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

Photographers – Grow or Die

I’ve been a professional photographer for over 35 years.  While some may look at that sentence and think I must surely be “over the hill” – others may look at that and say “wow, she must have been doing something right, to stay in business that long”. I suppose, it all depends on the outlook of the person.

Personally, I truly believe that the secret to longevity in any career field is to be open-minded as to how they define themselves.  One thing I have never done is define myself by the tools I use. Just because one has expensive camera gear, it doesn’t make them a “professional photographer”.  If that was the case, then who are you if you have a camera that happens to shoot both still images and video?

I’m really amazed when photographers define themselves by the tools of their trade.  I think with the way things are going in terms of how technology continues to affect our industry, if a photographer defines him/herself in such narrow terms – it’s the kiss of death.

When technology enabled me to explore video production without having to make a prohibitively investment in expensive “tools”, the creative part of me wanted to take full advantage of those new opportunities that were coming my way.  After all, I’m a storyteller and I shouldn’t have to limit myself to one medium, but rather choose the

Category:Wikipedia requested photographs of ph...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

right  tool (camera)  to use that best tells the story that I need to tell.  Sometimes that means delivering the message in video and sometimes the story is better told with still images.

Because I was an early adaptor of video (at least from a still photographer’s point of view), many of my peers equate me with just shooting video.  Many assume I’ve abandoned still photography, which couldn’t be further from the truth.  The real truth is, my clients see me as an imaging professional, who is able to deliver their message with the medium(s) that is best suited for the job.  These days with print publication giving way to electronic delivery, clients are delighted that I am able to fulfill their needs because I am proficient in both video and stills and most times they need both.

My curiosity for exploring a variety of mediums and tools has not only kept me in business – it’s kept me from getting jaded and stale. I am a photographer.  I am a director of photography.  I am an imaging professional and am thrilled to still be in business at a time when we have so many tools and options in how we are able to deliver a visual message.

What Really is the Future of Photography?

Luis Javier Rodriguez Lopez, done for wikipedi...
Luis Javier Rodriguez Lopez, done for wikipedia, might be found at my webpage in a future; http://www.coroflot.com/yupi666 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

No one has a crystal ball so it’s really anybody’s guess as far as what the future of anything is.  Anyone who tells you otherwise is simply a bull shitter and they probably have a bridge to sell you as well.

Does anything ever stay the same?  One quick glimpse into history will verify that nothing stays the same.  But sometimes, it difficult to “see” changes because for the most part, they happen slowly.

I’m of the mind that still photography is and always has been just one way to communicate.  Images have the power to grab our attention and linger in our minds.  If I were to ask you to think of 5 still images and to tell me what they are in just 1 minute – which images come into your mind – and why? Do they give you a reference of what what happening in your life, like a song does?  Or are they disconnected bits of pixels?

Quite honestly, I’m bored with this subject of predicting the future and I’m beyond bored with talking about gear.  Gear has nothing to do with communication.  If it did, we could take the human being out of the equation.  Is that going to be the future?  Cameras everywhere, clicking away, recording  what’s transpiring?

I used to say that video and motion was where things were heading.  But I’m questioning that answer now.  I see so many videos that don’t communicate anything, some just visual eye candy moving across the screen or the device du jour.  But then there are a few long and short videos that suck me in and take me to another place – in body and mind. I see still images that affect me the same way, as well as good films. I think all of us can recite memorable lines and scenes of movies we’ve seen.  They stay with us because they’ve hit a nerve or touched our hearts. They’ve told a story – they’ve moved us in some way.  As a visual communicator that’s what a filmmaker is supposed to do.

I am a visual person.  I like to write but I don’t think like a novelist, I think like a screenplay writer.  Don’t misunderstand me, I would never even come close to calling myself a screenplay writer, but I do recognize that is how my mind works. I think cinematically – I think I always have.

For me, the only thing I would predict as far as the future is concerned is that we all seem to be moving to a more visual world in terms of how we communicate.  Will the written word lose importance in the future?.  I don’t think so, anymore than I think that talking with one another will disappear, although there I some days I wonder when I see groups of people in a bar and everyone is looking at their phones instead of talking to one another.  Songwriters will still give verse to music.  That is as old as man has been around.  Technology has changed the way a musician “makes” his music and has certainly how it is distributed.  What hasn’t changed is the emotion and thought behind a good song.

My future will surely be visual and I will use whatever tool best communicates the stories that are within me to tell.  Other than that, I have no idea what is in our future and that is one of the greatest joys in life – to wonder and dream about what’s to come.

The Difference Between TV and New Media

It’s been a tough 3 weeks teaching video to journalists in China – perhaps the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do.  It’s not the teaching part that’s hard – it’s knowing if what I am saying is being correctly translated to my students, it’s being away from friends and family and just being away for so long that makes it tough. I have one more week to go and will take a good long rest when I return to the US.

Last week was especially difficult but yet my amazing students got me through it.  They simply amazed me in how quickly they learned.  They learned in 4 days what it takes most photographers to learn in 4 weeks or months.

Every week I have a new group of students and each week there are always one or two students that I know really “get it”.  There was one student who I coined a nickname for “Mr. Question” because he asked more questions than most.  His questions weren’t just about what settings to use on his camera or how to do something in Adobe Premiere, but more about the “big picture”.  His questions always showed me he was thinking.

One question, this particular student asked me this week, really caught my attention.  He asked me “How are we (new media producers) different than TV?

Stephen-Lee-TV-News-Presenter SMALL
Stephen-Lee-TV-News-Presenter SMALL (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had just read an article online that addressed this very question and it talked about how newspaper video journalists are now winning more Emmys than TV news journalists.

I responded to my student by telling him:

  • TV news makes the reporter part of the story – sometimes even the “star”
  • New media tells the story through the voice of the subjects – making them the “stars”
  • TV news is delivered to us on the network channels – 3 times a day.
  • Online news is 24/7 and on demand.  We get the news online when we want it and wherever we want it – on our desktop computers, on our iPhones or on our iPads. We also can share the news and interact with others.  We become part of the delivery chain.
  • TV news journalists rush back to the studio to get the story on air by 5 o’clock. The stories are generally very short – limited to their broadcast slot.
  • As new media producers we have the luxury of working longer on feature stories and delivering them online to a global audience.  While print newspapers and magazines are folding – there has been a rebirth of the long documentary story that can now be delivered online.  We are communicating to a wider audience around the world, no longer being restricted by time and space.

In the 1960’s newspaper executives were lamenting about the good old days and predicting that TV would kill them.  I find it ironic that the shoe seems to be on the other foot now.  I teach “motion” and “video journalism” to a lot of still photographers.  There are some who buy their DSLR’s and aspire to make broadcast spots for TV.  There are some who aspire to make feature length films for Hollywood.  And then there are some who tell me that there is nothing new about video and that field is already glutted with videographers and cinematographers. Those are the old business models for video and motion.

The ones who “get it” are the hybrid creatures that recognize that there is a shift in the way we communicate.  They understand that video is really just another medium in which to tell their stories – not a business model, nor a niche market.

My student in China who asked me this question- he “gets it”.  He understands that he is part of the future of how Chinese journalists and others around the world, will deliver the news. That’s why they call it – new media.

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.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

NAB Show 2011 Afterthoughts

Whew!  I’m fatigued in every way imaginable – in a good way though as I always am after attending the National Association of Broadcaster’s annual show in Las Vegas.  It’s overwhelming and over stimulating and after I get home and decompress for a day I’ll make some sense out of what I learned and how to apply it in my hybrid world.

What springs to the forefront of my mind as I wait for my flight, which is delayed, is that convergence and/or “integration” continues at a rapid pace.  3D, which seemed to be the big topic last year is still present but not commanding all of the attention.  This year the conversation seemed to be centered on the integration of TV and Broadband.  But I couldn’t help but wonder as I went from James Cameron’s keynote where he talked about his continued thrust into 3D, to a session on TV and Broadband convergence – where does 3D fit into the Broadband world?

Many attendees infatuated with the HDSLR solution wondered why Canon didn’t roll out the next “hybrid”.  I’d like to think that Canon is working on a video camera that will utilize a “big chip” than working on  a still camera that has less work arounds in an attempt to make them more video friendly.

Adobe announced CS5.5 and the next day Apple made their worldwide premier of Final Cut Pro X at the Final Cut Pro Users Group Supermeet.  The crowd went wild as each new feature was demo’d – no transcoding, auto rendering in the background while still working, no more clip collisions and so forth.  At the end of the demo everyone’s jaw dropped when they announced the price at $299.  What Apple didn’t tell us – is if and how it will integrate with the other apps in Final Cut Studio like Soundtrack Pro, Motion, Compressor and Color.

Another very cool product was the Ninja by Atomos an Australian outfit.  The Ninja is a monitor  – but not just a monitor because it takes your media out as 8/10 bit uncompressed HDMI and stores it on insertable 500 G hard drives.  Unbelievable and at a price of less than $1000.  That means that compressed media gets output at a quality 8 – 10 times better than recording it to cards.  Sorry, DSLR users but it doesn’t work with Canon’s DSLR’s  because for some reason there is no way to record the data without the display.  That’s a question for Canon as to why it can’t over ride that and output and record without the display recorded on the data.

As always my favorite part of NAB is sitting in on the Super Sessions with big time directors, editors, CEO’s of broadcast networks and manufacturers.  That’s where you truly get to engage the movers and shakers in the industry and learn and ask questions.  One of my favorite sessions was with filmmaker Kevin Smith.  He is the kind of guy that constantly pushes the envelope and he made a comment that stuck with me.  He said “Hang with the people who ask why not – not the people who ask why”.  It’s a lot easier to question why and in the process never get anywhere but to have to courage to say “why not” – well that’s when things get created and invented.

So, as I head home thoroughly exhausted in a good way; I’ll hang onto that thought and seek out others who say “why not?”

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Embrace Disruption

Every now and then disruption needs to take place and does.  Technology is causing disruption in all our lives but it need not be looked at as a negative thing.  We can embrace it and find opportunities or we can shut ourselves off and become obsolete.

It’s Day 3 of the NAB Show Every April the National Association of Broadcasters have one of the largest conferences in the world but these days this show is not just attended by broadcasters.  As TV converges with the Internet the attendees have become more and more diverse.

On a very small scale there is the DSLR contingent along with all the vendors that cater to this group with their third party add ons – a big business these days for sure. At Canon’s display, Hollywood DP’s and cinematographers like Gale Tattersall of House and Russell Carptenter of Titantic (to name just one of his films) tout the merits of the Canon 5d MarkII and make the point how these hybrid cameras have created a new aesthetic.  They are also quick to point out that these “affordable” cameras are not chosen because of budget but rather because they are small and discreet and create a beautiful image in low light.  One digital “rebel” filmmaker remarked how he shot a scene for his film on an airplane with an actor and no one even took notice because its such a low profile camera.

But back to the word disruption.  Convergence works both ways. As much as the DSLR has rocked the still photographic world and created a huge hunger amongst still photographers who want to learn how to shoot motion and capture good sound, it has also rocked the world of motion shooters who are providing stills for their clients and learning the language of photography.

TV and Internet are converging.  There is a whole generation that has no need for a cable hook up.  They watch what they want – when they want – online.  Just like they never get a landline – many never get hooked up to cable.  The small affiliate broadcast stations are feeling just as threatened these days as magazine photographers are because of the demise of print publications.  Their worlds have changed because the patterns of the end user have changed.

Director James Cameron (Titanic, Avatar) just formed a partnership with a 3D company.  As TV’s are manufactured with 3D capability and the tech hurdles are overcome, he feels that 3D will become mainstream. But he goes on to say that the big problem is content because the only content created now is coming from the motion picture industry.

And Apple made their worldwide announcement last night with Final Cut Pro X.  I was in the room and all I can tell you is that it is REVOLUTIONARY.  Watch out Adobe.

But at the end of the day – of every NAB day – as I sort through all the information and announcements – I ground myself and think about what I will choose to embrace.  How can I use technology and apply it to what I do and why.  If disruption means that I can tell my stories in a better way or reach more people – that I welcome it with open arms.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Editing 150 Hours of Footage From a DSLR

As I roll away the miles, driving the ten hour trip to Michigan to rendezvous with my daughter Erin to film the last of our subjects for our documentary Opening Our Eyes, I realize how desperately I needed a long road trip – just cruising down the highway.  I have been in utter isolation for the past month, editing over 150 hours of footage that we had shot over our ultimate road trip around the world this past summer.  Little did I know that the 99-day journey would be the easy part of this project.

This past month there have been many times that I became so overwhelmed with the process of editing that I wanted to throw my hands up in surrender and just give up.  But somehow I plowed through it, many days putting in 14 plus hours.  I was on a mission and listening to the words of my subjects got me through it.  After all these were some of the most inspirational people I had every met, so revisiting them through their interviews was a constant reminder of the goal of this film which is to create awareness and inspire and motivate others to make a difference and create change.

Ultimately, my challenge is to take ten (soon to be eleven) different stories of people across the globe who are making a positive difference in the world.  After finally getting the tedious tasks finished, of transcoding files and sorting through the good from the bad clips, I arrived at a point where I needed to start telling “THE” story.  Meaning I needed to determine how I could best structure the film to convey the common themes between my subjects.

In order to see the story clearly – I needed to get away from the technology. So as the miles roll by, the story becomes  more vivid in my head.  I see the hero(s), the themes, the commonality and the arc of the story as the stories intertwine.  I won’t give away too much information other than to say that the solution is simple.  They aren’t eleven different stories after all. It’s really a global story about the power of one.  How one individual can create positive change and not only effect generations to come but change themselves as well. It’s a basic human story that resonates with all of us.

When I started writing this blog I was going to talk about editing tech tips. Somehow as the miles rolled by and my head became clear of the intense electronic input from the past month, I not only saw the story, but I felt it.  I had gotten back on track and gotten to the heart of the story.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine