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.

What Does a Photographer Look Like?

When I started out as a commercial photographer more than three decades ago, it was a very different profession than it is today. It wasn’t just different in terms of technology – it was different culturally. When I went out into the workforce in 1977, it was definitely a man’s profession.

I never really thought of myself as a female photographer, just – a photographer. I didn’t think the additional gender adjective needed to be part of the conversation – yet it was at that time. Sometimes it surfaced in social settings. One time, an art director who I worked for, introduced me to a very famous photographer who shook my hand and said, “You don’t look like a photographer!” And I thought to myself, “what does a photographer look like?”

It was worse when the gender bias surfaced in the workplace. I’m not sure if having a male business partner made the situation better or worse. I do know that the assumption was always that my partner Tom Kelly, was the photographer and that I was either his rep or his assistant. That assumption negated itself during a pre-production meeting or on the job, but I needed to make my presence known.

Things have changed…….slowly, over the years in the photography profession. There are far more women in the industry now than when I first started. It’s certainly not the exclusive male dominated industry that it used to be, but there are plenty of professions that still are – the movie industry is a perfect example. There are plenty of other examples of gender bias in the workforce, which is what motivated my project, Like A Woman.

Like a Woman is a series of environmental still portraits and short films about women working in male dominated professions. The idea was first inspired by Lauren Greenfield’s Like A Girl campaign. I loved the campaign and even though I felt hopeful that younger girls are growing up a bit more empowered than girls of my generation, that statement “Like a Girl” still lingers as a demeaning remark. I wanted to flip the narrative and make the statement, Like A Woman an empowering expression said with pride.

To date, I’ve interviewed 5 women from all different professions – architecture, engineering, auto mechanics, organic farming and industrial photography.

Jenna Close, Oceanside, CA
Jenna Close with surfboard, Oceanside, CA

I’ve just completed one on industrial photographer, Jenna Close. You can see it on the Like a Woman Vimeo Channel. Jenna demonstrates that women have come a long way in terms of having successful careers in photography, but she reminds me that there are still undertones of subtle gender bias. Things are changing, but until the gender adjectives disappear entirely from the conversation, we need to stay mindful and not drift into complacency.

If you know a woman working in a male dominated profession, who you think would make a great subject for Like A Woman, please contact me. mailto:gail@kellymooney.com

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.

 

My Top 3 Tips for Photographers and Filmmakers

I’ve had a long career with a lot of successes and failures. Gail in Window1983Here are 3 tips with examples of lessons I learned along the way.

Get rid of the resistance in your life – Long before I became a photographer, I was on a different path. I was studying architecture at Syracuse University. During the summer of my sophomore year, my friend and I went on a hitchhiking journey to Canada. Along the way, we met and stayed with people we met. I remember one such stay very well. It was pouring outside and we decided to just hang out, rather than face the elements. There were quite a few other travelers sitting around the room, smoking dope and talking about what everyone talked about those days – their disenchantment with the war (Vietnam) and everything else that was status quo, when one fellow erupted and said – “I’m sick and tired of hearing the same old complaints – why don’t you all do something about it.” That stayed with me my whole life. To this day, I try to get rid of the whiners in my life and be the one who does something. My proudest achievement to date has been making the documentary Opening Our Eyes, a film about individuals who are creating positive change.

Don’t hide your vulnerabilities – It took me a long time before I could tell anyone one of my biggest embarrassments, but when I did it was liberating. I was working on an assignment about Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket for the National Geographic Traveler Magazine. I had made an appointment to photograph Walter Cronkite, who was a well-known figure on Martha’s Vineyard. The day before our scheduled appointment, I called Mr. Cronkite to confirm. This was way before cell phones and email and even before everyone had answering machines and his phone just rang and rang and rang. I kept calling throughout the day and the same thing happened. By evening, I was upset because I thought that Mr. Cronkite had stood me up. That night, I had a terrible feeling. I thought perhaps that when I had re-written my production notes and contact info for the job, I might have written down the wrong number for Cronkite. I had kept my old notes and discovered that I had been calling the wrong number all day. Imagine how horrified I was when I discovered that it was I who had stood up Walter Cronkite – not the other way around. I called the correct number, Walter answered and I was profusely apologetic as I explained the situation. He was kind and understanding and rescheduled and then he said, “Why didn’t you look me up in the phone book?” I replied that I assumed someone of his stature would not be listed.   I learned never to make assumptions. It took me years before I could tell anyone this story. It’s really hard to admit mistakes but when you do, you gain trust.

Be who you are – not who you aren’t – I had just graduated from Brooks Institute and I wanted to pursue my passions. I wanted to be a photojournalist and use my craft to gain access to a world full of stories. Before I enrolled at Brooks, I had spent a year backpacking around the world. I had one camera and one lens and came back with my snapshots and a whole lot of desire. But it was a bad time for magazine photojournalism – Life Magazine had just folded (the second time) and everyone was telling me that if I wanted to make a living as a photographer, I needed to do commercial work. I bought into that and built a pretty good commercial photography portfolio. Then I went to see legendary NY photographer Jay Maisel, a man known for being blunt. He looked at my work, threw a print at me and told me it was “garbage”. Then he asked me if this was what I wanted to do.  I told him no, that I wanted to be a photojournalist but that everyone had been telling me to pursue commercial work. He asked me how old I was and I replied “25” and then he looked me straight in the eye and said, “You’re 25 years old and you’re already making compromises”. It changed my life and I remind myself every day to be who I am and dream big, even though I may have to settle for less.

Still Photographers and the New Media Landscape

I’ve been around long enough to know that nothing lasts forever. I’ve experienced the up and down cycles of business and life in general and can tell you that nothing ever stays the same. Having an understanding and acceptance of that gives me the freedom to look around corners for opportunities red cameraand think outside the confines of my box. What I’m seeing is a growing demand for mixed media storytelling content from communications and marketing people to fill a plethora of needs –social media campaigns, TV spots, online pre-roll ads, and print ads.

Last September while attending the Next Video Conference and Expo in Pasadena, CA a light bulb went off after seeing a presentation given by Max Kaiser, Founder/Director of Hand Crank Films called Make Content That Resonates and Multi-Purpose. It was eye opening. Max explained how he demonstrates to clients the value of creating content that not only resonates with an audience but can also be multi-purposed and fill their other visual needs – including provide still images from his frame grabs. He said because he shoots 6K – he is able to produce high quality still images.  I could see that still photographers aren’t just competing with other still photographers any more, they’re competing with guys like Max and small production companies that are providing solutions to all their visual needs.

There’s no reason still photographers can’t provide mixed media for their clients’ visual needs, but they need to scale the way they think about their business and their role and become more of a visual assets producer. Most photographers are producers anyway, so why not provide more services to a client and keep them in house – in your house.

I think sometimes it seems easier to give ourselves reasons not to do something but change is going to happen regardless if you embrace it or not.

Some things to keep in mind:

Video is not a business model – It’s a medium and one that is well suited for storytelling.

There is a demand for mixed media. Video is not new. But these days it’s easier, faster and cheaper to distribute, stream and watch motion content online – anytime -anywhere. Our phones and other mobile devices are our “go to” platforms for news, shopping and even entertainment. Position your brand and business to fit with today’s communication needs.

Make content that resonates and multi-purpose it. Video + Stills + Sound = Storytelling messaging. Content should be well-planned, scripted with high production values and should feel authentic. Create from your own point of view and identify the niches and needs in the marketplace that fit with your vision and style. Demonstrate value to a client by providing solutions to more of their visual needs.

 

“Try to have a little more control”

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately purging – getting rid of a lot of stuff I don’t need any longer. I came across a portfolio of architectural drawings that I had made during my days as an architectural student at Syracuse University. Stuck inside the portfolio were graded copies of the drawings with remarks from the professor. The comments were consistent and repeatedly pointed out Gail's college architural renderingsmy lack of “control”.

“Try to have a little more control!”

“Without control of lines and line quality, solution is lost!”

Back then I used a rapidograph (technical pen) for rendering these drawings. Unlike a lot of my fellow architectural students, I had very little training in the way of art classes before coming to Syracuse and my skills as an artist were terrible. Drawing fine straight lines with a rapidograph was my downfall. The ink would blotch or would seep under the ruler or triangle that I was using and my drawing would usually end up being a big mess.

I think my lack of “control” as an artist ultimately turned me away from pursuing architecture as a career. Instead, I changed my path and pursued a career in photography. Today, architectural students use CAD for their drawings and I would imagine that perfecting one’s skill with a rapidograph is no longer a requirement.

I wonder if things would have been different as far as the path I chose, if I had the tools available to me, that we have today? It’s an interesting question to ponder, but ultimately I don’t think I was well suited for a career in architecture and it went beyond the fact that I had poor drafting skills. I was a “big picture” thinker and not focused on the details.

Fundamentally, I haven’t changed. I’m still a big picture thinker. I am able to clearly visualize, my creation or project as a “whole” and know usually know what I need to do to achieve that end, but in determination to finish, I sometimes overlook the details. I’ve trained myself over the years, to not be in such a rush to complete something, that I compromise the quality. I’ve also accepted the person I am – what I’m good at and what I’m not so good at and found that I’ve produced my most gratifying work in collaboration with others.

I will always be a big picture thinker – the bigger the idea and the more possibilities – the more I love it. I have learned to have more control, but I still love to color outside the lines and push the boundaries.

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.