Hiring a videographer to work on a video reflexive ethnography (VRE) project is NOT necessary. Technological advances with cell phones means that we all have the capability of filming whatever we’d like, and that capability is literally in our back pockets! However, there are good reasons to hire a videographer, if you’ve got the funding: as principal investigator (PI) you will want to maintain a broader perspective and monitor the wider context that you are exploring via video. Locating yourself behind the camera necessarily limits your “view” to what is in the camera lens.

For our project on improving adherence to oral oncolytic therapy in cancer patients, we wanted to hire a videographer for 10% effort, which translates to about 4 hours/week. Estimating the amount of time that we would need was based on our previous work in VRE. While there will be more than 4 hours of work to be done during some weeks, there will also be weeks where no work is required, so the average of 4 hours/week is a good estimate. In the job description we asked for these characteristic duties:

  • (50%) Video record education sessions between pharmacists and patients in an oncology clinic; video record interviews with patients in their homes.
  • (40%) Edit videos, splicing videos into shorter clips, each clip focusing on a specific practice behavior.
  • (10%) Assist with analysis of edited videos.

In terms of necessary qualifications we asked for:
Education and Experience:

  • Graduate of a visual arts program preferred. Experience with videotaping and video editing is essential.
  • Candidate must have excellent communication skills, with the ability to receive and convey information clearly and concisely for various mediums. Must have very strong interpersonal and organizational skills, and the ability to work effectively with diverse groups.


  • Excellent computer skills, including expert knowledge of a variety of video editing software.
  • Demonstrated ability to work well under time constraints and meet deadlines.
  • Ability to serve diverse populations.
  • A high degree of initiative and resourcefulness.
  • Demonstrated ability to multi-task and work independently with minimal supervision with diverse teams of people in a diplomatic, collaborative and effective manner.

We received 19 applications for this single very part-time position. The overwhelming majority of applicants were college graduates with a LOT of experience in the film industry. Many of them have their own video production companies. Choosing the right applicant for us required careful calibration of skill sets to match our needs. Applicants fell into two types: those who were very skilled in high-level, high-impact video for non-research purposes, and those who, while skilled, understood that video for research purposes is different. For example, in cover letters some applicants talked about bringing in lighting equipment, putting videos to music, using features such as fade in/fade out, etc. While applying such skills make sense for videos that will be made into feature films, documentaries, or marketing materials for example, they are not necessary or even desirable for our research purposes.

Video production for our research purposes requires a slightly different skill set. Our goal is to capture an education session between a pharmacist and oncology patient on film, being as unobtrusive as possible to minimize any Hawthorne effect. This will require that the videographer stand in one spot and not move the camera (or his/her body) from pharmacist to patient, for example, which might draw attention to the camera. It means capturing the interaction using a single view and camera angle. It means standing in a spot where natural and office lights cast the fewest shadows while balancing the level of light exposure, so that the video is neither over nor under-exposed. The camera is a research participant too, so the videographer has to have the ability to reflect on the meaning of the camera’s presence to events as they unfold.

Only a few applicants with the requisite education and skills understood the difference between the two types of video production, and these were the ones who were interviewed. A final consideration in hiring the right person was assessing their skill with sound production. I learned the hard way a while ago that not being able to capture top notch audio quality seriously reduces the overall value of the video. The videographer we hired for this project has a degree in audio engineering and is very skilled in all areas of video production as well.

Looking into the future and thinking about hiring for other VRE projects, I can see where the job description will have to be modified to emphasize skills that are necessary for video and audio production for research purposes. On the one hand, it was exciting to have so many qualified applicants to choose from, but on the other, applicants’ time (and my own) was not put to good use because the job description was not clear as clear as it could be to attract applicants with experience in video for research purposes. Hopefully you can avoid some of the pitfalls in hiring videographers, based on our experience.

Hiring a Videographer for VRE?