Photo Prose Today’s Video, Part 4
By Gary Rabenko
Equipment is good. Experience is great. Talent is terrific. Skill makes it meaningful.
Last month I wrote how amazing new cameras are ironically leading to a reduction in the meaningful content that loved ones will enjoy in the future.
These cameras require accessories: brackets, stabilizers, and focusing aids because ergonomically these cameras are awful. Software and seminars are another expense. New products are announced daily, claiming to improve or solve videographer’s problems in shooting, editing, and output. Yet with all the money and time videographers are forced to invest, few ever think about investing in themselves!
My uncle was a pianist. He practiced ten hours a day. My mother a ballerina; ten hours a day. Practice makes one’s skills stronger. Gadgets are often a crutch that lead to atrophy and mediocrity!
How much more exciting and meaningful the video could be if the emphasis were on technique rather than technology. Skill will lead to substance. Over the years I have been a member of various professional videographers’ associations. They have monthly programs, speakers, and technical presentations. But no one talks about skills. Everyone is expected to have skill. Most are confident that they do! Some actually would love to develop more skills. But everyone is focused on technology—new gear and software.
What are these skills? How does one learn them? What is needed to apply them? Video is 30 pictures per second with sound. Photographic composition, lighting, and optics all apply to video. Video differs from photos in having motion. There are two aspects to this motion. The obvious is the moving subjects. Second is the movement of the video camera. As part of the moving camera, we also must consider the ability to zoom. In the context of today’s non-ergonomic video cameras that are undermining and shortchanging what video can be, skill involves how the camera moves in relation to the subjects in real time as the subjects are moving.
Should the video camera move or zoom during a shot, or only move and zoom in between shots? Films can be made with no zoom and no camera movements because scenes are set up for each take. Multiple cameras are meticulously preplanned. The director has the action occurring at specific angles to benefit from those preplaced cameras. Later, the editors choose which camera footage to use.
A wedding is a live event. It is not done in multiple takes (we hope!). Action is not so predictable, with often the most meaningful moments unpredictable in both place and angle. Action is everywhere at the same time. Multiple cameras can only offer limited improvement on content captured. There are just too many options. More cameras means more distractions from conspicuous gear and obtrusive crew members both at the event and later—when that gear and crew are seen in the footage.
More cameras means more footage to review and more work to edit later. It does not mean more good footage. It can mean more crew conflict and confusion. Imagine you are the cameraman photographing the procession at the front of the aisle. You know what you have to do. No one else is doing it. You must make sure all is good. But suppose you are one of two cameras on the aisle. It is easy to think the other person is getting a shot of the groom, behind you, or the audience to your right.
From experience, I can hear readers saying, “If you two work together, then you know what to do. Each of you complements the other.” Yes, to some extent. But each is doing what they always do. It’s a routine, just another job—mechanical. When the cute, whimsical, poignant, or unexpected occurs, it is easy to think that the “other” person is getting the shot. Often both cameras can have, for example, a wide shot of the bride’s father who momentarily leans over to kiss the grandfather in a seat. As a wide shot, it lacks any emotion or power.
My example is not meant to say one camera is better than two. Certainly, for most events, two should be the number. The two should both be skilled, talented, and inspired camerapersons who work together, but are always on edge to do the best in the moment. Rather, my example refers to multiple cameras that now are frequently needed to compensate for the inherent limitations of the HDSLRs, which give great image quality in a small, light, and cheap form, but which are lacking in terms of ergonomic design and cannot be skillfully used to record sustained action in unrehearsed situations, over a wide area, with varying zoom and focus capability.
Rather than using the heavy cameras of old, studios are turning to these modern machines that seem so capable but that are real horrors when having to edit a ton of weak footage. Instead of the normal two-camera situation, we now have three or four cameras. For each predicted area of key action, there will be two cameras, rather than one camera attempting to get the shot. I have seen six cameras in play! Each camera gets a fragment of the action. Most cameras capture weak, wide shots that are mostly concerned with getting the shot when the action comes its way. If the action is in focus and reasonably correctly exposed, it is all good. But this is not film, this is surveillance footage.
Sometimes additional cameras are used to get in on tight shots. Since it is admittedly not possible to move and zoom these cameras in real time as the action plays out, another camera is needed just to get the tight shots. This camera moves around, hunting for those great close-ups that sell the job. The image is beautiful. The person doing it usually just loves this job. It is fun. It does not involve tracking all the action all day. It involves picking and choosing one’s opportunities. It is easy to get impressive shots of unimportant moments and things. There is no limit to those opportunities all around. No one would know if something else much more compelling was missed. That is why in today’s videos, sometimes the subject is not the most important, but the image is incredible. Sometimes the angle is not flattering, but the moment is important. Sometimes the bride’s hand on the banister is downright ugly and unfeminine, but it’s photojournalism and the “bokeh” is beautiful!
Shortly after my own bar mitzvah, I fell in love with photography and what it could be. Likely, the magnificent optics of a Nikon 85 F1.4 lens hooked me. When wide open, this fabulous lens creates a soft, fluid, luminescent background to a razor-sharp subject. That optical property is called “bokeh.” A few good photographers have always been aware of and used such techniques. But bokeh is certainly not a substitute for content. Only ergonomically designed cameras can be used to track unexpected action with varying degrees of tight shots that have us feeling the way we would feel being there.
Only in this style of camera handling, where the lens is an extension of the mind’s eye and tells us what is important from moment to moment, can the video be both exciting and most meaningful later.
This requires skill; otherwise, the footage will always be weak. Adding more cameras only makes more problems for everyone. I love what video can be and have discussed this situation with countless videographers. We agree these cameras are here to stay. All cameras, including phones, tablets, helmet cams, and mini cams, have their place. But if future and present videographers lose sight of the skill that can only be applied with ergonomically designed cameras, then those cameras will be fewer and farther between. If the creativity that videographers attempt cannot include zooming and moving when emotionally indicated, and instead only applies to gimmicky preplanned shots on a slider, then a major amount of meaningful content will invariably continue to be missing from videos viewed in the future.
The camera must show a powerfully composed, flattering, and meaningful moment. Stringing one such scene into the next while recording, and without needing an edit, can be called skilled camera handling.
Setting up a camera for when the subject gets to the expected position, or using the camera in wide angle to get “everything” is not skilled. First we need cameras designed for this. Then we need videographers to know how beautiful and meaningful skill can be, and to want to work hard to achieve what most never consider. Finally, the public needs to know the difference between substance and surveillance. v
Gary Rabenko may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Rabenko Photography & Video Artists is located at 1001 Broadway in Woodmere.