A Photographer’s Guide to Getting Started with Video
As video becomes increasingly important, photographers may consider offering video services to their clients. It’s a great goal, but there is a steep learning curve in order to successfully jump from photo to video.
It’s easy to become overwhelmed with what is required to successfully shoot video professionally as you might not be sure what photography skills will transfer over to the video medium and what new skills you’ll have to learn.
While there is a lot you’ll have to learn to successfully shoot and edit video to tell a compelling story, the good news is that many of the skills of a photographer are transferable. A professional photographer can hit the ground running when it comes to framing a scene, lighting it, and getting the white balance and color just right, freeing them up to learn how to tell a story.
It’s our hope that this brief guide will help ease the transition.
Terminology You Need to Know to Get Started in Video
Videographers and filmmakers have their own language in addition to a host of technical terms that are key to a successful production. One of the best places to reference is StudioBinder’s Definitive Glossary of Film Terminology, but even that doesn’t include everything.
PetaPixel has also put together a glossary of important videography terms that you should know that includes everything from common jargon on set to items you might see in your camera’s menu that you might not understand.
Gear: What is Transferrable and What Isn’t?
These days, gear is mostly transferable between photography and videography but there are of course exceptions. Today’s modern cameras are already equipped for shooting 4K and HD video; even a smartphone these days can create professional-looking cinematic videos. While many cameras can perform double-duty as both a still capture and video capture device, accessories are where things diverge.
Investment at the very beginning should be minimal, but below are some pieces of kit that a photographer will need if they hope to craft the best possible video for a project, broken into sections.
The biggest hurdle also happens to be the most important: audio. Sound is as important to a video as the image itself, perhaps even more so. People will tolerate a lackluster image if the story is compelling enough, but they will not be able to handle bad sound. Most microphones in video cameras are put in as an afterthought and have inferior amps to balance the audio signal. As such, a good microphone is paramount.
There are two types of microphones: directional and omnidirectional. Omnidirectional microphones are designed to capture ambient sound and gather it from a wide surrounding area. Directional microphones sample sound much more narrowly. Filmmakers use both, but most beginners should focus on directional microphones as they are best at capturing voices.
There are three different mics that a videographer can deploy:
- Shotgun mic: a directional mic that can either fit on the camera or a boom pole.
- Lavalier (lav) mic: a clip-on directional mic that goes on your subject so their voice can be recorded.
- Wireless Mic: a wireless version of a lav, that transmits the audio to a receiver connected to your camera.
All three of these have their uses depending on what the videographer is trying to capture and most professionals have multiple versions of at least two of these. For beginners who have a limited budget, PetaPixel recommends a single shotgun microphone as they tend to be a jack of all trades. They may not be the best at any one task, but they cover a lot of requirements.
Rode has the market cornered when it comes to a solid run-and-gun compact microphone. The VideoMic Pro is a great entry-level microphone as is the VideoMicro and both can work well for interviews as well as for capturing ambient sound. You’ll need to get some kind of mount or housing for it, but the Rode NTG2 is even better and does a stellar job isolating sound and capturing voices, even in loud environments. Sennheiser’s MKE 600 shotgun is available with a full accessory bundle that provides everything you need to get started, and it’s great.
In addition to microphones to capture sound, you’re going to need a way to make sure it is being recorded properly. For this, you will want a solid pair of light, comfortable, wired headphones. You want to avoid earbuds since you want as clean and as clear of a signal as possible (wired earbuds don’t tend to isolate audio as well as over-ears, and wireless audio feeds aren’t universally supported on cameras yet).
Normally we like to provide a range of options, but in this case, there is only one headset you should buy: the Sony MDR-7506 headphones. These are industry standards for a reason: they’re cheap, they last forever, and they excel at providing a crystal clear rendition of voices and music.
Whether the camera is “locked down” or on the move with a handheld shot, the importance of camera support can not be understated. Even when shooting while moving, a stable image will keep the audience engaged and prevent a feeling of confusion from settling on the scene. Sometimes, like in the iconic D-Day scenes of Saving Private Ryan, that shaky camera look actually contributes to the chaotic feeling of battle. But for the most part, the audience wants to be immersed in the scene, recognizing subjects and surroundings. That’s where proper support comes in.
Tripods – Like with cameras, a tripod with a good fluid head is transferrable from still images to video. They are relied upon to lock down the camera when shooting non-moving shots. However, the build quality and design of a cinematic tripod are far more robust than a standard photo tripod, capable of handling heavier loads and rigs with a lot of accessories. For a photographer using his still camera for video, or even a smartphone, this isn’t a concern, but it’s important to know the differences.
Fluid Heads – Chances are, if you already have a tripod, you have the fluid head that came with it. Fluid heads make for smooth adjustments, tilts, and pans thanks to a fluid chamber within its design, to dampen the sudden movements and vibrations of the camera. Getting a higher-end fluid head means a smoother experience tracking your subject. In the beginning, you may not need to upgrade the head on your sticks right away. But over time, it’s a good idea to upgrade to a better design when shooting video, especially with large format cameras.
Gimbal – A gimbal will provide image stabilization to your camera while moving. Gimbals are very beneficial when going “hand-held” with the camera on the move. A gimbal provides stabilization of the camera across a variety of axis, providing a smooth image. A gimbal isn’t necessary at the beginning, but they are really nice to hold the camera with, safe in the knowledge that the image will be a lot steadier when it comes to post.
Taking the time to set up a few lights for your scene at the beginning, translates to less time to improve the scene in post, especially during color grading. Lighting can also direct the eye of the audience where the shooter wants it to go. Having a good light kit that can provide not only illumination, but a splash of color, can really set the mood of a scene.
Three-point lights: Three-point lighting is a light kit that enables the videographer to light a subject within a scene. Usually broken down to the Key (or main) light, the fill (or fill in light), and the backlight (which separates the background from the subject). A three-point lighting kit is handy, but isn’t necessary for the very beginning, as natural light can be very powerful and because it’s natural, preferable. More likely, your first lighting purchase will be for an LED light, and they’re ubiquitous.
LED Video Lights: a good LED-based video light can light a scene in any condition and can be light enough to go onto your camera cage and still keep it mobile.
Natural Light: For many beginner videographers, natural light is going to be just fine and work in a majority of cases. If you do use natural light, follow the same rules you would with photography and avoid harsh, direct sunlight and instead find some diffusion, either natural through clouds or in the shade, or bounce it off a wall or use indirect window light.
As with photography, the kind of camera being deployed will dictate the kind of storage medium used. Ranging from microSD to SD cards to CFExpress, media cards are what the camera will write images to for safe keeping.
Memory Cards: With modern cameras rapidly approaching 8K in resolution, the need for a robust memory card that can read and write at high speeds is very important. The current top-spec for a video card is V90 UHS-II with a minimum read/write speed of at least 90 MB/s. You’ll also hear the phrase VPG400 certified, which is a certification from the Compact Flash Association indicating a card has been tested to write at a minimum speed of 400 MB/s. Obviously, the faster the better. You don’t ever want to go cheap on the medium that will store your video. Make sure to reference our Guide to Memory Cards for more details and reference our best CFexpress guide for buying options.
External hard drives: Some cameras, like the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 6K, are capable of recording directly to an external SSD drive. Multiple companies make great, reliable external SSDs and often they are small, robust, and also work great for backing up and transporting your video between computers.
Software for Editing Video
Below are some video editing apps we recommend you use to cut your footage together. Except where noted, there are usually versions for Windows, macOS, and even Linux.
Premiere Elements: For around $100, Adobe Premiere Elements is a good place to start as it provides about 80% of the video editing tools that are available in Premiere Pro. This includes music, titles, transitions, and effects.
Premiere Pro: Adobe’s flagship video editor, Premiere Pro is available with a Creative Cloud subscription for $54.99/mo, with the single app monthly membership is $20 a month.
Final Cut Pro: Apple’s video editor, Final Cut Pro is very similar to Premiere Pro in function, though Apple doesn’t offer it with a monthly subscription, which we argue is a good thing. If your computer is a Mac, giving Final Cut a good look is recommended.
DaVinci Resolve: DaVinci Resolve is Blackmagic Design’s an all-in-one editing solution, offering video editing, color grading, visual effects, audio editing, and even collaboration with others in the Cloud. The best part is that it is available as a free download, while the more advanced Studio version can be had for $295. Resolve is considered more challenging to use, but it is also more powerful than other similar options.
HitFilm Express: HitFilm Express is an all-in-one solution, offering not only video editing but also visual effects. It is available as a free download, or a more advanced Pro Studio version for $350.
Lightworks: Lightworks is a free, open-source video editor that has had over a decade of development. It may not be a good solution in the long term, but for learning the ropes, it’s a free option to consider alongside DaVinci Resolve.
iMovie: Apple users should not discount iMovie. Apple’s entry-level video editor is simple to use, comes with your computer, and is capable of not only cutting your video, but also adding music, titles, and transitions. If you aren’t ready to invest in a more advanced editing system, iMovie will help get your feet wet in learning the basics. However, don’t be surprised how quickly you outgrow it.
Tips for Shooting Video
It is said that to master a new skill, one needs to do it for 10,000 hours. Therefore, any important new skill a photographer can develop, like shooting video, means it’s important to practice. Practice will help develop the video eye, learn new creative techniques, and develop the muscle memory vital to shooting video. Do a home tour. Film an unboxing or gear review. Do an interview. Make a travel video of your vacation. If you can think of a subject that would be improved with video, give it a shot.
Shoot what is known as “B-roll” for everything: B-roll is footage that is designed to accentuate a primary feed, which is known as A-roll. If a main subject is an interview, B-roll would be your cutaway clips that further illustrate the interview so the audience isn’t forced to just watch a person’s face for the entire segment.
Make a shot list: This is the process of sitting down and deciding ahead of time, the kinds of shots you want to get when you’re shooting for the day. There are some great apps for this including one that is aptly named ShotList. It’ll not only keep you on task but also on time.
Partner up: Look for a videographer whom you can team up with and learn. You can provide the photography, while they provide video. You can learn a lot by being on set with a working professional.
Another good idea is to spend time watching videos with the sound off. Pay close attention to how the story is told visually. You’ll also begin to notice various techniques that you may want to include as you develop your own style.
Having an app like SunSeeker or The Photographer’s Ephemeris on your phone is beneficial for knowing where the sun will be in the sky at the time you are planning on shooting your footage.
Tips for Editing Video
Ask yourself who is this video for? Is it a client? Is it a wedding? Is it for YouTube? Or maybe a short for Instagram or TikTok? Or are you going to be making a documentary? By identifying this in advance, you can focus on your storytelling.
Unlike a photo editing program like Photoshop, video editing programs don’t edit the original footage, they reference it. That way all changes are handled nondestructive. That means once you start an edit, video files need to stay where they are or the timeline will show broken links. These can be reconnected, but it’s smarter to just put all your files in an organized location, preferably on a fast working drive, before you import them into a project.
On that note, be organized. Create folders for media assets. Divided by cameras used. This is often called the Media Bin in your video editor. Separate footage into whatever makes sense for your workflow: dates, locations, titles, audio footage, you get the idea.
Drop all your clips into the timeline in the order you want them. You’ll start to see where each clip begins to drag, and where you can overlay B-Roll in a separate timeline to add a different angle.
Keep the B-roll on a different timeline. You also won’t need the audio on B-roll, so feel free to unlink the audio from the B-roll clips and delete it.
Pay attention to the waveform of the audio — it’ll tell you faster when the clip is about to start and end.
This one is a bit of a hybrid shooting/editing tip, but if you decide to use a separate audio recorder, clap three times into the microphone after starting a recording. This will provide a good place to sync up audio and video while editing since the spikes you see with the loud sound is very visible in your video editor.
Spend some time on YouTube: There are several great channels offering regular tips for telling a story through video editing. Videographer Mark Wallace, for example, has an excellent multi-part beginner’s series on Adorama’s YouTube channel.
Practice Makes Perfect
There are plenty of other tips that will come to you as you learn, and this is by no means the final word on the subject. The important thing is to dive in and begin the journey. Just like with photography, expect to not be very good at it in the beginning while you learn. Everyone struggles with this at the start, but as they pick up more techniques and practice, they get better — so will you!
Image credits: Header photo by Jakob Owens .