Telling a Story with Video
I hear from a great many photographers that they are interested in learning how to shoot video with their new video-capable DSLRs. They are willing to invest the time and energy to learn the technology and language of movie making. But, they're not quite sure what story to tell, because whether a documentary or a narrative film, and indeed even with still photography, it's all about telling a story.
Just before the end of December, 2010 (a couple of weeks prior to this piece) I mentioned a brief video shot with a video DSLR titled Idiot with a Tripod, by cinematographer Jamie Stuart. It was the visual story of a blizzard in Manhattan, shot in a single evening and edited and posted on YouTube in one day. Film critic Robert Ebert said that the film deserved to win the Academy Award for best live-action short.
This video has been viewed 500,000 times in two weeks. Now that's an audience!
No – we all may not be as talented as Jamie Stuart. But, equipment is no longer a limiting factor when it comes to shooting compelling visual stories, with relatively inexpensive video-capable DSLRs now being used to shoot part or even all of major New York and Hollywood film and TV productions. And distribution has been democratized as well, with venue such as YouTube and Vimeo providing world-wide audiences at zero cost.
What Story to Tell
For professional photographers who are increasingly turning to video, whether through growing personal interest or simply because clients are demanding it as a means of reducing production budgets, the choice of subject matter is dictated by the client. But for the creative photographer (cinematographer) the question is often asked – what can I shoot?
When beginning writers ask this question what should I write about, the answer given is almost always – write about what you know. The same response can be given when it comes to shooting video for the first time – shoot what's around you. Shoot what interests you. Shoot what you experience.
What Does it Take?
So – what does it take to produce a short, and hopeful entertaining and informative video? The example used here is a less-than two minute video of a Fiesta held at the town square of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where I am living at the moment. It took place last night (January 9, 2011).
Shortly after dark I heard loud music coming from the Jardine (town square), just a few blocks from my house. Curious as to what was going on I grabbed my Panasonic GH2 with 20mm f/1.7 lens and wandered down to the square. What I found underway was a major Indian music and dance festival, with three different bands seemingly performing simultaneously. A visual and auditory cacophony!
I shot for about 30 minutes, and then went home to edit together something to show friends back home. The editing took about two hours (one hour per minute – typical), and I was able to upload it to Vimeo before going to bed.
But is it Art?
Is it art? No, of course not. It's also technically not that good. But that's not the point. This wasn't an art project or a documentary for broadcast. But, hopefully it's something a bit more than a home movie. It isn't polished. There are numerous technical flaws (repeat after me – turn off autofocus!!!!). There's no colour grading, just some quick and dirty white balance. The audio is just what was recorded with the camera's built-in mics.
But, hopefully, this little video will give my friends back home in snowy Toronto a taste of what last night was like in San Miguel de Allende.
What are you going to shoot today?