The Changing Landscape of Content Creation

The importance of creatives embracing change is nothing new. It first started in the newsroom when photographers were tasked with capturing video in addition to still images for some or all of their assignments. From there, changes in technology and the increased need for digital content made it easier—and more necessary—for photographers to capture images in both mediums.

In many ways, this evolution is reminiscent of the transition from film to digital, with some photographers quickly moving to expand into video while others approach the change more cautiously or not at all. Fred Blake, Rental Department Manager, Foto-Care, Ltd. points out, “It’s good business to embrace both. . . .If a client asks for video and you can’t deliver, they’re going to stop calling you. You have to embrace [this transition] or change your business model so it doesn’t bury you.”

Cultural and lifestyle photographer/videographer William Vazquez, with 30-plus years of experience, started shooting video about 4-5 years ago “mostly because clients started asking for it.” Although, initially, he “pushed back against it” citing that “I wasn’t really prepared—it’s a big learning curve…” Vazquez quickly realized that, “You have to say yes, otherwise they’ll get someone else to do it.”

What really kick-started this evolution of still photographers moving into video was Canon’s launch of the EOS 5D Mark II. The first EOS DSLR to feature video recording capabilities quickly caught photographers’ attention (you may remember the excitement about Vincent Laforet’s video, Reverie, shot with the 5D Mark II and the race was on.

“Before the Canon EOS 5D Mark II,” Miguel Goodbar, Director of Business Development/Equipment Specialist for Adorama Rental Co., points out, “photography and video were two separate worlds.” But, as Foto-Care’s Blake further explains, with the release of the Canon 5D Mark II, “there was a massive change in the photo and cinema industry.” At an initial price of $2700, the camera provided reasonable cost of entry into video and photographers’ familiarity with DSLRs eased the transition as well. “The low cost and accessibility of these tools changed the client’s demands,” Goodbar notes. “Every still shoot assignment involved video as well.”

At the same time the demand for content, especially for social media, began to grow and is “currently at an all time high,” says Blake, adding that, “Clients are demanding that there are video components to a photo shoot.”

The Challenges

But there are many challenges for the photographer entering the video world. As Goodbar explains, There is a pretty steep learning curve getting into video, especially incorporating sound, mobility and post-production.” Since many, if not most, photographers work alone—or with an assistant or two—shooting video is a whole different ballgame. As Blake emphasizes, a lot of photographers will “bring in a camera operator and direct the video shoot,” rather than taking on the entire production alone.

Director/photographer Amber Gray and her creative partner, Julian Bernstein. Gray (www.ambergray.net) serve as director and DP, respectively, on their film projects. Gray, who had always wanted to be a film director, studied both film and photography in art school. Although initially she concentrated on “directing” still photography–“I had a much easier (and cheaper) time staging elaborate photo shoots, so I began to focus more energy into them”—Gray started putting together her reel about ten years ago. Gray and Bernstein’s work is currently divided 50/50 between video and still.

“What usually happens,” Gray reports, “is that someone will hire me for one, and then in the process of pre-production decide that we should actually deliver both.” Gray prefers to shoot video separately from the stills because “different things work for stills and videos. It’s nice to compose a shot for the stills that sort of encompasses the story in one image, where with video you can explore more and reveal the story in increments.” She goes on to say, “Video is experiential in a way that still photography is not. . . .You see so many photographers doing videos of models shaking their hair, and it feels like they are thinking that what works in a still will work on video but it’s not so simple.”

However, she goes on to say, “One of the biggest challenges in my work has been just getting clients that are accustomed to adhering to a specified still budget to understand that creating compelling film is not so easy as just renting a video camera and point it at the set.”

Gray is not alone. How many times have you heard, “Can you do some behind the scenes? You have a DSLR!” That’s when educating the client becomes paramount. “A lot of times the client thinks that you have the tools, why would it cost more money?” Goodbar says. “I think that one of the things we were used to,” he adds, “is that one person could do it all.” But video is “all about team work,” he points out: “One person pulls focus, someone takes care of the sound. It’s a more involved crew, especially as the complexity of the job increases.”

Vazquez, whose business is currently about 20% video, will sometimes work with a crew but often shoots alone when creating documentary/cultural videos for clients as well as promotional videos to support his photo workshops. He began his video and post-production education by buying a video camera and software and teaching himself how to use both tools. He also made sure to ask questions when he was shooting stills on film sets, talking with various crew members to further his knowledge.

Conceptual still life photographer Aaron Cameron Muntz (www.aaroncameronmuntz.com), who specializes in product and food photography, started exploring motion as early as 2010 but “really didn’t dive into it until much more recently.” Muntz reports that, “I was given some great early opportunities to work as a gaffer and as a second unit director/DP on some projects that involved lighting and shooting products for beauty clients. Seeing those projects come to life and seeing the trends in the industry have motivated me to push my motion exploration further.”

Although some of his experience is with more traditional video, he started to experiment with stop motion about the same time the Canon EOS 5D Mark II came out. While he currently shoots some video (including a branding video for a handbag company), Muntz concentrates more on his stop motion work and tries “to explore motion in some way with every project I work on.” For Muntz, “stop motion is a very cost effective and fun way to animate my images. I approach my stop motion work in the same way that I approach any shoot. I come up with a concept and then work with a great team (such as a stylist) to bring that concept to life.” Muntz spends a lot of time planning out the shoot by sketching and creating story boards and while the complexity of each project varies—his beauty mandala project, for example, took a minimum of two days of planning and two days of actual shooting—clients often think that stop motion is “really simple.” Again, it’s important for photographers to educate clients about how much time and effort goes into these projects.

However, even if you can shoot by yourself—or want to, in order to maintain a certain profit margin–post -production is time-consuming and requires even more specialized skills. Blake points out that unless you have a lot of video editing experience, “Teaming up with an editor is important to get good results. . . It’s tough to be a lone wolf on that aspect of video production. On the other hand, if the photographer is called on to do everything, there’s a profit in terms of billable hours.” In fact, Blake reminds us, “Sometimes a photographer will make as much as or more [for editing a video] as they’re paid for shooting.” However, he cautions that if you’re not well versed in video editing, it’s even more important to either gain those skills or collaborate with a seasoned editor.

The Tools

One of the other big changes for photographers shooting video is lighting. As Goodbar points out, “It’s very interesting to see how in the past few years we rarely rent out strobes. Everything is continuous lighting.” Given the evolution of LED technology and the increased sensitivity in cameras, Goodbar explains, you can now light a scene with continuous lighting for many—if not most—shoots. “We have a lot of people taking advantage of the higher ISOs of new cameras and shooting still with continuous lights and then flipping the switch and shooting video with the same light,” Blake reports. This crossover is not only more economical and efficient, but shooting with the same continuous lighting setup (when appropriate), also may help maintain the look of the shoot throughout.

Gray and Bernstein “try to streamline the lighting for our shoots so that we have minimal downtime between stills and video. It depends so much on the concept and the particulars of the lighting design, but we use the same lighting design, if not the same exact lights, for all the still and video projects we shoot.” Gray goes on to say that, “I really like the look of HMI’s which can be harsh. But if you can adopt light with modifiers like Chimera softboxes that soften the intensity of HMI’s while retaining their amazing light output, you can simplify your set-up and save time.”

While DSLRs are still relevant as video-making tools, cinema cameras and mirrorless models have become increasingly important in this arena. Adorama’s Goodbar has seen a lot of DSLR users move to digital cinema cameras such as those from Canon (C100, C300) and Sony (FS7), to name a few. Goodbar points out that “cinema cameras with large sensors started coming out, so a DSLR with a big sensor was not unique.” And, while “it was much easier and simpler to shoot video with DSLRs because photographers used them forever,” Goodbar acknowledges, there are more benefits to shooting with cinema cameras than with DSLRs.

Granted “Cinema camera are a little more involved,” he adds, “but they give you a lot more possibilities and frame rates and codecs.” Additionally, “affordable cinema cameras (compared to RED and ARRI) from Canon and Sony are made for motion and were ergonomically designed to build up rigs and attach accessories properly.”

Mirrorless cameras are becoming more popular than DSLRs days, says Goodbar, estimating that about half of DSLR video users changed “when mirrorless cameras like the Sony a7s came out.” Mirrorless is perfect for photographers and cinematographers shooting in tight spaces but, Goodbar adds, “Even if it’s a B camera, they go out with every job.” And with so many adaptors, a wide variety of glass can be used on mirrorless models and new cinema cameras.

Regardless of what tools are used, video will continue to play an increasingly important role in image making. “I think that video is just going to get stronger and stronger,” Vazquez predicts. “There’s more demand for photography than ever before but there are fewer professionals now because of crowdsourcing. But I think video will change that because [with video] you have to know what you’re doing.” Importantly, when he travels to places like Sierra Leone, Africa to create video for the Direct Relief midwife support program, as well as other worthy causes, “I have a specific sense of what I want to say. Yes, organizations and companies want footage, but it’s important that there’s a point of view.”

Muntz thinks that consumers “long for a simpler, more ‘real’ feeling in imagery. There seems to be a backlash against CGI in motion picture making and I see that trickling down into advertising.” And, he adds, “I don’t think still photography will ever go away but I do think that photographers that only shoot still might. We have to evolve and push ourselves to be something more than just still photographers.”

The Future?

VR (virtual reality) is, perhaps, one of the more interesting technologies in the imaging industry today. John Engstrom, owner of Scheimpflug, notes that “VR has been around for a long time, but in the last couple of years, technology has made it accessible to everybody” with the wide distribution of headsets. And although VR “is going to be huge in gaming,” he says, “What really remains to be seen is to what degree it will be used for narrative pieces. How effectively can you tell a story in the medium and will people embrace it? I can say that there are 100 companies working on this technology and there is a boatload—a tanker freighter load actually—of money being spend by some huge companies who are all betting that it’s going to be a thing.”

In fact, consumers were able to view some VR runway shows online during this year’s New York Fashion Week. Engstrom reports that, “We had rigs and crews out with many different designers during fashion week. There were a couple of them that were broadcast live.” He adds “I have a feeling that we’ll see a lot of events have VR broadcasting capabilities in the future. We have done a ton of events in VR and even a series ‘Invisible.’”

The pitfalls of jumping into VR, though, “are that the technology that’s out right now will all be replaced in the next nine months or so. It’s moving incredibly fast and it also takes a while to really figure it out and learn it. Stitching it is a real pain, but it’s getting easier and easier with new technology and cameras that are synced.”

Whether or not VR will take hold in broader world of photographers has yet to be seen. But, for Amber Gray, whose motivation for video “is my love of movies, film and motion, and the nagging feeling that the stills were not enough to really tell my stories” concludes by saying, “It seems that motion is moving into more experiential forms with 3-D, VR and movie theater seats that move. Anything that can bring more meaning and feeling to something that I have created would be a welcome tool.”