The Next Level
When you’ve got the basics down, and your Facebook friends are waxing poetic about the composition and shot selection in your cat videos, it’s time to get a little bit more sophisticated. That could mean adding field recorders to get multiple audio tracks, a second camera for shooting live events from several angles, or a video-friendly fluid head for your tripod to make those dramatic pan shots look as smooth on screen as they do in your imagination.
The North Face - Role Models from Corey Rich on Vimeo.
Another reason to take it up a notch? You’re a pro photographer watching budgets dwindle, and it’s smart to start producing video work, too. For wedding photographer Todd Reichman
, watching the lost revenue stream right before his eyes was just too much to take. “People would ask us as wedding photographers, ‘Hey, do you have a recommendation for a videographer?’” he says. “As a business person, you look at that and you say, ‘do I want to refer that business, or would it be great to have that business in house’?”
For Reichman, that question proved to be a no-brainer. But Adam Weiss, a 20-year pro who has shot stills for the likes of Esquire, Nike, and Sony Music, found crossing over more difficult. Despite a stellar reputation with an all-star client list, he found himself shooting videos on spec.
“I started approaching clients, like: ‘You know me, you know my work. Let’s do motion,’” he says. “They all said: ‘You gotta show me something first.’”
Regardless of who is funding a production, one of a video’s most important aspects is its soundtrack. Even the first “silent” films had live music to accompany them. Audio may be foreign territory to photographers, but for motion pictures it’s crucial; bad sound can render even stunning visuals moot. A hot-shoe-mounted shotgun mic may handle your basic field recording needs, but for a professional operation like Reichman’s, off-camera solutions were a necessity.
The Zoom H4N is one of the most common recording solutions for HDSLR video
“You have to think about the audio you’re going to get, how you’re going to get it, and if you’re going to be able to get it redundantly in case one source doesn’t sound good,” Reichman says. “We use digital audio recorders. We’ll use a lavalier mic if we can. Or we’ll drop Zoom audio recorders in various places around the room. Sometimes we’ll plug into the soundboard.”
But when the sound is the star, having a crew member dedicated to capturing audio can make all the difference. Jim Beckmann, Web content manager for the University of Washington’s KEXP radio station, oversees the production of hundreds of live performance videos a year. A recent shoot at the Pickathon festival in Oregon exemplifies the challenges of live audio.
The Rhode shotgun mic is another popular DSLR audio option. It mounts to the camera via hot shoe.
“In the past, we’ve used handheld recorders, but now we bring an audio producer in the field,” Beckmann says. “We were set up in a small open space in the woods. There wasn’t a lot of isolation from the stages nearby, but our engineer captured the audio from acoustic performances really well, with no more than five or six mics and a portable multitrack recorder.”
Even if the sound is pristine, shooters like Reichmann still must resist falling prey to schmaltzy cliches like racking focus (shooting at a shallow depth of field and transitioning from focusing on one element, say, a bride, to another, say, the groom in the background) and learn to tailor their clips to their audiences. These days Reichman and his team play to short attention spans and record short takes that give a sense of a place and help tell a story.
“I'm looking for interesting things 3 seconds at a time, sometimes even less,” he says. “It’s about moving the frame. If you have a wide-angle lens and put something in the foreground, middleground, and background, there’s a relationship when those things change that’s interesting.”
While shooting a newly married couple’s first dance, for example, a wide shot that has the couple in the foreground, the parents in the midground, and the band or guests in back, will have multiple elements moving within the frame. Even when the camera itself doesn’t move, action is key.
Of course, stringing together short clips means more work editing. Reichman killed two birds with one stone when he expanded his business, hiring a videographer with extensive editing experience. As your concepts become grander and the shoots become more complicated, delegating important tasks to specialized experts becomes crucial to making the transition from photographer to director.
“It’s about letting go a little bit, giving up a bit of control,” says Weiss. “You become an art director, in a sense. You have to hire someone to realize your concept.”
Reichman also found that the video component to his wedding work ended up improving his still photography. “As a photographer, if I know I have video, I don’t have to overshoot,” he says. “I don’t have to get shots of what everything looks like. Now I can produce fewer images that have more meaning.”
Reichman proves that the photography/video symbiosis can benefit both the still photographs and the videos. And Corey Rich points out that the line that divides the people who make stills and the people who make videos is ever blurring. “The separation between filmmakers and still photographers is getting a lot thinner,” he says.