By Gary Rabenko
Video is quickly replacing photography as the medium to document personal and professional moments as well as to deliver information. I’m always saying how everything requires thought, and certainly more thought is needed in the seconds and microseconds right before most videographers shoot candid video.
When it comes to video, any standards that exist are technical standards—not emotional standards. When everyone feels they are an expert, how do you quantify or qualify that to which only a minority of people is sensitive?
I am always seeking skilled videographers. They are so few and far between, and invariably I frustrate all the rest. It is as if we speak two different languages.
Shooting video is not like sightseeing. Nor is doing videography at a wedding like running into Gourmet Glatt before Shabbos and grabbing the hundred items on your list. Wedding videography is not an ultrashort form like a TV commercial or a heavily scripted drama. Today’s interest in shorter videos is evidence of the vapidity of most footage. Short videos are kept interesting by rapid scene changes that rarely are connected. The viewer is expected to have a short attention span and not be interested in the whole story or question what is lacking. With the right content and skill from acquisition to final edit, short can be superior, but most shorts today are not.
Weddings may be reality, but they differ from a reality show in that at a wedding the contestants themselves are the most important viewers. Most event videographers are neither interested in nor skilled in simchas. The vast majority of them don’t know about social events. They mostly do corporate events. The emotional values and content are different. Emotion would be unprofessional behavior at a corporate event, whereas at a simcha, isn’t it everything?
There are so many tutorials and training materials on how to do technical things when it comes to video, but I’ve never seen anything that discusses the heart or talks about feeling as you’re shooting. Some videographers are more technically savvy while most are less. Only a few are artists.
I can easily frustrate many videographers by trying to get them to think and feel as an artist should. They say it’s about telling the story. But I watch their hands, eyes, and bodies failing to respond from the heart to what they are seeing. They are not adept at reading the scene in real-time and playing their camera as an artist should. If they responded as an artist they would be able to record a lot less and get a lot more. They would be able to zoom in with their minds on the look, the expression, the about-to-happen gesture, and because of that they could not settle for the lackluster footage they are getting. They should be making the camera into an extension of their mind’s eye. Rather they most often identify as the camera’s mechanic or operating engineer.
Each shot should be purposeful. You don’t just start recording. Before you point the camera you consciously select an angle and give some thought to what you are recording. This is much more difficult than it sounds. I do not see videographers thinking about what action they are seeing in front of them, or what that means and how it will look later on screen. Usually, when I speak to videographers about being more selective in the content acquisition they say that’s the editor’s job. They think editors can miraculously convert boredom to beauty. That is not how it works. Every weak or meaningless second of video that they shoot is a second less that they have to get what they could, while they think it is a second more that they have and less that they need!
Videographers are motion-based photographers. As such, they are the ones on the front lines of image acquisition and must think like photographers. They don’t.
How it works and how it should work are two very different things. Most video editors spend their time either removing as much bad footage as possible or creating a jumble of fast-paced clips. When you combine a skilled and sensitive editor with a skilled and talented cameraman you can get the magic that only comes with video content that is powerful, flattering, purposeful, on point, varied, and shot specifically to be edited to maximize all those qualities. That footage is a joy to edit and a pleasure to watch. And it is fun to shoot, too!
It is easy to identify a good cameraman. A good cameraman is always searching for what he might be about to miss, while varying his angles and perspectives, seeking contrasting and corroborative details which are at once flattering and appropriate. Good cameramen are easily bored by showing any scene more than is required to tell the story. But they are never bored being there. Everywhere they look, they see a world of possibility and intrigue. They desire to complete the scene as succinctly as possible, for they are already eying other numerous fascinating sub-stories that can captivate bored viewers. Most videographers, on the other hand, appear bored because they are basically camera holders. They are not responding in real-time to micro moment changes, which they simply don’t recognize. On the one hand, they have not been taught to understand what video can be. On the other hand, they are not naturally either dramatists or photographers.
At a wedding, footage of each section is shaped by the purpose and reason for that section. The procession, for example, is where key participants walk down the aisle amid the guests to arrive at the chuppah. With the expected physical movements and the overall expectations of the dedicated sections like the entrance into the ballroom, seeing what we expect will be satisfying to most viewers and the goal of most videographers. Strong camera-handling skill can make footage more meaningful. But in those intense scenes, with so many considerations, it can be challenging just to get the expected shots. Getting acceptable coverage can be enough.
The smorgasbord or cocktail hour is pretty much unstructured and a good place to evaluate a videographer’s skill. While there may not be specific must-get shots during that time, it’s about the many personalities interacting. My goal always is to create video portraits of the event and its participants, and there is no better time or place to do so than in this magic hour.
Videographers say additional cameras can pick off the exciting moments and expressions. But such footage often is very mechanical, lacking heart and emotion. Assistant videographers are sometimes relied on for the smorgasbord where people meet and eat (I am not referring to the badeken!) and the result can be very little usable, flattering, or meaningful footage. Skilled camera-handling and emotional thinking can make exciting and entertaining footage in which nothing much might seem to be happening, and only such skilled thinking and handling will really do justice to the most exciting, important, and meaningful moments to come!
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.