I’m a fan, personally, of art that sucks at marketing itself, that doesn’t have a cute backstory or a built-in ‘platform,’ that is not cuddly or ‘adorkable’ and doesn’t immediately lend itself to a hierarchy of ‘rewards’ for ‘backers,’ that is antisocial and prickly and deeply strange.
Last summer I was having dinner with an Art Director who was fielding emails from a client who wanted to pull stills from the commercial video shoot to drop into the background of the commercial stills shoot he was on. He bemoaned the fact that he would probably have to show them how horrible that would look to convince them it could not be done.
Several weeks ago I was at Shoot LA talking to a ski photographer who was on a ski movie shoot in Alaska where the crews all shot with the Red camera. I asked him if he felt his job was in jeopardy since they could probably pull stills straight from the footage. He said they shot at too low of a shutter speed to pull stills for the action shots but he was surprised at how easy it was to scrub though all the footage and find images you liked. The editing process, that I had surmised might keep photographers busy, was simple and fast.
When photographer Kevin Arnold showed me his blog post about his own testing with the RED camera and pulling stills I asked him if I could reprint it in full here. It’s a topic we should all be watching closely. Here’s Kevin’s full blog post reprinted with permission from (here):
Stills, Meet Motion
Ever since the advent of HD video, we’ve all been hearing how the need for pure still photography will disappear since we’ll be able to just pull stills from video. I’ve never felt threatened by this line of thinking; I believe that there will always be a place for still photography because it has its own aesthetic. I also like embracing new technology.
This winter, I decided it was time find out for myself how close we are to that reality. I’d read about fashion photographers shooting magazine covers with the RED camera, so I called up the company to see if I could test their latest high-resolution camera, the RED EPIC in the kind of environment where I shoot. They sent me a lightweight $65,000 rig set up for handheld shooting. I was excited to get my hands on this cutting-edge gear, but I also had a commercial interest in this experiment; most of my advertising clients are asking for motion and still assets. Combining the two mediums on the same set has always been cumbersome. If I could capture both simultaneously, it could be a great solution.
Even if this kind of shooting isn’t mainstream yet, a recent convergence of technologies has certainly made the idea more attainable. For starters, the resolution of the cameras continues to increase. The EPIC, for example, can output 5K raw video and 14-megapixel stills. It can also shoot 120 frames-a-second at full resolution – key for achieving the high enough shutter speeds for sharp stills. And because it’s a modular system, it can be set up for fast moving handheld shooting. Being chained to a tripod just isn’t my style.
Of course, the drawback of handheld shooting is shaky footage. There’s a reason why most serious cinematographers use heavy tripods, shoulder mounts, and steadycam rigs. But recent advances in post-processing stabilization software have changed the game. With new plug-ins that allow for correcting shake in post without much loss in quality, a whole realm of possibilities for fast-and-light shooting has opened up.
The timing seemed perfect for my little experiment.
Besides shooting handheld, I also wanted to shoot with a small crew: two assistants and myself. No focus pullers, grips, or lighting specialists that would be on a typical video shoot. I wanted the production level to match a typical still action or lifestyle shoot.
Power and storage are definitely an issue with shooting with the EPIC and we had to develop systems for both. We would be using RED’s small batteries to keep the camera light. Each battery last 20 minutes and takes 2 hours to recharge. We packed 8 batteries each day, and worked out ways to recharge on the go. We also packed hundreds of GBs of memory cards, and made sure we had the resources to upload and back up files each night.
Since we were shooting in the mountains, we had to consider how to keep the camera intact. I had no intentions of calling up my insurance company to tell them I’d just toasted a camera worth more than my car that didn’t even belong to me. While not weather sealed like my Nikons, the EPIC is built tougher than most video cameras. We got away with using a light rain cover when it was snowing heavily. Admittedly, the camera got a pretty wet a few times, but it kept working without missing a beat.
After testing the system for a couple of days and figuring out the best settings to attain smooth video and sharp stills, we started shooting on Whistler Mountain. I had originally budgeted for five days of shooting, but the weather didn’t agree. As seemingly endless cycle of snowstorms pounded the region that week quickly shrunk to one and a half days.
The advantage of being a fast and light crew was that we were able to adapt quickly and take advantage of the weather window without losing a lot of time or money. In the end, we easily came out with enough footage for what we needed. Working with incredible talent didn’t hurt. Matt Elliott and Austin Ross are great skiers who knew the mountain and were able to nail most shots in one take.
With the footage in the bag, we would now find out how things looked.
The video files were amazing; a no-brainer. This is what the EPIC does best, and it didn’t disappoint. Stunning resolution, accurate color, and smooth slow motion. Watching the clips at full resolution is actually a bit mesmerizing.
When it came to pulling stills, things weren’t quite as perfect.
First the good. What I thought would be the most daunting task – editing through 120 frames per second– turned out to be relatively painless. Scrubbing through the footage using RED’s REDCINE X Pro software is pretty snappy on a decent Mac, and honing in on the right frame is actually easier than scrolling through a pile of still images in Lightroom or Aperture.
Adjusting saturation, color, and exposure was also pretty easy, and can be done at the raw stage, which is key because video files by nature are pretty flat. We still had to do a quite a bit of color-correction and retouching in Photoshop to bring the stills up to speed. A lot more than we normally would on still files from a DSLR.
What I hadn’t anticipated going into this was the advantages this style of shooting would offer in terms of capturing natural expressions and key moments. Obviously, when you’re shooting 120 frames-per-second, it’s almost impossible to miss a moment. But there’s more to it. Shooting video is comparably silent and, without the constant clicking of the shutter reminding them that their every movement was being recorded, the athletes were able to forget I was there. This is huge when you’re striving for authentic, candid images, a hallmark of my work.
Like I said, it wasn’t all rosy. The EPIC’s sensor, while amazing for video, just isn’t on par with top end DSLRs and certainly not even close to medium format digital cameras when it comes to still images.
The bigger challenge – especially when shooting fast moving lifestyle or sports action – is achieving fast shutter speeds. The great majority of the frames we shot were soft due to either camera movement, or subject motion blur. This is the single biggest issue with pulling stills from video. The fact is that video looks best when shot with a shutter angle of 180 degrees, or double the frame rate. Shooting at 120 frames per second, means you’re really limited to about 1/250 of a second– not nearly fast enough to achieve 100 percent sharpness on every frame. In theory, you can crank up the shutter speed on the EPIC to freeze motion, but the video will suffer as a result. Moreover, motion blur is actually what makes video look smooth and pleasing to watch.
You could crank up the frame rate on the EPIC to 300 fps, which we considered, but to do so, you have to sacrifice even more resolution. Ultimately, until RED or someone else creates a handheld camera that can shoot full resolution on a 35mm-size sensor at 300 frames-per-second, this will be a major limitation to taking the leap.
Were there other issues? Yes, but they are mostly easily overcome. The massive amounts of power and storage, for example, were manageable in this situation, but would become a major obstacle on a more remote shoot. Achieve critical focus is also another major challenge. The EPIC’s autofocus doesn’t hold a candle to modern DLSRs. Manual focus gets easier with practice.
In the end, the dream of simultaneously grabbing stills and video for what I shoot is not quite there. It’s certainly close, and I’m convinced that it won’t be long until the dream is a reality.
In the meantime, this shoot was not a total failure. I created a few great stills that I really like. And on the video front, shooting with the EPIC was an eye opener that will change how I shoot for clients. Using a small crew, we were able to produce cinematic-quality motion in a challenging location on a very small budget. This creates whole new possibilities for my lifestyle and sports clients.
Here are some final stills from the test:
journalism is not being disrupted by better journalism but by things that are hardly recognizable as journalism at all. Stepping up your game is always a good idea, but it won’t save you.
via stdout.be | Fungible.
For a quick Monday laugh here’s a political fundraising email that went out last month for Al Franken:
via, Mother Jones
We never discovered how to avoid the necessity of designing both landscape and portrait versions of the magazine for the app. We wasted $124,000 on outsourced software development. We fought amongst ourselves, and people left the company. There was untold expense of spirit. I hated every moment of our experiment with apps, because it tried to impose something closed, old, and printlike on something open, new, and digital.
I re-watched “Taxi Driver” the other day. My god, was New York a hell-hole back in the 70’s. Seriously. It’s no surprise Travis Bickle went bonkers. (But that happy ending…I smell studio meddling. Marty must have known he had the chops to go mainstream.)
Have you seen it? Or what about “My Dinner with Andre?” Some great mise-en-scene there as well. Brings you right back to that time. I was safely ensconced in a nearby suburb, so that crazy, graffiti-covered era offers me a touch of nostalgia, instead of a belly full of fear. Watching those films recharges my memories, which is one of the great benefits of Art. (A nod to Bruce Davidson’s 2011 “Subway” show at Aperture seems appropriate here as well.)
I mentioned the other day, in a short article, that Art is like time travel. I meant it in the sense that as artists, we embed ourselves in our work, and if the work survives, so do we. But a much more obvious example is the way a photograph locks light in time. We all do it every day, and most often take it for granted. Stopping time, and letting a fraction of a second age at a different rate. Now with digital files, one wonders whether a reproduction will age at all?
This aspect of manipulating time, I think it’s what ultimately hooks us as photographers. Wander back to the first time you saw a contact sheet of your first set of negatives. Magic, right? Not just that it actually worked, (which is now a lost sensation for many in a digital world,) but that it brought you back to a place where you had been. And a time that, in all other ways, no longer existed. Addictive.
That’s why Instagram and its ilk are taking over the world. It’s a compulsion over which people have little control. Because a camera can bank our memories much better than our brains can. Or more accurately, at least. Iphone photos are to photography what McDonalds is to hamburgers. Hopped up, cheap and tasty. Not that I’m complaining. Unlike some bloggers, I couldn’t care less.
I’m far more interested in the underlying desires. How we save our memories. How we crave to be remembered. How we desperately want to leave a mark. How we care so much what our relatives and friends think of us, even in a reproduction.
Speaking of family memories, I ran across a fantastic new book at photo-eye the other week. It’s called “American Portraits 1979-89”, by Leon Borensztein, recently published by Nazraeli Press. Oddly enough, the artist’s name doesn’t appear on the cover or the spine. I’d never heard of him before, and perhaps that’s part of the point. From the beginning, this book is about the pictures, far more than the picture maker.
In fact, you have to dive into the essay at the back, by Sandra Philips of SFMOMA, just to get a bit of the history of the project. Todd Hido got the book up and running, so implies the editor’s credit, and the artist was tight with Larry Sultan as well, so implies the benediction. But as to what the hell is going on in the pictures? You’ve got to figure it out for yourself, or read.
So I’ll make it easy on you. Mr. Borensztein, Polish by birth, somehow ended up a traveling portrait photographer in California, and the West. (Back in the aforementioned time period, naturally.) He went around to people’s homes, and at one point to conventions as well, and made memories for paying customers. Apparently, he shot a lot, and must have made a conventional image or two at some point, just to keep his job. But everything we see in the book is fresh and wild and crazy. Probably not the prints that the clients ordered.
The plates are all in black and white, and the backdrops are visible in many of the images. People are not smiling, and sometimes don’t engage the camera. These are, to a person, anonymous, average Americans, long before such Americans thought it necessary to live in a McMansion on credit. (And we saw how well that worked out.)
Some are noble, some are funny, many are surreal, and a few downright disturbing. (How did he get the guy with the Nazi tat to pose with his shirt off? And the dude who looks like the Kramer impostor from Seinfeld, dressed in Native American garb? Priceless.)
This will not be one of the reviews in which I give away all the best secrets. Though I will make a few extra snaps below, just so you can get the vibe, Man. Arbus, Bill Owens, Disfarmer, that’s the mood of the pictures. They’re powerful, and somehow manage to respect the subjects, while also slightly mocking at the same time. It’s a tough balance, and I expect that some of you might find too much of the latter. I though it was just right.
Bottom line: A time capsule, for good and bad
Full Disclosure: Books are provided by Photo-Eye in exchange for links back for purchase.
Books are found in the bookstore and submissions are not accepted.
“Truth be told—I like seeing photographs that I don’t like. It makes me question why I don’t like them, which in turn makes me question why I like the pictures I do like!
Comment by Simon Robinson on The Online Photographer.
Still Images In Great Advertising, is a column where Suzanne Sease discovers great advertising images and then speaks with the photographers about it.
When I was researching great still images in advertising, I ran across the SJ “Smarter way to Travel” outdoor campaign. While I assumed and later confirmed SJ is a Swedish airline, the campaign hits home in any language. We can all relate and I think that is the success of this campaign. I reached out to Susanne Bransch, the agent of record for Petrus Olsson, the photographer for this campaign.
Suzanne: When I was researching Petrus, I see he has been featured in Ads of the World over a dozen times. Has this been helpful in getting his work seen around the World?
Susanne Bransch: Petrus recently returned to Bransch’s representation after parting ways with his Swedish agency Adamsky. Bransch has more connections with advertising agencies and art buyers around the world with our offices in Europe and New York that have an established connection to advertising markets in Paris, as well as Europe as a whole, and North America.
We hope that advertising showcase websites like “Ads of the World” will expose Petrus Olsson’s work to international art buyers looking to work with a photographer who has been involved in awardwinning advertising campaigns like SJ Rail. That particular campaign won the Gold in the 2011 Epica Awards in the category of Transport and Tourism (http://results.epica-awards.com/07-01882-POS.html)
Suzanne: The concepts are universal for travelers, how much input did Petrus have in the execution of these scenarios?
Susanne Bransch: Petrus knows that the key to being a good photographer is being able to work with agency creatives, giving his input about the choice of car, casting and styling, as well as collaborating with them, like a creative director. When the agency sketches showed people doing anything else but actually driving the car, he proposed the idea of the kissing couple, which ended up being one of the final ads.
Suzanne: Having worked in automotive and watches, windshields can be a beast, what did Petrus do to get the perspective from the windshield but still be realistic as an actual vehicle?
Susanne Bransch: The solution was to remove the windshield all together! Petrus shot the car (sans windshield) and people in studio with lighting setup to look like it would from outside. He took the surrounding background shots from a car driving around on a separate occasion.
Suzanne: Did he have a blast with casting and propping? Both make the concepts.
Susanne Bransch: For someone as creative as Petrus, he loves to get involved in the details, and putting his energy into the storytelling. He’s known for images with a special focus on intricate scenarios and interesting situations and SJ Rail is a wonderful example of how the photographer’s input on casting and propping can enhance a campaign.
Note: Content for Still Images In Great Advertising is found. Submissions are not accepted.
Petrus Olsson lives in Stockholm, Sweden. Since 1998 he has been working as a freelance photographer for international customers that include metro, Pfizer, DKV, Reebok and Renault, and for advertising agencies like Scholz & Fiends, ANR. BBDO, Lowebrindfors, Ogilvy & Mather and Mccann-Eriksson. Petrus Olsson has a special instinct for photographic scenarios that present people in complex situations. an illustration of this is to be seen in the puma campaign for which he provided the photographs. a certain overdrawing of the figures, an exaggeration of expression and gesture, is another of Olsson’s unmistakable trademarks.
APE contributor Suzanne Sease currently works as a consultant for photographers and illustrators around the world. She has been involved in the photography and illustration industry since the mid 80s, after founding the art buying department at The Martin Agency then working for Kaplan-Thaler, Capital One, Best Buy and numerous smaller agencies and companies.
There is a universal truth about creatives: At some point in his or her career, he or she will have an ego that far outweighs the depth of their experience and the quality of their work. It may last for decades or it could shrink the minute that person walks out of art school.
American Photography is still the most prestigious annual award for photographers, so it’s nice to see an improved website to show off this years winners.
Check it out: http://www.ai-ap.com/slideshow/
I would put the value back on to certain creative. It’s not about money, but it is about value. You can have it good, fast or cheap, but you can only have two. And people are leaving ‘good’ out of it and want it fast and cheap. I would like everyone to slow it down just a little bit to bring back the quality a bit. To have the appreciation for things that are of quality. Just want job done well and with passion. Nothing is free, the fact that seems to be lost lately.
–Cindy Hicks of The Martin Agency
Read more: Heather Elder Represents Blog.
On the heels of our interview with Howard Bernstein about photographers landing agents I have a question from a reader about contracts with agents. I asked APE contributor Suzanne Sease since she’s seen it all to weigh in on what percentage is reasonable and what to look for when signing a contract with an agent. Here’s her answer:
So many times folks think just because they have an agent, the phone is going to ring and the bank account is going to be full. STOP! Make sure you do your research before you sign any contract. A contract is a legal binding agreement that costs some photographers 6 figures to get out of. Before you sign, you must have it reviewed by a lawyer who understands this business.
The standard is 25-30% of the fees, but you need to be really careful with house accounts – you have to decide if you are going to be in charge of your house accounts with no compensation or a reduced compensation. You have to make a detailed list of who are on those accounts from the beginning since you usually can’t add someone in later. You have to discuss up front the expenses for travel, portfolio showings and marketing.
I believe it is crucial that you handle all financial expenses through your business and not the agents. When you receive payment, then you send your agent their cut. All estimates should be sent to you and the client on the same e-mail so you know what they received. That way there’s never a problem with missing fees, underreported income or timely payment.
Severance should have a limit of time for the payment of the accounts they either have established a solid relationship with or brought in as an account. I have seen clients who can’t switch agents because the severance is too lengthy and would cost them too much money. There are a lot of great agents but at the same time, there are some really bad ones. If your agent has a good reputation, they will be great for your business but if they don’t then they can kill your career. It is important for you to talk to photographers in their roster and ones who have left. If you can reach out to a consultant, art buyer or art director.