Photo Prose

By Gary Rabenko

I had an interesting chat with a photographer last week. We discussed his frustration with studios and the video situation . . . something I covered in four articles last year, which can be read on my blog.

Joe (not his real name) e-mailed how he has been greatly improving his craft over the past five years since we last met. Not only had he invested in the best equipment–prime lenses, versatile, reliable, and high-end lighting, and the heavier flagship camera bodies that few care to own or can afford to buy–but he repeatedly underscored his studies, seminars, workshops, and a desire to keep getting better.

Joe could become good. He has a good attitude, is a nice guy, and is busy freelancing for many studios. We got to discuss the studio dynamics I am always concerned with and I just felt this ties perfectly into my prior comments.

When you hire a studio for both photography and video, you do so expecting that the crew will be working together. But for this to occur, there has to be one person in charge. Working together otherwise leads to general apathy and results in mediocrity. Some people believe in hiring different vendors to get an expert in both photography and video. For years I have led the opposition to this because it makes no sense and can prevent the best craftsmen from doing their best work.

Today, generally consumers want to hire one company for both. Which should be good. But the whole video event industry has changed. Experienced pros were forced to upgrade to HD cameras and could not possibly rationalize buying an expensive one that would quickly become obsolete, as consumers’ willingness to pay for photography and video keeps dropping. The public at the same time lapped up the amazing image quality of the DSLRS, which cost a tenth the price or less! So everyone is using those little boxes which are ergonomically unsuited to covering unexpected action.

I related to Joe’s despair as he described how videographers have taken over the event with gizmos and gear that starts with a small camera but grows to be very annoying. He explained that to use those cameras to get their needed footage requires control and planning that can totally cripple his ability to photograph a live event with a live response in real time. Instead of having one or two videographers, today often there can be four. None are paid very much. All think their job is the most important. Most have an attitude. And as a group they can almost be a mob or gang, which can make life quite miserable for any conscientious photographer who really understands what his lights are doing and where he must be at any moment in order to benefit from them.

Videographers do not know or want to hear anything about that. They just do not want to be blocked and could not care less if they are doing the blocking.

At a time when one person can do both stills and motion in so much of the commercial world, serious pro event photographers find that video is simply impossibly time-consuming to edit. So there are two forces at play. One is happy to let the videographers do their own thing, as it is not worth doing. The other view is that one must do the video just to keep the videographers from totally murdering the environment in which they, the skilled and experienced pros, should be able to produce their best work!

He explained that studio owners do not want him to do new things, better things, or more skilled work. That is nothing new; I personally experienced it decades ago. It makes standardization of a package difficult. As he says, the owners do not understand what they are seeing. They are businessmen. So they cannot teach or critique meaningfully. But when something is different, even if it is better, the tendency is just to say, “No, don’t do that.”

In the last five years, some amazing technology has given photographers incredible control over lighting. More and more are using it. Numerous sites talk about lighting and try to teach the new photographer. But without a core understanding and motivation to use light for specific purposes, the best one can achieve are photos that look different while often leaving the photographer and subject both a bit stressed over the fussing with gear and the distractions that entails.

So when I speak about the skillful use of light, it is inevitable that studios will start showing images that actually exhibit lighting patterns. They can be dramatic. They can be beautiful. But a few dozen images with dramatic lighting do not mean those shots or the job as a whole is more meaningful. They just stand out. Similarly, video can stand out by being very filmlike in image quality. But if you want a record of the actual event, not a heavily processed video of excerpts, the traditional approach will likely be more honest and meaningful, and the impact it will have on what your photographer can do will also be far less.

There are new cameras coming out that some videographers might try to invest in, because they address the ergonomic problems. But how will the public react to having only two cameras on a shoot? How will the economy support all the new videographers that have been needed to staff the four-camera jobs? I know that some videographers with great expensive cameras actually feel pressured into buying an HDSLR as well, just to compete. Some editors refuse to edit the additional footage.

It all comes down to: What should your video and photography really be? And how difficult it is in this environment for a team to really be a team? v

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


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