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.

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2 thoughts on “Moving Into Motion – What is Your Why?

  1. Mark August 24, 2012 / 8:46 am

    Well put, Gail. I think asking the “why?” before alot of the projects we work on is very important. It’s basically like the thesis statment we had to write when doing papers in high school. If we want to tell stories (either with stills or motion) that reach people, the “why” behind them is of utmost importance. Otherwise, they will be flat, without character. ~ Mark

  2. geribain August 24, 2012 / 9:02 am

    While I work primarily as a news/feature writer for magazines and online publications, I strongly relate to your comments about interview skills. Seeking honest rapport and listening carefully definitely are the way get the deepest story.

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