When I first started out in the wild world of freelancing, my main gig was writing. One day while working at my very first magazine, a photographer called in sick, and my editor assigned me to shoot an event I was writing about even though I had no experience and a crappy camera. Why did I bring this story up in an article about how to become a freelance videographer?
The truth is, that moment created an opportunity for me — I took a few decent photos at the event and was hooked. There happened to be a sale at my local electronics store that weekend and I bought my first camera. I soon had a new skill that I could pitch with my articles — photography. I could now write and take photos to get more work. This helped me get into several newspaper and magazine articles, and start blogging for a local news station.
These days though, video is king.
Everyone and their brother wants video as part of their content creation for social media, blogs and websites in general.
In other words, I needed to add videography to my skill set to stay competitive. Whether you want to be a one-man band like I am, or you just want a career as a freelance videographer, this article should help. Here’s everything I’ve found about what you need to know to break into the world of freelance videography.
What you need to become a freelance videographer
You might have already guessed, but becoming a freelance videographer is about more than just buying a video camera. Here are some questions you should ask yourself before getting started as a freelance videographer:
- What kind of education do I need?
- Is there specific equipment I should buy?
- What types of video work can you do?
- How do I break into the field once I know the craft?
- When can I start making money?
We’ll cover all your questions and more. So let’s dive in!
1. Getting schooled in videography
To be a freelance videographer, you need to know your way around a video camera. Do you need a college degree or a special certificate? Not really, no. However, that’s not to say that you shouldn’t get some kind of training. This is especially important when you are just starting out, and have no portfolio or client history.
On the other hand, it is important to note that some clients will prefer you do have a degree. For example, if you want to be a freelance videographer for news stations, they might require one, or at least be more likely to hire you. Then again, if your work is good enough, they might be more interested in your footage than your qualifications.
As is said in many professions, talent trumps all!
You can take online courses, watch tutorials on YouTube, and even read books on the subject of how to shoot video.
At some point though, you will need to start actually shooting video. That is where your lessons will come to life, and you’ll realize how much more you need to learn.
While shooting, you might realize your videos are coming out dark, and that will tell you that you should brush up on lessons about lighting. Or if your subjects aren’t in focus, you’ll know that you should learn more about that.
In other words, the best training will come from actually filming people, places and things.
2. The freelance videographer toolbox: What to keep in yours
What does a videographer need? You know at a minimum you need a high-quality video camera, but what else? In truth this answer varies depending on the type of videos you plan to shoot, but your list might include:
- A tripod, a monopod and/or multiple tripods.
- Different lenses for various angles and types of shooting.
- A backup camera (because let’s be honest, you never know when your first one will break down on you).
- Backup batteries for all of your equipment (especially the video camera itself).
- Wireless microphone(s).
- Lighting equipment.
- A quality computer.
- Enough storage to handle large files be it on your computer, an external drive or cloud storage (video takes up a lot of space after all).
- Some videographers keep a drone or two in their toolbox for aerial shots and b-roll footage.
- Software for editing.
Of course, the tools you have in your box as a freelance videographer might depend on your budget when you’re just starting out. Over time you might add pieces, but the most important thing is that you at least have a good quality video camera to start.
3. Like photography, video work is much more than just point and shoot
Just a few of the different types of videography services you can offer include, but certainly aren’t limited to:
- B-roll videos: supplemental footage used to help illustrate a story. This can be things like establishing shots of the location where the story is taking place or cutaways of people talking that help to break up the shot and keep the viewer engaged. Sometimes b-roll can also be used as a transition between clips.
- Interviews: Interviews can be shot in a variety of ways, from talking head shots to full-blown documentaries.
- Live streaming: Like it sounds, this type of video work is usually captured and streamed live via a platform such as Facebook, YouTube, TikTok or Instagram. The bulk of the work for these types of videos will be done before you hit record - think lighting, props, backdrop, etc…
- Live action shooting: The video is done live of something such as a sporting event, or a ribbon cutting and then edited (often with B-roll and sound effects) to create a completed work.
- Weddings and events: Similar to live-action shooting, but will often require staging and more than one camera to get all the shots and angles that happen throughout the ceremony and reception
- Drone and aerial videos: These require the addition of drone flying skills, but can certainly make for some interesting shots!
- Tutorials: These can be a combination of interview-style videos combined with shots of how to complete a task. In the case of teaching how to use software, your subject might combine talking head film with screencasts of the step-by-step guide to completing a task within a program
When I first started looking into freelance videography work, I had no idea just how many types of videography services there were.
These days I mainly do interviews and tutorials for clients. Interestingly enough, because I’m a one-man band as it were, I do the setup of my backdrop and lights, and then film myself for the videos. Then, I edit everything and submit the final product for review to the clients.
For me, this type of videography was all I needed. So my learning period wasn’t as intense as other types of video work. I don’t know about you, but to me it’s exciting to know there are so many different types of services you can get schooled in and carry out for your clients!
4. Breaking into the business
How does one break into the field once they learn the skills of a freelance videographer? Your best first step is to determine what you want to shoot. Only then can you start networking to establish connections in the industry you choose.
For example, let’s say you want to shoot weddings. That tells you that you should network with wedding vendors. Or if you want to shoot public speaking events, then you would physically go to events where people would be giving speeches to crowds.
Many freelance videographers start out by volunteering their services to begin building their portfolios. Others will offer their services dirt cheap on sites like Fiverr and Upwork until they can get enough experience to go after bigger fish.
You could even pitch yourself to a charity so that they get footage they need, and you get the warm fuzzies of giving back to the community. Depending on your niche, you might even trade video for another business’s services (i.e. you shoot free videos for an accountant, and he does your taxes for the year).
Once you have enough jobs under your belt, you can create a highlight reel of the footage to start promoting yourself to new clients.
Branding yourself as a freelance videographer
After you have gotten your feet wet, you might want to create a company name for yourself. You could just shoot as an independent contractor, but creating a name gives you a way to brand yourself and what you do.
Editor’s note: Choosing a domain name for your business website is just as important as creating a company name. And remember, there’s a good chance that the domain name you want is already taken, so be flexible with your company name. Start your search now!
Some of the things you should consider in branding yourself are:
- The name you want to give to your company.
- Establishing a website that acts as an online portfolio (this makes sharing your work much easier anyway).
- Whether or not you want to be on social media (Spoiler alert: You should!).
- Getting clear on which niche you most want to shoot videos for (being the expert videographer in one niche could yield more referrals and work).
5. Start making money as a freelance videographer
I know, I know. At this point you’re probably starting to realize that you have worked a lot, but might not be making any money yet. This could be the case for a while, and it’s why you shouldn’t quit your day job and jump right into being a freelance videographer.
The reality is you might have to start small — like, no money for a long time small.
Then again, you might start off with a bang. It could happen, but it’s unfortunately more likely that you will be climbing the ranks and paying your dues for some time before getting the big gigs. How quickly you start making money, and how much you earn will depend on a number of factors including your:
- Website quality (yes, really!).
- Your referrals and testimonials.
The list goes on and on.
You could announce that you’re a freelance videographer, and get loads of gigs right out the gate. But, most people have to network like crazy, and in some cases beg for the work.
You can start charging as soon as you feel you’re ready to. I was fortunate in that I was already doing creative work as a content producer and was able to just offer video services to my current clients, but I know not everyone will already have a client list.
There’s no rule that says you have to do any work for free. You can make money on your very first gig if you want to. I would just make sure your initial clients know your current experience and that expectations are established from the beginning. People don’t like to be hoodwinked into believing they are hiring an expert when in reality it’s your first paid job.
Pro tip: Don’t take every gig. That might surprise you, but you should not take every gig you’re offered. The reason for this is twofold. First, you might take a gig that is out of your league, and have a rough time with it. Or worse, you could bomb it completely. This could lead to your first negative reviews.
Second, if you do somehow manage to complete it, you might have spent too much time and energy on it. This might leave a sour taste in your mouth about being a freelance videographer, and send you running back to your day job.
A better bet is to take small gigs at first, and slowly build your way up to bigger jobs. This way you can get your footing, hopefully get good reviews and testimonials and learn along the way what works and what doesn’t for you and your business.
It’s also a good idea to be a second shooter for your first few gigs. If you know what types of things you want to shoot, you could ask local videographers in your field if you can tag along and help out. Of course, the threat of competition could have many established videographers telling you no. On the other hand, it could help you start building a network of contacts.
Pro tip: Contracts are your friend!
I’d be remiss if I didn’t state that you should have a contract for every single gig you do. Having everything in writing from equipment you will bring/use to the backdrops and lighting you will provide as well as what you will do with the videos and what rights you will give the client - the more you can put in writing, the better!
Where do you go from here?
You’ve learned the skill, gotten your feet wet, added some pieces to your portfolio and hopefully started making money. Now, you just keep moving on up from there. If you’re lucky, you will begin getting higher paying gigs.
Eventually, you might want to scale your business by hiring someone to manage your books, find more clients and even edit your videos. Who knows? You could even build your business into a powerhouse where you’re the one hiring the freelancers.
For now though, I hope this article has helped you see how to break into being a freelance videographer. It might not seem easy, but I think you’ll realize now that for anyone who is interested in it, that it’s certainly possible.