The risk of moving into Hybrid Photography and the payoff

Smart photographers know the game is changing from static images to hybrid photography which is a blend of still + motion and sound. For professionals it is not an easy business, but the love for the art and craft pushes us onward. Up until a few years ago it was safe to only offer a still photo based product – prints, albums, posters etc., but that game is changing. The new name of the game is hybrid photography and while there’s a risk there’s also the potential for a payoff.

The risk

Back in 2009 I started adding motion to my work. It was a hard sell to clients.  Most didn’t get it and the few that did didn’t have the resources to hire a pro to make the shoot happen, so things were on pause for a bit. I knew that motion was the future for photographers, but dealing with a crappy economy and the decline of clients, I opted to start teaching myself this new way of shooting by assigning myself personal projects.

I got lucky and was able to relicense some work to a client, sold my studio in Phoenix (and most of my gear) and moved to Miami. My wife, Valdese, who was a big part of my business decided that she had her fill of the photo industry. Valdese began a new career in corporate America, which gave her peace of mind. It also gave me something – relief.  I’ll never forget the morning she told me to take time off and regroup my business. She wanted me to get my spark back. That’s my amazing wife and I love her. That sacrifice is a moment I’ll never forget.

I went on hiatus for two years to research how/when motion, social media and smart phones were going to meet. This was not an easy process, but I literally had nothing to lose. So I went all in for a gamble that would either help me re-launch my career or move me into a career unrelated to photography.

At first I took on projects that were complicated. I shot music videos, motion model tests, moving pinpups and even created a fine art motion piece on easter. None of these projects were easy but I got through the challenges.

I feel when we experiment as artists we need to push ourselves and explore new limits.

Not all of my experiments made it through post production. Some shoots were a pleasure, some were painfully emotional and physically draining. The gamble of moving into hybrid in 2009, before we even had the term hybrid, was not easy….but it was necessary for me. I built a Behance ProSite as a home for my experiments which you can see here.

Wait for Me was a challenging project but well worth the lessons learned. Click to see the project on Behance.
Wait for Me was a challenging project but well worth the lessons learned. Click to see the project.

What I learned

What I learned from my hiatus is rather in depth and I’m still finding gems of knowledge that I’ll be sharing as I go. I’m starting a tour this summer thanks to some generous sponsors, where I ‘ll be helping photographers to grow into the new world of hybrid photography.

Since I started my gamble, the learning process was one that rattled me to the core. I spent hours talking to some good friends about subjects like our titles as visual artists. [quote]Now that we’re shooting motion, am I a photographer, director, or director of photography??[/quote] Do I need to spend 50K on a RED camera? Should I go back to school and learn filmmaking? As a photographer do I need to be making films or should I make something else?

At times I had revelations, but sometimes I found myself depressed, alone and misunderstood as an artist. Once I thought, maybe I should go back to school and become a physical therapist (what??) but after a heart to heart with my Uncle Fabrizio, I knew that I had to finish what I started with this experiment, but needed to refine the direction. Here are some basic takeaways:

  • Keep it simple – I’m a still photographer. I need to shoot motion from the perspective of a still photographer. I’m not a filmmaker. 
  • Keep it beautiful – focus on beautiful photography. This means that your post production will not be complicated. Hybrid projects should not add much time onto your still workflow, instead hybrid shooting works within your current post workflow.
  • Embrace your failures – when we exercise we want to push our bodies to failure. Doing so helps our bodies become strong and ready to reach new physical limits. The same goes with creativity. Don’t shoot fashion? Shoot some fashion. Are you a portrait photographer? Experiment with hybrid nature shooting. Failure is only failure and has no impact on who you are as a artist or person. When you’re experimenting you need to learn from your failures in order to grow.
  • Experiment with personal projects – don’t experiment with paid assignments. Believe it or not there are photographers that go into a commission without a plan and hope for the best. If this is you, STOP. Experiment on your own dime, unless you want to potentially lose a client. If you are on a shoot and you want to take a series of stills and make an animated GIF, go for it. Making a music video while your client thinks you are just going to shoot stills is a big mistake. If you experiment on a job, your client will expect that you deliver the final to them. If you find in post that you did not make the proper captures and can’t deliver the final, it’s over for you and that client. Don’t do it.

I’m a portrait photographer for editorial and advertising, but this year I’ve experimented with hybrid shooting projects of nature, family lifestyle, landscapes, and even a hybrid wedding. I’ve not posted all of my projects yet, but I’m hoping to soon. Just check my YouTube Page and the official Small Camera Big Picture Youtube as well.

Learn from me in person

If you are able to join me at any of the live events I’ll be hosting this year, you’ll be learning a lot more with me hands on. We’ll be playing and experimenting with motion in a safe environment. My first live event is WPPI On the Road but there are many more in the works. You’ll need to find me on the social networks to be in the know or just subscribe to the Small Camera Big Picture newsletter to stay current.

Also, if you want to dig into learning hybrid from a great group of people check out Discover Mirrorless for loads of killer content both free and premium.

The payoff

The payoff is something that I never would have expected…at least at first. I knew that eventually motion from a still photographers perspective would catch on, but had no idea that it would take this long. That said, I didn’t know what when hybrid caught on it would move so quickly.

Now that smartphones are rapidly growing, I’m seeing demand for hybrid photography from clients old and new. I’m able to grow my current client base by adding motion to our projects and I’m taking on new clients because they want to see hybrid products from a still photographer’s perspective. This is huge! I feel validated in my experiments…I’m grateful for my successes and for my failures. I have found a new home within organizations like WPPI, Imaging USA and their photographers. At both WPPI and Imaging USA, I met many photographers and companies that “get” hybrid photography and sadly some that are still trapped by the idea of a print only business. That’s ok though, to each their own. I’m predicting that most of the group will make the move soon.

At the beginning of this article, I had mentioned that Small Camera Big Picture was inspired based on my experience with my Pen Mini and then my EM5. As my experiments in motion grew I found myself loving the form factor of small cameras but needing very high quality motion capture in a camera like the EM5 and I found that in my Lumix cameras.

I began talking with the Lumix team here in the states through my friend Will Crockett. Will Crockett is like the Yoda of hybrid photography to put it mildly. I guess that would make me Hybrid Luke Skywalker or something. Joking aside, he put me touch with those deep within the photographic industry and I found a very receptive audience within the team at Lumix. I’ve met with their engineers and top brass and we’re both on the same page. If you knew what was coming down the pipe from the Lumix team your eyes would melt. It’s freaken amazing.

One thing that Hybrid photography shares with traditional photography is that its about the content not about the gear. The idea that a company as large as Panasonic going all-in with a pro hybrid system is sending a message throughout the industry. I see that message is this –

Hybrid is here, it’s growing fast and like the move from film to digital, the transition is happening regardless if you embrace it or fight it.

Photographers that embrace it now will grow their businesses. Those that get into it later will stay in business. Those that continue to only offer still photography based products/services had better start looking for a new career.

I hope the pros reading this will embrace this change in photography. For many, embracing hybrid can mean a rebirth of their photography career while other pros that offer products based on still + motion and sound will grow their business in the coming years.

It’s not hard when you learn from the right people. Learn from those who speak the truth, like Will Crockett, Suzette Alan and myself. We’re living proof that clients want next-level visuals from their pro photographers. Regardless if you’re a full time pro, weekend warrior or a serious hobbyist, you can expand your creativity and business shooting hybrid and we want to teach you how.