Friday, November 11, 2011

Capturing Motion With Motion

Photographer Vincent Versace once said, "A still photograph is called a still photograph because the picture doesn’t move, not because the objects in the pictures are not in motion.” Versace added, “The photographer's mission, should he decide to accept it, is to capture motion with stillness."

Conversely, photographers shooting video need to adapt to capturing motion with motion when shooting video. I know it sounds simple, even similar. And, in many ways, it is. But in many other ways it's not.

With all their similarities, even if you're using the same camera to capture stills and/or video, the two are as different as they are the same.

I wrote a bit about the differences and similarities between still picture production and motion picture production in my latest e-book, Zen and the Art of Portrait Photography. I didn't write about them in the "how-to" sort of way. The book isn't a "how-to" book. Instead, I discussed them in more aesthetic ways. There's plenty of "how" available on the subject. There's somewhat less regarding "why?"

While it might seem a book about portrait photography is an unlikely place to include anything about shooting video, the recent convergence of stills and video obliged me to do so. Fortunately, I've been shooting video since the late 70s. That's about as long as I've been a photographer; a paid photographer, that is. My video shooting experiences have also been, for the most part, paid experiences. So, I felt I have enough professional background in both photography and videography to write about both and to compare the two.

In one of the chapters of my e-book, a chapter titled, "Good Photography Speaks With Silence," I related an experience I had working with an accomplished photographer. He was a guy (now deceased, RIP) who had spent many years as a staff photographer for a quite famous magazine aimed, principally, at men. It was his first time trying his hand at shooting video. He did so employing the same sort of beautiful and sexy women he had photographed for print. I was editing the project for him.

When we first began in the editing room, he was quite proud of the way he lit and composed his models. He lit and composed them much the same way he had lit and composed so many models before. He was all smiles when we first began viewing the clips... until the models moved.

Somehow, I think he half-expected the same beautiful lighting he worked hard to create and the artful composition he used to initially frame his models would magically follow them as they moved about his set. Obviously, it doesn't work that way. He asked if I thought, once some sexy music was added to the sound track, it would make up for the failure of his lighting and photographic composition to follow his models around. He wasn't heartened by my answer. I don't want to sound like the man was stupid or that he had unreal expectations. Neither was true. There were simply too many variables he didn't take into account due to his inexperience shooting video versus his experience shooting stills. His sharp eye for detail, razor sharp from working so many years as a photographer, meant he began noticing the problems almost instantly even though it was his first time shooting video.

Making a successful transition from stills to video isn't simply about making changes to lighting and the way you compose your frames. Obviously, those things will also have to change in some ways but there's a lot more to it than that. If you hope to be successful making the stills-to-video transition, you're going to have to go back to school. I'm not necessarily talking about attending an actual school, but you're going to have to school yourselves, or get schooled, in the many differences between shooting kick-ass photos and shooting kick-ass video.

Shooting stills includes much about learning to capture motion with stillness. Shooting video includes much about learning to capture motion with motion. Some, make that more than a few, of the same skills apply. But you're going to need to learn new skills you've likely never used before when you're shooting video. Leastwise, if you want to do it well.

The pretty girl at the top is Jenna. (Click it to enlarge it.) I snapped it in a studio in North Hollywood. Used three lights: 5' Photoflex Octa for my main. Couple of strips boxes, either side, for some edge lighting. I probably had a reflector also in use. I often do to provide a bit of fill.

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