In this modern world, as a photographer you can’t ignore film. It’s almost like a law of nature. This is my guide to photographers making that transition to videography. If you’re ever considered going from photo to video, this one’s for you.
If you know the one, you’re expected to know the other. And that’s not because they’re the same thing. They aren’t. It’s just that the layperson doesn’t always know that. They throw a switch and their phone goes from photo to video.
They assume that for a professional it’s just as easy.
Now we know that’s not the case. As we discussed on the site when we talked about wedding photography, there are professional distinctions between the two. There’s a long history of great filmmakers being great photographers, but it’s not a rule of thumb or a requirement.
Thinking they’re one and the same is a layman’s mistake.
Photo & Video: Let’s Start With the Similarities
There are certainly elements that the two techniques have in common.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re shooting video or stills, if you’ve got the right light, you’ve got the right light. The same is true of framing, color and composition. More importantly, the artistic techniques rely on the same criteria. They’re both about a visual, a view, a perspective.
But you’re not reading this article to find out what they’ve got in common. That’s not what worries you. You want to know how they differ and what you can do to bridge that gap.
Well the difference is that in video things move.
Captain obvious strikes again, you think.
And yes, at first blush that is obvious – but the repercussions are quite profound. For one thing, that fourth dimension opens up a huge amount of real estate that needs to be filled.
For another, this dimension comes with a unique set of possibilities and problems. The possibilities lie in the creation of story and development. The problems lie in understanding how to do so correctly.
There are two kinds of movement in film. The first one is the movement of stuff in front of the camera. I suggest when you’re starting out you let that stuff do its own thing, by shooting natural scenes rather than staged ones. After all, you’ve already got more than enough to worry about.
The other object that can move is the camera itself.
This is something that perhaps you’ve never paid attention to, but requires careful consideration. Though static shots have real power, you simply can’t use them throughout your whole video.
You can, of course, but unless you’re making an homage to legendary Japanese filmmaker Yasujirō Azu, if you’re looking to grab the attention of modern audiences, you’ll need camera movement.
What’s more, you’re unnecessarily restricting your area and your movie language. So you’ve got to incorporate, among other things, pans, tilts, dollies, cranes, skews and zooms. Check out this video to get an idea of what I mean with movement and movie language.
To make the transition work, you’re going to have to study up on this area. Fortunately, with the rise of Youtube and the internet, that’s become a lot easier. Also, study source material! That means watching movies as well as other videos, which are similar to what you want to make, and learn how they do it.
Before I said that there was one extra dimension in videography. In a scientific sense that’s true. In the artistic sense, however, there is another.
It is sound.
The moment you start producing video, you’ve got to consider such things as what music you will use, what people will say, and what sounds you’ll use. In truth, you can spend as much time studying this field as the field of camera movement, with none of it wasted.
What I’d like to focus on here is quality. There is nothing quite as “good” as bad sound quality at pushing viewers away from your video.
Bad video is probably easier for an audience to forgive than bad sound. And I’m not alone in thinking this.
When you’ve got bad video, people can decide it’s an artistic choice. Bad sound, however, will never be so easily forgiven. It will force people to strain, which means they can never properly settle down and feel comfortable about what you’re trying to show them.
Really bad sound is tantamount to fingers down the blackboard!
And they won’t forgive you for that.
As a photographer, sound is probably pretty alien to you. In fact, it’s something you’ve probably learned to block out so that you can concentrate on what you’re doing.
Obviously, that won’t work with video. Here you’ve got to do exactly the opposite. You’ve got to learn to attune yourself to hear every passing car, every overhead jumbo jet. Because if you don’t, your perfect take might well turn into useless footage, as a key element of a dialogue is lost to background noise.
So, make sure you listen back often to your recordings as you’re going along. Even better, bring somebody else to focus on sound and tell you what equipment you need. Yes, a sound guy!
Hint: a built-in camera mike alone is almost never good enough.
In photography you can get away with taking a photo that is just beautiful, like a hummingbird. In video, that won’t fly. You always need a reason for a video.
The story doesn’t have to be complicated or long. For example, here’s a two-sentence story: a couple walk down the street, happily in love. Further down stands a man staring at them from the darkness of an alleyway fiercely gripping an object in a plastic bag.
Here’s another one: A woman frowns as she pushes against a door and tries a door handle. On the other side of the door, an alien desperately presses its back against the wood, eyes wide in fear.
A lot of people will try to tell you what elements you need in a story, like character, setting, theme, conflict and resolution. I personally think that’s too finicky. People always try to straightjacket the world.
What a story needs is progression, change and development.
In a wedding film, that is caught in the anticipation of the joining of the couple as man and wife (caught in the nervousness of the attendees) and then the celebration afterwards.
In a nature film, it’s the lion creeping up on its prey and then leaping out to chase it down.
They often call this ‘the arc’, where something begins one way, experiences something and is changed by it. (Here’s a more elaborate structure though again don’t allow them to box you in).
Although most people focus on character arcs, there are other kinds. For example, there are setting arcs where a location is transformed. Also, there are audience arcs, where the audience learns something or has their perspective altered.
Again, there is a lot to be considered here and yes, it’s a lot of work. At the same time, without a development of some kind your video is going to end up trapped in that limbo between photo and video. So this is another area that will call for careful consideration when making that move from photo to video.
Photo to Video: Making the Transition
Sound tough? It is.
At the same time, don’t be discouraged.
Yes, it is true, while for a layperson moving from photo to video is just throwing a switch, for a professional it is an entire journey. At the same time, that journey will reveal opportunities and open up theoretical landscapes you might never see through the lens of photography alone.
And what is art but personal growth?
I hope this article on making the transition from photo to video has been helpful for you. I’ve naturally kept it quite basic, as it’s aimed squarely at photographers with no real knowledge of video and filmmaking. Let me know what you think in the comments below!
This article makes it sound as if video was a step up from photography. i do both, and find photography much more demanding. Storyteling for instance is a lot harder to achieve with photographs than with video. With photographs you also don’t have the luxury to miss the moment, video is grabing >24fps so you have spares, like the shoot and spray photo method. Sound and camera mvt are indeed new and challenging skills to aquire, as is film editing.
But for capturing images , the photographer is a specialist who focus only on that part and is therefore generally better at it than a videographer who must worry about a dozen other things.
This is brilliant. I’ve been a photographer for a long time but not professionally. GLad to see there are comparisons between both and that some of the best filmmakers were photographers originally.