6 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Take a DSLR Video Workshop

So many photographers think that buying a DSLR capable of shooting video and taking a workshop on how to use it, is all they’ll need to do in order to get into the business of video production.   They couldn’t be more wrong.  It’s kind of like someone buying a really “good” camera, and thinking that’s all they need to be able to shoot a professional photography assignment.  And yet, so many of my professional photographer colleagues continue to think that it’s about the camera, instead of the skill set.

For starters, most of the professional video productions I do,I wouldn’t be able to shoot with a DSLR camera.  Don’t get me wrong, a DSLR can produce stunning video, but those cameras  fall short on certain tasks.  More importantly, they won’t necessarily meet the expectations that many high-end advertising art directors require. red cameraYou’ll look like a fool if you show up with your DSLR kit when they expected a lot more in the way of gear.

I get quite annoyed when I see the proliferation of DSLR video and filmmaking workshops that mislead photographers that this “tool” or camera will be sufficient for any and all video assignments – because it won’t.  It may be fine for a wedding shoot and I even made a feature length film with a DSLR, but for a lot of corporate jobs I shoot – it just doesn’t cut it.

My advice to photographers who want to learn video:

  • Learn how to think and shoot video.  It’s not just about the camera. When I shoot motion, I’m thinking and shooting much differently than I do for stills.
  • Pick the right camera for the job.  That means you’ll have to know how to use a traditional video camera or a more sophisticated camera like a RED or hire someone who does.
  • If you contain your video experience and knowledge to the DSLR, realize that your competition will be fierce.  The buy in price is low – so you won’t be the only one who thinks they can buy a relatively inexpensive camera and go after video jobs.
  • Stay away from DSLR workshops.  They are way too limited and limiting.  Plus, they are based on technology that changes way too fast.  It may be tempting – but you’ll place yourself in the lower end crowd and will most likely be competing on price.  How low are you prepared to go – or can you go and stay in business.
  • Learn video and/or filmmaking the right way.  Don’t make it dependent on a particular camera.  Learn the cinematic language and how to translate the message in a motion medium.
  • The business of video is much different than that of still photography.  If the workshop you are thinking about taking doesn’t address sound business practices – move on. You can lose your shirt on a video production if you don’t know how to price and/or structure your shoots.

Think about it.  If you were just starting out and learning photography – would you take a workshop that was about a particular camera?  Obviously not, so why would you approach learning video that way?

For more information about video production check out Gail’s guide  The Craft and Commerce of Video and Motion


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.

The NON Convergence of Still Photography and Video

Many people, myself included have written about the convergence of stills and video. In fact ever since Vincent LaFloret paved the way, shooting video in a cinematic way with the Canon Eos 5D Mark II, it seems like every still  photographer wants to shoot video with a DSLR . At the same time, high end “video cameras” – not still cameras that also shoot video – but a high end camera like the RED is capable of capturing stunning stills from frame grabs and they aren’t just good enough – they’re great.

I suppose in this sense one could argue that there is not only a convergence of our tools – meaning a camera that is capable of shooting high quality video and still images – but that it also may mean – the end of still photography. I don’t have a crystal ball but if one defines a still image as a “moment in time” then still photography will never go away. If you have a camera that shoots hi res video and can pick and choose the exact frame that fits your still image needs – then we need to realize that this is a convergence of our “tools”  not the the end of creating still imagery.

I love to point out the differences of still photography and video because for me, and many others who shoot both still photographs and video, we think differently when shooting these mediums.

  • A still image is a moment in time.
  • Video is time in motion
  • A still image is one that is meant to linger on – where one can take pause
  • Motion imagery is made up of  a variety of shots and sequences
  • Video provides more information – there’s sound and  movement
  • Still images leave more for viewer interpretation
  • Still images deliver a message visually
  • Video delivers a message utilizing sight and sound

Everyone of these differences requires us to put our minds in a different place. When shooting video, I need to think about what shot will come before and what shot will come after the shot I’m about to shoot. I have to think that way or I won’t have the goods to cut with in the editing room. The message or story gets crafted further in post production with music and interviews and each element plays its part in the feel and arc of the story.

When I’m shooting still images, I must tell the story in that one frame and timing is everything – it’s the “decisive moment”. So, one must ask is it the same – is it even fair – to grab that “moment in time” from a video clip where the camera operator didn’t make a conscious decision when shooting that decisive moment ?

The point is with everyone talking about “convergence” and taking that to mean the demise of still photography – I have to wonder. Is it the end of still photography? Personally, I don’t think so. I think that it merely means a convergence of the tools – not what we create with those tools.

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