First love for photos.
The first time I remember having a serious interest in photography was when I was 15. Mom had a point-and-shoot Canon. I remember it cost $400. My current iPhone can unquestionably take better photos. I carried that camera around and took pictures of my life as a teenager back when we all had a Xanga account and posted everything we did there.
I realize that privilege surrounded me in that beginning phase. I had access to a camera. I had parents who trusted me with that camera. I had friends who had cars and drove me around and did fun things worthy of capturing. I wonder what my story would be if I hadn’t had this kind of access.
I saved up all my graduation money and bought my first serious camera—a Canon 30d with a Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 lens. I took this thing with me everywhere and took pictures of everything that moved and some things that didn’t. I crawled our tiny city late at night with a friend and experimented with long exposure and light painting. I played the role of second shooter in weddings. I shot my first wedding on my own.
I started thinking I might go to a specialized college for photography, but the dream was unclear, so I started working at a formalwear store sewing buttons on tuxedos and taking pictures of rain puddles in my spare time.
Feet to the Fire
During the time I was working at the formalwear store, my Dad was a pastor in our town and the church had a weekly TV program that aired in the local market. This show featured almost 30 minutes of new content every week, and it wasn’t the typical shot of the stage from the back of the room that many churches use. It was a fully produced show, planned, shot, and edited by a young woman who was a mass communications major.
Up to this point I hadn’t thought seriously about video and was focused only on photography. Dad brought me into his office and said that the woman producing their show currently would be having a baby soon and he wanted me to produce the show full time. This was a great opportunity for an 18-year-old kid without any college, though I didn’t realize this at the time. I quit the formalwear store and jumped into full time video production.
The reason this was such a feet-to-the-fire moment is that I had to start planning, scheduling, shooting, and editing a 30-minute TV show which aired weekly and was highly visible in the community. I had never made a serious video in my life up to this point. On top of that, I was in a social circle of creative friends who would be seeing the show and evaluating the work whether I wanted them to or not. The mere thought of this made my cheeks burn.
It was the best thing in the world for my skill to start publishing consistently when I wasn’t ready. (This is exactly why I’m writing on this blog and shipping written content consistently, even though I don’t feel ready to do it.)
It was good for it to be so public. If you know no one will see what you’re working on, nothing is at stake, and you’ll cut yourself a lot of slack and never do your best. It was good for it to be relentlessly consistent. If it doesn’t have to be done it takes much longer than it should. You can only spend so much time perfecting something when the deadline is approaching, and this is most important when you’re starting out and aware of how little you know.
I was able to learn gain a mountain of knowledge in this position, including:
- How to apply the photographic principles to video.
- How to shoot footage.
- How to plan content.
- How to schedule groups of people.
- How to build a set.
- How to light a shot.
- How to edit.
- How to organize footage.
- How to plan hard drive space.
- How to back up everything I’ve made.
- How to make animations in After Effects.
- How to find the right export settings.
- How to use a steadicam.
- How to color grade.
- How to shoot a multi-angle segment.
And the list goes on.
The most important thing I learned was to finish, publish, evaluate, and improve next time.
It’s vitally important to learn in public. (For further reading, see Austin Kleon’s book Show Your Work.) When we keep everything we’re making private, we insulate ourselves from the criticism we need. You don’t need much criticism at the beginning. Here you just need encouragement so you gain enough courage to keep going. But once you get some repetitions under your belt and things go somewhat smoothly, criticism can save you from the arrogance that kills so many artists. Those who are most prone to arrogance are those who know a little and haven’t yet realized how much they don’t know. That’s when it becomes dangerous to insulate yourself.
Love for Video
Over time I began to fixate more on video than photography as a creative medium. It was also good timing. Right after I started, the first video DSLRs came out which put the power of a cinematic image into the hands of people with smaller budgets. On top of that, social platforms were revolutionizing media and providing an unprecedented home for video content. This trend has only increased and isn’t going anywhere soon.
Would I love video in another time period? I’m not sure. Maybe not. “Corporate video” meant something much different 30 years ago than it does now. I’ll never forget an old school ad executive telling me that in the 1990s, if his agency sold a video project for less than $250,000 the crew would be outraged because of how little they would be able to accomplish.
All that to say, there’s never been a better time to be employed making videos, and this worked out well for me.
The need for video content is only increasing. High schoolers these days with an interest in making videos usually want to be vloggers and influencers, and this isn’t a great plan. Instead, they should learn to create great video content—learn to focus on the fundamentals of good lighting, good audio, good footage, and good editing. Storytelling is the key (this is actually what makes a great vlogger too). Figure out how to help businesses communicate well through video and you’ll be employable for a long time.
As the demand for video content continues to increase—and the means and methods available for creating it—I foresee that most businesses in the future will have a video content creator on staff full time.
More than anything, it’s about learning the skill within. Technology comes and goes, tools always get better, but great storytelling is forever. Learn how to tell a great story and you can ride the wave of change in technology forever.