My First Documentary Promo Video and What I Learned

The video took over a year to complete!


As my journey continues on how to shoot video with a DSLR, I feel I’m at the crossroads of stepping it up to the next level. Many of the videos that I create on a weekly basis are usually just a montage of video clips put to music. While that has been a great way for me to get proficient at using all aspects of my camera,  I want to step up my story telling.

About a year ago I contacted 3 local Boulder Colorado photographers and asking them if I could create a video about them and their photography, a “documentary promotional video” but more about what photography means to them. Something when done, they would be proud enough to use as a marketing tool for their web site.

I was looking for someone that was not only comfortable with the idea but excited to do it. After meeting with the photographers I picked Julie Afflerbaugh (her site not yet updated with video), not only is she a good photographer, I thought she had a good story to tell.

Watch the video, and after it’s done I will explain why I did it for free what inspired me to create it.

Total Creative Control

When I sent out the email (see below) I told them I would do it for free. Why free? Because that way I would get total creative control. I have done corporate videos before and while they would start off with some amazing ideas that would be very exciting but by the time you were done you ended up with a very safe video that didn’t tell a story that needed to be told in a way I think to create sales, and a CEO reading off a script.

So if I do it for free what is the point, how do I make money? First off it is to show future clients what type of videos you are capable of making, so if you show only the work that you want to do, you will get that kind of work. Secondly I make some money from my tutorials so I told them that I would do it for free if they gave me the rights to make it in to a tutorial.

Finding the Story

We meet for a couple hours figuring out her story and the visuals to support them. I started by shooting some b roll of some of her photography shoots before we did the actual interview.

I ran across Anton Lorimer’s promo videos he has done for Jasmine Star and was blown away. He created them in such as way were it was not a sale pitch but more of a story about the photographer, a “documentary promo piece” as Jasmine calls it.

I have hired photographers before and didn’t know them before the shoot, in that case you can feel vulnerable in front of the lens, so I thought it would be nice to have a photographer be somewhat venerable on the other side of the lens, that way when client books a session after seeing the promo video they would feel comfortable with the photographer as they might be after 30 minutes with them.

Julie had never really been on camera before so we actually did a practice interview. I thought in the practice interview I would get some awesome stuff that would pull her story together, but I felt a bit panicked afterwards because it was not coming together like Anton’s videos.

I went back to one of Anton’s videos and transcribed it, once I had it on paper I could clearly see how the story was put together. So then I took the best parts of the practice video and then I dug in to my notes and some of the material she had sent me and I created the story for her in the same format as Anton’s transcription.

The next day for the actual interview I presented her with the script of the story I wanted her to tell. Even though I wrote it, it was basically all her words she had used from all the meetings and notes I had taken. I was kind of expecting her to freak out and say I don’t want to use a script someone else has written, but to my surprise she seems so relived that is was all done for her.

After I finished my piece with Julie I sent it over to Anton to see what he thought of it (I made no mention to story telling), and I was so happy when he wrote back and he talked about the storytelling:

Just watched the promo, it was awesome! Julie was great, the cinematography was creative and thought provoking but the storytelling was the best part.

2:44 seconds can feel like a life time when watching a promo but yours seem to fly by and I attribute that to storytelling. I forgot I was watching your video and I was engaged in what Julie was saying (which is the whole point).

Good job man. And if I played a tiny roll in inspiration somewhere then I’m happy about that 🙂

That was cool that he liked the story telling and meant a lot coming from him.

What I Learned

I learned that shooting at f2.8 handheld was exactly the feel that I wanted for the b camera angled camera but what I screwed up on was having the far eye in focus and not the closest one, I fixed that mistake later on in the interview.

I should have done the close up with my APS-C camera and the wide shot with the 5D Mark III.

How Much Would I Charge for a Promo Like This?

Great question. The person to ask is Anton since he does a lot of them. I know it wouldn’t be cheap because I went to many shoots to get the b roll and that took a lot of time. Also crafting the story took some time as well.


So what course should I make after creating this video? My thought is it would be more of an editing course (using Premiere Pro or even Davinci Resolve) of how I cut together a piece like this. Would that be something you guys would be interested in?

Email I Sent

I am looking to tell a story about a local photographer and I found your website and thought you might be a good person for my project.

Basically what I would like to create is a 3 minute video that is kind of a promotional, but also tells a good story.

I run a website on DSLR video, and this project which I would do for free would provide good material for my site. My site gets over 100k visits a month and my videos are watched 300k a month so you would get some good exposure.

I’m looking for someone that doesn’t mind being vulnerable, and is good in front of a camera. Basically I want to find someone that can tell me what photography means to them and how it makes them feel.

I am offering this to a few others and will pick one that I feel can tell the best story. If this is something not only you would be comfortable with but excited about doing, please let me know and we can meet to see if there is a good match.

If you want to know more about me:

And the type of video that I would like to achieve is similar to this one:

Dave Dugdale

Royalty free music by

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5D Mark3

5D Mark III