Transitioning from stills to video

Two months ago, I moved to Delaware to take a job at The News Journal as a multimedia producer. In doing so, I went from a photographer that occasionally shot video, to a videographer that occasionally shoots stills. While I do enjoy shooting video (and I definitely enjoy being out of the office again after a year as Web editor), there are certain aspects of shooting video that take a good deal of getting used to as a still photographer.

Hurry up and wait.There is a lot of waiting involved in shooting video. Often, I will arrive at an event one to two hours before it starts just to set up. Part of that process involves plugging in cables, checking mult boxes and testing audio. Mainly though, it is to secure a good spot within the press area. (Truth be told, I started writing this post a month ago, right in the middle of election season. Since then, I have had to go to fewer of these types of events, though one does still pop up from time to time).

Tripods. Tripods are almost a requirement when shooting video. As a photographer, they make me feel nailed to the ground. I recently went out to shoot the funeral of a prominent state politician. I entered the church, set up my tripod in the back and started shooting. At the same time, our photographer was there running from the front to the back, lifting her camera as high as she could and setting it on the floor. Her action definitely made me feel like I wasn’t doing my job (and at times the reporter must have felt the same way too, because he kept glancing at me and my viewfinder), but sometimes shooting video means standing in one spot for what feels like forever.

Audio trumps visuals. At least to me it does, which is why I am OK sitting back and recording someone talking without worrying about gathering b-roll that I know will be there later (as mentioned above). That person may say something incredible, and I want the camera on them when they say it in case I either want to cut to their face because they are so emotional or (and someone may disagree with me here) in case I somehow don’t get enough b-roll or the b-roll isn’t relevant to what they are saying and I need to put their talking head up. I would rather run a great quote that goes back to their head than not run it because I was running around shooting b-roll while recording their audio.

Less is more. We currently shoot on Sony HVR-AU1’s here at the News Journal (though some photographers have 5D Mark II’s and 7D’s), something that I believe is pretty standard across Gannett papers. The Sony’s record to MiniDV tapes which are captured into Final Cut in real-time. That is, if I shoot an hour of video, it will take an hour to bring that into my editor to be able to work on. Unlike photography, in which one could potentially shoot as much as their card will allow and then quickly sift through all of those images in Photo Mechanic later, shooting video efficiently means capturing the shots you know you need to tell the story with sometimes minimal experimentation.

There is a flip side to the less is more aspect to shooting video. That is, as a photographer shooting video, I approach every video assignment as if I am shooting a gallery. When you are shooting stills, there are those assignments that you just know will not be a gallery. Perhaps it was a press conference, or a portrait of someone destined for an inside page, or you have six or seven assignments that day. Either way, you are in and out. Video does not work this way (it can, but it would be boring). When shooting video, from the most interesting feature to the blandest press conference, you need b-roll. Crowd shots, details of the speaker’s face, his or her hands, all of these let you edit an interview down to the length you need it to be.

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