Motion Studies

Reports of still photography being dead may be premature, but the rise in video photography over the past couple of years, largely driven by technological change, is truly breathtaking. Gareth Gardner marvels at what has become possible

Have you had one too many? There’s that point, familiar to all binge drinkers, when things that are meant to remain stationary appear to keep on moving. But it’s now quite possible to experience this feeling and remain teetotal. The world around us is becoming dramatically more animated.

Where there used to be posters on Tube escalators in London, there are now plasma screens showing advertisements. The humble school blackboard has been consigned to the skip, replaced by interactive whiteboards. Static websites have been transformed into high-octane environments, filled with moving images and embedded videos. Mobiles are no longer simple tools for making phone calls, but sophisticated multimedia devices which stream video. ’We have got used to the moving image in a context beyond the television screen,’ says photographer Nick Wilcox-Brown. ’Still images are satisfying, but moving images are more exciting.’

The buzzword is convergence. ’We are at the convergence point of many technologies, where the sum is greater than the individual parts,’ says Wilcox-Brown, who began experimenting in video in 2007. Technological and communication advances mean that the kit required for shooting high-quality video is more affordable than ever. Content delivery has also transformed over recent years, thanks to high-speed broadband connections, PCs with improved graphics capabilities and video-friendly innovations such as phones and tablet computers like the hotly awaited Apple iPad.

As a result, the demand for video content has rocketed over recent years, and photographers are increasingly dipping their toes into the movie pool. ’For photographers and videographers alike, these innovations represent an opportunity. There will be an increased demand for content,’ adds Wilcox-Brown.

His views are echoed by Sam Robinson, a London-based photographer with a portfolio of advertising, design and editorial clients. ’Over the past year, clients have started to ask more and more about video and my ability to shoot motion alongside stills,’ he reports. ’I think the demand for video is still at a very early stage, similar to when photography went digital. People are not sure exactly of the possibilities, but I imagine this will change.’ For clients, the opportunity to get one person to shoot both stills and video is compelling, particularly from a budgetary perspective.
The opportunity for one photographer to deliver a rich selection of stills and video is particularly potent in the world of journalism. ’In situations like war reporting, a still image can tell a story, but full high-definition film footage brings it to life,’ says a spokeswoman for camera manufacturer Canon. ’Increasingly, national newspapers are beginning to look for dynamic content to put on their sites, and HD films shot on digital SLR cameras meet this demand.”

Photographic libraries are also experiencing change, as they begin to offer video footage as well as still photographs. The Science Photo Library’s website was relaunched last year to showcase its video collection. ’Our clients are increasingly moving into video,’ explains head of motion Ben Jones. Over the past few years, storage and circulation of video footage has moved from tape to computer, which makes the establishment of a video collection more feasible for image libraries. ’It has made things much more practical, even for HD video,’ says Jones.

While some photographers have long been shooting moving images – using tape-based camcorders – the introduction of video-capable DSLR cameras has made the process cheaper and easier. Wilcox-Brown says that the ’game changer’ camera was the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, launched in late 2008. To both photographers and videographers, modestly priced video-capable DSLRs have opened up a world of creative possibilities that was previously the sole domain of expensive 35mm film motion picture cameras. For example, large imaging sensors make it possible to create cinematic effects such as shallow depth of field. ’I can pick up my DSLR and shoot film at such high quality, using the same body as the one I use for still photography,’ says Robinson. However, the nascent revolution still has a way to go. Wilcox-Brown says the ergonomics of DSLRs aren’t yet optimised for video capture, and auto-focus and audio capture have room for improvement.

However, there is no doubt that the marriage between stills and video is going to last. ’Digital photography has already democratised the photographic industry, and the movie industry is likely to follow in short order,’ says Wilcox-Brown.

For stock photographers, libraries and consultancies alike, the chance to exploit a new market comes as a welcome relief after years of downward pressure on the prices paid for still images. But are photographers up to the task of moving into motion pictures? This depends on the type of footage being produced. Multimedia groups such as Media Storm in the US create ’cinematic narratives’ using video, audio, animation and stills. But companies such as the Science Photo Library are more interested in short, single-topic stock clips. ’You don’t need to be George Lucas,’ says Jones.

For many photographers, the lure of moving images is compelling. Robinson concludes, ’I think that the majority of photographers have a deep-down urge to direct films. I know that my photography is incredibly influenced by film.’

Gareth Gardner is a photographer and writer who also makes videos

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