In the first article in this series, I discussed themes that would affect freelance photographers most: mixed-message branding, teaming up for video, and the opportunity cost. This second piece focuses on some of the issues that hit us photographers where it hurts most: profitability of video services, client satisfaction, and the sheer embarrassment of moving to the dark side!
The context? I ran a photography and video studio for many years in Auckland. My experiences of seeing both services from a business point of view allow me to share some practical insights. While writing this article, I’m assuming that you are a practicing photographer yourself. If you’d like a recap of the first article in this series, you can find it here.
We creatives can be a fickle lot, a species that is particularly proud of its artistic perceptions. In matters of creative taste, what does the general population even know? Mere mortals can only blurt a few cringe-inducing questions such as “what filter do you apply for your photos,” while we, the gods, create art and magical composites!
Let’s descend back to earth. Clients are, some would argue, unfortunately, part of the equation for most creatives. Let us consider a classic photography client. You’ve delivered the photos after carefully curating and then transforming the photos into the end product. They view the photos, send you an email telling you how happy they are with the photos, ask you politely if there's another version of photo number 43 and also if there are more images beyond the 13,000 odd photos that you’ve already delivered. You respond saying something to the tune of: “thank you for the compliment! No, unfortunately, that’s the only version of that photo. You might as well ask for my kidneys while you’re at it!” At this point, it’s the end of the story for most clients: they accept your response and go away singing your tall praises on Instagram. Mostly.
Now, let me gently move your attention to video clients. Firstly, there are literally a million things that can go wrong with video: the recording quality of the sound, Final Cut pro crashing, again and again, a vast difference in footage from different cameras and no drone footage because your drone decided to fly away into the Pacific ocean! I can, very easily, go on. And then comes the kicker. Even a single shot that the client does not like in the final video/highlight/ad, can determine how they feel about the entire final product. With photos, if there are a few photos in the bunch that the client does not particularly like, they will simply not use those photos or discard them. Not with video.
You will have to change the edit to remove the shots that the client does not like, potentially completely changing the edit and creating a mountain of re-work. Even worse, if the client thinks that the music you selected or they themselves selected for the video doesn’t “go with the feel of the video”, you start again from scratch. Of course, you can employ checkpoints and processes to minimize such incidents. However, it’s easy to see that the process for achieving “client satisfaction” is different and arguably, more difficult for video compared to photography (for a photographer).
Videography can be a very profitable service, “can” being the key operative word there. Why am I casting a shadow of suspicion? Let’s have a look. If you are providing video to businesses where you can charge by the hour or you can charge by the project with a regularly updated buffer (in case of re-work), then you’re on good land with predictable profits from your services. However, if your model is such where you need to provide a fixed quote based on an estimation of work before the project begins, then videography can become very slippery very quickly. Prime examples are videos created for small businesses and wedding clients.
As discussed in the preceding point, if clients are not satisfied with the end result, often, it can result in a lot of re-editing and even re-shooting in some cases. And in such cases, the re-work can eat into your profits very quickly. Now, you may argue that this can happen in photography as well. Yes, it can and does happen. However, for our studio and a few more colleagues that I spoke to, it happened more often with video compared to photography, and that meant that predictable profitability of video remained lower than photography projects.
Moreover, if you’re in the business of shooting wedding photos, there are various ways in which you can increase your profit from a single client, namely, prints, frames, albums, etc. On the other hand, as wedding videos have increasingly moved into the digital space, there aren’t that many product-based add-ons available. In summary, if you’re keen on driving that proverbial Lamborghini sometime in the future, you may want to think twice about wedding videography.
The Dark Side
I must concede to the videographers one point: they do have it bigger in life. You know, they require bigger hard drives, a bigger stash of cards, bigger lights, bigger batteries, and not to mention the bigger boot space for their bigger tripods, all of this leading to bigger bills, I’m sure. Or at least that’s how I like to imagine.
If you’re a videographer, please don’t get too offended. Save some for the next time! I still have a lot of respect for the job you do, so much so that I'm warning photographers that they can't just "make the jump" to video and expect instant success.
Have you tried offering video? What has been your experience in the context of profitability and customer satisfaction? Is it harder, easier, or no different? Share your thoughts in the comments section below, and save your beleaguered colleagues from going to the dark side!