The Pond at Pleasure House Point, 2013
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From time to time I’ve toyed with shooting video. The availability of so much powerful video editing software has made it possible for even the layman to be a passable filmmaker.
I’ve been fascinated by how movies are composed ever since I noticed Stanley Kubrick’s long, painterly, slow reverse zoom shots in his 1975 film “Barry Lyndon.” (Here's another.) Those shots were so elegant and revealing that they made me want to learn more about the craft of making telling stories with motion pictures.
Just recently I’ve been working my way through this 15-part “Story of Film,” available on Netflix. It’s narrated by the Irish film critic Mark Cousins. You could learn a lot from this series, though I’ll warn you that Cousins’ delivery is so emotionless that you could easily be excused for dozing off after the fiftieth or sixtieth reference to “The Thief of Baghdad.”
I started playing with video in 2001 after my wife gave me a digital handheld video camera for Christmas. The next spring I took the video camera with us on a trip to Italy, where I learned quickly that working with a video camera calls for very different talents and visual perspectives than working with the still camera. This was not just “taking a picture.” It was about composing sequences that had logical beginnings and endings and a modicum of story in between.
I enjoyed using the video camera on that trip. But after I came home and edited that material the video camera went into the closet. Since that time video camera quality has improved so much so your average smartphone has better video quality than that old Sony, even if it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles of a dedicated video camera.
This past weekend I took both the old Sony video camera and my digital SLR out to shoot at Pleasure House Point, a nature reserve near where we live. It was a good day for a walk. But the experience was dreadful.
Shooting still photographs is about capturing a specific moment or impression of that moment. Composing video requires you to think not only about the immediate moment, but what’s going to happen next. I found myself juggling between the two cameras so much that I used neither well. The video was awful and the fifty or so still images weren’t much better.
Maybe it was just an off day. I prefer to think I was trying unsuccessfully to see two ways out of one set of eyes.