WE’RE LIVING IN A world that’s becoming increasingly focused on multimedia, and where the lines between stills and motion are far more blurred than ever before. In many ways it’s reminiscent of the huge debate that arose when professional photographers were facing pressure to move across from film to digital capture, with many of the die-hards insisting that they would remain loyal for evermore to silver halide. We all know how that particular one panned out and it was the sheer weight of market forces that eventually ensured those that wanted to remain commercially competitive had no option but to make the move across.
Of course it takes a brave person to be an early adopter and it’s a sure fire way to lose lots of money investing in kit that can then become obsolete overnight. However, you don’t want to be the last one to be moving across either, since your competitors have then stolen a march on you and you could find yourself years behind in terms of your client offering. And there is no doubt at all that what people are calling out for now at every turn is a mixture of both stills and video in pretty much every genre. If you’ve not already made the move it’s time to open your eyes to the opportunities out there and to add motion to your repertoire.
Just listen to what top commercial photographer and filmmaker Tom Barnes has to say if you’ve got any doubts still about whether it’s time to get involved.
“I still consider myself to be first and foremost a photographer,” he says, “but I’m now involved in what I would call image creation rather than just looking to deliver stills and nothing else to a client. Motion is part and parcel of what I offer and it’s something that’s discussed on pretty much every commercial job that I pitch for. And I would say one hundred per cent that I wouldn’t be landing the jobs I do if it wasn’t for the fact that I cover both bases and can show that I have the skills to deliver what they’re after.”
In common with so many other creatives who were working at the time, it was the arrival of Canon’s EOS 5D Mark II that first ignited Tom’s interest in video. “I was shooting the stills for a band on a tour at the time I first got my hands on this camera,” he recalls, “and, although there was never any request from anyone for motion clips, just because it was a facility on the camera I started to play around with it and to shoot some motion just for myself. And it was a revelation and eventually became something I wanted to incorporate into my business.”
Over the past decade Tom has taught himself through sheer hands-on experience all he needs to know in terms of filmmaking expertise. He’s mastered audio, the dark mysteries of codecs and fps speeds, the different disciplines that come with shooting moving footage over stills and how to grade and edit his footage, so that everything is kept in-house. It’s been a steep learning curve for sure but it’s nothing that anyone with a degree of technical know-how couldn’t likewise manage. The enthusiasm and drive to get involved in a new discipline was there and, commercially, it’s been a an excellent move, giving him extra services that he can offer and charge for, and an advantage over rival stills photographers who can’t match his hybrid skills.
ABOVE: Tom Barnes is regularly asked to take on projects requiring stills and motion output and he would probably lose the jobs without hybrid skills.
Marketing the Service
There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that those offering a motion service can charge better rates than those providing only stills but, from Tom’s perspective, there really is no difference between the two things.
“I go in with a quote for the job,” he says, “and within that price structure both the stills and motion elements will be incorporated. That way if there is any negotiation to be done it’s on the job overall, rather than a client wanting to strip one element or the other out to save money. For me it’s the same commission, whatever I’m doing. Often there will be a request for a still image that can be used for an advertising campaign and then there will be a request for a moving version of that still that can then be used as a commercial. It makes complete sense for the client to book one person to shoot both rather than to have two people working on it with issues of continuity that could result.”
In terms of whether other photographers should likewise be stepping up to the filmmaking plate, Tom is convinced that now is the time. “It’s all become so much more accessiblein recent times,” he says. “Years ago it was prohibitively expensive to get involved in motion, which is why so few photographers ever moved across. Now there is a wealth of really well priced hybrid gear available – professional quality hybrid cameras, well specified continuous lighting and microphones that are easy to set up and work with – and the investment needed to get involved is way lower than it used to be.”
Tom admits that he’s been a little promiscuous in terms of his camera choice, and he’s moved from Canon to Nikon and to Fujifilm and Phase One several times over the past few years “probably helping to build the profits of the retail trade along the way,” he remarks with a grimace. But now he’s settled on a system that might just raise a few eyebrows, simply because it’s one that very few other hybrid operators have chosen to work with to date: the Leica SL2.
“It might not be the obvious choice of camera for filmmakers,” he confesses, “but it really does give me an exceptional performance. It delivers 10-bit internal 4:2:2 4K Leica L-Log footage, with the 4K taken off the full width of the 47MP full frame sensor. It’s giving me medium format quality all from a 35mm-size body. ”
Showing off your Skills
Naturally, moving to a hybrid way of working does call for an updated approach in terms of presentation, and those who offer both stills and motion have to adapt their websites to accommodate both genres and to present them in the best way. For those who might not be fully experienced in what’s required it’s time to call in the services of a professional who can advise on the most efficient and seamless way to integrate video content alongside stills.
“In the last couple of years, showing video has been a ‘must have’ feature for many of our clients, even if it’s only an ‘About Me’ video introducing themselves,” says Andrew Skirrow, a director at website provider Amazing Internet, which offers a bespoke service specifically geared towards those in the creative industries “Ten years ago, only a few photographers were asking about it, but now I can’t think of many that don’t also do some sort of video offering, whether they do it themselves or have a video specialist as part of their team.”
The problem is that videos are extremely data heavy, and hosting them directly on a website can take up a huge amount of server space and bandwidth, particularly with 4K footage becoming the norm. It’s all too easy to be racking up massive hosting bills without your site being particularly busy.
“The most cost-effective way of providing video on your website is to host it on a platform such as Vimeo or YouTube or one of the other options that are out there,” says Andrew. “You can then embed the video so that it appears to be just another part of your site. You might choose to do this via a pop-up window or overlay or, for the most seamless look, you can embed it directly into the page, presenting it exactly like you would a static image.
“One of the other big advantages of hosting with YouTube or Vimeo is that it takes away most of the headaches that arise with such things as file formats. Video can be a complete minefield when it comes to compatibility, and YouTube and Vimeo are, of course, experts at this, and have made it simple to upload a video and be confident that your viewers are going to be able to view it without any problems. “When you embed a video in a web page you’re creating a frame into which a video player is loaded and then the video is streamed from the video platform rather than your site. Each platform has its own player and can therefore be in full control of the streaming process, ensuring that the video will always play correctly.”
Best of Both
ALAN GIGNOUX HAS BEEN working as a documentary photographer since 2000, with agencies such as Reuters and independently, and his main area of focus is socio-political and environmental issues around the world. His latest major project is called Oil Sands, which is looking at the exploitation of natural resources in
Northern Alberta, described as ‘one of the biggest global warming crimes in history.’ Yet another is based around the use of a camera obscura to photograph migrants in Europe, the time exposure employed by this ancient technique leaving the person a blur while the background remains in clear focus.
Amazing Internet has provided Alan with a website where stills galleries live alongside video collections linked to Vimeo, and the whole is cohesive and works as a unified entity rather than with separate and disparate sections. It’s possible for visitors to browse and then click through to watch a video.
ABOVE: Tom Barnes is often asked to work on projects that see him shooting stills that directly relate to an accompaying piece of motion, and the two approaches help to tell a more complete story.
So, assuming that the hybrid photographer is looking to opt for one of the two giants of the video platform world, which of YouTube or Vimeo might be best to go for? “They both have their different strengths,” says Andrew. “YouTube is very good for enhancing visibility in Google since it’s owned by them, while Vimeo has more scope in terms of how the video panel is presented, and it’s visually less noisy. Vimeo, for all but the basic service, is paid for, whereas YouTube is free. Which one suits you best will depend on what you’re trying to achieve visually.”
Are there any downsides that come from not hosting the material yourself? “It’s hard to think of any,” says Andrew. “The main one would be that you’re relinquishing some control in terms of how the video looks. Some feel that YouTube over-compresses certain videos, or that the video controls are visually not quite as one would like, but both platforms have settings that give some control over these things. Experimenting with both platforms will let you choose which one suits your needs best.”
For both platforms it’s possible to embed videos into your site so that you can achieve a seamless look. It’s also possible with Vimeo and some of the other paidfor providers to completely remove any branding, so again the investment might be worthwhile if what you’re looking for is a true ‘white label’ service.
BELOW: Tom Barnes’ 30-second short film ‘Courtney’is essentially a modern motion portrait of his subject.
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