Expanding Your Business With Video

Posted on 5/20/2010 by Gail A Mooney | Printable Version | Comments (0)

I’m a hybrid with one foot in the still photography world and one in video and motion.  
What I really am is a storyteller choosing the right medium to tell the story.  

I had already been a still photographer for over 20 years when I started exploring digital video and the motion medium ten years ago. I had built a successful career shooting editorially for magazines like National Geographic Traveler, Smithsonian, Travel & Leisure to name a few, as well as producing annual reports for major corporations.  When digital video hit the scene in the late ‘90’s, I was already starting to feel a slight frustration in trying to tell certain stories with a still camera. I was beginning to think and see in terms of movement and sound.  At the same time, technology was making it possible and affordable with digital video cameras and non-linear editing software for me to use this medium to tell my stories.  The new tools were a means to an end.

Defining Yourself by Your Vision – Not Your Tool

Some shooters get into video because the entry level has become cheaper with hybrid cameras that shoot both stills and video. As more still photographers embrace video simply because their cameras have the capability of shooting video, I urge them to think differently when shooting motion because it’s not about the camera.  Defining yourself by your tool 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.

Professional photographers get defensive when a potential client places no value on their vision and approaches them with the attitude that they can find another photographer if they won’t work for the prices they dictate. What they are really saying is that they think 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. They have defined themselves by their tool. That’s not a good place to be. 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.

Adding a Skill Set

I think differently in motion and although I have shot both stills and video on the same job, it’s a difficult thing to do.  Still photographs are moments in time.  Video is time in motion.  When I’m shooting video I’m always thinking in storyboard mode with the finished edit in mind. I’m thinking of how I’m going to get into and out of a shot and what will be coming next on the screen.  I’m shooting in sequences with a beginning, middle and end.

Another huge difference between video and still photography is the added dimension of sound.  Good audio is essential in video. If you don’t have good audio – you don’t have it. I do a lot of interviews and capturing good audio is critical. Viewers can’t tolerate something they cannot hear.

I have found that editing my footage has made me a better shooter.  While I respect the skill set that a professional editor can bring to the final piece, I get a lot out of doing the initial rough cut myself. This is where I craft my story and lay out what I want to say and communicate that to the editor.  

Collaboration is Key

Video production works well as a collaborative effort. Even a simple video production requires a producer, camera operator, sound person, editor and graphics artist.  When I started out in video I made a conscious decision to set up a production company and handle more parts of the production than just the camera. Traditionally speaking camera operators in the video world are hired guns, handing over the content to the production company and not taking ownership.  While I’m capable of shooting, running sound and editing a job, I often choose to delegate some of these tasks to others and many times position myself as producer and DP (Director of Photography).  

I encourage photographers who are thinking about expanding their businesses by adding video to collaborate with others who already have the skills needed in video production.  Rather than embark on a steep learning curve of how to shoot motion, capture good audio and edit, they can grow their businesses by positioning themselves as producers and collaborating with others. Setting up a production company will allow your business to grow beyond yourself as an individual. And in some markets like editorial and corporate, your production company will also maintain ownership of the finished product.

To sum up – when still photographers ask me if they should add video and grow their businesses, I tell them yes, if they feel that they have the need to communicate with sound and motion.  And then I remind them that it’s not about the tool, but their vision and to keep that in their mind’s eye as they go forward.   

Some common pitfalls to avoid when crossing over from stills to video:

•    Turning camera on too late.
•    Turning camera off too soon.
•    Not capturing usable audio by using internal camera microphone. You must use external mics and get them close to subject to capture good audio.
•    Using auto-focus and other auto defaults – remember video is time in motion so you don’t want to see the focus or exposure shifting throughout your shot.
•    Using zooms, pans and tilts – the motion should come from the subject – not the camera.
•    Not shooting enough b-roll.  B-roll is footage shot to illustrate your interview or narrative and you can never have enough.
•    Not shooting enough variations. I shoot wide, medium, tight and really tight and then move and shoot the same from other angles and perspectives.  This will give you what you need for editing.
•    Not using a good video tripod that allows the camera to move fluidly. A good tripod for still photography work is one that doesn’t allow the camera to move. A good video tripod allows the camera to move fluidly.

Copyright © 2009 Gail A Mooney. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz

Gail Mooney is a partner with Kelly/Mooney Productions, a video production company specializing in corporate, NGO's and institutional videos. tnvy@xryylzbbarl.pbz


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