Five Ways Shooting Motion Will Make You a Better Still Photographer

I’ve been shooting both mediums – video and still photographs – for over a decade. Some may say that I was an early adaptor of motionForty Deuce burlesque club, Las Vegas, Nevada, but that’s now how I look at it. In a way, I’ve been a motion shooter ever since I became a still photographer – not in the literal sense – but in how I approach the craft of photography.

I’m a storyteller; in fact that’s why I made photography a huge part of my life. I want to utilize my craft to tell the stories that I feel compelled to tell. I think in terms of paginations, like pages in a magazine or scenes in a film and I realize now that I have always approached still photography like a cinematographer.

Here are some tips I learned from shooting motion that will make you a better still photographer:

  • Cover it – Get comprehensive coverage – a variety of perspectives, focal lengths (wide, medium, tight and close-ups.) When shooting video, you always need plenty of b-roll to work with when editing a story. My still photography clients enjoy getting the variations that I shoot. It gives them an abundance of choice and I benefit by making more money.
  • Get sequences – Get mini stories of people interacting within the whole story. When I’m shooting, I think about how my shots will come together as part of the whole video. I approach still photography stories the same way – in paginations. How will I connect the still images to make the whole?
  • Get storytelling images – With still photography I need to make sure that my independent shots (or moments in time) will also be able to stand on their own and tell the story. They can’t just be “wowy zowy” images as Bob Gilka (former Director of Photography of the National Geographic) used to say when I showed him eye catching, colorful photos that didn’t say anything.
  • Action/motion – make the images feel. I started exploring motion because there were times when I found it difficult to convey the feeling of motion that I was trying to express in a still image. I find it is easier to convey the feeling of movement in a still image now because my eye is trained to look for the opportunities.
  • 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 stills, I look for images that will illustrate the sound of the environment.

I usually incorporate both video and still components when working on personal projects. For my current project, Like A Woman, I’m shooting still environmental portraits and short 2-4 min. films. And when I travel, I’ll always take a digital audio recorder and microphone to capture good sound.

I’m headed to Vietnam tomorrow to shoot stills primarily, but I’ll be shooting with the eye of a hybrid.

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Business Tips for Photographers Who (Also) Shoot Video

In the blogging world of photography and motion, there is a lot written about gear and how to use it, but precious little written about “the business”.  Chances are, if you are a photographer who has been in business for more than 10 years, then you know that technology has not only changed our tools, it has changed the way we do business.Professional high definition video camera, isolated on white background

For starters, we are doing business in a global economy, and with that comes pluses and minuses. One big plus is that we are able to reach a much wider audience, than ever before. That is, if you have an understanding of how to do that and take advantage of the opportunities that are out there.  The minus or downside is, if we don’t adapt our dated business models, in a business that has seen monumental changes, we will not be able to compete.

Commercial photographers are in the visual communications business.  We create imagery that delivers a message or tells a story for a variety of “markets” including; advertising, corporate, architectural and editorial.  Each market has a need for visual content and these days that encompasses both still photography and video.  In the last couple of years, the lines dividing these two mediums have faded away, at least in terms of how content is consumed in our culture.

Here are a couple of tips to help photographers prosper in our “multi-media” world:

  • Decide what your company will offer.  Will you only provide still imagery?  Or will you expand your business and offer both still photography and video? Are you quick to answer: “I don’t want anything to do with video”? The problem with that answer is that most of your clients will probably have a need for video.  Are you going to send them away to your competition?  Or will you keep your clients “in house” and take care of their video needs and hire or outsource your competition? That’s a different way of thinking and has the potential to broaden your revenue stream.
  • Decide what role you will play if your company does offer video?  Will you be the director and work with a camera operator?  Or will you assume the role of a DP (Director of Photography) and direct as well as operate the camera?
  • What will you outsource and what will you keep in house?  Maybe you want to expand your business by offering both still photography and motion, but you’d prefer to just shoot the still photography and outsource the video.  In that case, you could assume the role of producer and oversee or outsource the video production.
  • Reassess your insurance.  Video productions have a lot more variables. They also usually have larger crews.  More than likely, you will need to upgrade your current insurance policy to accommodate and cover that.
  • Change your paperwork.  Make sure that you go through your talent and property releases and modify the language for multi-media.  Change any boilerplate contract language to include video (motion).
  • Licensing.  Regardless, if you decide not to expand into video production, you will have to contend with the fact that your still images won’t always be used in a stand-alone fashion.  Many still images will be commissioned and/or licensed as part of multi-media projects and that has a dramatic effect on licensing. And if you do decide to expand into video production, in your role as a producer, you will be licensing other people’s work.
  • Understand new business models.  Let’s face it, things have changed in the business of photography.  Photography has become ubiquitous and the competition is fierce.  You are not only competing with professional photographers – you’re competing with semi-pros, amateurs AND video production companies.  One thing is certain, it’s never been more important to have an understanding of multiple mediums and to be unique and stand out amongst the noise. There are no templates you should follow.  You have to be authentic and true to yourself.

Check out more tips and information in my ePub, The Craft and Commerce of Video and Motion.

 

What’s Next for Still Photography? Things We Could Never Begin to Imagine.

Journeys of a Hybrid

One of the only good things about getting older is that I have gained a lot of perspective. Fortune teller through window, Atlantic City, NJ I never speculate what the future will hold by limiting it to what’s possible now because…..

When I began studying photography at Brooks Institute in the early 1970’s

I never would have imagined:

  • That I would own a personal computer that would change the way I communicated with people and ran my business.
  • There would be the Internet, email and mobile phones.
  • There would be auto-focus cameras and lenses.
  • Cameras would be fully automated – if you so choose to use them that way. When I began my career as a photographer, I needed to be a technician, and that meant understanding aperture and shutter speed and a lot of other things that went into making a still image.
  • I would be shooting still images without film.
  • I wouldn’t be limited to…

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10 Mistakes Photographers Make When Shooting Motion

1.  They forget about the story – it’s not your camera that tells the story – it’s the person using the camera. Pretty visuals, slapped into a motion timeline with music, doesn’t necessarily tell a story.  Video is a story telling medium – don’t forget that.

2.  They think they already know how to shoot – if you think because you are a professional photographer and all you need to do is get a camera with a “video mode” on it, you are mistaken. Shooting in motion is far different than shooting still images. An experienced motion shooter can spot a video shot by a still photographer with little know how, right away.

3.  Thinking audio isn’t important – audio is more important than the visual when producing video.  Hire a sound person to do it right, but don’t discount it.

4.  Thinking the DSLRcamera is all you need for video productions – this is a biggie.  How are you going to go after professional video jobs if this is the only tool in your kit?  Sure you can rent a RED – but make sure you are as proficient with this tool as your competition is before hanging out your “motion” shingle.

5.  Positioning themselves just as DP’s or Directors and thinking you’ll maintain ownership of your work. If you assume the role of a camera operator, DP or even a director – you will be in a work for hire position in most markets.  Position yourself as a producer – shoot if you want to – and direct – but realize that you’ll be just one rung on the “content ladder”.

6.  They don’t learn interview skills – this is what separates the pros from the still shooters who have DSLR cameras and think that’s all they need.  I’d say about  70% of my work includes on camera interviews.  Even though I ask the questions- I’m not on camera, my subject is.   I not only need to know how to ask the right questions and get great audio, but I need to produce a usable interview clip for an editor. That means knowing how to get great soundbites. This is one area I excel in – it’s all about rapport with your subject.

7.  They try to compete in “old business model” markets – Everyone wants to shoot broadcast spots and feature films (or short films) so they think that after shooting motion for only a few months – or even a year – they will be able to compete in the high end business of video production.  First, this market, like the still photography market,  has changed drastically, mostly marginalized by still photographers who are just starting to shoot motion,  shooting jobs for next to nothing because they have no understanding of this “business”.

8.  Learning the “how to’s” in terms of gear – but nothing about the business – this is also a biggie.  There are so many “how to shoot motion” workshops and roadshows out there but no one seems to be teaching the business end of things.  Still photographers think they already know “the business” but quickly realize that they don’t, and they put themselves out of business in this medium – before they’ve barely started.

9.  Teaching “how to” workshops in video with little or no experience – I can’t tell you how many photographers have called me for technical advice about some pretty basic stuff in terms of video,  and four months later they are teaching workshops. Please don’t become part of the problem and send more shooters out into this field without teaching them something about business. And if you are considering taking a workshop – do your homework and take the workshop from someone who is accomplished in this field and has done something.

10. They forget about the story – I know that’s #1 but it needs reinforcing.

 

The Value of Photography – (a reminder)

I wrote this blog in the fall of October 2013, after the Chicago Sun Times fired its entire staff of photographers.  Yesterday, the Sun Times laid off its video staff.  I thought that it would be a good time to repost this blog,  about the value of what a professional photographer brings to photography and to our lives.

The who’s who of photography gathered last night, at Carnegie Hall to honor the “masters” of their trade at the Lucie Awards. The Lucies are like the Oscars of the “photographic industry”.

2013 Lucie Awards, Carnegie Hall ©Thomas Kelly
2013 Lucie Awards, Carnegie Hall
©Thomas Kelly

I had been asked to step in to present the “2013 Deeper Perspective Photographer of the Year Award”. on behalf of the ASMP when Executive Director, Gene Mopsik and President, Ed McDonald couldn’t attend.

I don’t usually get nervous about things like this, but I was last night. As I stood in the wings with photographer John H. White, who was waiting to go on stage to accept his Lucie, for Achievement in Photojournalism, I was mesmerized as I watched John.  He seemed to glow and I felt his grace, his humility and his gratitude.  It was a moment in my life that will stay with me forever.  It was calming. I watched and listened to his acceptance speech on the monitor backstage, and I was deeply touched.  So was the audience, as evidenced in their standing ovation.

John H. White is not a “rock star” type of photographer.  His images don’t “shock and awe”, not in the way a war photographer’s images do. John’s photographs capture the subtle moments of the human experience.  His legacy of images show us life as it really is.

This past spring, after 35 years with the Chicago Sun Times, John and the rest of the newspaper’s photographic staff were fired.  It was a huge blow to the photographic community, magnified by the fact that even John H. White, the “chairman” was “let go”, without even as much as a thank you. John wasn’t bitter about it though.  Michelle Agins wrote a wonderful article for the New York Times where she quoted John: “A job’s not a job because of labor law,” he said. “It’s just something you love. It’s something you do because it gives you a mission, a life, a purpose, and you do it for the service of others.”

All he had wanted to hear from the executives who let him go was two words that never came: thank you. But even then, he did not respond with anger.

John spoke more about the Sun Times’ firings in an interview with NPR where he said: “I will not curse the darkness. I will light candles. I will live by my three “F” words: faith, focus and flight. I’ll be faithful to life, my purpose in life, my assignment from life. Stay focused on what’s really important, what counts.” He repeated those three “F” words last night as he accepted his award.  The audience was humbled.  John had shed his light.

I have been thinking a lot lately, about the value of photography and the value that a professional brings to this craft.  John H. White and his archive of work is a stellar example.  His images, capturing the subtleties of life stand out amongst the noise.  They make us take notice of what is often over looked – the quieter moments of life.

As far as what a professional photographer brings to the world, I think John stated it best: “Every day, a baby is born. Every day, someone dies. Every single day. And we capture everything in between. You think of this thing called life and how it’s preserved. It’s preserved through vision, through photographs.”

As John walked off the stage and back into the wings, I felt enveloped by his glow that had seemed to magnify.  I caught his eye for a moment and said “thank you”. He nodded, and flashed his wonderful smile and in that moment, we connected and shared our understanding, of the “value” of photography.

What Every Photographer Needs to Know About Video?

Video is not a business model – it’s a medium – a medium that is well suited for storytelling and that’s in vogue right now for branding. Consumers today want to know more about a brand before they “buy into” it. 2014 NAB ShowWhen choosing a company’s product or a service, they want to know more about the company. They want to know the company’s story. They also have a limited attention span and want to be entertained. Video is in high demand right now and if you can fulfill your clients video needs, it can be good for your business. It all depends on how you position yourself in the marketplace.

In September, I attended the Next Video Conference and Expo in Pasadena, CA. One session, Make Content That Resonates and Multi-Purpose, given by Max Kaiser, Founder/Director of Hand Crank Films, really opened my eyes, to not only seeing how still photographers should be positioning themselves in today’s marketplace, but what they need to know about their competition. Max up sells his clients by listening to their needs and creating visual solutions to get their message out in a variety of different ways. A client may come to him and ask for a proposal to create a web video for a company’s website. Max shows the client how they can multi-purpose the content he creates for them for; YouTube pre-roll ads, sales meeting videos, TV spots, emails, social media platforms AND still images pulled from frame grabs. Max explained that because he shoots 6K, he is able to fulfill more of a client’s needs as well as put more money in his pocket.

A still photographer’s competition is not only other still photographers, but video production companies that are fulfilling more of a client’s communication needs. If you’re a photographer working in certain genres or markets like editorial, corporate or fashion you will need to provide mixed media solutions. There’s no reason a still photographer can’t provide mixed media for their clients, but they need to scale-up their way of thinking about their business and the role they play and become more of a visual assets producer, as fellow member and colleague Jan Klier calls himself.

Some things to keep in mind:

Greater demand – for mixed, integrated media. Video is not new. What’s new is that it is easier, faster and cheaper to distribute, stream and watch motion content online – anytime – anywhere. We are using our phones more and more as our go to place for news, shopping and even entertainment. Keep that in mind when you position your business and how your brand and products that you create,  fit into today’s communication channels.

Create from your own point of view and identify “the market” – Find a need and fill it – in your style. Market yourself to potential clients by listening to what their needs are and telling them how you can help them. Many times a client has a hard time articulating what they need in creative terms. That’s your job, translating how you can help them sell their brand in a creative way.

Make content that resonates and multi-purpose it. Video + Stills + Sound = Story telling messaging. Content should be well planned, scripted with high production values and should feel authentic. Up sell a client by explaining that they will get more – not just more footage or better quality footage – but more mileage out of it. That demonstrates value to a client by fulfilling more of their needs. When you demonstrate value – you can charge more and you keep the money in house (your house) It’s a win/win.

What Changed in Professional Photography and Why I’m Grateful

In a word – digital. The digital revolution has been a game changer, and not just for professional photographers, but just about anyone and everyone who has been in the “workforce” for more than 10 years.

When a “change” is so profound that it creates a cultural shift, as digital has in the way we do business and communicate with one another, we can’t ignore it. It’s pretty tough to be, as Joe Walsh says “I’m an analog man in a digital world”. It may seem like the “digital revolution” happened over night, but in fact it started many decades ago. Technology’s pace has risen exponentially over the last decade and will continue to escalate, thrusting change upon us. I think what we are experiencing now, is merely the tip of the iceberg.

Tom and I have been spending time recently “purging” ourselves of all the things we’ve accumulated over the last 3 + decades that we really don’t need any longer. One of our biggest tasks has been to cull through hundreds of thousands of analog images – from 35mm “chromes” to 4×5 transparences as well as B&W and color negatives. It’s a daunting task and it’s super easy to get sidetracked down memory lane. But, we are steadily making progress sifting through the analog archives – digitizing anything worthy – Old transparenciesand tossing the rest.

When we first began our careers in still photography, we used to toss our assignment rejects (chromes) into big wire trash bins, like the ones you’d see on NYC sidewalks. Back then, photographers had to pretty much “nail” their exposures or the images got thrown away. Those were the days before auto focus cameras and many images also got tossed because they were out of focus. These bins filled up a long time ago, but for whatever reason we held onto them. So, now we are asking ourselves – should we take a 2nd look or just haul the bins of images out to the trash?

No doubt, we’ll just trash the images, but we did take a look at a few of them and I could see in an instant how our profession has changed for good. The technological skills that a professional photographer needed to learn and master just 10-15 years ago, have been replaced by highly advanced gear and software, making just about anyone able to shoot a reasonably good image, and call themselves a photographer. And whether we like it or not – that’s our competition.

In looking back, I realized that the single one thing that has kept me in business all these years, is that I never put technology first. Rather, I always focused on the “idea”. Nowadays, people call it “vision”, but regardless, the idea always came first and then figure out how to use technology to execute it. Funny thing is a lot of my ideas were ahead of the times, in terms of the possibility of making them happen – but that has changed. It seems like anything is possible now. I am grateful for the perspective I’ve gained over the many years that I’ve been in this business. One thing is for certain, change is a constant and I look forward to a future where I can make more of my ideas and dreams come true.