Video & Filmmaking

Combining Still and Video Productions: Danielle Levitt for I-D Magazine

December 10, 2015

By David Walker

As more photographers move into motion and promote their skills as directors, they can sometimes find themselves pulled in two directions on assignments, when the client wants them to deliver great stills as well as high-quality video. According to veteran photographer-directors PDN spoke to, the first step in managing a combined production is to separate the shoots for stills from the shoot for the video—by carrying them out at different times or in slightly separate locations. To ensure a smooth workflow, photographer-directors also have to adjust their lighting, the planning of their shots, and their directions to their crews. In part one of this three-part series, Danielle Levitt breaks down the planning and production of recent still-video assignment for I-D magazine.

Levitt’s experience is part one of a three-part series. In part 2, here, Katrine Naleid and Stephen Austin Welch share with PDN how they planned and produced a shoot for Elmer’s glue.

n part two of this three-part series, Katrine Naleid and Stephen Austin Welch explain how they planned and produced a shoot for Elmer’s. Read part one of this series, about Danielle Levitt’s shoot for I-D magazine, here. – See more at:

For photographer and director Danielle Levitt, shooting still photos is part of nearly every video production she does, whether or not the assignment brief calls for it. “I’m a photographer first and a filmmaker second. I love filmmaking, but my instinct is always to take pictures,” she says.

When clients don’t give her a request and a budget to shoot stills, Levitt has to steal time for it—without compromising the video production, of course. She and her producer manage it by running tightly organized productions, working with a seasoned film crew, and setting up a portable studio adjacent to the film set, so Levitt can shoot stills at any spare moment.

“Flexibility is king. You have to figure out how to do both [still and video], and have your instincts be super sharp, so nothing gets compromised,” she says. “It requires a lot of energy and a lot of focus. You’re basically doing two jobs.”

Last year, for instance, she produced a series of three videos called Tribes for i-D Magazine. Sponsored by Marc Jacobs, each video featured a different youthful “tribe,” including a rockabilly crowd, a group of thrashcore musicians, and a group of BMX riders.

The client hired Levitt for video only, but she also delivered stills at no extra charge because she found the subjects so compelling.

“I love what I do and I know there’s value in it, but I just wanted to give. I can’t say I always do, or always will,” she says.

She shot the videos in a loose documentary style, pre-interviewing the subjects about the places they hang out, and the things they do. She then created storyboards for various shots around locations where she could prompt and then shoot authentic action. She says, “When we get to a location where we are there long enough, I set up my studio kit”—a white seamless backdrop and a few lights. She also has at least one photo assistant and tech on stand-by, just to help with the still shooting.

For the rockabilly video, she had the portable studio set up in a parking lot near the last location of the day. Because the rockabilly “tribe” is nocturnal, the production went well past midnight. Levitt started pulling her subjects into the studio for quick portraits as the film crew was wrapping up. By that time, she had spent 17 hours with them. “I knew them, they were warmed up, and you have that dynamic [of rapport] you want for stills, because you have only a moment to capture it,” she says.

The BMX production, which involved stylishly dressed youth riding BMX bikes through city streets, took place during the day. On that shoot, Levitt also pulled subjects into her portable studio for quick portraits. In addition, she wandered around the film set all day with camera in hand, giving the talent a few quick directions for on-the-spot still images, and grabbing “beauty images,” says Stephanie Porto, who has been Levitt’s full-time producer for the past five years.

Levitt says she’s often shot a few stills while her film crew is occupied with its preparations, such as laying dolly tracks, changing camera lenses, or adjusting lights. That’s how she grabbed still photos on a recent production for Smoke x Mirrors Eyewear. Levitt says her photo assistant had set up her portable studio on that shoot, “but the wind came along and knocked it over, and we didn’t have time to set it up again.”

For every production, Levitt and Porto allot a specific amount of shoot time for each scene on the video storyboard. To meet the schedule, “you staff up” as much as the budget allows, Levitt says. Her sets include a director of photography—she often works with David Raboy—camera assistants, grips, and gaffers—enough people to break down and set up quickly between one location and the next. (If she has a budget for still photography, she’ll bring as many as three assistants just for that, and sometimes schedule a day just for a photo shoot.)

On set, Porto minds the clock, and gets the crew to step up the pace if production is falling behind. “That’s the hardest part: making sure the film doesn’t take more time than you have,” Levitt says. The shoots are also organized so she has to spend little or no time between scenes giving directions to the crew, leaving her a few minutes to shoot instead. For instance, crew members are briefed in the morning, given a printed schedule, and during each scene, the upcoming scenes are announced. 

Occasionally Levitt is able to shoots stills while Raboy, her DP, is shooting a video scene. They’ve worked together on a number of productions, so he knows what Levitt expects, and she trusts him. “When he’s shooting [a scene with] someone over here, I can shoot [stills of] someone else over there, because I know he’s got that. We’ve mapped it out. He’s running it, so I’ll go take that picture on the side.”

Levitt says she has no difficulty switching mental gears from video to stills, because shooting stills has become instinctual for her. The real challenge is carving out time for both. “You have to be really organized, you have to know what you want, and you have to have a strong team in place.”

Combining Still and Video Productions: Katrine Naleid and Stephen Austin Welch for Elmer’s

Combining Still and Video Productions: Katrine Naleid and Stephen Austin Welch for Elmer’s – See more at:

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