The Digital Journalist
Can You Shoot
Stills and Video?
August 2007

by Dirck Halstead

For the past few weeks a vociferous debate has been raging on the Platypus Park and Newspaper Video X Yahoo Groups sites [, and].

As more newspapers around the country are tasking their photographers to shoot video for the Web sites, some are asking their photographers to shoot video instead of stills, while others are asking the photographers to double duty.

This is a question we have addressed since the very start of the Platypus Workshops.

It is important to remember what the Platypus is. It has always been a hybrid. Before the Platypus there were still photojournalists and there were TV camera people. One group did NOT try to do the jobs of the other. There was peace and happiness in the universe.

There were also newspapers that were healthy and profitable, with career-long employment for their photographers. There were big magazines with unlimited budgets to send photographers flying off around the world to take their pictures. There were picture agencies that actually represented photographers, splitting sales with them. There were unions that guaranteed TV shooters as much work as they could handle, with liberal benefits, including double overtime for "golden hours." Couriers delivered lunches on assignment.

That was then. But everything has changed.

In the '90s, I started carrying around my Sony VX1000 on trips with President Clinton. My job was to cover these stories with still photographs. Time had no interest in video. (Actually a few people there did, but that is another story). However, I had another commitment, to myself, which is to record history. In 2000, the Newseum took hours of my Hi8 and DV tapes and cut a 5-minute movie called "The Boys On the Bus." That movie ran the length of the main hall, across three huge screens, until the Newseum closed.

At the Center For American History [University of Texas at Austin], we have a long-term project underway to take these tapes and archive them for future generations.

Shooting these videos did not interfere with my prime job, which was to take pictures. I did them as I had time, of which there was plenty, as anyone who has ever covered a campaign knows.

For most of the past seven years, editors at best tolerated newspaper video. The vast percentage of editors had no interest in them, as they had little interest in that pesky "Internet."

Some intrepid photographers, such as Gail Fisher of the Los Angeles Times, managed to cope with both mediums, and turned out magnificent packages.

But then, the world turned upside down again. Publishers, frantic to keep their brands alive in the face of lost readers and advertising, realized they had to focus their energies on the Web. Shortly thereafter newspaper photographers by the droves started showing up at the Platypus Workshops.

At the workshops we focus on teaching the skills of video. We don't pay attention to enhancing still photographic skills, because we feel the students already know that. But, as David Leeson of The Dallas Morning News writes, we emphasize that they must still remember the rules they learned over the years as still photographers if they want to be able to pull stills from their video.

The reality is that video at newspapers is still a toddler. The requirements will vary from paper to paper. Some like The New York Times will have the luxury of turning photographers into video journalists, assigning them to do that skill set. Most papers will be more cautious, and expect photographers to continue to take stills as well as do video. It's hard, but not as hard as it used to be shooting both black & white and color on the same assignment when we worked with film.

I personally think there will continue to be a role for the still camera at newspapers. There are some things that stills just do better. I think for example that it would be extremely difficult to cover a football game with video. Sports are by definition about capturing peak moments, and the photographers who do this consistently are specialists and very good at it. The idea of trying to follow the action from the sidelines, with the camera on a tripod is a nightmare. A Dallas Morning News photographer found this out the hard way while trying to shoot a high school game with a Canon HX-A1, and was almost immediately taken out by a running back. He wound up being treated for his injuries at the scene. But the camera wound up going to intensive care.

On the other hand, there are wonderful features that call out for video, which can produce memorable little movies out of subjects that would normally rate only a few-column cut in the newspaper.

What this all boils down to is what I have said in every workshop. We are not there to turn out a new generation of TV photojournalists. TV news is for all intents and purposes dead. What we are there to do is to teach a skill that will provide choices that can be used to continue a career in visual journalism.

© Dirck Halstead
Editor and Publisher of The Digital Journalist

Dirck Halstead was Time magazine's Senior White House Photographer for 29 years. He now is the Publisher and Editor of The Digital Journalist, the monthly online magazine for visual journalism, and a Senior Fellow at the Center For American History at the University of Texas in Austin. His new book, MOMENTS IN TIME, published by Harry N. Abrams, is in bookstores, and available from