A few years ago at NAB, the theme was "Media Convergence." Since then, the term "convergence" has faded into the slogans of yesteryear. But in some fields, ours included, the concept is alive and well. Now I'm beginning to see signs of products and technologies that spell the end of separate professions for still photographers and videographers in the event business, and the emergence of a single profession that will handle both functions.
Already, more and more event videographers are offering digital still photography as an additional service. On the other side of the fence, photographers are moving from film to digital in droves, and some are even beginning to look at adding videography to their services. Several things are happening which are driving this phenomenon.
• Underpaid videographers. Compared to still photographers, wedding videographers typically work harder and make less money. Part of this is the perception that many brides have of videography as a rather amateurish product, equivalent to what a friend or a relative could do with a consumer camcorder. Part is simply that video is a relatively new medium, and a new addition to the "must have" items on the list of anyone planning a wedding. But the result is that some videographers, having become skilled at image capturing through their video work, are jumping into digital photography as a lucrative addition to their business model.
• Digital still cameras. For a videographer who is used to electronic cameras, digital still cameras have more familiarity, and more appeal, than traditional film cameras. We understand the medium. On the photographers' side, these new cameras often are capable of taking short video clips as an added feature, which provides them an introduction to capturing sound and motion.
• High-definition video. Video's biggest drawback has been its low resolution. A 720x480 image simply doesn't contain enough information for a good 8x10 print. But the advent of affordable HDV camcorders is changing that equation. Even an HDV image can't compete with an 8-megapixel still, when both are printed at 8x10. But the HDV image does make a very acceptable 4x6 print, especially when processed with image-enhancing software. Since a video camera takes literally thousands of still images, it can take over the job of taking the "candids" . . . the shots that the stills guys get by acting like paparazzi at a celebrity gala.
• The "paparazzi" approach of the candids photographer. This everywhere-you-look strategy emphasizes something that I think is important: there are too many people providing media coverage at weddings, and even if they manage to stay out of each others' way, the sheer number of bodies is beginning to be a distraction. I think that more brides are going to want to go to a single media specialist who can provide clean, integrated, and unobtrusive coverage of her event.
• Home theater. Not only does HD mean that video and still cameras are becoming more and more alike, but many people are installing HD-capable playback and display equipment in their homes. Many of these installations are equipped to display both video and still images. A disc played in a home theater may become the "wedding album" of the future.
• Perfect digital copies. The ability to import still images into video and take frames from video to create still images is blurring the perceptual lines between the media. Of course, this has been with us for some years now, but the technology and the ability to use it is spreading, not only between photographers and videographers, but among the public in general. Which leads to . . .
• Increased competition from amateurs. Now that nearly every home computer can manipulate audio, video, and still images, many people are developing home movies, photos, and sound mixes into a new hobby. This is a replay of the situation that emerged when desktop publishing first became available. Suddenly, everyone was their own printer. This took some business away from the traditional printers, but the smart ones found ways to roll with the tide and continue to provide professional services. And consumers found that they still needed professional printing services for many things, for reasons of quality, convenience, or both. The same thing is happening now with visual media. The event specialist (video or still) will have to find ways to roll with the tide. One might offer a stills package on CD-ROM or DVD-ROM, rather than a traditional wedding album. Or a Web site with stills and streaming video of the event. There are many possibilities, but one thing seems clear: there will be a lot of price pressure put on traditional wedding media specialists.
I predict that it will be only another two equipment generations before we see a single camera that will be capable of taking both exquisite video and great stills. This imaging device will be the working tool of the new event media specialist. What will we call this new breed? My first thought was "digital imaging professional," but I don't like the acronym that goes with that title; I don't want to be a DIP. A "digital imager" could just as well refer to a camera or a camcorder as the person operating them. I know: how about "Digital Recordist"? That way, we can all be known as "DRs."