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We’re going to do something a little more oriented to hard skills than soft today. A question I often get is: What kind of gear do I need to shoot content for my construction company?
My answer to this is always “More.” But in addition to being a dirt nerd, I’m also a tech nerd. Buying and using more camera gear brings me a lot of joy—but it rarely improves my clients’ content to the same degree.
The fact is, most people can get away with spending $1,000 or less to get professional quality content for their social feeds. Here are the 5 things you absolutely can’t skip out on.
A camera ($ – Variable)
Believe it or not, you DON’T need a pro-grade DSLR or mirrorless camera with a suite of high-dollar lenses for quality content. It’s absolutely astounding what even a base level iPhone is capable of. There are even shots in my demo reel that were recorded on an iPhone 12 mini. If your phone can record vertical video at 1080×1920, you’re in the clear. If you have an iPhone 14 or better, you have access to AMAZING pro-level technology such as stabilization, multiple lenses, and HDR. Just be sure to get a good case if you’re going to be shooting on jobsites.
However, you’re still stuck with a minuscule sensor—and sensor size is one of the most fundamental advantages you get with big cameras. If you want to get real serious about your content (and you have the budget to spare), consider upgrading to an APS-C size or full-frame DSLR or mirrorless camera. Canon, Sony, Nikon and Fuji are the best brands for this kind of content. Again, if you’ll be on jobsites, go for something with weather sealing (mostly to avoid dust contamination).
If you go this route, you’re going to need lenses. Kit lenses are great, but will only give you comparable quality to your cell phone if you ask me. To get that pro-level quality, you need wider lenses (meaning they have a wide aperture, which lets in more light and creates that beautiful blurry background). These lenses don’t have to be expensive. Depending on your brand, you can get a set of prime (non-zoom) lenses for under $1,000. For the most flexibility, you’ll want a wide-angle (24mm or 35mm), a short telephoto (50mm) and a medium/long telephoto (85mm or 135mm) at minimum. Check out bhphotovideo.com or adorama.com, and be sure to check eBay for used glass.
Whatever you do, make this decision carefully. There are camera bodies (not even including lenses) that can cost upwards of $30,000 alone. It’s easy to blow your budget on gear that you don’t even need. But if you’re willing to take your time and learn how to run a camera, you can extract amazing footage out of $1,000 worth of pawn shop finds.
A microphone ($330+)
I’ve covered this in depth before. Rough video from time to time isn’t a dealbreaker. But quality sound is absolutely non-negotiable. If you’re recording on your phone, I’d recommend a set of DJI Mic wireless microphones ($330 for a pair of two at the time of this writing). This will get you great audio for dialogue and interviews.
However, if you’re shooting with a standalone camera, you’ll also need a shotgun mic. The onboard microphones for DSLRs and mirrorless are pretty much garbage—this is because they only record sound for the purpose of syncing it to audio captured with microphones. You’ll need a shotgun mic for capturing ambient sounds on your “B-roll” footage. Dialogue should still be captured with a lavalier like the DJI Mic.
Both of these are capable of recording directly to your camera. However, with the DJI Mic, you also have the capability of saving the audio directly to the mic itself and then copying it to your computer. This alleviates the need for an external sound recorder, keeping your setup simple.
A tripod ($50-400)
This is the absolute minimum “grip” equipment you’ll need. Something to keep the camera steady, often while you’re in front of it. If you go for a cheap one, you’ll… well, it’ll work. But you’ll get what you pay for. At least until it breaks.
Trust me, go for the nicest tripod you can afford. If you’re going to be putting it through the ringer on job sites, go for something tough. I usually use an old Manfrotto steel tripod from the 70s. Definitely not the lightest, but practically indestructible (which I value highly).
Also, if you’re going to be doing a lot of moving video (panning, tilting and rolling), spring for a decent video head. These are heads that resist being moved, which helps get smooth shots. Simple photography heads will jitter and jump, which just looks awful.
And yes, the above applies even if you’re shooting with a cell phone. They make attachments that let you mount a phone to a tripod. This is one of the things that will set your footage apart.
A teleprompter (~$150)
If you’re going to be reading from scripts for your socials (a much more common practice than you might think), you’ll also need a teleprompter. This is a piece of angled glass that reflects light from a screen beneath it (usually a cell phone or a tablet). You’ll be able to read it, but it won’t be visible in the camera.
Depending on what you’re shooting with, there are different styles of teleprompter available. Just search the Internet and you’ll find an option that will work for you. The only thing you’ll need is an extra phone with a teleprompter app, as the text will appear reversed in the reflection, so you’ll need an app to reverse it in advance so you can read it.
Editing software ($30 – $60 / month)
This is often the hardest part to learn, but you don’t have to jump straight into Premiere Pro right from the get go. There are simpler tools for editing your videos that can still get you professional results. Here are a few of my favorites:
Canva enables you to create short videos for TikTok, Instagram Reels and Stories, or any other purpose. It comes loaded with a library of templates, and you even have access to stock music, photos and videos. There’s even a free option, but you’ll probably want to go for the pro version. It’s remarkably simple to use and allows you to produce very professional content with ease. I use this for about 25% of my client content.
I originally tried Descript just for the video captioning functionality, but there are a lot of other useful tools with it as well. You can use it to create voiceovers for your written content, transpose spoken content (such as voice recordings or videos) into text, and also basic video editing. I use this for about 40% of my client content.
Filmora by Wondershare
This is an NLE (non-linear editor) like Adobe Premiere Pro. It allows you to create videos without affecting the original video files you use. I have a lot of words to say about this one… Filmora is buggy and annoying sometimes. But it’s a much simpler alternative to Premiere Pro. Plus, you can buy it on a subscription model OR just pay once for a lifetime copy. It also has a vast library of transitions, effects, titles, graphics and other visual assets that Premiere Pro cannot hold a candle to. And for $20 a month, you get access to even more, including stock videos. The pros vastly outweigh the cons. I use this for another 25% of my client content (the other 10% are miscellaneous tools such as Adobe apps).
Bonus: A gimbal ($150+)
Gimbals are a LOT of fun. These are handheld devices that stabilize your camera (or your phone) on all three axes, which gets you those super-smooth shots like you see in the movies. If you’re shooting with a cell phone, you can get a DJI Osmo 6 for $150. I have shots in my demo reel that feature this potent little monster.
It’s definitely not a necessity, but for $150, the difference it makes is absolutely worth it.
If you’re shooting with a standalone camera, there are gimbals available for this purpose as well. But be prepared to spend a lot more money to buy one, and a LOT more time figuring out how to use it properly.
Remember that each piece of gear you buy is an investment in yourself.
Remember also that beyond a certain point, your returns will start to diminish. 80% of your quality will come from 20% of your gear. Maybe even 90/10.
Take care of that first 10-20%, and then put most of your efforts into telling compelling stories, creating cool content, and engaging with your audience.
The returns on those investments never diminish.