Product Videography with the Godox TT350

Apple’s deep black close-ups that portray their MacBooks and iPhones like solar eclipses are as iconic as their commercials with white iPods and earphones on dancing silhouettes.

We associate the feelings that these iconic commercials create with Apple’s brand: a silent materialistic euphoria and a sense of trust about quality. It feels good to open a new Apple product. Their products, to the touch, feel like high-class pieces of engineering.

This is all to say that the way Apple shoot’s their products determines how customers perceive its brand. This is true for any company with a product that they are selling. How they shoot their products impacts how customers perceive the product.

I have not created product videography for any clients (yet). But, since I have the equipment to do it, I decided to practice. The following photos are raw frame-stills taken from the camera. The footage was later corrected to enhance the blacks and overall sharpness. This product setup uses 1 light, a bounce card, and a black background.

I began by setting up a black background behind a gray wood desk and positioning the camera 2 feet in front and at the height of the desk. There was a 1-foot gap between the back of the desk and the black background. This gap prevented a shadow at the meeting of the background and back of the desk, which resulted in a smooth transition from the table to the background.

I then placed a 1k Dracast light 2 feet above and 1 foot to the left of the product’s placement on the desk. I attached an egg crate to the Dracast light to direct light straight at the product, not the background. I also added a bounce to the right side of the desk to fill out the product using the single light.

The product for the test shots was a junky Nikon 70-300mm. I ended up using a Godox TT350 speedlight as the product in the video.

Attempt 1: Too much light and too soft

PostProductVideographyGodoxTT350-p1
My arm is pure white. This is not a good look.

In this first try, I had used a 50mm prime at f/1.4. The light was somewhere around 60%, and at that percent, it had blown out my skin and created harsh shadows. Also, the focus was too soft. To fix the lighting, I raised the light by 1 foot. This softened the shadows. I then changed to f/4 on the lens. This lessened the light coming into the camera while also boosting the sharpness of the overall shot. The product was far enough from the black background that the change in f-stop did not noticeably alter the bokeh.

Attempt 2: Still too blown out

PostProductVideographyGodoxTT350-p2
My fingers are blown out. The shine on the barrel of the lens is too strong.

The second try was much sharper. My skin was not blown out. But, I was not a fan of the blown-out ring of light on the lens. This, again, was caused by the light’s intensity. Rather than decrease the intensity, I raised the light by another foot. At this point, the light was almost touching the ceiling.

Attempt 3: Just about right

PostProductVideographyGodoxTT350-p3
My arm is not blow out. The shadows are soft.
PostProductVideographyGodoxTT350-p4
Notice how the highlights on the Lumix G Vario 7-14mm f/4 lens are not blown out. Also, this lens is great for real estate photography.

I reached a nice balance of softness and brightness by the third try. This is the setup that I used when creating the video with the Godox TT350 speedlight.

I noticed that in some of the close-ups, the focus was not completely sharp. The next time that I do this, I will raise the f-stop to f/5.6 and increase the intensity of the light.

PostProductVideographyGodoxTT350-p5
The “TT350” logotype is out of focus. A f-stop of f/5.6 would increase the sharpness of this part.

If you have any comments or advice, please let me know! I am always open to learning.

How to Keep People Watching Your Social Media Video Ads

 

You have seen this before. You are at work, your phone is up, Facebook is open, and you are scrolling through your feed. This scrolling movement is not smooth. You are like a sad-somebody with a poison ivy rash in all the worst places stumbling through a CVS first aid aisle. You just cannot not stop from watching at least one video, from reaching your arms out and scooping all of the “videos” off the shelves. Your thumbs, fingers, whatever appendage that you are using, generally move in the same way that your eyes move. Jerkily. In saccades.

Our eyes jump from spot to spot, subject to subject, video to video. They do not scan. The term for each little movement in the same direction is a saccade. Like our eyes, our thumbs move through Facebook and other social media in quick little movements.

Advertisers get this tiny window of opportunity to capture a viewer’s attention as they scroll. Think of it as just one tiny moment.

And in that tiny moment, it is all about the “pattern interrupt.”

On social media, our brains are met with endless new content. Whether the content is a dog walking on its front legs or a baby who cannot stop laughing, our brains seek to organize all that content, to condense it into similar categories, to file it away so that we can move on to other thoughts.

The more social media we see, the less we notice it. We have labeled it. We have put it all into patterns. One sport video ad looks the same as another sport video ad.

Successful video ads break those patterns. They interrupt the filing process going on in our heads. With videos, we have just that one second to interrupt someone’s pattern before they move on. The more a video breaks that pattern, the more exposure the video will get. And greater exposure means more potential website traffic conversions, if that is your goal.

In pursuing the pattern interrupt, there are a few rules that I have learned to follow.

 

Avoid a Static Shot

And I mean the definition of static here. Shots without action, movement, or change look like photos. If your goal is to get conversions through video advertising, and if you know that video ads perform better than photo ads, then your objective should be to avoid shots that could be identified as a plain-old photo by the scrolling viewer. You lose the advantages of video here.

 

Use an Open Loop

Some call this the Buzzfeed-effect. Others associate it with click bait advertising. The open loop strategy is to use an incomplete thought (called the open loop) in the title or in the content of the video that compels the viewer to click through to the answer (to close the loop). The title or video, from the viewer’s perspective, screams “Marco!” They feel an urge to answer “Polo!”

The New York Times has gotten very good at this lately with their phone notifications. I will get an alert that goes something like this, “From a few thermoses of tea brewed in his kitchen to a 15,000 bottle request from Whole Foods, this grad student began his multimillion-dollar tea venture.”

The alert raises a few narrow questions. Who is the grad student? What company is it? The key point about the open loop strategy is that it generates questions with limited answers. Unless you are a tea connoisseur, you probably know of only a few tea companies. The questions are not so much about getting the viewer to ask “what” or “who” but about getting them to ask “which.”

This open loop news alert is about Seth Goldman, founder of Honest Tea.

 

Create Perspective

The interface of social media is flat. It is a canvas for you. Your video, whether it be 16×9, 4×5, or 1×1 in ratio, is your opportunity to break open that canvas. Open up a hole for the viewer. Give them a sense of depth. Make that thumb feel like it is going to fall through the screen.

 

Change Your Ratio

Square videos perform better than videos using the traditional 16×9 ratio. The cause seems pretty obvious. It takes longer to scroll by a square video than a video with a 16×9 ratio. That extra time gives the viewer more of a chance to get hooked. Bufferapp.com did an awesome study comparing 16×9 and square videos. They found that square videos perform better and cost less on mobile than 16×9 videos. Bonus: Avoid letterboxing square videos. Videos that fill the square provide more movement throughout the frame versus text in the top and bottom boxes.

 

Use Captions

When on social media, how often do you click on that little loudspeaker in the bottom right of videos to enable sound? Publishers on social media have written that as little as 15 percent of their video views happen with the sound turned on. That means that as much as 85 percent of video views occur in silence. If your video’s pattern interrupt strategy depends on the dialogue and you do not include captions, then most mobile users will not hear the dialogue. Your strategy will be ineffective. Both Facebook and YouTube have auto-captioning tools that you can use to create captions.

 

Take Advantage of FOMO/EOJI

Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) or Excitement of Joining In (EOJI).

What can you do with the content of your video ad to get the viewer to feel like they are missing out on an opportunity? Before going further into this, I want to say that I thought about not including FOMO in this list as it can be somewhat unethical.

Here is an example. Imagine that your video ad is for a beverage company. You decide to show imagery of a family at a barbecue. The parents are at the grill. The kids are running through the sprinkler. You hear the sizzle of the burgers. You see the chosen beverages glistening in a halo of light on a mountain of ice. Though the background is out of focus, you can still see the parents behind the beverages. You can see them lean in for a kiss. You can hear the kids playing.

For me, this scene evokes a desire to join in on the barbecue. I associate (“Association,” another hot word in advertising) the scene with my family barbecues in the past and the beverages give me a tool for once again achieving that association.

But, I do not fear missing out on this barbecue experience. In other words, my emotional well-being is not disturbed by this ad to the point that I am emotionally upset about missing a fictional future barbecue.

I would say that this ad is using an “Excitement of Joining In” strategy, where the overriding goal is to first generate good feelings around the product by association and then to propose a way for the viewer to join in on the good feelings.

On the flip side, the concept FOMO taps into the fear of getting banished from the herd, of being ostracized by a society. In the days before long johns, say, out in the wilderness, banishment from society would mean an early death. Ads that utilize the FOMO strategy are effective because they seem to poke at the general location of the thoughts surrounding our mortality. It is a sore spot. Think of banishment, loneliness, failure, depression, and loss.

To me, ads that emotionally destabilize the viewer by poking at that sore spot for the sake of providing a product remedy are not living up to any modern code of ethics.

Strategically, though, ads that first associate a product with an experience and then reveal that the product is the means to achieving that experience are very effective. This can be done in a positive way by encouraging the viewer’s excitement about joining in on the experience with the product. This is Excitement of Joining In (EOJI).

25 Rules and Tips to Follow on Your First Freelance Video Shoot



Lights. Without them, videographers are at the mercy of the sun. That is why one week prior to my first shoot for my first freelance client outside of college I drove 2 hours to Trumbull to pick up a Dracast Pro 1K LED from a friend. I had no idea what the lighting conditions would be like at the client’s location, and this single light would have saved me when shooting the interviews.

I did a lot of preparation like buying this light for the shoot. Needing audio gear, I picked up a Zoom H6 and a Shure lapel mic. I purchased XLR cables and a white balance card. I practiced with everything before the day, bugging my housemates to use them as stand-ins for my shot. I did all of this while leaving my old job to pursue freelancing full time.

Was it going to be freelancing or a slow fall into unemployment?

The shift from full-time wage worker to freelance did not solidify as real until, just 1 day after leaving my job, I stepped out of my car at the entrance to Land Warrior CrossFit with camera gear slung across my shoulder.

The realness of my new freelance occupation hit while I unloaded my trunk of the lighting and audio gear. It hit as I dropped the equipment into a pile in the corner of the gym and looked up to see the big glass windows letting in a soft, even light. It hit as I switched on the camera, and it hit when I raised the light and hooked up the audio and set off to find out who I needed to interview. It was great. There is a thrill to be found in communicating with new people and working with unique composition and lighting challenges.

The huge garage glass windows took the place of the Dracast light as the key light. I used the Dracast as a kicker behind the interviewees to help separate them from the background. I gathered the footage of the class after conducting the interviews. An hour later, I was on my way home to back up and begin the edit. The video would be finished 1 week later. The video is at the top of this post if you would like to watch it.


I learned a lot on this first freelance job. Through mistakes and repetition, the list below highlights the things that I needed to remember when setting up for this first job. Some of these, like setting white balance, can be no-brainers. But, when on your first shoot, you might be overwhelmed and forget to set something else when setting white balance. It is like learning to juggle. While it is not hard to juggle one ball, only experienced jugglers can keep 5 balls in the air at a time.

Before shoot date

  1. Create a calendar event with the location and drive time included. Do this as soon as you finish the call or get the confirmation email.
  2. After the phone call with the client, send a recap email detailing what both of you agreed on. Include the date and time. This is so both parties are on the same page.
  3. Discuss payment and agreement details at the beginning.
  4. Write up a clear statement of the work that will be done.
  5. Research similar companies. What content do they produce? What is similar? How can you learn from their content?
  6. Save screenshots of camera angles and types of b-roll from videos that fit your style. Have them with you at the shoot in the case that you need them. In the past, I have gotten so swept up in one aspect of a camera shoot, like camera placement, that I forgot to check for white balance. Having properly-shot examples at the ready can be a quick way to check for mistakes.
  7. Practice the shots that you think will be useful.
  8. Practice setting up and taking down your equipment.
  9. Pack extra of whatever you have. Harddrives, batteries, SD cards, microphones, and extension cords can all become instantly useful when another fails.

During the shoot

  1. Format your memory cards. I learned this the hard way when one of my SD cards corrupted. Formatting them resets the file structure, clearing out errors in an existing one.
  2. Set white balance, picture profile, iso, etc. and then save it all as a custom profile on your camera.
  3. Match white balance on the lights to your camera.
  4. Focus on the pupils of your subject.
  5. Check for distracting objects in the background and messy shirts or hair or makeup in the foreground.
  6. Test audio by asking the interviewee for more than “say something.” Ask them for their name and how to spell it. Record this as they talk in the case that you need the spelling of their name.
  7. Check audio levels.
  8. Check the eyeline of the interviewee. Are they looking above, below, or in line with the lens?
  9. Actually hit record.
  10. Do not stop recording until the microphone has been removed from the interviewee and is in your hand. Some of the best things have been said when the interview is over, as the interviewee is more relaxed than during the “actual” interview.

After the shoot

  1. Back up everything to at least 2 harddrive locations.
  2. Create a consistent back up folder structure. I do “yearmonthday-FirstnameLastname-Organization/Company-detailofshoot” so “20171214-JohnDoe-ESPN-BasketballDonationDrive”.
  3. Create a consistent folder structure for your workflow as you edit. All of my projects have these 5 folders in the main project folder: Assets, Audio, Exports, Footage, Premiere.
  4. Label your exports by version number, not “final” or “finalfinal” or “ReallyFINALYESFINAL.” Version numbers look more professional because the client will not think that you think you are done when they have changes in mind.
  5. Check your renders before you send them off. You are the first to know if you left the audio too high at one point, left a track on mute, or did not drag the adjustment layer to the end of clip. You do not want to be the second to know.
  6. Follow up with the client about leaving a review or giving feedback.