The popularity of multimedia slideshows and the development of the photofilm have caught the eye of the world’s major news networks, but what are the benefits for photographers to present their work in this way? We caught up with English photographer Ian Forsyth to discuss his use of multimedia tools to present his documentary work and to find out why it’s so a valuable in an ever evolving market.
QWhat first inspired you to use multimedia tools to display your photographs?
I’ve always had a passion for documentary photography and how the lives and stories of people are documented, and as the need to look at fresh and different ways of showing this type of work developed and expanded, the ability to connect the images with the actual voices and the narrative of those in the stories held a great appeal as a fresh and interesting way of showing the work. Seeing this done, especially in the UK, by the likes of Duck Rabbit was inspirational and pushed me to try it for myself.
QWhat does a photofilm allow you to do as a photographer that a set of stills can’t do?
I think that the still image is and will remain a very powerful tool and a way of illustrating a story, an individual or a subject in an incredibly strong way, but when this is then added to a strong narrative from someone directly connected to the story it takes it to another level completely. When done well, it can be even more powerful. I don’t think it works for every situation but when it does it becomes a way of connecting with the viewer in a different way.
QWhy do you think the use of photofilms is becoming more popular with news outlets such as the BBC and the New York TImes?
I think it is simply because the market is changing. Online news is becoming more popular each day. With all the electronic tools now available allowing us to connect to the internet, they have had to adapt what they do to try and reach these readers. I think that photofilms offer a fresh and different way of doing this.
QDo you vary your approach depending upon whether you are setting out to gather content for a photofilm or going out to shoot stills?
My approach will vary a little depending on my reason for shooting. For my documentary work, I am aware of the need to tell the story with the pictures and as such I will look for those pictures that help me achieve this - a beginning, a middle and an end if you like - and all the pictures that go towards allowing me to do this. Some of those pictures wouldn’t be of any use in a more news-based story.
If I am shooting for my news work then my priority is to look for the pictures that tell the story in a single image. This isn’t always possible, of course, but I concentrate more on trying to find it.
Either way though I think it is of huge importance to not become so focused on one that you completely neglect the other, and that, where possible, and where time allows, you remain aware of both. Sometimes those shots that lend themselves more to storytelling may also be the best ones to shoot for news requirements. Remain flexible.
QWhat is the most important element to consider when putting together a photofilm?
The story. That’s it. The tools of this process such as the cameras used, your audio equipment, your editing software and the style of presentation used in the final edit to show the photofilm, and even the very way in which it is edited together are all very important because they allow you to produce them, but none of this should take over and be more important than the actual story itself.
QDoes the process of creating a photofilm alter your perspective on the images or subject matter?
I think that it brings more awareness as to what images can work and which ones don’t when it comes to putting a story together. Images that you may not ordinarily think would have any real contribution to make can suddenly become quite an important way of allowing the story to flow and as such you start to see and look for more of these images.
From the point of view of the relationship with the subject, I think that whatever the story is, be it a very serious subject or a more light hearted one, it inevitably brings about a better understanding of the people involved and of the subject and that has to be a good thing.
QWhat benefits do you think displaying your images using multimedia tools has over displaying stills online?
I think it becomes more interactive. It allows the viewer to feel more part of an event or the story in a way that looking at a single image may not. It brings it to life with the audio. I believe that if done well then a photofilm will hold the attention of a viewer more. Also I think that people are now used to a far more interactive way of doing things online and, as such, they expect more.
QAs a photographer, was engaging with audio an issue? Did it take time to get to grips with the relevant recording equipment and audio software?
Like anything new, building up an understanding of audio takes time. Not so much in the ‘button pressing’ of the audio equipment itself and even the software can be understood relatively quickly, but understanding how audio can be used is a great and fascinating skill to learn.
It is one of these things that we take for granted and only when you break it down into parts do we see how important it is. The best way I found in the beginning to understand the use of good audio was by listening to the longer feature pieces on BBC Radio 4! The way the audio was used was incredible and can totally transform a piece.
The best piece of advice I could offer for audio would be to let it breath. Just because your piece might be three minutes long, you don’t need three minutes of continuous narrative. Sometimes what you leave out can be more important than what you put in!
QDo you have any upcoming projects that you’re excited about working on?
My main documentary project that is ongoing at the moment is something I’ve been working on for over a year now and when I can get the time, and is a project called ‘Coast People.’ I’m looking at a stretch of the north east coast between Teesside and Flamborough Head and documenting the different ways of using or living with the sea.
Whether it is for commercial or business reasons, a traditional activity or simply as a means of recreation and enjoyment. I’ve photographed some individuals in more of an environmental portrait style and some pictures are more ‘street’ or maybe ‘beach’ photography in style.
I have quite a large collection of pictures already and my future plans for this are to produce a number of short photofilms on some of the people I meet and then publish it all on an interactive website. Some pictures from this collection can be seen in posts on my Room 2850 blog.
I’m gathering material for this as often as I can whilst at the same time trying to generate interest in galleries and publishers to try and get the work displayed to a wider audience.
I love this kind of social documentary work and firmly believe that as photographers, whether we use such titles as ‘professional’ or ‘amateur,’ we all have a responsibility to contribute either directly or indirectly to a collective photographic history that can be seen by future generations.
QWhat advice would you give to any photographers out there who want to have a go at making their first photofilm?
Go for it! Just jump in and give it a go. Start local, with something familiar and don’t be afraid of the mistakes. There will always be mistakes and I can guarantee that once you have edited your piece and ‘finished’ it, you will always see another way you could have done it.
Watch as many examples of photofilms and multimedia productions as you can. Whether the subject interests you or not, it is a great way of seeing what can be achieved. I’m not saying to copy them, be original, but use them as a learning resource.
Keep the story as the most important element and use your skills, equipment, editing and software as tools to help achieve this. Work hard to gather strong audio it will make a difference in the end piece. Aim to grab the viewer and hold them throughout and keep their interest.
Ask questions of your audience. Challenge them and make them think.
Finally, be respectful towards your subject. Treat them with courtesy and humility and be professional at all times. Whatever it might be, it is their story. It isn’t a story about the photographer and their ability to produce the story.
You can find out more about Ian and keep up to date with his latest projects via his blogs through his website, Ian Forsyth Photography.