Photo Prose

By Gary Rabenko

Heard the story of the person who saved everything–even pieces of string too short to be of any use? That person was not an editor! Editors must cut stuff out. Sometimes excising large trivialities and at other times desperately seeking just the right sliver to insert, a true editor must value content. But you need the right footage first!

Call it cinema, film, a movie, or the name derived from the technology used–video. It has changed a lot, and will continue to change in the next few years. Let us understand the forces at play and how technology, cost, and convenience all affect the scenes in your event video.

There have been a lot of interesting and exciting things happening in this video revolution of the last few years. Going from VHS to DVD it turns out was not such a big deal. It did not have much effect on the image, or more importantly, the content. The story was still the story. It was told in the same way.

But today the story as we will remember it could be missing much of the rest of the story . . . and this may not be what you might wish for later. This is the first of several articles on how video is changing along with how what we might expect it to be is different today as well. This is definitely not a situation of more merely being more. Rather I am questioning the specifics of content that is collected.

Back in the days before video, film was used. Get out your projectors, or have your old films dubbed onto modern DVDs, and watch those filmed events. Scenes were short. The whole wedding movie was short. What does it say to us now when we watch loved ones we miss or try to recall how we felt? Does that film convey to us the person and personality we remember? Or is it mostly a collection of stereotypical snippets rather than substance?

Look at event videographers today and you will see them holding a camera out in front of them, or with some kind of bracket assembly that keeps the camera attached in front of the shoulder. Ten years ago, this was not the case. 20 years ago, most cameras were actually on the shoulder. This is not a small detail. Where the camera sits makes a huge difference in what your video will look like because it affects how the video is shot.

Originally video cameras were designed for photographers or those with cinematic skill. They were designed to benefit from and to allow use of such skills. Whether or not the operator actually had skills was another matter. In the days of film, probably not one in a hundred weddings were shot with a great deal of filmmaking skill. Most were shot using cheap, handheld devices, not the massive machines like those used for the real movies then. And they were shot with little camera-handling skill, because the devices were limited and stiff to operate. It took all one’s skill just to keep the thing steady, and mostly involved choosing short scenes that told the action concisely, using very little film.

Today’s video cameras look and behave differently from what old pros have come to know. These cameras balance differently, have their controls in different places, and cannot be operated the same way as an on-the-shoulder design originally created for skilled operation. You might think that these new designs are a positive thing because technology often advances to solve problems and improve systems. Yet to produce a meaningful video of an unrehearsed, live, and spontaneous event, such ergonomics is actually making it more difficult to get meaningful video.

After speaking to countless videographers, I can say that the more one truly knows about what skilled camera handling means, the more one misses the older style cameras. It is not that those cameras can’t be had. Surely they do exist, and in some ways are more incredible than ever. But they are expensive in comparison to the many new options. Furthermore, they are massively heavy compared to the light modern miracles. With camera sensors ever-increasing sensitivity to light, improvements to image quality, and changes in storage technology, these big cameras costing $15,000-100,000 each can quickly lose their value, before an event videographer ever pays them off. Five to seven grand used to get a pretty decent over-the-shoulder camera that could be used for many years. This is not really the case right now.

There are some cameras in the under ten grand range that look like they fill the bill, but they are dark and muddy. High definition cameras need more light than the old standard definition. Studio or sports events can be bright–simchas often are not. There, no video is worth the heat, glare, and danger of bright lights that if nothing else are ugly and uncomfortable. The event industry is simply not large enough to drive the demand for these high-end cameras in a way that makes them viable and cost effective.

This is why today events are shot with video cameras that look and handle differently. Most videographers use cameras in the $1,500 to $6,500 range. They can produce a terrific image. Some cameras produce the most amazing video image ever: crystal clear, eye popping clarity that is a beauty to behold. The problem can be one of content–what is being recorded.

Originally video was considered the realm of filmmakers and photographers. Cameras were designed to benefit from the cameraman’s filmic vision. And the whole idea of camera handling skill was a serious goal from day one with the camera. Today many cameramen simply point their magic electronic bundle in the approximate direction of the action and look confidently at the image on their monitor. No clue to what they are missing . . . both literally and figuratively. They fiddle with some controls here and there–which often is a compilation of gadgets and gizmos meant to compensate for the core camera’s un-ergonomic design. Their fiddling is essential to get a good-looking image but is not how one actually tracks meaningful action in real time to get the important shots.

Short videos are popular for many reasons. Who wants to watch a long, boring one? Who has the time? How much of all that is really needed? How much is redundant? My best clients have always agreed with me that less is more–that brevity is the source of wit. You need not see the same people dancing around seven times, when one or two will do. Short can be powerful, meaningful, and often better, if that short content is exactly the right content. But will it be more of a disappointment years later when short is no longer a novelty?

When you view it later, will you truly see the people you knew and remember? Will you see their poignant expressions? Will you say, “Yes, that is him!” referring to your parents and grandparents?

When you first get it, everything can look beautiful. Beautiful scenes and beautiful faces. Exciting, sweeping, Hollywood camera movements, sweet soft-focus glamour shots, and dramatic, exciting quick clips. Look deeper and perhaps you will find that those videos have not captured the essence of the people or the real emotion of most of the many specific moments.

How is it possible to be so captivating at first and so disappointing later? The answer lies in content and in the inherent limitation in today’s cameras, and the lack of sophistication, knowledge, and skill amongst today’s camera operators.

Next, I will discuss the various camera formats most often used today–what they do well as well as their limitations and liabilities. I will explain this year’s rage, the HDSLR, and the blimp-type camcorders that were previously popular. v

(To be continued)

Gary Rabenko may be reached at Rabenko Photography & Video Artists is located at 1001 Broadway in Woodmere.


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