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.

Advertisements

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.

Expect the Unexpected – The Photographic Journey

My husband and I have been partners in marriage and in business for over 35 years. We have collected a lot of memories together over those years and because we are both photographers and filmmakers, we have recorded many of those moments.

_MG_6235GailMichener
Gail Mooney with James Michener. Chesapeake Bay, MD

I’ve been sifting through our analog archive of photographic prints and “chromes” lately in the process of purging other “stuff” in my life, that I no longer need. It is amazing how much stuff one can accumulate over the years. We have never been “consumers” in the typical sense. I’m almost embarrassed to say that we don’t even have a flat screen TV in our home – we do in our office, which is part of our home – but not in our living area. But we have somehow accumulated lots of folk art from a lifetime of travels, lots of photographic gear and hundreds of thousands of images.

As I continue to look through a lifetime of images, I occasionally pull a couple of photos out of the archive and share them on Facebook on “throw back Thursday”. What stands out to me in looking through a lifetime of photographs is that my husband and I have had an incredible journey together. I don’t think either one of us could have begun to imagine some of the experiences we have shared, when we first started out – I know I didn’t.

I’ll share one image and story with you. Tom and I had an assignment for Travel & Leisure to shoot a story on the Chesapeake and we had arranged to photograph Michener for the article. The day of the shoot, I brought my dog-eared paperback copy of Michener’s “Caravans”, that he had written in 1951. I had carried that paperback in my backpack for a year when I circled the globe the first time. I was told by some that I shouldn’t hand a paperback to Michener to sign – but I did anyway. He was touched, because he knew how important the book had been to me on my journey.

I remind myself daily to enjoy each day that I am given and to never underestimate what may be around the next corner. Expect the unexpected.

 

 

Timing is Everything

NPPA_MultimediaImmersionWorkshop
© 2014 J.C. Carey

Have you ever looked back at your life and wondered “How would things have turned out differently if…..I hadn’t have moved to a new part of the country when I was 13 years old or if I had stayed at Syracuse University instead of leaving school after completing my sophomore year and traveling around the world?  Or if I had taken the job at Boeing after graduating from Brooks Institute…..or  if I hadn’t seen that article in Time Magazine about “Indie” media ventures, referencing the 1st Digital Video Symposium that was going to take place at the American Film Institute?” Every one of those events at pivotal points in my life, carved out my next “chapter “ – determining who I was going to be and where I was headed. Some of my life’s twists and turns, I had no control over – like moving from Rochester, NY to the greater NYC Metro area when I was barely a teenager. But there have been a lot more pages turned in my life since then, and along with that a whole lot of decisions to be made along the way. The best decisions I’ve made in my life happened when I was open minded to possibilities and I listened to my gut. Last week I coached at the NPPA’s Multimedia Immersion Workshop.  It was a perfect example of peers helping peers and a wonderful collaboration between NPPA and ASMP, my trade association that I’m about to be President of next month.  Even though these workshops are exhausting in every way, I get as much as I give on so many levels. Ultimately the workshop is about learning good solid video journalism storytelling, but the technical learning curve can be daunting to many coming from a still photographer background.  Many of the students were totally green when it came to audio, movement, sequencing or the post-production editing process.  Some became so overwhelmed by the gear that they lost focus of the most important part of the workshop – “the story”. It’s easy to lose sight of the “story”. At the workshop, Bruce Strong from Newhouse School of Journalism gave a talk about “Storytelling Basics”.  He said something that really resonated with me “Ask the why behind the why.  Look for the emotional core of the story”. I realized that I needed a reminder at this particular time in my life, as to what was the essence of a good story. I’m currently working on a documentary film about a family that has a deep and rich history. To be honest, I had been floundering on the story aspects of the film as I had begun to get lost in the details and facts. I had an epiphany as I listened to Bruce and realized that my job wasn’t to document the timeline of this family, that had already been done in written form – my job was to “tell a story”. That epiphany may sound obvious and simple, but sometimes I get blindsided by the daily consumption of life, and the “obvious” gets overlooked.  But if I put myself in a different place, in body and mind, at a time in my life when I am open and receptive, the “right” path does become obvious.  That path was there the entire time, but perhaps it wasn’t the right time for me. As Orson Welles once said “If you want a happy ending, than it depends on where you stop the story”.

Storytelling – Words or Pictures?

I have always been a visual communicator.  For over 35 years I have been making a living taking photographs for magazines all over the world.  I have always “seen” the world and captured its stories through visuals.  Somehow, it was far easier for me to communicate with images than with words.  Sidewalk performer King Biscuit Festival Helena, ArkansasBut it was also a bit frustrating for me because many times when I was photographing a person, I felt like I was leaving a portion of their story untold.

When I photograph people, invariably I spend a good deal of time talking and listening to them.  It’s this rapport that usually enables me to capture a more intimate photograph. For me, this has always been my favorite part of the “process”, yet I never had an outlet for my subjects’ words, other than through the captions of my photographs.

When I started producing documentaries, my conversations with my subjects finally had an outlet through their recorded interviews that became the backbone of the “script”.  Even though the script was not something that I wrote using my own words, I was instrumental in the process because I was selecting the words and giving them an order.  I was involved in the process and structure of screenwriting.

In recent years, I have become fascinated with story structure and screenwriting.  I have read numerous books on the topic of screenwriting and this past weekend I decided to immerse myself in an intensive 3-day workshop with John Truby.  John has taught some of the best screenwriters around.  I knew going into this, it was going to be a great and informative workshop, but I had no idea how rewarding it would be.  Essentially, John gave me knowledge of the “process” and the structure of storytelling to enable me to take an idea and turn it into a really good story.

I have come away from this workshop with a deeper understanding and respect for a well-written story.   We can all spot poor writing in a film.  It stands out.  Even the layman who knows nothing about “the process” or story structure can identify really bad writing.  The audience may not know why the story or the film doesn’t work – they just know it doesn’t and they’re not buying it.  Like any other craft, screenwriting has gone through stylistic changes over the years, but the fundamentals remain.  After all, telling stories is as old as time and there has always been a constant – and that is “the audience”.  Ultimately the audience will decide if a writer has done their job well.

I think those of us who are “content creators” in this era of multi-media communications need to broaden our understanding of all kinds of mediums in order to effectively communicate.  Many times, I see creatives become too narrowly focused on their one set of tools and in the process lose sight of their end goal  – and that is to deliver the message or story to the audience.  Ultimately, the audience will always let you know if you’ve hit the mark or not because they are looking at the “whole” and not the “parts” of the story.

6 Ways Video has Made Me a Better Photographer

Lately, I’m finding that I “get the job” because I know how to shoot video. What’s odd is that these are still photography assignments and I was NOT hired to shoot video, but because I knew how to shoot video. What I’ve discovered is that many clients love the “eye” of the “hybrid”.

I’ve been thinking about what is it about the “eye of a hybrid” that clients are finding attractive. Forty Deuce burlesque club, Las Vegas, Nevada In a nutshell, it’s the eye of a master storyteller.  That’s because the medium of video is the perfect medium for telling a story. It encompasses movement, action, pace, rhythm and sound to engage, entice and feel.

I got a call this week for an editorial still photo assignment.  As usual, there was the customary business paperwork, but the client also provided a “shot list”.  I’ve been shooting editorial assignments for over 35 years and have had all kinds of direction. Sometimes, I’m given a writer’s manuscript and I’ve come up with my own shot list and sometimes I’m just told to come up with a variety of images.  But this “shot list” was intriguing because it read more like a shooting script for a video project.  As I read through the list, I could see how the person who had written it – had the “eye of a hybrid”.

Here are some of the suggested shots and “direction” from the list they provided:

(This is how I think and shoot in video. It has made me a better still photographer)

Cover it – Get comprehensive coverage – different perspectives, focal lengths, wide, medium and close-ups.  When I shoot video I will get a variety of angles as well as a variety of focal lengths because I know I will need plenty of b-roll to work with when editing the story together.

Get sequences – Get a variety of mini stories with people interacting. I am accustomed to thinking about how my “shots” will come together as part of the whole video that I’m working on.  Now, I approach a still editorial assignment like this as well. It’s kind of like of a moving pagination of imagery in my head.

Get storytelling images – With still photography I need to make sure those independent shots or moments in time also tell a story and stand on their own.  They can’t just be “wowy zowy” photos as Bob Gilka of the National Geographic used to say when I showed him an eye grabbing and colorful, abstract image.

Action/motion – make the images “feel”.  One that that motivated me to start exploring motion was because I was finding that it was difficult for me to convey the feeling of motion in a still image.  I’m finding that it’s easier for me to convey movement in a still image now because my eye is trained to look for it.

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 still images, I look for images that will illustrate the “sound” of an environment.

Shoot more – Give me more to choose from.  Again, you can never have enough b-roll when you are shooting video so I have naturally started shooting more on still photography shoots and my clients love having the abundance of choice.

It’s All About the Story

I’ve said it a million times “It’s all about the story”.  If you don’t have a good story to tell – and tell it – you’ve got nothing.

Last night I watched the documentary Sugarman“Searching for Sugar Man” and all I can say is WOW – it is probably the most incredible story I have ever heard in my life.  It’s the kind of story that’s almost to good to be true and yet it is.

It’s a story about Sixto Rodriguez, a Detroit folksinger who in the early 1970’s recorded a couple of records that were brilliant and “well received” but – they didn’t sell.  Rodriguez went on to live a simple life as a laborer, spending his time demolishing abandoned buildings in a city wracked by ruin and hard times.  Little did he know that on the other side of the world, in South Africa, he was a legendary music icon and an inspiration for generations who grew up with Apartheid. 

Back in the early ‘70’s, a young American woman went to South Africa to visit a friend and took with her one of Rodriguez’s records.  At that time, in South Africa, you could be put in jail for just listening to records like Rodriguez’s. It was a heavily censored society and ripe for rebellion.  He became a cult hero, bigger than Elvis.  Rumors grew up around this legend where it was said he committed suicide in front of his audience, at the end of a concert.  No one could find any information about him at all, because nothing had been written about him, unlike many of the popular rock musicians of his day.

Meanwhile, back in Detroit, Rodriguez had no idea his music had touched millions.  It wasn’t until the 1990’s, that a few die-hard fans tracked him down using cryptic clues from his lyrics and the Internet.  They finally found Rodriguez alive and well in the city of Detroit and brought him to South Africa.  What transpired was a series of concerts to sold out stadiums for this folksinger who had lost sight of his musical dreams.

It’s one of the most powerful inspiring stories I have ever heard.  Almost like parallel universes colliding to complete dreams across the divide.  Of course it took another 10 years for a filmmaker to bring awareness of this story in this incredible film.

When I was at the Traverse City Film Festival, I saw and met Rodriguez at the opening night outdoor party.  I couldn’t get into the screening because it was sold out and I had to wait until it was available on DVD.  It was worth the wait and it’s a film that you shouldn’t miss.

If you want to know what Rodriguez is doing now – well you’ll have to watch the movie.

PS I just bought his CD that was released in ’71. You couldn’t find in America before this film was released.  Like Orson Welles said “If  you want a happy ending that it depends on where you stop the story”.