The thing no one wants to talk about.......video.

Meredith under the cool LED lights, on set, in my west Austin studio.

I read an interesting article by Jack Reznicki, here,  and to paraphrase, he's making the point that after years of deflecting his growing realization that video is quickly becoming the preferred imaging medium for a new generation he's ready to admit that video is part of the basic wiring of that new generation and will only get more popular as bandwidth speeds up and flat screens get cheaper and more ubiquitous.  He's thrown down the gauntlet, (to himself) saddled up and a few other confused metaphors, and he's out working on building a style and a name for himself in the video world.  Fish where the fish are.

When I talk about video to most of my peers in the business they get a "far away" look in their eyes and, when I press the subject, they rally their best undergraduate art school arguments about why still photography is different and unique.  I would argue that pretty soon all photography will be just still frames from video.  Of course, that's a bit hyperbolic but the reality is that photography is being subsumed by its very simplicity and popularity while video is in a new period of ascendancy.

But after trying my hand at the "new" video I know why my peers are so resistant to this medium.  It's harder to do well than still photography.  Let me say that again with the appropriate emphasis in place:  It's harder to do WELL than still photography.  And, maybe more importantly, to do it well requires collaborating (and sharing credit with) other professionals.  And that's something that many photographers are uncomfortable with or hostile to.  I know I am......

But it's to be expected.  We've spent our lives as loners.  We intersect with the pack to hunt down assignments and get a check.  The rest of the time we're experimenting in our caves....I mean studios....and diddling the dials of PhotoShop.  Now that our basic industry is saturated and devalued we're supposed to become part of a "team"?  (Remember that there is no "I" in team so be prepared to become assimilated by the Borg.....).  That, in a nutshell is why professional photographers aren't rushing to do video in droves.

I don't want to spend my life putting together crews of sound people, assistants, gaffers and grips.  I don't relish spending more time with more people.  What are we to do?  Hmmmmm.  Long pensive thoughts...

We could do what Robert Frank did in the 1950's.  While the majority of photographers were anchored in their studios with 8x10 and 4x5 view cameras and a jungle of hot lights he went out into the street (without assistants or a "team") and made a new art.  An art predicated on moving and seeing and capturing quickly.

We don't need to emulate the evolution of the video industry.  We don't need to follow the path of Phillip Bloom and Vince LaForet and embrace the way video has always been done, overlayed on a new set of tools (and let's admit that the only new thing Vince brought to the table was a new camera with better high ISO and more DOF control.....).  I can choose to implement a newer "snapshot" style that steals from all the good disciplines while maintaining the autonomy that I think many photographers have always subconsciously or consciously chosen for ourselves.  A new style of moving pictures.

I think about this because I just handed my son, Ben, another still digital camera to use.  He's been using a Canon SX10 and I don't think he's ever taken a still image with it.  I handed it to him a few years ago and the first question out of his mouth was,  "Will it do video?"  He and his friends have produced dozens and dozens of finished, edited videos with that camera.

I handed him a Canon SX20 yesterday and the first question he asked me was, "Does it do better video?"  Yes.  It does HD.  Will he take a still frame with the camera?  Doubtful.  Will he use the hell out of it?  You bet.  The batteries are already on the charger.

Ben and his friends are part of the generation in which all media moves.  All media, all moving, all the time.  He's in ninth grade and one of the courses he's taking is film making.  The school is teaching the students in his film making class how to use Final Cut Pro.  As a veteran user of iMovie, Ben is incredibly comfortable with the process.  And  the visual communicators of his generation will be as well.

I want to continue to wring out every good still picture I can out of photography.  But, to paraphrase the English poet, Andrew Marvell,  "O'er my shoulder I do hear video's winged chariot drawing near...."

Time to become multi-disciplinary in a new way.

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Craig said...

"I would argue that pretty soon all photography will be just still frames from video."

I would argue that some areas of photography already are basically that -- sports in particular. Sports photographers don't want 10fps continuous shooting mode because they actually NEED all ten of those shots from each second; they just want as many shots as possible so they can pick out the good ones. But continuous shooting has nothing at all to do with finding, or even understanding the concept of, "the decisive moment"; instead it's like shooting a movie (at an unusually slow frame rate) and picking out stills later.

Peter E. said...

Been trying to make a short documentary with my 5D MKII and you are right, it's much harder than stills. And like you, I'm finding it difficult to work with others but trying to do everything with video alone is difficult. The elephant in the room is audio! And the terminology is strange, like a foreign language.

Craig said...

I hate to admit it, but I believe you're right. Video is destined to replace still photography as the medium of choice. In fact, we may be living in the golden age of still photography right now - and it's going to go downhill from here. Before too long, still photography (film or digital) will exist only as an arcane art form, like oil painting or building furniture with hand tools.

There's never been a time before now when it was so easy and accessible to create good still images. There's also never been a time when there was such as voracious apetite for still iamges. But, it's easy to see that the favored format switches from still to video as soon as the technology and bandwidth will support it. We like to look at moving images.

For now, I prefer to keep my head firmly in the sand. Video just doesn't excite me the way a still image does. I love a beautifully finished print that I can hold in my hand, put in a frame, and hang on the wall. I don't need any technology to view it other than enough light to see. For now at least, video can't exist as a thing of substance like a printed image can. It can only exist as a projection of some sort. It's not a thing. Turn off the power, and it goes away.

I guess I'm just old fashioned.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Craig, It's so true. You observation that, when you turn off the power the image goes away, is poignant. For a person who just loves to photograph and print photography can continue along just fine. It's that point at which you'd like to have someone open their wallet and exchange some cash that will drive the commercial aspects of image making. If not into video at least into some sort of multi-disciplinary focus.

We can fear it or explore it. Or both. But we can't make stuff go away.

Holgs said...

Video capable DSLRs are finally giving photographers the tools to do video well and in a format that many feel comfortable with, if they can muster the skills and patience to learn.

That said I don't think its a substitute for still images - there will always be a place for both. Video require active engagement on the part of a viewer whereas images on the other hand can capture the essensce of a message, mood or scene in a single frame that can be taken in passively.

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

Holgs, Please explain to me how video requires the active engagement of the viewer. Decades of television research seem to indicate just the opposite....

Anonymous said...

I agree with Craig, in so many ways we are already there. Even the New York Times online is filled with videos and podcasts. Learn or die.


Dave Jenkins said...

I Do Not Want to Do Video!

Frankly, all this talk about video makes me glad I’m late in my career (I’m 73).

I got my start in the early 1970s working for a production house that did filmstrips (remember them?), mostly for employee training; and what used to be called industrial movies, which were mostly used to sell products. It was an interesting time.

After a stint with another company as director of advertising, I opened my own photography and production business in 1978, majoring in slide shows and filmstrips, but not movies. I did, among other things, 36 filmstrips for the Krystal hamburger chain, teaching everything from cooking the burgers to cleaning the toilets; and more than 60 fund-raising filmstrips for Church of God World Missions.

By 1985, many of the A-V programs I did were set up as three-projector slide shows playing on one screen with dissolve effects, and transferred to videocassette for distribution. I loved that medium, and really thought it would last. But by the end of 1990, all was swept away as the world converted to video. I firmly believed, and still believe, that a sequence of still photographs is a better teaching/training tool for most things than video.

But I tried video for a couple of years and absolutely hated it, so I re-invented myself as a commercial photographer.

Three or four years ago, as I saw more and more work going to amateurs and semi-pros with advanced cameras, I decided to find specialties that were as safe as possible from those people. I chose the dual disciplines of architecture and business headshots, both of which call for lighting skills a bit beyond flash-on-camera. Fortunately, those specialties are also the most impervious to the encroachment of video.

I believe totally in the power of the still image and absolutely do not want to do video. It's beginning to look as if books may have to be my final refuge, and I’ve been working on that for a while. If you guys want to do video, you can go on without me.

Daniel Fealko said...

Robert Benson (http://robertbenson.com) made a similar observation in his blog this past April (http://robertbenson.com/blog/2010/04/10/video-bio-vio/). In part he wrote, "Ten years from now still photography as we know it, for editorial photographers at least, is going to be a thing of the past."

Robert received a rather insightful comment from Benjamin Chertoff (http://benjaminchertoff.com) outlining why he believes video will NEVER replace the still image. Robert posted Benjamin's comment in full in a later post. Benjamin's comment can be found at http://robertbenson.com/blog/2010/04/22/why-video-wont-replace-stills/.

No one really knows if video, or some yet unannounced new Apple technology, will be the wave of the future, but it's always good to consider where ones life is headed.

Charles "Rain" Black said...

Kirk, your mention of Robert Frank in this article reminded me of a piece I read many years ago. The original was written in the 50's. The author one of those studio types who'd mastered the 4X5 and 8X10 and banks of hot lights, along with perfect make up, wardrobe and posing. To him that investment in time, equipment and assisants was "real professional photography:.

In his article, he made a point of how people like Robert Frank or Henri Cartier-Bresson, with their tiny "snapshot cameras", were undermining the true value and glory of photography. They were giving the impression that "just anyone" with a 35mm (or even a 120 roll film camera) could take photos of just about anything and if someone was willing to buy the results, that made the photographer a professional.

I don't even remember the name of the author, but obviously Robert Frank is recognized as a master innovator.

Of couse we could go back another 100 years and find painters who said that photography wasn't art and never would be (of course that opinion still exists). Or that it was just a fad that would eventually fade away

The reality is we need to put photography in perspective. It is not, and never was, an end in itself. It's an evolutionary step in visual communication, just as oil painting or lithographic reproduction.

While this shift can certainly be disconcerting, it shouldn't be a surprise. The first time people figured out how to code rotating .gif banners in html, the move to replace still images with video was inevitable.

And the fact is, your son Ben and all those of his generation who respond to video rather than still images or print, are going to spend a lot more money in the next 50 years than their parents who still prefer the morning paper thrown into the bushes next to the garage.

The publishing industry has been divided into two groups: those who early on embraced the internet and quickly meshed online content with print, and those who didn't.

Those who didn't are out of business, or struggling to remain solvent. Those who did are often far more profitable now than they would be if the internet hadn't taken off.

However, just as with oil painting or lithography, there is a need to make sure people separate professional sensibilities from personal, artistic desires. There will still be both photographers and clients who prefer still images. However, they will fall into a niche the same way photographers who prefer film have, or those who preferred 4X5 over 35mm did 50 years ago, and so on.

Kirk Decker said...

The other elephant in the room is time. If you do some googling, you’ll find that 1 hour of post production for every 3 minutes of finished product is not unreasonable for an average video. The cat in the room is love. I do photography because I love it. I’m willing to accept that there are aspects of it that I don’t love. I’ve done video before. I don’t remember loving any of it. I do remember it devouring my time. My time is limited. I’m going to spend it on the stuff I love.

Anonymous said...

This is a great post. I was excited when my wife got a Flip to replace our mini-DV camcorder as I was moved by Zack Arias' Transform video. I have yet to try to make a video with it, but I have an idea for one that will one day be made. I think the Fine art market will still be after still images.

Now if I can only convert my Bronica ETRS to shoot video, that would be great. (I have an idea for a custom made digital back, but that will never materialize).

If you were looking for more demographics, I'm an Engineer during the day, lime-lighting as a wannabe fine art photographer.

Brian said...

Kirk I think you are right in this observation for people making a living as photographers. The bulk of the youth of America (our future) do not have the attention span or thoughtfulness to contemplate a still image let alone read poetry or a classic book. However, there will always be the few who value the process of introspection and analysis. Still photography will be there for them. I think it will benefit too by the masses moving away from the medium, as no longer will they kid themselves that they are good (as has happened with the advent of digital-myself included methinks) at it like they will believe they can with their movies.

Robert said...

Video is the future, and is going to dominate. But just as color photography did not kill black and white, I believe that video will will never replace the art of the printed photograph.

I'm using Chromium web browser inside of Ubuntu Linux, your Google stats will tell you I'm using Ubuntu browser inside of Linux. if you care.

Poagao said...

I too find it more pleasant to work on my own, and after collaborating with a lot of different people when directing a feature film over the last few years, it was a distinct relief to just go out by myself and take quiet pictures of regular people. It is certainly a different skill set, two different media forms makes sure of that. However, I don't see photography dying off; there is still no better way to distill the essence of a moment, to lay it out for dissection and appreciation, than a photograph. Video happens and passes, photography stays.

Orchard Light said...

To me, video is just another tool in the toolbox. Unfortunately not one I'm familiar with using and that will have to change. The people who started mixing video and still for commercial work a couple years ago already have an upper hand on the market than the those who only want to stick with one genre. Kind of like those who went to digital years before the bandwagon even showed up.

It's one stop shopping for the client. Why wouldn't they want someone who could do commercials, video clips, and the still shots in one continuous flow? It saves on time and manpower, which should save them money in the long run.

One thing I have to wonder, is the video only industry having the same conversations about learning still photography? Do they think their market is dying because of relatively cheap HD video capability in the hands of non-professionals?

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...


I've talked to the owners of several traditional video production companies and all are offering still photography along with their video services. It may be as rudimentary as having someone shoot stills during production but it in many cases they are also offering to do head shots on site and they will, doubtless, branch out.

I think the move to the web and the change in production values needed is having a tremendous impact on their profits. Just as our skills in producing flawless 16x20 prints are not as germaine to producing images for banner ads on 960 pixel wide websites........

Everything seems to be distilling down to concept and creation. Production is just assumed.

Glenn Harris said...

Thought provoking post Kirk. Video didn't kill the radio star as Buggles suggested in their 1979 hit single and the iPod phenomenon showed that people were still very content just to listen to music without seeing the video. Alas Apple had to add the video component for those you like watching moving images on the back of a postage stamp. People will still want to sit back and look at a good photo on their wall or desk. Heck I still like looking back a bad photos I took 30 years ago.

I'm still not convinced there will be a profitable market for video en masse as some would want us to believe the new direction holds. Apart from the cost - $1K DSLR, $3K* in accessories to get some decent quality footage, $3K+ in a workstation and software to produce a marketable product and then who knows how much time working on the footage or sending it out to a production house.

And who is the audience or market? Do people still have the attention span for a video of more than a few minutes? A photograph, a good photograph, should wow you at first glance and then entice you to look further. How many times have we watched a video hoping that something happens before it ends and are left disappointed. I shoot a lot of youth sports and the still image can show so much emotion that is lost or not easily recognized when viewed in realtime.

I do think multimedia websites will become more popular with still photography and video complementing each other, and I'm not referring to the behind-the-scene clips that are all over the place. Oh well enough of my own rant and back to processing clients still images.

Anonymous said...

What we're seeing here isn't the replacement of still photography but rather tha maturation of video into an artform of its own, seperate from both still photography and from film (where Film is defined as the traditional short and long format motion picture work).

Video has spent the last 30 years being essentially consumer-only, with no reasonable way of sharing work (unlike both still and film photography) but the arrival of video sharing sites like Youtube and social networking make sharing video practical.

Still photography will survive and flourish, but I suspect working pro's will have to learn video alongside still photography in order to stay competitive, especially for event work.

Kirk Olson said...

"In times of change learners inherit the earth; while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer exists."
— Eric Hoffer

Ron said...

Spent the last 2-3 weeks trying to learn FCP...and now I hear 9th graders are mastering it w/ ease... Sucks to be 51 years old... Sigh...

Kirk Tuck, Photographer/Writer said...

But Ron, we know what escrow is, and compound interest. Who cares about FCP? Well, except for you and me and every other artist who doesn't want to get left behind.....

Daniel Cormier said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Unknown said...

Should get him one of the nice new cameras I'm working on http://epic.red.com/

dd-b said...

I started doing video (and film) in highschool, just about when I started to get serious about photography. I nearly had a second major in film in college, too.

Yeah, it's harder. Lighting is harder -- you have to light so many positions look good. Shooting is harder -- you have to think about how the shots will cut together later. Acting is harder -- you have to repeat things accurately enough so, again, the takes cut together. Makeup -- is for once about the same, the degrees of closeup possible are about the same. Sound is MUCH harder, since we don't do sound recording for still photography. And editing is much harder.

And it is OH so much a team effort. Kind of a blast really.

dd-b said...

BUT -- I think the pendulum will swing around, or video will just never have a total triumph. Streaming media, recorded sound or motion video, takes control of your time; it insists that you experience at the pace built into it. That's artistically useful of course -- but it's also something lots of people resist. I can generally read information off a page MUCH faster than anybody can present it in a video; people talk about the younger generation "not having the patience" to read, but I think it's the opposite. *I* don't have the patience to watch video, unless it's pretty darned good. And I always prefer text for information (except for teaching physical skills, sometimes).

Richard said...

dd-b is i right on the money about video. I was a video producer/director for years. The camera is just one part of the puzzle. There are so many other parts. A real video camera, with real mics and a sound mixer, real talent, good writing and an interesting concept and skillful post-production and editing really separates the men from the boys.

As far as being an art form, video has been a dismal failure so far. It is not a good art medium. I don't see that changing. As far as being a news, information, and entertainment medium, it has been a smashing success, exceeding all expectations.

AU said...

The key difference between video and stills is who controls time. In video, the videographer controls time. In a photograph, time is frozen and the spectator gets to control time. He/she can decide to look at a photo for 3 seconds or 3 hours. A video that lasts 30 seconds can not be watched for 3 seconds og 3 hours.
This is a primary tool of the still photographer, to freeze time.

Craig Yuill said...

I can understand the need to shoot video, but I wonder if it is a trend that will pass by. Several years ago I all but gave up on shooting stills. I enjoyed taking video footage of my children as they were growing up. I liked being able to record the sounds they made. But when I received a high-quality DSLR as a gift a couple of years ago I started taking stills again with a vengeance. Stills can be printed, and prints are timeless. You just need some light to be able to see them.

Video, on the other hand, requires a tech gadget to see it. It also requires a lot of work to create a watchable presentation. And some footage (like AVCHD) is not easily played on much of the hardware that exists. Video specs are also in a state of constant flux. I can't wait to see what the upcoming 4K-format wars will be like.

Shooting video might be increasingly important to the livelihood of professional photographers, but I wouldn't write the obituary for still photography just yet.

Dave said...

I've been following your blog for a while. I suppose video will be coming, but I also think that just because you're a good photographer, that doesn't mean you're going to be good at video. They're two different, but related disciplines.

Dave said...

I'm all in on this one. Video has plagued my mind for years and now I feel like its one of my bucket list items. There's something compelling about video and especially the combination of stills with it. Maybe its the story telling and how I see opportunities in my mind that yell at me for being neglected. The thing that truly amazes me is seeing how creative the lighting people are in video. Too bad I sold me GH2 last year! Now its D7000 (and no EVF) for a while, but as you've noted and stated a strong case for, Sony might be the best combination for both stills and video.

Nick N. said...

I think the ratio of production time to finished product expands (exponentially?) with the complexity of the enterprise. I heard part of an interview with on of the key people (producer?) involved in the Downton Abby series. As i remember, it took something like 4–5 weeks of production (scouting, set-up, costuming, shooting, editing, etc., etc.) to produced one hour's worth of what one eventually viewed on the teevee.