How Still Photographers Turn to Video, Using a Single Camera

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There is a shift under way that could change photojournalism. Digital single-lens reflex cameras (DSLR) now capture high-definition video, and top photographers are using them with amazing success.

National Press Photographers Association President Bob Carey tells me, “I believe that DSLRs are becoming the standard in the camera industry, and the ability of shooting video will become a necessity for photojournalists. I’ve heard more photojournalists say that they are being asked to shoot video, and these new cameras just add to the expectation of the editors.”

One of the most talked-about DSLR videographers is Danfung Dennis, who has been getting a lot of attention for his documentary about the war in Afghanistan, “Battle for Hearts and Minds.”

He writes in his blog about the DSLR camera he used to photograph the documentary and its benefits and shortcomings, including the “unprecedented image quality” and how he addressed issues with audio and stabilization.

Photojournalist Ami Vitale recently made the move to video using her Nikon D300s. The results were stunning. (See video here.)

Vitale is a still photographer with a portfolio that includes work for National Geographic, Newsweek, Geo and Smithsonian. She has won awards from NPPA, the South Asian Journalists Association and others.

I asked her about her first video outing using an SLR camera and what she thinks this suggests about how photojournalists will work in the future. Our edited exchange follows.

Al Tompkins: As a longtime still photographer, what surprised you most about working with video?

Ami Vitale: I was surprised by how it opens the possibilities for powerful storytelling. I think I was heavily influenced by TV video news shows, and I am now realizing that this is nothing like that. We have a whole new medium here with unimaginable opportunities. I can tell compelling stories with more tools, and these tools can be used artfully, poetically and in a compelling way.

What is the advantage of working with an SLR camera versus a more traditional video camera?

Vitale: There are a few for me. First, I travel to remote places, so the weight and amount of gear is the same as when I was a still photographer. Carrying a whole other setup with a video camera was often not physically possible. Secondly, I like the variety of lenses I can use that can give the video a more cinematic feel. I can use perspective lenses, long lenses, wide lenses etc., depending on the mood I want to create.

How does working in video change the way you think about light, sequences and motion?

Vitale: Video as a medium is quite Zen like. It forces still photographers to plan more, be more patient and to think about the story in a tangential way. The principles are the same but one needs to wait longer, hold shots and get a variety of angles and perspectives to make it flow. The sequences are important, so it is a bit more time-consuming. I’m still learning about motion, but video does not change the way I think about light. Light is always one of the most important aspects to powerful photography, and it’s no different with video.

Why are you experimenting with video?

Vitale: This is the best time to be a photo journalist. We have more tools available than ever before and we also have an audience bigger than anytime in the history of mankind. It’s powerful, and I’d like to harness these tools and use them to communicate and create understanding in a complex world where messages are so easily misunderstood. I see this as a wonderful time to exploit all these tools for the power of good!

Disclosure: Both Canon and Nikon supply cameras and lenses to The Poynter Institute for use in our seminars.

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