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Mitch Aunger runs the extremely-popular Planet 5D community. Founded around the advent of HDSLRs, the site has evolved over the years to not only being a host to reviews and news, but also aggregating lots of the cultural changes within the HDSLR community, and interviewing top professionals.
We recently had the chance to squeeze some time in with Mitch to ask him a couple of questions about HDSLR culture, and lots more.
B&H: If you could point out the four most important changes which a photographer jumping into the world of video would have to adapt to, what would they be?
Mitch: There are many similarities, but there are plenty of differences as well, so it can be easy for a photographer to pick up video. Maybe a little easier than someone starting from scratch, because a good photographer already knows framing and what looks good in lighting. But that doesn’t answer the question—ha! The obvious big ones are motion and sound—things photographers don’t ever think about (except when something is moving too fast to freeze). Sound is probably the hardest to learn—it has nothing to do with what you’ve already learned—and sound is about 50% of great video (though most people don’t even think about it).
The other two would be focusing on moving objects, and controlling light. Movie makers don’t know anything about autofocus! First, there isn’t one good enough, and even if there were, it would take a long time for any pro to trust it. There are guys whose sole job is to focus (called a focus puller), and they’re incredibly skilled in the pro ranks. The other thing that many photogs aren’t used to doing, unless they’re studio photographers, is controlling the light. After being on some movie sets and watching the Director of Photography spend hours on getting the lights just right, you learn just how crafty (and picky) they can be about the light falling in a scene. Compare something like the TV show “Castle”—where the DP does an excellent job of crafting the lighting—to a sitcom where the whole scene is lit as if it is a stage play, and you’ll see what amazing differences there can be. Sure, photographers are used to seeing light, but they usually are reacting to it, not crafting it (with some exceptions of course).
I’ll throw in a bonus: Usually, photographers are solo individuals, whereas working in video is most often a team endeavor—very different!
B&H: What should these professionals and users know about the differences in exporting videos for YouTube and Vimeo, or perhaps burning DVDs and sending files to clients?
Mitch: First, I’m not in any way an expert on answering this in detail, especially since—as I noted in the previous question—video is often a team sport. Many teams have an expert on coloring (grading) or editing the final video. The cameraman usually isn’t the editor, unless you’re a one-man band. I’ve done very little in terms of editing for final release to a customer. But I can say that this is a skill that will take a while to learn. (Which is one reason why I’m not an expert—ha!) My advice would be to hire someone if possible, and if not, be prepared to spend a good deal of time learning, as it is as difficult to learn as it was to learn the differences in printers and color spaces etc., in photography.
B&H: You’ve interviewed lots of different professionals before, during live video sessions for your readers. From the insight that you’ve gathered in your conversations, what feedback could you provide to someone looking to identify and sharpen their creative vision.
Mitch: I think that it really isn’t much different than photography. When you’re learning the craft, you study what others have done: you read books, surf the ‘net,' find people you admire and study them. Creativity is hard for me; I’m more of a reactionary photographer, and a solo kind of guy. It is hard for me to come up with stories for making movies or shorts. If you’re like me, this is, once again, where teamwork comes in. Find someone whom you admire, someone who tells great stories, and make a new friend. Learn from them. Ask them to mentor you or to help you work on your next project.
B&H: What essential pieces of gear does one need in order to be serious about their videography? Follow focuses? Tripods? Monopods, etc.?
Mitch: Need? None. Really. Look at some of the work being done by the expensive wedding photogs. In many cases, they’re still just shooting with the camera handheld. Okay, some use a strap around the neck to steady the camera against the body. Sure, you can do some great things with sliders and the low-priced steadicam knockoffs.
It all depends on what you’re trying to do with video. If you’re going to be a “pro,” sometimes you have to look like a pro. You don’t want to walk into a customer's site with just a camera, with no gear. They’re likely going to think you don’t know what you’re doing! Sometimes the gear gives the air of professionalism (dare I say it?).
I don’t do lots of outside shooting, but when I do, I take my Manfrotto monopod and my Canon EOS 5D Mark II, and either a Rode mic or a Zoom external mic. That does it for 90% of what I need. But we're not all the same—each of us has our own way of working, and the miscellaneous gear depends on your style and your professional needs.
Most serious video folks have good sturdy sticks, a rail system of some kind to mount a follow focus, and maybe a matte box for filters and shade. If you’re going to shoot outdoors, you’ll have to have a Neutral Density filter (ND) to cut down some of the light, in order to get the shutter speeds you need for video.
B&H: What creative and gear-related trends are you seeing in the industry right now? For example, lots of people seem to love time lapses.
Mitch: Funny you ask about time lapses—recently I’ve seen a backlash on twitter about them. Some people are tired of shorts that are only time lapses. However, whenever I post one of the better ones on the blog, it gets plenty of traffic. If you look around at TV in the US, you’ll see time lapses all over the place—between scenes, intros to shows, etc.
B&H: It seems that lots of people on Vimeo are also adapting various vintage lenses to their cameras. What makes older glass more appealing than newer lenses?
Mitch: Excellent question. I’m not sure I’d say older glass is always more appealing. It's just that in some situations—and in the hands of the right shooter—glass can bring such interesting qualities to a scene. It is more intriguing, I think, because of tools like Instagram; there’s a resurgence in the older look and feel for photos.
There was big interest last year in one that was 102 years old. And let me tell you, that lens in the hands of most people just wouldn’t look that good. The photog, Timur Civan, was in NYC, and made some amazing photos that got people excited. If I’d taken those shots, I’m not convinced anyone would have cared, as I don’t see things with the same eye. I just posted a story about a 110-year-old lens, and though it has some great looks to it, it just didn’t blow people away as Timur’s images did.
The second aspect of that whole issue is that you’ve got to find a way to mount the old lens to the current bodies—and that takes someone with special skills, to whom most of us don’t have access. Many of us will end up just using special filters or plug-ins in our editing suite, to fake it.
Thanks for asking!
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of B&H Photo, Video, Pro Audio