In our digital age, clients are increasingly asking more of photographers. Many commercial jobs require not only still images, but also multimedia visual options for social media, from time-lapse and stop-motion footage through to fully narrative films. These sometimes-competing priorities can raise challenges for image-makers, but also offer great rewards.
Canon Ambassador Quentin Caffier has been working as a commercial photographer since 2008, but social videos have now become a significant part of his work. "There are a lot of projects where I've been contacted to do some photos and then suddenly they want videos," he says.
Under his alias, Markus Dewynter, he has shot social videos for clients – including the below videos for designer eyewear brand John Dalia – as well as clips showcasing high fashion, beauty and perfume.
Some of these videos remain closer to photography in form, such as the stop-motion videos he's made for Guerlain for social media – "a first step entry into video." Others resemble scaled-down film shoots, often with all the ambitions of a large-scale production but the budget for just a single operator.
The variety offered by social video makes it a fulfilling part of French photographer Quentin's work. "Social media projects are rather short, so you can switch from one to another quickly," he says. "You can learn from a lot of different people – I can be talking to a doctor about a disease one moment and then to a guy who is collecting watches. This content is exciting because you feel like you are entering into a lot of different universes, which I really like."
Here, Quentin shares his six golden rules for shooting engaging social media videos for clients.
"Most of the content is short – often just 30 seconds. The maximum length I've made for social is around two minutes. As a user, when you're on your phone you swipe quickly; if you see something, you don't stop for three or four minutes. So when making videos, you have to find something catchy."
Narratives need to be kept tight, so you need to have a good handle on your interviewees if you have on-camera speakers. "When I started to shoot some social videos, it was often interviews of people, so you need to think about how you deal with them. You're trying to make them formulate their thoughts in order to make short responses – one sentence, one idea, that's all. Then when you're doing your edit, you can cut what is too long to understand. And if you cannot handle your client, the video might be too long because people can be talking and not expressing their point."
Recent trends in video editing mean it is now easier than ever to create content for social on your own with just one camera, says Quentin. "A few years ago, when you were shooting people and interviews, you needed to have at least two angles in order to cut between them.
"But I've noticed that people are now used to jump cuts when you cut in the same point of view. I think that's because of all the podcasters and YouTubers who edit videos like that. It helps to have two angles – if you have a larger budget, you can afford to have two DSLRs, or one big camera and one DSLR. But if you can't, you can now shoot videos with just one angle."
Shooting in the highest resolution possible will allow you to make the most of the one angle you have. "The edit is an important time, and cuts are the key to having an interesting and catchy video," Quentin continues. "You can jump cut or try to zoom within the images to make the cuts more manageable. By zooming into the video slowly, when you cut, you can come back at a wider angle. But to be able to do this digital zooming, you need 4K [resolution] to be able to move within your images afterwards. Shooting in 4K is also important for stabilisation."
When considering edit time, Quentin also advises ensuring you keep time and money aside for sound design and colour grading. "It can often happen at the end, when you've almost finished a job, that you start looking for sound and music and realise you don't have the budget for it. A video can be so much better with just a few sounds – good sound design is the difference between a professional and unprofessional video.
"If you don't have a good microphone or good sound mixing, the video will not be nice – it's something in your gut.
"You should also spend time colour grading. Some Canon cameras enable you to shoot with C-Log, which is useful in enabling you to do some colour grading adjustments to make your images eye-catching."
When you're shooting a standard video, you usually decide your composition just once, but social brings up a whole new challenge, because you have to be able to present content across multiple platforms with different aspect ratios.
"Since I started shooting video, I've always used a wide format like 16:9 – classical cinema formats," says Quentin. "But on Instagram you have to make an image in a square, or in the Stories for Facebook you have to make a vertical video. For me, the main difficulty is finding a nice composition that works in three different formats, because we can't shoot it three ways. That is not easy, especially when you are coming from stills photography, where you take time to compose your image. That's why you need 4K, for example, because you can shoot a little bit larger and then crop specific frames, cutting your image in a few different formats."
This means creating content that will work across a traditional film format, for use on YouTube or as a Facebook or Twitter post; that can be cropped to a square 1:1 aspect ratio to be posted on an Instagram grid; and that fits in a vertical 9:16 aspect ratio for Facebook or Instagram Stories.
"My team has been working on a music project where we knew the video would be used across social media as well as on a website, so you're dealing with three different formats," Quentin continues. "So, we shot at a reasonable angle, and on Instagram we cropped to the square, and for Stories we kept the square and added moving objects up and down to fill the top and bottom of the screen."
"A DSLR is a cheap way to have a high-quality image," says Quentin, who usually chooses a Canon DSLR over larger cinema cameras when shooting for social, shooting stills and videos with the same camera. "I use the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV because it's 4K capable and light compared with the Canon EOS C300 Mark II or EOS C100 Mark II. Most of the time, shooting for social media means working with a tight budget, so you cannot come with a team of people to focus and to handle the lighting. You need a camera that's able to record with the most natural possible light, which the EOS 5D Mark IV is able to do. It also needs autofocus, so you are able to concentrate on the content of the video."
The mirrorless Canon EOS R also offers advantages for social shooting. "I've just shot a few test videos with the EOS R so far," Quentin says. "It's lighter, and what is really good on this is the autofocus. You can just say 'let's roll' and let the camera choose the focus."
Quentin leans towards fixed lenses for filming, currently working with the Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM lens for close-up portraits, the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens for "stolen moments" and the wide-angle Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM lens for capturing environments. "All of these lenses are great with light," he says. "You can open at a wide aperture, so you can shoot in almost any conditions, even if you are shooting at night or in a dark environment.
"I tried the RF 35mm F1.8 MACRO IS STM lens for the EOS R, which convinced me that this is a nice lens you can do almost everything with. It's good to shoot portraits, interviews and landscapes, and, for me, it's a nice balance between these things.
"I'd say that a 35mm and 100mm are perfect for videos. On the EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM lens the stabilisation is great, and the macro is able to shoot both portraits and stolen moments. You can just hold the camera in your hand and with the stabilisation can shoot people working, small moments, which are very important. With the RF 35mm F1.8 MACRO IS STM lens for the EOS R, you can have portraits of the people you are shooting for the interview, with some of the environment, so it can balance everything."
Ahead of a job, you need to think about the practicalities of the brief – a "quick video for social" might sound simple, but if the client is asking for a full narrative film, it's a huge increase in workload on top of shooting stills. This may be beyond the work of a single shooter, especially as you're now having to think in terms of two totally different mediums.
"It can be difficult to balance shooting photographs and video," says Quentin. "Even if your camera can do both, you have to set the camera in a different position for each. It's difficult to switch from one to another, and also in your mind – when you switch to video mode you don't think exactly like you did when you were shooting photographs. You need to talk with your client, understand what is important for them and what you have to focus on."
Quentin doesn't direct and shoot at the same time, instead relying on a larger team, adding in a second shooter, an assistant or a journalist. He says, "In Japan I was working for a luxury watch company, interviewing a watch collector. I was shooting film, and then I had another camera set up. A journalist was leading the interview to help explain what was wanted, and we had a translator. I was shooting pictures while the translator was translating, because otherwise you can hear the camera during the interview.
"Switching to mirrorless cameras like the EOS R System will be interesting because you can shoot silently, so you may be able to do both, shooting while rolling."