5 Important Lessons from Creating 50+ Tasty-Style Video Recipes

Learn How to Create Top Down Video Recipes

One of our favorite projects at Roaming Sapiens over the past few years has been creating recipe videos for a client in the food industry. Not only have we enjoyed creating beautiful videos that people can use to spice it up in the kitchen, but we also learned a lot along the way. In this article, we will explain five of the most important lessons we have learned over the years. Everything we talk about in this article can be applied to many different types of videos with an overhead camera setup. These tips will give you a clear understanding of the challenges we’ve faced, and can help you take your own videos to the next level.

1. Shoot to Edit

The first lesson is, always shoot to edit. This basically just means to plan out your shots based on how you want the final edit to look. That may seem obvious, but it should not be underestimated. Having a clear plan and storyboard is the essential first step to making an effective recipe video.  Planning out the video is very helpful when it comes to transitions. Recipes have many steps, which often require new scenes and new props. Moving from one step to the next can get tricky when you’re filming, so making sure you know exactly what you are going to shoot during each step before you begin.

Pro Tip: One helpful tip that we use during this phase of production is finding the background music before, and using that as a guide for planning out shots and transitions. It is also very pleasing to the audience when the video editing is synched with the audio track. Another tip is to always create a checklist to make sure you have everything you may need during the shoot. The checklist should always include charged camera batteries, spare batteries, and more batteries.

2. Lighting

Lesson number two is, LIGHTING! This is arguably the most important aspect of production when it comes to the visual quality of the finished product. Camera quality is important, of course, but even if you have the best 6K camera available, bad or cheap lighting will destroy the quality. Lighting equipment should always have a place in your production budget, and it is not a category to cut back on. Instead of buying the most expensive camera you can afford, consider spending $500 less on the camera, and invest that money into a high quality lighting setup. When we first began creating these videos, our lighting setup was far from ideal. Although the quality of our camera was up to par, we couldn’t figure out how to avoid glares or the picture getting washed out. This negatively affected our video quality, as you can see in the example below.

Then, we decided to invest in our lighting setup. We purchased the Aputure 300D with a softbox, and the difference was immediately apparent. 

Along with upgrading your lighting setup, it is important to understand how lighting works. Having the equipment is one thing, but knowing how to use it is a whole different ball game. Simply learning the difference between a backlight, fill light, and key light and applying those concepts to your own setup can drastically improve video quality. One resource that was helpful to our team was the book Light, Science, and Magic.

3. Table Dressing

Next up is table dressing. Understanding composition is key to creating beautiful and fitting scenes for recipe videos, and this is where creativity and details shine the brightest. One of the most important elements of composition when it comes to table dressing is contrast. This not only applies to contrasting color and hue, but also to value, shape and texture.

Contrast serves to provide balance and focus for the scene, while also making it visually engaging for the audience. Visual weight is also important to keep in mind. If one side of the frame contains an item, and you want the focus to be in the center, it is important to balance out the shot with something on the other side of the frame as well. Highlights in reflective items can also be fun to play with to make the scene more eye-catching. Keep in mind, small details can drive you crazy, so don’t get lost in the craziness. At the end of the day, less is more. The main goal is to find unity and harmony within the frame. Perfect is subjective, so play around with it to figure out what is perfect for you. Mastering Composition is a great resource on this topic, and has been foundational in our understanding of visual composition as a company.

4. Sound Design

Pick a track before shooting Sound design is a vital component of making videos feel immersive and dynamic. This not only applies to sound effects, but the background music as well. Both add an extremely valuable element of ambience and depth. Sound can make an audience feel as if they are actually in the room experiencing the cooking, not merely watching it on a screen. Simple sound effects can go a long way. The sound of setting a glass down on the table, butter sizzling in a pan, or a swooshing sound effect during scene transitions can create a much more immersive experience for the audience. When it comes to the background music, synchronization is everything. When editing, try to sync the cuts and transitions to beats in the music (kick drums, snare drums, and bass lines). This has a major effect on the cohesiveness of the video. Audio-visual synchronization has a satisfying effect for the audience, almost as if the video is the conductor, and the background music is the orchestra.

5. Overhead Camera Setup

The final lesson is about our video production setup. The key to an effective recipe video is making it easy for the audience to see exactly what is happening on the counter, and the best camera angle to accomplish this is a birds eye view. However, an overhead shot is far from a simple setup. We use an overhead camera mount, which is attached to an eight foot rod suspended over the countertop, supported by two large stands on either side. Since the camera is mounted up high, it is essential to have a separate monitor attached to the camera so you can see what is going on. It is impossible to get the set positioning right without having a monitor to see the frame in real time. While the overhead camera is stationary during the entirety of the shoot, we use a second camera to simultaneously capture close up detail shots from different angles. In addition to close ups, you can utilize the mobility of the second camera for side and pan shots. The final thing to keep in mind is stabilization. It is important that the overhead mount is not shaky, so making sure the floor is stable and the stands are secured with sandbags is essential. For the second camera, the Gimbal is helpful for capturing very smooth moving shots. In post production, stabilization tools are also very useful to mitigate shakiness.

6. Bonus Lesson!

Practice makes perfect. Although this is about as cliche as it gets, it is true that your first recipe video (or any other type of video you make) is not going to be your best. We have learned these lessons over years of trial and error, and we are still making improvements to our videos every time! Don’t give up, and feel free to reach out to us with any questions. We would love to provide more insight and give you a head start in your video production journey!

Adam Higelin

Adam Higelin is a University of California, Berkeley graduate with a BA degree in Integrative Biology. He is a passionate writer with a love for the environment, botany and music. A special focus on research based, scientific writing has allowed Adam to pursue his dream of educating and inspiring people to better themselves and the lives of others.