As I mentioned in my article on Nielsen's new system to rank Internet sites, we are on the cusp of explosive demand for short-form videos designed for the net. Are you a still shooter experiencing declining RPI, and finding you have to work twice as hard and produce double the quantity of images just to stay even now? If so, video production may offer an opportunity to stay in the business of photography.
It's important to have a clear understanding of how short-form and long-form video differ. A short-form video is a tight story that can be told in two to three minutes. Long-form are half-hour and hour TV stories and longer movies that tell a much more complex story. Short-form is not the kind of stock clips that Getty, Corbis and others in the industry have been selling as stock video. The video that is being sold as stock today is, for the most part, short clips designed to fill holes in a longer production -- which may be no longer than a 30-second ad spot. Often, these clips are used for little more than a second in the spot. It's not a still image. It does have movement, but it is very hard to make a story out of something shot to be a clip.
The biggest users of such clips are TV advertising. Short-form stories are designed to present a narrowly focused story that can be delivered on the Internet or a mobile device and can be digested during a coffee break.
Established media companies that produce long-form stories have started to think about how to "chunkify" or "chapterize" their longer shows. This is sometimes referred to as creating "webisodes." But chapterizing is often difficult. Most long-form productions can't be easily broken up in that way. Thus, it seems likely that most short-form videos will be shot specifically for that purpose. Producing such stories requires a different mind-set. Some techniques differ from those commonly used by most long-form producers.
Making The Transition
Making the transition from stills to video can be very challenging, as there are lots of new skills to learn. It starts with how you address the subject. Finding unique angles and "decisive moments" may not be as important in video as they are in stills. The flow of how the story is told is much more important than having a few blockbuster angles or frames. Learning how to shoot cutaways that work and provide proper transitions are things still photographer have never had to consider. It's not as simple as shooting the subject from different angles. The video shooter must approach a subject in a totally different way from that used by a still shooter. Nevertheless, still experience can be helpful.
Two of the things that are critical in short-form video are sound and story. Still shooters don't worry about sound, and often, they only have a broad overview of the story concept they have been asked to illustrate. In the 1960s and '70s during the heyday of Life magazine, every editorial photographer wanted to shoot picture stories that visually explored issues in depth. Life died, and photographers became illustrators. With short-form video, photographers can become story tellers again, instead of illustrators.
Demand for the traditional clips won't disappear, but it could decline as companies discover new ways to sell products and services. Advertisers could come to prefer short, targeted stories delivered on digital devices, rather than expensive, scatter-shot TV ads that reach millions, 99% of whom have absolutely no interest in the product.
One of the big stumbling blocks in the past for those who wanted to learn to shoot video clips was the cost of equipment and general production costs. Getty and Corbis want everything to be shot on 35mm film stock and then converted to digital. Such equipment is prohibitively expensive to own, and while it is possible to rent almost everything, those costs can also be tough for someone beginning to learn techniques.
However, if the focus is to shoot specifically for Web or mobile devices, high definition equipment is now available at prices that can fit into almost any professional photographer's budget. The Canon XHA1 runs about $3,800 and can do almost anything the $30,000 to $50,000 professional cameras can do if the planned use is for the Web. In fact, these cameras are often used by professional news photographers shooting for TV use. Many photographers anxious to develop some skills before they shell out $3,800 are using the new high-def Canon HV20 that costs around $1,000. It has fewer bells and whistles than the more expensive options. It is often easier to learn on a simpler camera before moving to the next level.
Depending on what you intend to shoot, you probably need auxiliary microphones. Sound quality is key to the success of any short-form video. Finally, you're going to need something that provides a continuous source of light. In my opinion, the point where many short-form videos fail is with the lighting. The videographer tries to do everything with available light and in many situations loses key elements of the image. In addition, with short-form video, you can't get away with moody light as you can with stills.
Full-length movies and TV series often use moody lighting, but that doesn't work when you have to get to the meat of the story quickly and little time to set an overall mood. Of course, electronic flash won't work. You've got to find hot lights that will work in all situations. Some still shooters use the modeling lights on their studio strobes as a light source.
The preferred editing software is Apple's Final Cut Pro at about $1,200. Again, as you're working through that initial learning curve, there are $100 to $200 packages that allow you to do almost everything necessary to produce short-form videos for the Web.
Short-Form Differs From Long-Form
For those considering jumping into the video arena, one of the comforting things is that experienced long-form video shooters and producers also have to do a lot of re-thinking of their strategies in order to produce videos that work on the Web.
Barry Collin, former president of the Association of Independent Feature Film Producers says, "Using traditional film and video techniques for Web and mobile video is like "The Jerry Springer Show" syndrome: You can get a 300-pound person into a tube top and spandex bike shorts, but the result will not be something you want to look at for very long.
"There are several key factors that make or break a video designed for the Web or mobile media, beyond the short format. With hundreds of thousands of clips competing for everyone's attention," he says, "missing the special restrictions to shooting in these venues can instantly kill any chance of success." Collin listed six inter-related factors for shooting and directing that should be considered:
1) Complexity: While complex images can look beautiful on a large screen at high resolution and frame rate, complexity in Web or mobile video can overwhelm and interfere with the message of the video and highlight distortions. Keep it simple.
2) Diversity: Limit the number of highly contrasting elements in images, except where the key focus point is most diverse from its surroundings.
3) Subtlety: Avoid subtlety in color and lighting between key objects - keep boundaries clear.
4) Steganography: It generally refers to hiding information in an image. Don't have action or primary objects hidden in your images so that the viewer must find it - hidden things will remain hidden, rather than being discovered as they might be on a larger screen or other venue.
5) Similarity: Unless the goal is to confuse or diffuse, don't display secondary objects that are similar to the primary in the same shot, particularly in small screens. It will confuse the viewer if definition or detail is lost.
6) Priority: A steadfast focus must be placed on the most important person or object in every shot. Close-ups and tight lighting will be the best tools. Throughout the storyboarding and shooting stage, the object priority of each shot must be considered, and focused upon.
Collin says these principles "go against what is taught in most directing and videography classes. But that is precisely why so much video on the Web and mobile phones fail. These venues require special techniques and perspectives." He says that if the six principles are factored into a video's "pre-production," a whole new world of successful creative content can be achieved.
"Web and mobile video is like any new kind of entertainment system," he adds. "Iit takes new techniques to be successful with it." The good news for still photographers is that experienced videographers may not have as much of a lead on them as one might think.
Making It Pay
How do you make money shooting video? Right now, a very high percentage of what is being produced is being done for love and personal gratification, not money. It's hard to find customers who can envision how a video on their Web site could help them, and who will pay to have it produced. Nevertheless, that seems likely to change rapidly.
Price Waterhouse Coopers/IAB predicts that online advertising will grow greater than 10% per year through 2011, and EMarketer says that by 2010, 10% of all online ad dollars will be spent on online video. That would be over $8 billion a year by 2011. Between 2006 and 2010, EMarketer predicts that the number of online video viewers will grow nearly 50% to 157 million consumers, and that advertising will grow 89% in 2007.
An Online Publisher's Association survey indicates that consumers are much more likely to act on video ads when the ads are found on media sites rather than portals or user-generated content sites. Also, according to the OPA, the most frequent online video viewers are young, male and affluent. The first choice of subject matter for those using mobile device tend to be ads for music videos and movie trailers. After that, are jokes and funny videos and then news, current events and weather.
Currently, most of the money being made comes from advertising, and the best way to get a piece of this is to have a popular site that many people will click to see. In most cases, such a site needs to have not just one video, but a series of videos around a theme. In some cases, all the videos are produced by a small team of videographers and editors. In others, someone puts together a site built around a theme and usually directed at a specific segment of the market. The videos come from many producers, each producing a few of the total available on the site. In nearly all such cases, the story is much more important than the quality of the video.
However, in the not-to-distant future, it seem likely that many businesses that are currently telling their story on the Web with text and still images will discover that they can tell the story more effectively - and competitively - using video. At that point, many of these consumers will be looking to hire a videographer who can demonstrate the ability to produce compelling video.