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....