11 Awesome Tips For Shooting Product Review Videos
If you run a product review site, cooking site or other website, video demonstrations can really help enhance your message. I started making product review videos a few months ago and I can tell you that they’re easy to make and you don’t even need a video camera… I’ll explain later. I’m happy to share my best tips so you can also achieve professional looking results.
Tip 1 – Use A Digital Camera
Remember I said you don’t need a video camera? It’s true! I exlusively use digital cameras that shoot HD video instead of a traditional video camera. You might be asking why not use a video camera? By utilizing a digital camera, you get a great photo camera and video camera in one! And it’s very budget friendly.
Being able to carry a small point and shoot camera around in your pocket means you’ll always be able to shoot video at a moments notice. The two cameras I own at the moment are the Canon Powershot SX200 and the Canon EOS 7D. They are offered at 2 different price ranges. The Powershot SX200 is a point and shoot camera that sells for about $200. The EOS 7D is a DSLR that costs about $1800 with a lens kit but is a lot more complicated to use.
Take a look at the digital camera you own now, you may already have a point and shoot camera that shoots HD. If you don’t have one, I’d recommend the Canon Powershot SX210 (update to the SX200) or the Canon Powershot SD4500 Digital ELPH (good low-light capability). I’m not saying you have to have the latest camera because HD is not necessary as you can see in this Fried Shrimp Cooking Demonstration I shot with an old non-HD point and shoot camera.
Tip 2 – Use A Tripod
These tiny digital cameras are difficult to hold steady so you should definitely use a tripod as often as possible. There’s nothing more amateur looking than shakey video. And for 99% of my shots, my camera is locked down with no panning or tilting. That means you won’t necessarily need a tripod with a fluid head, meaning it has friction adjustments that allow smooth panning and tilting.
In fact, with my point and shoot camera, I use a simple, light-weight photo tripod. One more thing to consider is finding a tripod with a quick release plate so you can detach your camera from the tripod easily.
Tip 3 – Charge Your Batteries
This might seem basic but make sure you have a fully charged battery before you start. You don’t want to run out of power in the middle of shooting. It has happened to me several times where I started with 2 bars of battery life left on my camera but it wasn’t enough to finish getting all my shots. I took the risk and more often than not, I run out of power. Sometimes it’s not a big deal… simply charge up your battery and finish shooting. Other times, I have to start over because I was using natural lighting and the light over the course of the day looks different in the video. Not only that, your voice can sound different at different recording times. So charge your batteries or at least have a spare near by.
Tip 4 – Lighting
When it comes to lighting, there are 2 types: Natural and Artificial. I’m a big fan of natural lighting because it looks great and it’s free. When shooting outdoors, it’s best to avoid harsh, direct sunlight. Overcast skies provide the best lighting conditions. So next time you demonstrate how to plant tomatoes in your garden, wait for a cloudy day! When shooting indoors, I try to find a room with lots of windows while still avoiding direct sunlight. However, there’ll be more situations indoors where you’re going to need some kind of lighting or lighting kit.
A good alternative is a halogen worklight which has the same color temperature as studio lighting. When using a halogen light, it’s best to have it diffused so it’s not so harsh. One trick is to bounce the light off a wall or ceiling. Simply aim the light at the wall or ceiling instead of the subject you’re shooting. A little warning with halogen lights, they get extremely hot instantly!
Tip 5 – Audio
Along with acquiring great looking video, you’re going to need good audio. Most digital cameras have low quality mono microphones built in. However, in a lot of my videos, I do use the built in microphone and it sounds good because I speak very close to the camera. When I’m not appearing in the video, I’m usually right behind my camera and my head is no more than 6 inches from the built-in mic. It works well for me because I’m holding objects really close to the lens.
If you’re going to be in front of the camera speaking then I’d recommend an external audio recorder. One that is popular with HDSLR owners is the Zoom H4N which has a lot of professional features for under $300. Most DSLR cameras also have a microphone input so you can use a clip-on or hand-held microphone connected directly into the camera.
For those of you using point and shoot cameras, your only option for better audio is to use an external audio recorder and you’ll have to synch the audio later while editing. That amounts to a lot of work if you shoot lots of different clips (which I do). That’s why I choose to be inches from my camera’s mic when I’m doing product demonstrations. Which leads me to the next tip.
Tip 6 – Shoot Close-Ups
One of the first things I was taught in video production class was that “Television is the medium of close-ups”. These days, I think it’d be more accurate to say “Video is the medium of close-ups”. This is especially true in product demonstrations. You want to get in as close as you can to show the detail of the object you’re showing. You want to be in ‘tight’ (TV lingo for close-up) to give the viewer the sense that they’re holding the object in their hand and looking at it themselves. The way I do this is to use the Macro function. Switching to Macro mode allows me to get the camera just inches from an object while still maintaing sharp focus.
This is very useful for cut-away shots. Sometimes you’ll need wider shots to show the entire product but definitely use Macro to show the details. When I’m shooting, I’m always thinking of when I can shoot extreme close ups. In fact, more than half the shots in the videos I make are shot in Macro mode.
But keep this in mind, if you’re shooting with a DSLR camera in Macro mode, the depth of field is extremely shallow so moving an object a few millimeters forward or backwards will put your object out of focus. In this case, it is better to have your hand or object resting on a table or other stable object to steady your hand. The same goes for point and shoot cameras but I find them more forgiving in terms of shooting in Macro.
Tip 7 – Exposure Lock
One mistake I made when I first started shoot video with digital cameras was to leave the camera in auto exposure mode. My advice is to lock the exposure so your video levels won’t go lighter or darker when you move objects in and out of your shot. Auto exposure is useful at times but I try to avoid using it as much as possible.
On point and shoot cameras like my Canon SX200, locking exposure is as simple as going into exposure settings and adjusting it up or down one click. However, if I shut off the camera and power it up again, it reverts back to auto exposure… just a something to watch out for depending on your particular camera.
Tip 8 – Background
A lot of times, I’ll use a tabletop for the background of my video simply because it’s easy and that’s where I’m working with my products. It looks decent enough but if when I’m looking for something cleaner looking, I’ll use a seamless background.
I do this by placing a table against a wall with a roll of white paper (could be any color) stuck to the wall at the top and I let it drape down onto the table with a curve where the table meets the wall. It’s like what the pros use but at a fraction of the cost. You can get this paper for free by going to print shops to see if they have rolls of paper that have too little left to load into their printers.
Another tip is to use the back of a large movie poster. A movie poster is nice because it’s glossy and you can get that nice soft reflection under your objects as seen in the image above.
Tip 9 – Take Photos
Remember that you’re shooting with a digital camera so after you’re done shooting your video (or even during), you should snap some pictures of your products. That way, you’ll have high resolution photos you can incorporate into your video or upload to the web for marketing purposes. Quite often, I’ll incorporate the pictures as an intro to my video. I also post them to Flickr and I always add a link to my website or specific product review in my descriptions.
Tip 10 – Music
I don’t use much music during my product demonstrations but it’s definitely helpful for intros and the endings of my videos. You can buy royalty free music libraries with multiple genres to go with any style of video. Music is often the element that helps fine tune your video into a finished product. Often, I’ll hear a voice over that just sounds ok on its own but when I add music to it, the voice track takes on a whole new life. But don’t be tempted to use commercial music or popular songs, you risk getting sued or YouTube (or other online services) could remove your video.
While music is great for setting the pace of your video, make sure it doesn’t overpower your voice track.
Tip 11 – Editing Software
Once you’ve captured some awesome footage, you’re going to need to edit it down. For Mac users, you can use iMovie which probably came pre-installed. Or if you want something better but not professional level, go with Final Cut Express on the Mac. For PC users, I’d recommend Sony Vegas Movie Studio HD. They’re both powerful, extremely affordable and easy to learn. I did my first freelance job using Sony Vegas without any training and was able to figure it out pretty quick.
Hopefully these tips will help you shoot better demonstration videos. Some last words of advice, before you even set up your camera, get familiar with your product or subject and take some notes. It’ll speed up your shooting time and provide you with talking points. If you mess up, just re-record your segment. No big deal!
And if you don’t think it’s worth the time to make your demonstration videos look fantastic, check out the following comments from my YouTube channel on my Logitech Z305 Laptop Speaker Full Review video:
“One of the best reviews so far, your camera work and set up – Outstanding!”
“Awesome Review!!! I have a 17″ Dell Studio Laptop and the factory speakers are pretty bad. Your review has sold me on this and I plan to purchase one tomorrow. Thank you very much!!!”
To see the video mentioned above, see my post Logitech Z305 Laptop Speaker Full Review. And if you’ve shot some online demonstration videos with your digital camera, I’d love to see them! Just leave me a comment below and let me know where to view them.