Many clients, when first exploring the world of corporate video marketing, are surprised at the costs involved to create a quality video production. One of the largest expenses, or often the single largest expense, is the videographer. With the greater availability of HD cameras, even quality video footage from smart phones, many people assume videography is easier than ever and therefore should be inexpensive. While quality cameras have continued to drop in price, most support gear from lighting to jibs to dollies to steadicam rigs remain expensive investments for independent contractors. Additionally, the biggest expense is not for the gear involved in video creation, but the talent and skills involved in capturing great footage.
Reviewing thousands upon thousands of videographer reels and work samples over many years as a producer, I would estimate no more than 10% of videographers who apply for our gigs have a great eye for visuals and the skills to match. Maybe another 20% shoot competent, basic work but their skills are not suitable for high-end professional work. The best videographers not only have the technical skills and understanding of a wide variety of gear and lighting, but they have a great eye for creating shots. They understand framing and shot composition. They use their free time to stay on the cutting edge of equipment and technology available, reading industry news, visiting trade shows, and maintaining and building relationships with vendors and crew. They are in all ways consummate professionals who love what they do.
Another major component of videographer pay is keeping a basic set of equipment that is professional, complete, and working properly. Most videographers have some form of nice HD camera that is beyond consumer grade, which is required for professional productions. They also have audio equipment like external recorders, boom microphones, and lavaliere mics. Most videographers own a variety of camera support equipment like tripods, sliders, and maybe even a steadicam or jib. They also will have at least one basic lighting kit for interviews, sometimes several lighting kits. Their lighting kit may also include C-stands with flags, silks, and screens to control the light.
Because of changing technology and frequent use, videographers need to charge enough not only to recoup their investment in equipment, but also to save for new equipment so they can remain competitive. Even a basic equipment package will run most videographers $10,000 or more, which is an immense initial investment that only grows as their clients’ needs grow. Cameras rarely have a lifespan above three years before they need replacing with something newer and better. Nobody wants to hire a videographer with a five-year-old camera when the industry is competitive enough that another highly skilled videographer has the newest, cutting edge gear.
As an independent contractor, videographers also need to pay for their own health insurance, business licenses, accounting, transportation costs, trade groups, advertising, Website design and maintenance, and other operating costs. Like all small business owners, if they don’t put any work into marketing themselves, they won’t have enough clients to pay the bills. If they don’t spend time constantly learning new skills and practicing new techniques, they won’t be able to be at the forefront of the industry, but none of their reading, research, or off-the-job practice is paid time because they’re not employees, they’re business owners.
If a videographer has a 4-hour shoot one day for a client, they could spend an hour or two testing their gear, recharging batteries, and loading up the car, besides an hour or two dealing with the client over phone and e-mail to gather details for the shoot. Factoring in another hour or two of driving and suddenly a 4-hour shoot is an 8-hour time commitment. Their hourly rate of $50-100 (or more, for top videographers) drops to only $25-50, not including the marketing time spent to land the client in the first place. Factor in the financial investment of their gear, then clients should quickly realize their hourly pay is not unreasonable.
The final consideration for all freelancers is the number of working days per month. No videographer is going to book every single day of the week every single month of the year. Most will come nowhere close, which means their working days have to pay for down periods. A videographer working an average of three days per week during a month will have twelve working days roughly, which means even at $500 per day, he or she only makes $6,000 gross income. Given all of the costs of doing business, they will barely scrape together a living, let alone have the money left over to save for new gear and save for retirement.
For clients, the best takeaway is to remember that top quality, creative videographers need to charge high hourly rates to stay in business and continue to grow their skills. Videographers who work for low hourly wages are usually beginners trying to grow their reels, not yet experienced enough to trust with bigger projects. They may do great work, or they may not, but if a videographer continues to charge low rates, they likely will have to quit their passion work and get a day job when their funds run dry or when they hit their first rough patch. When you’re paying for the best videographers, you are paying for years of experience and knowledge that is worth the price if your company is serious about its video marketing needs.