Stills + Video | NOT Video OR Stills

A client wrote to me the other day.  Here was her question:

CLIENT:  A production company did a video on cup recycling, and I noticed this evening that if we could get stills from the video, we’d actually have most of the images we need. I recall you saying once that stills from video on are not high res/print quality. But I went back and asked, and they assured me because they shot it in high def, they could create hi res stills. In your opinion, is that accurate?

I responded first with these two sentences:

STANLEY: First I am really impressed you remembered my comment. My comments were not so much about the resolution, but how they are shot. 

Then I went on and talked about these points below here.  But to inspire you to read on here was her response to my comments:

CLIENT: This is AWESOME, Stanley. I hear every word of what you are saying. All  of it. I am taking it to heart and will influence this on my own team.

Video is about movement and stills are about a moment. This changes a great deal of how things are shot. Often many moving shots are not very compelling when you freeze them to one frame from that movement.
This is why on every movie set has a still photographer. The stills are done slightly different than the video. 

The Technical
If the video camera is 4k then you might have a pretty high-resolution image that is usable, but if I were to grab a frame from my video DSLR camera it still isn’t the resolution when the camera is set for still photography.
Today many crews use a 4K camera that is very much a usable high-resolution still image for print and the web. Just want to be sure the image is sharp. Sometimes during the movement the sharpness of a single frame isn’t that noticeable until you grab just the one frame.
If you like the image in the video and it was shot on a 4K video then the frame may just work.
Know who is pitching to you
There is way too much emphasis on video. Those promoting it are selling them on this is a replacement to stills—BIG MISTAKE!!!
Those motion capture guys [new name for videographers] that are promoting this as a replacement really are showing lack of knowledge of the industry.
The News Media
The news media have gone through a lot of changes due to digital and most importantly since 1995 the web.

For the first ten years the issue that slowed the progress was the bandwidth. It took a while to get us from dial up to now the ability to stream HD video on the web.
Once the ability to deliver video became possible many naïve PR folks started to think this is the new standard and that the still image was dead.
I recommend before reading further you go to these television websites where you would expect the video to be king. Take a moment and do the following.
  1. When looking at the main page notice how many images in general are used and how big the images are as compared to text.
  2. Pay special attention to the visual promoting a video link.
  3. Click on a few of those links to the videos.
  4. How often did the still image you click on actually show up in the video?
  5. Do your own survey of a few of the stories on the website.

Here are the links I recommend that you take a few minutes to do your own research and then come back and read the rest of this blog. [FYI to avoid copyright infringement I did not copy the screens and post them here]

Newspapers even realize after trying to lead with video for a while that the numbers don’t lie. People will click on the still image galleries more than they will watch a video.
Good article addressing the use of stills as engaging  Photos on Facebook Generate 53% More Likes Than the Average Post  
Notice that even when all these news articles talk about Photos and Video they are using only stills or graphics for engaging you and not a video Photos and video drive the most engagement on social media
My point is you have video production companies over selling and burning chunks of your budget on video when your media may need that, but need still first. Video is in addition and not a replacement for stills.
So think about it this way. You have the opportunity to supply all that an editor needs to post to their website the way they post their own stories. Sure in a pinch they may grab a frame from a video, but this is the exception and not the rule for even TV.
I think that PR needs to start supplying the package as the media shoots it. Way too many PR firms continue to operate the way they did in the 1970s. They continue to pitch is assuming new media outlets have the budget to come and cover their event. Get them to like the story and let them come and cover it, that was the mentality back 30 years ago.
This is 2014 where their budgets have all been slashed. I worked at Georgia Tech where we supplied the entire package. Text, Stills and Video for packages and were used all over the media regularly. On average we were in the AJC every day of the year. 
Georgia Tech is still ranked one of the top schools and it had a great deal to do with the PR office I worked in for more than 10 years created. John Toon, director of communication for many years, was the master of getting stories placed. He knew to not pitch something just because a researcher or professor wanted it promoted. He vetted those requests and help to get the cream of the crop.
When John Toon’s material went to a news director desk they opened it because he was known for giving them great content and in a way they could use it with very little effort or budget on their part.
Both—Not Either/Or
Please don’t hear me saying don’t use video and use stills instead. I am saying you need stills and video. I think video production companies does a disservice when they tell you they can do it all and they never have their material in major magazines or news outlets on a regular basis.

Many of these companies produce high-end video that is used in meetings and events. Their work is superb. But it isn’t what the media creates and runs. 

Photojournalists covering disaster need to know their role

Moore Oklahoma Disaster Relief Coverage

I find many people who have trouble covering disasters or helping with them due to being overwhelmed emotionally. While seeing horrific tragedy can affect you if it consumes you it isn’t healthy. It is healthy to have a heart and be moved by the situation, but when it imobilizes you is when it is a problem.

When you are unsure of your role is when you are more prone to being an emotional wreck and not very useful.

The people of Moore Oklahoma are some of the most resilient people I have ever met. One of the reasons for this is their understanding of their roles in disasters.

You can ask any resident their plan in case of a tornado and they can tell you their A, B or even a C plan they have in place. Most of them will first tell you if they have a place to go for shelter below ground or in a safe room above ground.

The next plan beside seeking shelter is to get out of the way. Most of them with this plan will just get in cars and drive away from the area.

Once the tornado has hit everyone jumps into recovery mode. What is interesting here is many people realize they are better off doing what they do best rather than doing just anything.

After digging out of their own homes, many will go back to work, because what they do as a job is helpful. Many who worked in the restaurants would go back helping feed those who are the first responders and the victims of the tornado.

You see most of these residents understand how they are most helpful for recovery efforts.

The Photojournalist’s role

While I could have gone to Moore, Oklahoma with a team to help clean up, I am much more useful telling the story. You see when I do my job well as a photojournalist I am helping get the word out.

There are three basic things I see as my role as a visual storyteller.

First, I need to help people know what happened. Now besides taking pictures showing the damage, I need to help tell the personal stories of the victims of the tornado. This first piece of the puzzle will help engage my audience.

When I capture the emotional impact the tornado is having on the community, it is time to move onto step two.

Second, I want to show what is happening right now. This is where I am showing the immediate first responders helping the community. This could be in the moments right after the damage while they are digging through the rubble to find survivors or it can be even days to weeks later where I am showing teams helping clean up.

I enjoyed showing all the teams helping clean up. I was there to show Chick-fil-A going around helping those home owners and clean up teams by giving them a hot sandwich.

Many of the local Chick-fil-A franchise guys all realized they served their community best by doing what they do best–making chicken sandwiches.

As a photojournalist I have to remember what I do best. Visual storytelling by me is helping the subjects connect with the audience who can potentially help. This is where I move on to the last part.

Third, I need to help my audience know how they can get involved. You can here the lady sharing how it is helpful for teams to come and help them put their community back together and for those who cannot come even prayer can make a difference.

Without giving people a way to respond can often cause problems. Most news media outlets coverage will tell their audience they can give to the Red Cross for example. I encourage you to consider going with a team as well and for everyone to pray for the people.