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. 

Three ways using visuals to show building expansion
360º Panoramic

If you are engaging your audience online then one of the coolest ways to show a space is with the 360º Panoramic. Put your mouse in the photo click on it and drag it around and you can get the feel of standing in the room and turning around to see the space as if you are there.

That same interactive 360º panoramic can also be output to just a still image, but I think most people are not quite grasping what this is as compared to the interactive version, but it does give you documentation of the space.

The traditional still photograph

This single wide-angle image of the classroom being used really gives the viewer the feel to how the room is being used.

It gives you a slice of the room in a moment in time. However, you can use a series of photos from the classroom to help give a more complete story of the usage.

Small groups in the classroom using technology at the desk with also larger monitors to share what one person has on their device with the group.

Here you can see the groups in discussions with the instructor moving through the space to check in on each group. The space is large enough that the group discussions are possible without interfering with each other.

You can see here that the student is sharing with the classroom and using a microphone to be sure everyone present can here what is going on.  They also can use video in the classroom to create live classrooms online for those around the world to participate.


Just a quick clip can help communicate the space to your audience.

Where video is at it’s best is when you are wanting to lead your audience through the message. Here in this clip I am able to tell a more complete story about the expansion of the IMPACT 360 gap year program that is in Pine Mountain, GA.

Which one is best?

Too often people think more about “either/or” rather than “and.” The answer to this question lies within the strategy of your plan. If you do not have a strategy then you are more prone to make a major mistake.

For example had I only done a video then the organization would have nothing to use in their printed newsletter they send out to all their supporters.

Had I just done the panoramic interactive, I would have something online and as you can see the stretched still image that could be used in the printed piece.

What about doing it all every once in a while for those big projects where you will use the stills, the interactive panoramic and the video to help engage your audiences in many different spaces?

I do contend that today too often the still image is overlooked for video. Video appears to be more sexy and cool. However, I believe that the base from which all visual communications of a project similar to this must contain the still image.  Even NPR realizes the power of the still image and importance in their online packages.

They took away the video cameras to train their people on how to make strong still images. Why do this? Just go to their website at and notice how they use the still image as the place to start. Before you click on any video online it usually has a place holder of a still image. If that still image isn’t engaging then you have most likely wasted all that money on a video that few will see except those who already would watch it regardless.

Remind yourself to not be trapped into thinking “either/or,” but rather think “and” when choosing a medium for your audience.

The power of the still image in video

There are some differences of shooting still images and video. Here are some things that I have discovered in my journey.

First when you shoot stills you move around the subject looking for different angles, however with video you find a spot and let the action move and capture it.

The reason for the differences is with the still image you only need to capture a brief second whereas with the video you are capturing a timeline. You may start wide and zoom in during this time or just stay still and let the action move through the frame.

In the same amount of time given to a still shooter and a video shooter the still shooter will end up with more variety of shots.

Second difference is that with video you are capturing sound as well as the visuals. In general you are not capturing sound with stills. Many still photographers may choose to gather audio as a separate piece to later combine with the still images for a slide show, but you are not capturing this simultaneously as you are doing with video.

Due to the necessity of good sound for video you will spend a lot of time being sure you have the right microphones and levels set so you are capturing the best quality sound.

While I can go on about more differences, these are the ones that really have me thinking about how I work the most often.

The Package

What drives all my decisions on what I am doing and using is telling a story. In corporate work I do a good number of what I call best practices packages. This is where we are showing someone in the company that is doing an outstanding job that we would like others copy.

There are typically three things I am getting for content to help tell the story.

  1. Why are you doing this? I usually ask the person who started the new thing to explain why they are doing this. 
  2. What are you doing? While the person who started it can talk about it I try and get someone else to address what they are doing if possible. This helps mix up the packages and keep it moving.
  3. What is the response? This often is a customer who talks about how grateful they are for the product or service.

 What I have learned from the audience that watches these packages.

  • They often stop the video to study something. They may see a flyer and want to copy everything down so they can use something similar. 
  • They want to know what they need to make it work for them. 
  • They want to know if the people doing it would do it again and if they would make any changes.

The unspoken thing I have discovered is that the emotional excitement is what can trigger the best response. I get better emotional response when I use emotional moments as still images and not video. Video unlike text doesn’t have the ability for the viewer to pause.

Many wonderful moments that are captured in video go by so fast it is like having a sentence with no punctuation. You have no time to absorb what you are watching.

Still images capture emotion

A still image of an emotional moment allows the audience to have a comma, semicolon, colon or even a period to the package. These punctuations are used in writing to let the reader know when to pause or even stop. These pauses help you with comprehension and most importantly absorb the thought.

Video goes so fast that unless you pause or use slow motion you miss some of the most powerful emotional moments.

Still images typically are remembered better than any video. The famous photo from the Vietnam war was also shot on movie film, but it is the still image that is remembered even more.

Joe Rosenthal shot the famous flag raising at Iwo Jima, Japan in WWII and again there was movie shot, but it is the still image that is best known.
When it comes to emotion the still image captures moments due to their symbolic metaphors.
Entertainment verses News video interviews
When it comes to the evening news you will almost never see the camera doing moves during an interview or while the newscaster is on camera. However, in music videos and other forms of entertainment you will commonly see the camera moving around the person talking.
Why is this always taking place? I believe it is because movement can be very distracting to you comprehending audio.  While the still image is able to capture iconic emotional moments better than video, keeping the video camera still will help improve audio comprehension for the audience.
My takeaway
Whenever you use movement be sure it has a purpose. Use movement with the video to help move the audience through a scene. Use movement to help move the audience from one part of the room to the next. Use movement to help with transitions.
If nothing is really moving in a scene don’t introduce movement without purpose or it can distract.
If you want to entertain and create a mood and not necessarily is there a heavy message then movement of the camera can be quite helpful. A good example of this is the music video. They often use a story line even in the video, but since this will most likely be watched a few times by the audience you are creating an entertainment piece rather than an informative piece.
Whenever I want you to feel something I need to slow down and even use a still image. When I want you to listen and hear what is being said, I need to keep the camera still and not move. 
If my purpose is to entertain then using movement is less distracting and even welcomed.