If there’s a single buzzword in the photo community that has emerged in the last year it would be multimedia. New DSLRs are humming with bursts of motion, bringing the photographer’s vision alive in exciting ways. There are more questions on this new topic, though, than there seem to be answers. Even the meaning of the word “multimedia” has become convoluted and has taken on many aliases, such as rich media, new media and mixed media, just to name a few. Like the many names to which this format has been referred, however, there are equally as many new challenges and ways of thinking that will take photographers out even farther from the days of 36 exposures per roll and into the realm of 24 frames per second.
How To Think About Video
Multimedia is a unique skill set. Like the many years it takes a photographer to find his or her own style, multimedia has a similar learning curve that’s first about learning the tools available and then implementing them in a way that defines your own unique vision. Unlike photo retouching, batch processing and many other processes we’ve become accustomed to automating, there’s no assembly-line method to producing a finished multimedia piece. At its core, it’s a creative work with no one way being the “right” way, but like photography, there’s always the end goal of having a finished piece that most resembles what you saw in your mind’s eye. A painter’s tools barely have changed since the days of Michelangelo, but the photographer’s tools not only have changed entirely, but a new end product also has emerged, the result of which makes multimedia one of the greatest challenges facing this visual creative community.
As it’s used in this article, multimedia is any final video product that incorporates the use of multiple or mixed mediums for storytelling, i.e., still photos, video, sound, music, graphic design and animation. While the medium has been called many things, at the end of the day, we aren’t creating glorified slideshows and we’re not creating television shows. We’re creating short-form web presentations with a variety of mixed media that enhance and further a story or experience.
Sound, music, stills and video—these are tools of the storyteller. The key to a strong multimedia piece is to make every single shot count. Every piece of footage must enlighten viewers in a way that carries them further along the arc of the specific story you’re trying to tell.
As a multimedia storyteller, you also face a new judgment—no longer are you just displaying a still image for criticism; you’re creating a product that’s judged by the same criteria as a still photo but also, and perhaps more so, for the entertainment factor that the short film provides. You’re part photographer, part filmmaker, but at the end of the day, you’re still a storyteller.
Capturing In The Field: Photos Vs. Motion Vs. Both
Multimedia can be assembled with just still images, with stills and video or with just video. Stills easily can come to life once you’re sitting at the computer and can be brought to life easily with captured sound or sound after the fact. For your first project, I recommend shooting all video, which will make the final assembly easier and help familiarize you with the postproduction interface.
Video works in ways that photographs do not. With the ability to capture motion, shots that haven’t typically worked for us as still photographers may now work for us as videographers. For instance, if you see a field of grass blowing in the wind, it now suddenly may work better under poor lighting than a still shot; additionally, this peaceful scene also furthers the experience of what it’s like being there, advancing the story.
There are general guidelines to keep in mind when shooting video with a DSLR. For maximum quality, a preferred ISO range of 100-300 is where I try to shoot. When shooting a long clip and leaving the live view window open for extended periods of time, the sensor begins to heat up, which is where noise comes from, and I’ve found it’s quick to appear after a series of long shots. When possible, try and give the sensor time to cool down. If you stick to these two rules, your noise levels and image quality should be relatively managed.
Another important factor to consider when shooting video is knowing your shutter speed. As photographers, we’re used to balancing our apertures with shutter speed, and many of us may shoot in aperture priority (I’m guilty). When shooting video, however, you’ll most likely want to shoot with shutter priority in mind. Typically, I shoot in manual mode, leaving the shutter speed at 1/60 sec., or as close to 1/60 sec. as possible that most emulates a true motion-picture film shutter rate. Faster than this, say, 1/200 sec., and you’ll get the Saving Private Ryan action-sequence effect, which is slightly jumpy and lacks fluidity, which could be good if made as a deliberate creative decision. Otherwise, the rich, creamy, film-looking imagery will come at 1/60 sec. and adjusting the aperture. Frequently, with broader scenes, my aperture is set to ƒ/5.6, which is a nice sweet spot for depth of field and balanced lighting.
Always remember to use the camera to record motion, not to create it. Your first outing, work on getting dynamic static shots with no camera motion like you would as a still photographer. For instance, set up the camera on a tripod, get near a flower in macro mode and wait for a bee to land and do its thing. Once you start recording, you’ll have some great footage. Handheld video quickly becomes a disaster, especially if you try panning movements.
Sound is an undertaking unto itself. While most cameras are set up for in-camera audio recording, it’s recommended to avoid using the internal mic due to the typically poor quality. The camera is there to capture high-quality imagery, first and foremost. If you intend to capture sound, look into an on-camera, external microphone that will clean up the quality of the audio significantly. Don’t underestimate the importance of sound—it easily can make or break a well-assembled multimedia project.
Crafting The Story
Shooting video and stills for a multimedia story is much different than trying to tell the whole story with stills. Think about a magazine article; you may have eight to 10 images to tell an in-depth story. Each image must capture an extensive amount of emotion, insight and complexity that captivates the viewer and carries the message of the piece. With multimedia, eight images often only will get you 20 seconds into a piece. Almost every photographer’s first attempts at multimedia result in undershooting. When in doubt, shoot, shoot, and shoot more—shoot everything and lots of it!
This is an opportunity to go a layer deeper with your storytelling, to share more images, more details and more complexity on a larger, longer scale. The addition of video only heightens that opportunity. While you should continue to look for those hero shots of storytelling like in a magazine article, you also should look for details that can connect one image to another. Images should relate to each other, and frequently you’ll find that images you may typically edit out in an editorial layout now suddenly will help further along the end product of your multimedia piece. Photographers must think differently.
When I shoot for editorial, I always approach it like the first lesson I received in film school, which I now find becoming even more relevant as a photographer. You’re given a list of shots, or coverage, that you need to get for every scene—the establishing shot, the portrait, the medium close-up, the close-up and the details or macro. This same approach is key to making a solid film.
The establishing shot is the wide angle. It’s the shot that sets the scene, lets the viewer understand the environment the story is about and introduces us to the world. The portrait and medium close-ups are the shots that introduce us to the individual characters; whether it’s the park ranger, a bumble bee or a flower, we now know who this is about. The close-up shots and details are for variety. They let you change the aspects of our characters, and we get to know them more personally, not just a bumble bee but perhaps a bee with pollen on the legs, not just a park ranger, but a park ranger with a wide smile who’s friendly. Work the scene, dig deep, and shoot every aspect from every angle to provide as much coverage as possible because you’ll need it all when it’s time to edit the materials into a finished product.
People get bored easily. To keep your audience engaged and interested, keep things tight. Less is more in multimedia, and the statistical tune-out of most viewers is around 2 minutes, 30 seconds. Any longer and you better have a compelling, award-winning production on your hands. Edit ruthlessly. Distill your story to the most basic elements that will illuminate the subject matter in as vibrant, but brief a way as possible. A good 30-second video is better than an average five-minute video.
While there are a variety of editing platforms available for amateurs and professionals alike, the leader in editing software is Apple Final Cut Pro, which is what I use. Editing software is available in stripped-down versions or full studio suites, which range in price and complexity.
Once you have all your acquired assets in one folder for the project, import them into Final Cut Pro, File > Import. This will give you a lightbox of sorts on the left-hand side that lists all of your still and video files. From there, it’s as simple as dragging them onto the timeline and beginning to move them around in a way that tells your story. While it gets infinitely more complex from here, this is a great place to start getting familiar with the environment. You also can import a music or soundtrack and drag that onto the same timeline, allowing you to get a feel for how the final vision might come together.
Every track in your Final Cut Pro sequence is another opportunity to enhance your story. Anyone can make a slideshow, but filmmaking is taking advantage of every element, from how one shot transitions into another to the music you choose to the sound effects you add. You easily can get carried away, and sometimes simple is better, but always be aware of the opportunities that you have and choose what’s appropriate rather than always heading in the same direction.
It’s an exciting time to be a photographer. Our roles as communicators, as storytellers, have expanded. It’s easy to feel inundated with all these new tools, but it’s what we’re already doing—expressing our emotions and visions and perceptions of the world around us. Now all we need to do is embrace the tools that will help us get there. No matter what you may think of multimedia, though, it’s evident that this new format of storytelling has arrived, has made itself at home and will be an indispensable tool in the future of photography and stories in the 21st century.
Ian Shive is a Los Angeles-based nature photographer and the cofounder of Wild Collective, a multimedia production company specializing in environmental storytelling. Visit www.waterandsky.com.