Tag: education

Should beginner videographers learn photography first? Yes and no.

(This is my response to the question in the title, posed somewhere on Reddit.)

Filmmaking is a combination of creative writing, audio recording, photography, and motion handling. There are so many things that go into even the simplest decent-seeming video production work that it’d be difficult to say “learn this first” to any one of them. You need all of them or you’ll have glaring deficiencies in your skill set. Even “just a guy who points cameras” benefits from understanding the editing process, how audio works, etc.

That being said, I got into photography as a hobby in 2010 when I purchased my first DSLR, and it was definitely a huge benefit by the time I got the filmmaking itch around 2015. Understanding composition, lighting, and manual controls is absolutely critical to good filmmaking, and you can experiment with all of that in photography. Things like audio can be learned with education and a little bit of experimentation, but composition is difficult to teach since it’s an artistic thing more than a technical one. You can learn about handy shortcuts like the rule of thirds and still take a very poorly composed photo.

When I started offering my video services professionally instead of just making short films in my backyard and office for fun, I had been doing photography for 7+ years and filmmaking as an occasional hobby for about 2 years. The biggest problems I ran into once I started professional work were as follows:

  • Audio can require a lot of experimentation to get right, and having good audio gear is extremely important. My Zoom H4n has been the best tool in my toolkit. It was hard dropping $200 on a recorder, but I challenge anyone to get better audio on a budget than my H4n attached to the podium with a SmallRig double-ball arm clamp. Shotgun mics and booms look cool, but are not appropriate for everything.
  • Poor gear choices from photography plagued me. I have a Targus (read: real cheap) tripod and a Manfrotto Compact Advanced ($90, pretty nice for photography, not a great choice for any kind of pan/tilt video work) and I had two video cameras. I bought a Magnus VT-350 7ft fluid-head tripod because the pan/tilt motion was so sticky on the other two and I had a severe problem with people walking in front of the camera during a packed event. On another event, I put the wide camera on the Magnus to avoid the people problem and was stuck with my manually operated camera and telephoto lens on a sticky tripod, ruining 70-80% of my close-ups due to the painful jerks when I’d move anything. I ended up buying another VT-350 that night and had it before the other two shows they were doing. Know what gear you need to have and spend the money on good support hardware. The VT-350 is still a cheap tripod and suffers from some issues like low weight and a little flex in the plastic QR plate, but in practice these are not major issues. GET GOOD GEAR.
  • I didn’t want to spend $25 on gaffer’s tape. It seemed stupid to pay that much for tape. BUY GAFFER’S TAPE. Pro tip: also buy a small roll of glow-in-the-dark gaffer’s tape and tape it to stuff like your tripod and wires so they’re very visible at events.
  • Every hour you spend in pre-production work will save you two or more hours in production and post-production. Anything you can plan ahead will spare you tons of pain. Arrive 90-120 minutes before an event begins to set up so you can test your stuff way before the people show up. Write and revise a script a couple of times before you shoot interviews or a wedding or anything else that requires storytelling; don’t “do it live” because you’ll burn tons of time planning on-the-spot and produce an inferior work product while doing so. Make sure your equipment is good to go the day before a shoot, with charged batteries and empty memory cards and bags all packed and all required wires and adapters accounted for.
  • Clients generally don’t know jack about video, and nothing prepares you for dealing with them and their grand dreams or demands. Think of yourself as the guy with cameras and lenses and light kits, and then think of the client as the guy with an overpriced iPhone that loves shooting in that fake bokeh wannabe “portrait mode.” These people might understand videography, but more likely they’ll think that you can do anything they’ve ever seen done on YouTube or cable TV. You’re going to have to explain to them exactly what can and can’t be done, and temper their expectations. No, you don’t have a camera boom like they used at that concert on TV, so those cool sweeping shots aren’t going to happen. Be polite but firm on what you can and can’t do. If they want something more than you have, they’re gonna pay for the required rentals.
  • Video is photography with motion. This seems like a silly and obvious point, but it’s a major problem when moving out of photography to video work, especially for someone else. If you do event coverage or sports especially, you’re going to have to track subjects that move in ways you can’t easily predict. You’ll have to learn how to do this one way or another, and it’s really hard at first. The best thing to do is to leave enough room around the subject to allow for your reaction delay without losing them when they move around. A field monitor can be especially handy for sports video. Don’t let your shoots get compromised by a sudden movement. If you need practice, go outside to a place with birds or dragonflies or other fast-moving natural things, and take something telephoto (a camcorder with a nice optical zoom will do), and try to anticipate their movements and keep them in frame as much as possible. It will get easier as you practice it more.

One thing to note is that the lines between photography and videography are blurring. I recently helped a local mayoral candidate with video and photo work, but the only traditional photography involved was the portraiture. All of the photos on the site are really just 4K frame grabs. I shot the 4K footage with the intent of frame-grabbing any needed photos later, so I used a 1/100-1/125 shutter instead of 1/60 to significantly reduce motion blur. It makes the video portions a little less smooth-looking, but it’s worth it for the ability to pull clean 8MP photos out all day long.

More credit card talk.

It’s looking like I can’t tap into the kind of funds I’d like to get without taking those disgusting credit cards after all.  Before I give in to the whole CC thing, I’d like to share some more information on why I don’t want to take credit cards and what I’ll have to do as a very small business owner to deal with the increased cost of business that card-taking entails.

First of all, credit cards take a cut starting at about as low as 1.7% but typically higher, depending on the conditions of the sale and type of card.  “Rewards cards” that give extras such as, say, 1% of the purchase price back to the purchaser work by taking that 1% away from the company that makes the sale.  If I take a normal card for a $100 item, I may lose 1.8% plus a flat $0.20 transaction fee, giving me $98.00 instead; with a 1% back rewards card, I would instead lose an additional 1%, meaning I get only $97 instead of $100 for the $100 item.  Because of these kinds of oddities, it’s almost impossible to determine how much each kind of card costs to process, and therefore how much higher prices must go to compensate (we’ll get into that in a minute.)

One of the newer trends in the banking industry is to give you a phenomenally high-interest account in exchange for swiping your card as credit a certain number of minimum times a month.  You could get an extra 2% interest or so if you swipe your VISA debit card as a credit card at least seven times a month!  Every swipe takes money from me, the business owner, and gives part of it to you via the higher interest rate, and part of it to the bank to make such a program profitable.  You are being actively encouraged to pay as credit, and therefore actively encouraged to rip off the businesses for a few percent of every transaction!  This kind of thing is absolutely dirty, and does not actually benefit anyone but the bank, because the net result is a price inflation at retailers to compensate for the additional loss to the CC companies.  That 2% interest is more than gobbled back up in the form of additional inflation across the board.

It helps to look at any typical for-profit business as some kind of a machine.  It exists solely to make money for its creators or shareholders.  If the business incurs an expense of some sort, it has to repackage that expense into the price it charges to you in order to continue making money at the same rate it was before that expense showed up.  If credit card fees take $300 per month out of monthly profits, the $300 per month has to be rolled into the cost of each product.  How does this work?  The formula is easily found with some simple algebra:

Final cost with CC compensation included =

(Total billed to customer + flat transaction fee) / (100% – average per-transaction % fee)

Plug in values as desired.  For a $3,000 (would-be retail price to you) high-definition television with 7% retail sales tax charged to a rewards card at 4% + a flat $0.30 transaction fee, the business has to compensate for your credit card transaction costs by jacking up the price as follows:

($3000 + $0.30) / (1.00 – 0.04) = 3000.30 / 0.96 = $3,125.3125 =

$3,125.32.

How card fees affect you.

But if you don’t use a credit card, who cares? You do, because credit card companies have a clause in their contracts with merchants that explicitly prohibit charging any kind of additional fee to take credit cards.

That means that, even as a cash-paying customer, a merchant has to spread the credit card “cost of doing business” across all of their products and services. They can’t show card users that card users directly hurt the business every time they swipe a credit card, because that would discourage the use of credit cards and the contract says that’s not allowed. You, the cash-paying customer, are punished for the credit card users’ costs to the business you’re buying from. Isn’t that wonderful? (end sarcasm)

Ultimately, what this means to my business and my customers is that I will have no choice but to increase prices in anticipation of approximately 40%-50% of my sales becoming credit cards.  I’ve actually taken the time to produce a chart of actual prices of some of my store items, from cheap stuff like USB flash drives to entire computers, and how much I will have to boost my prices to compensate, per the above formula.  I assume a 5% rate because with a rewards card and/or large purchase amounts, the rates increase significantly and 5% is not unheard of by any means.

cc-price-increase

It doesn’t look like much at all when you’re dealing with a $13 2GB USB flash drive (the formula I used tacks on $0.89 in my spreadsheet), but the story starts to change when you reach larger orders and higher prices. Our display-model computer system, a brand new and complete unit designed to demonstrate what we can build for a customer, sells for $750. The formula spits out $789.68 as the new retail price I’d have to charge if I start taking cards. That’s basically $40 extra for whoever buys the system! If the person is getting an extra 2% interest for swiping their card seven times a month, and they have $20,000 in savings, I just charged them an entire month’s additional 2% interest on their savings account for that one purchase!  The problem is that I’d have to charge a cash-paying customer the exact same amount because the credit card companies won’t let me take cards at all if I discriminate against their credit cards versus other payment methods.  Granted, there’s the “cash discount” method, where you offer a discount for cash purchases, but that puts you in a grey zone where the CC company COULD say that the cash discount is simply a surcharge by another name, and therefore violates your agreement anyway.  It’s not like you can stop them from terminating your contract with them if you don’t do what they want, after all!

I don’t understand why an average person can be so oblivious–sometimes perhaps even downright ignorant–of “reality as marketed” versus true reality!  If it’s enumerated on a receipt: sales tax, food tax, bottle recycling tax, core charge for an auto part, battery disposal surcharge, government usage surcharge, 911 surcharge, property tax, vehicle tax–people soil their underpants over it, but if the same costs to them are hidden from them–payroll tax, unemployment tax, business liability insurance, “business-class Internet access” (often lower quality than the same residential access, yet for three times the price), income tax matching, and credit card fees–people will happily go along being ripped off.  This is why the government can get away with “we’ll tax the very rich to pay for everything we want to do!” as their excuse for any new government program or expansion of an existing one–no one considers the fact that the ultimate burden to pay those taxes falls on the consumers of a business’s products or services, because the “very rich guy” who runs the company rolls that $125,000-per-year tax on his income into the cost of the products the company sells…but you never know that this has happened and you go on, happily thinking that Joe C.E.O. is paying for your “free clinic” or your “basketball museum” or “free visit to the emergency room” or whatever other “freebie” you’re getting.  Pay no attention to the embedded costs hiding behind the curtain!  Never mind the fact that you’re still paying for the “free” stuff, but the payment you’re making is now hidden and not explicitly stated on a receipt!

Unbelievable.

The next time you swipe a credit card (or vote for a politician that claims an intent to “tax the rich and give back to the middle class” as both recent major Presidential candidates chose to position themselves), remember that you’re the reason that $3,125 television you just bought didn’t cost $125 less.  What can you do with $125?  Maybe buy a Blu-Ray player to hook to said new television?  Perhaps buy some movies or speakers?

Too bad.

You swiped those away.  But it was so convenient, wasn’t it?  And you get a “free” *cough*cough* flight to Hawaii in a year off your rewards points, too!  Yay!

Please educate yourself on what you’re really paying for when you buy something.  Ask any small business owner: “do you have to charge extra on all your products because of the fact that you accept cards?”  You’ll probably get some very consistent responses…or find a business owner that isn’t going to be in business much longer.