Rob: I want to talk with you about the post you made last week on your blog (here) where you asked people to guess the camera you used to make an image then revealed it was a frame grab from the Red Epic M digital cinema camera.
Vincent: First of all, this is not a philosophical discussion between the value of a photograph versus the value of the moving image. Because no one can win that one, there is no answer to that question. And I’m not looking to challenge either side of that argument because I find it utterly pointless. The value of a still image versus the value of a movie or a still frame from a movie means different things to many different people. Each discipline has its clear strengths depending on how each is used and for what purpose it is being used. I am just looking at emerging technology and how it could potentially affect our future.
A still image is still going to be the entry point for everything in the future.
I’m not so sure anymore. YouTube gets more than 2 billion visits a day…
How can you get a message across quickly using video? When we’re talking about information overload and trying to catch someones attention with a piece of advertising video doesn’t have a chance compared to a still image.
Remember “Minority Report”? I don’t remember seeing too many still image billboards when he was walking through the mall, ever.
Right, but that’s a film maker’s idea of the future. It was probably the same in “Blade Runner”, right?
It was. And in “Blade Runner”, they actually hired a futurist who studies these things and helps technology companies design future products. The point is, no one knows the future and to proselytize about it is kind of pointless. I’m fortunate enough to work with a lot of leading companies out there and get a glimpse into, and often a private glimpse, into what they’re working on years ahead of time, as well as introduced to what I would call forward thinking people. Some of them are geniuses who are literally inventing the products of the future.
And when you get to sit down with these people, you’re fortunate enough to get a pretty good glimpse of what the future might bring.
You’re not going to tell us, are you?
I don’t know that much more about the future than anyone else reading this blog, but I have been exposed to what the leaders in different industries are actively working on and thinking of.
I think anybody involved in producing content or in the advertising world would love the 30 second commercial to live forever. It’s an expensive buy, it’s an expensive thing to produce. They would love that. But maybe the like button is the future, one dumb little button that I press and tells all my friends that I eat Cheerios. There’s a pretty big gap between those two ideas.
Sure. I want to make sure we stay focused on what I know, which is not the secret to advertising in the future. And, how to keep people’s attention in the future, when most viewers have the attention span of say – a mosquito. What I have been exposed to, is what camera manufacturers, computer companies, network companies, distribution companies, et cetera are working on. Whether it’s holographic imagery, chairs that move in your living room based on the input from the action movie you’re watching, new delivery methods online and ways to interact with the content so that you can purchase it from your TV or browser, technology that tracks all of your likes and customizes advertising to what you know. To what cameras will be shooting, what resolutions, what ISOs, the form factors, new changes in lens technology.
Yeah. So given with all that you know and have been exposed to, has shooting with the Red made you really stop and think, “OK, one camera that does it all…” I mean, is that what blew your mind?
I’m not going to go as far as to say that the Red is the camera that does all of it yet. It’s definitely the single closest thing I’ve used to date that made me say “wow.” But, given the pace at which things are going, it’s only a matter of years until these live action cameras, the Reds or other cameras, are taking hundreds of images a second at the same resolution that our 5D Mark II’s are shooting today. And many will doing so in a raw format.
And my reason for talking to you is not to freak everyone out, but everyone should look at this technology and look at the examples out there more closely. I think they need not ask themselves: “Well, how can I apply this today?” Instead they should at least ponder how all of this might come to be applied in a few years from now. That’s what we need to be thinking about, because we have the power to influence and sculpt that as creatives.
Why is this future camera that does both, that allows you to pull still frames out of motion, so important?
On the one side there’s technology pushing things but on the other side we have the manufacturers of television sets, the magazines publishers, as well as advertisers that are also going to push their agendas. The choices of what we shoot, how we shoot and with what we shoot is often made by executives, or worse: bean counters… not necessarily creatives.
So you’re saying that the convergence is a matter of cost and convenience?
It’s one of the big factors, is going to be that, absolutely. And I guess that’s a bit of a negative way of looking at it. There are positives to this. It’s a complicated matter. This is not a “one answer, one solution fits all” deal.
For certain uses, it’s really obvious that there are a great series of tools that are coming out. For example this morning I was about to leave my home to go to work. I had my Epic with me and my daughter got into her ballerina dress for the first time. And I had a choice between my Leica M9 or the Epic, two very different tools, to very different ways of shooting, and two very different results obviously. One’s noticeably heavier. But with the Epic, I get 5k resolution stills. I’m shooting it at 96 frames a second, at a 200th of a second. And I’m able to get incRedibly sharp 14 MP stills from the camera.
I’m most likely not going to print poster images of my daughter- as much as I love her. But I will definitely print 8×10, 11x14s with a 14 megapixel camera, which is what the 5k can do. And it’s going to allow me to pick one of 96 frames every single second. And I also have the benefit of having a video clip to go along with it. Slow motion video that is @6 times the resolution of 1080p content as a result. So why would I choose the Leica other than the form factor, obviously? And the fact that it’s a still image and slightly higher resolution.
You’d choose it for price.
We’re talking about the future here. Not what things cost today. My iphone shoots better pictures than my $20,000 Canon D2000 shot 10 years ago.
All right. You’ve seen the future.
No, but I have seen what the future can potentially bring. I’ve seen that I shoot more than 60 percent of my personal images now on my iPhone. Because guess what? They’re more than good enough. Two years ago I would never have dreamed I’d be doing that, because the iPhone’s quality was nowhere near where it is now. These days, I hesitate between running up to go get my 5D MKII or Leica if it’s not near me or pulling my iPhone out of my pocket. So form factor and price are always a big factor, of course. But the reason we’re talking about the future is the technology that’s in the Red Epic today could very well someday be in a very small Red Epic, or perhaps even in your cell phone or your still camera. The question is: what will you shoot then? Especially when you can get both high resolution stills plus video simultaneously? THAT is the question. Other than the amount of data you are shooting – if you don’t need to make a choice between the two – will you?
Here’s what’s important, if you can shoot 120 frames or 96 frames per second at a high resolution, it removes one of the single most difficult aspects of being a photographer, which is to capture the “decisive moment.”
You just said something very outrageous, you realize that? Camera manufacturers have eliminated the need to focus and the need to nail exposure, now you’re saying no more decisive moments. Christ.
Yeah. That’s the key point here and a whopper of one. Focusing was a technical skill once that made it very difficult to break into sports photography. Exposure was a technical skill that was another barrier. Granted, both can be used for artistic purposes of course. But the decisive moment, to me after 21 years of taking still images is still the number one most difficult thing to do. By now, after 21 years of shooting, I can do expose without a meter. I can frame a shot without thinking about it too much. And I can most of the time either auto focus or manual focus relatively easily by now.
The one thing that’s going to make me miss or succeed as a photographer is capturing “the” moment, because that involves anticipation and predicting the future. It involves a lot of skill, a lot of guess work, and experience. And I think ultimately knowing when to press that shutter is one of the greatest skills you can develop as a still photographer.
And eventually, there’s going to be no shutter to press.
Precisely. The cameras can now be recording all the time.
So doesn’t that just transfer the job of capturing the decisive moment to editing the decisive moment?
Editing is going to become one of the most important, sought after skill sets in the next five to 10 years. I think we’re going to see such an incredible amount of data coming in, to the likes of which we’ve never seen before that editors are going to become one of the most important job positions out there.
So there will be a need for a photographer to pair up with an editor?
I don’t see how a photographer/videographer can do all this on their own. They would never sleep.
Ok, let’s talk about the workflow. I mean that’s probably the biggest issue. There’s so much data and you’ve got to edit it and deal with it and save it and archive it.
The workflow is a bear. There’s no way around it. I shot, yesterday afternoon and this morning, for probably half an hour each. And I have half a terabyte to copy over.
[laughter] That’s ridiculous.
It is ridiculous. And people are going to roll their eyes right now and go oh well, this is all crazy! But wait a minute. Firs, I’ve got 96 frames of every second I shot in those two periods of time to pull beautiful stills off of and then of course the video. It’s all raw which why it’s so huge. Now you can do the type of color correction you expect to do on your Canon or Nikon raw file with your video. And then you can project this footage on any motion picture screen in the world. All this with a camera that’s not that much bigger than a Hasselblad. The data is crazy now. But has hard drives get bigger, and compression formats and workflows get better – it will become irrelevant.
And you think this is going to get down to the Canon and Nikon type of situation?
I don’t know if it’s going to. The point of the discussion is not to wave any flags of any color, white flags or red flags or black flags, but just to get people to think, that’s all, about what we’re going to be doing in a few years, and to think about it positively, not with fear, but with eager anticipation.
When I look at the imagery I’m getting off this camera, I get absolutely nothing but joy in terms of what I’m seeing in the moving image as well as in the still images coming from the footage. It’s an incredible pleasure to get to see both. The only downside to the technology so far is the post.
And that should improve as well, right?
It always improves. And creatives should not be worried about that stuff. Other than keeping an eye on it for their productions. Creatives should be worried about creating different visual pieces of art and other types of art. If you get bogged down into, “Oh, my God, look at the post workflow,” you’re losing sight of what your job is.
Tell me, how does this compare to what happened to you three years ago when you discovered HDSLR filmmaking?
I haven’t felt this sort of excitement or urge to get my hands on a camera and start playing with it since I saw the 5D Mark II. And I should point out that back then certain people at Canon told me I was making a huge mistake, that this was not a video camera. This was meant to be a still camera that happened to have a video feature. And that a lot of people outright attacked me on the Internet and in person for saying that I was crazy thinking anyone would ever shoot with these HDSLRs. So I’m eagerly awaiting the inevitable comments coming my way.
Keep in mind that I’m not trying to change anything. I’m just trying to remark or observe on what I’m seeing happening, and what I’m hearing people working on for the future, and how it’s going to possibly change the way things are.
Again, I’m not getting into a debate on what has more value, the still or motion. Nor am I really commenting on where things are right this minute. I’m looking at where things are likely headed.
I’m also reacting to something a cinematographers told me a few years ago that left a mark, something that I think is very relevant, and that we should all worry about as we discuss our job titles and our careers. When the Red One came out, they had the ability to save stills to an external card. And I went up a DP who was on stage at a Red event, and I asked, “Who in the world would want to shoot a still image with this huge Red camera with a Cine lens? It’s insane. Why wouldn’t you go out with my 5D Mark II that shoots RAW?” His response sent shudders down my spine. He said very bluntly, in a German accent, “We want to take your still jobs away from you, just like you want to take our video jobs away from us with your HD SLRs.”
So for the readers of your blog, who I assume are mostly on the still end, we’re very often focused on how we can evolve our career into the video world, and add that as another set of skills or another service that we produce. We don’t often discuss on the fact that most film makers, videographers, directors, DPs, are feeling the exact same pressures we are from their clients and are very eager to move into commercial photography. Not because they want to be commercial photographers, but because they want to land that job at all costs.
“We want you to shoot the commercial, and we would like to pull some stills from the footage to use for print ads and Internet billboards.”
Exactly. Don’t forget that most people in the motion world are “work-for-hire.” So they don’t get the same type of deals with still imagery that we do with still commercial photography contracts. Don’t think that that’s not going to effect the still market. And lastly, don’t think that I’m happy about this. I have no joy in sharing that thought or seeing it happen.
No. I think we don’t have to emphasize it, hopefully people realize that you’re not trying to destroy anything. You’re trying to help people understand, because you do have access to $30,000 cameras to mess around with and you can explain what might happen if it was a $5,000 camera.
Here’s another revolutionary part of the equation, I’m carrying my entire Epic kit with matte box, filters extra batteries and cards, in my backpack. I have a motion picture camera in my backpack. That’s going to shake things up a bit as well in some areas. You still need a full crew for a major studio film, but for some work (such as what Tom Lowe is doing at Timescapes.org) you no longer do. One other quick note photographers should pay attention to, I’m having to modify the standard DGA (Director’s Guild of America) contracts I sign now to prevent clients from pulling images from my commercial shoots. Just recently a still client and agency pulled a still from a commercial I shot for them. I had a previous relationship with them as a still photographer. They had also hired a still commercial photographer for the still portion of the shoot. But when the client asked to use a frame grab from one of my clips they did so without hesitation. They were unapologetic. Lesson learned. Most directors being hired out there aren’t thinking yet about whether or not their clients are going to pull stills from their footage.
Since you witnessed what happened with the HDSLR in the last 3 years, can you predict how quickly this will evolve and people will adapt to it?
I think that the HDSLR movement was much more rapid and far-reaching because of the types of market we’re talking about. Everyone from amateurs to professionals can afford to buy one. Price is a major factor. This will have a slower effect, but a more noticeable one, on the high end. Bruce Weber, Mark Seliger and Annie Leibovitz are shooting with the Epic already.
Yes, and tons of fashion photographers. The higher production people are going to be using this camera. And it’s going to have an effect. I don’t know how fast, how quick it is. But ultimately, I think you have to try your hand at this technology, you can’t sit back. I’m not saying you change your business model, or even own an Epic. But I think you need to have some experience with it, and rent it for a weekend. So that when you’re client calls you and says, “Do you know how to do this?” You don’t say, “No, I’ve never tried.”
Because not all video requests require Technocranes and 50 member crews. Some of it’s relatively simple. If they just want you to roll some video on that certain types of shoots, then the answer can be “absolutely,” for most photographers.
So is this your advice for most photographers, to prepare themselves for what you see as a convergence?
Dip your toe into it or make someone in your studio at least know something about it. Keep your mind open. And more than anything, the hardest thing to do is, instead of reacting to the change with fear (which is a natural human instinct that we all know about) react to this change as something that’s exciting and full of new opportunities and new ways of being creative.
It’s very difficult to be original as a photographer these days, given how long the medium has been around and how many photographers there are out there. But this is a new medium, in effect. It’s a cross over medium that’s becoming viable and offers up a lot of really interesting new ways of communicating. You’ve probably seen those example of photographs, where part of it is in motion, right? That’s a new medium that’s developed out of this technology. And that’s exciting, I’m excited. I’m not scared of any of this. I guess that’s just the way I look at it, but it does not scare me. I find it’s tremendously liberating to not have to choose between shooting video or stills. That doesn’t mean I won’t be making the choice between the two anymore of course – every job has the right tool. But I now have a new tool in my toolbox.
You seem to be walking very carefully around making any declaration that the still camera is going to be dead in the future. You don’t see that?
I guess I’ve gotten a little older, perhaps slightly wiser, and realized that you can probably make the same point, and get people to think more, without making huge declaratory statements. I think big statements like “the camera is dead” or “game changer” starts to fall deaf on certain people’s ears after a while.
I think it’s more important to say, “Take note of this new technology and try it out if you can. And if you can’t try it out, think about its potential uses and how that might benefit you in a future assignment, your creativity, or your business.”