Creatively Incorporating Photography into Filmmaking: A Tutorial from Stillmotion & Kessler
Chances are that if you’ve ever tried to incorporate still photography into your filmmaking, you’ve most likely used what has become known as the “Ken Burns Effect” wherein you keyframe various properties of the photograph in order to make it appear as if the camera is panning and zooming with the photo. While this is certainly a helpful tool when using photographs in your film, it’s not particularly exciting in a visual sense, and it’s been done so much that the technique itself is somewhat trite. Because of this, using large amounts of photos in a film presents a bit of a creative challenge, a challenge that our friends at Stillmotion encountered and tackled head-on for their recent feature documentary, #standwithme. How’d they do it? Stick with us to find out.
In the past few months, we’ve talked several times about the unique ways in which the fine folks at Stillmotion have approached this project. Here’s a full recap. However, for the purposes of this post, I’ll just throw the trailer for the film below:
In the case of #standwithme, still photography was an instrumental part of the project from the very beginning due to the fact that one of the primary characters in the film is a photographer who aims to shed light on the issue of modern slavery through her work. Add to that the fact that still photography was a must for telling the story of how young Vivienne started on her astounding journey, and it was clear that photos would play a large role in the creation of the film. The question then became, “How to incorporate these photos in a visually stimulating way that enhances the story?”
Here’s Patrick Moreau with the Stillmotion approach to storytelling through creative integration of photography with the filmmaking process:
What I love about this tutorial is that every element of this “photoscape” technique is grounded in pure storytelling. From the movement and speed of the slider, to the background on which you place the photographs, to the sound design that you place on top of the footage, it’s all there for the reason that inherently enhances the story that they are telling, which plays into the core philosophy of how Stillmotion is run.
Beyond the inherent storytelling value of the technique, it’s an extremely simple one to accomplish with a little bit of forethought. It doesn’t necessarily require a fancy motion control rig, such as the Kessler Stealth, which is prominently featured in the video. It can be accomplished either with a basic slider and some consistently steady hands, or you can combine the Ken Burns Effect with the various techniques shown here to create a similar aesthetic, although physical movement is almost always better. Then concoct some worthy sound design, and voila, a unique photoscape!
As of right now, the Stillmotion filmmakers are making their way across the county with #standwithme. Be sure to head on over to the film’s website to see if they’ll be stopping by your town any time soon to premiere the film and run their Storytelling With Heart workshop.
What do you guys think of the “photoscape” technique? How have you creatively incorporated still photography into your film projects in the past? Let us know down in the comments!