Chris Odom is a Florida-based commercial photographer and videographer specializing in the marine industry. He has long been an adopter of new technology and began integrating videography into his portfolio long before the DSLR became a tool for motion. Recently, he has been flying a custom-built RC quadcopter for aerial work. I recently caught up with him after Quantum Key West Race Week where he managed a team of still photographers and videographers in covering the daily action.
You’ve been a professional photographer for 15 years. Can you share a bit about your background?
My basis is in editorial sports photography with clients ranging from Rolex to Sperry Topsider to US Sailing. I have also been a shooter for Getty Images and WireImage Sport back when that existed.
How did you make the transition to video and when did that happen for you?
I started studying video about six years ago by examining the art of editing, which is really what I wanted to learn. Technology was changing the field so quickly I really wanted to understand the dynamics of the editing process. My approach has become more cinemagraphic of recent. Looking back, the process of properly creating a production unit has been a six-year process of steeping myself in all the different areas of visual production.
Part of this approach has been a transition from being a one-man band on location to a collaborative approach managing a team. Talk about that process.
Three years ago I made a pitch to one of my clients to incorporate real-time coverage of a sailing event, and after several years of discussion, the idea came together. We referred to the concept as Quantum Key West Live and planned to have real-time photos streamed from the water. We had five journalists reporting the action on the water, produced a nightly video that was shown on site and uploaded a highly stylized, daily highlight video. We also filmed at 240 frames a second with the Sony NEX FS700. That footage was shot, edited and color graded on location and uploaded daily with the approach being from more of a narrative, commercial point of view.
So from a technical standpoint, how did you manage that? How did you sort through it with getting the personnel and bringing it all together?
We were given a green light on the project only two weeks before the actual production was to begin. Thankfully I started preproduction about two months prior in anticipation, having set a visual direction with input from the client. The success of the project really hinged on the level and detail of preproduction. Once we were on location and logistics in place, the only effective concern was image capture, editing and managing all the data. The necessity of a focused preproduction was one of the big lessons gleaned from this project.
I think in the past it was beneficial to be very guarded about your process with other photographers. To protect your vision as a kind of intellectual property, do you think the modern multimedia landscape has changed your approach to collaboration with other visual professionals?
Working backwards from what I visualized as the end product, I settled on a minimum staff of five: DP, editor, photo desk/data wrangler and three full time shooters bouncing between still and video. A big concern was managing all the data captured on site, which ended up exceeding 2.5 terabytes of information. Trusting the team I had assembled and really collaborating with them on all aspects of the production was a huge rush and really paid off creatively. Every member of the team had a primary role in the production but I made it clear that we all wore whatever hats were required during production. With a limited production budget, you cannot afford being one dimensional in your approach.
So on the daily highlight videos, the concept was for them to be more stylized and closer in line with my commercial work. Given that we have a budget and a team dedicated to the dailies, we were able to produce five different videos at a pretty high production level. We had on-board Steadicam, rolling three angles of view on the water, time lapse, aerials and it all involved some element of risk. You could say we threw everything at it.
So far the response has been tremendous from the sailing world. No one that I’m aware of has filmed sailing at 240 frames a second. We hit some new frontiers and we did it in a live environment where we shot, edited and color-graded on location and integrated them into an onsite broadcast every day. I feel like we were really able to showcase the sport in a new way.
So what advice would you give to someone is starting out or making that transition into working with other people and possibly taking on digital video production?
First is understanding how crucial the edit is to whole process. It’s a lot more fun to be out on the water shooting but the right edit is everything. Lighting, data management and facilitating the collaborative effort are their own unique skills and, as a director, having a good understanding of all these skills allows for better communication with the team. Choose your production team with care, define the vision and tell a good story. Oh and make sure you have a killer image.