Photography

Will 8K Video Change Photography?

We’ve been hearing for some time that in the future we’d all be shooting video and then browsing through each frame to pick out the best stills. When you first hear the suggestion it sounds plausible, but the more you think about what that process would entail, the less it resembles the photography we all know and love.

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Image by Teddy Kelley

So, is the ability to shoot video at super-high resolutions really an important step for still photography to take? Or is video best left to the videographers?

The debate is about to heat up again thanks to the availability of cameras capable of shooting 8K video. A frame of 4K video could give you an 8 megapixel image. This was okay, but pretty far behind the image resolutions that photographers were used to enjoying. However, each frame in an 8K video is a 32 megapixel still image. That could have huge implications for the industry.

Let’s take a look at some of the potential pros and cons:

Pro – The ability to choose any frame in a series is especially useful when shooting with large-sensor cameras that gives an extremely shallow depth-of-field. When you’re shooting a model with a shallow depth-of-field, the slightest forward or backward movement can cause the eye nearest the camera to move outside of the zone of sharpest focus.

If you’re rolling the entire time, it’s possible to go through the footage and isolate every frame in which that eye is in focus. In short, because you’re playing the odds, you’re bound to end up with more usable frames.

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Image by Jakob Owens

Con – Strobe photography might not have much of a place in a world dominated by video. It could be that permanent lights become the norm. For those who are attached to their flashgun techniques, this could be quite a learning curve.

Pro – Although storing 8K RAW video requires a lot of expensive, high speed storage, the reality is that you may only need to shoot a few seconds of video in order to guarantee a good frame.

Con – Depending on the compression format, 8K video could require around 15-18TB of storage for 90 minutes of video. Unless you’re a film production company using Media Shuttle to transfer your files, you’re probably going to want to bring those file sizes down as quickly as you can. Not only will files that large be tough to store, you’ll also need a powerful PC to even browse the video and choose your frames.

Pro – A camera like the RED Weapon 8K can capture both 8K motion footage as well as 36MP photos. It allows you to do video and photography at the same time. This kind of technology could eventually trickle down into consumer cameras too. If you’re a wedding photographer whose clients often ask for video and still images, you may be able to shoot both at once without needing to hire an assistant to do one or the other for you.

Pro – If you’re shooting video for the purpose of extracting stills, you don’t necessarily need audio capture gear, video lights, or any other expensive video gear that a videographer would need.

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Image by Chris Holgersson

Con – Although if you’re planning to offer video and photography services, you’ll probably need to learn these skills and plenty more besides, such as editing, colour grading, and sound mastering. For the wedding photographers we spoke to, this is a step they have little inclination to take.

Pro – Not only can the RED Weapon shoot 60 frames per second at 8K, it also has a 30-second pre-record feature. This enables you to capture a photo that happened 30 seconds ago. That simply wouldn’t be possible with a traditional D-SLR camera.

Conclusion

Pulling a still from rolling footage may make it easier to capture the moment you are looking for, but it’s a very different skillset to photography as we know it.

It has been said that being a photographer is akin to being a hunter: you prepare carefully, you understand the conditions, you wait patiently, and you know when to seize the moment. For some, that instant – the moment that Henri Cartier-Bresson called “the decisive moment” – is one of the great joys of photography.

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Image by Jakob Owens

The ability to capture the decisive moment with a still camera depends on the interaction of conscious and unconsious processes. It’s part training, part instinct, part creativity.

So, what would be an appropriate comparison for selecting frames of video? Having a pre-record function means that you will probably get into the habit of setting your camera up on a tripod in an opportune location so the camera’s not pointing at the ground between shots. In that respect it’s not particularly like lying in wait with a rifle to take a perfectly timed shot. It’s more like setting up a sentry drone and waiting for something to walk into your crosshair.

Granted, not every photographer takes such pleasure in the ephemeral and spontaneous event. But there’s a good chance that a significant number of shooters enjoy the challenge of capturing fleeting moments and would rather not take a tommy gun, spray-and-pray approach to their work.

It’s probable that in the long term a whole new skillset will emerge for video-photography. When it does, the people who embrace that process will probably produce great work that demonstrates why it’s such a smart development.

For many, though, photography is as much about the process as it is about the result. And for those people, the promise of being almost unable to miss a moment might have the unfortunate side effect of removing the “decisive” and leaving only the “moment”.