How to Produce Compelling Photography – Shoot Video Too

Twice a month, we have the pleasure of listening to amateur and professional photographers talk about their work at our local camera club.  It’s typically entertaining, sometimes thought provoking, but truthfully, only rarely compelling.

What do I mean by compelling?  For me, that means photography with a clear message, obvious story and emotional reaction.  Compelling may show human beings, other lifeforms, places on earth (or not on earth), human activities, the impact of human activities and on and on.  But in all cases, there’s has to be something about the work, the way it is presented that is different from what I’ve seen before.

While the familiar can also be compelling – for me, any shots of mountain ranges or oceans, for example – the unfamiliar is another way to get my attention.

Dave SanfordIn a recent visit, a pro photographer by the name of Dave Sandford definitely got my attention.  Along with stunning photographs, Dave told story after story after story and backed it up with undeniable proof.  That proof was video.

The very next meeting, the same thing again.  Presenters Ron Goodlin and Ron Kline spoke with eloquence and urgency about the degeneration of Antarctic ice and showed the impact on its inhabitants.

Ron GoodlinAlong with still photographs, the accompanying video clips detailed the effort to travel to Antarctica, to reach some of the remote destinations and the conditions of both humans and native animals during the trip.

In both cases, the clips were thought-provoking and at times humorous.  They achieved exactly what the makers wanted:  the emotional connection with the subject of the photographs, and understanding/appreciation of the effort to capture them.

5D Mark II Movie MenuThat video is more and more part of a photographer’s toolkit is not new.  When I went back to school in 2014 to study photography, the first year of the program included several video courses.

Video supplements photography in so many ways, including the ways mentioned above.  But video can be a marketing tool, providing behind the scenes information to prospective clients on how their shoot might go.  It can showcase a range of client products in a pleasing way, demonstrating how they add value to a client’s goals.  It can also fill in elements of a photograph’s story that may not be discernible, such as the extraordinary effort to leave untouched an environment being visited for conservation photography by Ron.

As much as an image can grab our attention and hold it, video gives us more information and surrounds us with other details.

Cellphone VideoI suspect every decent camera today has some form of video capability.  And at the very least, the camera in your pocket (your cellphone) certainly does.  Many of the clips shown by Dave Sanford were in fact shot on his cellphone, with the resulting quality of image and sound that were great.

Many of the same settings used for still photography also apply to video capture, although there are some differences.  Frame rates, colour consistency, focus while following motion, proper techniques for merging scenes without jumps or stutters all come into play.  But if you know your camera, the effort to add these elements won’t be hard at all.  The hardest part will be planning the shoot, so that you get all the wide angle and detail shots to tell the story completely.  The same scene really does have to be shot from multiple angles in video much more so than with still photography to be effectively presented.

And figuring out how to blend still and video imagery is also key.  Portfolios become multimedia showcases, and have to be stored and accessible on a platform that can accommodate them.  YouTube accounts are pretty much mandatory for photographers today.  Personal websites need to reference those assets in the right place at the right time.  They have to highlight the still photography without overwhelming it.

Whether you use video for behind the scenes expansion of a storyline or to animate a main subject, it’s pretty clear that today’s best photographers include it in their portfolio.  Find a way to include it in yours.  That’s certainly my next big project.