Thursday, May 03, 2012

Moving From Stills to Video (Part One)

With so many photographers now interested in learning video production skills, especially since the advent of video-capable dSLRs, I thought I'd write a bit about that today. In addition to my photography, I've been a working video guy since the early 80s. I've shot video from planes, trains, and automobiles. I've also shot from helicopters and on boats and motorcycles. I've shot at numerous sound stages and studios all over Southern California, at more location houses and other location buildings than I can recall, from offices to warehouses, factories to strip clubs, and out in the great outdoors shooting at exterior locations of all sorts in all kinds of weather.

My good buddy, Dan, is an attorney.  He's also a photographer and, beyond his license to practice law, he  has credentials shooting professional sports in the mid-western city where he resides. Dan, I should add, also shoots pretty girls whenever he has opportunities to do so.

Dan's law practice has him traveling all over the country on a very regular basis. He flies into Southern California every couple of months and usually stays from between a few days to a week. Whenever Dan's in SoCal, we hook up at a local eatery near where I live. The restaurant we meet at is called the Saugus Cafe. It's been around a very long time. The menu and the ambiance makes Dan feel right at home: It's very old school mid-western-like.

Lately, Dan's been picking my brain about shooting video. You see, some time ago Dan joined the crew of a small, independent, low-budget feature film. He's their stills guy. They mostly shoot on weekends even though Dan told me they have a 55-day shooting schedule in spite of it being a very low-budget film. Weekends fits Dan's schedule fairly well.

They're using a video-capable dSLR to shoot the film, uhhh... video... I mean film. Recently, the film's DP (Director of Photography) left the crew. The director has been trying to fill in as both director and DP but it's been quite difficult for him to wear both those hats. (It is. I can testify to that.)  So, he asked Dan -- Dan being a good digital photographer and all -- if he could sometimes fill in as DP and also shoot camera, video camera that is. Such is the way of very low-budget films. Dan said, "Hell yeah!" He saw it as both a challenge, an opportunity, and a helluva lot of fun.

The first thing Dan figured out is that shooting video can be as much like shooting stills as it can be unlike shooting stills. The camera operation, since Dan was already an accomplished digital photographer, hasn't been a problem for him. After all, whether shooting stills or shooting video, he's using a dSLR for both.

Where the differences lie, as Dan quickly discovered, is mostly in three areas of motion picture production, leastwise in terms of the shooter's job: 1) learning to capture things in motion with motion, as opposed to capturing single, frozen moments of things that are in motion; 2) creatively and competently capturing many, many short video clips that are, essentially, like jigsaw puzzle pieces which, later on, an editor will assemble into the finished product; 3) using other tools, especially those which overcome or enhance the ergonomic and other short-comings of dSLRs which, frankly, weren't designed (mostly from a form rather than function perspective) for shooting video.

This is going to be a fairly long subject to cover. I'm only going to do so on the blog in an overview sort of way. In fact, I might start alternating between blogging about photography and blogging about video. Maybe I should write an e-book on the subject? A photographer to videographer primer or something like that. After all, I have nearly as many years working as professional videographer as I do a professional photographer.

The pretty girl at the top is Alexis. (Click to enlarge.) You might have noticed I shoot a lot of models in front of a seamless, most often a white seamless. When I'm lighting, I generally don't care much about making the white seamless white. That's because the majority of my work is headed to some art department or graphic design guy who is going to cut out the model from the background and use it as a graphical element in the design of a DVD cover, a poster (sometimes called a "slick"), a piece of advertising, a photo element on a web page, or for other stuff.


Bill Giles said...

I think I know the Dan that you're talking about, through Supershoots. I'm also interested in DSLR video, although mine technically isn't a DSLR (an Olympus PEN E-P3). I know a little bit about video, bit haven't shot any for a long time. One thing that does concern me is audio. Crappy audio makes for bad video. I've had some experience with live sound and recording, so I have some ideas of the the things that can go wrong. I have been planning to record the audio on a Zoom H4n and send the audio to the camera to be able to sync the audio. I don't have any real experience editing video. I have Adobe Premier Elements, but I see a lot of people using Final Cut Pro. I don't expect to produce professional video, but I want my videos to look professional.

jimmyd said...

@Bill-- There's certainly much to learn, not just shooting and recording audio but then editing. I won't be able to cover it all in blog posts, probably not in an ebook either, but i'll try to hit on important stuff and keep my words from getting too technical or focused on one type of camera over others. There's much more to learn when it comes to video because it includes about 80% or more of what people need to know or already know for shooting good stills, and then at least that much again for video, especially if you're including editing in that learning curve.

Rick C said...

@Bill - I have edited a lot of things with PPro, for me, not a MAC person, it was easier to learn and I could use it on my pretty low priced PC instead of buying an expensive Mac just to relearn computing to edit. Both are powerful programs and both are used for pro work, it depends on what you like.