Does An HD Video-Capable D-SLR A Video Business Make?; A Pro Tells Us: It Takes More Than Motion Capability

“The availability of professional-quality digital still cameras tempts many photographers to consider adding video to increase clients and business income.”

More consumer and commercial clients today want to add video to their still photographers’ assignments to get “one-stop shopping” service. The availability of professional-quality digital still cameras tempts many photographers to consider adding video to increase clients and business income. But like any business expansion, it is best achieved when you plan and prepare for this new business model. I recently spoke with Lee White, who is presently teaching seminars on this topic, and got his thoughts and advice.

White, a professional photographer based in Los Angeles, California, has over 20 years experience photographing for advertising, editorial, and corporate clients in the US and all over the world. He has also spent more than 15 years as a photo educator instructing on topics of digital and analog photography. White’s seminar Secrets of Video Production for Photographers is traveling the country; watch his website ( or check with the APA chapter ( nearest you for cities and dates.

White shoots with a Canon EOS 7D with Zeiss ZE lenses mounted in a Redrock micro system which holds a Marshall monitor and a BeachTek audio adapter for the Sennheiser microphones all sitting on top of Manfrotto sticks (tripod) and fluid head. He lights with Litepanels and Lowel lights using Lastolite modifiers. White edits on Apple computers using Final Cut Studio connected to LaCie hard drives and adds music with SmartSound’s Sonicfire Pro.

Shutterbug: What are the marketplace changes driving photography and video to come together?

Lee White: Everyone is becoming more attuned to being fed their information with both moving visuals and sound. On the web and TV, stills are being portrayed using the Ken Burns effect of panning or zooming motion. The marketers of today understand their audience expects to be entertained as well as informed by marketing. All this is being supported by fast online anyplace connections and mobile devices, including the iPad. You no longer have to buy a magazine or sit at home in front of a TV to be marketed to. You just open your laptop or better yet, your cell phone. And because of this overload, marketers are looking for more eye-catching ways to market—video.

SB: How does this new market apply to commercial photographers? To consumer photographers? Is one better positioned for this change than the other?

LW: Wedding photographers are getting into video big time. With the HD-SLRs they can shoot clips, perfect sound is not a factor, and wedding photography is becoming more editorial than in the past.

Because every business of any size has an online presence and video is almost as easy to put online as stills, many advertisers want video shot along with stills during an assignment. Many print ads now have tag lines that tell the viewer to go to a website for more information. Once online, the viewer gets a short video rather than just seeing the same still image. This is already happening and will increase dramatically over the next year. Photographers have most of the basic skills to produce this type of short-form video with some additional training. Photographers who also shoot video can make more money providing additional services on their present assignments.

Photographers can also expand their client base when introduced to other potential clients within the advertiser’s organization when video is handled separately from stills. These newer clients are mostly corporations, businesses, and magazines that are now getting into video. You also need to be careful about how knowledgeable the clients are about video and what they actually need—is it simple short clips vs. a slick production? What really are the client’s expectations?

SB: Regarding marketing tactics for adding video sales, what do you think works best—given the different marketing tools available (direct mail, e-mail, website, sales calls, social media)?

LW: I suggest e-mail, sales calls, and social media. E-mails can either have an attachment or link to videos online. Sales calls are the best, but time-consuming. With a sales call you find out what type of involvement the client has in video and what type of video service you might be able to provide for the client. Sales calls also lead to referrals to others in an organization who handle video.

Social media, viral marketing is great to get a buzz going. Of course, have some video content up on your website. Also, you need to define whether you are using the videos to advertise yourself or advertise an additional service. For years photographers have shown videos of behind the scenes to advertise their services. Selling video as an additional service needs a separate, dedicated portfolio section showing your video production abilities.

SB: What are the important estimating issues to discuss with clients when adding video to a photo shoot?

LW: Sound and movement are huge and you have issues of preproduction and postproduction to estimate. Dialog and music can be time-consuming. Certain camera moves can be expensive. Everything is in real time, so it can take more time than the photographer is used to in stills both in shooting and editing. It is important to find out whether the client is expecting simple snippets with natural location sound or a commercial production with perfect timing, camera moves, and sweetened sound.

Watch for issues with casting talent—you will need someone with acting ability who can walk and talk and you need to learn how to direct the talent rather than simply capture poses. You will need to plan for rehearsals in video; in still photography you shoot until you get what you want. You cannot work the same way in video. You need to rehearse both the talent and the crew so that everyone knows where they are supposed to be and when.

Bottom line: video is shot in real time and requires additional expertise and equipment.