Motion Image Photography: Pulling Stills from Super-High-Res Video

Motion image photography is a new name for an old concept: pulling stills from video. In fact, famed headshot photographer Peter Hurley took a stab at it last year, pinning the 5K Red Epic against his Hasselblad to see if he could recreate his work in video. The issue there, even ignoring price, was that the sheer size of the Red Epic makes it far too bulky for anything but studio work.

Well, in this short documentary/experiment, photographer Abraham Joffe and a few of his esteemed photographic friends set out to see if technology had finally shrunken down and advanced to the point where the terms photographer and videographer could essentially become one and the same. Their tool of choice was Canon’s new 1D C, and their results were phenomenal. (Warning: the video contains a tiny bit of nudity).


In just 12 minutes and 45 seconds, the film manages to discuss most every pro and con involved in shooting motion image photography. From the ability to seek out the perfect microexpression — that exact moment when a smile is at its most honest and real — to the storage space burden of shooting video at a whopping 1GB per 15 seconds.

The real question they wanted to answer was whether 4K video and the Canon 1D C could really produce similar still image results to, say, the 5D, when put in the hands of professional photogs in standard photography situations. They shot a wedding, a fashion shoot and a day at the zoo, and all in all it seems that the answer, once the prints were in hand and scrutinized, was an overwhelming “yes”.


The documentary goes into far more facets of motion image photography than we can include in writing form here. We could put together an entire article exploring just the ramifications on photographic integrity and whether this would be considered “cheating.” But the most interesting question posed by the film (in this humble writer’s opinion) is whether this will be the next major jump in photographic technology. The shift from film to digital radically changed the face of picture taking as we knew it, is motion image photography the next logical step?

(via planet5D)

  • Tom Bryan

    I dunno, Film stills have been around since the invention of film, it’s nothing groundbreaking. Perhaps the quality has increased but it’s still vastly more expensive and I would imagine vastly more space consuming. I see this as something to help Wedding and event photographers make sure they dont miss precious moments but i’m not sure it will ever replace the art of still photography entirely.

  • UatuSees

    David Jay style wedding photographers are going to absolutely love this. 30frames/second is the ultimate spray and pray and they can sell wedding videos to boot.

  • Zigmars Zilgalvis

    each and every photo don’t have to be filled with “right” micro expressions, doesn’t have to be uber perfect. good photographers know how to catch right moments as it is. this is crap.

  • 11

    A frame pulled out is 8bit. compressed. not RAW as far as I know. This sucks.

    Red and other cameras provide dng or compressed raw. Blackmagic for eg is only $ 3k.

  • michaelp42

    Very interesting video. Can see this catching on more and more for news reporters. Send one “video guy” to the scene and just grab the stills after.

  • bgrady413

    Being a trained videographer and an avid still photog, they are very different beasts. When shooting video you look for movements, visually appealing over time, in photography your looking to capture a perfect moment, two totally different ways of thinking in my opinion. Thats kind of why I never quite understood the move to DLSR’s shooting video, most still cameras aren’t comfortable enough to shoot anything on or off shoulder with, tripods are fine,but thats not shooting, more like babysitting.
    I do kind of see some applications where they mention it is helpful capturing stills from the videos, but to use video to make sure you get the perfect still out of it will make extremely boring video, so is it worth it, I don’t know. Did I read that right 1GB for 15 seconds? for that kind of space eating I think I would rather just pay attention to the view finder and shoot when I see that “perfect expression”.
    If you couldn’t tell I am an analog man, being slowly forced kicking and screaming into the digital age, I don’t like change.

  • Mark Dickinson

    I just got a new car today… that’s a little more useful than this story.

  • Mansgame

    Video is often shot at 1/60 shutter speed (double the frame rate) or in the spirit of shooting 35mm film where shutter speed was 1/48 second (double 24 FPS). That is not enough to freeze motion enough the way say 1/500 can on a still camera. It’s not just about resolution. You CAN shoot video at 1/500 shutter speed too but it won’t look very natural.

  • Albert Zablit

    In all honesty, this felt like one huge infomercial. Props to Canon for wanting to generate conversation AND interest in their upcoming product. I guess.

  • C.K. Lee

    Well if nothing else this will draw out all the haters who feel this threatens their domain as a “photographer”.

  • Tommy Sar

    I really do think this is the future of photography along with Lytro.. It’s not ready for prime time yet because there are still many limitations such as not shooting in RAW, unable to capture high speed motion, unable to use long exposures, low resolution compared to pro DSLRs, etc. Yet all of these can be addressed down the road.

  • Brett

    I was thinking the same thing. If you’re shooting video for video, it won’t work well for photos. If you’re shooting videos for photos, you’re going to have some unnatural video.

  • Jon

    Orientation is also a drawback. So much photography is shot vertically. You need even more resolution to be able to crop out portrait-oriented images as well. Having shot both stills and video, they are such a different mindset that I think it would be hard to do both on a high level simultaneously except in a studio setting. The question about whether it’s the next step may simply be a question of cost and ease. This will at least appear to be cheaper and easier so yeah, it probably IS the next step.

  • Tom

    From the comments below most people don’t like the concept. I have been a still photographer for 22 years and when the art form went from film to digital there was the same resistance. That resistance did not stop the revolution. I have seen this coming for at least 10 years now and it will be the way we capture images in the wedding and event industries in the near future. Photojournalists have already switched to video journalism so they will adopt this way of capturing images easily, it will be an added benefit to what they are already doing.

    Of course if you are not in need of any video from a photo assignment you will probably just use a “still” only camera.

  • eman

    Perhaps when video produces the same quality as 35mm this could be possibility, though I hear 4K is getting close.

  • 3ric15

    I believe the Red Scarlet shoots in RAW video @ 4K resolution, so you could probably get a shot from the video and then edit it like a RAW image. But I don’t know much about video since I’m a photographer, not a videographer.

  • 3ric15

    Depending on film, you can get around 24 MP from a film camera.

  • brob

    it’s cheating, there’s something to be said for having the talent to capture the moment in one frame, not just select it from a whole bunch of frames.

    no thanks

  • Jesse

    I think people who post about photographers training themselves to catch the perfect moment are missing the point.
    If you cared so much about the perfect moment than this technology would excite you.
    This isn’t about spray n’ pray.
    What if the photo you caught was fantastic and it was a great moment, but only a split second before that the smile was more genuine, or everyones eyes were opened. Thats what they are talking about, the split second when the emotion is most genuinly conveyed.

    I shoot weddings, photo and video simultaneously. Though I won’t be buying this camera due to its price point and it’s massive file size. I can say that there are lots of times when I’d love to be able to print off a frame or use a section of video as photo. I’ve had photographers miss the kiss and ask if they could pull a frame from my video, this would make that possible.
    If you’re scared that people will under value the work you do than you probably under value the work that you do.

  • Carsten Schlipf

    Well, how is this different to today’s sports photography, where the photographer bangs 10 images/s in burst mode on their cards and later selects the best image? Isn’t the framerate the only difference here?

  • Mansgame

    Well stated.

  • Mansgame

    The difference is that his goal was to capture a single moment. Video’s aim, purpose, and composition is to capture movement. The mindset is completely different. Also, that guy with the D4 is shooting at ISO 6400 1/1000 shutter speed. He’ll get the better picture.

  • Zak Henry

    This is going to be a new way of shooting, but there will always be a place for true stills. Motion imaging is perfect for bright, natural light situations, but still photography will always have the advantage of the flash. Sure you can have lights for video, but there is no light that can dump the same energy continuously that a flash can (in the same form factor). Especially if you would rather not piss off the guests/models.

  • tim

    I scratched my ass ten minutes ago, far more useful than your moron post.

  • foggy flute

    Totally agree… and I dont think burst mode can not capture enough for you to choose.

  • foggy flute

    No it’s not, camera have burst mode, even better than this ‘video to still’ thing here.

  • Matt

    This is so incredibly revolutionary and incredible, but also truly terrifying.

  • Dave

    There is far more truth to what you say than a lot of the people here would like to believe. Less experienced photographers have this vision of the sky opening up and trumpets blaring when ‘the perfect moment’ happens and only someone with their skill level is competent enough to catch it. By the time you visualize the image you want, the signal gets sent from your brain to trip the shutter, there is a measurable lag in any camera, and when the exposure is made someone has their eyes half open. Also, less experienced photographers have coined the phrase ‘spray and pray’ and talk down their noses at such a ghastly technique. I shoot wildlife. Some things happen so fast there is no way you can predict when the optimum moment is,. and when you see it, it is gone already. Even using a high speed motor drive, the perfect moment is often between frames. I am not saying I would practice the technique described in this article but I will say that the lines between still and video are blurring.

  • Dave

    Lytro is a gimmick. Great concept but who really wants to continually change the focal plane? What purpose does it have? Buy one and have fun with it but for the life of me I cannot think of a single use for it except party conversation.

  • Pablo Ricasso

    Lytro is the future of photography, you say…? Really?
    Come on Tommy, you should know better that that, you’ve been around long enough.

  • p4r4b0l1c

    “I really do think this is the future of photography along with Lytro…”
    I really do hope you’re jesting…for the sake of your own credibility.

  • Robertrafai

    This is one lazy way to overcome photographers eye and ability to shoot right moments. Indeed, its easy to find good looking frame in tons of frames and there is no doubt that a lot of people will start to use this technique to prove themselves as good photographer. This will be even more popular when 4k video DSLR prices go low. A lot of companies already started to develop systems where you can “capture” high quality images while video is rolling

  • PaulJay

    Forget it. You make great photographs, or you make great motion. Doing both, even when switching between Video or Still mode during a job will make the end result worse. Choose 1, do 1. If you want both get a second shooter.

  • PaulJay

    Even if you shoot video with higher shutterspeed you get better stills but the video will be ugly and stroby.

  • Dominik Muench

    you sure can, you can either grade and alter image settings straight out of RedCineX or you can export Tiff/ DPX files and then take them into any photography program you’re comfortable working with. Scarlet does 4K, Epic does 5K and the new Epic chip does 6K.

  • 3ric15

    Thanks. You sound like you know what you’re talking about.

  • quickpick

    bgrady413: your point is perfectly clear, no doubt. it’s just that the improving motion picture resolution in still cameras will offer the possibility for high quality single frame prints out of sequences and some will take advantage of it no matter what the old school still guys think of it. it’s sure exciting to stalk for the right moment to trigger the shutter in order ot get a picture, but it’s also exciting to try and find the perfect frame from a motion picture sequence. live and let live, they say… ;)

  • Alan Nic

    “I dunno, Film stills have been around since the invention of film, it’s nothing groundbreaking.”

    If by “film stills” you are referring even in part to stills from movies, then remember they have not traditionally been extracted from the the motion picture but captured separately by a stills photographer on set.

    You were always meant to feel they were a frame of the moving film, but they were always created independently by a separate camera person using a still camera and sometimes a blimp to prevent the shutter sound from being picked up by the boom mic.

    This was a specific job on a movie set and how it was executed. ‘Frame grabs’ such images were not! But cameras like the 1DC, which remember is primarily a motion picture camera, will probably change that – I can imagine filmmakers extracting stills from the motion footage in order to promote the movie in future.

    I do think stills photographers will use it sometimes too – instead of burst mode perhaps.

    But it’s true this is very different to good still photography and I am not sure it could ever replace it.

  • James

    How sad that there is a nudity warning for the female breast in a non sexual context. Who is offended?

  • James

    True, if you’ve got the very best film scanning process, which is extemely either 1) expensive, or 2) time consuming. i shoot film too and i love it but i’m sick of people trying to tell me it’s the holy grail. Horses for courses!

  • Roy

    Only keyboard warriors debate whether or not someone is a good photographer. Everyone else just cares about the results, regardless of how they were achieved.

  • Roy

    Lytro as an execution may be a gimmick, but the concept behind it is not aimed at continually changing the focal plane, it’s designed to let you choose the optimum focal plane after the shoot. Just like 4K video allows you to choose the optimum point in time, and RAW allows you to choose the optimum exposure and white balance.

  • Roy

    That entirely depends on what you want the end result to be.

  • bennetthall

    I do not think Henry Cartier Bresson would agree with the logic in this trend for photography, although it i true one could scan your film for that ‘decisive moment’ in post production. Quality, processor speed and storage are the verge of fully enabling this option this is true. It will be interesting to see how this evolves.

  • Tommy Sar

    Thank you for clarifying my intent better.

  • gibbygoo

    The 1DC is a professional media-capture device that shoots stills in very, very extended bursts at 24fps. That’s the practical advantage over a 1dx or d4, and you’re going to see it overtake the high-end sports shooter segment in the next 2-5 years. Before long we will see cameras just like this shooting 4K at up to 240fps.

  • Garry

    I love this idea. I’m not a professional, I’m part way through a photography course and I’m still learning the technicalities of shooting.

    However, having watched this video, I took my D7000 out and shot (granted, only 1080p) video of my 5 year old daughter playing in the garden. On a few occasions I asked her to smile, she did her normal (oh Daddy is taking yet /another/ picture fake smile) but then laughed….

    The times I took the still images, I was waiting for more than the fake smile, but had to settle for it because you can only have a child maintain something for so long…. while shooting the video, I was able to pull out the frame when she couldn’t hold the fake smile any more and started to giggle and laugh with her eyes.

    Now clearly, video on my D7000 @1080p is nowhere near the quality of the Canon 1D C, but… as a person who wants to get the best image out of a situation… I really think this concept has potential.

    As talented as some of you guys are I’m sure you’re not psychic… and you’re not able to predict the /exact/ moment that a micro expression happens or is about to happen every time.

    Photographers and videographers, I respect your craft and your talent but as a technology lover (and lover of photographs of my daughter), this concept excites me.

  • bruman

    How do you create a 300dpi image file (most publications want 300dpi) from a 72dpi video file?

  • Philip Han

    I don’t think you understand what we’re talking about.

    240fps 4K looks very unnatural, especially when the exposures being are made are 1/250s, 1/240s to be exact but 1/250s is common.