Eight tips to better Fusion videos / by Victor Currie

Fusion videos, mixing photography and video clips, are becoming almost ubiquitous as still photographers make use of the new video capabilities of their DSLRs.  This is a definite positive, in that any tool that that elevates a presentation can be a positive.  However, as is often the case, a tool that isn't used properly isn't always doing the end product justice.

It's like all those video editors (especially the amateur/semi-pros) in the late 80s and early 90s who thought that every transition should have a special effect instead of a cut or dissolve.  Those of us who were trained and experienced in production and storytelling understood that in order for an effect to actual be "special," it needed to be used with restraint.  When we edited on tape rather than in the computer (or to really give away my age, film), it was a pain to go back and fix a bad effect (plus you paid for each effect, sometimes hundreds of dollars each, on systems like Montage), so we only used them when we knew it would add to the production.

Since I shoot both still and video, but come from the moving picture side primarily (Fox, A&E, dozens of commercials, etc.), and am still primarily a director, here are a few things I try to remember when mixing stills and motion together.

  • Remember that photographs are capturing a moment in time, while moving video is capturing an ongoing series of events. Let the video set up the moment, and the photo finish it.
  • Still photos allow the viewer to fill in the story with their own imagination.  Video by its nature tells a story more directly. Make sure those inherent values support your storytelling.
  • Make sure your video clips have movement, either because something is in motion in the frame, or by moving the camera.  Why would you want non-moving video in a mix with stills?  If there's no movement, use the still. (An exception to this is a key piece of audio or dialogue that adds to the emotion of the story, though I would still argue that most of the time that dialogue will end up better served by limited use of the supporting video and mixing it under additional stills).
  • Vary your shot lengths.  A whole bunch of images and clips set to transition every five seconds is not a montage, it's a slide show.
  • Audio makes or breaks the finished product.  Bad audio will kill the most beautiful shot, and good audio can salvage a shot that isn't perfect.  Choose your music carefully.  There so much good music available to license these days at a reasonable price, I just can't for the life of me understand why anyone would choose to use bad fake synthesized Kenny G style music as an underscore (or real Kenny G for that matter, but that's just a taste preference).  If you're starting out and can't afford to pay for licensing yet, search out artists who are sharing free under Creative Commons licenses (www.ccmixter.org is one good place to search. I've used music from there when doing personal or lower budget pieces and been very happy with the quality).
  • Your video should tell a story, but that story does not have to be linear.  By that, I don't mean a beginning-middle-end story, but rather that the mix of still and video imagery should open up the viewer's eyes to a deeper understanding (or relationship with) of the subject of the video.  Otherwise, it's now just a slide show with some video clips.
  • Remember that less is more. Don't overload with repetitive material. Don't overdo effects.
  • Don't be afraid to ignore what everyone else says (including me) and follow your artistic instincts when you feel that it's really working (assuming you do indeed have those instincts).