Video vs photography, past, present and future

What I know about video (other than what I have taught myself about editing in Final Cut Pro) could easily fit on one small page. What I will learn about video in the coming decades is unknowable. But, if I had to venture a guess, I would bet that fairly soon, I will be among the thousands of working photographers who will soon have to decide just how much more we want to, or need to, know about video.

By way of background information, I actually studied three expressive mediums in college, while I was studying the history of photography. I clearly expanded my skills in photography during that time, but I also explored basic video production and glass blowing at the same time.

Though I enjoyed the video classes, the technology was very primitive and labor intensive. We used large recording decks with reels of magnetic tape, which was very finicky. The cameras were complex and difficult to use, producing results in what seemed like rather drab black and white.

By comparison, the were a lot of attractions to glass blowing (or Hot glass as it is often called to differentiate it from small scale, hand-working of glass tubes over a fixed flame.) For me, glass blowing was a remarkably physical process, requiring ever-improving skill as well as a healthy caution to avoid getting seriously burned. Also, hand-blowing glass was a way to make things used light in interesting ways. This was one of the many connections I found between working hot glass and doing photography.

Upon leaving college, the economics of setting up a serious glass studio were prohibitive, so I turned to photography, which was, relatively speaking, cheaper. I have since had an eye for and an interest in hot-glass work, but never felt the urge to return to that media. Video was the other media that I set-aside completely after leaving college. In Southern California, where I spent my first working years as a photographer, the only paying work involving moving images was in the motion picture/television industry. I had NO interest in that, so I was happy to leave that media alone.

With the arrival of digital photography and the collective migration of most forms of communication to the Internet, I am now thinking about video for the first time in a long time. Clearly, the future of visual communication is on the web. So those of us who are visual communicators need to find our places within the new communications channels. There is a lot of discussion of this question and I have not completely settled my own thinking. Back in October, I wrote a blog entry about the rapidly growing market for tools made specifically for recording video using D-SLRs. That is at: http://thewellspoint.com/2009/10/26/just-back-from-the-photo-trade-show/

I do think that before plunging into video (and spending lots of time learning the gear as well as money buying that gear,) aspiring video-photographers should learn something about the business side of video production. That is why I have been gathering a few resources on the business side of video production and have added a new sub-page to the resources page on The Wells Point. All of the resources start at the page: http://thewellspoint.com/about/ The new page of Video business resources can be found at: http://thewellspoint.com/about/resources-video-business/ This list is by no means exhaustive so if you have any suggested additions, let me know.

In the December 2009 printed edition of DigitalPhotoPro Magazine, the California photographer Jeff Dunas takes a stand for photographers clarifying their thinking before burning time and money trying to get into doing video work. His argument is so persuasive that anyone seriously thinking about this question should read his piece titled: The “Convergence” Issue. That is found at: http://palmspringsphotofestival.com/community/about/the-%E2%80%9Cconvergence%E2%80%9D-issue-the-myth-and-attraction-of-becoming-a-cinematographer/ His article helped me clarify what I am likely to focus on in the future. I still am not all that interested in video, so I am doubtful I will be pursuing that technology, but you never know. The more work I do in multi-media, the more that I love that medium.

Though it is similar to video, it is not the same. To me, multi-media is a bit like photography on steroids. It has the obvious visual component, but it also uses moving imagery and/or multiple images to explore time and sound to complete the viewer’s experience. I am only being half sarcastic when I say that if multi-media could incorporate smell, it would be the perfect media for conveying to the viewer, the total experience I am trying to recreate for them in my work.

In some ways the onslaught of video has brought still photographers to a major decision-making point. With the arrival of digital imaging a certain sector of photographers said, “no, I prefer film” and stuck with that. Only time will tell if they made the right choice for them and their work. It looks like the photographers of today who did embrace digital imaging, face a similar decision, in this case whether to embrace or avoid video.

If history is any guide, what this probably means is a further stratification of the media and an improvement in the quality of the newly segmented media. Television’s arrival appeared to herald the death of radio. In fact, radio changed, fitting into what first appeared to be smaller niche, but doing that in a better way. Long time fans of National Public Radio, for example, know that radio is as good or better than ever.

The idea of photography being as widely distributed and appreciated as the work of NPR sounds intriguing. As always, the key question for working photographers like me, is how will we get paid to do that kind of work? Though the National Public Radio model sounds attractive, I hope we do not end up having to do fund-raisers like they do!

One response to “Video vs photography, past, present and future”

  1. I continue to have misgivings about the convergence of media; though I was five years in film school and feel comfortable behind motion picture cameras, video cameras, audio recorders and the post-production processes for each, I’m not sure that I’m ‘creatively competent’ enough to cover all these simultaneously.

    I’ve had numerous assignments where I’m ‘it’; I shoot the stills, record the audio interviews, and gather the video. However, I always come away from these assignments feeling creatively diffused…as if I hadn’t fully committed to any of the media and therefore didn’t really succeed with any of them.

    I’m coming to realise that I would rather do one thing very well than disperse my energies over a range poorly executed efforts. It’s also becoming difficult to convince clients that it’s sometimes physically impossible to do everything at once; I’ve been asked several times to do fieldwork as if I were a crew of four people!

    That said…we do have amazing tools that allow us to gather great media. I just bought an HHB FlashMic; with that, a digital camera and camcorder. I’ve the ‘studio in a backpack’; however, my concern in more psychological than physical. Can one really be in ‘stills space’ an ‘video space’ simultaneously?

    (some earlier thoughts here: http://www.edgeofsomewhere.com/Journal/im-not-a-platypus)

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