It has never been easier to create incredibly beautiful video images at the highest available quality. Until recently, 2 to 3 years ago, the ability to shoot High Definition (HD) videos with high quality lenses was reserved for those with Hollywood sized budgets. This is no longer the case with DSLR photography cameras that shoot HD video.
To put it simply, now is an exciting time to get in on the video game. While it might look like “everyone’s doing it”, the truth is, they are not. Even if, they are, there is always room for improvement. Maybe that is why you are reading this article.
The good news is there are basic steps that will vastly improve your videos. While high end gear is fun and in many cases will improve the image quality, the truth is you can blow your budget on a fancy new camera and still produce terrible looking images. That is depressing. Trust me!
In this article, I am going to point out 5 fundamental mistakes most people make when producing food videos.
Neglecting The Background
Unlike still photography, where shots are meticulously composed and analyzed, when people shoot video, they do not compose their shots the same way they would a photo. They basically say “go stand over there and start talking.” The truth is you need to pay as much attention to crafting your video shots as you would a photo. It is actually harder because the camera may move, changing the entire background.
Now, I am not talking about creating a masterpiece. I am simply talking about very basic stuff, like cleaning the kitchen counter, or removing the broom, or mop from the shot. Avoid standing beside the refrigerator or microwave. The other objects to look for are light switches, doors, and clocks.
Standing too close to walls.
Another common mistake people make is standing up against a wall as though they are part of a police line up. If you can, you want to create as much distance between the subject and the wall, or background. Creating distance between the subject and the background will do two things: It will help the viewer focus on the subject, and it will help create a greater depth of field. This is the Holy Grail of shooting and what DSLRs excel at.
Every kitchen is different and, like us, you may not have much space. Here is where you need to get a little creative and maybe less literal. Try standing at the edge of your kitchen and see how it looks in the background. Why not stand in another room altogether? Watch any cooking show on TV and see what the very first shot is. In many cases, it’s not even in the kitchen.
Refer to the two images below. The first image shows you the final shot. The following image shows you where the subject was standing to make the shot work. As you can see, the subject is standing well outside of the kitchen.
Speaking of paying attention to the background, note the trash can and the time on the oven in the images above. Also, the light coming from the window is too bright. Those are the details you need to look for and avoid.
Lighting is where the rubber meets the road. It will make all the difference in the world. If you are relying on your standard house lights, you will always get a flat image that is not desirable. It is the sad truth.
This shot was taken in our kitchen with only the house lights. It’s flat and yellow, and we do not have any control over the lighting. It looks terrible, and you probably face similar challenges.
A window is an excellent source of light, and you should take advantage of it if you can when shooting photos. Unlike photography, where you can take a picture within a matter of minutes, video takes longer to produce, and the light will change from the time you start your shoot to the time you finish. This is something you do not want to deal with when shooting video. Fortunately, you do not have to spend a lot of money on a fancy light kit. You can start with basic lights that are very affordable.
In the next series of images, you will see how light can transform the image above and make it look much better one light at a time. I’m using 3 inexpensive soft boxes from Cowboy Studio. You can buy one soft box for $80 or a kit of three lights for under $200.
I am going to start by lighting one side of the subject’s face. This is called the Key Light. Lighting one side of the face will create subtle shadows on the opposite side which will give the image depth. As you can see, one soft box, placed off to the left of the subject, has made the image look much better than the original.
This shot looks good, but it’s a bit dark. The next step I like to do is add a back light, behind the subject, to separate the subject from the background. This doesn’t have to be a big light. It can be a small light which is easy to reposition.
You can see that the back light does a nice job of illuminating the subject’s hair. What woman doesn’t want her hair to look great?
Finally, I added a fill light to the right of the subject to add some more light to the subject and the counter top. This light wasn’t necessary, but it rounds off the image. I also turned on the lights under the cabinets. These lights filled out the dark spots of the counter and added some color.
A-Roll and B-Roll - No one shoots B-Roll
A-Roll, refers to your main, or primary footage. This footage contains people speaking in an interview, or acting out a scene. Basically, it contains people speaking. This footage typically has audio that is in sync with the video, i.e., the voice I hear is in sync with the picture.
B-Roll, on the other hand, is secondary footage that is used to support the primary footage. This can be footage of objects, ingredients, or actions like mixing in a bowl.
For example, if I was going to make a video about how to make eggs and sausage, I would start with an opening shot of Denise talking about what I’m about to make.
“Today, I’m going to make an awesome breakfast that is sure to harden your arteries and keep your Dr. busy...” (A-Roll)
“I like to use fresh eggs and chorizo...” (cut to B-Roll)
“I really like eggs for breakfast, they really help me kickstart my day...” (cut to A-Roll)
“Once I’ve cracked and seasoned my egg batter, I’ll scramble it....” (cut to B-Roll)
You get the idea. This is a very simple example. It is also very literal, with a shot for each “concept.” You can expand on the cut by letting the voice flow from the A-roll to the B-roll.
B-Roll is your best friend, and you will want to shoot as much of it as possible. You can never have enough B-Roll. You do not have to use all of it, but it is great to have, just in case you run out of footage.
B-Roll is often where you tell your story without words. It is truly where the art of story telling comes into the craft. Think of all the beautiful videos you have seen. Most of them, particularly those that are shot with a DSLR are mostly B-roll.
Crazy Titles and Tacky effects
As tempting as it might be, avoid using every font in the library, or every special effect at your disposal. I understand that it can be fun to play with all the toys, but the art is in the subtlety. Keep your titles and effects simple and consistent. If you are on the fence, leave them out. As you get better, you will find you will use hardly any effects, or fancy transitions.
That is it! If you can master these five things, you are well on your way to becoming a pro story teller!
After graduating from the University of Massachusetts, with a degree in business, Lenny Ferreira packed his bags and headed West to Los Angeles. He has always been interested in video production and the Internet. Lenny started his digital media career in 1994, when he worked for Avid Technology, makers of the original computer based editing system. Avid’s systems revolutionized how movies were made and Lenny is fortunate to have been a part if that revolution. At the same time, the Internet as we know it today was coming to fruition. Lenny built his first website in 1994 and quickly started producing short films and publishing them online for his friends and family to watch. He realized then that the Internet would be a great place for independent producers to showcase their work.
After getting his feet wet in the video production business, Lenny moved to the Bay area, where he founded FullView Media, a boutique webcasting and video production company. Over the past 16 years, Lenny has worked with all of the major studios in Hollywood and is currently helping fortune 500 companies in the San Francisco, Bay Area produce media for their online audience. More than a decade later, it has never been easier to publish video online.
Lenny and his partner Denise share their love of food and life on the popular food blog Chez Us. When she is not cooking, and he is not devouring, they can be found traveling and enjoying the great outdoors.