion/video with lots of great tips and advice that will help you stay in business as you cross over into other mediums.  Stay tuned and in the meantime – start defining your “why”. Check out Simon Sinek’s TED talk – it will inspire.

How Shooting Video Can Make You a Better Still Photographer

So, many people identify me with video, they tend to forget, that I still create still photos and have had a l-o-n-g career in making them.  I’ve been shooting still images for over 30 years for magazines, corporate clients and advertising, as well as just shooting for the pure joy of doing it – without the need for an assignment or validation from anyone else.

Because so many people seem to assume that I abandoned my still photography when I started to shoot motion, I was surprised and delighted to get a note from a colleague when they spotted a still photograph that I had recently shot in New Zealand.

“Gail, I often hear your voice when I see your still images.  I can’t quite articulate what I mean by that, other than to say that when I look at many of your images, I hear your laugh and feel your smile and warmth come through”. 

He then wrote: “You photo reminded me of the following quote”:

“This is a hard world to be ludicrous in, with so many human beings so reluctant to laugh, so incapable of thought, so eager to believe and snarl and hate.

Kurt Vonnegut

“Thank you Gail for giving us a glimpse of joy and laughter”

I was quite touched by his note and it got me thinking about how my exploration into shooting motion may have played a big part in how I now approach shooting my still images.

 Here are a couple of things that I’ve identified:

  • Video has made me a better visual storyteller – That’s because the medium of video is all about storytelling and no other medium does it so well.  It’s made me think about how I will “tell the story” in one still image that is captured as a moment in time.  A good still image should not have to rely on a caption – to tell the story.
  • Video has made me think in sequences, with a beginning, middle and end –, This has been a huge boost when I’m creating a pagination of stills.  I think beyond the one image, and what will come before as well as after it, on the printed page. I plan and shoot images with that in mind, thinking not just about the parts of the story, but the whole as well.
  • My still images now have a voice – For me one of the most frustrating, yet fulfilling dimensions of video is sound.  Still images on their own, obviously don’t have audio, but they can have a voice.  When I’m shooting stills, I want the viewer to “hear” them as well as to “see” them.
  • When I’m shooting video I’m using all manual settings – I’m not on auto-pilot. This makes me think more about the desired look I want to achieve in the final image.
  • My still images have become more personal – more authentic. – Now, maybe video didn’t play a direct role in this, but it has pushed me into new territory. When that happens, habits get broken and make way for new possibilities.  In a way, it’s like a new start – a new beginning and that is always an exciting place to be, creatively. It has opened up my eyes to see things differently.

Perhaps most importantly, shooting video has reinforced the notion that my creativity, whether it be motion or stills, has nothing to do with the particular camera that’s in my hands.  The camera is just the facilitator for the stories and images that play out in my head.

At the end of the day – I am a photographer.

What Really is the Future of Photography?

Luis Javier Rodriguez Lopez, done for wikipedi...
Luis Javier Rodriguez Lopez, done for wikipedia, might be found at my webpage in a future; http://www.coroflot.com/yupi666 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

No one has a crystal ball so it’s really anybody’s guess as far as what the future of anything is.  Anyone who tells you otherwise is simply a bull shitter and they probably have a bridge to sell you as well.

Does anything ever stay the same?  One quick glimpse into history will verify that nothing stays the same.  But sometimes, it difficult to “see” changes because for the most part, they happen slowly.

I’m of the mind that still photography is and always has been just one way to communicate.  Images have the power to grab our attention and linger in our minds.  If I were to ask you to think of 5 still images and to tell me what they are in just 1 minute – which images come into your mind – and why? Do they give you a reference of what what happening in your life, like a song does?  Or are they disconnected bits of pixels?

Quite honestly, I’m bored with this subject of predicting the future and I’m beyond bored with talking about gear.  Gear has nothing to do with communication.  If it did, we could take the human being out of the equation.  Is that going to be the future?  Cameras everywhere, clicking away, recording  what’s transpiring?

I used to say that video and motion was where things were heading.  But I’m questioning that answer now.  I see so many videos that don’t communicate anything, some just visual eye candy moving across the screen or the device du jour.  But then there are a few long and short videos that suck me in and take me to another place – in body and mind. I see still images that affect me the same way, as well as good films. I think all of us can recite memorable lines and scenes of movies we’ve seen.  They stay with us because they’ve hit a nerve or touched our hearts. They’ve told a story – they’ve moved us in some way.  As a visual communicator that’s what a filmmaker is supposed to do.

I am a visual person.  I like to write but I don’t think like a novelist, I think like a screenplay writer.  Don’t misunderstand me, I would never even come close to calling myself a screenplay writer, but I do recognize that is how my mind works. I think cinematically – I think I always have.

For me, the only thing I would predict as far as the future is concerned is that we all seem to be moving to a more visual world in terms of how we communicate.  Will the written word lose importance in the future?.  I don’t think so, anymore than I think that talking with one another will disappear, although there I some days I wonder when I see groups of people in a bar and everyone is looking at their phones instead of talking to one another.  Songwriters will still give verse to music.  That is as old as man has been around.  Technology has changed the way a musician “makes” his music and has certainly how it is distributed.  What hasn’t changed is the emotion and thought behind a good song.

My future will surely be visual and I will use whatever tool best communicates the stories that are within me to tell.  Other than that, I have no idea what is in our future and that is one of the greatest joys in life – to wonder and dream about what’s to come.

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