Old School Communications. All the work and none of the fun.

The radio telephone the secret service carried on the Johnson Ranch.
Where's the screen for reading e-mail?

I am now officially booked through the end of March. It's nice thing because it represents a bit of financial security but it does play havoc with the swim schedule. I will adjust. The thing that makes being booked up different for me this year is that so much of the current (and near future) work is video or a mix of photography and video. It seems obvious that corporations are profoundly changing the way they communicate with customers. 

You can see it in the new wave of websites. The ones from the tech community don't open with a banner photograph across the top of the front page anymore, they open with a video banner instead. The video banner is nearly always a lifestyle/brand presentation of the client. One company has a video of good looking professional people walking toward the camera in a light, airy and modern airport setting. They sell software that improves customer experiences and one of their big clients is the airline industry. The video is a quick, active encapsulation of what they promise: A quick and convenient airline experience; one made better by the company's phone centric software product. At least that's the premise and the promise.

Even my theater client which we've supplied photographs to for 24 years has lately discovered the power of video content to move shows into profitability and engage their base in more active conversations around certain plays. While I'm making conventional images for the marketing of the new LBJ drama, All the Way, I recently spent three days making a combination of reportorial style still images, video interviews, video programming on locations and audio interviews. They're building a strong YouTube channel and also inserting video, wherever possible, in social media. As channels of content distribution get more splintered it seems that having more tools is always better. It's rare now, for me, to get jobs that don't have some sort of online video component (whether the client chooses to have me produce it or not...). Video is a self-contained way to present a complete story across any number of devices. From old school televisions to phones.

I met this morning with a technology client who has commissioned me to do a new video for them for an upcoming trade show. Their booth will have a number of 50 inch monitors and the video needs to do three things: 1. Tell a shorthand version of the company's story. 2. Present an overview of their products and the benefits to customers. 3. Represent the company's partners. The video needs to come in under three minutes (harder to do than a longer program) and it needs to work well with, and without audio. To do the video we need some good still images of the products in prototype. We might also need a few more images that we can pan over of their existing products. We have good, existing video of the processes and the look of the headquarters.  We'll need copywriting and some motion graphics and a big dose of editing.

The videos will run over and over again across all the 50 inch monitors on a trade show booth. The monitors are the logical replacement for large, static trade show graphics in that the video is constantly moving, can handle multiple messages in one space and captures the audience's attention for a longer period of time that a still image would. The days of handing out a brochure and a business card under a gatorfoam mounted company logo sign are quickly coming to a close....

While none of this really matters to photographers who pursue the craft for their own pleasure I write about it because it's swirling all around me and the integration of video seems inevitable. I'm certainly not making the statement that still images will vanish but there's a convergence going on that's changing the way we've worked. It seems like it will change the way we navigate future business as well. Everything moves and everything talks.

When we bid on photography projects now the closing sentence on most cover letters for bids is something along the lines of, "We also offer complete video production services including:scripting, shooting, motion graphics and editing. Please let me know if you need video services as well and we'll be happy to create an estimate. It can often be much more cost effective and time efficient for you when we provide both services in tandem...with the added benefit of a single source of contact..."

I can't provide every service a client might need directly but I'm making alliances with other vendors who are very good at the things I'm not up to speed on. I commission motion graphics. I send some projects to editors. In fact, I am equally comfortable hiring small teams to do the actual video under my creative direction when necessary. I guess the old saw is right, "A man has got to know his own limitations." 

I'm not sure about a lot of stuff but I am fairly certain that video is here to stay for professional photographers and the quicker we become experts the better it will be for our bottom lines. 

Where's the screen for the computer on the left?
What that round dial on the telephone? Is it like the control dial
on the back of Canon cameras? 
(LBJ's office at the ranch).

Is an intercom faster and easier than yelling down the hall?
Or texting? 
(LBJ's office at the ranch). 

My latest experiences with video have me thinking about one thing in particular and that is what the best form factor for a video camera might be and how much operating convenience and efficiency counts when weighed against potentially higher imaging quality. To wit, is an EM5-2 a better video camera because of its incredible image stabilization versus the superior video file capabilities of a GH4 or Sony A7S? Which trumps what? After my work last week I would have gladly traded the Nikon D810 for an older Olympus EM-5 just for all the handheld sequences. It's an ongoing process of figuring out a style that works most of the time. I'll hedge a little and say that I still find the Sony RX10 a compelling little video camera for anything handheld. On the other hand clients seem to like the look of the bigger Nikon fully tricked out on a tripod.... Ah well, some stuff never changes. 

A quick advertising note: Craftsy is offering a bunch of course at up to 50% off. It's a good way to learn new stuff. You might want to browse their photo offerings. I'll be looking at the cooking classes.....   Here's the link!


  1. Two questions:

    One: Do you have a separate work space for video?

    Two: How difficult or easy was it to get to a point where video editing was as natural as photo editing?

    I find just thinking in video mode while editing is not easy. I assume it will get there but I'm not there yet.

  2. Hi John, I don't want to come across as an expert. While I've done TV commercials and lots of video in the past most of that past was not the age of Non Linear, Desktop editing. We had editors who sat with us and did the hard work of editing. I'm as new to Final Cut ProX as everyone else and I'm still trying to wrestle it to the ground.

    That said, I don't have a separate space for editing. I'm using a very recent model 27 inch iMac computer with an i7 processor and 32 gigabytes of RAM. The computer is hardly ever the problem but the memory retention of where all the software controls live is.

    My computer is set up in the corner of my office and it's the same one I use for PhotoShop, etc. I do have a couple of fast hard drives that are dedicated to video projects.

    I'm a long way off from being as comfortable editing video as I am still images. A long way. I'll guess that it's going to take about a year of weekly edit sessions mixed with lots of Lynda.com classes until I get close to the same comfort level.

    I'm also thinking of switching to Adobe Premier instead of FCPX and that will surely be a bit of a new learning curve as well as another dent in the wallet.

    Video is tough. It's hard as can be for a single person business to be able to jump in and fix stuff in video like we can in PS. Yes, we can do the big three, color, saturation and exposure but putting something in a layer and getting rid of a pimple on an executive's moving chin? Not likely around here....

    I'm in early days with video editing. I've been doing PhotoShop since the mid-1990s. Wow. That's a huge difference.

    Also it seems video style changes more often and I keep having to learn ancillary programs like Motion in order to do good, moving type.

    Just yesterday I found new controls for the look of slowing motion (beyond just setting %). It's a new thing everyday.

    I learn what I need in the moment and then learn more when the next wrinkle shows up. I am envious of my son who grew up editing video. He is proficient like Mozart....

  3. Speaking from the rarefied heights of complete ignorance and no experience in matters video, I noticed a Black Magic full page ad for their DaVinci Resolve. Interestingly, a single-seat license is a free download.

    They even give a guide to how to set up your hardware: http://software.blackmagicdesign.com/DaVinciResolve/docs/DaVinci_Resolve_Mac_Config_Guide_June_2014.pdf

    Just an FYI. As I said, I know nothing.

  4. You got the message; now keep the faith.

    You don't have to look far beyond Austin to find the king of the one-man-bands, Robert Rodriguez. Didn't he edit the Spy Kids movies in his garage using Final Cut Pro? Or is that an errant figment of my aging imagination? The point is, you can outsource all the specialty jobs necessary and still maintain complete creative control without leaving the house -- other than to shoot the video and interact with your clients.

    And to be fully booked a month at a time with paying work? Who could ask for more!

  5. Hi Michael, So true. And yes, you got the Rodriguez story just right.

  6. "I am equally comfortable hiring small teams to do the actual video under my creative direction when necessary."

    Yeap. Be it a photo or video business, we need to be(come) producers and DP's rather than just cameramen.

    Unfortunately on the video side of things, it's harder, if not impossible, to pursue both the artistic and the business goals alone. It's a team effort, much more so than photography, which is easier for lone wolfs. That's sad news for lone wolfs who love video.

    "To wit, is an EM5-2 a better video camera because of its incredible image stabilization versus the superior video file capabilities of a GH4 or Sony A7S? Which trumps what?"

    I'd say no. You can always add gimbals, glidecams and such to a high quality camera but you cannot fix crappy video afterwards. What good is a fancy IBIS if the video quality is crap, or mediocre at best? That is why I probably won't buy the E-M5II, at least for video. I'll try to optimise my use of monopods, tripods and other such aids.

    It's easy to get distracted by the popular gadget geekery and marketing memes around us but your gear acquisition choices are always business decisions, aren't they.

    "I still find the Sony RX10 a compelling little video camera for anything handheld. On the other hand clients seem to like the look of the bigger Nikon fully tricked out on a tripod.... Ah well, some stuff never changes."

    Are you referring to the look of the footage or the look of the camera, Kirk? If it's the latter, I'd like to ask a simple question; does that really matter?
    Does that have a real, actual impact of how your paying clients are perceiving you and your work?

    I'm asking this just out of curiosity, without even a hint of snarkiness. If it does matter, I'm wondering why, and whether or not it could be a cultural thing of some sort.

    On the other hand, if your clients on the set are more impressed by the large gear on display than your work, as a quick first aid kit you could simply rig the RX10 up. Add a cage, bolt on a recorder, a big mic, and some other fancy looking add-ons. ;)

    I've added a bracket and bolted a Ninja on it alongside the RX10 with a wire running between them, then a big Røde Videomic Pro on the camera or on the recorder with its suspender and wire clearly on display, and bolted the whole contraption on a video tripod with those fancy looking legs. Or perhaps a handle in the bottom of that 'rig' for handheld shots. That has done the trick in the untrained eyes. They don't pay much attention to the camera underneath the rig. :)

  7. So you are thinking of switching from FCP X to Premier Pro. I just decided to upgrade to another Mac based on my very-positive experience with the trial version of FCP X. I have used trial versions of several video-editing programs for Windows and Mac OS X. FCP X was the only one to be able to easily edit and export video with the characteristics I was looking for. If you haven't yet done so be sure to extensively play around with a trial version of Premier Pro before you commit to it.

    As for whether one camera is better than another for handheld video work, I think it all comes down to how good its IS/VR system is. I like the quality of video footage that I can get from my Nikon V1s. But I find that the VR system very often cannot compensate enough for vibration and shake made when I am moving - either in a vehicle or on foot. I saw some footage posted on YouTube by someone who shot footage with an Olympus E-M5 while walking along a sidewalk. The stabilization was amazing. The new E-M5II supposedly shoots better video than the original E-M5. I have little doubt it could be a good addition to your D810.

    Best of luck with decisions about future software and equipment purchases.

  8. Am I the only one that stops videos when they play, turns the sound off, or looks for a text only version of stories/pages ?

  9. Are you over 40? That might explain a lot. Do you still call your camera a "digital" camera? Still watch the nightly news on one of the "three" networks? Wear a watch? Burn CDs? Talk about what stuff used to cost? Find yourself saying, "back in the old days..." A lot?

    Video isn't going to go away.

  10. Can you tell me the story behind the phone photo?
    I think I know the person who sold it to the government.


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