Commercial and editorial photographer David Harry Stewart (www.dhstewart.com) is one of the many pro shooters to take up DSLR video. Take a look at his short, Asia Mon Amour. For even more of his insights into the craft of photography, both still and video, visit blog1.dhstewart.com.
Q. How does shooting video differ from stills?
A. They're very different approaches. The whole point with still photography is to capture the moment when something happens. But with video you want the moment before and the moment after, too&and then you have to chain them all together through montage.
Q. You mean editing?
A. Yes. Montage is one of the primary things that distinguish still images from movies. You see a person's face and then a guy running and then a door slamming—and your brain connects all of these things into a narrative. I really recommend reading Walter Murch's In the Blink of an Eye. He's a genius. Moviemaking is deeply psychological—your brain makes this leap. Murch's thesis is your eyes blink and your brain is making edits. He also talks about the soundscape. Those things are totally foreign to a still photographer. But the study of cinema is a mature science—it's been going on for 100 years. There's a wealth of information out there.
Q. Do I need to storyboard or create a shot list?
A. Editing is the whole thing. Someone who does documentary work won't have a script going in. But there are complications either way. If you're going to try to block the action, there's a tremendous amount of preproduction work to do. If you're going a more documentary route, there's a tremendous amount of postproduction. The post is a slog.
Q. What about software?
A. You can montage in iMovie, which is a very simple program. It works fine for YouTube and things like that. The problem with using a DSLR to produce HD video is that you can't just put a toe in the water. iMovie is fine for very low-res, and the next step is a big step up. Say you want to make a high-res video: To put it in a nonlinear editor like Final Cut, you'll have to transcode the file. H.264, the compression codec that Canon uses, will work native in iMovie but not in Final Cut. It will work in the latest version of Premier, though I don't have personal experience with it or with Premier Elements. Final Cut Pro is not all that easy to use, but you can learn it in a few months. I started with Final Cut Express for four months, but that was a mistake because you can't just upgrade from Express to Pro.
Q. Sounds complicated!
A. The hardest part of the deal is that now you're a filmmaker. You have to learn about time and timing, sound, sequence, montaging. No longer can one picture tell the whole story. The most helpful thing I've ever done for video is studying African dance for five years—it's about rhythm and timing.
Q. What about gear?
A. A lot of these guys are tricking out their cameras in ways that I think are stupid. It's not a 70-pound camera—it's a 3-pound camera. Use it like a 3-pound camera! For part of my Asia video, I used a 21mm f/2.8 Zeiss lens on my Canon EOS 7D in my palm, running after these kids. I set it to f/5.6. There's huge depth of field, 6 to 8 feet or more. I don't want to pull focus.