4.14.2014

Redefining a changing business. Integrating new offerings with existing skills.


Since 1987 I have offered photography services to clients who are mostly in commercial enterprises. These services include: Executive Portraits, more traditional Head Shots, Product Photography, Food Photography and general, advertising oriented, LifeStyle Photography. We have also documented hundreds of events which have included celebrities like Elton John, Andy Roddick, Ben Crenshaw, Sugar Ray Leonard, three different U.S. presidents and many others. It's been a wonderful and varied career that ranged from being hunched over a still life of underground pipes (shot in the studio for 3M) to making "hero" shots of the first Apple/Motorola/IBM RISC processor to chatting with president, George H.W. Bush about wine while waiting for a photo session.

The common denominator of those 27 years has been that the majority of the work has been still photography. The cameras have varied widely. We've shot with 8x10 cameras for still life, pressed 4x5 inch film cameras into service both for studio product work and location portrait work, we've leaned heavily on medium format systems for hundreds and hundreds of editorial assignments and corporate portraits and we plumbed the depths of the Leica M and R systems for events and documentation.

Since the dawn of digital I've shot with everything from tiny sensored Canon G10's (most of the illustrations in my book on Photographic Lighting Equipment) to big Nikons and Canons, to Sony full frame and then back again to the Panasonic/Olympus micro four thirds cameras. Through all of this the cameras have been the most fun to buy but really have had the least effect on the imagery. The real work is in the lighting. And secondary to the lighting is just strategizing the shots. How to prop them? What angles to shoot? What properties to highlight? How to pose a person to make them look good? Or better?

But after this wonderful run of a career I am more and more drawn to creating moving images. In this decade that means video. I am hardly a beginner in the field. My first motion project, done in 1985, was to conceive and write the first television commercials for Bookstop Bookstores. We borrowed liberally from 2001, A Space Odessey, and built an 18 foot tall monolith of....books. Took the monolith to a rock quarry and, with a crew of 20 or so in tow we filmed our live action through one long night. Back then the production crew shot on 35mm film and we did our post production at Video Post in Dallas, Texas. David Byrne was in Dallas during the first run of the commercials and got in touch with our ad agency to see if he could use a 10 second clip of the commercial for his film, True Stories.

I've been fascinated with making video and film ever since. In the late 1980's I bought a Bolex Rex 5 16mm movie camera with an Angenieux 12-120mm lens and a few primes. In the early 1990's I bought a Canon XL-1 and then an XL-2 and worked as a DP for Bruce Maness on one of his personal movie projects and also on a series of videos about nuclear reactor waste streams. I used my Canon XL-1 and a long lens to do a series of shots with Rene Zellweger (yet to be discovered by Hollywood at that point in time) for a video about coffee.  And I worked as DP for Steve Mims on his award winning music video for Billy Joe Shaver (song: The Hottest Thing in Town). 

A little later I became interested in the Super-8 film aesthetic and bought a Nikon R-10 camera. We used it to do one of my favorite projects for a company called, TechWorks. The first half of the industrial video (made to be shown at Mac World shows) was all done in black with white Super 8 Tri-X and the second half all shot in color with BetaCam SP cameras. It was the kind of fun project I love. I got to concept, write the script, run the cameras and direct the talent. I sat in an editing bay with a very patient editor and we cut the project together during a very long day.... It was the last time I edited on tape...

Now I'm feeling a renewed interest in all things motion. I've done a number of projects in the last two years. Some with my friend, Will Van Overbeek, and some with my son, Ben, but mostly working pretty much solo. While film making is largely thought of as a collaborative process I love the way I've been building my new approach. I'll reach out for talent when I need it but I'm much more interested in my singular vision of the medium. I want to hear the words through the headphones. I want to line up the images in the camera and I want to sit in the studio and agonize, second by second over the edits.

So now I'm trying to craft a message, or an offering, to my existing and potential clients to let them know that I'd like to do these kinds of projects for them. And I'm grappling with the marketing side of the whole video process. I know how things are done, status quo, but (as usual) I am questioning why everything has to be so quantified and structured.

One thing that interests me is the idea of combining interviews and head shots. I've done a bit of this for the folks at Austin Radiological Associates but I want to expand it. The idea is to "light once and shoot twice." Set up lighting that works equally well for still photography head shots but can instantly be re-purposed for video interviews with the subject. I envision a time when every website that currently has a grouping of static head shots will move to having head shots which, when clicked on, open into a 30 or 60 second interview/scripted introduction of the person. "Hi, I am doctor John Smith and my speciality is pain management. At the Waco Witchcraft Clinic we offer a full array of tested methodologies to help our patients control and even remediate persistent pain. Our newest tool is the hybrid laser/leech therapy that combines the lost knowledge of the dark ages with the latest in medical gear bling. We are ready to help you with your pain!" 

On a more traditional note I really enjoy putting together industrial/corporate videos that combine a look into the nuts and bolts of a company's offerings combined with testimonials from clients and explanations from company wonks. Here's what we do. Here's how we do it. Here's how it works. Here are the benefits of using our product. Here's someone who has had success using the product. And finally, please call us for a demonstration/bid/more information, etc. 

I recently finished an industrial just like the one I described above and I loved every part of the process from writing the outline to picking the music bed. The project was successful for the client and everyone had fun.

What I learned during the project is that one can never have enough "b-roll" (images of the process or different angles of the speakers, etc.) and that one can never move the camera too much in the creation of the b-roll. To that end I'm adding a portable jib for the next project. I'm also looking at Varizoom's new Dolly Track system.

I guess in writing this I am really just noodling out my thoughts on how to proceed. I'm working diligently at putting more and more samples on my reel and I'm working with equal diligence on mastering every tiny part of Final Cut Pro X. I'm looking for more projects that I can handle without being encumbered by a big crew. I like working with an assistant, a sound person and a make up person. I like hiring graphic designers with expertise in the program, Motion, to create graphics.

But most of the work I envision doing in the short run is destined for websites, YouTube, Vimeo and general presentations (trade shows, corporate stage shows, etc.).  To my mind the intended use makes the selling proposition straightforward. We don't do big, splashy TV commercials. We don't do giant productions. We offer what we've really always offered. Good, solid content wrapped in well done technical wrappers.

I think our best feature/benefit is both my time spent working with corporations and understanding their processes, and my ability to write and coax good words from interviewees and narrators. Good writing and good directing are the keys to getting the information across well to prospective customers.  The clearer and cleaner I can make that process the more value we can provide to our clients.

In the next few months I'm bound to write more and more about video but I still have most of my commercial presence (my feet)  in the still photography arena and I'm not about to walk away from the equity I've built in that business.  We're working for mutually beneficial coexistence.

Times change and it seems to me that video is ready for a smaller, smarter crew and a more focused, less production intensive method of creating it. Web presentation is a relatively new medium and it requires different levels of investment and much more inventory if it's to be done correctly. We want to provide clients with good, clear messaging and visual content that's professionally done and fun to watch. Adding video and photography together is a way of leveraging both fields. Now the secret is to figure out the marketing....


13 comments:

mgr said...

I've been mulling over motion, but haven't caught the bug. While reading this post, it occurred to me that my major hang-up with motion is in how it ultimately gets presented. At least for me, the "websites, YouTube, Vimeo and general presentations" you mention take away from the "good, solid content," if only because the "well-done technical wrappers" don't actually exist. I mean, with still photography, you have a bit more control of the presentation; you can create a website with an attractive (or at least distinctive) presentation layer, or you can print and frame the photo and hang it in a gallery, or you can view it on a phone. But with video you're pretty much stuck with a frightfully ugly branded "frame" and a right-pointing arrow waiting for someone to click it. Sigh. Until someone invents the Harry Potter magic paper for motion graphics, we're all stuck just "making do" with the tools available.

And in the meantime, the photographers who can let go of that particular hang-up will be way ahead of the curve. I guess the key is to focus on making magical content while the presentation layer sorts itself out. Hmmm.

Kirk Tuck said...

Agree and disagree. It would be nice to have total control over the final presentation. You can do that when you present your work in person. But blaming the web is pointless. If you design websites you have to take into consideration every browser program, all the people who never upgrade Internet Explorer, the fact that different systems have different type availabilities and by extension differing type treatments. Most people's screens aren't calibrated, etc. And yet we still do a tremendous amount of work destined for web sites. Your clients can control how their videos are seen by hosting the videos on their own sites and providing high rest wrappers. You won't always be able to drag the viewers into using the best modalities but you can only do that if you have a physical gallery and control every parameter. That's never going to happen. I do wish there were uniform standards and that everyone used them. If you don't want bad frames and ads you can always self-host or pay Vimeo for a pro membership that allows non-ad display.

mgr said...

Good points. I don't think I'm "blaming the web," though. I mean, I have the same problem with video installations in galleries; no matter how compelling the content, the presentation layer always seems distracting. Maybe it's just me. I suppose if video was easy, everybody would be doing it. :)

In the meantime, I deeply appreciate your sharing your journey with us.

Jean Marc Schwartz said...

Hello,

Outside your excellent article, what is the model of light led visible on the photo of the top?

Kirk Tuck said...

Hi Mr. Schwartz, those lights are the original Fotodiox 1000 LED light panels. They were my real starter lights on the LED journey. They put out a lot of light (relatively speaking) and once you got the hang of correcting them with a magenta filter and custom White Balance you could really get them to sit up and dance for you...

Anonymous said...

I think that I've passed the point of no return, too, and I've admitted to myself that motion pictures fascinate me much more than still pictures, despite years of shooting mostly stills. Whether it's for personal or business purposes.

"I envision a time when every website that currently has a grouping of static head shots will move to having head shots which, when clicked on, open into a 30 or 60 second interview/scripted introduction of the person."

Uh-oh, you aren't going to go all Will Crockett's Hybrid Hero on us, are you? ;-)

Nothing wrong with Will's business model per se, I'm just not a big fan of the hybrid approach the way they're marketing it, nor do I get too excited about those e-products. They feel somewhat contrived, commodified and goofy to me, not something for the long term. Or maybe it's just me and my inner curmudgeon.
The concept of using the same lights setup for both stills and video, however, is a no brainer.

"Times change and it seems to me that video is ready for a smaller, smarter crew and a more focused, less production intensive method of creating it."

I'm banking on that, too. Putting video production ahead of photo shoots from now on, as a one man band. Even if there's no 100% certainty about anything, yet. We'll see how it goes, and I'll re-adjust along the way if necessary.

Looks like there is some natural demand for this kind of work out there, and not too many content suppliers. Yet. I just need to shoot more and better stuff.

Bob Krist said...

Kirk: I'm going through the same transition myself for many of the same reasons.

Been away from your blog for a while but wow, you are really cooking! Fantastic posts…lost a whole afternoon catching up. Won't be falling behind like that again.

Keep up the great work, and if you want a shoulder to cry on about the trials of a one-man video band, I'm here!

Anonymous said...

BTW,
Vimeo Plus, Pro and for Business are not the only non-ugly, non-ad display options. There's another one, called Wistia.
http://wistia.com

I'm not affiliated with them, nor do I have an account with them yet, either, just FYI. Which of the options is the ideal one, well, suppose it's a matter of taste and up to one's needs. The point being, we do have some choice, and hopefully even more later on.

Anonymous said...

"Now the secret is to figure out the marketing...."

http://nofilmschool.com/2014/04/storytelling-in-an-add-culture-capture-your-audiences-attention/

Disclaimer:
It's Gary Vaynerchuck, so the video has an occasional f-word here and there. But worth a watch, anyway. Whether you're a photographer, videographer, writer or any other creative type.
Let's keep on telling compelling stories.

Wally Brooks said...

Will Crockett on his web site talked about hybrid templates. I don't usually read his site to often, still I wonder if a new way of seeing combining still and video for the small and large screen may be viable in the market. Don't know what the templates are just passing along the thought.

bpr said...

Kirk,

Isn't video always cyclical fad? We are on the HDSLR wave now but previously it's been Quicktime on Multimedia CD's, Flash animations, then plain low def video.

I'm coming at this as a consumer - not a producer. I'm an architect and I get to see a lot of websites and corporate presentations as all sorts of companies try to get me to spec their near identical flooring/roofing/whatever… over some one else's.

I'll largely avoid watching video content because it's not a value proposition for me - clips are rarely informative enough for required time they takes up.

Busy people who are used to skimming information will not sit through these things just because they are there.

My opinion is that smart companies are the ones who maintain or revert to lean, clean websites with good quality HTML and PDF's because I, as the end user, can control the pace.

There is niche for well crafted video; Training days and the like, where a good clip can be more effective than a bad trainer.

Kirk Tuck said...

Your industry seems curiously immune to video but the numbers tell the story. Video is growing as bandwidth and access become more and more ubiquitous. While my generation and perhaps yours (I don't know your age) like to read and research in traditional ways every study imaginable shows that you and I are increasingly outliers in that regards. You discount a tidal shift, by generation, away from the written word and toward visual and aural learning as primary drivers. Architecture is an odd field in that you need to see detail and quality of finish. That means you want to see a discrete sample and be able to enlarge it. You are looking for items and examples of their use. But most people come from another direction on the web. They are looking for "how to use" or "why to use" information and not "what to use" information.
For hobbyists there may be some fad cycle to video but one look at the numbers in media, the penetration of television and video over computer broadcast as a percentage of advertising spend certainly tells the real story.

Your single sample reminds me of my days in advertising. I'm sure you've experienced a similar thing: You work your ass off on a well designed, intelligently done project that is supported by focus groups and research. Your client walks in and says, "I guess I like that but my spouse has better taste than I do. Let's ask him/her." The spouse walks in and says, "Oh, I can't stand the color blue. And I think red is overdone. Let's choose plaid since it works with so many things." You take a break to go out the back door and scream.

When choosing between facts and your own personal taste it is always wise to at least visit with the facts for a while before you decide....

Video is here to stay and growing much more quickly than still photography.

And you will see video in marketing to architects. A smart producer just has to find the right language and the right context for it to work.

Mitch Wojnarowicz said...

Once I get clients past the notion that --because it's digital-- we can shoot 147 still concepts before lunch and a whole 10 year photo library will be done by quittin' time, I'll gladly invest more into video.

Just did a shoot where the agency bought an inexpensive HD cam and some cheap sticks to mount it, and sent the AD out to do some interviews "for the web" during my still shoot day.

Were I able to convince the agency that I could handle both stills and interviews (I am a former news guy) AND were I able to secure the budget I'd gladly wear both hats. Definitely would have resorted to continuous lights as you use to do the environmental portrait stills, then rolled for the interview.

There is absolutely a nascent market for portraits or "industrial lifestyle" still images followed by video with brief interviews or brief vignettes of folks working. This motion work will clearly be used online or in in-house presentations.

I'm just not willing to go through what happened when digital stills arrived and suddenly photos were "finished" the second you tripped the shutter and clients began pulling back on what they would spend because of a wrong assumption on their part, i.e. you can see the photo, it's "done" so the pay will be less.

I won't make this video transition a battle of me doing it cheaper than them hiring a full on video expert because I'm "already there and already set up".

But I now can see myself making this transition into shooting both.