How to Create a Video for Social Media in 15 Minutes
For the past couple of months, I’ve been sharing quick videos that I take while on shoots throughout various Chicago restaurants. These usually aren’t part of my shot list and are mostly a fun way to add a little more context into dishes I find particularly appealing. Since I’m often shooting these during lulls or towards the end of a shoot, I don’t have a lot of time for set up and futzing around so I try not to do anything too complicated that will end up taking more than 15 minutes or so to edit, render and post. Here’s everything you need to know to start shooting videos for social media.
While I sometimes work on larger production cinemagraph and video projects, for these quick videos there’s not a lot of production happening. I almost always piggyback on the work I’m doing for a shoot, so in order for these to come together, a couple of elements need to line up. First and foremost, the light has to be good. Occasionally, I grab a flash for shoots in dark restaurants but I’m not trying to schlep around town with a continuous light kit. Aside from the light, some aspect of whatever’s in front of me has to lend itself well to motion, which is why so many of the videos are of pasta being lifted or a piece of pizza being picked up. The whole point of the videos is to add a bit more context or perspective to a dish so I try not to force it with things that don’t look good on video. Lastly, everything needs to look good without too much styling. For these short videos, I’m not working with a stylist and I’m not lugging props around. Behind the scenes, I adjust plates and whatever else is around a bit but I'm carrying around spray bottles for perfect bits of mist of anything like that.
If you're just getting started with videos, look for things that already have motion. For example, if you shoot a lot of cityscapes look at trains, moving clouds or twinkling lights.
Always posting your outfit of the day? Look for fringe, billowing skirts or dangling ear rings. There's no need to complicate things as you're starting out if you're trying to create videos quickly.
Whenever I talk with people looking to get into videos, their main focus always seems to be on getting a cinema camera or some camera with 4k capability. For social media, most of the videos get compressed in such a way that shooting a higher quality video doesn’t always translate to the final post. Personally, I find time to be the most limiting factor in video work not equipment. Use whatever equipment you have to start out and you can always upgrade as you progress. Plus as you improve, you’ll have a stronger sense of what component is holding you back and you’ll be able to upgrade more strategically. You’ll also probably also figure out that a lot of video gear is really expensive and that you’ll need to budget strategically. If you’re not sold on this point, here’s a great post by No Film School on various Cinema Camera Packages and what you’ll need to get up and running but don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Currently, I use the Canon 5d mkiii for all video and photography work or my iPhone when I’m not actually on a shoot but still want to take a quick video like here. A while ago, I scooped up the sony a7rii but didn’t quite love it, though I know of several photographers and videographers doing amazing work with it. Currently, I’m at the point where I’m thinking about replacing my main Canon body but I haven’t quite decided on what direction to go in but will probably get the 5d mk iv eventually.
That’s all just to say even if all you have is an iPhone, that’s enough. Just get started.
As loosy goosy as I might be on camera bodies and a total proponent of using what you’ve got, I’m the complete opposite on tripods. If you’re just getting into shooting videos, a solid tripod is key. It’s the difference between messy, shaky footage that will distract from your main subject and a smooth shot. Plus a good tripod is useful in so many different situations, not just for video.
While I firmly believe you should have a tripod, I don’t exactly have a specific recommendation. Currently, I’m on my 4th tripod and I’m still searching for the perfect match. Since I travel a lot, packability and lightness along with overall stability and angle flexibility are key for me. Initially, I started out with a Vanguard Alta Pro ($149), which is great on stability and angle flexibility but it’s not particularly light or packable. If you’re shooting in a studio or just in one space, this is a good tripod. Next, I scooped up a Gitzo Series 2 Traveler Kit ($1,099), which is supposed to be the best but it has twist locks instead of snap locks. We all have our quirks and one of mine is that I hate twist locks so I returned this one. Eventually, I settled down with the Sirui ET tripod ($149.95), which hit my sweet spot of light, packable, stable and flexible. Sadly, after using it for about 2 years, the ball head wouldn’t consistently tighten and my upgraded, replacement ball head quit on me after about 3 months of use. So I’m back on the market for another tripod but seriously eyeballing this manfrotto.
If you’re just starting out and not sure how much you want to get into videos, scoop up a gorillapod for smartphones or a gorillapod for DSLR cameras. They’re light, cheap, packable and will last you about a year of consistent use, maybe more if you're more gentle with your gear than I am.
This is just a quick note to say that tripods aren't the only stabilizers out there. There are also gimbals for phones and dslrs, plus sliders and dollies. These aren't the sorts of things I'd use on a small project but are good to be aware of if you end up doing longer videos. Also, Eli and I occasionally cheat and use our DJI mavic drone to capture steady, handheld video. The camera for the drone is on a gimbal but this like when we're in the middle of nowhere Scotland and not trying to lug gear up the side of a giant hill.
Once you’ve shot your footage, you'll probably want to edit it. As with camera bodies, you don’t necessarily have to jump right into the most expensive and complicated thing here. There are a number of video editing apps that work really well and can save you a considerable chunk of time.
Outside of apps, I’m not wading into any Final Cut Pro vs. Premiere discussions on which is better for video editing because I personally most often use After Effects. If I were working on any longer, narrative style work this wouldn’t really fly but I first started out making cinemagraphs and so most of my initial projects were under 10 seconds. While I could probably write a whole post just on After Effects, I’m just going to highlight one effect that has saved countless little bits of footage for me: warp stabilizer. I know I just spent all this time talking about tripods a mere 2 paragraphs ago but that’s because I’ve shot handheld so many times only to realize my footage looked like a hot mess when I reviewed it back at home. Word of warning: warp stabilizer does not eliminate the need for a tripod because it doesn’t always work. Every now and again though it takes a piece of shaky-hot-mess footage and pops out stuff that makes me look like the responsible, tripod (or gimbal) toting photographer/videographer that I strive to actually be.
There are entire blogs just dedicated to video editing and I suggest taking a look around some of them for ideas and perspective but also feel free to start off with the iMovie app or just the Instagram trim feature.
Somewhat annoyingly almost every social platform has slightly different file format specifications for videos and photos. So the perfect length, size and file format is a little bit different for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and so on. Personally, I usually keep in mind the smallest and most limiting platform that I want to post on so I can save time and not have to resize and recut things for every platform. For example videos on Twitter can be up to 140 seconds long but on Instagram they have to be under 60 seconds, so I always shoot videos that are under a minute.
So don't worry too much about what camera to use, get a tripod or some sort of stabilizer, edit your footage down and share!