Photography has been the most common way to capture events for decades. If you want an event to be documented, you hire a photographer. However, in the next few years, this could all change.
As video equipment has merged with cameras, videography has become an additional capture method, but it’s almost always an addition to photography. Whether it’s weddings, family reunions, corporate events, or anything in between, videography very rarely replaces photography. But it’s highly likely that videography will become the dominant capture method as we progress, and probably not for the reason you’d expect.
There has been a conversation for years about whether cellphone cameras will eventually replace traditional cameras with a strong case to be made on both sides. But as easy to target as phones are, they’re probably not the biggest threat to the business of professional event photographers. No, videographers are.
It’s not because people will stop wanting still images for their events, but because technology is about to make traditional photography useless for event work.
Most event photographers use cameras with a sensor capacity between 20 megapixels and 36 megapixels; cameras like the Canon 5D Mark IV and R6, Sony Alpha 7 IV, Fujifilm XT-4 and Panasonic S1 all fall into this range. These cameras provide event photographers with enough resolution to crop or print as needed, while still offering relatively small file sizes and large buffers.
Arguably the current “standard” for event videography is 4K resolution with a 10-bit codec, which is now available in a variety of cameras. A 4K image is about 8 megapixels; enough for most digital screens, but not large enough to print large images without the loss of resolution starting to be noticeable. 8K resolution event cameras exist in models such as Canon R5 and R5 C, Sony Alpha 1 and Nikon Z9, but most event videographers are not yet using this high resolution for various reasons. So far, overheating issues and extremely large file sizes have prevented 8K from being fully adopted as the benchmark resolution in the events industry, but that’s likely to change.
8K as standard is coming
8K video resolution equates to just over 33 megapixels, which means an 8K frame is actually higher resolution than most event photography cameras and certainly higher than typical customer expectations. Even 6K is big enough to rival its 21.2-megapixel equivalent. Editing a 10-bit codec isn’t as flexible as a RAW photo, but it’s better than an 8-bit JPEG.
Ask any experienced videographer about the flexibility of color grading between 8-bit 4:2:0 and 10-bit 4:2:2 and they’ll probably speak volumes about the flexibility of the latter. That said, both are ashamed of what can be done with RAW video which is becoming increasingly common. File sizes are huge right now, but with Canon now offering multiple RAW and ProRes RAW formats coming to more cameras every year, event-level RAW video isn’t far from commonplace.
Let me paint a picture of what is likely to come. We’ll skip this current generation of cameras and look at what’s likely to come in the next generation, two to four years from now. We’ll be using the theoretical Alpha 7S IV as the camera of choice due to the impact the Alpha 7S II and Alpha 7S III have both had on the event videography industry since their release.
Of course, that camera doesn’t exist yet and given Sony’s camera cycle timeline, the Alpha 7S IV is probably still a few years away. But even so, the specs it will bring aren’t too hard to try.
Given what we know Sony can do with cameras like the Alpha 1 and what we’ve seen from Canon, Nikon, Fujifilm and Panasonic, Sony’s Alpha 7S IV will deliver at least 8K, probably up to ‘at 60 frames per second if not more, and some type of RAW codec. It will likely be able to do this with limited, if any, overheating issues, while delivering unlimited recording times and class-leading low-light performance, as has been the case with previous iterations of the Alpha line. 7S.
The technology to make this camera already exists, it’s just in cameras that aren’t necessarily considered the go-to for the majority of event videographers. Even for the small percentage of those who do, many aren’t comfortable with the 8K 60p mode for long events.
The Canon R5 and R5 C, for example, already offer these base specs, but the harsh reality is that many event shooters don’t trust the R5’s long-range record time due to overheating issues at 8K 60p. . And despite the fact that Canon recently put its Cinema RAW Light codec into the R5 C (showing how serious it is about trying to make 8K 60p files more workable) and although it also has a fan that mitigates overheating, it lacks the in-body stabilization that many event shooters now consider essential.
But obviously the technology isn’t just something to look forward to, it’s something that’s already available.
The technology is already here
With all of that in mind, we’re not talking about when photographers might start being replaced since, realistically, that may already be happening. No, we’re talking about when photographers will actually start to feel the pressure of being replaced by their video-capturing counterparts. And that time is very near.
Earlier this year, photojournalist Tom Palmaers explained how he once switched to using a video camera for his work and extracted stills from footage used in newspapers while retaining the video footage. Two birds, one stone.
Like Palmaers, event clients already regularly ask me to shoot 4K 10-bit stills of my video footage for them for social media and web applications. So it’s not that it can’t already be done, but the harsh reality for event photographers is that the mainstream success of an Alpha 7S IV can mean that seemingly overnight their biggest competition comes not from other photographers, but from videographers who would usually shoot next to them.
Storage space will also continue to become less of a problem over time. Again, companies like Canon are already introducing stripped down versions of RAW codecs to make things more manageable, but those files still aren’t small. As technology advances, storage sizes increase and become cheaper per gigabyte. While it’s very expensive to shoot an entire wedding at 2600MB/s right now (that’s the Canon R5 C’s data rate at 8Kp60 RAW Light), it could be considerably less in three or four year. Not only that, but many may find themselves more willing to pay for additional storage when they also get paid more to pull stills.
Storage is already getting much cheaper and getting ridiculously small. This week Micron launched a 1.5TB microSD card. That’s more storage packed into the size of a fingernail than on a dictionary-sized hard drive bay there isn’t even 10 years.
Prepare for what’s to come
Videographers will soon be able to offer their clients editable 33-megapixel RAW still images with incredible dynamic range and low-light performance equal to or better than those offered by their photographer counterparts. Not only that, but they will have tens of thousands of frames to choose from while their photographer counterparts may only have a few thousand. Not to mention, it’s still video, which means one shooter can capture for two mounts.
Now you might be thinking about shutter speed, which usually gives photographers a head start. If you apply a 180 degree ruler for video, won’t video stills show too much motion blur compared to photos? Many photographers stay above 1/250 second for their shutter speed for sharp shots with motion, but a 180 degree ruler for 8K 60p video would only get you 1/125 second.
Yes, photographers will always have that advantage, but if you’ve ever tried to pull stills from video where you shot at 60fps, you’ll find that there are almost always a few sharp frames per second that don’t don’t suffer too much. motion blur, especially for events like weddings. You will have a lot more to throw, but conversely a greater chance of landing a perfect shot.
You could argue that this ends up being another advantage for videographers when shooting in low light conditions. This means they can shoot at a slower shutter speed and therefore have a lower ISO sensitivity than their photographer counterparts. The image below is a perfect example of a shutter speed of 1/125 being sufficient when you have 60 frames to choose from.
This still image is from a documentary I worked on in Honduras. The client was unable to acquire a photographer, so they relied heavily on my screenshots for their social media content and emails for the project. Every person in the frame moves, and I was also moving around with the camera on a gimbal, but excessive motion blur wasn’t an issue.
So what will event photographers do when their new competition tells their clients that they can give them more frames to choose from, equivalent resolution, color editing capability for the style they want, a similar dynamic range, and they can do it all without a photographer even needing to be there?
Honestly, I do not know. I’m not here to provide those answers, but rather want to give a glimpse of what could happen to event photographers in just a few years. Hopefully, with this inevitable future in mind, you can prepare and plan how to handle the change.
As someone who hosts dozens of trade, corporate, and nonprofit events a year in photo and video, I can tell you the conversations are already happening, and it’s often the customers asking the question. “can you just pull stills from the video so you don’t have to hire a photographer?”
For now, I’m able to tell them that there’s a big difference in quality between photographs and stills from a video, especially if they have the slightest desire for large format prints. But the day will soon come when I will no longer be able to say that. When this happens, it’s not a question of whether a photographer is needed or not, but of how much money the client will save by simply adding a few hours to the post-production process of a videographer instead of hire an additional person.
Picture credits: Header photo licensed via Depositphotos.