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

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