Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Moving Movie Posters, Living Mag Covers, Frame Grabs, and the Big Red One

The Red One digital cinema camera, which costs as much as a car, enables you to grab crisp high-resolution still frames from video, blurring the distinction between moments and motion. Its 24-frames-per-second 9.4-megapixel capability eclipses even the fastest motor drives.

Alexx Henry created a series of living movie posters with one, and documented the process (below).
"I really believe this is the future and I’m super thrilled to be a part of the revolution. If you haven’t seen this yet, it’s very cool if it’s done right. What begins as a still image suddenly comes alive when the characters move, perform an action, and then resolve back to the poster frame. If you thought the portraits and newspapers from Harry Potter were the future, then look no further."

... and here are the results of that shoot:

“Teacher’s Pet”


“Students Have No Class”

Though the Red One is (at least for now) too big, not to mention too expensive, for in-the-field videojournalists, Canon, Nikon and Panasonic have all developed hybrid cameras that enable you to shoot both high-quality stills and video. A camcorder's ability to produce high-res frame grabs are an important consideration, since it cuts in half the amount of equipment you need to shlep to bring back video and stills from an assignment. But it carries with it ethical, aesthetic and philosophical considerations.

Henri Cartier-Bresson's "decisive moment" is no longer frozen in time, but now one of a series of points on a timeline. This may sound inconsequential, but in fact relates directly to the contrasting considerations of a video and a still shooter. At the most basic level, when you're shooting video, you're not trying to find just the right image, but rather the right sequence of movements, events, interactions. You want to follow your subject from point A, through B, to C. If you get lucky, one of those thousands of frames will distill the essence of your story -- but not necessarily!

We probably know better than most how infrequently even the best videos contain even a single still image that embodies the whole, since for every video story we post on KobreGuide, we actively search for one image that best represents it. And yet how elusive those single images are!

For "Turtle Man," to use but one small example, we wanted so badly to show you a still that encompassed both the subject's big toothless grin AND a closeup of a snapping turtle he's caught. The videographer did a terrific job by showing both -- but, except for long shots, never in the same frame! Ditto for other video stories we've showcased about dual subjects -- teachers and students, doctors and patients, and so on. A still photographer would have captured both in the same frame, but a videographer is more likely to pan or cut from one to the other, and is not looking for that one quintessential, balanced, harmonious microsecond.

For a single subject, however, there are instances when frame grabs do have an advantage.

That photo portrait of actress Megan Fox on the cover of this month's Esquire isn't a photo at all, but rather a video frame -- courtesy of shooter Greg Williams and a technique he's dubbed "Motos" (moving photos), again using that magical Red One.

According to the magazine:

"It allowed her to act," Williams says. "She could run scenes without being reminded by the sound of a shutter every four seconds that I was taking a picture. As in still photography, a lot of it is capturing unexpected moments. This takes that one step further." He then went back and pulled out the best images, which you can see in Esquire's June issue. Plus, there's a fantastic by-product: Even though we made the film to get the stills, we were left with ten bewitching minutes of footage of a beautiful woman. We edited it down to a mini movie, which is now available right here.
(Caveat: Be forewarned, this is not strictly videojournalism, but rather "loosely scripted footage with Fox — getting out of bed, rolling around on a pool chair, eating BBQ." You get the idea.)

On a more serious note, Harvard's Nieman Labs incisively analyzes the "frame-grabbing" trend, and offers these helpful considerations (with underlying explanations):

+ Frame grabbing works better on a camcorder with a “progressive” shooting option.

+ Frame grabbing works better at higher shutter speeds than would be used for shooting video.

+ Frame grabbing might require a video light rather than a strobe in low light

We've come a long way technologically since David Leeson (who recently left the Dallas Morning News) returned from Hurricane Katrina extolling the virtues of frame grabs from a HDV camera, but his subsequent observations were prescient:
Today, we still call them frame grabs. Tomorrow we will call them what they really are – photographs. The end result is that we do not have to sacrifice our legacy of still photojournalism simply because the medium has changed. We can move forward to a new era of storytelling where the demands of rich content in a digital age do not subjugate the decisive moments of life to obtain the "extended moments" waiting for us in motion and sound.

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