by Gary Rabenko

 

Twelve years ago, I rejected a videographer. In October, he surfaced. I am always looking for skills. We first met at my studio. I showed what some did that I liked, more and less. Then at his studio I provided my gut reaction to his current edit. He agreed and claimed to understand. He wants to see my footage. Cheap imitation serves no one. Skill and substance benefit all.

I care about anyone seeking meaningful video because there can be an alternative to the clichéd, superficial video done by most videographers today. I am not saying this to promote myself. I am referring to an approach that might be done by the rare individual who is not doing what everyone else is doing and works hard at a better way. Imagery is everywhere and done by everyone. Standards are generally set by what the other guy/gal is doing. Videographers have a hard time knowing what they should be doing because the bar is very low, and everyone is doing the same thing or trying to be different in gimmicky, unimportant ways. Videographers, first and foremost, study others’ work. This does not mean developing skill and sensitivity. It too often leads to attempts at copying what is understood and easily recognized. But substance and subtlety are not obvious, and without an objectively critical eye it is too easy to accept what is similar and fault what is different.

Video instruction comes mostly via manufacturers who promote styles that favor use of their gear. How many videographers do you think are super into great film and classical cinema? Some may never have seen a movie, let alone studied them. This might be why the cinematic style can be so lacking in terms of character development and human emotive moments. But cinematic style has been promoted for two decades because it gives reason for using manufactured products that are not great at candid, unrehearsed, and unpredictable field work.

How does one become a better videographer? Videography will become increasingly important in the next few years, after having experienced a steady decline for two decades. Most photography will originate from video footage. Universal acceptance of hard-to-handle video cameras in the form of small squareish-shaped boxes means it is time to reconsider what serious skills can be applied to this more recent video-camera form factor. Those are the skills that existing videographers should develop. And those are the skills that established photographers, moving to acquire still images via moving image, will need to consider. The cameras are not like the old big ones that were designed with cinematic camera handling in mind. Old-time movie camera handlers, electronic news gatherers of the time when large ENG shoulder mounted cameras were the norm, and mature professional photographers who trained rigorously on larger pro camera shapes are all but gone from the wedding industry.

One trend that has evolved in the last decade involves wedding videography shot by multiple manned and unmanned cameras. Meaningful footage requires an intuitive response of a camera moving, zooming, composing, positioning by its operator in an instinctively reactive manner to ever-changing situations. You won’t get this by just using a camera, be it on a stick or on two legs, without a mind to make it sing! And those minds are not found working so hard for so little.

Wedding videographers don’t want to hear this. It is not their fault. They got into the industry at a time when they were forced to invest in gear that was marketed for what it was good at, which was for those who dreamed of making movies—nothing at all like the spontaneous and uncontrolled environmental factors of a wedding. The form factors of today’s cameras are not at all ergonomically designed to respond in real time to changing situations. Only by firmly knowing what a camera must do will they persist in developing the skill needed to overcome those limitations.

Videographers may want to learn from others they are with on a shoot. But in the heat of the action, with so much going on, tips are just too difficult to digest in a way that can be meaningfully applied to future situations. Or it can lead to choosing a different angle next time for a situation where the original angle is better. My experience says that the videographer who does not recognize what is happening in the moment will not be able to record ideal footage of that action, even when the action is identified to him. Interesting, flattering, and in-the-moment footage enhances viewer experience and makes the video interesting to watch and worthy of investment. That requires the cameraperson to assess many factors all at once. Skilled camerapersons do this. Those needing to learn, don’t. And being told to get this, shoot from there, or move like so, will do little to make a positive impact on either that footage or that videographer.

Repeatedly, I have found that a great way of improving camera handling skill is to review a videographer’s footage after the shoot, not only to discuss what should have been done, but to point out the problems that exist with the footage as is.

With the right attitude, that type of review can yield transformative change that develops a great cameraperson. It takes time, practice, and dedication. And it takes the special person who will not become defensive but will take the critique in the spirit of an education.

Today more than ever, instruction is sought in visual form because for many who are not avid readers, or those who have some attention deficit disorder, and especially for the many non-native English speakers, watching video is easier. I cannot overemphasize the value of sensitivity to the subtleties of what one is seeing, and, to some extent, hearing, in the acquisition and later the editing of video that will be worth watching.

Videographers will rationalize that “the editor will fix it.” But editing cannot fix footage that is lacking content, is shot at the wrong angle, or is off in timing and expression. Skilled videographers credit editing under critical direction as having been essential to developing shooting skill. Yet today most shooters don’t edit! Videographers have insisted that by seeing my footage they can give me more of what I want. It never works that way. The more one knows, the more one recognizes. Showing what I want does not mean that you can do it.

Showing a videographer good footage rarely teaches much. It makes far more sense to point out deficiencies in a videographer’s footage than to show superior camera handling and expect the videographer to pick up on the how, what, and why. Seeing my footage of a bride’s entrance, for example, will not teach you to consider physical appearances. My challenge that your footage showed the mother in an unflattering manner should! My gut reaction to what I am seeing for the first time in your footage is a great way to know how your most critical clients might feel and can catapult you ahead of your competitors, if only you care enough to insist on changing to solve those problems.

I have not heard from that videographer since.

Rabenko Photography & Video Arts is located at 1053 Broadway in Woodmere. To learn more, contact Gary@Rabenko.com, 1-888-RABENKO, 888-722-3656, or visit Rabenko.com.

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