Why now is the time for photographers to move into video

Video was famously blamed for killing the radio star in the 1979 hit by The Buggles. Now it could be about to claim a new victim – the stills photographer.

At least it could be if you believe one leading US journalist who argues that frame grabs from high-definition video cameras is the future of photojournalism.

David Leeson is executive producer (video and new media) for the Dallas Morning News. He is also an accomplished stills photographer.

Leeson argues, on the Sports Shooter website, that the 35mm camera will slowly fade from daily use in our photo departments, to be replaced exclusively by the video camera. ‘It provides photographers with the ultimate photojournalistic reporting device,’he says.

At his newspaper, some of their photographers carry stills cameras with them, but in most cases, still images are now taken from video. He has attracted widespread opposition from diehard users of the 35mm camera who argue that photography is about ‘horses for courses”; you should shoot stills with a stills camera and leave the capture of moving images to the experts in video and HDV cameras.

To me, as someone responsible for predicting the future skills needs of the industry, the debate is fascinating.

At Press Association Training, our videojournalism course has been widely credited with helping many newspapers take their first steps towards getting moving pictures on their sites.

That course is focused on producing full videojournalists – ‘solojos”, as they are referred to by some. They are capable of undertaking all aspects of the video journalist’s craft.

But the carefully produced, 90-second story package is just one genre of online video content. Equally important is the demand for rushes – raw footage and audio of news events – something photographers are well placed to provide.

Martin Keene, PA’s head of pictures, already equips the agency’s photographers with small Canon Powershot Series video cameras.

Recently, we launched a new three-day course called Video for Photographers, specifically aimed at helping stills photographers adapt their skills for the new medium.

All those who have been through the course acknowledge that there was far more to shooting in video than they had expected.

But the skills and knowledge they already possessed, in most cases, made them more accomplished in the use of the camera than their colleagues from the words side of journalism.

Leeson foresees a time when all pictures come from video. ‘Resolutions will continue to improve in these cameras, as will processes for obtaining frame grabs,’he explains.

To those who argue it takes the skill away and is ‘cheating”, he refers back to the era decades ago before photographers relied on motor drives. Are these ‘cheating”, he asks?

As we rely already on grabs for images from news events as diverse as Big Brother and the House of Commons, he may have a point.

Keene, meanwhile, thinks pressure may come to converge from the other side – with video-camera operators increasingly saying they are able to supply high-quality stills as well as video and audio from an event. ‘History shows that you cannot hold up technical progress,’he says.

After all, The Buggles were mistaken about the fate of radio. But the fact that stills photographers require new skills, as do their picture editors, is undeniable, if they are not to risk becoming confined to history like The Buggles themselves.

Tony Johnston is head of Press Association Training

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