A lot of writers and experts in the photography world have been joining the chorus of “photographers should add video to their skill basket.” But, as far as business models are concerned, photography and video can be as different as sushi and gelato. So, before you jump head-on into video, consider my words of caution.
What’s the context? I ran a photography and video studio for many years in Auckland, New Zealand. My experiences of seeing both services from a business point of view allows me to share some practical insights. While writing this article, I’m assuming that you are a practicing photographer yourself.
Let’s first consider being a freelance videographer. I’m all in for photographers learning a possibly somewhat related skill of documenting moving images. But if you are offering your services as a freelance videographer to clients and other studios, I assume it means you don’t have enough good or interesting work to fill your plate as a photographer. Consider if that is a big motivating factor to add freelance videography to your portfolio. If that is indeed the case, consider the cost, effort, and time required to train and promote yourself as a videographer: you will almost certainly have to spend weeks, if not months training yourself on new equipment and software and spend a good amount of money purchasing or hiring the same. The opportunity cost is huge! I would instead (or at least before video), infuse the same resources into upping my game in photography: enroll myself into a digital marketing course, learn web development, join a business workshop, and most importantly, keep growing my skills as a photographer.
Generalist Versus Specialist
So, let’s say you've analyzed the opportunity cost and concluded that it’s worth putting those resources into videography as a business offering. Then, you must consider another strategic decision for your freelance brand. On one hand, adding videography to your personal brand will broaden your horizon and get you more clients. On the other hand, people will start seeing you as a generalist who can do a bit of everything at a mediocre level compared to someone who is an expert in one specific skill. For example, if you’re a social media marketer by day, having some skills in photography as well as video would certainly help. However, if you’re a full-time photographer or are trying to make it as a full-time photographer, being known as a bits-and-bobs creative may dilute your brand into the ground.
Some video projects (e.g. event, wedding videography) require you to work within a team of multiple shooters. You might have worked as a team with second and third shooters in photography as well, but this is quite different. If you are not on the same wavelength or have different creative opinions within the team, it can spell out pure disaster for the end result. The conversation below is from a real scenario at a wedding:
Jim had contracted Ben as his second shooter for a wedding. Both Jim and Ben had been freelance videographers for a while.
Jim: "Hey Ben, I’m going to be on the gimbal. Can you please get the wide shot for the first dance?"
Ben: "Sure, no worries!"
As the first dance finished, Jim spotted Ben using a telephoto lens with a monopod instead of the wide shot.
Jim (with panic in his voice): "Hey, I thought you were going to cover the wide angle?"
Ben (reassuringly): "Yeah man, no issues, I set up the wide shot with my 16-35mm on a tripod in that corner."
Jim quickly goes over to the tripod to check the wide angle footage. Ben follows.
Jim: "Oh yeah, um, wait a minute. What's this? Oh no, god noooooo! No, no no! Man, I asked you for one thing!"
What went wrong: the tripod mounted camera in the corner went unnoticed by the crowd and an uncle of the groom wanting to get a “better angle” promptly stepped right in front of it to get some “nice” photos! This is not uncommon at weddings. Ben later tried explaining his actions to Jim saying that he usually sets up two tripods, one with a Gopro mounted as a “backup” shot in another corner at a height above the crowd, but as he was shooting for Jim, he didn’t have that extra equipment, and unfortunately, followed his usual habit, leaving the tripod unattended while he shot using a monopod.
The blood was red. No, the blood was crimson. Red or crimson, result was the same: Jim was dead meat!
And this is one scenario. I can recount plenty of other situations where creative differences between two videographers or simple miscommunication has led to disasters. Not that this doesn’t happen in photography. But it certainly happens less frequently in my experience and even when it does happen, it rarely derails the entire project. But more on that in the next part of the series along with a discussion on:
Profitability of video services
Little annoyances that add up
If you have any related questions or comments about adding video to your set of offerings, fire those in the comments section below!