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Sports Photography

I’m sure I don’t have to tell anyone that there are fewer staff jobs — at newspapers, magazines, and wire services — than there used to be. And in the face of even more cuts, we’ve been impressed to see former staffers adroitly shift gears to freelance editorial, commercial work, collaboration with NGOs, and the fine-art and wedding markets. Some, like David Leeson, capitalized on video skills. Lots, like Sol Neelman, are doing a little of everything, hustling to keep a personal project going.

Leaving a job is always scary. Being forced to give up a steady paycheck and health insurance for the insecurity of owning your own business can be especially hard. Yet we’ve heard many inspiring stories of people coming together to work through this transition, including the recent VJ Workshops, Pro Photo Network, and Wéyo.

We decided to do our part too, by developing this online home for resources, stories, and discussion about this sea change for photojournalism and photography in general.

Although no one has all the answers, together we can find them — which is why your participation in this “After Staff” project is so important. Our “Experts of the Day” are available to answer questions, but if you don’t ask, they won’t know how to help. Over 20 photographers have shared their experiences in our “Group Therapy” section; by adding your own to the comments, you’ll undoubtedly be helping someone else. And even with five days of posts, we know there are things we’re forgetting.

So please comment, ask, discuss, and reach out. We’re here to help you help each other.

Click here for descriptions and links to all “After Staff” posts.

Feel free to email RESOLVE editor Miki Johnson with any suggestions or questions.

You’ve packed up your boxes and hopefully made off with most of your images, too. One of the first things to decide is how to share them with the world — especially potential clients. A website is pretty much required, but do you need a physical book too? Should you focus on single images or stories? Diversity or a unique vision?

John Kaplan
, who wrote Photo Portfolio Success and has had impressive success with his own portfolio over the years, is here to answer your questions. Leave a question in the comments section, along with your website if you have one, and he’ll respond asap, also in the comments, so others can benefit from the good advice.

John Kaplan
John Kaplan is one of America’s most accomplished narrative photographers, having been awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Photography, POY National Newspaper Photographer of the Year, the Overseas Press Club Award, two Robert F. Kennedy Awards, and the Nikon Documentary Sabbatical Grant. He is also the author of Photo Portfolio Success, which helps photographers edit to their strengths and prepare stunning portfolios that eliminate doubt in the minds of editors, buyers and contest judges.

A full professor at the University of Florida and a Fulbright Scholar, John teaches throughout the world and has twice been named a juror for the Pulitzer Prizes. His work has appeared in LIFE, The New York Times, American Photo and numerous book annuals.

John’s work is exhibited at museums and galleries worldwide including solo exhibitions in the United States, Peru, Bolivia and Korea as well as shows in the United Kingdom, France, Japan, Korea, Canada, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand. His project on survivors of torture in West Africa was awarded the Overseas Press Club Award for Feature Photography and the Harry Chapin Media Award; the United Nations used the work to help facilitate contact with the victims.

Presently, John is directing and producing his first feature length film, the autobiographical Not As I Pictured: A Pulitzer Prize-winning Photographer’s Journey Through Lymphoma.

Click here for a list of all other “After Staff” posts.

Photographer Sol Neelman left a staff job at The Oregonian in 2007 after ten years as a newspaper photojournalist. Although he’s won a Pulitzer and been honored twice by POYi, Sol does not claim to be an expert at the “After Staff” transition — and that’s exactly why I wanted to share his story. Burnt out on low-paid editorial, exploring commercial and wedding, and pursuing the personal project he’s passionate about, Sol echoes the experiences of almost every photographer I talked to for this project.
©Sol Neelman

One of Sol's Redneck Games images, which ran in National Geographic. ©Sol Neelman

Miki Johnson: So tell me what you’ve been working on now.

Sol Neelman: I’ve been working on a long-term project, photographing weird sports and the culture of sports around the world. Recently, I photographed dog surfing in San Diego, pro wrestling in Mexico, the Lumberjack World Champs in Wisconsin, and bike polo in Seattle. Up next is a prison rodeo in Oklahoma.

I try to keep myself busy with fun sporting events. It’s an excuse to travel, which is one of my addictions. Along the way I’ll do some traditional sports, such as The Beijing Olympics and college football. I just went to my first Cubs game at Wrigley and photographed the fans in the bleachers. That was fun.

My goal is to get this work published in a book. Ideally it would encompass everything in sports – not just weird sports. It doesn’t need to be the Redneck Games to be good. But the Redneck Games were pretty good.

As far as work, last year I did a commission piece for a developer for whom I photographed downtown Portland for a year. They hung my photographs in the lobby and on each floor of their new building, which ironically is located right across the street from The Oregonian. I’ve also been doing work for Nike and a local bank, plus some weddings. Things are kind of hit or miss, so I try to stay busy with my own project to fill the time.

I’m still trying to figure out how to expose myself to more advertising firms. I recently signed up with Adbase and plan to contact firms that seem like a good fit. At the same time, I’m really trying hard to steer away from editorial clients, just because their rates are so low.

“When the New York Times is paying $200 day rates, you can’t make a living off that.” More »

We asked a wide variety of former staff photographers the same question, and here’s what they told us. Please share your own stories — as you can see, you’re not alone. Follow the “more” link to see all photographers. Click here for more “After Staff” posts.

  • How long were you a staff photographer and where? Did you think you’d be a staffer for life? What is the biggest difference between what you’re doing now and what you were doing as a staffer?

Jason Arthurs
If you combine my 2 years of internships with 4 years as a full-time staffer, then it’s a total of 6 years I was in newspapers. I don’t think I could ever see myself doing it forever. It was an amazing time in my life but it was so much of a roller-coaster ride I never really felt totally in control of what I chose to focus my energy on.

This summer I have been given several opportunities to teach that I would not have had if I were still at the newspaper. I taught a week-long workshop for North Carolina high school journalism students, and helped coach two documentary projects through the University of North Carolina. For one class I spent one month in the Galapagos Islands helping edit a multimedia project shot by students and it was an amazing experience and I would not have been able to get the time off work to do something like that at the newspaper.

David Walter Banks
I was a newspaper staff photographer for a year and a half, before which I interned for a newspaper for eight months. When I began, I planned to stay in the newspaper business for an indefinite amount of time, but I did hope to work for myself at some point. However, as I spent more time in the newspaper world, it became evident that not only was it not the place for me, the industry itself seemed to be falling quickly into turmoil.

I now shoot for a number of national and international magazines; I’m part of a successful wedding photography business; I helped found the photographic cooperative Luceo Images; and I’ve begun to move toward more commercial work. I would say that the biggest difference is that I now feel that I’m controlling my own destiny in relation to the path my career is taking, as well as the images I produce.

Kendrick Brinson
I had two internship and two jobs at newspapers from 2005 to 2009. Once I discovered my love for photojournalism toward the end of college, I thought I would work at a newspaper for life. My mother worked as a writer at The State newspaper for more than 20 years so it seemed like an exciting yet solid career. After about a year and a half working for newspapers, my attitude toward them slowly shifted as I watched friends lose their jobs and their enthusiasm.

I am very busy now. I work with some of my favorite photographers in Luceo Images, doing personal projects and editorial work for major newspapers and magazines. I also photograph weddings with my partner David Walter Banks under Our Labor of Love. Now I am spending more time working on marketing and researching stories that I want to tell, and less time looking for heat features to fill holes in an-ever thinning newspaper.

Bob Croslin
I was a staffer at the Tampa Tribune from 1996 to 1999, a multimedia producer at from 1999 to 2001 and a picture editor and staff photographer at the St. Petersburg Times from 2002 to 2006. I didn’t think I’d be a newspaper staffer for life because I saw first-hand how much the business of journalism was changing when I went to work at MSNBC. I didn’t think there would be newspaper staff positions by 2004 or 2005. Turns out I was about 5 years off.

I’m an editorial and commercial photographer specializing in produced portraiture based in the Tampa Bay area. The biggest difference is that I used to be one part of an organization and now I AM the organization. I’m the photographer, the marketing dept, the accounting dept, the IT dept, the archivist — and I do it mostly by myself.

Pouya Dianat
These days my work schedule is whenever the Braves play. I had a great working relationship with the team while I was at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and they’ve allowed me a lot of creative freedom thus far. The night’s they’re out of town, I’m firmly planted behind my MacPro, editing away.

I don’t think my photography has changed, but I am enjoying my photography a lot more since going freelance. I’m exploring every outlet that I’m interested in, while still applying the same vision I have to the work I did at newspapers. A lot of the ideas I have won’t work, maybe my idea falls apart in the studio, but I learn from the experience.

Not everyone affected by the newspaper decline is in their mid-40’s with a family to support. For those of us fortunate enough to be free from those more important responsibilities, this is a prime opportunity to do whatever we want. I’ve told a lot of students that I’ve spoken to that the next phase of photography is finding something you LOVE and applying photography to it. More »

Starting something new almost always means doing some research. We’ve tried to make the job a little easier by pulling together several resources, including books, blogs, and RESOLVE contributors. This list is obviously not exhaustive, so we welcome your additions in the comments and will add them as they come up. Click here for a list of all other “After Staff” posts.

Running your own business

  • Freelance Switch – A slightly cheeky but highly informative online resource for all kinds of freelancers
  • Seeing Money – Column from RESOLVE contributor Doug Menuez outlining basic business principles for photographers

Time management

Building a website

  • What Photo Buyers Want – Photoshelter’s survey of 550 art buyers, determining what they like and don’t in photographers’ websites.

Professional organizations

  • APA – Advertising Photographers of America
  • ASMP – American Society of Media Photographers
  • EP – Editorial Photographers
  • NPPA – National Press Photographers Association
  • PPA -Professional Photographers of America
  • SAA – Stock Arts Alliance
  • WPJA – Wedding Photojournalist Association
  • WPPI – Wedding & Portrait Photographers International
  • We recognize an emphasis on US organizations here, so please check out this nicely annotated, more international list too.

Doug Menuez launched his personal blog, Go Fast, Don’t Crash, in March after receiving an overwhelming response to an article he wrote for Editorial Photographers about building a creatively satisfying life as a photographer. During his 28 years in the industry, Doug has achieved incredible success in the documentary and commercial realm, and he shares what he’s learned in this “Seeing Money” column.
©Doug Menuez

The rare, endangered Oryx are making a comeback in the desert near Dubai because, unlike most photographers, they've learned to master cash flow. ©Doug Menuez

Setting aside the technical skills, the perfect portfolio, the eye, the heart, and the soul that are all so important if you’re going to be a photographer, let’s focus on what you’ll need to be a financially independent photographer. That means setting up a well-organized small business operation that can support your creative endeavors. And the first thing to consider with a business — before the branding, marketing, or anything — is the money. Where will it come from, where will it go, and how much will you need at what times. Whether you’re thinking about launching your first business or already have one, the following information will help you stay solvent and sane.

“The first thing to consider is the money — where will it come from, where will it go, and how much will you need.”

First, make a plan
The most important thing to do when you’re creating (or updating) a business is to create a business plan. Even something simple will help, and you can find them all over the internet. Basically, you want to create a projection of your cash flow over your next five years. Where is the income coming from? What will your expenses be? How are these both likely to change over the years? Who is your competition?

I know it’s hard to make yourself sit down and do this; I didn’t when I first started and eventually things turned out ok — but I learned some hard lessons. When I finally made a plan, all my decisions were based on my defined goals. I could measure my progress and thereby gained tremendous control over my life and career. The following suggestions will ideally become part of your larger business plan, but they can also be helpful taken on their own.

What kind of business are you?
You’ll need to decide if you want to set up a sole proprietorship, a general (or C) corporation, an S corporation, or a limited liability corporation (LLC). To decide which is right for you, you’ll need to consult with a lawyer, and he’s probably going to want to see a business plan. If a lawyer isn’t an option, there is good information online and at the library, but also consider finding a business-savvy friend to lend their advice.

Yes, you need to learn bookkeeping
It’s best to handle bookkeeping yourself at first, so when you start to grow and hire a real bookkeeper you’ll understand what they are doing and can direct them. Google “bookkeeping” or find a simple text book. Buy Quickbooks or a similar software and read the manual — it’s a pretty good tutorial. Make a Chart of Accounts: a list of income and expense accounts allowing you to track monies flowing in and out. Expense accounts are divided by expenses required to do business, known as Cost of Good Sold, which include anything you spend on production, and Fixed Expenses, which include things that are regular overhead costs like studio rent, insurance, payroll and telephone.

Set up a file cabinet with folders for corresponding expense accounts to keep the paid bills. Once that’s done, create your first projected budget, which will include your best guesses on income and expenses. As you enter the actual expenses and income and review that information, you will really start to learn what small business is all about.

“As you review your income and expenses, you’ll start to really learn what a small business is all about.”

Make reports for Accounts Receivable and Accounts Payable, and set up alerts for when they are 30, 60, and 90 days old. It’s so important to establish a routine where you review your bills and reports on a regular basis so you know what is happening with your business every day. For instance, you should be checking your A/R to determine which are older than 30 days so you can follow up for collection. Never, ever be late on credit-reporting vendors like credit cards.

Make your computer work for you
You’ll also need software to help you run your business. I’ve always used a customized version of Filemaker that incorporates a number of subset databases such as a contact manager and an estimating and billing module. Usually the invoices are then entered by hand into our bookkeeping software, but there are some programs that have bookkeeping built in. And some bookkeeping software such as Quickbooks allow you to make invoices.

If you can find a very cheap standalone  program that does everything, great. Otherwise, I recommend keeping it simple with Quickbooks for invoicing and bill paying. Set aside a clear place for incoming bills (some people like an accordion folder), and schedule a time every two weeks where you enter all the bills into Quickbooks. I’ve been told I’m crazy for this, but I also created a spreadsheet in Excell where I can export my important data in a special format that allows me to analyze it more easily. Details on my blog. Once a month you will also need to reconcile your bank accounts. This is not as horrible as it sounds. I have found online banking to be pretty good now, and often bank systems will link directly to Quickbooks.

Where is the money?
Your biggest problem starting out will be cash flow. It’s important to get paid quickly for your first jobs, to pay your vendors quickly so you don’t damage your credit, and always pay yourself first. The temptation is to keep funneling cash back into the business, but if you don’t pull out money for yourself and your retirement from day one, you never will. Incorporate Paychex and put yourself on payroll. Make sure your paycheck includes enough for savings and auto-deduct to an IRA.

Because cash flow is hard at first, you should have enough saved up to cover your overhead, including projected taxes, savings, and marketing costs, for six months, or at least three if you are super-confident. On a regular basis, look at your bank balance and calculate if you’ll have enough to pay your vendors over the next two months — remember that “The check’s in the mail” is ALWAYS a lie. Try to set up accounts with your main vendors that allow you to pay up to 30 days out. If you are really tight, call your vendors and negotiate for more time. It’s better to stay in close contact with them about problems, with a note, a call, a bottle of wine…

Find a good accountant
Finally, you need an accountant who understands all the ins and outs of photography in case you get audited. It may seem unlikely, but I’ve been audited four times and it all went very well because I always report my income. I believe in paying my share to keep the system going, however imperfect. Taxes suck — get over it. It’s a sign you are making a living and that’s a good thing.

Be Part of the RESOLUTION: Doug is eager to hear what questions you’d like him to answer. What do you wish you knew more about in regard to running a photography business?

RESOLVE contributor Ed Kashi sent me some notes last week from his recent trip to the Niger Delta about the creative differences between shooting video and stills. This is an evolution many photographers are going through right now, so I decided to ask a few other multitaskers to share their thoughts. Please share your own experience with stills vs. video in the comments!
Ed Kashi – Ed has integrated video with his documentary photography for years, but recently shot his first video-only project.

1. How much do you shoot video compared with stills?

I have been working on a film in the Niger Delta, and although I’ve been shooting video for the past nine years, this is the first time I’ve shot a complete film without any stills.

2. What tools do you use to shoot video?

When I contemplated shooting this film in the Niger Delta, one of the toughest places I’ve worked, where most people don’t want to have any kind of camera pointed at them unless you explain yourself or you pay them, I was initially considering using the Canon 5D Mark II in video mode, thinking it would make me less conspicuous. That was a silly thought. In the end, I decided to work with a great standard definition video camera for excellent sound and none of the unresolved issues in video with the 5D.

3. What is the biggest difference for you between shooting video and stills?

Whereas still photography resides in the fractional moments, video lives in whole moments and complete segments. Keeping the editor’s needs in mind, you must provide sustained coverage with video, instead of pecking away at the fractional moments with your still camera. This can be a killer on your back, neck and/or wrist. The physical strain shooting video is definitely increased, at least for me since I work quite light, with one camera and one lens, when I shoot stills. With stills I am also slavishly dealing with the light, beholden to it’s patterns, moods and dictates. Light is important with video too, but I can still make a compelling video in almost any light. Then of course there is audio. I often ponder situations in terms of the audio it will render, what it will say and how it helps shape the narrative.

4. How do your still and video work influence each other?

Shooting stills is more torturous mentally but ultimately more deeply satisfying. I am a photographer at heart. Video is interesting, vital, challenging, relevant and captivating, but photographs are sacred to me in a way that video is not. It has something to do with my long relationship to photography, but more metaphysically, it relates to the stillness, the quiet and meditative quality of still images. No matter how enveloping and captivating video can be, there is an essential truth in still images for me. And I am finding that I miss working with my images — looking, editing, thinking about them, sending them to friends and family. They are much easier to move around, share and work with.

Bill Frakes – Bill has always mixed it up, but has been stepping it up lately with lots of great videos for Sports Illustrated and his many clients.

1. How much do you shoot video compared with stills?

It totally depends on what I’m working on. I’m just finishing a short documentary now that is entirely video. I’ve directed music videos and television spots for years. Usually I let the subject matter make the decision for me about the amount of video vs. stills that I’ll shoot.

2. What tools do you use to shoot video?

I shoot primarily with the Nikon D90, which allows me to switch between video and stills very easily. I have several professional-level video cameras, but the optics I can use with the D90 makes it a superior choice. I gather audio separately and I have had the D90s modified so they can accept outboard microphones.

3. What is the biggest difference for you between shooting video and stills?

From a physical standpoint, shooting video requires a tripod — otherwise it’s just not going to look good. From a photographic standpoint, composition still rules, but what works for each is totally different.

4. How do your still and video work influence each other?

My video and still work is totally in sync. Each is meant to enhance the other.

Guy Rhodes – Steeped in lighting and film techniques, Guy shoots a lot of independent films plus still images to keep his eyes fresh.

1. How much do you shoot video compared with stills?

The majority of my work over the past five years has been video-related, much of it in the independent film market. I shoot stills in my downtime to supplement my income and to keep my creative eye fresh. Over the past month, I’ve been out on three independent short film shoots, two as the director of photography and one as a Steadicam operator. I also had a handful of still shoots. Shooting video and stills at the same time is not generally required by my clients. Most hire me for one or the other, as they understand that trying to do video and stills at the same time often results in both suffering to some degree. The two mediums require different thought processes, and it’s very challenging to go between the two and do it well, especially in a deadline situation.

2. What tools do you use to shoot video?

I shoot on a Panasonic SDX900 for much of my independent film work. I’ve also shot several indie films on the Panasonic DVX100, which records in 24p, but on the more affordable MiniDV format. The short film I ran Steadicam on last month shot with Canon’s new 5D Mark II cameras. It was pretty exciting shooting HD video on a full-frame SLR, being able to use very wide aperture lenses to emulate the shallow depth of field of the 35mm motion picture format. For the rare instances that 24p is not required, I shoot on my Sony VX2000 MiniDV.

3. What is the biggest difference for you between shooting video and stills?

One large difference between shooting video and stills for me is lighting. Still images are pretty easy to manipulate after the fact, but you really can’t dodge and burn video. That’s why I try to nail my video lighting setups so I can hand the client a DVD of my camera raw video without color correction and not be embarrassed by it. I studied lighting in college so it’s not uncommon for me to spend an hour or two lighting a scene for film shoot, with only the last five minutes of that time devoted to setting up the camera and framing the shot. I think a lot of new video shooters and photographers get so wrapped up in the camera technology that they forget how important lighting really is.

4. How do your still and video work influence each other?

My video and still disciplines keep each other in check. I find that after shooting stills for a few weeks, the next time I pick up a video camera, the shots come easier. Sometimes I’ll try things with the video camera that I tried earlier with a still image, such as radically underexposing for a dramatic highlight or colorful costume. I have an equal love-hate relationship with each medium. Video editing is more tedious than editing a still photo shoot, but I do like the camaraderie of video shoots. First and foremost, though, I consider myself a lighting designer. Even when I’m shooting video all day, the majority of my time is spent lighting the scenes. The same goes for setting up a portrait shoot. When shooting on location with available light, lighting is still at the forefront of my mind.

Robert Caplin – Robert has been experimenting with the video capabilities of his Canon 5D, figuring out how to translate it into paying gigs.

1. How much do you shoot video compared with stills?

I shoot about 80% stills. Often I’ll capture video on interesting assignments, but more for memory’s sake. I’ve started working on video projects with my family and friends, but I have yet to capitalize on actually making a living with video. The transition is underway, but I don’t expect to ever give up still photography.

2. What tools do you use to shoot video?

I’ve exclusively used the Canon 5D Mark II for capturing video. For general audio I have a hot-shoe-mount mic made by Sennheiser (MKE 400). For music videos we record the music in a studio and lay it as the main audio track. For my latest project I used a separate sound crew who used professional booms, shotguns, and LAV mics.

3. What is the biggest difference for you between shooting video and stills?

The biggest difference during the shooting process is motion. Moving the camera while recording makes all the difference whether it’s a pan, dolly, crane, or steady-cam shot. I’ve found that keeping the camera motionless makes video more stagnant and less appealing. On the editing end, it’s a much more laborious process due to the file-sizes of the videos. It’s also more difficult to tone and edit 30 pictures per second.

4. How do your still and video work influence each other?

I feel that I’m a photographer at heart. Since I’ve started toying with video, I consider myself more and more a filmmaker as well. I think I have a lot to learn, but the ease of the 5D II makes it enjoyable to teach myself.

Martin Sundberg – Fielding frequent questions from clients about video, Martin recently produced a video shoot to test the waters.

1. How much do you shoot video compared with stills?

I’m still shooting nearly 100% stills for my professional and personal work, but nearly all of my clients are no inquiring if I can also produce video in addition to stills. On my last large shoot I started out thinking I would shoot a little video to show my clients how the activities might translate when we began our video productions. Yet, over 10 shoots at 10 locations, I only shot stills. Right now my mind set is, one or the other — video OR still. I think there have to be two different shoots or I have to have a video camera operator on set who I could direct while I shoot the stills.

2. What tools do you use to shoot video?

I am exclusively using the Canon 5D Mark II. We are capturing audio separately using a Marantz digital recorder.

3. What is the biggest difference for you between shooting video and stills?

When shooting photos I am really focused on perfecting the single moment. One perfect image. Video is about the flow through the frame and linking moments. Not all the moments in a sequence are perfect, but you only spend a fleeting moment looking at any one frame.

4. How do your still and video work influence each other?

I’m a photographer who is exploring video. I definitely think like a photographer… but I LOVE applying that to my new work in video!

Commercial photographer Martin Sundberg decided a few months ago that it was time to explore the potential of video capabilities in high-end DSLRs, as in his Canon 5D Mark II. He knew he could offer his clients extra value by shooting both video and stills for campaigns — but he also realized he had a lot to learn about the new medium. So he assigned himself a shoot with two professional triathletes and produced a video that not only provided valuable lessons, but also gave him something to show potential clients. We talked recently about how he translated his style to video and what he learned from the project. Don’t miss his first post about finding the right subject and the difference between editing still and moving images.

Martin Sundberg

A frame grab from photographer Martin Sundberg's first video project. ©Martin Sundberg

MJ: You mentioned that you found yourself making the same “Martin Sundberg” images with the video camera that you would have with a still camera. What do those look like and how do you recognize them as your signature look?

This first foray into video felt like a seamless transition from shooting photography, and a lot of that can be attributed to the Canon 5D Mark II. It was amazing to use the tools I’ve always used, in terms of the feel and function of a still camera, and do this entirely different thing with it. For me, this really facilitated a consistency in my vision. In my still photography, I try to use the elements of the moment, exploiting light and weather whenever possible, to add to the photograph. I also am often trying to capture motion and distill that feeling into a photograph.

When it came time to post some teaser videos on my blog, I went to pull some frame grabs to situate next to the videos, and that was when I realized I had shot the video footage in the same way. This is an intriguing revelation, and I’m excited by the idea of moving between the two mediums for a client, creating both stills and video for a campaign. This also reminded me that the creative process is really a series of choices. Planning sometimes precedes these choices, but very often it’s a matter of simply reacting to what’s in front of the camera at that moment.

I now understand photography and video as having a more synergistic relationship. When I bring elements together that I’m passionate about — light, water, inspiring people, and evocative environments — I tend to act in a way that defines and supports the style that I’ve developed through many, many experiences with the camera at my eye. Being facile with both mediums is just another way to keep exercising, challenging, and honing the process of seeing and creating images.

MJ: What did you learn from this shoot and what advice would you give to photographers going out on their first video shoot?

MS: When the project concluded and we all went back to our respective parts of the country, I realized how much I love the still image. I continue to be excited about the outcome of this project, but I was honestly shocked to discover that I didn’t have a body of still images after all of that effort. Of course, I knew I logically hadn’t been making still pictures, but I did feel a pang of regret for not having a second body of still work. No prints, no stock, no licensing usage for my clients.

A week after the shoot, I was fielding calls from magazines specifically interested in the triathlete project and I have almost nothing to offer them. Typically, after a personal shoot like this, I would be able to field those requests. With that in mind, I’ll definitely try and schedule a couple of days for still photography on my next personal video assignment. And in the meantime, I’ll begin exploring the portals that exist for distributing video pieces in similar ways.

I would advise anyone moving into video to assemble a good team. For me, I like to have the flexibility to be quick and nimble with my team, so for this type of project, I’d make sure to include an assistant, a stylist, a sound person, an editor, and the models. That would be a bare-bones assembly. You don’t need an army, just a few enthusiastic and interested people. I love the collaborative process because when you get a few good people together, each with his or her own expertise, it can be like igniting a haystack of ideas.

Commercial photographer Martin Sundberg decided a few months ago that it was time to explore the potential of video capabilities in high-end DSLRs, as in his Canon 5D Mark II. He knew he could offer his clients extra value by shooting both video and stills for campaigns — but he also realized he had a lot to learn about the new medium. So he assigned himself a shoot with two professional triathletes and produced a video that not only provided valuable lessons, but also gave him something to show potential clients. We talked recently about choosing the right subject and the biggest difference between editing still and moving images. Check back soon for the second installment.
A frame grab from Martin's triathlete video. ©Martin Sundberg

A frame grab from Martin's triathlete video. ©Martin Sundberg

Miki Johnson: What was your idea for this shoot and what did you want to achieve creatively?

Martin Sundberg: This was a personal shoot that I put together to begin cultivating my video skills. The idea of the shoot was to explore some of the new technologies and tools that are being presented to photographers, such as the video capabilities now being packaged into our still cameras. Video is a hot topic among photographers these days, and it seems that individuals on all fronts are testing the waters, exploring what this physical merging of media means for the creative process as well as the business. Having never shot much video, I was really interested to see how my mind, one that has been conditioned to create still images, might instinctually apply that vision to motion.

I chose the triathlete as a subject for this project primarily because my style of shooting is very active, which lends itself well to shooting active people. The triathlon also required that I shoot footage in three outdoor locations, which I could weave into one continuous standalone piece that would be about a sense of place as much as an activity or person. From the beginning, I conceived of this project as a collaboration between the athletes, Matt and Chris Lieto, their coach, Matt Dixon of Purplepatch Fitness, and Derek Weiss of Piton Productions.

We set out to tell the story of what it feels like to participate in the three activities — swimming, biking and running — at such an elite level. To make pictures like this, I often find that it’s absolutely necessary to get physically into the shoot yourself; otherwise, it’s too easy to capture what it feels like to be a spectator. We shot from strategic angles and a mixture of vantage points, including from the air and the water. We were constantly on the move, trying to keep up with Matt and Chris. And let me tell you, that wasn’t easy. But all of these efforts are felt, if not directly seen, in the footage, which was our goal.

MJ: How did you plan for this video shoot? How was it different from planning a still photo shoot?

MS: Planning for this shoot was very similar to producing a photo shoot. One aspect that is different is the fact that video is experienced on a continuum, thereby forcing you plan for how the subject enters and exits the frame, what will come before and after that scene, and how the transition between scenes will occur. It’s no longer one moment but a series of moments within each frame, and ultimately, within the entire piece. And not only does the entire piece have a beginning and an end, but each scene also has its own beginning and end. Everything needs to be considered on this larger continuum.

With video, it’s also necessary to plan for sound. For this project, we chose to utilize a soundtrack, which allowed us to really focus on the visual aspect of video while shooting. Otherwise, I scouted locations, coordinated with the models, discussed shots and scenes, researched access issues — basically the same planning as a still shoot.

We shot over the course of four days and took advantage of the visually powerful locations available right here in the Bay Area. The biggest differences between video and still photography is evident in the post-production work. With video, more time is spent sequencing shots; whether it’s a narrative piece or not, you’re still communicating something to an audience and the right sequencing will determine whether that ‘something’ is clearly delivered.  In addition, you’re simultaneously working with the many other variables that harmonize to complete a video piece, like transitions, sound, intro and closing.

Video always reminds me of the tremendous team effort that goes into producing a finished piece. With stills, I have a very refined workflow and can navigate my editing tools, like Lightroom and Photoshop, with ease. For this project, however, I culled footage and selected the clips that worked well individually and that told the story, but my editor Derek took over from there. I knew what I wanted to see, and he edited the many variables together to communicate the story we intended to tell. I have a huge respect for this part of the process.

Editing is absolutely vital to any final product. With most of my still photography work, I’m looking for one iconic image, which doesn’t necessarily rely on what comes before or after it. With video, sequencing is everything. Again, this is a notable departure from the process of editing still images. Unless I’m working on a portfolio, an essay, or a particular series of images, sequencing doesn’t figure into my still photography edits.


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