What Still Photographers Need to Know About Convergence

We should not think in terms of how we can apply the newest tools of the trade to what how we are shooting today, but rather think about how these tools and future versions may be applied to what we will be doing in the years to come.  We also need to remember that it is not just creatives that are determining what we shoot with, how we shoot it and where the imagery will be used, it’s the top executives and money folks from the camera manufacturers, the advertising executives, broadcast networks, movie studios and magazine and newspaper publishers.  They set the stage and the content creators and receivers of the content or the “audience” react.

We as creatives have a choice of what tools to use – everything from an iPhone to a camera like the

English: Canon 5d Mark II set up for cinema st...
English: Canon 5d Mark II set up for cinema style shooting (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

RED, able to produce 5k resolution stills shooting at 96 frames a second at a 200th of a second.  We make our decisions when choosing which tools to use based on a number of factors – affordability  and determining which tool or camera is the best one for a particular job.  Many times, it’s the end use that is the deciding factor. We need to remember that not only our tools are changing, but so is the way the information or content is delivered as we rapidly move away from print to electronic delivery.  Simply put, mobile devices have dramatically changed the way consumers are receiving content and information.

Who could have imagined just a few years ago that a phone could take photographs that weren’t just “good enough” but really good in terms of resolution and delivery?  We need to keep in mind that the limitations of today will most likely not be there in the future.  Technology is changing our lives and our businesses in an exponential way and will continue to do so.  If we are smart and want to stay in business, we need to look forward and imagine what’s next, rather than look at what is or what was.

When I started my still photography business more than 30 years ago, a photographer needed certain technical skills.  We needed to be able to focus a camera and that was tough if you were shooting fast moving action subjects and we needed to know how to get an accurate exposure.  The cameras of today have pretty much eliminated those skills with auto focus and exposure.  Still photographers still need to know how to light but as software becomes more sophisticated will that be a necessary skill set of the future?

When I’m giving a seminar to still photographers who are thinking of moving into motion, I start out by explaining the differences of the two mediums.  Still images are moments in time and video is time in motion.  That explanation sounds simple but it’s quite profound when you think in terms of convergence.  While today’s cameras have pretty much eliminated the skill sets of knowing how to properly focus and expose an image, a photographer or camera operator still has to be able to capture the “decisive moment” – that is where the skill set comes to play.  But is that still true today and will it remain so in the future with motion cameras able to shoot at 96 frames a second at a fast shutter speed with 5K resolution? Why would a client need a photographer to shoot still images when they can pull frames from a motion shoot?  They wouldn’t, especially when most camera operators in the motion sector are working under “work for hire” contracts and they don’t hold the copyright to the footage and/or still images or frame grabs from that footage.  That’s a game changer for the still photography business and licensing of images.

I read an interview once with Vincent LaForet and he was telling a story about having a discussion with a DP at a Red event shortly after the Red One came out.  He asked, “Who in the world would want to shoot a still image with this huge Red camera with a Cine lens?  It’s insane. Why wouldn’t I go out with my 5D Mark II that shoots RAW?”  The DP answered “We want to take your still jobs away from you, just like you want to take our video jobs away from us with your HD SLR’s.”

That was a few years ago.  Now I know a lot of high end still photographers who are shooting with smaller, more affordable and high-resolution motion cameras to shoot still photography jobs and so are DP’s.  That’s convergence and who knows what the future may bring, but one thing is for sure – it’s best to be knowledgeable in both.


Video News

I came across some interesting things this week, so I am passing them along.

One was the much anticipated announcement of the debut of the Scarlet – a new camera from the same company that makes The Red. There have been a lot of rumors about this camera over the past year and it will be rolled out in 2010.  Check out Philip Bloom’s blog about it. And here’s another post on FreshDV with information about the Scarlet.

If you’re a Sony EX-1 shooter, here’s an interesting tip along with a how-to-video on using the Zacuto Z-finder with that camera. This viewfinder was made for the Canon 5d, but Martijn Schroevers found a clever way to attach it to the LCD of the Sony EX-1.

Next up is yet another new video camera format from Sony – NXCAM. The NXCAM can record 1920 x 1080 images at 24Mbps (50i or 25p), as well as supporting 720/50p and Standard Definition recording.
Very interesting but I wish these camera manufacturers would standardize formats and codecs.

I also came across a very interesting company called Wistia. They allow you to share and host your videos but in addition they offer heatmap tracking which gives you a visual spectrum of how your visitors watch your videos and what attracts them or confuses them.

And to give you an idea of how much web video viewing has exploded, here’s an online channel Expotv where consumers send in video product reviews. No fancy production values but an interesting concept of sharing information that has really caught on.

With all those news items I figured it was about time I changed my header – gone is that template blue – replaced by something more relevant to the blogger.

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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.

Utilizing the Tools – Convergence of Video and Photography

Every once in awhile I see a blog or a video that really strikes a chord. Today I saw a video that caught my attention for all the right reasons. It was a video that was produced by a photographer Alexx Henry demonstrating how he used technology in a new way to create a One Sheet, commonly referred to as a movie poster.

He had an idea to make the typically static movie poster, come to life with motion. His ultimate goal was to shoot the movie poster and have it appear like a still photograph in his customary style – but with the surprise of coming alive with motion. He chose as his tool the amazing HD video camera, THE RED. But first he needed to do some testing and to sell the idea to his client. For that he used the hybrid camera, the Canon 5D Mark II. He also needed to use hot lights. Because he was shooting motion, he couldn’t use flash. He chose to use HMI lights to get the same look and feel of the lighting style he brings to his still photographs.

Watch the video – it will give you more insight into his project. I loved his last statement. “A great photographer once told me that if you deliver exactly what a client expects, you aren’t doing your job”. He not only delivered the “surprise” he was looking for, but then some.


Embracing Technology and Why

There’s a lot of talk these days about technology. Should I get a video camera or a hybrid camera? Should I twitter? Should I connect on Linkedin and Facebook? Should I upload videos to YouTube? Perhaps the question most people overlook is asking themselves why? And if they do ask themselves why – what kind of answers do they give themselves?

There is no one answer for everyone. But the worst way to try to answer those questions is to say because everyone else is. However, here are some possible answers to the question why?

Should I buy a video camera or the best video camera like the RED? Ask yourself if you want to target clients who are using more and more video. How are they using video – online? Broadcast? If the answer is online then perhaps the RED camera is a more expensive option than needed for something that will be output for online purposes. If your answer is broadcast then understand that those needs are high end and may require a high end camera. But don’t stop there. Ask yourself if you want to just be a shooter or do you want to play a bigger role in the production. Ask yourself if you are willing to devote the time necessary to learn these new skills of how to shoot motion. Ask yourself what are the markets that you want to work in. If you are leaning towards videojournalism, then perhaps the RED is not the camera for you. You may be better off with something more discreet.

Should I get a Facebook profile? Should I twitter? Should I use Linkedin? I’m a firm believer in utilizing all these platforms but only after you have come to an understanding of how and why. Each one of these platforms has the potential to either create awareness and strengthen your brand or do harm to your brand if you haven’t come to terms with who are you trying to target and why? Furthermore, you need to know that Facebook and Twitter are ways to give insight into your personality as opposed to Linkedin which is more of a professional networking platform. You should also realize that social media is all about sharing. So if your motives are to sell and promote in a direct way – it will be self defeating. Sharing builds trust. Sometimes that takes time. You need to be consistent and you need to be sincere. You need to be authentic. When you share and are sincere and are coming from a “right place”, good things will ultimately come from that.

Lastly, embrace technology because it enables you to go after opportunities. It levels the playing field. No longer do you need Hollywood budgets and big crews to tell a story in motion. No longer do you need the “gate keepers” to write the rules of who gets published and who doesn’t. Anything is possible because technology empowers all of us to fulfill our dreams. But you need to define your dream first. Only you can do that for yourself.

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