Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Will Video Kill The Still Photography Star?
After years of fits and starts, it seems that the much heralded convergence of still photography and video finally is on the verge of happening. Will you be ready for it?
Three years ago, wedding shooter William Henshall declared to me that wedding photographers were going to one day shoot high-definition video in their SLRs and pull frames from the footage for the photos. Even if he was right, I was confident in my skepticism that this practice would never spill over into the commercial world. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Last July, rumors started circulating that a few photographers were being asked to shoot catalogs with the RED Digital Cinema camera. The video would be used for, among other things, web snippets in the same vein as a YouTube video, and the images for the print publication would be pulled from the footage. At the time, corroboration wasn’t readily available. However, when I revisited the assertion for this article, I was able to get verification of the trend from two high-profile photographers’ agents who asked for anonymity. “In the last six months, several jobs were lost because of the video issue,” said one agent. The agents I spoke with were protective about which photographers were affected. But the trend is clear: Video now is a requirement for landing gigs.
The wedding world is changing, too. Mr. Henshall told me recently that the traditional, 30-minute wedding video with the schmaltzy soundtrack was being replaced with the three-and-a-half-minute, tightly edited YouTube-style video of the highlights of the wedding with a rocking soundtrack. Although this style of video has typically contained stills with transitions much like Miss Wilson’s presentation, Mr. Henshall assured me that high-definition video frame-pulls were just around the corner.
To get my head around the radical changes that I was uncovering, I tried to embrace the concept. I’ve worked in both still and motion, but in the latter format, I’ve almost always directed and rarely ran the camera. To me, applying a still photography discipline to a motion-capture device is counterintuitive. Photography at its philosophical soul is the “decisive moment.” How in the hell am I supposed to react to click a button with a video platform?
I brought the question to Jaron Presant, the director of photography who has shot many of the commercials I’ve directed. He theorized that the shutter-release button will evolve into an electronic flagging device, marking the frame of the digital video that the operator feels is the “decisive moment.”
After thinking about it for a few minutes, I bought into it. I could work this way. Much as a smoker in the process of quitting needs a pencil to hold in his fingers while chewing nicotine gum, I need to reactively push a button when I see a scene I like. If I have that, I don’t really care how I’m capturing the image as long as I’m getting the quality I’m seeking. And that’s the small levee holding back the wave of widespread adoption of the frame-pulling workflow. While the images are usable for some situations, they aren’t good for everything in advertising. In order to compress the visual information enough for effective throughput to the recording media, the effective size of the image sensor needs to be diminished, resulting in a lower-quality still frame as compared to a single-image capture. But that limitation quickly will be overcome. This growth phase is an ideal time to learn this style of shooting for the new era of photography. If we don’t, our industry will have to contend with a new group of competitors.