How to Do Video on a Budget
By Michael Van Dusen
While video is all the rage right now, video has to deal with a bit of a perception problem. There’s a tendency to think that video production implies a huge investment of money and time (which really means more money).
I’ve been doing video for Infusionsoft for a few years, and I can tell you definitively that money and time don’t necessarily imply a more successful video. In fact, I’ve worked on plenty of video projects that have had great success but were put together on a shoestring budget.
So if you’re going to get into video for your small business, don’t let budget constraints hold you back. I’m going to lay out for you a few budget tiers—ranging from nearly $0 to about $1,500— to get you started at the budget range that best fits where you’re at as a business.
First thing’s first: the basics of video production
While there’s a very wide range of marketing videos out there that work for businesses, they all share some basic elements of production. Once you have the production elements in place, you can start creating videos fast and furious.
All video production setups have the same five elements in common. These elements tend to be the first cost barrier to entry for businesses who want to get in on video. But they aren’t as costly as you might think. Here they are:
Of course, you can go all out Hollywood style and drop a mint to get these five things in place, but I’m here to help you get rolling without worrying about how you’ll have to pay for the equipment and production.
Brace yourself. You’re about to lose one very big excuse for not doing video.
Budget #1: Video for nearly $0. You’re welcome.
Chances are, you’ve got a bunch of this stuff lying around your house, and you can pull together a decent, professional looking video for uber cheap.
The most important piece of equipment is already in your pocket
Yup. Smartphones are equipped with sophisticated cameras, and you can get some excellent video footage just by using your phone. If you’ve kept your phone in decent shape, then it’s going to be your best friend for video. Of course, if your phone’s seen better days, it might be time for you to upgrade.
The thing about phones is that they work best when there’s lots of light. They don’t do so well in dim lighting. So, film outside (just remember to stand in the shade to avoid the harsh, contrasty light of the sun. If outside isn’t going to work, just make sure your interior space is well lit, either with big windows for natural light or use strong lighting specifically for your video. Normal interior overhead lights probably won’t do the trick on their own.
Get it stable
The key to making a video that isn’t a vomit-inducing mess is to use something other than your hand to keep it steady. Obviously, the stability rule is true for all videos, regardless of the budget size, but from a budget point of view, this one will take a little hacking.
A tripod is the very best, and if you or one of the people in your business is a camera buff—or has been once upon a time—you may already be hooked up. If you’ve got a regular tripod, more than likely, it’s not adaptable for use with smartphones. You can buy an adapter that screws into the standard bracket, but if you don’t want to buy a phone adaptor piece, you can get away with using a rubber band to secure your phone to it.
Of course, for relatively small dollars, you can buy a smartphone tripod that will allow you to set up your phone on a desk or other tall, stable surface and get to work.
Other hacks require some creativity. You can stack books, or use a clamp and a chair. Any way you can manage to prop up the phone will make a big difference.
Light it up!
Good light is what makes the shot, but there’s more to having good light than just having lots of light. You can read more about it here, but the TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read) is the bigger your light source, the softer and more beautiful the light.
If you’re shooting indoors, shoot close to a window that doesn’t have direct (harsh) sunlight hitting your subject. If you have some work lights, or even just a collection of lamps, those can work well, but they can sometimes make a harsh light unless you diffuse, or soften, the light. To diffuse the light, hang up the thinnest white sheet you own and shine your lights through it.
Arguably, the audio part is more important than the video itself. Imagine you’re watching a video on Youtube and you can see the speaker perfectly but the audio is so bad you can barely make out what they are saying. For example, there’s a persistent wind ruffling the mic, obscuring the speaker’s voice. You’d probably skip that video pretty fast. Now imagine a video that’s completely black, but you hear someone speaking clearly. You could listen to this and still get something out of it—in fact, a lot of podcasters do just this: they post their audio podcast to youtube as a video that shows only a single image rather than moving video, and people tune in!
Space is key to audio. You can have a big effect on the audio just by finding a good location with great sound characteristics.
- If echo is a problem, hang up sheets and blankets on the walls that aren’t in the shot to muffle the echo.
- The microphones on most smartphones aren’t terrible, but the closer a microphone is to the source, the better it will sound. One trick is to use two phones, one for video, and another for audio. If your phone came with headphones that also have a microphone, tape the microphone to your chest (under your shirt) and use a voice recording app to record your voice. You can sync the audio and video later when editing.
Post Production: Editing.
Fortunately, there are a lot of free options out there. First and foremost, keep in mind that editing right on your phone is, in fact, possible. Granted, I’d only recommend you use that feature when you’re traveling or you just need to do a simple, quick edit. Nonetheless, it’s an option not to be overlooked.
- On iPhone or iPad you can download Apple’s iMovie for iOS for free
- On Android, you can download Adobe Premiere Clip for free
- On your computer
- Macs come with iMovie, which is surprisingly easy to use and has some nice tricks up its sleeve.
- Windows computers will have Movie Maker, which will let you do basic cuts, audio adjustments, and titling.
- For an online option, you can try WeVideo
- If you’re willing to spend some time learning pro level software, the free version of Blender offers a video editing module, but know that it’s designed for pros. You’ll get lots more features than any of the other free options, but at the cost of having to learn a much more complex system.
Budget #2: Very small budget (<$300)
Even if you have just a little cash on hand to invest, you can up your game. For a handful of Benjamins, you can buy your way out of some of the hacks you’d have to do to stay on a zero dollar budget.
At this budget level, I’d still stick with your phone. Your best use of this budget will be to buy accessories that enhance your phone experience.
Now that you have a little cash to invest, you can buy a tripod. Stability is one of the toughest hacks of videography if you don’t have a basic tripod. This will be a worthwhile investment.
- If you have a tripod at home, you can get an adapter for phones, like the Joby Griptight Mount. This one’s only $20.
- Of course, if also need a tripod to go with it, you can find ones that won’t break the bank. Like the Manfrotto Befree Tripod. At $150, you’ve still got some cash to play with.
- Or you could get a tripod that you can wrap onto a chair, like Joby’s GripTight PRO Phone. While these can’t go as high as a normal tripod, they add an advantage: sometimes they can provide for unique angles. This one comes in under $75.
Here’s another worthwhile investment. As I was saying earlier, good video relies on good audio.
- Rode’s VideoMic Me is a great, affordable microphone for iOS devices and newer Android devices. This is great if you are filming someone where wiring them up with a mic doesn’t make sense. You can get on for under $75.
- If you can wire someone with a mic, this cheap lav mic option will give you better sound. Plus, it has a switch that allows it work with both smartphones and normal cameras and camcorders. $20
Most often, you’ll be shooting indoors, which means you won’t have perfect access to the solar system’s best free lighting. You’ll have to supplement. These are some great lighting accessories that keep cost in mind.
- A cheap umbrella set ($60) or LED light set ($125) are great places to start because you’ll have almost all your lighting needs covered in a single package.
- A Ring light is a versatile and easy to use option. You just position the camera to shoot through the opening and you’re good to go. You can get one of these for less than $75.
Free software is great and certainly budget conscious, but if you’re ambitious about what you’d like to do with video, it might be time for an upgrade. If you want eventually to move to Premier, the industry standard, but can’t afford it yet, Premiere Elements is a good place to start, and it’s definitely within budget. ($80)
Budget #3 Small budget (<$1500ish)
Now that you’ve got some bread, it’s time to get a camera.
The most commonly used in this price range is probably the Canon Rebel series. The value of this camera’s versatility can’t be over exaggerated. Coming in under $800, it leaves you lots of budget for more toys.
Another option, especially if you do a lot of impromptu video, or you travel, is one of Sony’s mirrorless cameras, like the Alpha a6000. You get excellent performance, and the smaller size makes them super portable.
The same Manfrotto Befree Tripod mentioned above is still great for this level, but now you don’t need an adapter because it mounts to the camera’s tripod mount with no problem. For a little more, you can get the video version that will let you pan smoothly to add motion to your b-roll shots.
- The Rode Video Mic Go is a very common way to add much better quality audio to camera than the built in microphone. Get this one for around $100.
- The same cheap lav mic listed above will work on these cameras just fine. At $20, you might as well just grab one or two. They’re great to have on hand.
Lighting is critical to getting a good shot, and with a plethora of cheap lighting kits on Amazon, you should be able to get set up with no problem. Check out, for example, the StudioPro Softbox kit. It uses standard, cheap CFL bulbs you can buy at the grocery story when they burn out and includes a complete backdrop set. Not bad for under $400.
Of course, now that you have a camera that you can mount things to, you should explore your options with mounted lighting. Mounted lighting gives you more mobility, and is great for impromptu video shoots. This Genaray LED light is a great example. It lets you change the color of the light to match the lights in the room, and it comes in under $200.
At this budget level, you’ll want some professional editing software to match the power of your hardware.
- If you’ve been using iMovie but want to move past its limitations, try Final Cut Pro X. It keeps the same feel as iMovie but has many pro features and is perfect for when you need quick turnaround times. It’s a great price for pro software at $300, and the power could be worth it, especially if you have some of the other bases covered already.
- Adobe’s Premier Pro is subscription software, costing $20/month ($240/year). It’s a different kind of budgeting, but it’s pretty much the industry standard, so worth the long term cost. Bonus: If you use other Adobe Creative Cloud apps, like photoshop, you can get bundle pricing from Adobe.
There you have it
Obviously, your budget doesn’t necessarily fit into these three categories, so you can mix and match to get set up the way you need to. Most importantly, I wanted to lay out for you just how accessible videography can be from a dollars and cents point of view. With a little creative engineering, you can get by on next to no budget at all, or you can have a professional set up for less than two grand.
Michael Van Dusen (Dusey for short) is Infusionsoft’s Video Producer and has 10 years of multimedia experience, with a focus on photography and video production, and a burgeoning love for producing podcasts. With a BS in psychology and previous experience working for tech companies like Apple, he’s constantly seeking new ways to bring humanity and technology together to create compelling stories. When not spreading the small businesses love with Infusionsoft, Dusey hops from hobby to hobby, from hammock camping with his family or going SCUBA diving, to sword fighting and running his own wedding photography small business, DuseyPhoto. If you hear someone laughing in the office, it’s probably Dusey.
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