Pioneering in Video

I’ve been in China for the past two weeks, teaching video journalism to some of the best photojournalists in China.  Last night at dinner, the top director of the program told me (via my interpreter) that Xinhua, China’s biggest news agency, was setting up their multimedia department to stay current with how news is communicated in this day and age.  She thanked me for teaching and inspiring her journalists in this medium and said that I was an honorable “pioneer”.

I never set out to be a pioneer when I first started shooting video and motion in the mid ‘90’s – I merely recognized that when the “tools” of this medium became affordable, it was now possible for me to tell my stories in another dynamic way.  But I never turned my back on still photography and I would say that it still makes up about 50% of my business – at least in the time that I devote to it.  I would also say that while I spend 50% of my time split between both mediums – I make more than 75% of my income from shooting motion – capitalizing on not just making income from shooting video but also on the other elements like editing.

I started thinking about the aspect of being a pioneer and the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I wasn’t trying to set new ground at all – I was really just challenging myself and more importantly staying true to why I became a photographer and that was to communicate.

I’ve given a lot of workshops to still photographers who want to move into video.  Generally there are two types of photographers – the ones who think that because they have been “shooting” for many years, they “just” need to understand a new mode on their cameras and the ones who embrace the fact that this is an entirely different medium and they understand that they are novices, and are eager to learn how to communicate in a different way.  It’s usually the cocky photographers that fail miserably and end up with a string of unconnected “moments in time” to a music track.

Ever since the first DSLR that incorporated a video mode hit the scene, I’ve seen more and more still shooters, move into motion.  After only a couple of months, I even see some of them teaching workshops.  It amazes me, because many times some of these same shooters have been hypercritical of “amateurs” coming into their profession with their auto everything “point and shoot” cameras.  I’ve had some shooters tell me that they aren’t going into motion, because they think that when these tools  become easier to use and more automated – the same thing that has happened to the profession of still photography will happen in video.  I disagree with this notion but more importantly I think that this attitude is usually a mechanism people use to talk themselves out of challenging themselves and are reluctant to “change. ” Just like when still photography moved from film to digital – the ones who got left behind were usually the ones who tried to convince themselves that digital would never be as good as film.

I cannot take credit for being a pioneer in video.  There are many who came before me that were true pioneers and I feel that would discredit them and their efforts.  I’m simply a storyteller and I’m happy that I’m still passionate enough about telling the story that I continue to find the best way to tell the stories that I am meant to tell.

Thanks to the gracious people in China and the Xinhua News Agency for recognizing and embracing the future and being keen to learn.  Perhaps many of these students will not shoot multimedia – but learning how to shoot in motion has made me a better still photographer and will make them better shooters as well.

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