© PETER MULLIN
Still and motion photographer Jonathan Chapman on location.
Jonathan Chapman takes pictures, and now, many of them move. The Minneapolis-based photographer began shooting motion work in 2009, and this year it has brought in about a third of his revenue. “The biggest surprise has been that it’s like having a house you’re content living in, and suddenly you’ve got this whole new room built on it that you never thought would be there,” he says, “and there are a lot of really interesting people hanging out in there.”
Some of those people include the specialists he hires for motion jobs, like film editors, colorists, field recorders, second camera operators, (DP’s) and even graphic designers. Collaborating – which is more commonplace in the film world than in the still one – is a strategy that has helped him land big projects. Among them: A May 2011 job shooting five 30-second broadcast spots for St. Elizabeth Healthcare, a health system in the Greater Cincinnati area.
Under the elegant arrangement, Chapman does what he does well – bringing a still photographer’s sensibility to motion – and other experts cast their own shine. “What’s great in the film world is they don’t expect one person to know it all,” says Chapman, 38. “At the level we want to work at, nobody wants me to be the one editing, and if I was suggesting that I’d edit, I don’t think they’d want to partner with me because they wouldn’t think I would have the well-rounded capabilities to do that.”
Indeed, Chapman’s desire to collaborate gave Todd Lipscomb, senior art director at the Newport, Kentucky-based advertising agency Intrinzic, confidence that the St. Elizabeth Healthcare project would be a success. “The way Jonathan approaches light, humanity, and nature really played a big part in choosing him,” Lipscomb says, “and the phone calls leading up to the decision convinced the larger team of his professionalism and his ability to pull together a team to make it the best shoot possible.”
Lipscomb, a client turned friend who had worked with Chapman before on a still shoot and had watched his motion work evolve, credits the shooter with being “a good judge of character and talent” who “surrounds himself with good people.”But winning desirable assignments isn’t the only benefit of working with a team. Shoots flow better, Chapman says, and the collaboration garners referrals. Likewise, colorists and other specialists help Chapman achieve his ultimate goal of having the motion and print work mirror each other. “If you’ve got the visual look [agencies] are after, I think there’s a real excitement that the still and motion campaign can have a similar look whereas before that was not the case,” he says.
Chapman often photographs “real people in their environments” with “a less finessed nature,” he says, and he takes on advertising, corporate, and editorial projects. He has roots in documentary photojournalism, but motion hadn’t been part of his early study. “I had never really thought it would be something that I would have any business getting involved in,” says Chapman, who opened his studio in 2003 after a couple years of assisting has one full time employee, John Fontana. He notes that Fontana has been with him for three years, wears many hats and is often the backbone in terms of coordinating and managing many of the motion "test" projects that have been undertaken over the past two years.With the 2008 introduction of the Canon EOS 5D Mark II Chapman soon began experimenting with the HD DSLR, anticipating that those who knew how to use it would be better positioned for the future.
After a series of test shoots, he made a giant leap into motion in early 2010 when he shot video on the side for McDonald’s while photographing stills for its image library. Chapman shared the final edit with the client three months later, and a year after that McDonald’s purchased the raw video assets. “It was definitely kind of an upsell,” Chapman says. “But more than the money that was made from that was the exposure of putting that out there with that branding on it.”
Though still work remains the backbone of his business, today Chapman is hired to handle projects that combine still and video, as in instances when he’s done work for Sprint, Boeing, and AARP/ UnitedHealthcare. He’s even been tapped to shoot motion only, as he did for St. Elizabeth’s Healthcare and the Minnesota Zoo.
Collaborating, of course, means he shares the profits, but the work has nonetheless been lucrative. “The budgets for the most part for the projects we’ve been involved in have been really solid,” Chapman says. He doesn’t discount his rates just because he’s relatively new to the field. “If the visuals are truly exceptional, which people seem to think they are, you should be at least charging what the market has traditionally allowed for that stuff,” he says.Chapman, who is represented by Paula Gren Representatives, has benefited from word of mouth about his entry into motion, but he’s also promoting his dual offerings on social networks and his newly updated website, jonathanchapman.com. He even sends prospects examples of his video work on an iPad along with his print portfolio.
“I’m enthusiastic and optimistic,” Chapman says, “ and if you were to take all the motion stuff out of the picture in the last couple years, I would still have that excitement, but it would not be quite as bright of a flame.”