Looking to expand your portfolio by adding food videos, but don’t know where to start? Here’s all you need to know about Shooting Food Videos!
Ok, so the internet is flooded with delicious videos of food – it’s taken over your social media feeds and it’s taken over your lives in a way you cannot deny. And as a food blogger, there’s immense pressure on all sides, with peers, family and friends constantly asking ‘When will you start shooting food videos?’. Whether you want to or not, we are now at an impasse and must give in to keep the traffic flowing!
And despite the incredible popularity of these, there seems to be a shocking absence of tutorials on shooting Food Videos – a fact that I found extremely cumbersome when I began producing videos recently. And so, for the sake of posterity, I’ve decided to jot down some of the lessons I gathered during my experience.
There are two main kinds of food videos:
- The timeless-classic presentation style, where you (the presenter) is a part of the video, demonstrating the steps of a recipe. This includes a narrative style which means you will need a microphone to capture audio, unless you wish to record audio separately in a voice-over process. The in-built microphone in your camera can be enough, provided you are in a noise-free environment and close enough for your voice to be captured clearly and without catching external sounds.
- Tasty-style where only the hands of the presenter are visible and the focus is entirely on the food and almost always from a top-down angle. I am camera-shy and this is my preferred style.
Let’s begin with the EQUIPMENT
I’m assuming that you already own a DSLR / camera with video recording capabilities. Otherwise, a top-notch phone camera should do just nicely!
If you’ve been putting it off, this is a good time to just give in and get one. If you bought your camera as part of a ‘kit’, you probably got a tripod with it, but those flimsy spindly things aren’t going to serve you well for long. Trust me, I tried that too, but the quick release plate broke off in a couple of months and I couldn’t find a replacement because it was discontinued. Now that tripod is just used to prop up my reflector board. Besides, think about it – your $1000 camera deserves a tripod that costs at least 1/10th it’s worth.
For one, it gives you stability from the shake that usually accompanies a manual handling of the camera. Stability results in clearer pictures. And two, no more food stains on your camera.
While selecting the best tripod can be a very difficult task, here are some basic things to look for while buying a tripod:
- Strong, sturdy construction.
- A 3-way head – lets you position your camera at all possible angles, giving you better control over your shots.
- Height – at least 68″ tall – you’ll need it.
- 90° lateral arm for overhead shots that have become the most popular style of food videos. You can buy a lateral arm to fit into the head of your existing tripod, but it usually costs another $100. So If you haven’t already bought a tripod, consider one with a 90° central column that can be extended to act as a lateral arm- like the one I use. Here are the official specs.
This will change your life, as surely as it did mine! The image files get transferred directly to your laptop/PC saving you time spent copying the files after every shoot. But most importantly, you get to see a LIVE view of how each shot is going to look on your PC screen before you even capture the image, allowing you to tweak the settings (ISO, Apperture and Shutter Speed), resulting in lesser images per shoot! Before using a tripod + tethered setup, I used to shoot an average of 130 pictures per post. Now I shoot 20. 🙂
Despite how ‘scary and technical’ it sounds, it’s really not that complicated at all! And you need are two things to accomplish this:
- USB Extension Cable – The USB cable that came with your camera would be at best 25 inches long. Unless you want to run the risk of toppling either your tripod or laptop or both and ruining your set, you’re going to need a longer cable. This is where a USB Extension/Repeater cable comes in place. Be sure you find a Male to Female connector at least 16 ft long.
- Software – If you already use Lightroom / other image processing software, chances are it allows for tethered shooting. If you are like me, editing photos online for FREE (ahem… Picmonkey!), you’ll need a tethering software. I recently began using digiCamControl– It’s a FREE open-source software that you can download and install to your Windows laptop/PC. The GUI is simple enough to understand without instruction. You can change camera settings directly from the software – no more food stains on your camera! Here are a few more options, for Mac users and those with unsupported cameras.
Nothing is as good as natural light, but sometimes it’s just not enough – particularly during the colder months when daylight is scarce and weak. This is where artificial lights come in.
Just make sure that the bulb color is ‘Daylight’. You must also use a diffuser (a white cloth draped over the light works just fine) to prevent harsh lighting.
Video Editing Software
Ok, so this doesn’t exactly qualify as ‘equipment’ but it’s just as essential, if not more! Your videos are nothing but pieces of scrap until it passes through the software and becomes a scrapbook. There is no need for me to explain why you need a Video Editing software, so I’m just going to whiz right past it. If you are willing to pay, I’d recommend the Adobe Premiere Pro – it really has all the works and despite that, is absolutely easy to master! It’s currently only being sold as part of the Adobe Creative Cloud, so you can ‘rent’ this software on a monthly/annual plan. Annual is cheaper 🙂
But here are a few FREE options as well:
YouTube – If you are going to be publishing your videos here, you might as well begin by editing your videos here too! The YouTube Creator Studio (which is yours if you create an account and set up your channel) comes with a basic Video Editor and a FREE Music library which should satisfy all of your basic video editing needs.
Lightworks – A professional editor that was used for some big-budget movies like Shutter Island, Mission Impossible and Departed – sure, the FREE version isn’t going to be that powerful, but it’ll get the job done better than most other free options out there.
Windows Movie Maker – This software came pre-installed with earlier versions of Windows OS, but those with Windows 10 need to download it separately.
iMovie – Chances are, most of your favourite YouTubers use iMovie to edit their videos. And if you’re on a Mac, you should too!
The Shooting Process
The first few times can be a little daunting but if you go about this in an organized manner, you can be done within a few hours, depending on the duration and complexity of your recipe. And trust me, it just keeps getting easier and easier.
Step 1: Story Boarding
The day (or week) before you plan to shoot, create a story board. Film makers use illustrations or images to visualize their story frame-by-frame. For those of us who are illustratively challenged, a textual story board works just as well. The purpose of a story board, besides allowing you to ‘see’ what the final product looks like, is to give you a list of shots you should take. Considering how you can be a little unhinged during the first 5-10 shoots (until you get used to the process and can handle the multi-tasking better), you will thank that you have the story board in hand. I almost missed shooting a step but caught it while checking my story board during the shoot.
Here’s roughly what I did for my first video:
Depending on your preferred style of video, you may need to change angles often. Plan and jot these down during the story boarding process, so that you can combine similar-angle shots together and save time twiddling with your tripod.
It is also better to ‘split’ your video into small segments (videos lasting just a few seconds) – this will give you better flexibility while editing later. For example: In this video – the first step was introducing the ingredients by pushing it into the frame. Each ingredient was shot separately, so this first step was composed of 5 different videos and pieced together in the editing software. This way, I could time the movement of each ingredient with the music, resulting in a better composition, something that would have otherwise taken me several takes to achieve in one go. Something to consider during your story boarding process.
Step 2: Day of the shoot
Select a bright and happy day as your shooting day – you don’t want to set up everything and realize it’s going to be raining all afternoon. Not only does that put a damper on the spirit, it also cuts off your primary light source, effectively ending your shoot.
Set out all the utensils, ingredients and tools you need for the recipe. Wash and dry them in advance. Ingredients must be measured/ weighed / marinated in advance. Get the props and backgrounds out (if any) and make sure you’ve already ‘visualized’ all you need during the story boarding. Keep your shooting area free from clutter and running children. Place a table next to the shooting area and place all your props and ingredients on it – it’ll save you time and effort running back and from the kitchen.
Charge your camera and other electronic equipment and keep additional camera batteries charged and ready to go. If shooting un-tethered, additional SD cards wouldn’t hurt. Keep them formatted and clean.
For the first couple of shoots, an extra hand (either a friend or partner) would be a welcome assist. Not just to share the task list, but to help ‘think out loud’ and to be an extra pair of eyes in case you miss something.
Here are a few more tips that I wish someone had told me before my first video shoot:
- Combat sticky ingredients with vegetable oil – in my video I was using Vanilla bean paste that I had measured in advance, but as I was ‘tipping’ it into the mixing bag, it wouldn’t leave the measuring spoon. The same thing can happen with honey, mayo, mustard, ketchup – anything viscous. To prevent that, wipe or dip the bowl / measuring spoon in vegetable oil and shake off excess before adding the sticky ingredient. It will slide right off!
- Keep a roll of paper towels, wet wipes, spritzer bottles, ear buds and the like at hand. You may spill something, or get your hands dirty. With the sunlight running out, you can’t waste time hustling over these things.
- Use baking trays to organize ingredients / tools by shot. If your recipe’s first step is showing or adding ingredients, place all the ingredients in a single baking tray. That way, it’s all there in one place without you searching for it while the camera is running.
- While shooting the initial steps of a recipe, make sure an extra batch is baking or stewing in the kitchen (if it makes economical / practical sense, of course). This way, if the cook time is 45 minutes, you don’t have to wait that long to shoot the final steps. And you’ll also have a backup batch, in case you ruin/spill the batch you are shooting with.
- If you get too flustered, stop. Sit down and take a deep breath. A nervous hand and mind can do a lot of damage to the set up.
And remember, if things are falling apart, just call it a day and pack up. You can always do it another day and you’ll be wiser than you were when you started.
Now that you’ve shot your video(s), all that’s left to do is piece together the puzzle and make it look like a complete picture. Each editing software is different in its own right, but ideally you’ll be stitching up videos together, cutting out what you don’t need, adding music, adjusting visuals, adding text, transition effects and such.
If you are new to video editing software, make sure you go through their tutorials (YouTube probably has it all) to make the best out of it. If you are looking to add music (instead of voice over) to your video, you’ll be needing Royalty Free Music.
I’ve been using BenSound for my first two videos, but the options are nearly endless – you can either search for ‘Royalty Free Music’ online or just go see your favourite videos on YouTube. If they had used Royalty Free Music in their videos, they would have credited the source in the description box. It’s another cool way to find out where that catchy tune came from!
Aaaaaand that’s a wrap! Here’s a sneak preview of my latest video – Molten Chocolate Lava Cake
When you create your first video, let me know by commenting below with a link to your video and additional tips from your experience – I’ll add it to this post and it will help others who follow us. 🙂
Good luck! 🙂