Photo Prose

By Gary Rabenko

A short video can have the key emotional moments and be more effective in touching the heart, than one with long stretches between exciting, dramatic, and tearful moments. But videos frequently miss key moments, which often are unpredictable even when part of an expected series of actions, because they are made from short clips that are weak to begin with. Long videos are not any better, having longer weak scenes.

My previous columns (available at explained that today’s video cameras do not have the ergonomics of older cameras, and are not easily able to track unpredictable action while maintaining tight, well composed, in-focus content. Now, 20 years since these small, lightweight economical cameras came out, many old time videographers have taken the easy lightweight approach in their senior years. Newer cameramen who do not mind carrying a 20 plus pound machine on their shoulder rather than a 3 pounder on the crutch of a pod, and who might actually want to do better, have serious obstacles facing them. Firstly, who can teach them? Secondly, budget greatly limits camera image quality, so their camera is probably not the best. Thirdly, their style is molded by studios who care most about the bottom line.

Only a few years ago, few considered short videos a desirable thing. They would want to see everything. Today, with imagery so prevalent and time so scarce, the amazingly crystal clear quality of new style cameras, coupled with the rapid high energy edits that music videos made popular, can make this product glamorous. If the studio also offers you a longer version with “all the footage,” it seems like a no brainer. But just rewind for a moment.

If long footage actually included great powerful scenes that truly captured people’s personalities and conveyed the meaning and emotion in each moment, then a 20 minute short version would be incredible, short, and powerful. I have seen many, and it never feels like being there!

The editing alone would involve perusing many hours of great footage. Many weeks could be spent choosing just which scenes and parts of scenes are needed. Great film is made just this way, by parsing powerful footage and critically dissecting the many frames in each second to include not a morsel more. This involves analyzing and cropping content for maximum effect–selecting the best of the best and trimming every scene to include just what is needed to tell the story. Speech and music are chosen and treated in the same way, to be powerful and supportive of what we see. This is the art of film. And this all starts in the shoot.

GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out) is most apt here. All the editing efforts in the world cannot make up for missing the moments. The “moment” I refer to is not the surveillance video in which we note that something was done, but rather to the detailed footage showing meaningful facial expressions actually occurring in the moment.

Sadly, today’s short videos are a collection of weak, often insignificant moments, unemotional facial expressions, and odd or distracting angles that can easily fool you into thinking they are the best videos you have ever seen, until you ask yourself some important questions.

Does an individual’s personality come across to the viewer, or are we just seeing a body, a figure, a superficial form on the screen?

Do you feel like you are actually at the event? Does the camera place you in the moment, or make you feel as if you are looking into a window as an outsider?

Do scene changes build and support emotion or interrupt and distract–taking away from the emotion you want to relive?

We are discussing video of a live event, so some percentage of unpredictable moments, especially their starts, are not to be expected. But for the most part, is the camera arriving at the action as it starts, or just before it finishes? Is the footage cropped tight, and going from one tight meaningful shot to another? Or are most scenes boring wider shots, in which you are required to decide which face you are looking at amongst many, rather than the cameraman arriving at just the right time on faces with just the right expressions that say something about the moment? Watching on today’s larger screen is not a substitute for skilled camera handling. A group shot that leaves viewers looking to find those with expressions is not a substitute for a tight shot of a particular person with just the right meaningful expression!

I so love what video can be. Great video can be just like great photography as we see emotion playing out in real time. But today videos are mild, tasteless food when more than ever they should be delicious, exciting, nutritious, and tasty!

Today’s trend in superficial videos lies deep in the technological revolution. Technology has never been better. Cameras can nearly see in the dark. Resolution has quadrupled and will again soon. Recording media can be the size of a thumbnail. Batteries last all day. With skill, concern, and talent, we should see amazing imagery. But content most definitely is not amazing. Along with all the gains that help serious filmmakers, technology has also drastically changed the form factor of cameras used most today. With all the image quality packed into tiny cameras, the market for the bigger, ergonomically designed traditional cameras that sit on the shoulder and can be operated with skill has shrunk. Few are made. Fewer are within the budget of most event videographers.

I am convinced that today’s video style will one day be considered a temporary fad. Today’s videos, long and (certainly!) short, will not provide the long term satisfaction we will want when we look to see loved ones that we miss. We will find that the video fell short in meaningful content and measurable emotion. This has been bothering me for a few years now, and I started this series of articles after realizing I am not alone.

The advent of more comfortably priced smaller cameras has actually made some serious videographers less than comfortable in their choice of gear. They realize these cameras are awkward to use when following unrehearsed action. And like everyone, they add accessories designed to make these blimp bodies and HDSLRS manageable. But they aren’t. They still are hard to keep steady while moving and are not in focus after a zoom. It’s difficult to change settings during a shot without camera movement. And it is not possible to use two eyes while shooting–which is the secret to truly skilled camera handling!

Yet repeatedly I find myself speaking with experienced pros who have abandoned their heavy standard definition shoulder mounted camera that would allow them to skillfully follow action, and run one tight shot into another, for the high definition, lightweight, inexpensive cameras everyone else is using. Yes it is time to go HD. But great image quality, low light, and skilled camera handling, along with the time consuming editing required, could make a video masterpiece of any length. That video would immortalize the moment and its participants. Videos today have amazing pixel clarity and appalling program content.

I think in five or more years, things will improve. By then image quality will be the norm, not the novelty it is today. Manufacturers may come out with a true shoulder mounted camera that has decent low light performance, quality optics, good recording media options, and is well balanced on the shoulder for a reasonable price. Then slowly, a handful of videographers will start to care enough and be inspired to develop the camera handling skill that goes beyond being a camera holder, to become a storyteller.

Making a film from a live event involves a live videographer! Video shot on a tripod has a crippled surveillance look. Handheld can be exciting, on point, and true grit. But not if the videographer has been reduced to a human tripod, forced to use all his talent and energy just to keep the camera from moving. Those talents and energies should have him moving, zooming, and focusing in real time as he goes from one powerful tight shot to the next effortlessly while having fun following the unexpected action. This is what great video can be. This is beautiful, meaningful, and priceless. Editing cannot compensate for missing content. Today’s footage is either long boring wide angle surveillance shots that don’t show any emotional detail, or very short tight shots that rarely succeed in capturing the poignant look, the wistful smile, or the prayerful glance that would have meant most later.

That is why future viewers will feel short changed by today’s event videos of any length.

Next: More cameras: more problems. 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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