Inside story: how to forge a career as a commercial videographer

Videographer Quentin Caffier holds a Canon camera filming a woman in a hairdressing salon.
Videographer and photographer Quentin Caffier got his big break directing a music video and now specialises in portraiture, fashion and advertising. He believes photographers familiar with shooting portraits are perfectly placed to produce videos for social networks in the newer vertical format. © Quentin Caffier

Lights, camera, action! Filmmaking still holds the same enchanting allure conjured up by those iconic words from the golden age of cinema. Yet, while the thrill of producing moving images remains the same, the career path couldn't be more different. Online demand, user-friendly software and increasingly high-spec, affordable cameras are encouraging more and more solo operators into the commercial video industry.

But what's the best way to go about it? Here, former Canon Ambassadors Jörg Kyas and Quentin Caffier share their top tips for shooting professionally and the best way to get that all-important foot in the door.

1. Improve your business skills

Revered for his bold and creative aesthetic, Jörg runs a busy studio in his hometown of Hanover, Germany, where he specialises in portrait, fashion and commercial photography and video. Jörg got his break after photographing an assortment of music samples. The client commissioned him to compile a video using the photos he'd taken, which opened the door to the world of TV commercials.

"Today, everyone has access to the same standard of equipment that professionals use, so the only thing you need is talent," he says. "That said, talent doesn't just mean being good at making videos, but also networking, bookkeeping and social media. There are so many aspects of the business that you need to master to be successful today."

Jörg Kyas stands on a segway holding a Canon camera to film a band playing.
Jörg applies his creativity to stills and to videos, and he enjoys working on music videos with bands. © Jörg Kyas
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2. Launch a personal portfolio

French photographer and videographer Quentin took a more personal route into the film world, producing a video to accompany a photo series he was exhibiting. The Hourglass went viral, catching the attention of several advertising agencies. Today, Quentin is known for his glamorous and mysteriously evocative photography and video. He specialises in portraiture, fashion and advertising, and believes that sharing personal work is a good way to break into the industry.

"My 'big break' happened a year after The Hourglass, when the award-winning musician Arnaud Rebotini, from the band Black Strobe, asked me to direct a music video," he says. Quentin shot The Girl from the Bayou on the then newly-released Canon EOS C500 (now succeeded by the Canon EOS C500 Mark II), inspired by Saul Bass and James Bond films. "I made connections in that sphere and was soon creating music videos for other artists, then commercial videos for fashion clients."

3. Make the most of social media

Digital developments offer enthusiasts particularly good opportunities, says Quentin, who specialises in social media videos. "There is a huge emerging market for branded content videos," he says. "These small films are well suited to social networks such as Instagram and Facebook, and explore the newer vertical video format. An aspiring director with a photography background is perfectly placed to produce this kind of content."

Videographer Quentin Caffier stands behind a Canon camera filming a woman in a bikini stood by the side of a swimming pool.
Quentin shoots commercial videos regularly, including this one for lingerie brand Isabelle de Paris. He believes sharing personal work on social media is a good way to break into the industry. © Quentin Caffier

4. Don't work for free

There's fierce debate about whether you should work for free when you move into a different creative industry in order to build your portfolio. Jörg's view is unequivocal: "However you go about it, just remember it makes no sense to do jobs for free in the hope that you might get paid one day. All that does is lower the earning potential of the business you want to work in some day."

A drone holding the Canon EOS C500 Mark II soars over the Spanish countryside.

Adding video skills to your toolbox

Fashion photographer Javier Cortés shoots video for clients all over the world, debunking the myth that you can't do both.

5. Shoot professional quality on DSLR

You don't need a high-end cinema camera to land a professional job in commercial video. Quentin uses the portable Canon EOS M6 (now succeeded by the Canon EOS M6 Mark II) to capture footage for branded content. "It's lightweight, but has all the great performance you'd expect from a DSLR," he says. For larger-scale productions, he prefers to use the Canon EOS 6D Mark II. "It's an affordable, full-frame DSLR that produces amazing image quality," he says.

Likewise, Jörg believes you can achieve professional commercial video quality using cameras you may already own. "I could do 95% of my work with two DSLRs and three lenses," he says. "I like the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II [now succeeded by the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III] because the large sensor helps to give the production a more cinematic look and offers more creative options."

Videographer Quentin Caffier holds a Canon camera.
Quentin uses the portable Canon EOS M6 for smaller-scale brand shoots, and the Canon EOS 6D Mark II for larger-scale productions.
Jörg Kyas shows a model her image on his Canon camera.
Jörg likes to use DSLRs too, often turning to the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II. "I could do 95% of my work with two DSLRs and three lenses," he says.

6. Take advantage of your suite of EF lenses

"If you have a tight budget, I'd recommend prioritising lenses over the camera body. If you do upgrade to a cinema camera later, you can still use your EF lenses," says Quentin. "This is one reason why it's a huge advantage to go for a brand like Canon, which allows you to update your workflow as your career progresses."

When shooting commercial video, he usually relies on the versatile Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM lens, and the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM, which is very effective in low light. "I've also tried the new Canon EOS R system and the RF lenses," he says. "They are amazing for video due to the fast AF and the intuitive design of the Control Ring. My advice is to buy an EF-EOS R adapter, so you can use the EOS R with EF lenses too."

Jörg favours prime lenses such as the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM and the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM for their "brilliant image quality and lovely wide open apertures". He teams this stripped-down kit with a gimbal, reflectors, and light and audio equipment for film shoots – "just a fraction of the equipment that we needed in the past," he adds.

7. Appreciate the nature of sequencing

According to Quentin, the key to technical success is appreciating the difference between photography and video. "With video, you write a story with multiple frames, while most commercial photography stands alone, without context. I had to learn how to tell a story with three, five or 20 frames, while being able to move the camera. You can learn this watching movies and commercials, but my biggest influence was comics, because graphic novels use consecutive frames to express emotion and meaning."

Understanding sequencing will help you to shoot better footage the next time around, he adds. "You need to have a clear understanding, when editing, of what kind of shots are mandatory to make your movie understandable. Working out what you need and what you don't helps you to hone your craft."

Jörg Kyas looks at the back of his Canon camera, where we see a woman being splashed with water.
Jörg at work in his studio. Consistent lighting is an important video skill to master. © Jörg Kyas

8. Learn lighting and colour grading skills

The simplification of editing software has removed a significant barrier to entry, but there are still lessons to be learned. "When you start colour grading films you'll realise why it's important to light a set properly," says Quentin. "Consistency is key, which means choosing your lighting wisely and keeping it the same throughout."

And learning the appropriate terminology can really help when you have to explain your vision. "I once worked with a director who asked for 'crispy' lighting," says Quentin. "It took me a while to understand that he wanted strong shadows and saturated colours."

Both professionals agree that the first thing enthusiasts need to learn is how to handle equipment properly. "You have to master the technical skills well enough to be able to forget them," says Quentin. "Only then can you think about expressing your concept in a visually creative way."

Written by Natalie Denton

Jörg and Quentin's kitbags

The key kit pros use to shoot video

Canon cameras and lenses are laid out on a wooden surface.


Canon EOS-1D X Mark II

Canon's flagship pro DSLR with a 20.2 megapixel full-frame sensor, 61-point AF system, up to 14fps and ISO up to 409,600. "The large sensor helps to give the production a more cinematic look and offers more creative options," says Jörg.

Canon EOS M6 Mark II

A portable, powerful mirrorless camera with 32.5 megapixel resolution and up to 14fps continuous shooting. "It's lightweight, but has all the great performance you'd expect from a DSLR," says Quentin.

Canon EOS 6D Mark II

Whether you want to shoot more ambitious projects or you’re turning professional with your photography, the EOS 6D Mark II gives you what you need to take those exciting next steps. "It's an affordable full-frame DSLR that produces amazing image quality," says Quentin.


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