To my eyes, filmmaking offers far more possibilities for deep storytelling than photography does, limited as it is by its single-frame relationship to time and essentially evocative levers. But there’s one aspect of photography that’s probably significantly more satisfying. Brief thought coming up.
Editing is what gives video its edge over photography. It allows the filmmaker to play with our perception of time and causality (between scenes) and shape our understanding of the underlying subject of the story. All great films have great editors making magic in the background.
But editing is also what makes filmmaking so difficult. Raising your film above the level of a mere collection of shots presented in some arbitrary order requires a deep understanding of storytelling – which is quite the challenge in itself – and a deep understanding of the public, something even more difficult, as evidenced by the number of brands that completely miss the mark in their messaging. It takes one to know one and authenticity is hard.
It is said that 1 minute of film takes about 1 hour of editing. My guess is this grossly underestimates the ratio for masterpieces. Many feature films collect hundreds of hours of footage (I read 800 for some Tarantino movies) for just 2 or 3 in the final cut. And even documentary filmmakers regularly get 10 to 50 times more shots than will end up in the product. Assembling all this into one meaningful and consitent narrative takes more than a proportionate amount of time.
What I’m getting at is that a movie, short, documentary, or feature, is a project. And don’t get me wrong, working on projects is my favourite type of work. It’s far more exciting than the regular flow of tasks the usual desk job has to offer. But projects come hand in hand with the notion of achievement.
Achievements are what most of us strive for throughout our younger years. Our bright plans for the future rarely involve a regular 9 to 5 dose of simply being useful to a company or bringing regular pleasure to a family. We want to win Pulizer prizes, or be part of that Champion League team that trusts every final, or win that Photographer of the Year award or head a crime syndicate to control all cocaine traffic on the west coast. Young humans view their future world through a series of binary successes and achievements. And even those not hoping to end up in the White House can view a short film as an essential achievement to their happiness.
It’s a good thing because we’d all be sitting on rocks foraging for food, were it not for ambitious younglings. But it’s harmful for happiness and life satisfaction. Winners of the lottery tend to be over the moon for a fortnight then recalibrate progressively. The lottery is merely a great marketing scam for those beginning to realize those unrealistic dreams ain’t gonna happen, but haven’t yet reached the point when one understands it actually doesn’t matter and that there’s a lot more to life than those naive goals. After a year, lottery winners don’t report greater happiness levels than before their win (unless they were in a severe financial predicament and have lifted out of that). Likewise, winners of prestigious prizes and awards only get to look further up at the next step on the ladder until one cannot be reached and disappointment follows. It almost always does. Achievements buy us prestige and ambition is the tool of species survival but neither serves durable happiness.
Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt explains the Progress Principle as pleasure derived far more from making small steps of progress towards a goal than from achieving the goal itself. In other words, happiness is all about the journey, not the destination.
And photographs are just that. Small deliberate steps on a journey for which individual success is easy to achieve and individual feedback is easy to come by. Make a nice photograph and you feel good about yourself. Make one every day for 6 months, and that’s a lot of cumulative emotional wellbeing interest stacking up. Whereas slaving for 6 months on a film – even a great one – only produces that single adrenalin rush, which arrives too late to be really of any benefit (reinforcement is a matter of seconds, not days, or weeks) and fades rapidly at the hands of enhanced ambition or impostor syndrome, depending on your predispositions.
So, I guess that’s one very positive point to keep in mind as I battle my @#$£!! inability to make up my mind about video 😉 😉 😉 And I think we don’t give ourselves enough credit for the small wins. This doesn’t mean we should give up on the ambitious work, I’m not giving up on video, but maybe we should give ourselves more regular pats in the back for those daily little success that photographs can be a large part of 🙂 For what it’s worth, this probably explains my lack of backup diligence: the photographs that interest me more are those about to come, not those from the past. They served their purpose on this blog or in the very occasional print, moving on 🙂
For instance, I really like those 4 simple photographs, made during walks in between lockdowns. Unpretentious portraits of things not far from home. But also well organized (visually) into evocative memories. None will ever end up in a museum or sell as a 7 figure NFT, but each a nice photograph that brought me instant joy.
We all need those simple daily wins that bring more happiness to our lives, whether we also pursue more lofty goals or not. Did you recently make nice pics that make you happy? Do you even agree with the above? If so, care to share some in future posts? 🙂
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Dear Pascal, thought provoking post if any.
Indeed, I fully agree with you that, especially in this complicated period, we need/appreciate those daily wins, but when and only when they are indeed deserved.
In that respect, I find photography very rewarding, and as expressed before, do not believe I would get as much out of video.
There are so many possibilities to play around and improve that the road is endless.
And when I receive some kind comments after being admitted to the circle of fine people who publish on DS, indeed that makes my day, as well as when able to appreciate the remarkable contributions coming from others. Rewarding and goal setting, all in one ^^.
You make a good point: they need to be deserved and comments are great for this, as we tend to be our harshest critics.
There’s a fine line between “settling”, giving up on ambitious hopes, and celebrating the steps along the road to those. I feel too many people fall on either extreme : either not trying or celebrating only the final success.
Couldn’t you achieve something similar also with video? By filming very short snippets of an interesting object/place/situation. You would get your immediate reward similar to photography. Yes, it’s not the great storytelling you are aiming for. But it’s a step in the right direction.
I’m not a big fan of Instagram, but there you can find now more and more these very short video sequences and some of them are really enjoyable to watch.
Just think about the first image in your post above: Wouldn’t it for example be great if you have a short video sequence of this same door and some interesting person would open this door and gives you a smile (ignoring the GDPR for a moment). Just a 5 seconds sequence.
Hi Boris, you must be right. My duaghter keeps telling me to film very short sequences and add them to instagram. I just don’t think of video in that way, but it’s true that it would be a very easy and convenient way in 🙂 Thanks!
Another very interesting article, and one that hits pretty close to home for me; (how do you do that?).
I’m sure the pandemic is part of the cause, but my own photography has taken a bit of a turn. The turn started near the end of 2020, and progressed to the end of February. I was trying to come to terms with using a new Fuji GFX50R and it was not going well. Plus, in March I needed to stop that effort, for an extended trip to Arizona which pushed me to concentrate on a different style of photography than my normal street images. All of this has me in a bit of a photographic funk. I haven’t had the time/interest to touch the Fuji, or download my SD cards from the trip to my hard drive after being home for over a week.
Though, for your article, I don’t think I totally agree with your premise that editing is the big advantage of filmmaking over photography. The big advantage is having a script, the story you want to tell, in hand before the filming begins.
With pure photography we can follow the prospector’s mantra, “There is gold in them thar hills!”, and then we head out into the hills to find the gold of the day. At the end of the day we have a collection of images that might be able to tell a story of the day. But, more than likely we have a collection of images that may or may not say anything to someone else.
Photojournalism plays the prospectors game of collecting images, though depending on the location and what is happening, there may be a larger story unfolding that needs to be recorded. In this case the images come first and the story is written over time.
Documentaries can take on both sides of the coin. They can combine the images collected by the photojournalist(s) to tell the story recorded, and they can take a historical record of events and create the visual images needed to bring the story to life.
For your case, the question may be, “What story do you want to tell?” To get started with the transition into filmmaking perhaps time lapse photography may be a good start. A day in the life of my hometown may be too big, but an hour in the life of the intersection of 5th and Main Street might be just right, and a lot of fun.
I can see it now, you take a seat at your favorite sidewalk cafe, set your camera on the table facing out. The camera is preset (manual focus and exposure) to take an image every 30-60 seconds. You sit and enjoy lunch while your camera clicks away recording what happens on the street in front of it; for dramatic effect place your coffee cup (wine glass) so it is in the field of view. When lunch is over and the the time is up, head home to see the treasures you have captured and the story they tell.
PS. Once I get the ambition to download my cards, I will start an article for DS.
Thank you Paul. Interesting comment!
If we’re talking about a fiction feature film for the cinema or Netflix, then the script is all important. But I feel that in documentary, when you are collecting all you can and have to make sense of all the shots, the editor is really the one building up the story from rushes. Of course, we can curate and order a set of photographs in exactly the same way!
You’re exactly right: until I find the story I want to tell, I’m stuck and won’t get started. I just don’t have time to experiment. But yeah, as you and Boris suggest, it is possible to collect small wins through short video snippets and I’ll probably start there 🙂
Do get to work on those cards. I’m sure you’ll love the results from that combination of great destination and great camera 🙂 And I look forward to your article, thanks 🙂
I finished downloading the cards last night.
Now I wish I had someone to help edit (cull) the images. Being gone that long and not being able to return to a location easily, means you (I) try to record everything. So even on the days I tried to practice restraint there may be over 100 images per day.
OOPS! I brushed the submit button before I was ready.
If you can believe the motivational posts on Instagram, 90% of the people that think about trying something don’t. So you should do something even if it is small and only you will see it, since small things can lead to bigger things. And the experience will probably point out things you need to be aware of before taking on a bigger project.
Concerning the Fuji, I did not take it to Arizona. I decided taking something I wasn’t totally familiar with on a “family or non-photo centric” trip was a bad idea. So my Lumix G9 cameras (normal and IR) made the trip with me; and the images I’ve looked at are good. The interesting thing is, I did not miss the Fuji and I have not used it since returning. So now I need to decide if I’m going to give it another try, or it is going to become trading stock for something else.
Ouch! I feel for you 😉 😉 😉
Ah, I don’t believe anything on Instagram 😉 But that’s beside the point. Regarding video, it’s a matter of free time. I work over 50 hours a week, maintain DS and starting video would mean giving up something (I won’t let go of sleep 😉 ) Plus a lot of investment. So I want think about it before. The heart of the problem is that I find the idea appealing but don’t know what I’d want to film about. It has to be a lot more deliberate than photography, and I’ve not had time to think about all that. No worries 😉
This is an intriguing post, and you’ll get no disagreement here. I did want to add that happiness is a contested notion in philosophy; there are a number of quite divergent views that are not easily reconciled. E.g., Aristotle thought of happiness (eudaemonia, or flourishing perhaps) as exercising the highest distinctively human capacities (theoretical and practical reason, he thought) in a long and not unwealthy life. Utilitarians (and Epicureans) seemed to think of happiness as a pleasurable life, on average or in sum, or perhaps weighted toward “higher” pleasures. Kant thought of happiness as the satisfaction of desires constrained by moral principles. And so on.
My only thought is that while we are all social beings, and our happiness depends upon others, that dependence varies greatly. For very other-directed people, there is no happiness unless others approve (e.g. by granting awards, remuneration, fame); for very self-wrapped people, happiness is being able to follow one’s own path, quite apart from what others might think. This distinction cuts across all photography, though commercial photography (still and video) is understandably weighted toward the customer. Is the happiness we photographers seek a matter of others’ approbation or internal joy? Probably a degree of both, for most all of us.
Please keep the stimulating posts coming (as if you could stop!).