Robert Knowles’ career from Kodachrome to HD

As a boy in Jamaica, Robert Knowles first fell in love with making pictures with a simple Brownie Hawkeye box camera. As the 1950s rolled into the '60s he graduated to the more sophisticated 35 mm single lens reflex camera of the time and carefully budgeted his pocket money for one roll of Kodachrome film every two or three weeks.

He would wait two weeks while the film was shipped to England for processing and then sort through the box of colour slides to find the four or five pictures that had turned out well. He attentively learned the value of composition, lighting, exposure, perspective, and interacting with his subjects because all the mistakes he made cost him precious time and money.

A degree in photography, apprenticing in a group studio in London, several years as a cruise ship photographer, and then corporate event photography in New York led Robert to the steps of digital film technology, which forced him to think in moving images.

He recalls, I thought, oh I’ll just do video. It was more difficult than I thought. My first movies were like Charlie Chaplin movies because I was thinking in terms of stills, five-second pieces as opposed to continuity. So I’m basically self-taught by attending seminars, watching people work on the web, seeing the flow of everything.

Robert is now a full-time event videographer heading Knowles Media, based in Pennsylvania and working predominantly in New York. He delights in a career that merges his interest in people with his love of capturing images.

Nathalie & Christian wedding highlights video from Knowles Media
Robert’s primary work is wedding videography and in tandem with the affordability of digital video, his photography training serves him well when there is only one chance to capture the most important moments in people’s lives. “Once you’re in play mode that’s it. There’s no rewind. It’s really anticipation and knowing what you can get away with. It’s sensing the crowd, sensing the essence of the day so you know how to react.”

Most often Robert works with one or two other camera operators to cover a live wedding event. They use Canon’s EOS Rebel T2i DSLR, and Sony’s HXR-NX5 camcorder shooting images in 1080p, stored directly to SDHC memory cards. Audio is fed into two channels from the onboard camera microphone in addition to a wireless remote microphone placed by the room speakers.

There is rarely opportunity to visit the location ahead of time and prepare for how things will go. Robert remarks, “It's really a seat-of-the-pants day. You know from experiencing a lot of weddings roughly when things will happen, and to be in position, but within those parameters there's so much creativity. The people are different, and everyone has a different story, which I think makes the whole day fantastic.

When it comes time to transform the footage into films, Robert operates as a one-man post-production department. He uses the PluralEyes plug-in to synchronize all his media, and Final Cut Pro to edit. He was already an evangelist about time saved with the plug-in, but a recent foreign language wedding proved the ultimate triumph.

“I was completely lost because the whole ceremony was in Greek. The bride is Italian, the groom is Greek, so she was a bit lost. Now we've got the reception. Four hours of tape - two hours from each camera totally synced up with the timeline in a foreign language, expertly, I mean to the frame! It just completely blew me away. I still can't get over it.

His unabashed testimony to videographer colleagues is, “People think I'm crazy because I get so excited about this stuff. I mean there are certain things in the industry which you just have to have, and for $150 PluralEyes should fly out the door.

Stephanie & Evan's Greek wedding

Robert usually delivers a short trailer within the week following the wedding, and then a much longer feature within four to six weeks of the event. He most enjoys the weddings where he can interview the couple and their families ahead of time for additional material that gets woven into the live event footage.

Creating meaningful mementos for people is what keeps the work fresh for Robert. He shares, “A couple years ago a bride's father passed away after the wedding, but she has his voice on the tape, which is just so powerful. Really what we're doing is keeping people's memories alive. It's perfection.

Event videography requires a balance of polarized skills. Capturing live events calls on extroversion and self-assurance in interacting with crowds of people. Editing the footage is an introspective process of knitting a story together to create something eloquent and compelling. The extensive video library on the Knowles Media website reveals a sensitive touch operating those Sony NX5 cameras.

“The technology, as wonderful as it is - and I've seen the transformation of it - is still only a tool to help us create the shot. It went from film to digital, but it's still a camera with a lens. It's still about the image you're pointing the camera at when you look through the viewfinder. In the end it comes down to being passionate about what you do, and loving what you do, and that will show through.

Robert’s wedding trailers and other event videos can be viewed at Knowles Media or on his Vimeo channel.

Cathedral of St John's Church, The Divine, NYC from Knowles Media

Writer Sara McIntyre is a Communications Specialist and Filmmaker who calls Vancouver, BC 'home'.

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