Evolving from Photographer to Director

[by Chris Winton-Stahle]

There’s often a very thin grey line these days between the definition of photographer and director. I’ve found that many clients want a one-stop shop. After saying,  “no, I don’t direct television” for several years, I finally started saying, “yes, I can make that happen”. However, this becomes a situation where you’re stepping into the role of a production company, and a totally different set of skills and responsibility.

There’s a lot to consider when managing a video production project and hiring your crew. Video production is vastly more complicated, and is much more of a team sport than photography. Though I believe photographers can naturally transition with relative ease into the role of television director, it’s my personal belief that it’s important to delegate to the best talent and not attempt to wear too many hats! Choosing an editor will be one of your most important decisions when establishing your video production crew. Having the right editor for the job can make or break the project, and, outside of having an exceptional director of photography, having the right editor on board will be the most important decision you’re going to make.

Here are a few things I’ve learned about working with an editor: 

- Before you pursue work in video production, first focus on establishing relationships with good editors in your area. As the director, you will work very closely, in most cases, for many hours with the editor in an edit suite. It’s important that they are someone you are able to work well with as a collaborator!

- It’s good to get a fresh perspective! A great editor will see things in your footage that you don’t see. It’s really easy to get stuck on one specific idea after the script has been written and the storyboard established.

-  Always provide alternate reads and lots of b-roll. It’s a big part of your job as director to provide lots of options. Your client will love you for this and it’ll provide more wiggle room for your editor to get creative. Slate all of your takes with accurate time code and don’t forget to leave plenty of space at the front and end of each take for your editor to cut in to. Hiring a good sound tech can help you to manage this, as well as be able to communicate directly with the editor when delivering sound files.

-  Stay true to the vision! Take notes that reference your personal favorite cuts; and while on set, be sure that they correspond to the scene and cut. Also, be sure to provide this detail to your editor. When possible, work closely with your editor in the edit suite. As director, you’re in charge of directing the edit as well. This is often a process where an art director, and sometimes even the client, is present in the room. In such a case, it becomes a team effort in deciding what works best. However, the editor is most often a sub-contractor of the production company, and the overall direction must be managed. You know your client’s needs best, and it’s up to you to make sure they’re met.

-  Know the language! You don’t have to wear ALL of the hats, but as a director you do have to speak the language of video editing. It’s important to know how to communicate your ideas appropriately to the editor you’re working with on the project. Knowing what’s possible and how to direct an editor are essential. Take some classes or read a book or two to learn the terms and processes.

Most importantly, keep in mind that a video production is a team sport, and as director, you’re the leader of your team. Stay flexible and open to ideas, but stay true to your vision and the style you’ve been hired to deliver. A great editor will talk with you in depth about the direction of your project, and help you get to where you want to go.

Chris Winton-Stahle is an award-winning photographer and accomplished photo illustration artist who sees the camera as only half of his process in creating great imagery. Chris often pulls components from multiple images and CGI when creating his work for clients in advertising, magazines and entertainment.  

By Chris Winton-Stahle | Posted: February 16th, 2016 | No comments


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