Moving Toward Motion
by Lindsay Comstock
PHOTO © Wissam Abdallah
An example of the information that can be captured during an active fashion shoot.
May 22, 2013 —
Being at WPPI and seeing new products on display got us thinking about the future of photography. One interesting trend that has caught our attention as of late is the concept of “cinephotography”—that as yet undefined hybrid of still photography and video made possible by high-resolution video cameras that allow for the extraction of still images from video—now up to 5K (that’s 5,000 pixels wide).
So is the end product more about the art of video, the art of photography or the art of a good editor? And how do we regard these changes in the industry? We’ll be following this topic in an upcoming series of articles, but first up, we spoke to two wedding imaging companies—New York City-based Sunday Morning Films and Kansas City, Missouri-based One Tree Weddings—to find out which trends they are seeing in the world of motion—and their advice to photographers moving into the craft.
As technology renders wedding videography not just a haute commodity but a must-have addition to wedding packages, and DSLR video capabilities have become a staple of still photographers’ gear, there is no better time than the present for photographers to consider how video can play a part in their business models.
Today’s videographers are not just showing up on the day of the wedding; they’re taking filmmaking a step further to create lasting layers to the Big Day by creating short-form wedding documentaries. Think “When Harry Met Sally”-style interviews of the bride-and groom-to-be who separately relay memories of everything from their first meeting, to their first fight to the moment they decided they would head down the path to matrimony. These interviews are layered with scenes from the wedding ceremony and pre-wedding soirees—all in tight three-to five-minute packages.
This is only one popular style for wedding videos today, in a market that’s constantly evolving. Jenn Chambers, of Sunday Morning Films—a wedding film business she formed with her husband in 2009—says she’s seen “same-day edits” gain popularity, and that “scripted feature films are now on the rise.” The companies creating these films are going far beyond the short-form documentary to create high-production feature-length films, complete with movie posters, where the couple become stars in the story of their romance. Her company specializes in the short-form documentary—a process she says begins with a pre-production meeting with the couple to break down barriers, then “conversations on film” the day before the wedding, and ends with herself and a small crew attending the whole day of the wedding. The final film is usually delivered between three and six months after the wedding, but, she says, the relationships she maintains with the couples tend to last much longer.
Format aside, Chambers says, “the wedding video has been redefined recently and the one thing that will stick around is that our couples want quality. The amazing advances in technology that we have seen in the ‘video world’ have now allowed the wedding cinematographer to offer that quality, and in turn allowed [us] to focus on storytelling and less on the equipment. I think of the short-form documentary style as less of a trend and more of a great step in our industry.”
Michael Ransdell, filmmaker and co-owner of One Tree Films (which also produces similar short-form documentaries), says that nowadays many brides are looking for their unique stories to be told through motion in an artistic way. “As far as trends go on the video side, I’m hearing from more and more brides who are starting to get it—starting to understand that we are really trying to tell a unique story for them and not just a cookie-cutter music video. We don’t want [the bride] to feel like we could replace her with another girl in a white dress and plop her into the film. The better we know [the couple], the stronger we will understand their story.”
Like Ransdell’s documentaries, Chambers says the films she and her husband create are all about “story, story, story.” She says this is the common thread in all of her filmmaking assignments—whether wedding, corporate promotional videos, or in her full-time production job at ABC News. “Who is this couple? What makes them different from our other couples? What will their grandkids want to see in this film and know about them years down the road?” Chambers says are questions they ask before telling a couple’s story. “Every wedding has a wedding dress, every wedding has a wedding cake, every wedding has a certain amount of cookie-cutter elements (no matter how hard the couple tries to make their wedding unique). And yes, all of this stuff is important. We do want to make sure we get a beautifully composed shot of the dress into their film; but more importantly, we want to capture their story: How they met, the proposal, the mistakes, the rescues and everything that makes up their love story. That is the stuff I would want to see in my grandparents’ wedding film and that is the stuff I want to be able to share with my daughter when she grows up. Stories are so priceless and should be captured as a gift to future generations.”
Matt Frye, co-owner and still photographer for One Tree Weddings, notes their company’s approach to wedding videos stems from both his and Ransdell’s backgrounds in journalism. “We like to push our boundaries as artists, and our goal is to create beautiful, timeless imagery. We’re lucky in that we attract clients that appreciate fine art and are more than willing to place artistic control in our hands. We’re seeing a genuine attraction to what we call raw art. Our couples don’t want fake imagery with cheesy posing; they want the real moments, the true emotions of their wedding day documented in an artistic way.”
Combining Still and Motion
Another aspect for still photographers [and videographers] to consider is whether to partner with other creatives. Chambers says at this time it doesn’t make sense to change their current business model to partner with one photographer. “We are often recommended to couples by our photographer pals, and when we are booked first we do the same for them,” she says. “We have such respect for so many of the photographers that we have worked with and would be honored to partner with them—but why screw up a good thing?”
Frye’s and Ransdell’s approach is slightly different since they are a photographer and videographer team, respectively. “Matt and I work separately with our teams. He is usually working with a second shooter. I’m usually working with an assistant and my wife, who works as a grip and then shoots, once we get set up at each location. If Matt isn’t booked, then sometimes he’ll second-shoot video for me. Other than that, we really don’t cross over,” Ransdell explains. He goes on to note, “I think we both have an amazing amount of respect for what the other one does and the art that goes into it. The beauty of our situation is that there’s never any conflict over shots at our weddings. We call it a dance; we dance around each other. We tend to know where the other will be at any given time. We are rarely in each others’ shot. We find when working weddings with other vendors, while everyone is nice and for the most part respectful of the other, ultimately they are looking out for their own shots. Not the case with us—we are a team trying to tell the best possible story in photos and film.”
The Psychology of Cinephotograhy: The Microexpression
Perhaps the best argument in favor of abandoning still photography for culling stills from video is the theory of the microexpression (or subtleties in human expression), studied by psychologist Paul Ekman, in part to teach law enforcement how to detect lies during interrogation. From this theory we can discern that in between clicks of the shutter we lose out on minute details in the face that convey the true demeanor of an individual.
Abraham Joffe, a cinematographer for the Australian-based Untitled Film Works became interested in Ekman’s theory of expression and wanted to find out how 4K and 5K video technology could change the nature of the still photograph and cinematography, so he began working on the “Micro Expressions Project” (the film can be seen at vimeo.com/56241602). To begin this project, he invited other photographers, including portrait photographer Sue Bryce, to test the new Canon 1DC camera in various shooting environments—including weddings and studio portraits—and then he invited other industry professionals to meet to talk about the printed 4K images coming from the DSLR camera.
It’s this capacity to study the most authentic moment of an expression in a person’s face and then extract it from moving footage, that could revolutionize the industry. While many agree the images may not yet be a substitute for the click of the shutter until technology allows for extracting RAW images from video footage, the ability to extract high-res stills from video could be very useful to wedding and portrait photographers whose success depends on the ability to capture authentic expression.
Joffe spoke to me about his thoughts on these technological innovations:
Lindsay Comstock: How do you think being able to pull 4K and 5K still images from video cameras will impact the photography industry?
Tips: From Still to Motion
1. Take the Craft Seriously
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