Friday, January 28, 2011

A Roadmap for Beginners, Part 3: Videography as a Business


Congratulations! If you’ve followed the roadmap as described in the first two articles, you are now a graduate of the real life school of videography. If you add up the number of hours you’ve invested you really deserve a degree! You’re now a professional and can rightfully earn money for your work. So in this article we will look at the business of videography.

Types of Videography Business

There are basically two main types or categories of videography business: the independent video service provider (IVSP); and the vid
eo production company. Which one is for you? Of course, that depends on you.

Video Production Company

A video production company specializes in making and selling movies. In the old days this was called film making as film was used rather than digital video. Many movies are still shot on film, but increasingly movies are shot on digital video equipment. To make a movie typic
ally requires a team of people: the producer, director, camera crew, sound crew, actors, gaffers and more. A movie takes many months to shoot and produce, and then some more time to market and distribute. That means you need a lot of money to carry you and your team for about a year before your movie starts earning money, assuming that it is good.

If at this point, you feel that movie making is the
way you would like to go, that is wonderful. It is a big step however, so before you do, we strongly recommend three books that are a must-read for you. One is Making it Big in Shorts by Kim Adelman ($3.46 at Amazon), and the second is The Guerrilla Film Makers Pocketbook by Chris Jones & Genevieve Jolliffe & Andrew Zinnes ($32.66 at Amazon). The authors describe in some detail what it takes to shoot, produce and market a movie. (Editor’s note: You might also check out The Documentary Film Makers Handbook, also by Genevieve Jolliffe and Andrew Zinnes)

The third book is Jumpstart Your Awesome Film Production Company by Sara Caldwell ($15.56 at Amazon). Sara interviews many videographers who have successfully started production companies.

Independent Video Services Provider

The second type of videography business is the IVSP. This is typically a one-person business. The IVSP can provide a wide range of video services and the video projects are usually of short production duration as opposed to a movie project that takes months or years to complete. The advantage is the IVSP can expect to earn a steady stream of money more quickly. The IVSP will b
e the focus of the remainder of this series of articles.

From a business perspective, the IVSP is not any different from any other type of small business and will face many of the same issues such as financing, cash flow and so on. You’ll find many articles on small business on the Web and at your local library. We will instead describe those aspects that are unique to a videography business.

Video Business Concepts

Company Issues

Before you can run a business, most municipalities require you have a business license which you have to renew annually. It is basically a tax but it is a good thing to always be on the good side of your local officials.

Then there is the question of the type of your company. You need to register your company with the government. It will either be a limited or incorporated company, or a simple sole proprietorship (the terminology varies from region to region and country to country). If you are registered as a limited liability corporation or incorporated company, the liabilities of the company are separate from you as the owner.

This means if the company fails, then the creditors cannot come after your personal assets (like your house for example). This is clearly a good thing, but it does cost additional money and requires more administration. It also gives your company a little bit more credibility in the business community. Your local chamber of commerce wil
l be able to advise you on how to go about this.

Many IVSP’s opt for a sole proprietorship as it is cheaper and a simpler way to start a business. You can always incorporate at a later stage when you are more established.

Whichever model you opt for, make sure you comply with all the legal requirements. You do not want to start your business on the wrong foot.

Legal Issues

As a videographer, you’ll face a range of unique legal issues. For example, you shoot a video and there is an original painting in the background, do you need to clear the rights? Whether you are a movie maker or an IVSP, you need to own a copy of The Pocket Lawyer for Filmmakers by Thomas Crowell ($19.47 at Amazon). Surprisingly, the book is an easy read, probably because the author is both a lawyer and a videographer. It covers many legal aspects that you ought to know.


Insurance costs money and there’s a temptation to ignore it — don’t even think of it! Even basic video equipment costs money, make sure that it’s covered by insurance for theft, loss and damage. If you lose your equipment, you also lose your means of earning an income. You might also have to cancel some contracts, which is not good for your reputation.

It is as important to have indemnity insurance. As an IVSP you typically will work on a tight budget. If you’re on a shoot and a little old lady trips over your tripod and breaks her hip, it would be good if you are covered.

If you’ve started your videography business on the side while you keep your day job, you need not worry too much about unemployment insurance. However, as a full time IVSP, unexpected illness or an accident can mean that you have no income until you are well again. It’s possible to get affordable unemployment insurance for small businesses but you need to shop around.


For most of us as videographers, these basic business concepts are dry as dust, we just want to get to the business of shooting video. Though dry as dust, they are important if you’re serious about earning money as a videographer.

In the next article, we will discuss the more practical aspects of running an IVSP business. We will look at such topics as selecting a name, branding, how much to charge for your services, building a website and much more.

Legal Note: Do be aware that having an LLC or INC. company is no guarantee that some creditors in some instances will not try to make claims against your personal assets. It is important that you seek legal counsel regarding these matters. Comments contained in this article are not intended to imply or provide legal counsel, nor are Earl Chessher or Heidi Mueller licensed legal practitioners. Information contained in this article does not claim to be based on legal fact. Anyone using information contained in this article does so at his/her own risk and Earl Chessher and Heidi Mueller are not libel for any claims real or perceived as a result of action taken based on this information by any reader.

Heidi Mueller, New Westminster, BC, Canada, is an accomplished video producer, web site developer/designer, writer and course developer for adult classes on a variety of subjects. She is a frequent contributor to E.C. Come, E.C. Go and was recently the featured contributor of a four-part series on WordPress for web site creation. Future articles will continue focus on A Roadmap for Beginners, as well as information for intermediate level videographers, and ideas for developing successful marketing niches in the wide world of video production.

Remember: If you market, you will make it! © 2000-2011 Earl Chessher

Monday, January 17, 2011

A Roadmap for Beginners, Part 2


In Part 1 of this article series, I introduced a method for becoming a professional videographer without having to go to film school. The method depends on two key aspects: learning from books, and going out and doing small scale projects. If you’ve worked through the first suggested book, The Little Digital Video Book, (Michael Rubin, author) you will now be familiar with your video camera and have a reasonable sense of what it takes to produce a video.

You may also now already have some sense of what type of video you’d like to focus on: documentaries, weddings, short films, and so on. You may of course decide that you are quite happy to continue with small projects like family events and that is quite OK, at least now you know how to make really good family videos!

But if the bug has bitten you and you have decided that you really want to make the investment in time and money to become a money-earning videographer, the remainder of these articles is for you.

Key Aspects

What? Did you say invest money and time? Yes! And I should add commitment. The approach we are describing still requires you to invest and to learn, there is no shortcut to becoming a professional videographer! However, our approach will spread the costs over time to make it more affordable — and cheaper in the long run. You’ll have fun while learning and you’ll start earning money sooner.

We have already introduced two key aspects to the approach: books and actually going out doing projects. In this article we will introduce a third key aspect: video about videography.


We recommend that you aim to purchase at least one book a month. That is a reasonable investment and pretty soon you’ll have a valuable reference library. You’ll find that as you grow in knowledge and experience, many of the books will repeat things that you already know. Of co
urse, a little bit of repetition doesn’t hurt.

In this article we will recommend a number of additional books that still cover principles of videography, but the more advanced aspects of videography.

The first book is The Complete Digital Video Guide by Bob Brandon (Penguin Books, $26.95, B&H Photo-Video; $14.75 Amazon). This is a huge, full-color book that repeats the basic principles and then goes intogreat depth on how to tackle specific video projects. Besides being useful, it also makes a lovely coffee table book. The late Mr. Brandon’s book remains a current and informative reference.

The second book is Video Shooter by Barry Braverman ($17.24 Amazon). This book really goes into the technicalities of digital videography and is probably the definitive guide. It is also a full-color book, well worth the price.


Books are OK, but in the long run it is experience that counts. Remember success comes from doing, not talking about it. By now you know enough to tackle more advanced project and you’ll start to identify your own projects that you’re interested in. To assist you we will recommend two books that give guidance on how to select and tackle projects. Both are written by seasoned teachers of videography for high school and college students, but they cover different styles of video: documentaries and short films.

The first book on the face of it is not interesting and has no colorful illustrations but don’t be fooled. It is also a gem of a book. Making Real Life Videos by Matthew Williams ($19.95 Amazon). This book covers the steps in making documentary-style videos in great detail and has many suggestions for projects that you might want to tackle.

The second book is Making Short Films by Jim Piper
($24.95 Amazon). Short films are a genre that is becoming very popular at film festivals. It is different from the previous books in that it describes projects where you write the script, i.e. the story, before producing the project.

Both these books will cover important topics like project outlines, treatments, scripts and storyboards — fundamental concepts every videographer should know.

Videos about Videography

Most of the books we’ve talked about make valiant attempts at explaining how to use, for example, basic video editing software. It can be quite difficult to visualize the concepts — it would be so much easier if you had an expert that could actually show you
how. Well, you can through the power of video!

Our first recommendation is that you subscribe to It costs about $25 per month and will give you access to training videos that you can watch and re-watch as often as you like, 24/7 every day of the week! There are training videos on practically all the major video editing software for the PC and the Mac, as well as training on DVD creation software. Having access to these training videos is priceless, it is like having an editing expert on hand whenever you need one.

Video Editing Software

In the first article, we said that any computer and any of the free video editing software products that are included in your computer’s operating system (iMovie or MovieMaker) would be OK to begin with. By now you will have discovered the limitations of that statement. So at this stage we would like to encourage you to invest in more advanced video editing software.

But what to recommend? If you’ve already invested in one of the more advanced editing products we mentioned in the first article, then that is fine, and by all means stick with it and become good at it! However, if you have not, we’re going to make a specific recommendation and explain the reasons why.

We would like to recommend the combined Adobe Premiere Elements and PhotoShop Elements. This software costs just over $100 ($113.92 Amazon) from

The reasoning? Besides that it is inexpensive yet very powerful, the software is available for both Mac and PC. Most importantly, there’s extensive training available on This alone would be a clinching argument but there’s more! Many videographers ind that these two programs are all they’ll ever need. However, you can at any point move up to the full professional Adobe Premiere and PhotoShop programs (that will cost you several thousand dollars) and still use the projects that you’ve created previously with the Elements versions of these programs.

Why include Photoshop? In practically all video projects you will include still photos nd other graphic elements. This is particularly true for the design of DVD menus. Having an easy-to-use program like PhotoShop Elements will soon prove worth its weight in gold!

If you’ve followed our recommendations, we would like to suggest another gem of book: Creating Hollywood Style Movies by Paul Ekert and Carl Plummer ($34.19 Amazon). This wonderful book gives many step-by-step instructions for fun editing
projects using Premiere Elements that will give your video projects pizzazz beyond anything that you had imagined possible! All the video material you need for the projects are included o the DVD that comes with the book. You will learn how to create night vision video, shrink the kids, green screen projects, typical newsroom videos and much more.

Paying Projects

Are you ready to charge for your work? By now you’ll probably be only too ware of what you still don’t know. But don’t underestimate what you already know. That said, you probably don’t know enough, and don’t have equipment that would allow you to charge a full professional fee. But that does not mean you cannot charge at least something. Earning something for a project is a real confidence booster!

Events like school plays are a good place to start. Weddings can be a real trap in the beginning. The starry-eyed couples have a vision of a Hollywood-style production but have a budget of next to nothing. If you make it REALLY clear that you’re just starting out but are willing to help them get a realistic video at their budget, this is a possibility.

At this point by all means make it clear to all you approach regarding doing work for them that you’ve started a career in videography and are looking for projects. At the same time be very realistic about your capabilities. We will discuss the business side of videography in more detail in upcoming articles.


In this second article we’ve suggested more books to help you on your way to becoming a professional videographer, i.e. earning money using your hard-earned videography skills. We’ve also introduced the third important key aspect of our roadmap, video about videography.

In the next article the focus will shift to specific types of video production, as well as the business side of videography.

Endnote: At this point you might be tempted to invest in a more professional, more expensive video camera. Please do resist the temptation, there will be time enough soon! The reality is that the end result of most of your projects at this point will be a DVD or a video on the Web, and for that, standard definition video is all you’ll need. There are other pieces of equipment that are more important to you to invest in, and THAT we will talk about in an upcoming article.

Heidi Mueller, New Westminster, BC, Canada, is an accomplished video producer, web site developer/designer, writer and course developer for adult classes. She is a frequent contributer to E.C. Come, E.C. Go and was recently the featured contributor of a four-part series on WordPress for web site creation. Future articles will continue focus on development of A Roadmap for Beginners, as well as information for intermediate level videographers, and ideas for developing successful marketing niches in the wide world of video production.

Remember: If you market, you will make it! © 2000-2011 Earl Chessher

Sunday, January 09, 2011

A Roadmap for Beginners


A few years ago I decided to become a videographer and make a living at it. As I knew nothing about videography, I thought it would be as easy as buying a video camera, spending an afternoon reading the instruction manual and then getting started — which I did. In a way I’m glad I was so ignorant, because if I had known the very steep learning curve that lay ahead, I would probably never have started. But I’m glad I did.

So just how does one get to know the videography business? You could of course go to film school if you are young enough and can afford it. However, in this short article I will describe a more practical and affordable approach. I am assuming that you are starting out and, as I did, have no knowledge at all.

Make no mistake, the learning curve is enormous. You need to master several main topic areas:
• the video camera itself and all its technical things including different types of
camcorder technologies and accessories
• shooting video and related issues such as lighting, sound, framing, storyboards and
• editing the video footage into a useful and pleasing end result
• the business side of videography including the many legal issues
• the different types of videography including documentaries, weddings, events,
commercials, film-making, and more.

But the beauty is that you do not need to know everything all at once, you will learn (and earn) as you go. My practical approach is based on two key concepts:

1.) read books
2.) go out and do little projects

Why books, you might ask? Well, it is by far the most cost-effective way of learning. A typical book costs about $20 - $30. Yet it represents the equivalent of several hours of “listening” to an expert explaining a topic. Not only that, once you have bought the book, you have that expert on hand all the time. Always have a book with you, so while you wait in the doctor’s waiting room or at the hairdresser you can whip out the book and learn more exciting things about videography. You will go back and reread your books because you will probably miss many of the points made in the books as you still did not have the necessary experience to appreciate all the points.

The second key is to do smaller projects that can be completed successfully in a day or two. Success breeds success. It really feels so good to have completed a project, even if the video is not all that good. But having more ambitious projects that are unfinished because they become so daunting will really get you down!

Getting started

So let’s get started. I am assuming that you are starting from scratch as I did. Maybe you got a video camera as a present or you’ve always been fascinated by video and are thinking of buying a video camera.

Before we even worry about getting a video camera, I would suggest you buy the following book and read through first: The Little Digital Video Book by Michael Rubin. This little gem of a book is available from Amazon for less than $20 (currently $17.09) and it’s worth every penny.

The book does cover much of the basic videography information that you will need to know. But most importantly, it describes a series of small practical projects that you can do easily and complete. The author refers to them as “exceptionally finish-able projects”. In addition you can visit the author’s blog where he has posted the finished results of the projects he recommends in the book. (To find out a bit more about the author you can view a podcast interview of him with Nancy Ruenzel)

Once you have read the book, you will have an overview of what you will be doing in the next couple of weeks on your exciting journey into the fun and challenging world of video production.

What you need to get
Now what will you need to actually do these mini projects? You will need:

1.) a video camera (also referred to as a camcorder)
2.) a computer, and
3.) video editing software.

That sounds simple enough, but it can be very overwhelming for a beginner as there are so many choices for each of the three items and we “experts” have our own strong opinions on them. The good news is that at this point it really does not matter what you get. Any camera, and any computer, and any editing software will help you become familiar with the concepts of videography.

Should you get a PC or a Mac? It does not matter, the one you are most familiar with is the right one for you. One caveat is that editing video is quite demanding so a relatively new computer would probably be better.

What about a video camera? Again, if you already have one, or can borrow one from a friend or family member, that is the way to go. Once you have had more experience using a video camera you will be in a better position to buy a camcorder that is right for you. (If you have to buy a camcorder, see the endnote for some guidance).

What about editing software? It depends on the type of computer that you have, both the PC and the Mac have free basic video editing software included — MovieMaker on the PC, and iMovie on the Mac. To start with, these video editing programs will do just fine.

The Next Steps

So at this point you now have a book that describes a number of projects for you to do, you have a camcorder, and a computer with editing software.

Get to know the video camera
You first have to learn how to use the camcorder. If you borrowed it, ask the friend to show you how to use it or go through the operating instructions. For the first projects you only need to know how to turn the camcorder on, and put it in “auto mode” where the camera will adjust the focus and exposure for you automatically.

Get to know the editing software
For each project you would typically have about 20 minutes of video footage that you will edit down to about 3-5 minutes in a finished production. So you need to know how to get the video from your camcorder into your computer and then do the editing. Clearly here is your first major “learning curve”. Some of it is described in Rubin’s book. If you do a search on Google for whatever video editing software you have on your computer, you are sure to find video tutorials that will show you how to capture the video into your computer and how to do the basic editing. (One resource featuring affordable lessons and even free sample tutorials for many popular programs is at Lynda Dot Com)

You need to set aside a weekend or two for this getting-to-know-your-basic-videography-tools phase. Don’t rush it. You can watch the video tutorials you found through Google as many times as you like. Remember you are learning a whole new discipline, and you are having fun while doing it! Don’t be afraid to experiment or even mess things up altogether.

Once you have a working knowledge of your camcorder and editing software, be sure to do the projects in the book. Set yourself a target of starting and completing at least one project every weekend.


Once you reach this point you will know, and know that you know, what an establishing shot is, and a close up and point-of-view (POV) shot, and much much more. And your investment will have been the $20 for The Little Digital Video Book and your time. What an inexpensive way to have fun and to prepare for a new career!

In subsequent articles we will discuss the next steps in the Roadmap for Beginners, and recommend more books to read as well as other resources.

Endnote: If you find that you do have to buy a video camera, keep in mind that you do not have to buy the most sophisticated camera. Sales people will often try and get you to purchase something rather more expensive than you really need. If you stick to the known brands like Canon, JVC, Panasonic and Sony for example, you can hardly go wrong. Avoid the point-and-shoot varieties like the Flip and the Kodak Zi8. They have their place for sure but at this point they would limit your learning.

At this point you do not really need high definition (HD) either. It would be helpful to get a camcorder that allows you to use an external microphone. A GREAT resource for identifying affordable camcorders is the camcorder reviews and information provided by forum users at Videomaker Forums.

Heidi Mueller, New Westminster, BC, Canada, is an accomplished video producer, web site developer, writer and course developer for adult classes. She is a frequent contributor to E.C. Come, E.C. Go and last was featured in a four-part series on WordPress for web site creation. Future articles will continue focus on development of A Roadmap for Beginners as well as information for intermediate level videographers and ideas for developing successful marketing niches in the wide world of video production.

Remember: If you market, you will make it! © 2000-2011 Earl Chessher