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.

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