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Letting go of the camera - with Cherryduck's James Vellacott

24 July 2017


Letting go of the camera 

Nine years ago, James Vellacott was jumping out of army helicopters in Helmand Province, camera in hand, ready to capture wartime stills to fill the newspapers back home. A year later James, together with wife Michelle (an Actress by trade who also worked for a major news publisher at the time) created Cherryduck (we’ll get to the name later) - a video production and studio business just down the road from Shoreditch in Wapping, London.


James Vellacott Boxing day

©James Vellacott 


Where it all began

The transition from shooting stills to moving image was prompted by both Michelle and James’ respective bosses requesting video - a request that many Photographers will be familiar with. With little-to-no previous video experience, James taught himself to edit and began to send short video blogs back from the front line. Similarly Michelle, with a couple of camera tutorials from James, began to shoot and edit behind-the-scenes videos for fashion, lifestyle and makeup shoots.

Since the first video upload to YouTube on 23 April 2005, the world has gone video crazy. Video is constantly heralded as the preferred format to consume content - and demand for more isn’t likely to slow down anytime soon. However, back in recession-looming 2008, while there was demand for online video, traditional publishers still hadn’t figured out how to monetise it. But, as Cherryduck’s motto goes, when it seems impossible...



©James Vellacott


When it seems impossible

Determined to make the video business work, with the words of his Managing Editor ringing in his ears “...the newspaper is the cash cow James. We can’t make videos pay...” and the ongoing decline in newspaper circulation, James made the leap and dedicated himself to Cherryduck full-time; from the front-line to the front-room of his flat in Wapping. The combination of James’ entrepreneurial spirit and photography skills, together with Michelle’s addictive personality in any networking scenario, was enough to slowly grow the business from there. But as Michelle has commented “starting a company is fairly easy, it’s growing it that’s difficult.”



©James Vellacott


Letting go of the camera

As a Staff Press Photographer, James came across the fundamental issue that when shooting video and photography on assignment at the same time, one would always compromise one or the other. You may miss an important still image when shooting video and vice versa. And no matter what type of photography you do, you’ll need to rethink lighting, frame rates, shutter types and angles, you’ll need to add and control audio, and get to grips with your camera moving - handheld, stabilised, tilt, pan, zoom in/out, using different tripods, dolly grips, jibs...the list goes on. It’s more than just picking up a camera and pressing record. Yet, at the same time, clients want that same high visual quality that they expect from stills.



©James Vellacott


A natural progression?

It’s no surprise that Photographers would be the first port of call for any Brand or Marketing Manager looking to complement their collection of product or lifestyle stills and engage their target audience on a deeper level with video. Photographers are trusted for their visionary eyes, their professionalism and their ability for creative storytelling. However, what seems like a natural progression to the client, for a photographer the transition to video can be somewhat daunting.



©James Vellacott


Making it work

As James and Michelle soon discovered, with a little bit of confidence to get out from behind the camera, a photographer’s skills can easily transition to moving image. And what’s more, you’re not alone. Shooting video is a collaborative effort involving a range of professionals from Producers to Camera Assistants, Gaffers, Editors and crew. They are all there to support the photographer director.

Another hurdle to consider is cost. Shoot locations, cameras, film lighting and prop hire, paired with the high pressure digital demand for fast video turnaround, often outstripped marketing budgets. James and Michelle found that the solution was to keep everything in-house, to turn Cherryduck into a ‘one-stop shop for video content’, debunking the myth that you couldn’t get good, cheap and quick.



©James Vellacott



With 21,000ft2 of space comprising of 6 video and photography studios, all the lighting, camera, equipment and props you could need, production suites and office space for their in-house Creatives and Producers to manage projects from A to Z, Cherryduck truly is an agency for the digital age.

And it’s not stopping there. James and Michelle have recently purchased a further 8,000ft2 next door to expand their office (set to open later this year) and are in the process of inviting like-minded companies in the creative industry to collaborate and share it with them. 

 “Sometimes I miss my previous life as a Press Photographer, but suffice to say that it was a different era and the experience allowed me to develop the skills needed to start and run a creative business effectively. The newspaper industry equips you with many skills required to achieve success in your own media enterprise.

The trick is to apply these same skills to new challenges and trust your instincts.”

            [James Vellacott]

To find out more about Cherryduck:


Pop by: Cherryduck Studios, 12-18 Sampson Street, Wapping, London E1W 1NA

Call: 0207 480 5057




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