Equipment TECHNIQUES

The Moving Image is Here to Stay and this is Why

The moving image is the brash newcomer to the world of professional photography and I embraced it just a few months after it made its entrance. As I have previously stated I am not somebody who is obsessed by cameras or technology, but I cannot talk about the importance of the moving image without discussing both.

The Canon EOS 5D was the camera that allowed me to transfer my professional image-making from analog to digital and it is still my “go to” camera of choice. It does everything I need it to and has never let me down. So when Canon launched its successor in the autumn of 2008, the 5D MK II, I was interested.

At the time I was working within a central London auction house that, as an important client to Canon, received some MK IIs in early January 2009. A quick overview revealed a functionality that instantly got me excited: it could make digital films. With no experience of the filmmaking process, I immediately made a digital film of an auction, relying on my knowledge of how a film should look from a lifetime of watching movies. A rudimentary edit in iMovie resulted in a short digital film of acceptable quality, which was shown on a loop, on screens in the auction house’s reception area. I was hooked—and excited by the effect the ability to create moving images easily and inexpensively with such high quality would have on the world of photography.

It is worth pointing out that my understanding is Canon had no idea what they were unleashing with the MK II. They had no idea how revolutionary the camera would be when they launched it. Canon perceived the MK II as being an improvement on its predecessor with an added functionality that wedding photographers might like to use. It was down to those within the creative industries—primarily filmmakers—to show Canon the possibilities it opened for the image-making community. Today Canon is fully engaged with that community, but back in 2009 they were taken completely by surprise.

I brought this excitement to my role as editor of Professional Photographer magazine when I took over the position in 2009. The moving image is the future, I proclaimed, and we must include it within the magazine by speaking to the pioneer photographers and digital filmmakers who were at the forefront of this new and exciting area of creative practice. My conversation with friends working for clients in the States had confirmed my early suspicions concerning the need for photographers to embrace the moving image, but they were experimenting with the far more expensive and temperamental RED camera. Canon’s DSLR had none of the work process issues the RED was showing—although the MK II had its own workflow peculiarities and issues that digital filmmakers were overcoming, thanks to their technical knowledge of the filmmaking process—and it was a fraction of the price. Everything was falling into place and the future was obvious to me and a few others. However, it was not yet clear to either the wider photographic community or the camera manufacturers.

The creation of photographic images is a relatively simple process to understand and since the advent of digital capture it has become as simple as you want it to be. However, filmmaking is not a simple process; it requires expertise in a number of areas including pre-production, editing, scripting, lighting, and audio, not to mention the shooting itself. Not surprisingly a large number of photographers were nervous about getting involved in something they knew so little about. So while digital filmmakers made hay, experimenting with new cameras to create scripted films and documentaries on budgets they could not previously have dreamed of, and to capture shots in major motion pictures that were previously unobtainable, photographers hid their heads in the sand. A few did see the creative possibilities and strode forth into a new world of narrative: most notably photographers such as Vincent Laforet, Tim Hetherington, Danfung Dennis, Dan Chung and the hero to the time-lapse community, Philip Bloom. Alongside these professionals, amateurs primarily from the extreme sports and skateboarding community, saw that this inexpensive form of movie making allowed them to capture their death defying stunts. The establishment of Vimeo as a platform for serious digital films—in competition with the more general content of YouTube—provided a showplace for a content hungry audience only too willing to share what they considered to be good, and to pass judgment, both informed and not quite so considered. The community was being formed online and there was no shortage of people willing and able to create the content. But where were the photographers in this burgeoning community? The truth is that apart from a few, they were barely visible.

Moving_Image

Vimeo is an online platform that has been at the forefront of exhibiting, showing, and marketing short films created by professional filmmakers and photographers, as well as enthusiasts excited by the possibilities that DSLRs offer to create high quality work

From my standpoint within the photographic press I was a lone voice. “It’s just a gimmick”, “It’s nothing to do with photography”, “It’s not for professionals”, photographic magazine journalists loudly pronounced. The truth was that they were just as scared as many of the photographers. They were afraid that they were about to be usurped by a new form of image capture that they did not understand. They were afraid that if they admitted this they would no longer be of relevance on their respective titles. Many photographers took the same standpoint, and many are still clinging to this way of thinking, just as many did with the change from analog to digital. It was, and it remains, the case that it is the clients requiring engaging web content to entertain, inform, and improve their search engine optimization (SEO) standings who are finally forcing photographers to take the advent of the DSLR moving image seriously. (SEO is the process of improving the visibility of a website or web page within a search engine’s natural or unpaid search results. A process that Google favors is the use of video within a site to help improve search ranking and therefore visibility.)

I have never said that photographers have to shoot moving images—I recognize that it does not suit everybody creatively—however, I do believe that photographers have to consider and experiment with it. After all, why wouldn’t they if it can be used as a tool to extend creatively and expand the opportunities to tell stories, and create narratives both for themselves and for clients? More importantly perhaps, from a commercial and professional photographic perspective, the moving image is becoming a client’s expectation of the photographer. The use of the word “expectation” is an important one, because photographers will lose commissions if they do not have it in their kit bag, and will continue to do so. The Internet is here to stay and so is its demand for engaging content. These factors combined with the fact that every DSLR or compact system camera launched over the last five years has HD video functionality, and every smart phone now has the same, has ensured that every client now sees the creation of moving image as nothing more than a matter of pressing a different button. Whether or not this is true is not the point; the fact is that this is the perception, to which we have to respond.

This availability of the moving image on easily available devices may require adaption from those not born as digital natives, but to those born since the digital revolution the concept of creating a moving image is an obvious extension of the still image. Many see no reason to create a still when they can create the moving interpretation of the same scene, and they are the future of our industry. To those more dyed in the wool within their photographic practice and who are struggling with the concept of the moving image, I’d like to offer this thought.

If we think back to the days of the analog contact sheet, and see the contact sheet for what it was, it was a series of images in sequence that tell the story of what the photographer witnessed and chose to capture. The contact sheet is a storyboard for a film that was never made. That sequence of stills could also be considered as frames from a movie without sound. With this understanding, the progression from the still to the moving image seems a very small one and completely logical for the photographer to progress to. Let’s also not forget the long history of photographers making films. From the end of the nineteenth century, to the films of Paul Strand, Bert Stern’s classic Jazz On a Summer’s Day, Gordon Park’s seminal Shaft, and on to the present day with Anton Corbijn’s art house successes Control and The American, photographers have been fascinated by and involved with the process of filmmaking; now they can do it independently without outside finance and influence.

We are in the earliest days of this moving image revolution and at present clients’ expectations are, on the whole, not particularly demanding. They are often happy to receive the moving image content photographers want to give them, within the budget they have set (do not expect to get extra budget for the moving element of a shoot, it may happen and arguably it should happen but increasingly I hear that it is not happening; similarly, do not enter this field purely as an extra revenue stream, despite what others may say you will be extremely disappointed with your return). However, this is changing and will definitely change over the coming years, as clients become more demanding in the quality and scope of the moving image they expect. To respond to this and also to help photographers get started in this field that is new for many, I have compiled a checklist of considerations that need to be taken into account.

How to Respond to the Moving Image

1. Be prepared to invest in the right equipment at a quality appropriate for the rigors of filmmaking. This will include tripods, fluid heads, sound recording equipment, microphones, editing software, memory cards, and possibly rigs and other specific kit appropriate for the films you want to make.

2. Bad sound is bad sound. You will need to get your audio right the first time—it can rarely be saved or improved in post-production.

3. Speaking of sound, look to build “soundscapes” rather than relying on one piece of music as the soundtrack.

4. Look to create narrative within your work and avoid the temptation to create a beautiful looking film composed of a series of well-constructed images with little depth of purpose.

5. Be prepared to work within a team. Still photography is primarily a solitary practice with the photographer controlling the whole process. Filmmaking is about teamwork and working with others both practically and creatively.

6. Avoid clichés and look to original ways to tell your stories, and avoid stories that are clichés. You can research on Vimeo to help you avoid this.

7. If you are going to shoot time-lapse, make sure that you have the right subject for the process.

8. The graphics you use within the film and as title sequences and end credits are important. If you are an inexperienced designer or typographer, work with someone who can set the right identity for your film.

9. Don’t forget to shoot stills of the making of your film and to capture key moments or characters to use as marketing and promotion stills of the film when it is finished.

10. Create a showreel (an edited selection of your film work on DVD and online; think of this as a promotional trailer for your work), and include films on your website. Although I know of photographers who have been commissioned to shoot moving image purely on the strength of their stills, I also know of those who have lost commissions as they did not have a showreel to show. The showreel does not have to consist of commissioned films as good personal work always shows personality and passion—two key elements in getting commissioned.

Now that the dust has settled on the explosion of moving image functionality within DSLR cameras and the majority of professional photographers have accepted that the arrival of that functionality has not meant the death of the still image, it is becoming increasingly obvious that the moving image is an essential commercial and creative tool within a photographer’s kit bag. It is also clear that the genre of moving image has different parameters in both construction and delivery from that of traditional filmmaking, while also sharing a number of its intrinsic qualities. Photographers are beginning to make their presence felt by creating documentaries, short films, and experimental pieces, that are based on their unique experience of composition, lighting, and post-production aesthetics, while also using that experimentation to inform their still image creation. As with all dramatic change that is disruptive and challenging, the arrival of the moving image into the photographic world was not initially universally accepted. However, that acceptance is fast becoming a widespread reality.

Excerpted from Professional Photography by Grant Scott © 2014 Taylor and Francis LLC, All Rights Reserved.

For more expert advice from Grant Scott, check out Self-Promotion for Professional Photographers, a free ebook brought to you by Focal Press. Download your copy today!

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