When you want to shoot a passion project, a low budget can often be an obstacle, for both filmmakers and photographers. But there are ways to overcome it and bring your project to life even if the money is tight. In this video, Sherif Mokbel of THE DP JOURNEY shares seven tips for shooting with the budget as low as zero. He focuses on filmmaking and shares examples from his own and other filmmakers’ videos for even more inspiration. But, some of these tips can also be applied to photographers, so make sure to check them out even if you shoot stills.
1. Work with what you have
Adapt your idea to what you already have. This means using the gear you already own, hiring friends to be your models/actors, filming at locations in your neighborhood or your friends’ homes.
2. Beg, borrow and steal
Use your network of friends and family to beg and borrow from them if you need a piece of gear, props, a ride, a place to shoot at or something like that. When it comes to stealing, don’t take this literally. What Sherif refers to are harmless acts, such as “stealing a shot” at places that usually require permits. However, take Murphy’s Law into consideration and keep in mind that things can go wrong and that you may get caught before you get the shot. I’m personally not into “stealing the shot,” but that’s just my two cents.
3. Friends and family
In relation to the previous point, rely on your friends and family. You can find lots of resources within your network, starting from people who will be your actors/models. Also, some of your friends may have special talents and skills which could make them the lead role of your film. The others could help with hair, makeup, light, location scouting… If you have such great friends and family who will spend their time and talents to help you, pay them back with your gratitude and by doing something for them when they need help. But I believe you already know this. : )
4. Creative solutions
When the budget is tight, DIY solutions are there to save the day. Sometimes they may require a bit more time and effort, yet sometimes they’ll actually save them. But every time they will save you money, and that’s the goal here. Sherif shares a fun example in the video. He once used a shopping cart as a dolly so he could match his pace with the actor who was running pretty fast. The resulting video looks really good. And it also looks like he had fun while shooting.
5. Barter deals
Remember that your skills can be used as currency. For example, if you find a great location and can’t rent it, you can offer the owner professional photos or videos for promoting his business. Similarly, you can find a model who will work for free, and you can offer them professional photos for the portfolio in return. You can also exchange gear with your fellow photographers or filmmakers.
6. Multitalented crew
Build your crew out of multi-talented members. For example, in a few Sherif’s videos, his talents were both in front of the camera and working behind it. Of course, always ask your crew members ahead if they’re okay with having more than one duty, both behind and in front of the camera.
7. Symbolic crew fee
Even if your talented and compassionate friends and family have agreed to work for free, you should offer them a symbolic fee at least. Sherif suggests four simple gratitude practices along with paying:
- Pay them cash on the day, don’t let them chase you for payment
- Feed them well, give them a lunch break and let them choose their food
- Tag them on social media
- Be a team player, respect everyone and treat them equally. Be kind and remember: filmmaking is teamwork and no one is above the other.
Since I’m not a pro photographer, I can only rely on the people I know and on improvisation. And to be honest, I like it that way. I have worked with my friends and I had some barter deals, and I enjoyed all of it. And of course, I also often use DIY solutions. What about you? Have you relied on any of these techniques when your budget was low? Are there any tips you’d like to add?