If you’re working with commercial clients to spread the message about their services then video provides a highly engaging medium, but what kit do you need to offer this service?
If you’re a photographer with a role that involves servicing local businesses then you’ll know by now the nature of the work you’ll be asked to do on a regular basis. Inevitably, you’ll be looking to provide promotional-style imagery with a marketing end use in mind, perhaps profile pictures of staff along with other general background shots that will go on to serve as a useful resource for company websites and the like.
All of which is still highly relevant, of course, except that these days the majority of switched-on companies will also be asking for some video content as well, and if you’re not in a position to provide it then a rival who is might well steal your work. The reason is simple: video has been proved to be a highly engaging form of content, particularly to a younger audience, while band widths are now generally wide enough for moving content on a website to be easily viewed by most people.
So, while video production might still just be a part of the overall story, it’s an increasingly important part, and if you’re astute and forward-thinking enough to get up to speed on the basics of film production then you’ll have a potentially highly profitable new service to offer your clients. At the very least, you should have everything on board in terms of equipment and expertise so that you can manage a straightforward video presentation if required, and this would be enough to ensure that you don’t miss out down the line if that’s what the client is asking for.
So what do you need in terms of a basic setup that will enable you to not only offer stills but also to go after the rapidly expanding market for commercial promotional videos? At CVP, it’s a question that’s being asked of its expert sales team on a regular basis, and as an equipment-agnostic retailer they’re well placed to offer advice on what to invest in, whether you simply want to dip your toe in the filmmaking water or you’re looking to get more seriously involved going forward.
“There probably isn’t a standard kit as such,” says CVP’s Jake Ratcliffe, “since this will be very much down to personal choice, but you’ll certainly need all the pieces of equipment you would expect, such as a camera, appropriate lens, tripod, audio kit and some basic lighting.
“Within those specific pieces of equipment there are, of course, things we recommend more often than not for filmmakers who are shooting smaller commercial productions, but we like to take time to understand our customers’ needs first so that we can recommend the correct solution. We would also advise popping into one of our showrooms, which have now reopened, to see kit in the flesh before investing in a solution.”
One of the most common scenarios that you’ll face when putting together a short film destined for the website of a commercial client is the need to set up and produce an interview or a presentation, perhaps with the MD of the company or potentially the staff or maybe even customers providing positive feedback.
There are so many ways to treat these and you need to consider every case on its merits: sometimes it’s good to have the interview filmed inside so that the backdrop is the work environment, and you’ll be able to control the lighting better and avoid unwanted extraneous noises, such as passing traffic or planes passing overhead in a situation such as this. At other times, however, shooting outside can be the right way to go, with its more informal style and surroundings that could be more pleasing on the eye.
You also have to take on board the fact that you’ll usually be dealing with people who potentially aren’t regulars in front of camera, and here the challenge is to make someone who could be nervous appear as relaxed as possible on screen. You should also be looking to keep the footage lively and interesting, even if the person speaking might not have the natural mannerisms that normally only come with being a professional presenter.
As you become a more experienced filmmaker, you’ll start to find ways to get around the issue, such as having an A and a remote B camera set up, so that you have alternative angles you can cut to throughout the interview, and you could also film in 4K so that you have the resolution in the file to crop into the scene to vary the look you’re achieving.
“With interviews, there are a few ways to spice them up and keep the viewer engaged,” agrees Jake, “and some nice B-roll over the top or a second angle are both common ways. Another technique that has become quite common is slight movement, which can be done in a variety of ways. The most affordable solution is to invest in a slider, and if this comes with a motorised head then the movement you introduce will be silky smooth, totally controllable and repeatable, though if you’re recording audio you’ll have to be careful not to pick up the sound of the motor. These are just really versatile pieces of kit, very affordable and capable of giving you some great B-roll so that you get some good variety into the mix.”
Lighting is also a consideration if you’re going to be filming inside or need some fill on location. This was once quite an issue, since lighting kit was bulky, expensive and needed to be mains operated. These days, however, things have moved on considerably, and lighting suppliers such as Rotolight have come to the fore and are delivering the perfect solution for filmmakers on a budget who might be working single handed.
The Rotolight Aeos (CVP price £899.99), for example, is a powerful bi-colour location LED light that weighs in at under 1.5kg, while the NEO 2 three-head kit (CVP price £899.99) features three ultra-portable little heads along with a built-in Elinchrom Skyport flash receiver, three lighting stands and professional ball heads, a power adaptor so that the lights can be mains as well as battery powered, diffusers, filters and a flight case to carry them all in.
“Recommending lighting really comes down to a few things,” says Jake. “How much light do you need? How big can the lights be? Can you carry modifiers? In an ideal world, you would have a nice, large source with some fill and an edge light. But depending on what you can travel with, you may have to make some compromises.”
Getting the Sound Right
Audio is another area where you have to be prepared to adapt to get the optimum result in every situation, with there being no one-size-fits-all solution. “When capturing interviews, most people will either use a shotgun mic boomed overhead or a wireless lavaliere system,” comments Jake. “From my experience as a camera operator, a good quality shotgun mic boomed nice and close to your audio source can sound better than wireless lav sets.
“However, the beauty of modern wireless lav microphone sets is that they can be easier to work with than boomed shotgun microphones. Some shooters may even opt to use both, and that way they’ll capture the best audio possible. If I was a one-person crew working nowadays, I would be checking out 32-bit float audio – 24-bit recording with 8 extra bits for volume – which is essentially Raw for audio. It could make your life much easier while out on a job, since it means you don’t have to worry about levels.”
Finally, especially if you happen to be dealing with someone who’s not a professional in front of the camera, you need to think about helping them to remember their lines, which can be a big deal when you’re nervous. Investing in an autocue, which are available at a wide range of prices, can really help someone who is struggling, but once again there is a technique to learn whereby you’re reading from a screen but still looking natural.
“I use a teleprompter myself while doing my pieces to camera for the CVP YouTube videos,” says Jake, “and it really helped when I first started getting in front of camera. What solution you use really depends on the style of interview you’re going for, but making your subject feel as comfortable as possible and having a clear Q&A list prepared in advance is always going to result in a better, more natural response than reading off a prompter.”
Essentially, the secret of a smooth, well-organised promotional video lies in preparation and knowing exactly what you’re doing, and having the right level of kit to hand to cope with every eventuality. You’ll also need to get a detailed brief from your client so that you have a clear idea in advance regarding what you’re going to need to be covering.
“If you’re not clear on what you need to achieve to make your client happy then it’s not possible to get your job done properly,” says Jake. “You also need to think about the length of the video, and most of the time you’ll be looking to create a production that is suitable for a website, so it might need to be no more than a minute to a minute and a half long, which can feel longer than you think.
“The modern attention span is so incredibly short that getting your message across quickly and efficiently when it comes to online video is crucial. A good intro is key to hook people in, as is creating something creative and unique that will make the piece really stand out.”
For the modern imaging professional, video production is becoming a must-have skill, so make sure you’re fully prepared, with a trusted equipment partner behind you to advise on what you’re going to need. See video as an opportunity not a threat, and it could be the perfect way to boost the income of your business and to add a valuable string to your bow.
If you’re working on a production, it’s essential that you are prepared, so we’ll be looking at how to compile a shot list and what it might need to contain.
One of CVP’s resident team of technical experts, and a self-confessed camera nerd who gets way too excited over kit, Jake’s background mirrors that of so many creatives these days. After graduating with a degree in photography he took up a freelance career and found that many of his clients were asking for video services so, rather than turn the work away, he started to teach himself the filmmaking basics. Having been based at CVP for four years now, Jake epitomises the ‘equipment agnostic’ approach of the company and devotes his time to advising customers who might be looking for impartial feedback on which products to invest in as they look to make the same journey into motion.
The prevalence of high-quality hybrid cameras means that it’s now possible to offer both stills and video to your commercial clients.
Video clips for use on company websites are now big business and the market is due to grow further still.
Rotolight’s NEO 2 units are small, light and battery-powered, making them perfect for location filming . Picture: Jason Lanier
The well-priced Rotolight NEO 2 kit comes complete with lighting stands, filters and a flight case.
A motorised slider, such as this version from Hague, can add movement to a scene.
A boom mic solution, seen here with a Sennheiser mic in position, works well.
The F2 and F3-BT Zoom Field Recorders are perfect for location filming.