Last month we put a question out to producers about what photographers need to know about making their first steps into video/motion. Since last month’s assignment email was such a hit, we’re following it up with an extended version of John Noonan and David Crowther’s response, since they’re just that good. See their full insight below!
As always, I’ve also sprinkled in some new work from Glasshouse Assignment photographers to keep you updated. Thank you so much to John and David for contributing! Enjoy!
– Jacqueline Bovaird, Glasshouse Assignment
As a producer, having worked on commercials and still photography projects, it is easy to see why so many photographers have apprehensions shooting digital video. But, with a few simple guidelines, I feel those fears can be minimized.
Know the basic craft:
If you are going to declare “I shoot video”, then you better have done some of your homework to back that statement up. Never claim to be able to deliver something you know you can’t. Jobs are won and lost in that initial, and sometimes final, pre-bid call. We all have been asked to jump on a creative call minutes after being handed the storyboards. It has been my experience that it is better to re-group after a call then to engage in a conversation you are not prepared for. Most clients can respect that. You have always run your calls with confidence, why change now.
Remember when you first started shooting images on a serious level? If you had a question or didn’t understand the new camera system, you found that answer. If not, you couldn’t shoot. Same goes for shooting video. You need to know the basic concepts about resolution, frame rate, shutter speeds, and post production. This is a skill set you will pick up easily if you have been shooting digitally for the past few years.
You need to know, and so should your producer, which camera and lighting package will work the best for any given project. There are so many choices out there right now and everyone is gravitating towards the hottest technology. That technology might be, too heavy, too light, not good in low light scenes, too slow, etc. You as a photographer / director should be suggesting to your client which format to shoot and have the perfect reason for choosing it. A good way to show them is to have a sample of actual video you have shot on the different camera systems. It is a small investment that could pay off big.
As a producer I need to know, in a very general sense, what each equipment package will do to a budget. Does the camera need one, two, or three assistants? What impact will HMI compare to tungsten lighting have on a budget. I also need to know about union vs non-union talent and crew and how that could effect the agency and client.
Do you need a whole new crew?
Many photographers seem to think they need an entire new crew or even two seprate crews on set. That is true in some cases. But, you need to remember that your reliable 1st assistant or gaffer that has been lighting your sets for the past few years can still light for video projects. You just might need to add a few experienced members to the crew. Having as many familiar faces on set will help tremendously.
Same goes for your digital tech. Many have certified themselves with the mainstream workflows and have seen this emerging market opportunity just as you and your rep have. I have been working wit Pat Blewett at Ambient Digital for many years. He has built quit an amazing work flow and know what it takes to quickly and safely handle all the files that are generated on a split medium production.
So now you have a new camera and you have all of about 30 seconds reading the owners manual. As a photographer you are the operator. In some cases, you will have to give up that control and rely on a camera operator. A camera operator is like a pair jeans, they all don’t fit. Build a relationship with one that will take direction well. If they can’t capture your vision, then they are not for you. Also, choose one that knows their place in a meeting or on set. It is human nature to want to present yourself in the best of light, but some operator’s have trouble with crossing lines.
Post production will be a unique experience for most photographers. Building a relationship with an editor is a must and eases pressure when the up and coming art directors start spewing out “I want a flash effect”.
One of the best things you can do when shooting digital video these days is to work backwards from your final product. Knowing what you (or the client) eventually need to end up with will help you with the decisions you’ll need to make before you begin shooting. Here are some basic things to think about.
Where your final product will be seen will dictate many of the variables. In addition, the desired “look” of the final product will also have an impact. Additionally, how the video will be worked with can influence your choices.
See the glorious big version here.
If your video is only going to be shown on the internet, shooting at a 4k resolution is overkill. Conversely, if the final cut will end up on a screen in a movie theater, standard NTSC video just won’t cut it. By knowing what your final product is going to be you can make an educated decision about not only the resolution you should shoot but also the specific camera that you should use. That said, thinking ahead and “future-proofing” your footage should also be taken into consideration. Just because the client will only be using the footage on the internet now doesn’t mean in six months they’re not going to decide to cut a television spot with the same material. Your best bet is to shoot the highest reasonable resolution that your budget will permit.
The frame rate you choose can be based on either a creative need or a technical requirement, or both. A 24 frames per second frame rate will give you a more “filmic” look while 30 frames per second will look more like video. Variations of those frame rates (60, 59.94, 29.97, 30, 24, 23.98) will most likely be dictated by any delivery requirements. Choosing the wrong frame rate can be extremely problematic and possibly a budget-busting issue as frame conversions can be costly. If in doubt, shoot at 24 fps as it is easier to convert 24 to 30 than vice versa.
Finally, knowing what system your editor uses can be helpful when making your shooting decisions. Some formats and frame rates are more difficult to work with on particular editing platforms or, worst case, can be completely incompatible. By working with an editor you know and trust, a production solution can be reached that will suit everyone: you, the client, the project. Just remember to start at the end.
Keep a look out for next month’s Q&A! I am always looking for new voices and new ideas so if you have comments, questions, or if you’d like to participate, please feel free to email me!
This Q&A exists as a monthly email blast and as a post on this blog. If you would like to receive our monthly email, please feel free to contact me and I would be happy to add you to our list!
Jacqueline Bovaird, Assignment Representative
212 – 462 – 4538 • firstname.lastname@example.org