Photos and Videos and Photos from Videos

I’m a photographer originally.  I’ve been doing photography for clients from around the world for 30 years.  I’ve shot 7 covers for Newsweek Magazine, several for BusinessWeek, photographed the past three Prime Ministers of Singapore, and many CEOs including Bill Gates – twice.

I love photography.  But it is being overshadowed now by video.  In fact, video is kicking its butt all over the place.

We will have a few blogs in the future about the power of online video and back it up with all kinds of relevant statistics and quotes and such so that you all are convinced that every school in the world needs a series of videos (because they actually do).  But we’ll save that for another day.

This post is about shooting both video and photography – at the same time.

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Like I said, I started off as a photographer.  Photography was all about the “decisive moment” for me.  The exact moment when the child’s expression is perfect, the school campus is perfectly out of focus but still recognisable in the background, and the birds are chirping.  A moment of perfection.

But video isn’t like that.  Video is about a series of moments that are strung together to tell a bigger and longer and deeper story.  With interviews.  And music.  Although closely related, video and photography are not the same thing.  And they are hard to do at the same time.

When we first started our production company, we called it MotionPicturesAsia for a reason.  We shoot motion (video) and we shoot pictures (photography) and we do it in Asia.  Pretty straightforward, actually.  And we pride ourselves on being one of the only production companies that we know of that does both photography and video equally well.  But the actual execution of shooting both mediums at the same time was pretty challenging.  When we were shooting video, we’d miss those “decisive moments” that photography needs.  And when we were shooting photos, we’d miss some of the action sequences that video needs.  It would’ve been great to be able to shoot both at the same time.

And now we are doing just that – shooting both at the same time.

Enter 4k video.  4k is four times the resolution of HD video, what has been the industry standard up until now.  That means that each frame is four times the size.  Interestingly enough, each 4k video frame is about the same size file that we deliver our photos in.  In the past year, we traded in our trusty Canon HD video cameras and invested in MUCH better quality Sony 4k video cameras.  And I mean MUCH better quality.  So, now we just shoot video and then extract still photo frames from the video.  And they are beautiful quality with all the crispness and depth that we had gotten from our Canon still photo cameras.  The difference is that we don’t need to choose between shooting still photos and video, we can do both at the same time.

We recently shot this video for GESS in Singapore and were able to deliver the still photos in this article right from the video file:

There are a few small downsides to this approach that are important to understand.  These include:

  1. The resolution of the video/photo files is nowhere near as high as the resolution of the original photo files.  So, you can’t enlarge these photos up to the size of a wall.  But, honestly, when was the last time that you actually did that?  The video/photo files are perfect for all web uses as well as most print uses and look absolutely fantastic.  But they do have their size limitations.
  2. We can’t stop rapid action blur with the video/photo process.  Its too complicated to explain here, but the shutter speed of video is limited and can’t stop fast action like sports in the same way that photography can.  So we won’t be able shoot your next school sports day and extract photos from the video.  We’ll need to shoot on seperate cameras.  But we can still do that.
  3. You can’t shoot vertical photos.  Well, you can, and we’ve actually done so for both VISA and Uber in the past year, but its awkward.  And looks weird.  All of the photos that you’ll get from our video files will be horizontal.  There should be enough crop room to crop vertical photos from these that will still work for your website, though.  But by far the overwhelming majority use of photos today is on the web and most of those photos are horizontal.

All in all, the pros far outweigh the cons.  The time saved, the money saved, the “decisive moments” saved – you get the idea.  And one of the biggest advantages is this – your photos look exactly like your videos because they come from the same file.  Brand recognition across media platforms is a powerful thing for marketing.

We are thrilled with our new video-photo workflow and so are our clients.  It has already proven to give them much more content for their budget while keeping quality very high and capturing many of the fleeting shots that used to pass us by.

Using Eye Contact (Part 2): International School Bangkok Shows Off Its Internationalism

In Part 1 of this post, we explored how we can use direct eye contact with our viewers to connect with them in a way that a traditional off-camera interview just can’t.  We learned that video production techniques actually mimic how people communicate with each other on a daily basis.  If you are looking at me and looking into my eyes, I’m more likely to listen to the words that you are saying and the message that you are trying to communicate (teachers take note: recent studies suggest that despite what your students tell you, if they are not looking at you when you are speaking, they are actually texting their girlfriend!).

We’ve recently had the great pleasure of working with International School Bangkok (ISB) on a series of videos for their marketing and communications efforts.  After spending just a few days on their campus, ISB quickly became one of our favorite schools anywhere.  It combines world-class facilities with the tight knit community of a boarding school (even though it is a day school) because half of the student body lives in close proximity to the school.

When we were shooting their annual International Fair, we heard no less than 14 languages being spoken between friends and families.  And every one of the people holding the flags during the parade were actually from the country they were representing (its not every day you see the flag of Nepal being carried in a parade!).

One of the things that makes ISB so unique is that it celebrates its internationalism in deed and not just word.  ISB supports its native language speakers as well as its second language learners to a greater extent than any other school that we’ve ever seen.  I mean, who would’ve guessed that there would be an Urdu class in a school in the middle of Thailand?

So, how do you best communicate the unique nature of ISB’s internationalism and its support of so many languages in a video?  Stand back, and let it speak for itself.  Literally.  And that’s exactly what we did in this video:

In Part 1 of this post, I talked about our creative toolbox that we use in video production.  In this video we used three tools together to create a very simple but impactful video (sometimes, less is more!).  The most obvious tool that we used – and the one that this post is all about – is direct eye contact.  The subjects are confidently looking straight at the viewer and feeling very proud of their heritage, their nationality, and the languages that they speak.  But most of all they were proud of the fact that ISB celebrates and supports who they are as unique people making up an incredibly international community.

They are not looking off camera speaking to an interviewer.  They are speaking to you!  They want to communicate with you!  And they want to communicate in their own language.

The second tool that we pulled out of our creative toolbox was audio.  Its sounds so obvious to that that but it is often overlooked.  Its been said that you can have a good video without good pictures, but not without good audio.  Audio is at least 50% or more of the success of any given video.  Here, we used very simple audio – in several different languages – to draw the viewer in to read what the subtitles in English were saying (unless you happen to be one of the very few people in the world that actually speak all of these languages…).  We’ve got your attention now.  The viewer needs to pay attention to not only what is being heard – the foreign language – but also to what is being written in the subtitles.  I don’t have statistics to back this up, but my guess is that most people view this video several times.  Which is a good thing.

The third tool that we used, I’d like to say was long in the planning, was very expensive, and is a high tech tool that few know how to operate.  But I’d be lying.

It was a simple piece of black felt that we happened to find hanging on the wall in the room that we were about to shoot in.  It was a total fluke.  And it saved our butt.  We were shooting several videos back to back in a very short timeframe and we needed to somehow make this languages video feel and look different than the other videos we were shooting that day (one on arts and one on athletics, two of the best ones that we’ve this year…  I say humbly…).  So we used a large softbox light and shot the kids against the black felt.  We took away anything else that would distract the viewer from listening intently to the multiple languages that they were about to hear and the connection that they were about to make with some very talented kids from around the world.

Sometimes, less is more. 

Our creative toolbox is vast.  And there’s a lot of cool stuff in there.  Eye contact is only one of them.  Hold on tight while we explore some of the other tools that we use in future posts.

Using Eye Contact (Part 1): Give Your Video Greater Impact

Its often been said that we speak with our eyes, not with our mouth.  When we talk to someone – or listen to them – we naturally look into their eyes, not at their mouth.  The eyes are the entrance to the soul and its what we use to connect with people.

This is true for video production as well because video production is all about connecting with people, with your audience.

Exactly where the subject is looking is critically important as it sets up the rest of the video for the viewer.  Their eye direction tells the viewer who they are talking to and what kind of conversation this is going to be.  Is the subject looking at and talking to an interviewer that is sitting off camera somewhere?  If so, then the viewer is being invited to listen in on their conversation.  Its a comfortable place to be for the viewer because they are just invited to listen and not required to react or respond.

This is the most common form of video interview and we have many examples of this, including this video that we did several years ago for Woodstock School in India:

As a video production company, MotionPicturesAsia has a creative toolbox that we use to produce the best content that we can for our clients.  All tools have specific applications and not every one works in every situation in the same way.  So let’s look at another tool we have that might connect our viewers with our subject in a more impactful way – eye contact.

“When we talk to someone – or listen to them – we naturally look into their eyes”

In normal day to day life, when someone is looking directly at us and talking to us, it is hard to ignore them.  And we are generally required to not only listen, but to listen well.  Think of the difference of when a teacher is talking to an entire class generally or when he or she is talking to a specific student.  If you are that specific student, you’d better listen up!

The same is true for video production.  When the subject in the video is looking right at the camera (and therefore right at the viewer) they tend to connect more with the viewer because there’s a subconscious feeling that what they are talking about is more important.  Think of newscasters.  They hold the mic up to their mouth and look directly at the viewer.  The news is important and the eye contact gets your attention.

Take a look at another video that we did for Woodstock School and take note of how different you feel watching it as compared to the first one:

The students are talking to ME!  I feel a personal connection with them right from the first subject.  I want to get to know them a bit more.  They look interesting, they come from all over the world and have different accents from mine.  And guess what?  They actually ARE talking to me!  They are inviting me to become a student of Woodstock School (and I actually was a student of Woodstock School in the 80’s, but that’s a whole other story…).  And they are inviting me personally.  They are looking at me and talking right to me.  They are trying to make a connection.  And then, at the end of the video, the entire school (well, most of the school at least) is welcoming me to their school!  How can I refuse an invitation like that?

And guess what?  It worked!

We launched this video for Woodstock several years ago during our first series of productions for the school.  A few months ago, we were invited back to start work on a second series of videos for the school.  And something really surprising happened.  Students and teachers alike stopped us in the hallways and on the mountain paths (Woodstock is 7000 feet up in the Himalayas in India) and said, “Your videos are the reason that I’m here”.

We were humbled by the response but we were amazed when we asked for details – every single one of the people that we spoke with said that this student recruitment video was by far the most impactful and the one they remember the most.  Why?  Because it felt like the students were speaking to them personally.

“Connection.  Its what not only video production, but much of life, is all about.”

Stay tuned for a future post where we will share another example of how we used eye contact to create more impact in a video for International School Bangkok.  In the meantime, let us know what you think.  Share your experience and thoughts in the comments below.  We’d love to hear from you.