Tuesday, September 18, 2007

video killed the radio star

A few people have commented that I shoot so much I might as well be shooting video. I adore my Canon 1D MkII, it's 8.5 frames per second shooting speed and large buffer. I'll fire off sequences of images, some times in full auto mode. At other times, I'll just shoot freely, working a composition, or around a subject. When I shoot people I try to talk to them a lot and have them talk back, as a result I'm shooting off quite a few frames, trying to capture that fleeting change of expression or reaction to something I say. I also find that after a while they get so used to the sound of the shutter it stops bothering them. I'll be shooting in one shot mode when doing this, but those sequences still usually share a common framing and subject that would perhaps work well as a video sequence. If I'm being silly, I can switch the camera down to small JPEG mode and shoot hundreds of frames without the buffer filling.
This might sound somewhat lazy or careless, but I tend to think of it as sketching with the camera. Even when I'm not shooting something as dynamic as a person I'll shoot as I work on the composition, moving towards where I want to be. I remember a National Geographic documentary where the photographer talked about shooting thousands of frames of film over a two week period, just to get a couple of good publishable images. He described shooting in a location, purely for research, exploring angles, light and composition, prior to returning to really shoot there. That's where I first heard that sketching idea and it has stuck with me and become part of my process when I'm shooting well. I also try to free my creativity through shooting a lot. When I feel blocked or uninspired, I'll start taking pictures, just one or two, or maybe 100 in auto mode. Just to get over that feeling that the pictures have to be good. None of them have to be good. Hopefully some will. But I can be certain that if I only take one shot, that'll be the best I'll take all day. Once I start shooting, I'll home in on a particular idea, develop it, evolve it, get the shot I wanted all along. Each click of the shutter is a step towards that goal. Even in single shot mode, I'll expose many frames if I find an interesting subject, each step changing some aspect that I find. My friend Randy taught me that he looks for three things he'd change each time he looks through the viewfinder, then he changes them and repeats the process. That's his approach to working towards a final image. I follow a similar thought process but I tend to shoot each of the frames as I go along. Sometimes, that first shot will capture everything that I saw or wanted to see - but not usually. I guess my logical mind kicks in once my creative spark lands the lens and I want to improve and refine the idea. So I shoot a lot, but I keep and share far, far fewer images. I really strive not to show two versions of the same shot, ever. I aim to edit heavily, share the good, hide the bad. That works but I wonder if there isn't something to learn in all those intermediate or not quite shots ? Will it show my process ? Expose my way of seeing ? Help someone else understand how I get from here to there ? Be interesting in its own right ? Over the Next Step workshop, I shot about 3000 frames in 4 days. One evening, when I was really struggling against some personal demons and having a hard, hard time shooting, I took 30 images in 4 hours. In another case when I really felt I hit an amazingly flowing, beautifully creative place, I took over 200 images in about 15 minutes. Each one different, each one gorgeous and expressive to me in its own way. After the fact, I do wonder that when I was struggling so much, that if I'd just started shooting, I might have calmed down more and dealt with things better. The difference in numbers of images made over those periods is pretty significant for me. When I put them in the context of a video sequence, that 4 hours of struggle passes in a second, while the creative period of flow has a much longer screen life.
So I'm going to give it a go. I'm not going to start shooting video with a video camera, but I do want to look in to producing short videos of all the frames from a particular shoot. it might be an interesting artifact in its own right. It could provide some instructive insight into how I approach a subject. You might even learn something from it, or I could, which would be great.
I've been trying out various options for doing this and have had mixed results. I've used Photodex ProShow Gold in the past to produce slideshows (and that's all this really is: a glorified slideshow) but it continually crashed when presented with such a high number of images and fast frame and transition rate. I've used Microsoft Windows Movie Maker but found it to be so clunky as to drive me to distraction. I downloaded a trial of Adobe Premiere Elements 3.0 last night and it seems to do what I need, but the options for re-timing or editing the slideshow as a single sequence of video seem sadly lacking (no doubt they are in the multiple hundreds of dollars version of the product). I don't want to do anything particularly complex, just queue up a large number of frames [pre-rendered at a smallish video friendly size (VGA or so)] and be able to edit the transitions and slide timings to co-ordinate with some audio tracks. I think I'll probably throw in some pan and scans over the keepers as and when they appear in the stream too.
If you know of any good (windows based) software for doing this sort of work, I'd be very interested. Bonus points if it is under $100. Thanks in advance for any comments!
I have a more grandiose longer term goal too. I started shooting 6 years ago now, never really shot film, always digital, and I have a pretty complete archive of every digital file I've ever shot, growing ever larger on a large RAID storage box. I'm thinking that when I find the right workflow, it might be possible to turn this loose on every image I've ever taken and turn that in to one sequence, 1 frame per image. There's probably enough images for about 3 hours worth. Now that could be mind numbing. And you thought interminable home movies and holiday slide shows were bad. I might need an editor for that one.


John Honan said...

Here's a stop motion enthusiast site with some resources; http://www.brickfilms.com/resources.php#26

And one of their video editing recommendations;


Great article btw, interesting reading about your approach to creating shots.

Unknown said...

Thanks for the link and recommendation. I appreciate it.

Bryan Allen said...

Gordon, I'm all Mac based now for my creative work but I used to use the Pinacle Studio products for video when I was PC based. Might be worth a look. The Adobe Premier package is probably the best in class on the PC though.