IT’S LONG BEEN THE CASE that being a ‘people person’ is a huge asset if you want to make a living as a professional photographer, and clients right across the board – from wedding couples through to creative directors – will invariably make buying decisions on the back of whether they warm to you as an individual or not.
ABOVE: To be a successful vlogger like Jimmy Cheng you have to develop an easygoing online personality and be comfortable talking to the camera.
So if you’re actually already making a living in this business the chances are that you’re an effusive and bubbly personality who’s got the gift of the gab and the ability to come across as relaxed and friendly in any given situation. If you also happen to be working with a modern hybrid camera that can output half decent video footage then you already have pretty much all you need to join the growing ranks of vloggers working out there. Set yourself up with a decent microphone, a gimbal for low light situations and learn some basic video editing skills and you’re pretty much on your way.
If you’re already thinking to yourself that this is a million miles away from what you signed up for when you set out to be a stills professional then just stop and think for a moment about why you might want to add the ability to produce what is essentially a video diary to your repertoire. The fact is that, in an ever more competitive world, you have to start thinking out of the box in terms of the way you go about selling yourself. So, while it might still be perfectly possible to essentially hide behind a camera and to keep a permenantly low profile, many clients these days are looking to be wowed by both the range of services you offer and the strength of your personality.
ABOVE: You don’t necessarily always have to be the only person in the film and can includes guests.
Master the art of vlogging and you’re essentially marketing yourself and showing the world that you’re an easy going and likeable person who would be good and straightforward to work with. You’re also creating strong content for your social media channels and potentially gathering a following while, for good measure, you’re also learning fresh skills that could be monetised and used to supplement the income you’re generating through a more traditional photographic route.
The final clincher should be the fact that the investment required to at least dip your toe into the vlogging pond world is
minimal – perhaps just a couple of hundred pounds at the outside. There’s little to lose by just testing the water and you’ll either find out that you’re not cut out for this kind of thing at all or you’ll fall in love with the whole process and will love every minute. If it’s the latter then you could be on the way to adding a useful extra string to your bow.
What is Vlogging?
First things first. What’s a vlog in the first place and how does it differ from a conventional piece of filmmaking? To find out it makes sense to talk to someone like Jimmy Cheng, who’s very much mastered the art over the past few years and who’s now successfully added a very strong and lucrative extra element to his still photography business.
“I first got into vlogging around three years ago,” he says. “The whole idea is that a vlog is almost like a piece of reality television. It’s relaxed and intimate, like a one-to-one conversation between the presenter and the audience, and because of this it feels very honest and believable. It will often feature the presenter walking along and talking to camera and a lot will hinge on the personality of the person involved and whether they come across as likeable and fun to be around and someone you want to spend time with.”
It might all come across as a little loose and somewhat ‘fly-on-the-wall,’ but a successful vlog still needs to have strong production values, albeit ones that are quite different to those you might find in a conventional film. For a start most vlogs are produced entirely by an individual, so there will be judicious use of a selfie stick, alternative angles that have been shot by mounting the camera on a pre-positioned tripod and lots of ‘B-Roll’ – scenes that are shot separately with the aim of stitching together a story in postproduction.
“As with a conventional film, I might spend quite a lot of time pre-planning how I want the production to go and the shots I’ll need,” says Jimmy. “And I’ll also work out what B-Roll scenes are needed, which could be shots of a product that I’m talking about or reviewing, or scene-setting clips that show where I am or help to put across the ambience. It’s making sure I have all the elements I need to be able to create a watchable and entertaining film.”
While it’s acceptable – desirable even – for footage to feature intentional movement, perhaps as the presenter walks along,
ABOVE & BELOW: The essence of a good vlogging production is the quality of the B-Roll, and Jimmy takes care to produce supplementary footage that helps him to tell his full story.
uncontrolled camera shake doesn’t work, and neither do out-of-focus sequences or moments when the AF is aimlessly searching for something to lock on to. There’s a real difference between edgy run n’ gun footage and simple lack of technique, and you definitely need to know what you’re doing.
You also very much need to be on top of your audio, and it’s totally not acceptable to be using the built-in mic that a camera might come with since this will immediately mark you down as a complete amateur. High quality recording, very often separate to the camera, is the order of the day and there could well be supplementary mics involved as well, although these will often be discreet lavaliere types that can be effectively hidden away out of sight on clothing.
For those that think an online audience has the attention span of a gnat it can come as something of a surprise to hear from Jimmy that his films will often be anything up to eight or nine minutes long, and his followers appear happy to engage for that length of time to hear the complete story. “People don’t want to feel like they’re being sold to,” Jimmy explains. “Rather they need to accept you as one of them and if they do then they will be prepared to listen.”
Gear to Use
The reason why vlogging should be of particular interest to photographers is that pretty much all the modern breed of hybrid cameras should be up to the task of shooting the footage – and ideally you want to be working with a proper camera with a full set of onboard features and not a smartphone.
So you’re very likely to already have something to hand that could get you started, but there are models that are better suited to the job than others. Because the aim of the game is to travel light and to have everything with you in one bag if possible it pays to be looking at as compact a camera system as
possible, which is one of the prime reasons why Jimmy has chosen to work with the Olympus MFT system and is, in fact, a Video Ambassador for the brand.
“The Olympus system can give me pretty much everything I need,” he says. “For vlogging I’m primarily working with the O-MD E-M5 Mark III because it’s small, light and very portable. It also comes with some really useful filmmaking attributes. For example, its facial tracking facility ensures that focus will be fixed on me as I’m walking along and talking to camera, whereas previously I used to have to set my camera up in a static position and stay still while I spoke to make sure that focus wasn’t lost.
“Meanwhile its image stabilisation qualities are incredible. The camera comes with a five axis system that can offer up to 6.5 stops of compensation and it means that I can get really smooth footage even when hand holding the camera. I probably shoot 80 per cent of my vlogging footage this way.”
The whole ethos of the Olympus system is about being light and compact and the lenses very much fit into this bracket, while the cool icing on the cake is the fact that Olympus also produces a
high quality recording system, the LS Series, that’s designed to partner the camera and which also features XLR sockets so that professional quality additional microphones can be directly attached. Everything required for a vlogging session can be fitted into a single bag and it ensures that Jimmy can travel pretty much anywhere he wants with everything to hand.
Get on top of vlogging and you have a useful extra service to offer. Jimmy shoots vlogs for Olympus but also other companies in the photographic arena, such as Billingham and Manfrotto bags and Lomo Lighting and it’s a side of his business that now accounts for over 50 per cent of his work and gives him the opportunity to travel the world.
With many companies now switching their marketing focus to online activity the market for commercial vlogging is on the increase and consumers are showing that they appreciate the soft touch when it comes to sales and are very open to watching a video rather than being influenced by a conventional ad on the page. Photographers have the opportunity to be part of this and to offer something extra to their commercial clients that they are well placed to provide.
The fact is however that even if you have no desire whatsoever to go out looking for commercial vlogging opportunities it could still make a great deal of sense to investigate what this area of the business might hold for you. “If people are thinking of working with you then they will want to know a little more about you and your personality,” says Jimmy. “If you’re vlogging then you’re giving them the chance to get to know you a little more and that could help to land you the job.”
This could be the case whether you’re shooting still life for an advertising agency or are looking to attract wedding and portrait clients, and it’s a slightly cliched fact of life that people buy people. So there really is very little to lose by switching that dial to video and stepping in front of the camera: you could find your inner TV star and be on your way to a whole new career!
Olympus Filmmaking and Vlogging Kits
Reflecting the rising level of interest in filmmaking of all kinds, Olympus has just announced some new outfits that neatly tap into the ability of its highly compact MFT cameras to produce high quality video output. The OM-D movie kit costs £1799.99 and features at its heart the same E-M5 Mark III that Jimmy is using for his vlogging work, along with the 12mm f/2 and the Olympus LS-P4 linear PCM recorder which, along with the LS-P1, is one of the smallest Hi-Res audio recorders in its class, offering better than CD quality recording.
Separately there are also two new videographer audio kits being offered by Olympus, that feature a choice of either the LS-P1 or the more advanced LS-P4. Priced at £139.99 and £199 respectively, the kit includes the recorder plus a hot shoe adaptor, 3.5mm cable and a windshield. There’s also the choice of a Lavalier Kit that pairs one of these discreet little mics with the LS-P1 for a kit price of £129.99.
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