Video and photography have always seemed to be two different camps. One camp is dedicated to freezing the perfect moment while the other camp is equally dedicated to telling stories with moving images. For a long time the intersection between the camps was almost non-existent. Photographers were happy to leave video alone and concentrate on heading out in the world with their "optical butterfly nets" to capture perfect, individual images they hoped would grab the attention of viewers and hold them in the moment. Videographers grudgingly used still photographs in their edits when the topic of their work no longer existed in any other form. Think of the work Ken Burns did with his "Civil War" TV series... an impressive use of photographic archives and collections.
The inclusion of photographs in documentary video has largely limited to historic photographs. Old scenes captured mostly in black and white. Images of 1970's protests caught on slides and negatives but not always on video and certainly not to the same extent.
I've been doing a bunch of editing on my video projects recently and I began to realize how valuable concurrent photography could be as content in my moving picture work. I first started using still images to supplement video content for an interview I did with Dave Jarrott who played the part of J. Edgar Hoover in a play about President Lyndon Baines Johnson. The interview ended up cut down to about six minutes but we had not shot any b-roll and we only used one camera angle for the project. A week or so later I photographed the dress rehearsal of the play and made a point to shoot as many images of Dave Jarrott in his role as I could.
I went back to the original edit (which includes what I felt was just the right content) and started layering in still images. Some of the additions were utilitarian; they covered visible edit points which were jarring but unavoidable. But some images I added because I thought their visual resonance added power to the verbal content Dave was sharing. In the end I mixed in over 50 still images over the six minutes of interview dialog. The dress rehearsal photos were in color and needed to stay that way to convey the feel of the stage lighting and the set design but that led me to convert the color interview footage to black and white which I felt very much enhanced the feel of the project. I shared the finished piece with the theater's artistic director and he was amazed --- and very enthusiastic about reposting the interview.
With this good experience under my belt I headed to Canada to shoot four more videos. This time I made the shooting of still images an important part of my process. I wanted a folder full of relevant images to pepper through the four interviews in order to re-inforce messaging and to help pace the overall presentation. The style guide of the client is to make the videos at least 25% black and white but not more than 50% of the overall video program. This helped nudge me in the opposite direction I had taken in the previous project. Now I was making the still images black and white and the main interview footage color and it seemed to work well for me as well as the client.
With each project I see more and more how I can leverage my still photographer's sense of composition and timing, along with lighting and effective post production to make content that enhances the flow of the videos.
By the time I was ready to interview the star of the "Lady Day at Emerson's Bar & Grill" production, at Zach Theatre, I had already created still photographs at both the tech and dress rehearsals and had over 1200 still images at my disposal with which to edit. As the project came together I couldn't find a rationale for making some parts black and white and some color so I kept the entire project in color. The images capture emotional high points in the show that couldn't be easily re-created in the course of a quick interview (if at all). I was able to match the emotional feel of the images to the content of the conversation we created. It was remarkable to me to see how much more alive the interview became with the inclusion of the photographs; mostly because they are so precisely aligned with what Chanel is telling us; sentence by sentence.
To do the same thing totally in video might have been possible but not nearly as easy. Shooting photographs in raw allows so much post production enhancement to the images. Flesh tones can be matched and improved, microphones removed from the frames, shadows lightened and defined areas of saturation boosted. I could fine tune noise reduction and increase sharpness at will. In short, I could touch each frame with as much work as it needed to have in a way that would be extraordinarily costly and time consuming in video. All of this adds to the perceived production value of the final piece.
This method can be done by a team such as a videographer working in tandem with a photographer, or you can embrace the philosophy of "One Man Movies" and do what you need to in phases. It's not always easy to switch gears and go between video and stills seamlessly. I needed to shoot the dress and tech rehearsals strictly as still photography to make sure I didn't miss anything that was potentially critical for marketing and advertising. Video during that process would have been a distraction. And when I shot the interviews there was no way to re-light the stage, change costumes and shoot the hundreds and hundreds of different poses and emotional inflections I was able to get in the still images. Doing each separately was good for the process.
I've shown a fairly large number of regular commercial clients the final version of the "Lady Day..." video and they have been very complementary and quite interested in understanding how we can make the technique of mixing photography and video together work for their future projects. In most cases the best way to proceed is to interview first and then catch a combination of photos and video of the subjects covered in the interviews afterward. Some parts will lend themselves to video while some of the more "heroic" images might lend themselves to stills. Photographs that add value by dint of being able to be optimized, layered, composited, etc. are especially valuable because many of the effects one can do to maximize the impact of a still frame are extravagant and costly when done in video.
I'm booked on two more healthcare projects and we just bid on a mixed media project for a utility company. Each of the projects is a good candidate for the intermixing of stills and video and the art directors involved are on board. It's fun for me to make a transition across media without loosening my grasp on the art that's brought me so far along this journey. Just a new way to frame and deliver the photographs I've always loved doing while putting a big smile on the faces of my clients.
That I was able to make the second video (Lady Day...) and shoot the stills with just one $1200 camera continues to amaze me. It's more and more obvious to me that the idea and the production is more important than the actual cameras at every step of the process. No magic bullets, no magic beans; just the joy of doing the work.