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March 10th, 2010

Promo videos = growth opportunity for photographers

Posted by liveBooks

Vietnam-based photographer Justin Mott was recognized by PDN in 2008 for his images of Agent Orange orphans and he’s been honored with several awards for his documentary work. But like any good freelancer, he’s also aware of commercial opportunities — including promo videos for resorts and other tourist destinations. His experiences packaging these DSLR-shot videos with still images provide great insights for photographers looking to do the same.

Anantara Bophut Web Commercial from Mott Visuals on Vimeo.

Miki Johnson: Tell me about what you’ve been working on these days.

Justin Mott: My calendar has been pretty diverse since I began to organize and market my commercial work halfway through 2009. Getting my commercial work organized and branded has eaten up a huge chunk of my free time. Work in Vietnam is pretty diverse so you have to be able to do a little bit of everything.

My assignments over the last two months came from; German Red Cross, the United Nations, Forbes, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, three 5-star resorts, Microsoft, the World Health Organization, and the Smithsonian. I shot a wedding and I have been involved with a commissioned book project in Beijing and Shanghai about Chabad communities. I’m also working on my own book along with shooting a few other long-term personal projects.

The most lucrative has easily been the resort work because I’m able to sell packages of both stills and video. Commercial work simply pays more, a lot more, and in this region the market is expanding. I’m still searching for the right balance of commercial work and editorial but I completely love both in different ways.

Trangire Treetops. ©Mott Visuals

MJ: Tell me about this video you did for Anantara Bophut (above).

JM: I’ve built up a good relationship with a luxury line of resorts over the past year shooting stills for them. I’ve worked for them in Thailand and Tanzania shooting more than seven resorts.

I first pitched the video as an add-on for a stills shoot I was scheduled to do for them. It’s hard to pitch a product without a good example piece already, so I offered to do it for free, knowing the potential was huge.

I know many photographers get upset hearing things like that, but I wasn’t giving anything away. I was upfront about wanting to show them one piece in hopes of doing a series for them on an agreed price. Without having a strong piece to show them, I had to offer a preview instead. I was also confident that we could deliver them something they would be excited about.

My producer, Camille Faylona, scripted the story for them using stills as visual cues of what the final product might look like. In a face-to-face meeting we talked over the script and about pricing. We also discussed videos that had been done for them in the past and why they were unhappy with them. I was pitching them a different technique with a more TV-commercial feel and more of a story instead of just footage of their facility.

I shot the whole piece all on the Canon 5D Mark II, frequently using a Merlin Steadicam to give a first-person perspective. It’s a new process for me, so we figured a lot of things out on the fly, but overall everything worked out really well. That way I was also offering the client new technology. I could give a cinematic feel to the final piece at a fraction of the former price. They were extremely happy with the final product and we are now discussing a 6 resort video shoot.

Anantara Lawana. ©Mott Visuals

An important thing to realize about the pitch is, not only do you have to pitch the quality of the video, but you also have to help the client understand potential outlets for it. With stills they know how they are going to use them for their website, brochure, email promos, etc. For the videos you have to help them see the potential for more than just a video for their website. They can be used as web commercials on travel magazine websites, DVD’s for travel agents, in-room cross commercials, and more.

MJ: You said you see this part of your business’ growth in the future. In what ways and why?

JM: I feel like digital magazines are right around the corner, and with the iPad being released, the potential for video content demand is massive. Editorial and commercial clients need videos as their marketing outlets become more digital, so I see huge potential in both markets. I envision travel magazines doing videos more like a Discovery Channel piece, rather than just a slideshow of images. With new technology it’s affordable and not so intimidating for the photographer.

Video DLSR’s are still in the “wow” stage, and it’s easy to excite clients with their amazing footage when coupled with nice lenses. I’m not saying that the camera will do all the work, but the technology is rather revolutionary so it provides a great head start. Pretty soon it will be standard; but for now I plan to capitalize on this “wow” factor — the feedback so far has been extremely positive.

It also helps that we can offer  a one-stop production. Packages from Mott Visuals include stills and videos that have a similar style, so it’s one less thing for the client to worry about.

Anantara Phuket. ©Mott Visuals

MJ: Is this the first promo video you’d done with a DSLR? What did you learn from the process?

JM: This was our fist piece using the steadicam and time-lapse, so there was a learning curve to figure out how to use the device technically and stylistically. Plus the whole production process takes more time than with stills. We have to script the story before and get the client’s approval, then we  do the same at the end of shooting.

It’s also different because I’m working with a producer who has creative input, so we have two heads instead of one, which is good for video. I tend to think like a photographer; I want to leap from one thing to the next, while she reminds me we need to find a way to get there.

MJ: What else about this project was interesting or challenging for you?

JM: The challenge for me was not having a system in place yet like I do for stills. I know my “go to” shots for commercial shoots; after getting those I can experiment. For video I’m still fairly new, so I’m learning on the fly.

For me, transitioning has been the biggest challenge, making sure I visually lead the viewer from point A to point B. I’ve learned the value of a good producer who understands storytelling — and I also learned I need to pay her more so I don’t lose her.

The other challenge is how to market this work myself, online and through my agency, Redux Pictures. I’m still trying to figure out better ways than to simply include clips and trailers on my website and blog, but for now that is what we are limited to. Hopefully that will make for another blog post further down the road.


  1. March 10th, 2010 at 5:01 pm

    david root

    great interview. keep up the great work justin.

  2. March 11th, 2010 at 6:13 pm

    Ken Mott


    And great last name!

  3. March 12th, 2010 at 3:17 pm

    justin mott

    Thanks guys!!!

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