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Sometimes it is not all about the bells and whistles

Sometimes it is not all about the bells and whistles

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A reminder to focus on compelling content as we all think about becoming multimedia creators.

By Jack Howard

January 5, 2010

A new online documentary asks a handful of simple questions and captures animated environmental portraits without an excess of the video tricks and styles that are becoming so saturated: no tilt-shift, no time lapse, and no Ken Burns effect. Yes, still and moving photography is in large part story telling, but don't ever forget the importance and impact of simple story collecting.


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A friend of mine from high school with whom I recently reconnected on Facebook, Kristina Lee Whipple, sent me a link to a documentary video she and a friend had recently created that posed these questions to a diverse cross section of people in and around Washington State: "Who are you?" and "What do you want out of life?"

Titled "Talking Heads", the video is based on the 1980 documentary in of the same name by the late Krzysztof Kieslowski in his native Poland. The simple framing of the subjects within their current environment, without any panning, zooming, tilt-and-shifting, or Ken-Burns-effecting, lets you focus on the subject, and the subtle nuances of their expressions and gestures, as well as with slight environmental shifts during their on-camera time.  Watch the video here.



As I watched the video, I got to thinking about the growing and evolving trend of SLR-based video, and still photographers who are now capturing video in addition to, or instead of, stills with their cameras. The thoughts bouncing around my head were these:


  • Would any of the current crop visual cliches of today's SLR-based video style impart deeper meaning to the spoken words in this video? I sincerely do not think so. 


  • Does this mean I think everyone should abandon evolving visual storytelling techniques? I don't think that's what I'm trying to say either.


There are plenty of movies we can all name that are visual feasts for the eyes in terms of amazing special effects, CGI slo-mo explosions, and so on that have no storyline worth remembering.  And these can be fun and entertaining, but the point of journalistic and documentary work is to inform and illuminate the viewers.

As we photographers of a journalistic and documentary bent move into the era of SLR-based video, I think it is well worth remembering that capturing compelling content should always be front of mind for these projects. And one of the most important parts of being a visual storyteller is the ability to sometimes simply listen and collect the stories. If you think you might be over-directing or over-thinking the visual treatment as someone is sharing their story with you–there's a good chance you might be over-directing and over-thinking it.


Are you experimenting with SLR-based video? Share links to your projects below!


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