The Digital Journalist
Frame Grabs with the D2 Voodoo Tool
April 2007

by David Leeson

The use of frame grabs combined with a simple process for obtaining them has become a crucial factor for many newspapers making the decision to enter the world of video.

It’s amazing to think that just a few years ago we debated whether a still photojournalist should be required to shoot video AND stills on an assignment. It was a valid discussion and a small handful of newspapers were requiring both much to the dismay of folks like myself who argued that an editorial commitment had to be made as to which medium was “most important” to the success of the story.

That’s the approach I took during my coverage of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. I agreed that stills took precedence and used video during times that I wasn’t shooting with my Canon EOS1D. But I knew the day would come when a relatively small video camera would have quality high enough to take frames from the footage. There was nothing unprecedented in the idea. In 1983, Chester Panzer of WRC-TV, Washington D.C. was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in spot news photography for his photos of the rescue of survivors of an airliner crash.

Next came discussions of so-called combo-cams, video cameras with a still photo function built-in. The idea sounds reasonable but the quality of the stills lagged far behind professional cameras. However, I disliked the idea for a different reason. It became apparent to me as early as 2002 that the answer for photojournalism would be to combine the basic “keystroke” of the daily newspaper photographer into the world of motion and sound. In other words, if photographers continued to shoot as though they were still holding a 35mm SLR in their hands, then the photography function of video could be easily combined with the world of the moment preserved in a still image.

The first thing I did upon receiving an HDV camera, just prior to departure to cover Hurricane Katrina in 2005, was shoot a few seconds of video, import it with iMovie and make a frame grab. The results were almost as magical as the first time I saw a print emerge in a tray of developer. I knew the world of photojournalism as we knew it, would never be quite the same again.

Today, we still call them frame grabs. Tomorrow we will call them what they really are – photographs. The end result is that we do not have to sacrifice our legacy of still photojournalism simply because the medium has changed. We can move forward to a new era of storytelling where the demands of rich content in a digital age do not subjugate the decisive moments of life to obtain the "extended moments" waiting for us in motion and sound.

Download the D2 Voodoo Tool and documentation here

© David Leeson

The Dallas Morning News