checking the details.
I shot a simple interview last Friday. It took about half an hour to set up and maybe half an hour to shoot. I didn't do much pre-planning and I let a marketing person steer the interview and now I'm in editing hell. The interview subject was articulate and video-genic but... in response to rather open-ended questions from the interviewer she gave us a fast paced recital of much (good) technical information. The pain comes when the marketing team comes back and asks for about thirty minutes of great stuff to be cut down to two minutes. At that point you realize that all that water cooler talk about pre-production is a lot more than random bullshit.
The marketing team and I are both guilty of an age old issue: we should have decided exactly what we wanted this video piece to do, mapped out exactly what we wanted and stopped treating the shooting process as a classic, open ended interview. Not a "Sixty Minutes" piece. In fact, we might have served the final purpose better by defining the answers we wanted and semi-scripting our talent.
Instead I'm slicing and dicing and using ample B-roll to disguise all the quick cuts I'm making in order to piece together a jigsaw puzzle with way too many pieces.
But before you I'm strictly a still photographer - this has no relevance for me types rush to move on to the next gear review I have to point out that what I'm learning today has relevance to both sides of the aisle. I realize that I could have been delivering better and more effective still photography for my clients if I spent a lot more time and effort up front. We have a tendency to let clients indulge in the fantasy that a photograph can serve many, many situations and still work. The reality is that matching the style, content, look and feel and intention of a photography to its final and highest priority use will make for a less generic/homogeneous image and will more solidly glue eyeballs to the screen or the page.
Here's an example that seems always fresh in my mind: Four years ago, when I was shooting mostly with the Panasonic GH4 cameras (and liking them very much) a regular client hired me to shoot a series of tongue-in-cheek images, full length, of a very talented talent who dressed and played the part of: an adventurer, a plumber, a mountain climber, etc. We shot twelve images with props in all. Here's where it got dicey! This client had nearly always worked with me on web-based projects. All our images (with a few small print exceptions) went to phone screens, laptop screens, desktop screens and 1080p monitors at trade shows. The GH4 was the perfect camera for any of these uses, especially so when we were able to bring the talent into the studio and pump up the light letting us shoot at ISO 100 and at optimum apertures. We all looked at the images at the end of the shoot. The client, the agency, the photographer and the talent. We all patted each other on the back.
It was only there at the end that I overheard the agency creative director say to the client that these images were going to look great on posters! Yikes. Here I was shooting 16 megapixel files on a small sensor camera....
When the client got into their shiny German car and sped away I casually asked the creative director to fill me in. He was happy to. The images would run on the client website...and as a series of big, 30x40 inch, printed posters. I smiled as I waved goodbye to the C.D. and then frantically got on the computer to download the latest version of DXO. I was wholly dependent on software to up rez these files into something solid for the final use.
Had I gone through a logical pre-production conversation with the agency I would have asked, first, "What is our primary use of the images? Are there secondary uses? Will there be retouching/compositing involved? Who will do that process? What kinds of files will you need? How do you need them delivered? But, of course, we had gotten comfortable with the consistency of this client's previous use of our images and were only concentrating on getting the creative stuff done.
Had I done my upfront homework I might have decided to rent a higher res camera for this engagement. The client and agency certainly had the budget to pay for it. There would have been no post shoot panic. No lunging for more software.
As it was the IDEA of failing destroyed my appreciation for the cameras I had been working with (happily) and sent me on a senseless journey of camera migration, buying and selling, that lasted years until I ended up back where I started. With a Panasonic GH camera.
This is not an isolated story. And it's not always about the efficacy of the gear. Sometimes we get wrong-headed about the concept. A lot of the time we allow the presumptions of the clients to drive our mistakes.
A few weeks ago we shot in a medical practice and the talent provided to us by the client had skull and crossbones tattoos on each bare forearm. The client was standing right next to the camera. Approved every shot. We took a break and my assistant pulled me aside and asked about the tattoos (this is Austin, after all...). She suggested we rush over to a nearby big box store and get a generic long sleeve shirt for the talent. I didn't take her suggestion and act on it. I figured the client had provided the talent and knew what she was getting.
A week later, long after the images were delivered, the tattoos became "an issue." Not for the initial use but for one of the many, many subsidiary uses for the photos which we never discussed. A long sleeved shirt would have saved us (client and photographer) hours and dollars of careful and complex retouching.
But the painful awareness about the results of not doing pre-production are hardly owned only by working professional photographers. Hobbyists could earn efficiency and make better images by taking the time to knuckle down on research and planning as well. When I am in "hobbyist" mode I often head out of the house with little or no plan other than to walk around with this week's magical lens and try to find fun images, or images that make me look like a good photographer. I often get downtown and realize that there is a motorcycle parade and that a good, longer lens would be more likely to get me the photos I want than the 35mm equivalent some spirited discussion on the web led me to buy.
I might not check the weather and then spend time loitering at the Whole Foods coffee bar, or under welcoming awnings, waiting for a cold rain to stop. All the time cognizant that I could have been doing something better with my time. And don't get me started on the number of times I headed out without a spare battery....or even an SD card in my camera.
Now I like to go out with a plan. I'm open to chance but, based on the prevailing weather, the event schedule in Austin and some little bit of self-awareness I'm at least having more fun. Now I need to translate that level of preparation back into some of my jobs and stop showing up on autopilot.
New check list: Do I know completely what my client expects? Do I have the right gear to do it? Am I prepared for the weather? Do I have an extra battery? Do I have a big-ass memory card loaded, formatted and ready to go? Have I checked to make sure downtown isn't going to be closed for some awful political rally or construction project? Do I have an idea of what I want to get from the adventure ( pro or amateur ) and am I prepared to improvise? Finally, have I decided on where I'll go for lunch?
So, back to my video project at hand... I wish I'd used a different microphone. The sound was great but the talent kept hitting the cord and making noise. A cardioid on a stand would have been a better choice than the lavaliere I used. I wish I had asked questions during the interview that would have led to more compact and linear answers. I wish I had reviewed all of the B-roll assets that were available to me so I could steer the interview in a direction that would take advantage of the material I had in my toolbox. I wish we had scripted to a tighter time frame. I wish I could have previsualized how the interview should go in advance. There is no team in I. And the buck stops at the editing workstation.