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

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Looking Back

Today, I’ve been looking back through two year’s worth of blog posts that I have written. Wow – I’ve written a lot!  I really surprised myself at just how much when I started gathering the content that I had written in regards to the making of my documentary, Opening Our Eyes. I’m putting together my 2nd ePub that will be a companion to my first ePub, recently published on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

My focus is centered on the “craft” and the making of the film, and I talk about everything from “the gear” I put together for our 99-day journey around the world to the distribution process for the final film. A bulk of the content has already been written with photographs ready to upload and links.  It’s just a matter of consolidating the information and presenting it in a more concise way.

Earlier in the year, I paid my dues in the learning department when I put together the first ePub.  After my experience working with a professional formatter, I quickly realized what not to do.  One big thing I learned was not to get too heavy with the images because the first generations of Kindles have only b&w displays.  I also learned not to create intricate designs in Pages because later I had to undo all the work I had done for a PDF version of the printed book.

I am amazed at how much I have written over the last few years.  It was interesting to look back through some of my blog entries, and see how I was “processing things”  at the time I was writing those posts.  I’ve never really kept a journal before, accept for a one year period in my life, between the ages of 19 and 20, when I was making my first journey around the world.

I’m really happy that I have archived these stories and records of my life, but that’s not what motivated me to first start writing. I used to wake up super early in the morning – my mind spinning with ideas and random thoughts, not allowing me to get back to sleep.  So, I would get up and I started writing down my random thoughts and I found it therapeutic.  It was like having a conversation with someone and sorting things out.

There are chunks of time in my life that I simply don’t feel like writing or that I have nothing to really say.  My mind seems to go into a dormant phase where I convalesce with other distractions – usually mindless ones. But then there are days when I just have the need to get my thoughts down on paper.  I’m grateful for those days – on days like this when I take the time to look back from where I’ve been.

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Why Did You Want to Become a Photographer?

That was one of the questions posed to me during an interview this past weekend. A young woman had asked to interview me for a college paper she was writing. The call and the questions started out somewhat clinical, most likely another task or paper that she needed to check off her list. She proceeded through the usual list of questions: “Did you go to photography school?” “What type of photography are you interested in?” So on and so forth.

I could hear her typing my answers and I paused to let her catch up. But then she asked a question that really struck me on many levels. “Did you get into photography because it was cheaper?” I asked her what she meant by that – did she mean the tools of the trade were cheaper? When she responded “yes”, I told her that was somewhat of a misnomer and that the first cameras I bought (mechanical ones) I had used for 10 years. I added that now, because of the exponential impact of technology on my profession, my cameras and the software I need on the post end, have to be upgraded at least every two or three years, and that was only part of the investment required in the “tools of the trade.”

As she typed my response, I felt myself getting a bit anxious and I started speaking rapidly. I told her that even if that were true – meaning that I got into the photographic profession because it was cheaper – that would have been the absolute worst reason for me or anyone else, to choose photography as a profession. I went on to say that you need to be passionate about some aspect of photography that makes you want to do it more than anything, if you want to have a chance of sustaining yourself financially in this profession. Pursue photography because it brings you joy and that if you are getting into it because the entry level costs were “cheaper” you’ll simply be competing with thousands or tens of thousands of button pushers.

I went on to tell her that I became a photographer as a means to an end. I had been studying architecture in college and after two years left school to travel. I traveled the world for a year and came back knowing that I wanted to pursue a lifestyle that would incorporate travel but more importantly fill my endless curiosity of people and cultures and exploration. I wanted to become a storyteller, and became a photographer as a means to that end.

As the interview progressed I noticed the typing started to diminish as I told her that I have never separated my business from my pleasure and that they have always been tied together throughout my life. Simply put – my business is my pleasure. I talked about my frustrations starting out as one of a handful of women in a man’s world and for the most part a man’s profession – at least in the early days. I talked about the endless stream of rejections and the “wins” that seemed to pop into my life when I needed them most, rescuing me in the knick of time, just when I was thinking of quitting and moving into another career. I told her that unless she really wanted to do photography, she wouldn’t survive in this profession. I talked about my mentors when I was her age and how grateful I am that I had those people in my life. I relayed a couple of anecdotes about things my mentors had said to me and how those words had been pivotal moments in my life and that when things got tough, I drew upon those words of wisdom to get me through the day.

Then there was a very loud audible sigh, followed by a long period of silence and my mind raced through the various things that I had said to her. Was I too harsh? Did I paint too bleak of picture? Or worse yet – did I make it sound too easy and that all she had to do was “just do it”. I felt this overwhelming sense of responsibility that maybe I said something that was going to dictate the rest of her life and I kind of panicked in that moment of silence. And then she said “thank you so much for talking to me today, I started out just wanting to write my paper, and I’m going to have a great paper, but you have no idea how much talking to you has helped me.” She went on to tell me that she had been struggling with a decision that she was trying to make between going to law school and going to film school. I told her that she needed to make that decision all by herself and that it wasn’t a decision that anyone else could make for her – not I – not her parents – not anyone else. I told her to dig down deep into herself for the answer, beyond the influence of others, the dogma of the day and all the noise. And most importantly to remember that it was her life and that she got to choose how to live it and that she had every right to change her mind along the way.

Quite honestly, it has been one of those “onion” months for me, with layers of setbacks and second-guessing myself. I got off the phone feeling good about paying forward what I have learned along my way and in that moment, I realized that this might be my “purpose” at this point in my life. The day had turned into one of those sweet “strawberry days”. She didn’t know it, but she had helped me as much as she said I had helped her. It’s those conversations and those little moments that keep me going, and come to my rescue, just in the knick of time.

I would love to hear from you all – why did you want to become a photographer?  Something you say or write just may help someone and paying it forward is the best feeling in the world.

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Closing Thoughts and Best of Best

It’s been a very full year for me. I mean that in every sense of the word full – full of new experiences, full of hope, full of achievements – but also full of my share of rejections and disappointments. I’ve shared a lot of these experiences through this blog.

There have been times I haven’t written in a while because I didn’t feel like I’ve had anything worthwhile to say. And there have been times when I did write but I probably shouldn’t have because it wasn’t worth reading. I always told myself that when I didn’t feel like writing in my blog, that I just wouldn’t do it. So if there are long periods of time when I haven’t posted a new entry – it’s because for whatever reason, the desire may not be there. I have always appreciated the comments and feedback.

Here are the top 5 posts as far as number of hits:

My DSLR Kit for a Three-Month Road Trip

Gearing Up With HD DSLR’s

 

Standing on a 10-Foot Frozen Wave

Putting Together a DSLR Video Kit – and Why

Cultural Context and Photography

As you can see, the blogs about DSLR (for video) gear is where the interest was.  But I’d have to say that out of those 5 posts, “Standing on a 10 Foot Frozen Wave” was my favorite.  For me, it’s all about the story. And as Orson Welles once said “If you want a happy ending, it depends on where you stop the story”.

Happy New Year everyone.

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The Problem With (Most) Video/Motion Workshops

This has been something that has been weighing on my mind for months now – ever since the seemingly “overnight sensation” of people giving video workshops as well as the growing number of still photographers that are feeling the need to take these workshops.

The biggest problem that I see with all the video/motion workshops that are out there is that they oversimplify video production and take the approach that the single independent still photographer can learn and do it all – produce, operate the camera, capture good audio and manage the post-production and edit.  I suppose to be fair – while it may be true that the independent still shooter can learn all facets of video production, that is not the best approach as far as setting up a viable business model for a video production company.

Video is a collaborative medium.  While I may be able take just about any video production from soup to nuts single handedly – I know that the production would suffer if I did.  I learned a long time ago to build a team of good sound people, editors and even camera operators that I can draw on to hire on a need be basis.  They make the production and me look good and that’s what keeps my clients coming back.  It also allows my business to grow because I can take on more projects. If I’m not entrenched in all aspects of the production. It frees me up to start production on another project while still in post-production of a previous project.  If you are a one-man band, you not only don’t have this option but you actually make yourself look small in the process.

Video and motion have many facets to them.  I advocate that the best business models are when one positions themselves at the top of the content creation ladder by overseeing the production of the whole and hiring the appropriate crew that will facilitate the process.  By recognizing the differences between this business model and the “solo” model that most independent photographers work under, you’ll have a much better shot of maintaining ownership of your work and creative vision as well as having the potential to grow your business beyond your own singular capabilities.

The other problem with workshops that over simplify the process of video production by promising that you will be up and running after a one day workshop is that they are centered around learning the gear and the software which changes by the month.  If you learn just the gear du jour and not focus on the business of video production you will be in competition with other independent dabblers and that’s a quick way to the poor house in terms of sustainability.

A week doesn’t go by when I don’t get at least a dozen calls or emails from still photographers who feel they need to get into video and are overwhelmed by the learning curve.  I tell them that the best thing they can do is NOT to try and learn all these skills themselves and that in fact that will only delay their entry into the video production, business if that is what they are after.  A better way is to keep your focus on your vision, apply that to a sustainable business model that will incorporate video and collaborate with others who will make you look good and help you grow your business.

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The Making of a Movie with a DSLR

It’s been a wild ride since I first began this journey of making a feature film with a DSLR camera – in my case, the Canon Eos 5D Mark II. I had already completed three short documentaries to date – all made with traditional video cameras from my first Canon XL-1 to my current HD Sony EX-1. But this time I was heading out on a 99-day journey around the globe, with my 23 year old daughter in search of ordinary people on six continents, who were making a difference in the world, and we had to pack light.

We were “the crew” – the two of us. We had to work efficiently and with gear that would fit into two backpacks and would endure the adventure as we traveled to 17 different countries on 30 flights. I also wanted to shoot both still images and motion, so I opted for the DSLR solution. Of course, I was enchanted by the “big chip” and the cinematic look of these cameras, but I was also thinking of my gear in practical terms – how I was traveling – how I would be shooting – and of course the desired outcome.

You can read more about the gear I took here.

So with my daughter “running sound”, doing the interviews with our subjects, shooting still images, and navigating us through the subway systems in Moscow and Buenos Aires, and me taking care of all the logistics and  shooting both video and stills, we came back 99 days later with almost 3000 gigabytes of content – that’s approx. 150 hours of footage and 5000 still image captures!

I wasn’t mentally prepared for what came next and that was 2 intensive months on my part ingesting all the content into my editing system, transcoding and adding metadata to the files and culling through hours of interview soundbites until I had cut it down to three . It was grueling and my winter months were spent putting in 14 hour days – 7 days a week. I was overwhelmed, yet somehow driven by some force.  It was a lot of work, it was tedious and it was daunting – but yet it was my passion and somehow this inexplicable “force” got me through it.

I raised money along the way through crowd funding on Kickstarter and with that, I hired an editor. After I handed the project off to my editor, Erik Freeland of Springhouse Films, there was a huge sigh of relief on my part. I knew the post production had a long way to go but, I also knew that I had to let it go for a while and step back. Working with Erik has been amazing in itself and he has brought enormous value to this project and film. I have learned a lot from his insights and his talents in knowing how to” tell a story”, and we are finally coming to the completion of this film. Or at least in getting the “first cut” done for a sneak preview on July 17th, at the State Theater in Traverse City, Michigan. The screening is by invitation only and if you would like to attend, just drop me an email at gail@openingoureyes.net and tell me how many people would like to attend.

Since I first dreamed up this project in the final days of 2009, to the departure of our trip in the Spring of 2010, to where we are now, it has been a continual journey on every level imaginable. And I have had many angels working on my behalf – my husband Tom Kelly who has been the “wind beneath my wings” and without his support none of this would have been possible, my extended family who have been amused over the years with my schemes and dreams, my dear friends Angel Burns and Ally Raye who have believed in me and this project and have made incredibly exciting things happen for this film. (I’m not quite ready to divulge some of those exciting things publicly, just yet), Maria Grillo and Jason Harvey at The Grillo Group who have been so giving with their time and talents and created all the graphic design for the film’s release, and so many other “angels” who have helped me with foreign translations, been financial backers, helped me spread the word globally, and every person who was there for me when I needed support and encouragement. I am deeply grateful to have all these people in my life.

We live in an empowering time. When I began my career as a still photographer, over 30 years ago, I never would have imagined doing any of this. In fact just two years ago, none of this would have been possible. Our dreams are as big as we want them to be. I have seen this dream clearly from the start and each day I get closer and closer to seeing it become a reality.

Watch the Trailer

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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.

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