286 IS VIDEO IN YOUR FUTURE?
February 16, 2000
One career change for the stock photographer to consider is video production. Many
still photographers have ignored video in the past because it was not personal
enough. The photographer is often only one member of a large crew, and usually not
the controlling member. A crew might have a producer/director, correspondent,
soundman, lighting technician and editor as well as the photographer. Most still
photographers want more control over the end product.
Now, with recent developments in equipment and software all this is changing. A
single person, with no outside help, can produce a television quality production.
Evidence of this are David Turnley's piece on Kosovo and Dirck Halstead's piece on
Dino Delaurentiis' 80th birthday, both of which appeared as 30 minute programs on ABC's
Nightline in the past year.
These stories were shot on a Canon XL1. The photographers were the entire "crew"
on each shoot. At the time, these photographers received some help with the
editing, but with Apple's new Final Cut Pro the photographer could have easily
edited the final piece as well. The quality of the video image in these
productions was equal to anything currently seen on TV.
The personalness of this approach offers some unique advantages in story telling
that could probably never be accomplished with a film camera crew. An example.
Halstead had worked with Delaurentiis as a still photographer on various film
productions over the years, and had become a friend. When Halstead got the
assignment from Nightline to shoot the 80th birthday piece he was invited to stay
at the Delaurentiis home. Halstead has one touching scene of the family around the
breakfast table, and Dino talking to his 11 year old daughter Carolina about what
she wants to do when she grows up. This situation would probably never have
developed had Halstead not had the personal relationship that still photographers
are often able to develop with their subjects.
David Turnley followed one family in their escape from Kosovo. Again, a large crew
would have gotten in the way of the story rather than being able to record it in a
personal way. Individual photographers doing stories will not replace film crews
on the majority of major productions, but there are certain types of stories where
the personal approach and the personal vision is an advantage.
You also need to consider where news photography is headed. According to Vin
Alabiso, Associated Press Vice President and Director of Newsphotos Worldwide, "...
technology will be perfected to the point that photographers will be able to
simultaneously capture video and still frames, of the quality needed for newspaper
and magazine reproduction, all with a single piece of equipment. We will see
something in the next couple of years that will quickly bring us to the doorstep of
a new way of working."
He continued, "We've been testing certain pieces of equipment, but there isn't any
video equipment (right now) that maintains the level of quality in stills that we
must have to insure the best reproduction in newspapers and magazines. The
technology needs to evolve somewhat, but it is close."
Alabiso pointed out that currently there are people shooting both stills and video
at a single event, but they are using two cameras - one still and one digital
"I don't think that's necessarily the best way to proceed. One way or the other
you are going to miss the moment. The way I see it, photographers will not forsake
one medium for the other," Alabiso said.
However, the photographer will be in control of the entire process and have a
single piece of equipment. He or she will be able to shoot stills in the normal
manner while capturing video, or shoot video and have the ability to switch over to
stills when necessary.
Consider how demand for video is likely to explode. When there were only three
major television networks there were 64,000 hours of air time to fill up each year.
Sounds like a lot, but the networks easily staffed up to do it. Right now with
the explosion of cable channels there are 2,500,000 hours of air time per year.
That's a lot of re-runs.
But television is only one of the uses for video. The web is a video medium.
Space for video on the web is unlimited.
In my opinion the exciting future of video story telling is not in commercial
television, but on the web. The web will absorb and unlimited number of short one
to five minute pieces produced for special interest groups, non-profits,
associations, and corporations to tell small, focused stories.
With the relatively low equipment costs, and the potential growth in demand as
bandwidth increases, lots of people from various backgrounds and experiences will
explore digital video. Still photographers, particularly those who also have some
writing skills, have some major advantages in this new field, but for most a lot of
training and practice will be required to become fully competent.
You have the choice to be an "early adopter" or wait until the demand is clearly
established and then get left behind by the pack.
Your competitors won't just be photographers. News writers will try it but
experience has shown they are often overwhelmed by technical aspects and the
equipment needed to create good images. Radio reporters have a big advantage
because they understand how important sound is in telling a story. They also know
how to write a script that makes effective use of sound. The still photographer
understands images. He or she knows framing and what makes a powerful picture.
The photographer understands light, and how to use it. And those photographers who
have written stories or books have a sense of sequence and story. They may be able
to develop scripts without too much difficulty.
The transition to producing good, marketable video is not simply a matter of buying
the equipment and walking out on your first paying job. There's a lot to learn and
practice. Once you have learned to produce decent videos and have a good demo tape
--"portfolio" --you'll need to explore new markets for this skill.
If you think there is no demand for video shooters consider what one small cable
station in Montgomery County, Maryland is doing to train future content providers.
Montgomery Community Television runs an ten week video course (3 hours, one day a
week) for $78.00. They supply all the equipment. There are eight 4 person teams
-- two producers and two cameramen -- in each course. The course is always full
and runs three times a year. Most of the people in the classes have no previous
photographic or producing experience.
If MCT is doing it chances are local stations all over the country are doing it.
Now is the time to start thinking about video. Now is the time to start learning
about the opportunities and determine if it is a skill you want to develop. Or
maybe you would rather make buggy whips for a living.
Looking To The Web
To get an idea of where web video is today go to Apple Computer's site at
There you can link to a variety of sites that use quicktime to
view video. One caution. If you don't already have quicktime on your computer, and
if you're using a 56K modem, the downloading of the software can take a while.
But, if you are thinking about producing video for the web you need to be aware of
what the technology has to offer, today.
At the same time be aware that increased bandwidth will greatly improve the
delivery of video on the web. If you are using a 56K modem you will get a small
video image on your screen. With DSL, cable modems or T1 lines you not only get a
larger image, but full motion without any breakup. Consider the potential when a
high number of users will have access to these faster connections.
Learning to use the video equipment, building a portfolio and developing a list of
potential customers takes time. My bet is that by the time most still
photographers have developed their skills to a professional level the market will
be there for digital video.
Advantages Of Motion And Sound
Motion and sound aren't necessary in all communications. In fact, some of the
analysis pieces we get from talking heads on TV might better be communicated in
text only. But, where still images are currently being used in communication, the
combination of motion, sequence and sound will often do a better job of informing
the viewer. This is possible on TV and the web. It will never be possible in
newspapers, magazines or books.
I challenge you to begin looking at the stories you read and the still images you
see. Ask yourself if the communication would have been more powerful if you could
not only see, but hear, the participants, and if you could see sequences of what
was happening, not single isolated moments. In a significant number of cases you
will find that video and sound would greatly enhance the communication of the
information being presented.
An example. The lead story in the Saturday, January 22nd San Jose Mercury News was
entitled "Head Start-Up", "Fledgling entrepreneurs try their hand at making a pitch
The story was about 7th grade girls and what they were learning about starting a
40 girls in the class had developed plans for nine different small businesses which
sell various products such as pet rocks, snacks and T-shirts.
They needed seed capital ranging from $65 to $370.
If this had been happening in
Baltimore or Boise the natural way to get capital would be to hit up their parents
for a loan.
But this was "Silicon Valley" where half their parents are venture capitalists and
the other half are writing business plans to get venture capital. So the story in
the paper was about the night the girls presented their business plans to venture
What is interesting for us as still photographers is the images that were used to
illustrate this story. There were three images -- two on the front page and one on
the back, where the story jumped.
The lead image was five girls around a podium frantically doing a last minute
rehearsal of their pitch. There was also a picture of a girl using an overhead
projector. On the back page was a shot of two women, one an attorney and one a
venture capitalist sitting at a table reviewing business plans.
These images added very little to the understanding of the story, but in fairness
to the still photographer there was not much more that could have been done with
On the other hand, think about what could have been done with video and sound. You
could have seen and heard nine girls present a summary sentence about their
project. You could have seen girls making their pitch with cutaways to samples or
diagrams of their products. You could have cut away to the audience and the VC's
listening. You could have had the advisor explaining the rationale for the
project. And all that could have been presented in a couple minutes -- less time
than it takes to read the story in the newspaper. What has more impact? Now the
pictures are an important element in telling the story.
Such a story placed on-line has more potential uses than one in a single edition of
a newspaper that is available for 24 hours and used to wrap tomorrow's garbage. It
could be linked to an educational web site designed to offer teachers ideas for
programs they might use in their own classrooms. It could link to a student site
designed for students to see what their peers around the world are doing.
The piece might be sold outright to educational sites, or linked in such a way that
users would pay a fee each time they viewed the video.
It could be one of a series of short segments on a TV program on trends in
education. One of the problems with today's print journalism is that it is designed
to be available to a small segment of readers at a single point in time. Much of
what is written would be of value to a much broader group of readers over a much
broader time span, if there was some way to efficiently deliver it when the
readers were interested.
The web has the potential to deliver information in this manner, and it has tremendous
efficiencies over print journalism. Major strides must be made in archiving,
indexing and cataloging content before the web can be used efficiently in this area,
but there is the potential.
The above is a single example. Start looking at the illustrated articles in your
newspapers and magazines. Consider how many could be told more effectively with
video, sound and narration in less time than it takes to read the article.
Consider the multiple uses that could be made of information that tends to be lost
after a single publication.
Think about the travel industry. Consider how travelers get information on the
places they want to visit. What do the few single frames that they see in travel
brochures, newspaper or magazine stories tell them about these places. What more
could be done to promote these locations with short video
pieces on the web. Consider the number of people who already use the web to book
reservations for airlines and other travel activities.
In the past, many organizations were forced to reject video projects because of the
costs, and the relatively limited ways in which they could be used. Now small
focused projects will make more economic sense. The options are endless.
One of the exciting things about producing short video's for the web is that
to date virtually nothing has been shot and edited as short, narrowly focused information
pieces. The 30 minute story is the standard, but that volume of information may not
always be necessary. In nearly all cases brand new content will need to be shot because
nothing in the archives will work in its present format. A whole host of feature
stories, informational pieces
and certain types of advertising that have been produced with stills over the years,
will now be candidates to be re-done in video. A huge amount of potential new work.
The downside. Once a video has been produced and made available in these new ways
there will undoubtedly be less need to re-use those still images on the topic. If you
think the availability of royalty free images was a disaster for stock photography,
consider what digital video could do to the market for stills once an economic way
is developed to pay for the initial video productions.
If our role as professionals is to provide information that will educate and
entertain, we are doing a lousy job of it, if we insist on living in the past
and ignore the new tools that are available.
There are those who argue that many people prefer print and don't want to get their
information from the web? Re-consider everything I've said in "Your Next Career"
Then remember that this is
exactly what people said about television fifty years ago. The only difference is
that the web revolution will occur much more rapidly than the TV revolution.
How To Get Trained
An excellent place to get trained to shoot and produce video is at a Platypus
Workshops operated by Dirck Halstead and friends. I attended a week long session
in January at the Apple Computer headquarters in Cupertino, CA. Another will be
held March 12-24, 2000 at the University of Oklahoma in Norman in conjunction with
NPPA's annual TV NewsVideo Workshop. More will be announced and the best place to
learn more about these workshops and keep up with developments in digital video is
at www.digitaljournalist.org .
The focus of this workshop is toward news, but the skills learned will be very
applicable in the commercial market.
What About Equipment
The big breakthrough for still photographers is that quality camcorder equipment
has come way down in price. Less than five years ago, a broadcast-quality video
camera cost $30,000. Now you can get a Canon GL1 video camcorder for less than
$2,400 or a Canon XL1 for $3,900.
You will probably want to upgrade the standard mike that comes with these cameras
with a Sennheiser ME-66 Short Shotgun Mike for about $500. Before too long you
will want a good wireless radio mike that will let you work away from your subject.
The Telex UR12-L for about $350 is one option, but there are a great variety of
options. You may want to rent and test out various options, and get
some advice from a professional film soundman before you buy.
Electosonics makes quality VHF and UHF mikes priced in the range of $1200 to $2000.
Depending on your subjects you may need additional lighting, but as a still photographer
you already know about lighting and you may have a lot of the equipment you need.
Everything is hot lights so your strobes aren't going to help you. The CCD
chips are fast enough to record perfectly satisfactorily video in poor
lighting conditions, so you don't necessarily need a lot of hot lights. The main
reason to use lights is to compress the range between highlights and
shadows because the CCD's have a narrower range from highlight to shadow than film.
One light that may be useful is Canon's 10W on-camera light for under $100. It
uses the same batteries as the camera.
Canon's BP941 L-ion batteries are good for about 150 minutes and cost $160. The
Canon Dual CH900 Charger (charges two batteries at a time cost $230. Sixty minute
digital tapes sell for $15 each.
There is a company called Videosmith in Philadelphia that is specializing in
helping still photographers get started shooting video. You can find them on-line
at www.videosmith.com .
They offer a Canon GL1 Platinum Package for $3,350 that is
all you need to start shooting. (You may want to add certain features to this
package as mentioned above.)
Before you (or someone working for you) begins the edit process you need to log
every shot and prepare a script. Logging involves, at a minimum, listing the tape
time-code and a brief description of each shot on the tape. If the shot was an
interview or narration you need to type it verbatim. At first this seems like a
lot of work, but it pays off in spades down the road.
If someone else is going to do the final edit you can prepare this log by playing
the tape back through the camera. However, that's a real pain and hard on the
camera equipment. I recommend using a Sony Mini DV player (about $700) for this
The other major breakthrough in video production is Apple's Final Cut Pro editing
software that works on a MAC G3 or higher. This software costs $950 and is easier
to learn the PhotoShop. You need 256MB of Ram and lots of hard drive space if you
are going to do pieces of any length. ATA Ultra EIDE drives in the 27GB to 36GB
range are a good choice. You can put about 5 minutes of tape at high resolution on
each gig so it is easy to see why you need a lot of hard drive space to edit a
major piece. The people at the Platypus Workshop recommend the Quantum 27GB drive
at about $350 each. You may want two or three.
This is the minimum you need to get you started assuming you already have a G3 or G4.
Based on my experience at the Platypus Workshop, I strongly recommend that you plan
to do some editing even if you plan to eventually hire an editor to do most of the
work for you. The toughest transition for a still photographer will be in
understanding how to shoot what is called "B Roll" which are basically single shots
or cutaways. They will be cut into a sequence. This is particularly true if the
shots have to cut over the voice of a narrator, or an interview, to illustrate
There is no faster way to learn the necessary shooting techniques than to cut your
own material and recognize what could have been done if you had shot some other
cutaways or held a shot a little longer.
If you decide you want to do most of the editing yourself you will want a Sony NTSC
Studio Monitor which delivers the image at 30 fps (29.97 frames to be exact).
Normal computer monitors deliver images at 15fps. The 13" Studio Monitor
(PVM-14M2U) from B&H will cost about $880. A second computer monitor may also be
advisable so you can have your log records up
on one monitor and Final Cut Pro on the second monitor.
For planning purposes it generally takes
about a day to edit each minute of finished tape once a good log and script have been
provided. Experienced editors can be hired for $500 a day, although ones with a
lot of experience earn more than this. One seventeen minute piece took seven days to
shoot, 20 days to edit and had a budget of $50,000.
Marketing Your Video
To begin marketing you need something to show just like you did when you
started in still photography. You need to produce a demo reel. Depending on the
kind of work you are going after the demo reel may be a series of short one to two
minute pieces, or something longer. If you want to shoot a 30 minute story, you
may need to produce a five minute, or so, "treatment" on the subject that will give
the potential buyer a good idea of what will be included in the finished piece.
Such a treatment is going to require not only shooting, but editing time. Some
potential buyers will look at raw footage to determine quality, but it is not a
good idea to show raw footage any more than it is a good idea to show contact
sheets when you're trying to get a still job. Edit your presentation.
We talked earlier about Montgomery Community Television offering to train cameramen
and producers for a very reasonable amount of money. But they are not offering to
pay these photographers anything, even when they are fully trained. The
photographers will have to go out an find their own projects and their own sponsors
for those projects. In exchange for the training MCT gets to run the finished four
minute piece, on a non-exclusive basis, up to twice a month for three years -- free
Nevertheless, there will be companies and organizations who will want their story
told in video. They will fund projects to get their message to the public. There
will be a lot more demand than the current number of experienced skilled producers
can supply. The trick will be in finding these people and letting them know you
are available to do the work -- once you can demonstrate the necessary skills to do
When wire service photographers start using cameras that shoot video and stills
simultaneously AP will certainly be marketing the video content through their
existing TV division. If AP is doing it other agencies will get into the video
The industry will change, and there will be opportunities. Position yourself now
to take advantage of the opportunities.
What About Stock Video Clips?
This generation of digital video equipment is probably going to be of little value
in shooting stock video to sell for use in advertising. The resolution is fine for
ads that will be used in the near term, but those who are building stock footage
files still want the original to be shot on film. In most cases they want 35mm but
in some cases they are willing to accept 16mm.
There is good logic for this. These marketers are looking ahead to HDTV which
we're already seeing to some extent. HDTV is expected to have a significant share
of the market by 2005. The current NTSC format resolves approximately 500 lines
per inch. HDTV resolves in the range of 1700 lines per inch. The stock marketers
want to be able to go back to a film original and re-capture it at a much higher
digital resolution when it is appropriate. For that reason they are currently
unwilling to put anything into the files that can not eventually be captured at
If your goal is to produce stock footage for advertising, then film needs to be
your final product. Currently that is a very expensive proposition. The Canon
equipment recommended at the Platypus Workshops might be useful as a means of
developing your skills in shooting video, and testing out certain ideas with your
marketing house before renting or purchasing equipment to shoot film.