PHOTOGRAPHERS HAVE been here before, a place where there’s a change on the distant horizon that’s being driven by technology that, at first, appears a long way off but is then suddenly on top of you and forcing you to react or be left behind. We’re talking, of course, about the move from film to digital and how many professional photographers at the time insisted that they would never turn their backs on silver halide. Of course most ultimately had no choice but to make the move if they wished to remain competitive, and it was the ones that saw the way the wind was blowing and chose to move before they were pushed who inevitably fared the best.
We’re seeing a similar pattern emerging now, only this time the challenge is whether to engage in some way with the growing pressure to add filmmaking to your repertoire. Whenever you have a gathering of professional photographers in a room, such as at the recent AOP Business Day that was held in the media hotspot of Hoxton, you’ll find this is a red hot topic of discussion, and photographer after photographer throughout that event talked about how they had personally faced up to the pressure to get involved.
Kent-based professional Tommy Reynolds, for example, explained how he produces films of his personal projects to attract future sponsorship, while films that tell the BTS story of images he’s worked on are hugely popular on his social channels and have helped to raise his profile and increase his following.
Seasoned commercial operator Richard Seymour, meanwhile, went further and devoted his presentation to the ways that professionals could make the move, as he has done, towards a model where motion is an integral part of the mix, and something that gets him jobs that others without motion skills couldn’t hope to pitch for the hobbyist, who takes pictures for the love of it, the option is there, of course, to ignore the movie option on their DSLR or mirrorless camera. The professional, however, doesn’t have that luxury and most need to be aware of the commercial implications of looking the other way as the filmmaking revolution develops apace. The trick is to see this sea change as a positive thing rather than something to hide from. Handled properly this could be a way to add value to your business and to add a crucial skill that the ‘weekend warrior,’ with their cut-price, dumbed-down approach, would find hard to match.
EMBRACING THE CHALLENGE
As always there are those who have always made a point of being early adopters, and while there are risks associated with this approach as well, such as paying sky high prices for gear that’s quickly superseded, there is also the considerable reward that comes with being one of the first in your community to offer a new service. “I was one of the first photographers to fully make the move from film into digital,” says Jim Marks, “and it cost me a huge amount of money to invest in such things as Phase One digital backs and
then to explain to my clients what the advantages of digital might be for them. But it did give me a crucial head start in a very competitive business and that was really worth having. “When I saw what the Canon EOS 5D Mark II was capable of eleven years ago that inspired me to take a similar approach to filmmaking and I quickly immersed myself in it. Once again it was a costly move to make and some of the equipment I spent so much on at the outset, such as a follow focus system, has dropped in price by ten-fold. Hybrid cameras too are incredibly affordable these days: take a look at what a Panasonic GH5 can offer for a brand new price of just over £1000: 4K 4:2:2 10-bit video capture and a 20.3MP sensor for incredible stills as well and it’s almost unbelievable. But that’s the risk you take and on the plus side I’ve given myself a big advantage by teaching myself so much about filmmaking through experience.”
Jim’s filmmaking skill set has seen him pick up an award for his cinematography on a full scale feature film, while he now considers that most of his work comes through motion commissions rather than stills, though he still pitches for, and takes on, plenty of stills assignments as well. Throughout his career he’s been selftaught, learning initially through assisting and asking lots
of questions and, in recent years, through diving in the deep end and “learning through the school of Google.”
“There is so much you can pick up online these days,” he says, “though obviously you’ve got to be careful that your information is coming from a trustworthy source. When I was starting out one of the sharpest learning curves for me was audio, which obviously stills photographers know little about. But here again kit has become so affordable and so much easier to work with over the years. At the moment I’m working with Sennheiser microphone systems and collectively they offer me something for every occasion.
“The AVX ME2 System, for example, is so simple to use and you can simply plug the receiver into your XLR audio input – and the XLR adaptor for Panasonic cameras is one of the best accessories ever – and it connects wirelessly with a
lavaliere or a hand held mic and you’re ready to go. I also work with a Sennheiser MKH 8050 Compact Supercardiod condenser microphone and this can go on a boom or stand to deliver beautiful, distortion-free audio.” There’s also the Sennheiser XS Wireless Digital System that offers a highly affordable path into the world of affordable wireless audio, with the Portable Interview Set retailing for around £250, so there’s no longer a high price entry threshold nor the need to head out into the field with cumbersome and unwieldy wired systems.
Another of those who went into filmmaking early and who now earns a large part of his income from this source is David Newton. “When the EOS 5D Mark II was announced, I knew I’d need to learn more about video as it seemed it was going to become easier and hence open up the marketplace,” he says. “As someone that did – and still does – a lot of training for Canon, I also needed to learn more about this side of things so that I could explain it to other people, and the best way to learn is always to do it yourself! So I immersed myself in the technology around video and went from there.”
These days David’s base kit is a Canon EOS R with Atomos Ninja V with a Mastercaddy 4K SSD by G-Technology. The latter accessory makes the point that, with the increased amount of data being produced when shooting video, it’s crucial to have high capacity drives with you in the field and a means of moving this quickly from the camera to a secure form of back up. On location David heads back to his nearby van on a regular basis to back his SanDisk Extreme PRO CFast 2.0 Memory Cards up to his G-Technology G-SPEED Shuttle SSD, using a Thunderbolt 3 connection to ensure the speed of transfer he requires.
He also uses the G-Technology G-DRIVE mobile ProSSD, and both his drives are capable of up to 2800 M/bs transfer speeds, which enables his favoured 4K ProRes Raw workflow to be viable. “I’m working with a whole mix of clients and the bulk of what I do is corporate stuff,” he explains. “I think it is still possible to be just a stills photographer, though it’s becoming more challenging to only do that. The budgets for stills work seem to be continually under threat, while the budgets for video and film work remain fairly healthy. There are also just so many more people doing stills that it’s a very congested market space and it can be hard for new people to stand out when they’re just starting. Certainly the number of people shooting video is going up, but the marketplace is not yet saturated so it makes a good market to get in to.”
It’s not just commercial photographers that are feeling the pressure to move into filmmaking. Food photographer Gareth Sambidge, for example, realised there was an opportunity to expand into new areas while shooting above the line work for MacDonalds, where the client asked for motion and he made the decision to get involved rather than turn down the work, a situation that’s happening more regularly as clients become more video aware. “Most of my motion work these days is for clients such as Waitrose, who are looking for material for their social media channels alongside stills,” he says, “and that’s maybe 30-40% of what I do now. As a modern photographer you need to be able to work with moving imagery and the industry as we know it is changing rapidly.”
It’s also an issue that’s confronting those who are shooting weddings, with younger couples in particular being so familiar with video that it’s a natural thing for them to ask for and to want as a record of their day. One of those who is catering for this growing need is Isle of Wight-based Tim Pritchard, who runs a business called The Best Yes, and he’s a true hybrid. “I started my standalone business following a redundancy,” he says, “and I now cover weddings all over the UK as well as destination weddings to locations such as Lake Como in Italy. Previously I worked for years as a second shooter and through that got a great insight into different types of weddings and
how they should be approached.
“I made up my mind how I wanted to operate having been to the weddings of some of my partner’s friends and watching their photographer in action. He was charging £950 for the day and I watched as he missed moments and disappeared into the background. His finished shots had people missing, and they were often out of focus and poorly framed. The memory of the wedding was ruined. “I offer my clients a documentary style approach with no clock watching and as few limits as possible. As it’s not my full time job at the moment I aim to work at an affordable price but offer experienced and memorable results. I like to make sure everything is captured, from the first look to the rusty gate of a church. It’s the little details that make a full memory.”
Tim offers both stills and video and prefers the latter because of its increasing popularity amongst his clients. “I mostly work alone and manage by making sure I get to a variety of locations so that everything is covered,” he says. “For ceremonies and speeches I will sometimes have multiple cameras set up on tripods to capture different angles. However, it’s not always possible, so on occasion I’ll hire a second shooter to work with the groomsmen in the morning and make sure large groups are covered.
“I generally offer either video or stills and work with a pair of Fujifilm cameras, the X-T3 and X-T2, which both offer 4K video and high quality stills. On occasions, however, I have shot alone and provided both and then I’ll need to work quickly to switch from video to stills and try to capture everything I can in both formats. For example, for a confetti shot I’ll mount a Go Pro on top of my camera, shoot a few seconds of slow motion on the main camera then flick to stills. It’s hectic, but it’s worked so far!”
The key message to get across is that motion is here already, it’s here to stay and it’s becoming ever more important. Stay clear at your peril, but for those that embrace the process and dive in wholeheartedly the opportunity is there to create a new revenue stream and to become a fully multimedia operator.
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