Intro by Skip Cohen
Technology is changing daily. For many photographers it's no longer about their skill set with still images, but video as well. In this special guest post from Panasonic Luminary and commercial photographer, Michael Grecco, he shares a little of the experience of his journey from photographer to filmmaker.
In early April I shared Michael's classic film, Forever Young, in its full length. This post has the shorter version, but if you'd like to watch the full length video just click the link below.
I first fell in love with photography as a kid in summer camp; the magic of watching a print develop in a tray in the dark totally captivated me. A few years later I started pouring over the Time Life Photography books from the local library. In fact I actually snuck them out in a vain attempt to “own” a photograph. I became deeply committed to the art, after spying the likes of Penn, Avedon and Bruce Davidson. All through grade school and high school I stayed up many a night studying, reading and learning everything I could about great photographers and amazing photographs.
So as any teenager thinking I knew it all, I went to film school. I figured I could not learn any more about photography, how silly of me! Instead I would learn about moving images; this was a completely new experience and I was mesmerized by the classic films I studied of Ingmar Bergman, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Michelangelo Antonioni. This is where I really derived my deep love of lighting and the use of shadow to create an emotion that helps convey a great story. Movies I had never imagined existed at the time inspired me to graduate with a degree in filmmaking.
So I come to directing with a natural passion. I’ve spent most of my career directing people for still shoots. This involves knowing how to say when things are great and obtaining the desired effect from a subject. More importantly it's knowing how to coax a great performance or moment from someone when it is otherwise not quite there. It also means being able to deal with people while at the same time having a vision of what works and what doesn't. But aside from the obvious film and still are completely different.
When DSLR's that shot high quality videos first came into existence, there where many that believed there was now an economy in shooting, that you could shoot video and pull a still from it. That the act of "photography" was now going to merge and we would just roll the camera, have talent walk through a scene, have an exceptional video and "pull" a great still from it at the same time. It's a great idea, but it is better in theory than it is in reality.
To really understand you have to look at the process of making a compelling still photograph and separately a compelling piece of motion. A great still and video both tell stories, but in completely different ways. As a still shooter I pride myself in telling a story in two dimensions. That means thinking about all the information in the image and using props, locations, lighting and expression to give clues and information to deliver the details. I create a visual story in my mind and then figure how to execute the idea. That said all those pieces have to fit into the frame, in a composed and created moment. A simple example of this is out of my archive, it's an environmental portrait of a furniture maker. The story is told with the props, pose and in the lighting, the shadow tells part of the story and all the elements exist in the same moment.
In a work of motion though, the story is told over time. The story can and usually does unfold bit by bit. Not only is the process different, the execution of the idea is also completely different.
When working on a still you nuance the scene, working the expression, tweaking the lighting, moving the camera and changing the pose slightly. Often these are not big moves, but lots of little ones. In motion you do the same but each take has to play out in time so your subject is usually moving. You are now dealing with macro moves, not micro moves. You are dealing with actions and not subtle changes in pose. Creating a great work of motion is making all the takes and shots add up to a singularly wonderful piece. This is also why that idea of pulling stills from a take is not always the most effective way, as all the elements are not present in one particular shot.
For this recent video for Panasonic called Forever Young, I did not want to create a series of pretty stills; I wanted to make a video that had a story which unfolded. We took the idea of a rich older man and a beautiful younger woman and played with just that. To expand the story timeline, things like the bicycle rider, using a Panasonic A500 was added to give a POV shot using Panasonic gear. We also had fun driving over a crash cam to see what the footage would look like. The camera amazingly survived!
The gas station location was planned from the beginning, but I had no idea what I was going to do there. As our precision driver was a large muscular man with a shaved head, we used the scene to get the top down in a humorous way. The showcase for Panasonic was the agility of the 4K GH4 to be used handheld, in gimbals from car to car, and on a drone; the aerials were a very important part of the images we required. So, the break at the gas station is a vehicle to explain why the top comes down; providing us with a shot of the couple driving the car from above.
Clearly though the story is told through a series of actions, giving little bits of information at a time. This is the opposite of how I story tell in a still, having all the elements revealed in a single frame, all at once. The whole video was shot over two days, I created an approximately 3-minute version for Panasonic; incorporating the behind the scenes footage at the end so you know how and what it was created with. I also cut it down to 90 seconds, to resemble the fast paced story telling of a commercial spot. I hope you like it!
Welcome to Luminary Corner. Besides being a recognized member of the professional photographic community, each post author is a member of Panasonic's LUMIX Luminary team.