On a recent shoot for Klean Kanteen, I noticed my stills were insanely similar to the shots my friend captured for the video he was shooting. This made me wonder: will video replace still photography at some point and make my job obsolete?
I talked about this with my colleague Mark a bit during our downtime on that job. Fun fact is we even ended up sequencing our shots pretty much in the exact same non-chronological order to best tell the story we were shooting that day. When I got back home I did a little more searching on the topic, basically what is comes down to is this:
- It should first be established whether or not photos still have a place in the modern media landscape. Videos appear to be better for engagement on social media and telling stories through Youtube videos seems to work wonders. I feel that photos still have a place in this day and age though, for a number of reasons. First of all: print. Until some sort of magical paper is invented, photos are still the only option for real life advertising and storytelling. Of course print media like newspapers and magazines are in some rough weather, but they still require quality photography. In addition, for all marketing materials from billboards to workbooks to flyers to catalogs, photography is needed. But that’s just offline. Online as well, photos can help illustrate articles, provide users with content and profile photos for social media, be used for marketing on brand websites, the list goes on and on.
- On a somewhat more abstract level, I would argue that photography and video can function in vastly different manners when employed in storytelling. Photography can paint a picture with a single image like a striking portrait of a person or the peak of action in sports captured in one frame. It is a quick way to instantly make an impression that video isn’t able to. Viewers would have to click play and spend some time watching a video that was edited, has music added to it and such – all of which take time in production, compared to shooting just the single photo. Interestingly enough, somewhat contrasting the point just made, at the same time, photography can slowly paint a picture with multiple images. Video will always be just a single self-containing entity, while photography can build a story through a series of separate photos, in a blog post for instance.
- With the need for photography justified, we should investigate if shooting video can somehow take care of the still photography part simultaneously, by pulling stills from video footage. Killing two birds with one stone so to speak, or as we say in Holland: kill two flies in one blow. There’s one major factor in play here: shutter speed. Video is typically shot at a shutter speed equal to twice the frame rate. A conventional 30 frames per second video is composed of ‘photos’ shot at 1/60s shutter speed. This relatively slow shutter speed is essential for making a video pleasant to watch, the resulting motion blur makes for a smooth image. This is why when you pause a video and make a screenshot, the image is never quite as sharp as a photo. This also means that when taking stills from a photo, no matter how high-resolution that video is, it’ll simply never be properly sharp. An alternative could be to shoot at high speed, but this would require a large amount of light on set and vast amounts of storage. While the storage requirements can be solved, the additional light required makes this approach unfeasible for the majority of non-staged shoots.
- Now even if this major problem could somehow be solved, this still leaves us with another hurdle: the sheer amount of time required to pull the perfect still from video footage. When shooting at 30 frames per second, just analysing a short 10 second video would mean looking at 300 frames. These frames would all be very similar, making it hard to distinguish between them and pick just the right one. In fact, this culling process is something a photographer normally takes care of in real life, by only shooting frames at the optimal moment. This recognising of the best moments is a skill learned through experience, and though the success rate will never be as high as when pulling stills from a video, the amount of time required is vastly smaller. The question then becomes: does being able to capture and pick the exact right moment justify the enormous amount of time required for doing so? I would argue that for the majority of purposes the answer is no, especially so since that perfect frame will probably only be marginally better than the stills captured by a photographer. In the end this’ll come down to a financial decision: do the hours a videographer spends pulling the best frames offset the money saved by not hiring a photographer? Of course this is purely hypothetical due to the issue with shutter speed, in most cases.
Finally let me conclude this investigation by saying that I love video and do not wish to disqualify it in any way whatsoever. Some of my biggest sources of inspiration have been storytelling videos and series. In the end I feel that shooting both video and photography is oftentimes the best approach for brands, allowing them to distribute content through all media and be as versatile as possible.