• Brett Turner

How To Be A Freelance Videographer In Dubai

So you're just starting out. The good news? Technology has never been better - or cheaper. The (possibly) bad news? Talent goes a long way...

Want to become a freelance videographer in Dubai? Here's how.

1. CAMERA KIT If you are going to be hired as a freelance videographer in this town, you need to have a camera capable of doing at the very least 'run-and-gun' shoots. These are generally event videos, or coverage for corporate videos like conferences etc. This used to involve buying big, expensive cameras. But now with the advent of 4k-capable DSLR's, you can turn around very acceptable footage with small, inexpensive cameras.


(If you have the money for an FS5 or better, you can skip this part. If you are setting yourself up from scratch, read on...) A very good piece of advice is to invest in good lenses, because although cameras evolve, lenses really don't very much. That's because the properties of light haven't changed (thankfully, that would be weird on a cosmic scale) and glass lenses are the best way we know to focus the stuff. So it's very possible that the fast zoom lens you buy today will be just as good with regular servicing in 10 years. Your video camera or DSLR certainly won't be - you're lucky to get 3 years out of a camera for professional purposes.


I shoot on Sony gear since the advent of the game-changing A7s. If you are on a budget, look at the incredible a6500. 4k, fantastic slow motion capability, and rocking still photos. It's has great in-built stabilization so you can shoot hand-held easily with any lens, and if you are shooting an interview or yourself for vlogging, the facial tracking auto-focus (with Sony lenses) is amazing. The batteries don't last long but again if money is tight, you can get non-Sony batteries for a fraction of the price. They aren't quite as good but load up on 6 or more and you are good to go.



One of my first camera setups in Dubai - the awesome Sony a6500.

In terms of lenses, look for the Sony 18 - 105 f4 lens (see above). It comes as the kit lens with the FS5 and is a very good paring with the a6500. Because it's f4 people are sniffy of it but you get very nice sharp results and it's very lightweight. Then save that money until you can afford fast zooms that you can keep for years. There are great deals to be had on Dubizzle for second hand Canon lenses that you can use with an adapter (look at Commlite and Viltrox if the Metabones is out of your price range, and look at the Viltrox speed booster to use with these full-frame lenses on an APS-C camera like the a6500).


The Canon zooms you always see professional videographers in Dubai with are the 18 - 35mm, the 24 - 70mm and the 70 - 200 mm. All of these are f2.8. Canon will service them for a very reasonable price so if you can get a good deal second hand, these three lenses will set you up for years. Sony do very nice equivalent lenses but they are very expensive and getting a good deal second-hand is harder. There are just a lot more Canon lenses out there to choose from.


Another way to save money and get amazing results is by buying vintage SLR lenses from the 60's, 70's and 80's. Have a look at my article 'The 5 Best Lenses For Video Under $100'. Always buy on eBay - don't look on Dubizzle, there are people on there selling these lenses at ridiculous 100% or even 200% mark-ups.


So, you have a rocking camera, a great lens or two, so now it's time to add a couple of things on there that are musts for most of the work you'll get asked to do.


First of all, invest in a gimbal (aka stabilizer). The Zhiyun Crane series are fantastic value for money and you can get the Mark 1 and now even Mark 2 and great prices. The Ronin S is very well known in the industry but in my opinion the extra ability - which is marginal - isn't worth the extra money. Go for the Zhiyun.


Another piece of kit that is incredibly useful is an action cam, and GoPro are the kings. Other manufacturers are getting closer, but you still cannot go wrong with the GoPro and they are known in the trade as the pro's choice. There are so many versions now that you can get a GoPro 6 at a great price second-hand. With a couple of cheap add-ons you can attach it anywhere. Presto - you now have time-lapse capability, amazing slo-mo and of course it's water-proof. Again, but the non-official batteries and buy lots of them.


You'll need a good tripod - again if you're on a budget look at the Viltrox VH-18M tripod. Amazing value. Don't waste your money on a lightweight, touristy piece of plastic. You will damage your gear when it blows over and you'll look like an amateur when you take it out of your bag on-location.


Last but not least is decent sound capability. Rode do very good video mics that plug straight in to a DSLR and will massively improve your on-board sound. If you have to capture interview-standard sound, look at the Zoom range - amazing little boxes you can plug a mic in to and capture sound externally. Clap your hands on-screen and sync in post like the pro's do. Clients will have no problem with you supplying the sound files separately, it's industry standard practice.


2. GETTING WORK


You get videography work in Dubai for two main reasons - your showreel and word-of-mouth. This is where, if you don't have the chops, you'll be found-out. Being a videographer is a craft, you are producing an art form and it's no different than me deciding that I'm going to be a professional artist and grabbing a bunch of paint brushes than someone without the necessary ability deciding they are going to be a film-maker. Be honest with yourself - do you have an eye for a photograph? Do you naturally just compose pictures well, without any training or know-how? If you have an 'eye' for shooting video and photographs, you are going to find life much, much easier. And you'll be able to produce a killer showreel.



Building your portfolio? Go to events and shoot them. I shot this on a pocket Sony camera.


The good news is that a showreel does not have to comprise of paid-for work. It can all have been shot with your friends at the beach, or the skate park, or a mall. Or you could have gone to an event like a concert and grabbed a lot of footage that way. Film with your phone if you have to and go for it. Think about how you can make really, really cool films with whatever is at your disposal. This is guerrilla film making and it's how many of the top Hollywood film directors started out. Put together a collection of, say, music videos or fashion shorts. Go to events and cover them, put together an edit and post it online, tagging the event and the sponsor (see example above). They will have no problem getting a free video and if it's cool, you might even get some exposure and even work.


Second of all is word of mouth. At some point you'll get asked to shoot something, probably for a very low amount of money - if at all. This is when you need to make a name for yourself through your professionalism. I treat every single customer no matter what the fee the same - with the utmost respect and gratitude for being hired. Turn up on time. Have all of your kit cleaned and perfectly presented ready to shoot, with batteries all charged. Wear a clean black T-shirt and comfortable trousers like cargo pants (standard issue outfit for a videographer in Dubai). This is not a fashion show and you are supposed to blend in, not stand out, and you will sweat as you work. Trust me on the black top.


If you do an amazing job and go above-and-beyond, then bingo. You have your first happy client. And guess what? They will have friends and colleagues in business so the next time someone mentions needing a video there's a chance they'll recommend you. And they might even bring you back to do some more work. That's how to be a videographer in Dubai - bring your A Game and be super reliable and professional.


3. GET A LICENCE

So eventually there will come a time when things are taking off and it's time to be fully legit so you can start to advertise and really establish yourself. You will need a freelancer trade license, and the good news is it's incredibly easy in Dubai via the freezings. The bad news is that it isn't cheap. As of the time of writing, in Dubai a trade license is c.8000aed per year for a freelancer. This does not include and visa or Emirates ID, which doubles that cost. If you already have a visa and can live legally in Dubai, the trade license is all you will have to worry about.


So there you go - it's that simple. Hard work, talent, professionalism and a decent camera. Did I miss something off the list? Any questions? Fire away below.

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