Making History: The Last Days of the Photomontage
Posted Mar 29, 2008

That should have been my video being shown on the screen at my client’s 75th birthday party. There I was, watching a photomontage—of my client, at his big bash, at the Taj in Boston—only, I didn’t produce the video and I wanted to know who did!
 Who upstaged me? Was it the DJ? The photographer? The parking valet? This photo montage was strictly photos edited to music, yet it got the same roaring applause that I get when I produce a Legacy Video with video interviews.
 When the credits came on the screen, my client’s 15-year-old granddaughter turned out to be the culprit. I swallowed my pride and congratulated her on a job well done. I held my smile as she told me she edited everything on a $50 piece of software called Photo to Movie.

While sharing this story with Whit Wales of Whit Wales Wedding Video, the energetic president of our regional PVA, he pointed out that the videographer’s style of producing photo montages is gasping through its last moments of existence. Wales added, "This year’s hottest Christmas gift was the digital frame, a technology device where consumers can upload their photos, from their computer, and create a photomontage with effects and music and output it to a frame-like monitor."

With the proper software and the correct digital media, DJs, party planners, photographers, and even bridal couples are producing photomontages that were once the exclusive domain of our video industry. For us, as videographers, the time has come to re-evaluate one of our basic revenue streams, the photomontage. We need to keep ahead of the consumer learning curve by offering new and original ways of showcasing our clients’ histories.

When I posed this dilemma to three-time EventDV 25 all-star David Robin, he said, "If your montages look like they could be done in iPhoto, you’re in trouble." david robin | films produces breathtaking concept photomontages using dazzling 3D effects, biography, and themed stories, and commands upwards of $10,000 per production. "If you enjoy creating photo montages and see the profitability of them, then start producing a product that stands apart and instills the ‘wow’ factor in your clients’ minds."

Our clients are still willing to pay big bucks for our photo montages, yet the product needs to be creative and original. Using video interviews, voiceovers, motion graphics, humor, as well as using original scripts to tell a client’s history, we can keep this product viable.

When I spoke with Robin, he was in the middle of editing a themed concept spoof incorporating gangster clichés of 1950 movies and incorporating these in a story of how his client, who’s turning 60 and loves gangster movies, rose to infamy as "one tough mobster." Consumers, DJs, and photographers may be able to upload photographs with generic computer software, yet for the most part, they do not have the creativity to produce the magic that is added to our editing and interview skills to create one-of-a-kind concept videos.

Not all videographers can master After Effects and Photoshop like david robin | films, but they can still compete in the photomontage marketplace. Sheila Orsi of Encore Presentation takes the photos-edited-to-music approach but does not lose any business to her consumer counterparts. "My product is basic and does not involve a lot of time and labor, so many times I will give the photo montage away for promotion and advertising. This way, potential clients will see my work and come back to hire me to do some of my more expensive products."

Dominic Velasco of Philippines-based Imacron takes on the challenge of the competitive photomontage marketplace by producing amazing 3D photo montages. He creates an original visual history that commands upwards of $2,500 per production. "My 3D photo montages are specially designed montages wherein multiple layers of images move in a scene," Velasco says. "Through the use of digital lighting and depth-of-focus techniques, a seamless three dimensional scene is created."

What makes Velasco’s 3D montages different from a regular photomontage is his understanding of the client’s concept and their story. His clients know that there is an advanced skill level needed to complete his projects, and thus they are willing to pay a higher fee for his creativity.

So, is the photomontage dead as a commercial product? No, we just need to breathe new life into it. My new blog, BiographyStories.com, is currently showcasing newer photomontage styles. Send us one of your clips to share with other videographers to show how you have redesigned your photo montages to keep them competitive.

Hal Slifer (hal at halslifervideo.com) is a Video Historian who has produced thousands of family histories for clients throughout New England for more than 25 years. He is a 2006 EventDV 25 honoree and 2007 WEVA Hall of Fame inductee.