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DIY Video Versus Pro Video

Monday, June 3, 2013
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A lot of trainers ask me whether they should shoot their own video or hire a professional.  The answer is different for every organization.  Every organization has different needs and operates within its own unique context.  But there are some general thoughts to help your decision.


Benefits of DIY

Having your own camera and editing software along with the skills to shoot your own learning video makes it easy to create a lot of video and not break the bank.   

If you have a pocket camera, you’re ready to shoot at all times.  With a consumer or prosumer cameras, you’re still able to respond quickly to needs that unexpectedly arise in your organization. Good video crews can be booked up to months in advance.

DIY videographers can often get better editorial results than professional teams.  As a trainer, you know your subject better than a crew hired out of the yellow pages ... errr ... Internet.  You know exactly what needs to be conveyed down to subtle nuances that either take extra time to brief a professional or are simply too difficult to convey in the time you have. If you need more time to shoot that perfect sequence, you don't need to worry about the cost of keeping the crew another hour to get absolutely right.

However, creating professional looking video takes skills and discipline.  Good lighting and well-planned shots (even when you only have five minutes to plan a shot) are all essential.  And if you don't have time to dedicate to learning these skills, you'll get better results from a pro team.

Benefits and Disadvantages of a Pro Team

A professional team should be able to shoot your video faster.  If they have television experience—especially shooting news or sports, they will be adept at getting in quickly and getting your shots. Not all pro crews are good, though. I have seen some sloppy work, so be sure to check samples of your vendor’s work before you hire them.  Ask for a client list and talk to one or two previous clients to ensure they’re good.

Pro teams are good for more complex shoots, such as annual sales conferences or gatherings that take place in hotel ballrooms where the lighting is tricky.  And capturing credible sound is complex so best left to professionals who deal with these situations all the time.

Anything that requires a more polished look could benefit from a pro team.  Now, I'm not saying you can't learn to use tracks and dollies or deploy a jib.  But someone who uses them every day will be faster, get better shots the first take, and save you time.

One of the significant limitations of using a pro crew is that if they're good, they will be working on many different projects.  They may have done an ad last week and then been booked for a conference following your project. 

Pro crews don't always have time to learn your subject intimately.  As a result, they may just rush in and shoot without understanding some of the finer points you want to convey.  They may not spend a lot of time getting exactly the pictures you want.

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This means you need to brief them very well.  But as much as you need to plan and give them good instructions, you also need to give them creative space. Professional videographers will shoot what you want.  But if they’re good, they’ll walk around a space with a fresh eye and often pick shots you didn’t think of that they quickly capture for b-roll.  This is a real blessing for your editor.

Getting the Best Out of DYI Video

The golden rule for successful video is planning. Make sure you plan your shoots so you know exactly what you want before you leave the office.  This doesn't rule out serendipity, but it means you won't arrive on scene without a plan.

If you see an opportunity to shoot a video in the next 15 minutes, stop and think for a few moments about the pictures and how you can capture them in a meaningful way.  Don’t simply wade in and shoot blindly, using “last minute opportunity” as an excuse.  Even a minute of thoughtful planning can make a difference.

Also, be sure to charge your equipment.  Check if you need permission to film where you plan to get your shots.  Do a risk assessment to be sure it is safe to shoot video. 

Getting the Best Out of a Film Crew

Preparation is also essential when hiring a professional crew. The better briefed your crew is, the better the video they will capture. 

  • Give your crew a storyboard with a shot list so they can go straight at it. 
  • Explain what you are trying to achieve with the pictures so they can keep an eye out for opportunities you may not have considered that may improve your video.  It could be things like special lighting or camera angles.
  • Ask your crew for their opinion about whether your ideas will work; draw on their experience.
  • Check for problems.  Scout the location you plan to film so you can fully brief them on what to expect in terms of lighting, safety and general logistics.

If your crew only has a vague idea of what you are looking for, you put them in the awkward position of having to guess what's best.  Often, their interpretation will not match yours, which ends in disappointment for you, your crew, and your learner.

DIY Video Versus Hiring a Professional Crew

Every situation will be different when it comes to choosing between a pro team and doing it yourself.  Both options have their advantages and disadvantages.  Often your decision will be influenced by budget and timing.  However, also consider the impact your approach will have on learning. 

If it’s a difficult concept you’re trying to convey with tricky camera angles, complex light, or demanding sound conditions, a professional may be your best bet. If it’s relatively straightforward, do it yourself.

And in the spirit of learning, keep reviewing your shots and asking yourself my magic media question: “How can I make this quicker and easier to understand?”

About the Author

Jonathan Halls is an author, trainer, and coach. He wrote Confessions of a Corporate Trainer (ATD Press, 2019), Rapid Video Development for Trainers (ATD Press, 2012) and was a contributing author to Speak More (River Grove Books, 2012) and the ATD Handbook: The Definitive Reference for Training & Development 2nd Edition (ATD Press, 2014). He is author of the ATD Infoline, “Memory & Cognition in Learning” (ATD Press, 2014) and has written numerous articles for T&D magazine. Jonathan is an ATD BEST Awards reviewer and has sat on the advisory committees for the ASTD International Conference & Exposition and TechKnowledge.

The former BBC learning executive now runs workshops in media, communication, leadership, and creativity. He is on faculty at George Washington University and facilitates ATD’s Master Trainer Program ™, Training Certificate and Rapid Video for Learning Professionals Certificate program. Jonathan has been training, speaking, and coaching for 25 years in more than 20 countries. He describes his work as “at the intersection of media, communication, learning, leadership, and innovation.”

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