25 Rules and Tips to Follow on Your First Freelance Video Shoot

Lights. Without them, videographers are at the mercy of the sun. That is why one week prior to my first shoot for my first freelance client outside of college I drove 2 hours to Trumbull to pick up a Dracast Pro 1K LED from a friend. I had no idea what the lighting conditions would be like at the client’s location, and this single light would have saved me when shooting the interviews.

I did a lot of preparation like buying this light for the shoot. Needing audio gear, I picked up a Zoom H6 and a Shure lapel mic. I purchased XLR cables and a white balance card. I practiced with everything before the day, bugging my housemates to use them as stand-ins for my shot. I did all of this while leaving my old job to pursue freelancing full time.

Was it going to be freelancing or a slow fall into unemployment?

The shift from full-time wage worker to freelance did not solidify as real until, just 1 day after leaving my job, I stepped out of my car at the entrance to Land Warrior CrossFit with camera gear slung across my shoulder.

The realness of my new freelance occupation hit while I unloaded my trunk of the lighting and audio gear. It hit as I dropped the equipment into a pile in the corner of the gym and looked up to see the big glass windows letting in a soft, even light. It hit as I switched on the camera, and it hit when I raised the light and hooked up the audio and set off to find out who I needed to interview. It was great. There is a thrill to be found in communicating with new people and working with unique composition and lighting challenges.

The huge garage glass windows took the place of the Dracast light as the key light. I used the Dracast as a kicker behind the interviewees to help separate them from the background. I gathered the footage of the class after conducting the interviews. An hour later, I was on my way home to back up and begin the edit. The video would be finished 1 week later. The video is at the top of this post if you would like to watch it.

I learned a lot on this first freelance job. Through mistakes and repetition, the list below highlights the things that I needed to remember when setting up for this first job. Some of these, like setting white balance, can be no-brainers. But, when on your first shoot, you might be overwhelmed and forget to set something else when setting white balance. It is like learning to juggle. While it is not hard to juggle one ball, only experienced jugglers can keep 5 balls in the air at a time.

Before shoot date

  1. Create a calendar event with the location and drive time included. Do this as soon as you finish the call or get the confirmation email.
  2. After the phone call with the client, send a recap email detailing what both of you agreed on. Include the date and time. This is so both parties are on the same page.
  3. Discuss payment and agreement details at the beginning.
  4. Write up a clear statement of the work that will be done.
  5. Research similar companies. What content do they produce? What is similar? How can you learn from their content?
  6. Save screenshots of camera angles and types of b-roll from videos that fit your style. Have them with you at the shoot in the case that you need them. In the past, I have gotten so swept up in one aspect of a camera shoot, like camera placement, that I forgot to check for white balance. Having properly-shot examples at the ready can be a quick way to check for mistakes.
  7. Practice the shots that you think will be useful.
  8. Practice setting up and taking down your equipment.
  9. Pack extra of whatever you have. Harddrives, batteries, SD cards, microphones, and extension cords can all become instantly useful when another fails.

During the shoot

  1. Format your memory cards. I learned this the hard way when one of my SD cards corrupted. Formatting them resets the file structure, clearing out errors in an existing one.
  2. Set white balance, picture profile, iso, etc. and then save it all as a custom profile on your camera.
  3. Match white balance on the lights to your camera.
  4. Focus on the pupils of your subject.
  5. Check for distracting objects in the background and messy shirts or hair or makeup in the foreground.
  6. Test audio by asking the interviewee for more than “say something.” Ask them for their name and how to spell it. Record this as they talk in the case that you need the spelling of their name.
  7. Check audio levels.
  8. Check the eyeline of the interviewee. Are they looking above, below, or in line with the lens?
  9. Actually hit record.
  10. Do not stop recording until the microphone has been removed from the interviewee and is in your hand. Some of the best things have been said when the interview is over, as the interviewee is more relaxed than during the “actual” interview.

After the shoot

  1. Back up everything to at least 2 harddrive locations.
  2. Create a consistent back up folder structure. I do “yearmonthday-FirstnameLastname-Organization/Company-detailofshoot” so “20171214-JohnDoe-ESPN-BasketballDonationDrive”.
  3. Create a consistent folder structure for your workflow as you edit. All of my projects have these 5 folders in the main project folder: Assets, Audio, Exports, Footage, Premiere.
  4. Label your exports by version number, not “final” or “finalfinal” or “ReallyFINALYESFINAL.” Version numbers look more professional because the client will not think that you think you are done when they have changes in mind.
  5. Check your renders before you send them off. You are the first to know if you left the audio too high at one point, left a track on mute, or did not drag the adjustment layer to the end of clip. You do not want to be the second to know.
  6. Follow up with the client about leaving a review or giving feedback.

What Do You Do When You Have G.A.S. (Gear Acquisition Syndrome)?

Do you need Nikon’s 45.7 megapixel, crop-less $4k 4k shooting D850? Canon’s new trio of TS-E tilt-shift lenses? Or, even, just alone, that luscious red around the glass used by “the pros” for a hefty price?


At some point, yes. Those products have purposes that help people achieve their creative goals.

But, for most of us, we all just have G.A.S. and are fearful of admitting it to ourselves.

Known as “gear acquisition syndrome,” or G.A.S., it can be identified with the sudden and irresistible urge to burn cash whenever a new product flabbergasts the marketplace.

That upsweep in the flurry of fanfare, that tinge of materialism intermixed with the vestiges of necessity define the quirks and pains associated with a gassy photographer or videographer.

(See neuroscientist and writer Joshua Sarinana’s take on G.A.S. at Peta Pixel here).

While searching Craigslist for used Canon DSLRs, gawking at the Panasonic GH4 price drop, and lamenting the discontinuation of Black Magic’s 2.5K cinema camera, I noticed that I had done something to make me gassy.

While I wish for the Sony A7s2’s performance in dimly lit settings or for the GH4’s high-bitrate widescreen 4K, I do not need those features at this time.

I have a 4k-capable Panasonic G7 and Canon FD glass paired with a speedbooster. If anything, what I need is a client or two.

The quality of what we shoot is not determined entirely by the quality of the equipment, just as the quality of a film is not determined entirely by the budget of the special effects department.

Storytelling is key. Documentaries shot on potatoes in the 80s can still draw tears like pulling water from a flooded well.

Wedding videos without the bells and whistles of [insert just released product] evoke just as much of the emotion as one with all horns tooting full blast.

If anything, before you click the purchase button on a new lens or body or anything seen as an enticing upgrade from what you currently own, watch what you have made previously and ask yourself, “What do I notice?”

What do you remember from Transformers? Story or explosions?

Are you invested in the story? Do you feel something? Are you gawking at the lack of cinematography, or crispness, or dynamic range? Where does your current attention fall, and does this focus of attention advance the story?

Then ask, “How will what I am about to buy advance and not advance my storytelling?” Be honest with yourself. If you can come up with reasonable answers, then you may just be feeling guilty of having G.A.S. without actually having it.

If you cannot come up with an answer, then, before fluttering away like a loose balloon with the drop of your wallet, buy yourself something small that will aid your creativity.

A book of poetry.

A guide on film technique.

A set of movies from a director/cinematographer/editor/etc. that you have been meaning to watch.

Another tip would be to search on travel websites using the same budget as for the product you are about to buy. Would you rather own that product or spend a week in English countryside?