The Biggest Mistake Photographers Make in Video Post-Production

English: High end linear editing suite, 1999.
English: High end linear editing suite, 1999. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ll make it simple and provide a quick answer to the title statement  – “What is the biggest mistake photographers make in the post production process, when they are just starting out?  They think they need to do it all them selves.

Photographers are independent creatures by nature. Most are solo entrepreneurs who create visual content for a living. But when they enter into the business of video production, unless they have decided to work solely as a hired camera operator, they will have to deal with a lot of other creative needs and variables – producing, lighting, shooting, sound, editing, music, motion effects, sound mixing, and color grading to name a few.  Unless you are pursuing a career as a backpack journalist, which I have the utmost respect for; you can’t possibly do it all.  If you try, you will either go broke, or you will put limits on the quality of your product.

I know how to edit – meaning I know the editing software.  But that doesn’t make me an editor.  I realized early on, how the craft that a good editor brings to a project could greatly raise the bar on what I produce.  Generally, I try to look at all my shot footage and do a very rough first edit.  This not only familiarizes me with my material, it helps me keep costs down. I did that on my film, and with 150 hours of footage, it was a long and tedious process.  But it also made me intimate with what I had shot so I was helpful to my editor and it made the collaborative process very creative and focused on the story.

Too many photographers stop them selves from getting into video because they think they have to learn how to edit and that it would be another huge software program to learn.  Don’t let that be a stumbling block.  You can delegate that task to someone who already knows how. More than likely you won’t be composing music for your videos or creating complex motion graphics. You don’t need to learn and do everything and in fact, working with an editor frees you up to start working on another job.  It’s a more profitable use of your time, especially when you are invoicing the post-production costs as part of the job.

There are times when I love to work in a solo style or with a very small crew.  I love the intimacy it brings to the production.  But when it comes to post-production, working in a collaborative way with other professionals is one of the things I love most about video production.  It has been a very powerful and creative force in my life and has challenged me in wonderful ways.

The Love and Angst of Learning

I don’t think there has ever been a point in my life when there wasn’t something that I didn’t want to learn about.  I’m just a very curious person who has an insatiable desire to learn. I’ve been learning about filmmaking over the last two years and I am addicted to learn more.  I am realizing that I have always thought in a cinematic way.  As a photographer, I saw my stories as films – a pagination of images – combining to form the story in my mind’s eye. I am so intrigued right now with the craft and structure of screen writing, and want to learn more.  I have a story in my head that I want to “get out” and I see the visual elements playing out in my head.  Now, I’m starting to “hear” the story and the words and I want to learn how to craft those elements into the beginning of a screenplay.

Last Christmas, I got the Rosetta Stone course for Spanish.  When I was traveling with Erin in South America, she became my translator and I was really frustrated that I couldn’t understand the language, so I vowed to learn Spanish.  I’ve been trying to squeeze in the time to learn electronically, but it’s so hard for me.  Languages have always been difficult for me – even English.  Really the only way to learn a language is to immerse your self into it.  I try to tune into conversations when I hear Spanish being spoken and make feeble attempts to participate.  Slowly, I’m getting better but I doubt I will ever be able to roll my r’s.  I have found though that when I “relax” and imagine myself as someone who is fluent in the language, I do much better.  The same thing happened when I was in New Zealand last fall and I got on an ATV vehicle for the first time.  I just pictured myself as being one with the machine and I did just fine.

Lately, I’ve been teaching myself editing with Adobe Premiere.  With Final Cut Pro going to a completely different program, I wanted to expand and learn Premiere.  But, what really prompted me to learn is that I will be going to China for a month, to teach Chinese journalists how to “tell stories in motion”.  I knew I needed to learn an editing application that was cross-platformed and Adobe Premiere was the obvious choice.  Learning Premiere has been easy, especially with I am such a big fan of Of course, knowing how to edit helps.  Essentially it’s not much different than Final Cut.  Things are named differently, but the basics are the same.  There are also a lot of things that I love, especially the easier integration with other Adobe products like After Effects, Photoshop and Bridge.  Now the Adobe Suite has a screenwriting application, Story. Could that be the nudge needed to follow through on the screenplay that’s beginning to play out in my head?

So, my learning path continues. But I’m also playing my part by passing along what I know.  Things have a way of coming full circle.

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

Monetization of Photography in Spite of a Lousy Economy

I talk to a lot of photographers. I don’t define the word “photographer” by the type of camera he or she shoots with. Whether someone is shooting with a still camera, a traditional video camera, a motion picture film camera or a hybrid camera that shoots both stills and motion – a “photographer” these days is apt to embrace more than one of these tools.

Regardless of the tools you may use, I’ve come up with a few tips on how photographers can stay afloat and make money in this continued stagnant economy.

  • Think outside the box – don’t think of yourself as one who just shoots still images. Even your “still” clients will have a need for motion imagery these days.  It may not warrant the need for them to hire a big video production crew to make a broadcast spot.  But it could be one of your corporate clients needs a “talking head” for their website. Even if you don’t shoot motion or don’t want to – collaborate with someone who has these skills to fill your client’s needs instead of sending your clients  elsewhere.
  • You don’t need someone else to commission your services in order for you to make a living. When photographers take on personal projects, not only are they creating a buzz and getting noticed by potential clients, they are also creating their own “content” to monetize. It is possible now to get our content to market without the need of a middleman. Portals are open and plentiful to all.
  • Take advantage of what is “free”, rather than be put out of business by it. There are so many ways to build your brand and get noticed without spending a fortune. The costs of building and maintaining a website have dropped significantly because of advances in technology. And utilizing social media to create a buzz and get the word out about your company is virtually free with Facebook, Twitter,LinkedIn and YouTube. But be prepared to do the work and discipline yourself because this territory is ripe with distractions.
  • Re-purpose your content. If you’ve been blogging or have something useful to share – consider packaging your “knowledge” into ePubs, podcasts or “how to” webinars. One thing I’ve learned about making an ePub is that you can either do it yourself or hire a formatter so that it gets to market quickly – via Amazon, Barnes and Noble or the iTunes platform. Price it right – and offer more than one ePub at a time. (I’m working on my 2nd ePub now) In this market, if someone has just spent $3 or $4 to buy your ePub and they see you have another one for sale – it’s not a big stretch for them to buy that other book you offer at the same time.
  • Collaborate with others. Partner with others to put on webinars, podcasts, call in phone seminars etc. Use this opportunity to build your own brand. Don’t always feel that you have to be the only “act” offered. In fact many times, if you join forces with other creatives, it will get you further than if you are the only speaker in a half filled room. Get out there and get noticed and learn from your colleagues at the same time.
  • Be authentic. I cringe when I write that word because it has become a bit trite. I guess in a way I have always been authentic. In fact I just can’t help myself. If you are true to yourself, you will be ready, eager and able to work hard on your dreams. And hard work is exactly what is necessary to make it in this profession.  You’ve got to want it bad enough in order to do the work. If you are a clone of other photographers, you’re career will be short lived. I guarantee the photographers that you are emulating will be “moving on” because their passion is driving them to new things. So, what happens to the cloned versions then?
  • Don’t focus solely on the money. Easy to say and really hard to embrace when you can’t pay your mortgage. But look at any successful person – I don’t care which business you choose to look toward in terms of finding successful people – but you’ll see that most people who have “made it big” were not driven by the money. I’m not saying that money is not important, but if you are solely focused on the money and not on the act of creating – it will show.   Being too focused on the  money part of the equation, can sometimes push it away. People sense it. It’s human nature to want to be around a “winner” – not someone who is begging for a job to keep them afloat financially.
  • Be patient. Everything turns around. While the old days and ways of doing things won’t come back, better opportunities will replace them. Don’t be paralyzed by your own fears. Do what you can that won’t cost you a lot of money and there is plenty you can do. Work social media, learn new skills – audio, editing, writing etc., network with people, create new content for ePubs, webinars, and podcasts. Use your imagination, pursue what you are passionate about and when the economy turns around – you’ll be ready.

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

Licensing Video?

There are probably people who would argue with me as far as the practice of licensing video being the norm in the world of video production, other than the licensing of stock motion footage. Perhaps that may be true in some business models and certainly true in older business models, but I can tell you that has not been my experience.

I should clarify that I do not position myself as a “hired gun”– meaning a camera operator who turns over their footage at the end of the day. I choose to assume the role of producer and maintain control over my intellectual property or the finished video product. I cannot do this in the traditional motion picture industry but that business model is changing due to technology and the influx of indie filmmakers who are making their own rules and bringing their films to market themselves. And for the most part – I can’t do this in high-end broadcast spots when working with a middleman – or ad agency where ultimately their end customer maintains all rights.

However, the demand for video has skyrocketed in recent years and with that has created a new client base who are using video in new ways and on new platforms. I am establishing my own set of rules accordingly. One of them is licensing the finished product just as I did my still images. I can only do that with video productions that I have produced and hold the copyright to.

Typically, I will separate the licensing of my still images from the video product as well as the creative fees. I may be shooting both mediums on the same job but I handle the licensing differently. I have found that video has a shorter shelf life so I am not as concerned about the duration of the license (length of time) as I am with still imagery. But I am concerned about it’s “reach” which these days is global – thanks to YouTube.

Another thing I do is I make sure that it is stated in my contract and/or estimate that the license for the entire video production does NOT include permissions and/or licenses to any still images that are made from frame grabs pulled out of the video footage. Putting this up front in the estimate has actually proved beneficial because if a client does anticipate the need for still images – they will hire me to create stills – rather than take them from frame grabs.

We are living at a time where just about everyone’s business models are changing. So, if someone tells you that licensing video isn’t the norm – outside of the stock motion footage business – think again. What is the norm these days? It may be the precedent we are setting now.

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

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.

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

What to do When in a Slump

There are all types of slumps – creative, financial, relationship and personal. I’m sure there are others, but those are what come to mind – I’ve experienced all of them. I think that comes with living the kind of life I lead. There are times when it seems like I’m on a never ending roller coaster ride with lots of ups and lots of downs. The one thing I try to do when I’m in whatever kind of slump I’m experiencing,  is to focus on the areas that seem to be working in my life.  I’ve learned to take the bitter with the sweet.

Here’s some other remedies I have found that help get me out of a slump:

  • GET OUT – I mean that literally as well as figuratively. I break the pattern of what I am doing that doesn’t seem to be working and “get out” of that place. I also literally – get out – I change my environs – I get together with friends.
  • TRY SOMETHING NEW – I do something that I may have been thinking about, but I usually talk myself out of with every rational reason I shouldn’t do it. So, I follow my irrational instincts.
  • WALK AWAY – This is especially true when you are dealing with something technical and you just don’t “get it”. There have been days when I have struggled with something that wasn’t working – like when editing in Final Cut Pro – and I need to give myself some time away from the problem. But this only works if you aren’t up against a tight deadline. I try not to force a learning curve into situations with tight deadlines.
  •  FOCUS ON WHAT IS GOING RIGHT – There is always something to be grateful for – focus on that.
  • BE STILL – I think this is perhaps the most important remedy that I have learned to embrace and that is – to give something time and not  force it. If something is meant to happen then it will – and in its own time.

Every one of these “remedies” is pretty much centered around the same thing,  and that is to recognize that there will always be slumps in one way or another – but they will make those sweet times that much sweeter.

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

Conversation with Director/Editor Erik Freeland

I was extremely fortunate that Erik Freeland of Springhouse Films was the editor on our film Opening Our Eyes.  I learned a lot from Erik through our collaboration.  I thought I would share some of Erik’s insights about the art of editing.

What makes a good editor?

Knowing a little bit about everything. Art history, popular culture, physics, linguistics, music… it gives you more points of reference for understanding and presenting the story. Attention to detail is very important because in the end, nothing goes unnoticed by the audience. I guess I’d have to say patience is tremendously important –– even though computers do amazing things, editing is at its core a tedious process.

We all seem to wear more than one hat these days – do you? If so do those skill sets complement each other and how?

I started in this business as an editor but really wanted to have more control over the material I was editing. I’ve have been fortunate to be able to also have a career as a director. Understanding those two disciplines and knowing what is possible in each allows me to visualize the editing process more during the shoot.

I know from editing projects myself, it has made me a better shooter. For still photographers who may not want to edit their own projects – what tips can you give to them about shooting video and motion?

Don’t cut too soon. Be patient and let a shot evolve.

When shooting a scene or a moment in time, think of it as different framings: the wide establishing shot, a medium shot of the main action or subject and little details that can serve as cutaways to prolong the scene or intercut the other shots while masking breaks in continuity.

Plan your movement of the camera and commit to it. When you start a pan, resist the temptation to reframe the shot mid-move. Keep it moving for long enough to make the shot usable in the edit and cut only if it really falls apart.

Keep in mind how much footage you are shooting vis a vis what you will want to end up with. You don’t want to miss anything important but a lot of redundant footage can really be a liability in your edit.

What does a well-edited film mean to you?

Many things. I think first and foremost, it’s about clear storytelling. It shouldn’t be confusing and leave the viewer behind. The editing shouldn’t stylistically overpower the story. Secondly, the rhythm of the cutting should help move the film and should be sympathetic to its tone. Third, it should move you, surprise you, change your mind, do something… I suppose I could say the same things are equally important in directing a film.

As an editor, you can have a lot of influence over the meaning and arc of a story. How much influence should an editor have? Does it depend on the director?

An editor should exercise as much as they can… without upsetting the collaborative balance. Everyone involved in the film should influence it to the best of their ability. Otherwise, their contribution to the process is short-changed. Of course, every working relationship is different and some are less collaborative.

What makes a good director?

I think some of the same qualities that make a good editor are part of a being good director. Knowing a little bit about everything as a director for instance, allows you to tell many types of stories and immerse yourself in the subject matter. Attention to detail, multi-tasking capabilities, being able to verbally communicate about visuals are of course all important skills. There is also a balance between focus and objectivity. A good director is fused with the film –– totally absorbed in every detail. At the same time, they have to be able to look at it and all decisions objectively and from a distance, almost like the eventual viewer.

What makes a good story?

Characters you care about, conflict and location, location, location…

What’s more difficult – editing a 2 minute piece for the web or a feature length film?

Hmmm, that’s a hard one. Kind of like asking which is better night or day.

Does editing have trends? Maybe you can point out a couple of examples of style over the years.

OK, first I don’t profess to be a film historian but I try to keep up on things. I tend to watch the films I like the most over and over. Technology has certainly created trends in film editing and directing. Advancements in keying technologies, motion tracking and motion capture as well as realistic CGI environments are but some of the major trends that have changed the way films look and are edited. Probably the closest things to trends specific to editing have been related to timing and pacing. The time-lapse of “Koyaanisqatsi” in the early 80’s, the repetition and multiple outcomes of “Run Lola Run” and the quick cutting shorthand jump-cuts and time-compression in Guy Ritchie’s films like “Snatch” have all had a huge influence over the editing of their time.