Switching From Stills To Video

Posted on 1/18/2017 by Jim Pickerell | Printable Version | Comments (0)

Many still photographers have watched their revenue decline and are considering transitioning to video. In a recent article I asked Jesse Hughes, Jim Erickson’s director of sales to outline some of the specific challenges a videographer faces, and ways that a video shoot differs from a still shoot.

I’ve also contacted two other photographers – Gail Mooney-Kelly of New York and David Scott Smith of Montana – for their thoughts. Both or these photographers were very successful still shooters at one point in their careers, but for a number of years now have focused almost exclusively on producing video.

Gail Mooney-Kelly

Here are my thoughts about moving from still photography and motion.

Still photographs are moments in time. Motion is time in motion.

Film is all about the story. Determine the arc of your story and remind yourself throughout the process: the shoot, the interview questions, the lighting and the camera lenses you choose, the music score and the editing. It’s all about the story.

Get to know the differences of doing business. Depending on the role you will assume in video production – camera person, Director, Director of Photography etc. will determine your business needs.
  • Get talent releases.  If I know I’ll be shooting stills and motion, I will hire a signatory to cast the talent, get the necessary releases and do the paperwork that’s necessary for SAG
  • Get crew releases – If you are the owner or producer you should get work for hire releases for all on the crew.
  • Make sure your insurance policy includes video production.
  • You will be licensing other video and still imagery as well as music so you will be on the other side of the negotiating table securing the rights you need.
  • If you won’t be the owner of the final video product but will be only the shooter, make sure your licensing agreement doesn’t includes rights for the frame grabs if someone want to use them.  That should be negotiated as an extra and licensed accordingly.  Expect push back.
  • Video production has opportunities for upsells because of its many variables.  For example: you can license your frame grabs or interview excerpts for another job.
Audio is everything.  Some say it’s 50% but I’d say more. It’s not only important to capture good quality sound for interviews but to learn how to use sound and music for emotional impact.

Collaborate – You can shoot video as a one-man band or scale up with a big crew. Determine your needs for the job at hand. Many still photographers are independent creatures and shy away from collaboration but I love how collaboration can raise the bar of a production. I’m happiest when I’m not the smartest person in the room.

For the most part I don’t license or sell stock any longer – still photographs or motion but when I do it’s always Rights Managed. I do shoot B-roll video and create my own libraries.  

Don’t over emphasize what gear you will need or use – emphasize the story.

Rent gear. Technology changes too quickly as do needs for various jobs.

You can never shoot enough B-roll. Always shoot more than you need and get creative. Also do some generic type shots that can illustrate many visuals – your editor will love you. Editing my own work has made me a better shooter.

Don’t think you have to learn it and do it all. That’s only a notion that will stop you.

Watch commercials with the sound off for watching how clips are shot and cut together as a story. Turn the sound on and pay attention to the tone or mood that the music sets.

David Scott Smith

I think Jesse's points regarding video production are spot on.

Regarding the equipment required, it all depends on what you're trying to do. I have  a Steadicam ripoff that I use occasionally, and access to a slider and jib, and a friend with a 4k drone. Video is all about motion so that gear can make a production much more watchable. My advice is to rent rather than buy.

I've returned to my journalistic roots, producing stories with lots of interviews. I shoot 1080i, the best picture available on my Panasonic DVCPRO HD fixed-lens camera. I haven't made a commercial for a couple of years so most everything I produce is destined for the web. 1080i works fine for broadcast, but on the web it allows me some latitude in editing to enlarge and crop the frame, and add motion to the static interview. 4k is attractive because it quadruples that latitude, and 4k will soon be standard. 4k production would certainly tax my current editing system.

I've been part of larger productions for various networks, running camera, setting lights, handling audio and even holding an iPad prompter. It never hurts to have multiple income streams. In my own work I'm pretty much a Montana lone wolf and do everything myself.   

While I always set lights for interviews, I like to include natural light in the mix. I use inexpensive, daylight fluorescent softboxes and a Lite Panels daylight led spot. Cameras are getting much better at seeing in the dark but you still need to craft the light.

A shooter producing stock could offer random clips just like random stills. But if those clips are going to be assembled into one piece, you have to think like an editor. Planning is important in every production. A shot list will tell you what you need, but the storyboard will tell you how it all fits together. I don't usually have to detail the story to anyone but myself, so I can visualize the whole and draw simple stick figures to lock it in my mind.

Transitions between clips are often based on the feeling you want the audience to experience. Let's say the astronaut will end his interview with, "It's been difficult but I knew I'd get there someday," followed by his spaceship taking off. If you shoot his close-up on the far left of the frame and use a slow dissolve to the liftoff on the right side of the frame, the astronaut's emotion in having reached his life's goal is lengthened and enhanced. As the image of silent astronaut fades, liftoff audio grows to a roar. It becomes an emotional package, providing a much different feeling than an abrupt cut, or God forbid, a gaudy mosaic wipe.

B-roll, or visual assets as I call them are very important. They not only help tell the story but make the production interesting to watch. It is best to plan out all aspects of the shoot to get the shots you know you'll need. But keep an eye open for the serendipitous - shots you didn't think of and didn't plan for. Because you know your production from open to close, you'll recognize shots that will work better than the plan.   

Very few of the people I photograph are experienced actors, so in situations where they have to walk and talk I try to keep their on-camera presence to a minimum. "Real people" are often too self-conscious to provide much more than a clumsy performance, so I limit their on-camera time to important points. It's much easier to coax good voice-over from them. That means you have to plan for sufficient b-roll to cover their audio.

Less is more. If you are shooting individual stock clips, thinking like an editor can help you plan your clips so they can be used in a variety of situations. For still photography stock you shoot a number of different crops and angles, including top space in verticals for mastheads and wide horizontals for double-truck body copy. Same situation with video. Give editors options. And yes, make sure there are sufficient handles, extra footage at the open and close, so editors have enough length to get in and out.

As I mentioned, I do it all. I write, shoot, edit and often do the voice over. For someone planning to jump from stills to video, I believe it's important to be familiar with all aspects of production, especially editing. Knowing how clips can and should fit together has made me more efficient and creative. Even if your final product is done by a "real" editor, you know how the system works.
Keywording is just as important for video clips as it is for stills. I'm thankful I don't have to do it anymore.

There is some crossover in discussion points, but mine are directed more towards finished stories than producing stock clips. My experience has been more that of an independent commercial photographer who found that his once decent stock income has vanished. The more you can accomplish by yourself, without outside folks for editing, audio or motion graphics, the bigger the return. Much as I hate to say it, when I need stock clips or stills, I use royalty free.

Copyright © 2017 Jim Pickerell. 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

Jim Pickerell is founder of www.selling-stock.com, an online newsletter that publishes daily. He is also available for personal telephone consultations on pricing and other matters related to stock photography. He occasionally acts as an expert witness on matters related to stock photography. For his current curriculum vitae go to: http://www.jimpickerell.com/Curriculum-Vitae.aspx.  


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