Thursday, September 07, 2006

Videos versus photographs

Regular readers of this blog will note I usually shoot video instead of stills. If I can I will set the video camera on a tripod and shoot stills as the train goes by, but I shoot video when I have to make the choice. I generally prefer video because I like the action, and most people in the area shoot stills so I want to do something different. The skeptic would say that I don't shoot stills much because I'm not very good at it.

Be that as it may, I recently spent a few days shooting only stills. It allowed me to reflect on the different choices one makes when shooting stills versus video. I thought I would share some with you. I've omitted the classic things you should consider when taking pictures, like lighting and composition, because they are important no matter how you're taking the picture.

Things More Important For Stills
I think location is more important for still photography than for video. You get one chance to get the shot, one chance to make an impact in a single frame. The drama, excitement, or whatever you are trying to capture can only be conveyed with that single shot.

A friend of mine who shoots only passenger trains looks for locations where he can shoot the entire train in one frame. With video I can let the train roll through the frame so you'll get the entire train if you wait long enough. Creative use of zooms or pans can also add excitement to a video, though I recommend they be used sparingly. Too much of the zoom-and-pan can lead to seasick viewers!

Timing is critical for stills. You can compose the frame perfectly, but if your timing is off when the train arrives the shot is sub-standard at best. This is my major frustration with shooting with my el cheapo digital camera - I can't predict exactly when it will record the photo. Often I end up with the train a little forward or back of where I really wanted it to be.

Things More Important For Video
Background noise is something that still photographers never seem to think about. When train chasing, we often jump out of our cars and shoot from a road, sidewalk, or other very public place. The videographer has to be aware of what kind of background noise is around, be it cars, people, wind, or barking dogs.

Wind is definitely a problem at times. Some good video I've shot has been ruined by the constant pfssssshhhh of a strong wind blowing by the microphone. I try to minimize it by putting my thumb over the microphone, and you can make some attempt to minimize it when editing the video, but all of these also lose the sound of the train itself.

Focus can sometimes be a challenge for video when the camera is left on autofocus. My camera (Sony DCR-TRV25) will sometimes "hunt" when taping a train, especially in lower light conditions. There's not much worse than watching a clip where the focus goes in and out. For some reason VIA's Renaissance cars really confuse the autofocus sensor and it can't maintain the focus. If I remember and I have time, I will focus on a spot on the track and then set the camera to manual focus. This works as long as you are not panning or zooming. In those cases you have to take your chances.

In the end, it all comes down to personal preference. I like shooting video, but stills are great too.

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