Directing Video, a Photographer's Perspective

Directing Video, a Photographer's Perspective

When I was young, I first fell in love with photography as a kid in summer camp. I then went home and started pouring over the Time Life Photography books from the local library. All through grade school and high school I stayed up countless nights studying, reading, and learning everything I could about great photographers and their amazing photographs.

As any teenager, thinking I knew it all, I went to film school. I learned about moving images and was mesmerized due to the classic films I had the privilege of studying. This is where I really developed my deep love of lighting and the use of shadow to create an emotion that leads to conveying a great story. I came to directing with a natural passion and have spent most of my career directing people for still shoots. This developed a keen sense for coaxing a great performance or moment from someone when it is otherwise not quite there. It also meant learning to deal with people that might not have had the same vision of what works and what doesn't.

When DSLRs that shot high-quality videos first came into existence, many people believed that you could now shoot video and just simply pull a still from it. That the act of "photography" was now going to merge and we would all do one thing: have our subjects move in front of the camera and then get whatever end product out of it we might need. For instance, you can just roll the camera, have your talent walk through a scene, have a great video and then "pull" a great still out of it at the same time. It's a great idea, but it is better in theory than it is in reality.

A great still and video both tell stories, but in completely different ways. As a still shooter I pride myself in telling a story in two dimensions. That means thinking about all the information in the image and using props, locations, lighting, and expression to give clues and information to deliver the details. I create a visual story in my mind and then figure how to execute the idea. That said, all those pieces have to fit into the frame in a composed and created moment. A simple example of this is out of my archive. It's an environmental portrait of a furniture maker. All the elements are there to tell the story; this is the man and his work. The story is told with the props, pose, and lighting while the shadow tells the other half of the story.

In a work of motion though, the story is told in continuous time. You do not have to cram all the details into a single scene. You start with an idea and then as you progress you add the information to continue to get your point across. The important thing is that not only is the process different, the execution of the idea is also completely different.

When working on a still you nuance the scene, working the expression, tweaking the lighting, moving the camera, and changing the pose slightly. Often these are not big moves, but lots of little ones. You do this over and over until you get the result you want. In motion you do the same but each take has to play out in time so your subject is usually moving. Creating a great work of motion is making all the takes and shots add up to a singularly wonderful piece. Great motion tells a story, it's not just someone frolicking in front of a camera. This is also why that idea of pulling stills from a take is not always the most effective way; all the elements are not there in one particular shot.

For this recent video for Panasonic called "Forever Young," I did not want to create a series of pretty stills, I wanted to make a video that had a story that unfolded. We took the idea of a rich older man and a beautiful younger woman and played with just that. To expand the story timeline, things like the bicycle rider, using a Panasonic A500 was added to give a POV shot using their gear. We also had fun running over a camera or a crash cam to see what the footage would look like. The camera amazingly survived!

We had the gas station location planned from the beginning, but I had no idea what I was going to do there. Our lead was originally going to just get gas there, but because our precision driver was a large muscular man with a shaved head, we used the scene to get the top down in a humorous way. The top needed to be up for part of the shooting to conceal our precision driver. The showcase for Panasonic was the agility of the 4K GH4 to be used handheld, in gimbals from car to car, and on a drone; the aerials were a very important part of the images we required. So, the break at the gas station is a vehicle to explain why the top comes down, providing us with a shot of the couple driving the car from above. Clearly though the story is told through a series of actions, giving little bits of information at a time. This is the opposite of how I story tell in a still, having all the elements revealed in a single frame all at once. The whole video was shot over two days. I created an approximately 3-minute version for Panasonic incorporating the behind-the-scenes footage at the end so you know how and what it was created with. I also cut it down to 90 seconds for my site to resemble the fast-paced storytelling of a commercial spot. I hope you like it!

Michael Grecco is an award-winning commercial photographer and film director noted for his iconic celebrity portraits, innovative magazine covers, and advertising spreads.

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Tihomir Lazarov's picture

Well done!

Eitan Kan's picture

it's very interesting to see the movie in that perspective