After a slow spell, which I can’t say I ever get used to after 30 plus years of freelancing, the phone started ringing. The calls were all in regards to still photography assignments. Having been a still photographer for most of my life, that wasn’t unusual, but what was interesting was that I beat out my competition – other still photographers – because I knew video.
Times have sure changed. When I started exploring the medium of video, over 15 years ago, I didn’t abandon my still photography – I simply added another skill set. Most of my clients over the years have hired me to shoot one or the other, and sometimes both. But what I see happening now is that as print moves to electronic delivery, my still photographic clients are also looking for a “photographer” that can shoot video components on a still photography assignment. They need multimedia content for mobile devices and online platforms that cry out for movement and sound.
I don’t think of myself as a “still photographer” or a “videographer”. First of all, I absolutely hate the word videographer because it smacks of a dated notion of what video used to be. I think of myself as an “imaging professional” or sometimes a “new media producer” or sometimes just a “storyteller” because that’s what I do – I tell a client’s story, or deliver their message to their targeting audience. I don’t define myself by the tool I use.
With convergence happening not only in the cameras we shoot with but in the media we create, I will opt for the “tool” or camera(s) that enable me to tell the story I need to tell, in the best way possible. I’ve been thinking that way since I first forayed into video. It’s nice to know that now my clients are thinking that way too.
It’s 4AM as I write this entry. I can’t sleep. That often happens when my mind is in overdrive as it has been all week – over stimulated by the process of editing video. I’ve also spent a lot of time this past week speaking with quite a few photographers who are working in both the still photography and video mediums. Some shooters I spoke with got into video because the entry level became cheaper when hybrid cameras that shoot both stills and video came on the market. Other people I talked to weren’t “camera operators” at all – they were DP’s or Directors of Photography on high-end commercial broadcast productions.
One question I asked these shooters was “What do you call yourself these days?” Personally I’m struggling with that question myself. Am I a photographer?, a videographer? (I hate that term), a DP?, a media producer? Who am I ? What do I call myself? I have yet to answer that question for myself, but the answers that I got from everyone I spoke with, ran the gamut, encompassing all the titles above. As I replayed these conversations in my head, I realized that for me the problem was I was trying to define myself by my tool. And that just doesn’t work.
The problem is if we define ours by our tools – then we are diminishing the value of our creativity or our vision in the process. We aren’t placing the value on what is unique in all of us – our vision. At the same time we’re placing too much value on the tool – in this case the camera. As technology accelerates the production of more sophisticated cameras that are cheaper and easier to use – and we’ve placed our value on being the technician – we’re in big trouble. Because ultimately anyone with a vision who has the “ability” to realize that vision, can put together a crew of technicians to facilitate their vision or idea – and do it cheaper these days because of technology. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Professional photographers get defensive when a potential client places no value on what is unique about them (their vision) and approaches them with the attitude that if you won’t work for the prices they dictate – they will just find another photographer. But what they are really saying is that they feel that they can “just” find another camera operator. The problem is that these photographers haven’t presented their vision and because of that they are perceived as being interchangeable. That’s not a good place to be and never will be. And for that reason when a professional still photographer comes to me and says that they are interested in getting into video and asks the question “What video camera should I buy?” I gently tell them – well sometimes not so gently tell them – it’s not about the camera.
How does one define what they are? Great question that has a lot of answers, as it should. Technology is amazing – but it’s the human part of the process that excites me because we’re all so different in how we see.