We all hear the term “Convergence” but what does it mean to a photographer and can shooting moving imagery with a DSLR really be called filmmaking? Less than two years ago if anyone had said to me that in just a few months I would be shooting commercials, I would have laughed out loud. The commercials weren’t exactly for TV but were, never the less, for major clients and shown on their websites, Facebook pages and YouTube channels, an increasingly popular trend for many companies.
t all started when Frankie Jim at Canon UK offered me the loan of a pre-production 5D mk2 in November of 2008. I was filled with an equal measure of apprehension and excitement about the prospect of shooting moving pictures. Like most photographers at that time I had seen the incredible results that were coming out of the U.S. and felt that I would like to jump in and have a go. In reality it proved to be far easier than I had imagined. With help editing and the addition of music, I managed to produce two short films in collaboration with Fashion Designer Roksanda Ilincic and the V&A Museum. Two years on and we all now know that the 5D MKII has brought a new type of film making to the masses. “Convergence’ seems to be the buzz word. DSLRs are even being used by the film industry to shoot episodes of House, TV commercials and now feature films. So where does this leave photographer/filmmakers and how are we seen within the industry? In fact, this even begs the question “what is this industry”? Interestingly my agent is now asked, “Does Clive also shoot film?”, not every now and then but almost every enquiry. At this point I want to make something absolutely clear. I am using the term filmmaking as I don’t honestly know what else to call it. I’m not talking about features or even documentary. These are short films shot in the style of moving stills and usually edited to a piece of commissioned music. More recently my projects have thrust me directly into the film industry working with directors, producers and editors. I find this completely fascinating and the more I move within these circles the more I learn and the more I want to make short films.
For many months I’ve been working with continuous lighting because future work may well require both stills and moving pictures. In January this year I shot a magazine and newspaper ad campaign for Fiat on location in London and it was to the Creative Director’s huge delight that we offered both still and moving portraits for the campaign. We were even asked ‘on spec’ to shoot an end credit sequence for the commercials that were being shot downstairs. This is obviously something that could only happen with the DSLR video capability. At present I shoot moving pictures with both the 5D MKII and 1D Mk4 and stills with 1DS 3’s. At 1920×1080 px it’s even possible to take screen grabs and publish them. I have done this myself at times, including the pictures in this Dispatches. It’s controversial but I really don’t think we are far away from shooting 25 frames per second and being able to take a still image from any one of those 25 frames with enough resolution to adequately publish a double page newspaper, magazine or coffee-table book spread. Canon has recently exhibited a 4K (4096×3072px) prototype video camera that promises to be a potential competitor to RED. To give an indication of the size of a single still from this camera, 72 pixels per centimeter at 8bit would give a 36mb file. Take a step forward to 8K and the file size becomes almost 100mbs. It’s not the cameras that will necessarily slow this definition but the computing power that is needed to edit such enormous files. And yet as *Moore’s Law* still indicates that processor power will double approximately every two years, its only a matter of time before what seems like fiction becomes fact.
Who knows, maybe in the future we will be able to shoot 25, 50 or even 100 fps in RAW and then have complete photographic control of both stills and moving imagery.
The purists amongst us may cry out in horror and I feel sure there will be technical restrictions to producing great stills from moving imagery. However, this is already a reality for some and is happening at far lower resolutions. Obviously this technique is dependant on the content and for many of us, me included, I would far prefer a RAW file that I can make beautiful prints from. Who knows, maybe in the future we will be able to shoot 25, 50 or even 100 fps in RAW and then have complete photographic control of both stills and moving imagery. This would certainly help overcome the difficulties when asked to work in both disciplines. When filming we are thinking about the moving image and when shooting stills we are thinking about the still image. To do the two well, at the same time and on the same shoot, increases effort, organization and shooting time and, as a consequence, increases the budget. Photographers as filmmakers? Whether we like it or not it’s a question that all of us, to a greater or lesser degree, are asking ourselves given that our cameras now offer this amazing capability. Personally, I cannot see any good reason not to dive in and have a go: “don’t knock it until you’ve tried it”. I also think early adoption of this medium may offer a degree of advantage prior to the mass-market take-up that will inevitably follow. Recently I have worked closely with both Nick Knight and Miles Aldridge using DSLR video. You don’t need to be the world’s best fashion photographers to embrace this technology. Many wedding photographers are now shooting video and I’m sure the same will happen with food, cars and even landscapes: something I have recently experimented with myself and completely love. I’m not saying that this will happen over-night but it can happen quickly. The technical capability is just the start. We must educate ourselves in the art of film making, learning from others and being prepared to make mistakes as we go. So, I have the equipment and a team of assistants and an experienced editor to call upon. In total I can shoot a short film with an absolute maximum of six people, which can be reduced to three or even two including me. This may sound simplistic or naive but I should make clear that it is project dependant. I am basing this on my most recent projects: two commercials for perfume and makeup, both major international brands with creative directors, film directors and producers all embracing this new way of shooting.
Interestingly, the majority of my commissioned film projects have come from existing clients who have seen my personal projects and have followed, with interest, my adoption and adaptation of the moving image. With some clients, I am now only commissioned to shoot films with the emphasis on more and more experimentation. If this isn’t reason enough to pick up our DSLR’s and have a go then I don’t know what is. I am not saying that I will just shoot moving pictures as I love the still image and will always have a passion for the captured moment. But if we look at this in pure business terms our clients are the ones leading this evolution as they embrace the possibility of doing more for less and showing it to an ever-hungry market, consuming our output on-line, globally 24-7, 365 days a year. Recently a client told me that market research suggests their future is with the moving image. I’ll never know if they would have retained me had I stayed with stills but I’d really rather not take that risk. This trend must induce panic in certain areas of the filmmaking industry. It’s not unusual for a production to have a crew of 60 or more people on set at any one time. For budding photographer/filmmakers this could be one of our biggest opportunities and also one of our biggest challenges. Unlike the photographic industry, in the unionized and hierarchical world of filmmaking we are faced with being labeled, as it seems everyone in the movie business has a title. I am fortunate to have an agent to fight such battles for me but it seems they must be fought agent or not. “Clive will be the DP” (Director of photography). This may sound great, as it’s my job to provide a film with it’s own visual identity. But here’s the crunch: if the crew is only three then I am also, on occasion, co-director, camera operator, focus puller and a list of roles that could go on and on. My point is that the title DP comes with a day rate, which in many cases doesn’t even come close to my photography shoot day rate.
So how do we deal with this? For me it’s “Clive is a photographer who also shoots moving pictures” and that’s enough for most of the smaller productions. If the scale of the projects escalates then it may be that I have to conform to film industry rules. Ideally I want to make my own short films and to hell with the complications. There are many advantages of using photographers to shoot films and Ad agencies are amongst the first to see this potential. Photographers, Creative directors and their clients can now take control of shoots without huge crews and still produce outstanding results at a fraction of the cost prior to the advent of DSLR video. We can even argue that this simplification will give us the creative freedom to experiment in ways that would simply not have been possible before. Unshackled from these restrictions, filmmaking may even be going through a revolution that brings high-quality production to the public who showcase their work to a global audience via blogs, YouTube and vimeo. If it’s not already happened, it’s only a matter of time before a mainstream filmmaker is discovered from this explosion. Whether we like it or not our profession is in the midst of change. As a graphic designer I saw the advent of DTP and design becoming accessible to the masses. As a photographer I saw the birth of the DSLR and photography changed forever. Now DSLR video is doing the same for filmmaking. It is possible for any of us to shoot and edit our own films to a quality that, even two years ago, would have been simply unimaginable. So what’s next? For me it’s changing on an almost daily basis. I try not to feel this as another pressure but look at the enormous opportunities it offers. I “embrace the new” and am currently exploring 3D, time slice, tilt shift lenses, higher frame rates and new lighting techniques: anything that I find exciting and that enables me to make pictures that are ever more challenging. Far be it for me to tell other photographers how to run their careers and businesses but if I were to give my honest opinion then it would be “embrace the professional opportunities of DSLR video and ignore it at your peril!”
*Moore’s law describes a long-term trend in the history of computing hardware. The number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit has doubled approximately every two years. The trend has continued for more than half a century and is not expected to stop until 2015 or later