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Crossing the Boundaries Between Still and Motion

We (meaning a dozen skiers and myself) spent most of last winter photographing skiing. Along the way, I captured some motion footage to go along with the five thousand stills that made the final edit. Tie that together with a simple concept and you have a lot of time spending money. Actually, you might as well be burning hundreds at a time. You wonder why blockbusters cost so much to make? Because it just isn’t easy. Camera manufacturers are adding all those HD video features to camera bodies like they are options on a Ferrari. Little do we photographers realize it is another feature worth exploring, but at the same time, a HUGE learning curve. Unlike photographing nature, or adventure sports, there is much more planning that needs to be thought out prior to pressing record on your HD SLR. Here are a few things that I have discovered along the way to help you should you decide you need to explore the motion side of life.

1. Sit down and write a script. This forces you to conceptualize the adventure you are about to take. Break it out into scenes. For example Scene 001–Wide angle shot of bedroom with dog, Jay and Heather sleeping. All is quiet as the heat comes on. Cut to heating vent. And so on. It can be this simple or more complex depending on your vision.

2. Think about all the gear you will need to put your vision/script into action. Can you afford to purchase it? Or should you rent it? This is a budgetary concern, but also look at it from a usage stand point. Will this gear get used many times over? If so, it might be worth the purchase price. Also, look at the Do-It-Yourself sites, some of the gear can be made with a limited selection of tools. If you are handy and creative, build what you need too.

3. Film is a reality based experience, you need to think of it that way. Sounds, music, motion, all need to be accounted for in your scenes.Couple that with dramatic light and compositions and you will succeed. If you want music you will need to license it. This is probably the hardest part. For every song you want to use you need to contact the artist and in most cases the recording label and that info isn’t that easy to get your hands on. And you need music, even if it only resides in the background. In every scene of my script, I add what recordings I need to accomplish–garage doors opening, heat blowing, heartbeats, etc. And they are added with scene and take identifiers for easy cataloging too. This trailer had over fifty elements go into it. Now imagine how many assets you would have if you were shooting a feature length film?

4. Think about timing for your scenes and shoot them accordingly. For example all of the night shots should be captured together, which means they are not necessarily created in the order of your script. This saves huge amounts of time. And because you already have a script, it is easy to label them as you shoot them. Then once you head to edit, you can just drag and drop your scenes into the rough, initial cut.

5. Editing software like Adobe Premiere Pro CS5.5 is worth every penny. Buy it if you are serious, it will allow you move much faster during the editing process. Final Cut Pro by Apple is another great tool and has been the industry standard for a while, but it lacks having the integration with the entire Adobe product line like Premiere Pro.

6. Don’t underestimate your knowledge of still photography when shooting film. Be as creative as you can. Try everything and anything you can dream up. Sometimes you will be pleasantly surprised.

7. Think of all the options to creating motion–time lapses, fixed tripod shots when the scene is moving, sliding the camera, gliding the camera, focus to out of focus, still images, slow motion, etc. It all makes for interest and keeping your viewer guessing as to what is coming next.

8. When editing make your vision happen. Watch for jump cuts (similar scenes that don’t flow), limit the use of transitions for both footage and sound, and think about how you want your concept perceived by your viewer. Software like Premiere allows you to make adjustments all along the way even after you think you are done. The addition of an air conditioner running in the background can have an effect on how the film is taken by the viewer even if it is not readily noticeable at first glance.

9. Get your friends and family to help. If you don’t have any friends, purchase some, because this is an adventure that takes an army. Plan on at least showing some of them your vision and how to operate some of the gear so you can direct, act, and set-up the scenes. My wife Heather deserves more credit than me for her help. Sometimes people fall into rolls they just love and she has become an amazing director. Always take the advice of those helping you too, sometimes they see something you don’t, and that can make the difference in the end.

This is by no means everything, but hopefully it is good start to getting you to think about what you are embarking on. And all I want in the end is to have a five minute long piece that highlights what I do through the winter months on a daily basis. I must be a masochist. Enjoy the trailer, it is a little foreplay shall we say? Coming soon to a social media site near you. Actually, right in front of you, on your laptop or iPad.