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Chris Estrella April 3rd, 2009 12:23 AM

A Videographer's Income
This may be the time in my life where I decide whether I should pursue the career of a videographer or not.

Being a one-man company (with only about a year of experience as a videographer), what do you more experienced guys say is realistic being a videographer (weddings, events, anything) as your career and source of income?

I'm not looking for answers with your yearly income, but I suppose a realistic approach when it comes to paying bills, raising kids, spending money for pleasure and vacations, etc...

Don Bloom April 3rd, 2009 04:31 AM

When I went from stills to video in 1983 I knew I caould make a living. How much of one, I didn't know, but Ifigured I could always go back to still work. Anyway, over the years I have made a good living. I (read my wife and I) raised 3 kids, married them all of, bought a couple of houses (last one 23 years ago and still there), new cars, new furniture, new TVs hey, Ineed to be able to see my work ;-), travelled a lot, a real lot, still doing that. How many guys in our business do you know that are taking 10 days in the heat of the season to up take a cruise. Granted, special occassion, whole family and all that to celebrate a very special wedding anniversary but I digress.
I have always done other all sorts o other work besides weddings. I have done a lot of seminars, I freelance for a very large AV company, whatever comes along as long as it's not illeagle, immoral or fattening and they're willing to pay the 'freight' I'll do the job.
What I'm saying is that while there are good years and bad years, over the years I personally have done pretty well in the business. I also know guys that have fallen flat on their faces though. Can you do well in the video business? Absolutely. Will you? Don't know-that's up to you,too many variables.
Hard to be more specific but you CAN make a great living, just depends on how hard you're willing to work and how tough minded you are because if you're not that, (tough minded) don't open your own business.
I'll never tell anyone what they WANT to hear-only what they NEED to hear andI ain't no softy.

Matthew Craggs April 3rd, 2009 05:51 AM

I was thinking about this the other day and realized just how bad the numbers can look, and if I was a venture capitalist and a videographer wanted some cash to start an event video business I would probably say no.

Let's say you shoot 50 weddings a year at $2,000 each. That's $100,000 a year.

Take away expenses, which for round numbers sake we'll say are

$4,000 in equipment, which is a modest estimate.

$1,000 in advertising, which can also vary, but I'm thinking round numbers.

$500 in office supplies, which is very modest.

So $5,500 in fixed expenses, not counting rent, hydro, gas, etc. Because you're still paying them, even if you work from home.

Then let's assume you're paying $20 for nice disc cases per wedding, $400 or so for a second shooter with gear, $10 for batteries, $50 for tapes. That's $480. $480 x 50 = $24,000.

100,000 - (5,500 + 24,000) = 70,500 - that's your net income.

I don't know about anywhere else, but in Ontario that would take your income down to under $50,000 when you factor in tax, CPP, and EI (I just don't know the exact CPP/EI rate off the top of my head).

Which seems like a good amount, but if you put in 8 hours on a Saturday, and 40 during the week, at $50,000/year it comes out to $20/hour. Which is a good wage, but it's a lot of work. You only get the $20/hour if you've sold 50 weddings worth of work. That wage goes down if you only book 40.

Now, granted, you're probably going to charge more than $2,000 for eight hours and two camera operators, but you'll also come across a bunch of little expenses that add up (I haven't taken legal and accounting into account) and you probably don't want to do 50 weddings a year.

It makes me laugh, because if you figure out your wage per hour, you're probably making a hell of a lot less than the obnoxious bride or groom who says, "We're paying you $2,000 to come out for one day!?"

Essentially, what I'm saying is that it's do-able. If you're in it for money there are easier ways to get it, but if you're in it because you love what you do, go for it.

Don Bloom April 3rd, 2009 07:43 AM

I agree with your assessment 100% although realistically I would raise the cost of gear by at least 100%, the cost of advertising 100% maybe more-at least for the first couple of years. As we all know most new businesses fail in the first 3 to 5 years. Overhead and expenses eat your lunch BUT in our industry we buy buy the gear and hopefully it will last us long enough to be able to recoup our investment. Of course there are fixed expenses,cost of tapes, batteries, and many office expenses. In my opinion the big variables are 1) advertising expense which I believe should be the iggest outgo for the first couple of years. Obviously if people don't know who you are and what you do you won't get hired. The second biggest variable is INCOME. Of course depending on your needs, wants and desires the amount is different for everyone. Some need $XX per year but WANT $XXX and DESIRE $XXXX.
I guess what I'm saying to all people who are entering the business is make sure you have enough to make for at least 2 years don't be afraid to pour money into advertising and be open minded enough to take pretty much whatever work you can not only for the money but for the exposure.
Just my $.03 worth (adjusted for my stimulus package)

Jeff Kellam April 3rd, 2009 08:50 AM


Originally Posted by Chris Estrella (Post 1045061)
This may be the time in my life where I decide whether I should pursue the career of a videographer or not.


I also ask myself that question a lot, but looking at the numbers closely shows that I can't currently generate the income my family & I need to maintain our current income level if I were to produce video fulltime.

I thought I (admittedly only a part timer) would respond because Don left out something that has helped me (and probably Don) tremendously with my video business, extensive networking and making friends in the business over the years. I am extremely lucky to have a photographer and two videographers with well established businesses who are great friends and have been extremely helpful in both providing work, assisting on the few big projects I have had, and shooting projects I couldn't or didn't want to do. I also have acquaintances and a network of friends out there who are a huge help with leads and providing recurring annual work, like poker runs. Since all of this takes time, I don't think you should fully commit to video until you have at least some network to draw from.

Matts estimates seem very low to me on all expenses and especially if you are going to keep up with the necessary equipment for varied (non-wedding) projects. I would bump equipment up to $20,000 at least. Maybe that's because Im still building my equipment inventory. But you also have a lot of other expenses like insurance, business license, taxes, checking acct. & CC processing, business property, website admin, gasoline, vehicle repairs for "company" truck, tax prep, etc. It really adds up quickly.

Also, and I mean this as a compliment, Don is an anomaly, he is a very successful private business videographer and has been for a very long time. I don't know of many (if any) of those. So it means it can be done, but it's probably harder than ever in the current digital age and recession.

Anyway, a very interesting thread, good luck!

Don Bloom April 3rd, 2009 08:59 AM

Thanks, I DID forget the networking aspect of the business. Without networking I personally would have been out of the business a long time ago. An brief example, many years ago I did a wedding and a guest there started talking to me about seminars etc for his business. I wound up doing all of his video work for 16 years including some very nice destination work (cruise, Hawaii 2 time, Mexico, and many other nice places) all expenses paid and honestly the work wasn''t all that hard PLUS I got PAID to do it. ;-)

The only reason frankly I've been able to hang on all these years is because I don't know how to do anything else. I sometimes wish I did but I'm not a good enough golfer to join the senior tour. Ah one can dream though!

Jon Geddes April 3rd, 2009 09:11 AM

Then again...
Then again, this may not be the time to decide if this is what you want to do. I know many videographers that get burned out on weddings after working them for a few years. It really helps to diversify what you are working on so you don't get burned out, however, this can also hurt your business if you don't specialize in weddings, since many videographers do, which might make them more appealing to a client.

I was part owner of a production company that originally started out as a video production company, but by chance happened to get into the event production industry. What happened was a corporate client of ours who had us doing video of their events lost a lot of money one year, and asked us to do their entire event, including lighting, audio, staging, set design, power point, everything... It went so well that they asked us back year after year, and the budget kept going up and up, well over $50,000. Then someone who left that company went to another company and recommended us, we then had 2 corporate clients who had 2 big shows a year each. As it turned out, we were making 65% of our annual gross revenue just from 4 corporate jobs doing event production. It wasn't making business sense for us to continue doing weddings.

So we transformed our business, and stopped doing low end weddings all together. Our starting prices were 3.5k, and our typical client spent well over 10k on our packages. But its not like we just raised the prices, we offered a much better product. Shooting everything in HD (back when most companies were still doing SD), having no less than 2 camera operators all day, usually 3 for the ceremony, photo montage that we played at the reception, and set up massive 10'x14' screens + plasmas to watch it, doing live video switching on the big screens of the multiple cameras at the reception (in addition to playing back some of the ceremony footage), and to back it all up, some very impressive editing.

This transformation really helped, as we were doing fewer jobs and generating more income. But we were only able to do it because the quality of our work rivaled the best in the industry, in addition to us being located in southern california where plenty of people have 10k to spend on the videographer alone. Eventually the goal was to increase the number of weddings and be able to sub out a lot of the work (shooting, editing, etc.). That seemed to be the difficult part. We achieved such a high level of quality to our work, it made it extremely difficult to find people that met our standards. Even with training, some people just have the skill or they don't. We found most people were decent, but not up to our standards. So the jobs kept rolling in, and we weren't able to keep up with them in a timely manner. We had a maximum 8 week turnaround time in our contract that we promise our clients, and we were just barely making it, and in a few cases went over.

I wasn't the primary owner of the company, and my passion was more with motion graphics and dvd authoring, so I decided to go my own way and launch my website, so that I could help other videographers achieve the level of quality with their authoring that we were giving our high end clients.

Good luck, and I hope you are happy with whatever you decide to do.

Noel Lising April 3rd, 2009 09:16 AM

That has always been my dream, to get into business full time. I have not generated enough business yet to totally rule out doing a 9-5 job, but I keep pursuing the dream. I think the Magic number is 40 weddings a year, if I have let's say 40 this year & 20 lined up for next year, I'll go full time.

Jeff Kellam April 3rd, 2009 10:35 AM


Originally Posted by Noel Lising (Post 1046246)
That has always been my dream, to get into business full time. I have not generated enough business yet to totally rule out doing a 9-5 job, but I keep pursuing the dream. I think the Magic number is 40 weddings a year, if I have let's say 40 this year & 20 lined up for next year, I'll go full time.

Noel & Chris:

Just like in Jon & Dons post, I agree that diversifying your work to more than weddings is very important to making your business work. Im sure there are lots of folks who may do weddings only, but that's a tough way to live and I doubt many survive that way for the long run.

Looking at a large quantity of low revenue weddings would be a quick trip to insanity AND bankruptcy for me personally, although many people do it. If you can add just a few (or even one) higher revenue events before committing to the business, it would make a huge difference. That's part of my plan. I only have one annual event now, an annual poker run, and that generates more net revenue than 4 to 8 of my weddings.

Chris Davis April 3rd, 2009 03:26 PM

I couldn't imagine producing video as my only source of income, at least not in my geographic area. As well as producing business video, we design websites, create web applications and provide graphic design services. I have three employees and I pay myself $65k per year.

Dan Ohara April 3rd, 2009 04:12 PM

2 Types of Wedding Video Businesses
I have learned that there are really two types of Wedding Video Businesses.

Volume Based: Where crews are sent out to shoot the wedding and editing is done in-house by staff editors.

Boutique Style: this is quality of quantity. They hire you, and expect you to do the work.

Both of these styles can be profitable... but marketing is done differently.

With Volume, its all about quantity and you must have clean systems in place so that pretty much any solid employee can do the work. As a business owner, it is your job to develop these systems and services and then train and manage your employees to do exactly what you designed. Think about the consistency of the fast food restaurant industry, you expect a big mac to be a big mac, no matter what McDonald's you dine at. This hold true for a Volume based business. Your brand is a certain type/style of video and every video delivered is that type. You can, of course, offer upgrades and different options, but you want to have a solid style and look to each video, that can be achieved by your trained employees. $2-3K per wedding is the average for this type of business.

Boutique Style Wedding Video business are all about you. No one can hire another you, so, you will see many people in this type of business use their name as their business name. This is the type of business I run and our business name is O'Hara Films. This type of business is about quality, and your pricing would reflect that. Instead of doing 200 weddings a year, you are doing 12-15 weddings a year and charging a lot more. The high end market in the San Francisco Bay Area can get $10K - $20K for a wedding video. This type of wedding business is hard to achieve, since there isn't a lot of room at the top of the market. You work very hard to get your name known and it's ALL referral based. Networking is key, and very time consuming. It's also difficult to stay at the top, you have to be always thinking about what's next and how you can offer it.

You will find that MOST wedding videographers want to be boutique style and very few of them achieve it. There seems to be more room for the volume style business, at least in our market there is.

Both business types can be very profitable, the volume style could be limitless, as you can continue to hire employees. The high end market is definitely more risky, but can be less complicated and more enjoyable as a career.

Brides seem to prefer the boutique style business over the volume... as you would imagine. Yet, if done right (we have a pretty good comany here), the volume style can be done well.

Either way, the wedding video industry is tough because it is not a "necessity". We are trying to change that, but its been a tough battle and organizations like WEVA and Local Associations are doing everything they can to educate brides about the value of a wedding video. Until we see a complete convergence between photography and video, this will be a fight we are always waging.

Good Luck with your business.

Vito DeFilippo April 3rd, 2009 11:45 PM


Originally Posted by Don Bloom (Post 1046235)
An brief example, many years ago I did a wedding and a guest there started talking to me about seminars etc for his business. I wound up doing all of his video work for 16 years including some very nice destination work

This is so true, Don. I decided to tape my stepson's first communtion two seasons ago. There was a photographer there shooting one of the other kids. I said "hi", introduced myself. He asked for my card. I thought nothing of it.

He called me up out of the blue soon after. This year, I'm shooting and editing at least 20 events for him.

You never know...

Bob Ridge April 4th, 2009 05:23 AM

Today I am a weddings-only studio shooting about 40 weddings a year at a starting price of $3000 per event, the highest in this market by about $500 or so. We're fortunate to have a boutique style and reputation combined with strong volume. Knock on wood, after expenses it has been enough to get by on and support three kids without my wife having to get a job. We're not exactly putting much away for retirement, however. Do keep in mind our market has one of the lower costs of living in the country.

In the beginning, I had to charge much lower prices to get established, I had to operate as a full-service studio, and my wife had to work. But I became self-supporting in about three years, and went "boutique" (weddings-only) in 2000. I won't lie - getting to this level of income has taken a LOT of time and patience, about 10 years to get to around our current level, which I've maintained for another 5 years or so. Avoiding some key personnel mistakes might have knocked about 3-5 years off that curve.

The biggest keys to success (other than doing a good job, obviously) are amassing a large client referral base and cultivating relationships over time with other key professionals in the industry. Anyone who thinks they can just over-advertise or call vendors up and ask for referrals has got it all wrong. Be patient, be kind, and be GOOD, and good things will happen for you over time. Good luck!


Brad Cook April 4th, 2009 10:48 AM

This thread is quite sobering. But in a GOOD way. I currently have a full time job as a CNC operator at a factory here where I live. I make decent money for this area, and the benefits are top notch. I am getting started in the videography world and very much still in the infancy stages with a hope of one day doing it full time. This thread is helping me keep it all in perspective and not jump the gun too fast. Starting this out as a side job is going to help me get established and still maintain some stability. It's not going to be easy and will be a lot of hard work.

Right now I'm charging nothing like most of the people here. Not even close. It's not an attempt to "undercut" my competition as I know that only hurts everyone in the long run, but it's because I'm new, I need to get some work under my belt, and honestly I feel I have more to offer with future projects. At this point, everything I'm making from my videos will almost exclusively be put back into the business to get the things I need. If we (the family) need the money, then that comes first.

Man, what a rollercoaster ride! haha

Peter Manojlovic April 4th, 2009 08:29 PM

Hey Brad.....
I guess you must be my twin brother.....Same job, same passion, same family situation..

Thank goodness my volume is low..It lets me get out a product that i've put 110% of my effort into.
Sometimes it's a blessing not having to deal with so many people..I've got thin skin, and it wouldn't be difficult for somebody to get my blood pressure rising....

Good luck with your pursuits Chris...

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