Videography in the Digital Age
What's the state of the wedding videography industry today? To find out, we talked with working wedding videographers, found industry statistics and fleshed out what is undoubtedly a flourishing business in a growing market. Although some might wonder if amateurs are moving in on the pros because of lower-cost gear and easier-to-use software, our consensus of wedding shooters and editors say that isn't so. We also took a look at the tools wedding videographers are using, and found out how the best wedding videographers are using the Web to open up new avenues of business for their bustling enterprises.
To get an idea of the size of the wedding videography market, first let's take a look at statistics that reveal the enormous amount of money spent on weddings in the United States. According to the American Wedding Study by Conde Nast's Bridal Infobank, in the last ten years spending on an average wedding has exploded by 50%, to an average of $22,360 per wedding this year, up from $15,208 in 1994. And, according to Richard Markel, President of the Association for Wedding Professionals International, of the $65 billion spent on weddings each year, "6% of the budget would be for video." Markel added, "But using the 6% of the estimated $65 billion spent will equate out to $390 million." This signals a wide-open market for wedding videography professionals. Markel continued, "We just had a show here in Sacramento and several of our videographers booked business with an average ticket price of $2,500."
Looking at those stats, wedding videography appears to be a growth industry. Let's do the math for a moment. Consider an experienced videographer , charging $2500 for an average wedding, shooting one wedding per week. In a year, that person has earned $130,000. But that would be a very hard-working videographer -- most of the videographers we talked to said they spent up to 40 hours editing each wedding video, meaning a weekly shoot would constitute nearly-constant travail with hardly any time off.
One great success story would be that of high-end videographer Kris Malandruccolo, whose company Elegant Videos by Kris has been operating in the Chicago area for the past 16 years. Her business can command as much as $5000 for a wedding video package, and regularly signs contracts for $3000 weddings. But the mother of three doesn't want to work all the time, so she limits herself. "Someone else could shoot four or five per month. But I average two or three weddings a month," she told Digital Media Net.
According to Luisa Winters, an award-winning videographer and editor who has her own wedding videography business, Unforgettable Events, most wedding videographers charge under $2000 for their services -- with higher-end wedding video companies charging as much as $15,000-$20,000. "I do not consider anyone a true professional unless they are able to make enough money to support themselves with this business," Winters told Digital Media Net. "Anything else is a side business. Supporting a family means different things depending on what part of the country you are located. If you are in a less expensive location, then less income will suffice -- and you are still professional," Winters added.
At prices of $2000-$5000 and up, it seems like amateurs would be interested in shooting their own wedding videos, or getting a friend or relative to take the controls of the family camcorder .
But Internet message boards for wedding videographers are rife with stories of first-time videographers shooting an entire wedding ceremony with the camcorder on pause, only to find they began rolling after all was said and done, ending up with lots of artistic shots of the floor and nothing else.
According to videographer /editor Luisa Winters, "The amateurs are taking a bite out of the wedding videographer business, but that is true only for the lower-end videographers." She thinks the lower-end shooters make things better for the higher end, increasing the quality gap between the two. "More-educated brides will expect to pay a lot more for a video that looks professional than they were willing to pay before the advent of such inexpensive equipment. The difference between an amateur wedding video and a professional one is huge, and people are willing to pay Top Dollar for the latter."
Sometimes quality considerations can be quite basic, such as, can you hear what the bride and groom are saying? "You really have to worry about the audio part of it, you know. There's a lot involved," said Kris Malandruccolo, who in addition to being a successful wedding videographer is president of the Illinois Videographers Association.
Is the playing field being leveled by the profusion of low-cost, high quality equipment? According to Winters, "The quality of image and editing capabilities has become less important to the fact that now you have to be a better storyteller, you have to be a better artist... after all, we all have access to pen and paper, but we cannot all write the great American novel, right? Shakespeare and Mozart only had pen and paper to work with, and yet they gave us masterpieces that transcend time. Not all is determined by equipment."
Then there's the editing, which is a process many newlyweds aren't equipped to handle. "As you know, anyone in the business who edits knows it's a time-consuming process," said Malandruccolo. "I take tons of family videos but none of my personal stuff is edited, because there's no time. So if I wasn't getting paid, then I would not be editing, because it's so time-consuming, especially if you don't do it all the time. I think a lot of people, especially if they have the money, just want to say 'do it for me.'" Malandruccolo added that it's not just the time element that is a barrier to entry, but it's the professionalism required to create a polished production. "The end result is that you have a better quality video. Like I emphasize to my clients, this is a family heirloom. You only get one shot to do it right, and you can't do it over, so being that this is a family heirloom, if you look at it that way, then they're willing to invest the money into it. And I've never had a client say that they're sorry that they spent the money on video. Clients just don't say that," added Malandruccolo.
Wedding videography has changed significantly over the past 20 years, where digital video shooting and editing has brought highly sophisticated techniques to a type of video production that was once quite basic. In those days it was typical to spend about $1000 on a video that was a simple, point-and-shoot production, with all the editing taking place in the camera . But now, with the power of digital technology, videographers are taking advantage of 3-chip DV camcorders and sophisticated editing setups, resulting in extraordinary productions, many of which are true works of art.
For the shooting tasks, most wedding videographers use DV camcorders in the league of the Sony PD150 or VX 2000, Canon XL1 and GL2, or Panasonic 3-chip camcorders such as the AG-DVX100. Said Winters, "Most wedding videographers will use DV for acquisition (3-CCD), which is logical, because the cost is low, the quality is high, and above all, the weight of the camcorder is so low now, that videographers are able to be more creative with the smaller units than they were able to be, say, five or six years ago, when the cameras where huge. No longer do you have to have a big professional-looking camcorder to get good money videotaping weddings. In fact, many clients prefer the smaller units over the bigger ones, because they are less obtrusive."
Another staple of wedding coverage are wireless microphones, usually attached to the groom and strategically placed elsewhere, assuring that the most important words many people will ever speak will be clearly heard on the final product.
The biggest technological leap has been in editing, where even unsophisticated computers can create presentations that would have been possible only in a multi-million dollar edit suite 20 years ago. Apple Final Cut Pro is the most popular Mac application for editing, with Adobe Premiere Pro 1.5 leading the pack on the Windows side. Other wedding videographers use Sony Vegas, Pinnacle Liquid Edition , Avid Xpress , NewTek Video Toaster, Canopus Edius and others. Some videographers opt for real-time DV acceleration cards such as the RT.X100 from Matrox or the DVStorm2 from Canopus . One constant is obvious throughout the equipment decision arena -- people are staunchly devoted to the choices they've made.
Winters said, "They're loyal, from fierce arguments about the superiority of an operating system or capture card to the inferiority of the competing product. My personal opinion is less partisan. To me an editing system is a tool and nothing more -- whatever works and makes me money is what I will use -- and in this case I have chosen Premiere Pro 1.5 and a Matrox RT.X100 capture card.
I have both the real time card from Matrox and plain generic FireWire cards."
Another popular technique of today's wedding videography is multicamera production. At its most rudimentary level, a videographer will operate one camcorder while a second unmanned camcorder is set up on a tripod, taping the event from a different angle. For the reception, most of the time a single camcorder does all the shooting, with the other used as a backup.
At its most sophisticated, a multicamera setup works in much the same way a network remote production would be configured, with multiple cameras attached to a switcher located in a separate room outside the venue. A director is in constant contact with each of the three, four or more camera operators via headsets, coordinating their shots while switching live between cameras while rolling tape in each camera for isolated footage that can be added in post.
Advanced technology also makes the final product delivered to clients much better, where a high quality DVD is now commonly handed to the client when all the shooting and editing is done. Formerly an extra-cost option for wedding video clients, DVDs have been working their way into the mainstream particularly over the past few years. Said Malandruccolo, "When I first started offering DVDs about three years ago, they were expensive. I had it as an add-on. Not everyone took it because not everyone had a DVD player. It's amazing how quickly that has changed, because now a lot of couples aren't even interested in a VHS copy except for Grandma." It's not surprising that DVDs have taken over as far as deliverables are concerned.
With home DVD player prices now dipping below $50, and many computers including DVD burners and players as standard equipment, DVDs have become a ubiquitous delivery medium for videographers of all kinds. Perhaps the greatest benefit of this is the fact that finally clients can see the true quality of the video, virtually the same as the quality of the camcorder on which it was shot. That represents quite a quality difference from the VHS tapes that were the norm just a few short years ago.
"So many times, I was shooting with a 3-chip camcorder , and I would have this beautiful miniDV master, but then the couple's walking out the door with VHS and I'm putting the master tape in a box in my studio. All that quality would go to waste," said Malandruccolo.
Every wedding videographer is intensely concerned with marketing, and high technology has been a boon to all involved. The biggest plus is the Web, with its ability to bring a tremendous volume of information to anyone with a computer. By far the most important innovation for wedding videography marketing is streaming video. Some reported to us that clients will not consider a videographer unless they can see a streaming video demo of the shooter's work on the Web. Where in years past a client would need to personally visit numerous videographers to see examples of their work, now a bride-to-be can visit twenty Web sites in an evening, picking a videographer whose style and pricing matches her taste and budget. Streaming video is also important after the wedding is shot as well. According to Richard Markel, President of the Association for Wedding Professionals International, streaming video lets clients show their wedding to the world.
"The ability to email or add streaming video to a Web site is awesome -- now viewers that could not attend the wedding from around the world -- friends and family -- can view the wedding wherever they are," Markel said.
The Web has become so important on wedding marketing, that some videographers report a full 50% of their business is attracted via the Web. Clients can see the demo videos, get a price quote, and negotiate the entire shoot without ever seeing the videographer .
"A lot of brides complement my Web site," said Malandruccolo, because they get the instant gratification of seeing samples immediately. "The majority have broadband connections so they can see the sample videos of past projects. I've booked brides without even meeting with them, just from them finding my Web site, clicking on the streaming video, calling me, talking price, and they'll say, 'All right. Send me a contract.' I feel if you're a videographer , if you want to get more business, you need to offer streaming video."
However, the Web isn't the only way to drum up business. As it has always been, another important tool is referrals, that age-old kind of word-of-mouth advertising where happy customers report their positive (or negative) wedding video results to others looking for the same service. Videographers such as Luisa Winters of Unforgettable Events see the Web as more of a reinforcement tool for referrals than an end-all.
"The Web is great, but it is just a means of reinforcing what they have heard already through the referral, or if they are just surfing the net," she said. According to Winters, "By far, most clientele comes to us resulting from referrals from brides and other vendors -- in fact, we do not advertise at all." Surprisingly, she sees other wedding vendors as her allies, even if they are competing wedding videographers. "Many times my referrals come from other videographers that just cannot do the job for whatever reason -- mostly because they are already busy. Referrals, referrals, referrals -- that's the way to go!"
Attending a bridal show is another way for videographers to get the word out about their services. Brides-to-be attend these shows to see new trends and pick up ideas, and the number of videographers showing their wares at such events has increased over the years. According to Markel, "I have had videographers in my consumer bridal show over the last 15 years, however it was only one or two at most per show. But that's changing fast -- last week at our show we had 11." There are also exhibitions that are held specifically for wedding videographers, the biggest being the annual event held by WEVA, the Wedding and Event Videographers Association.
Another powerful way to attract attention to a videography business is by advertising in bridal publications. That's why Illinois Videographers Association president Kris Malandruccolo says it's a big advantage to be a part of an organization where videographers can band together.
"We took out a co-op ad in Chicago Wedding Pages magazine and Wedding Guide Chicago, and in order to be on that co-op ad, you have to be a member of IVA. So we're able to advertise in magazines for less cost, because we're all going in on the ads." But even though Luisa Winters thinks ads are important, she adds that there's more to it than that. "He or she who markets best, wins," asserted Winters. "And notice that marketing is not only placing ads, it is building those relationships in the wedding business which will lead to referrals -- that is the marketing that counts the most."
All the wedding videographers interviewed were certain that amateurs are not overrunning their businesses in any significant way, although there were numerous examples of "newbies" who made valiant attempts but found out -- often too late -- that pro-level videography isn't as easy as it looks.
Even though equipment prices and easy-to-use editing software has brought video-making into the mainstream, talent and experience, as well as hard work and shrewd marketing are still scarce qualities that make professional wedding videographers a valuable resource to the multi-billion dollar wedding industry.