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How To Film a Product Review (ft. BowTiedTamarin)
BowTiedTamarin takes you to film school
Embedding YouTube videos in your posts helps them rank. The quality of your videos technically doesn’t matter for SEO purposes, but putting effort into them is still a great idea. A well-made video can be a conversion machine, sending tons of traffic to your affiliate links directly from YouTube.
For today’s post, I tagged in the Jungle’s resident video expert, BowTiedTamarin, to teach you how to make a professional-looking product review. I’ll let him take it from here.
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Hello! BowTiedTamarin here. Tetra was kind enough to ask me to write a guide to filming product videos, so if you’ve been scratching your head trying to figure out how to put the pieces together, I will be outlining the process on how to elevate your content with product review videos, both for cartoon anons and doxxed creators.
We will be focused on technically executing a video here, not the research and SEO component.
What I will say is you should 100% be doing research and looking at analytics and not just randomly picking video topics or trying to do one for every article on your site. Video content takes more time, planning, and money than articles.
You want to have a process for deciding what topics are deserving of video, what formats you are shooting in, and then refine it over time.
There’s a lot here to digest if you’re new to shooting content. Some things are non-negotiable, but doing 80% of what’s here is probably good enough for a lot of you.
That said, let’s dive in.
Pre-production is arguably the most important part of the process and what a lot of people gloss over. Lots of people blindly follow Gary V’s advice and start talking into their phone about the new pair of sneakers (or whatever) they just unboxed and hope they make it.
“Just starting” in any capacity is a great strategy to get your first handful of videos done and shake off the jitters. But don’t get stuck here. You need to get organized and develop a more calculated strategy.
Even if you find that a normie looking phone video review works well (they certainly can!) you should take the time to plan what you’ll be saying, make sure the scene is lit reasonably well, in a location that makes sense, and that the audio is clear. This is just another SOP you need to map out and will refine over time as you start to push out video content.
Schedule everything out over the course of a month. You can just use a calendar, but for more complex stuff where I need to hire people and hunt down gear, software like Asana or Trello is helpful.
Here is what you need to consider when doing that content schedule.
Pick Review Format(s)
Will you be actually unboxing the product yourself and demonstrating stuff or just talking about it? Are you hiring a hot chick to do the talking on camera in your studio space? Recording a voiceover then editing slides that accompany this? Sending a script to Instagram influencers to read then cutting them together?
Its hard to tell which is a good for your setup and what will connect with your audience.
But it’s guaranteed you will need to try a few different formats and production styles to see what works. Almost nobody gets it all right out of the gate.
Some production styles to try:
Natural Habit. e.g. You’re reviewing a coffee grinder by making coffee in the kitchen. You’re reviewing a leaf blower so you go do some landscaping in the yard. You get the idea.
“On the fly” or OTF video. Think amateur looking phone videos, TikToks, etc. Probably better for products targeted at the masses.
Studio environment. You or your talent is discussing and demoing the product in front of a backdrop or green screen.
Voiceover Presentation. You edit together slides, stock footage, animations, video of the product and talk over it.
Now take your standard article formats and title hooks and combine them with one of these production styles to come up with your format.
Say you have an outdoor activity type of website, here are some examples of videos you’d plan out:
“Yeti vs Thermos: Which is Better For Camping?”
You make a mock campsite and demonstrate the product. Or actually go camping if you’re hardcore.
”The Best REI Backpack For Under $100”
You explain 5 features that make this backpack great, then talk into your phone.
“Is The Hydrapack Worth Buying?”
You do an unboxing style video of the product and discuss the pros and cons relative to the cost and other options.
“The 5 Best Mountain Bikes of 2022”
You cut together footage of the 5 bikes you obtained or shot yourself. Then overlay your own graphics, lower thirds, text animations, and voiceover explaining why the bikes are great.
Over time based on how the content performs vs. the difficultly of execution you’ll get a feel for what juice is worth the squeeze for your brand.
Reviewing camping gear by filming yourself with it in the wilderness is not the same as talking about a car insurance plan you’re trying to generate leads for. Very different gear, talent and script requirements.
You can mix and match too. If you do 10 product reviews over a few months, repackage the footage into a voiceover video since you already did the legwork of shooting. Or do OTF spin off videos while you shoot a studio video on a related topic.
Write a Script
Once you have the formats picked out that you want to make your product reviews in, you need to write a script. I assume you’re writing articles anyway, so this part is already half done.
Some people need to have every word written out (especially for a voiceover driven video) and some people are better at just riffing off of a few bullet points.
Either one is fine, you just don’t want to miss important points or be too long winded. Someone clicking around the internet looking for videos to inform a purchasing decision wants you to get to the point, so it’s important you don’t ramble.
Make sure you include things like who the product will be good for, who it isn’t for, why you might choose it over alternatives, price, and how the features translate to benefits for the customer.
Get Your Equipment Together
People love gear. This is why you’re making product reviews after all. But anything you buy for shooting video should be functional, especially at first.
There are a lot of options that get the job done, so I’ll keep it high level and stick to components you need to think about. Specific gear recommendations are at the end of the article.
Hardware. You will need some kind of tripod, even if you’re just shooting on your phone. Only exception is OTF style video where it looks crappy and wobbly on purpose. I’ve used a phone clamp with a gooseneck attached to a cheap mic stand in a pinch. Or those flexible leg tripods with a phone clamp.
A notch up from there would be an actual tripod with a fluid head like what Manfrotto or Neewer makes. They have some locking functions which are helpful and pans will look smoother.
Audio. Ideally, you want video and audio to both be refined, but audio is more important. Get a decent microphone and record audio separately to a laptop or Zoom record if possible. Or you can just get a better mic for the camera, but there are some things to think about there I’ll discuss further along in the article.
Lights. Not sexy, not expensive (at least to start), but can make things look sexy and expensive. For talking head style videos, ring lights get the job done. For $200-300 you can get a basic “studio” style setup that gives you more options to play with.
Cameras and lensing. This IS sexy and expensive! Everybody has a smartphone which is certainly capable of good work, next rung up would be a DSLR like a lower end Canon. Beyond that, things get pricier.
Having more than one camera is really helpful because you can sync it to your main angle later, which makes cutting between them easier. Even that that old iPhone or GoPro from 5 years ago sitting in a drawer somewhere can be a big help by adding an extra angle.
Software. You need to edit all this somewhere. Even if you plan to hire an editor later, doing the first edits yourself will teach you a lot about what to shoot. My personal favorite is Davinci Resolve. The paid version isn’t crazy expensive, the free version is amazing, and it runs on all the major operating systems. It’s powerful software, but don’t be intimidated—you’re maybe looking at a weekend max to learn the basics.
Editing assets. Stock footage, any graphics, intro/outro splash screens, cleared music etc.
For voiceover driven videos, you’ll probably need a stock video subscription, but if you plan on filming yourself you might not need any stock assets at all.
Shoot Location and Shot List
If you’ll be filming indoors, try to find a location where changing weather won’t screw things up too much. No sense in getting the lighting perfect only to have the clouds clear with the sunlight blowing up your whole set.
If possible, find a place where you can leave all your gear setup. It’s much easier to knock out a review video every week if you just need to flip a switch, turn on lights, and be ready to roll.
Your shot list can be super specific or just a few bullet points, but it always helps to have a clear idea of what you want to capture.
At the least, plan to film your main angle and script 2-3 times, any specific product or feature demonstrations that are relevant, and some B-Roll to cut to.
Say you are reviewing a new compound bow. You’d set up a shot at the archery range and hit the script a few times, get some shots of specific things that bow can do like the new adjustable sight or whatever, then get some shots of you shooting arrows.
With the core content in the bag you can have some fun and experiment with other ideas that will make the video cooler. Maybe you decide clamp your phone to the bow while you shoot for some 1st person perspective. The better planned things are, the more you can mess around and experiment while shooting, which is usually when the most creative stuff happens.
Now that you’ve done all your homework, you can focus on dialing in the setup and having a great shoot.
Get Cams & Lighting Up
I like to get cameras up, set some lights, look for any obvious problems, then get to arranging the scene.
In general you want to start arranging the scene in a way that brings focus to you and the product and eliminates distractions. This is why people like the ‘bokeh’ style look of DSLRs at a low F-stop. You’ve seen it a million times. Subject is super in focus and crispy, background is blurry which keeps your attention on the subject.
Make sure your background isn’t messy. Also make sure nothing is lopsided. Your scene does not have to be literally symmetrical, the visual weight should be distributed somewhat evenly.
If you’re really unsure of how to arrange a scene, do some reading on the Rule of Thirds, implied lines and go look at some art or great photography to learn more about what creates visual balance in an image.
How To Light Stuff
You generally will want to have even lighting that eliminates any weird shadows and helps get some separation from the background, without being too directional looking.
Imagine putting a single spotlight on your dog with the toy you’re trying to review. It would make certain areas really bright, but create shadows in odd places and is very very directional. You wouldn’t have a good view of how the dog is having a blast with the new toy.
First of all, instead of a spotlight, you should use a softer, more diffused light source. You can soften a light source just by moving it further away from the subject, at the expense of brightness.
Once you have that light in a good spot, things will be looking much better, but you’ll still have some shadows to fill in, so you can add in another soft light source, usually about 45 degree from the first to smooth things out.
Finally, to add depth and help the subject pop out from the background, you can add a gentler light source behind the subject.
This standard 3-point light setup is flexible and is sometimes referred to as a Key, Fill, and Backlight. Another variation of this is using a pair of softboxes for the key and fill, then have another pair of smaller, more directional lights to move around as need to help it pop.
And of course daylight always works. The difference between a GoPro or phone indoors vs a clear sunny day is pretty dramatic. The “golden” hour of the sun has a vibe people love. The main downside is you don’t have any control over the weather.
You generally don’t want to use camera audio without some kind of external mic. Rarely good for anything other than syncing tracks.
But the best results will always be from a separately recorded audio track you sync to your footage later. Davinci Resolve can do this syncing automatically.
If you’re using lav mics, clip or tape them in place and check that you’re not getting noise from any clothing rustling.
My favorite method for getting audio on set is to take a condenser mic and position it as close as possible to the subject without being in the frame, then roll the audio to a Zoom recorder or laptop.
I’ve used various mics over the years that plug straight into the camera or phone which can yield good results and save you the time of syncing later. However, if you have a problem, you now have no backup audio! Ideally, you have a good mic on the camera AND external audio being recorded somewhere else.
Technical stuff to check
Check focus over and over and over. If you’re filming with phones, download an app like Moment (iPhone) that lets you adjust the camera parameters manually like, focus, exposure, color temperature, etc.
If you’re using a DSLR or camcorder, put it in full manual mode and use the expanded focus feature if it has it. This is extra critical at lower F stop numbers or if you're zoomed in at the end of the lens. the depth of field gets shallower and its very easy to be slightly soft and not realize it until you get the footage into your editing software.
This is both part of exposure and focus.
Aperture is the name for the hole in the front of the camera, which you can adjust to alter how much light gets to the sensor. Expressed as a ratio also known as F-stop, like f/1.4, f/2, etc. The lower the number, the bigger the opening. Confusingly, sometimes people refer to “stopping down” as going to a higher F stop number. What they really mean is “let less light into the camera”.
At lower f-stops, where the aperture is wide open, your depth of field becomes more shallow and it gets deeper at higher f-stops. If that makes no sense, here is an example of a YouTuber showing what this looks like.
Another reason why lighting matters so much.
Say you have 2 sets of sunglasses on a table and you want them both in focus. You may need to stop down to get them both in focus, but then it may be too dark. You should add more light to fix that, not bump up ISO because that adds noise.
You don’t want the image to be too bright or dark. If you’re in doubt, slightly too dark is better than too bright. You can bump up the highlights later in software, but not the reverse.
Again, use lower ISO/gain settings. Add more light on your subject if it looks too dark.
Also known as white balance. You want to make sure the colors aren’t overly “warm” or “cool”. Indoor tungsten lighting is around 3200K and daylight is around 5600K. I like to use the camera’s auto white balance, see where that reads, then manually adjust if necessary, especially if I have two cameras I’m trying to get to match.
Certain striped patterns and textures on clothing can create distracting distortion. Can be fixed in post, often simpler to just change your shirt.
I hate that I have to even say this, but do not assume your audio is working just because you see a signal getting passed. That could be crappy internal camera audio. Or hum from the lights. Put on headphones, take some test footage, and listen. Should be clean and clear without distortion, hums/buzzes, or surface noise from anything touching your mics. A common trap is a vent blowing air hits the mic and adds wind noise you would have caught if you just checked as you filmed.
If you’re running a mic directly into the cam or phone with no backup, check audio between takes unless you want to play with fire.
Frame Rates & File Formats
When in doubt, 1920X1080 resolution at 30 fps is fine for most things. Camera codecs can get crazy, but most prosumer gear and phones save as an H.264 mp4 which isn’t too rough to deal with these days.
At the end of shooting, dump everything to a fast hard drive so its all in one place and ready to go for editing.
Since you’ll be doing a lot of the same format of videos over and over again, setup some templates in your editing software with the frame rate and resolutions you use. Having a timeline setup for vertical video and horizontal 1920 X 1080 is helpful since you’ll likely need both at some point, especially if you’ll be pushing to paid or organic social media.
Import everything into your editing software, trim away any clips that are obviously not usable, and sync audio. This is a little different in various NLEs (non-linear editors) but doing this in Resolve or Premiere is pretty painless now and you can easily Google how to automate a lot of it.
If you filmed with multiple angles, you’ll need to sync those too. Syncing multicam footage seems hairy at first but after you screw it up once or twice you work the kinks out. Worth the hassle because editing multicam is actually fun! You can just push a button to cut between shots instead of fishing around with the mouse.
I like to setup my principle shot first as a base. Usually this is the widest angle you filmed that you could sit on for the whole video (you won’t of course). Use the best overall take and splice in any moments from your other takes as necessary.
Once the core of the video is in place, grab some of your B-Roll or stock footage to splice in. You can cut that in where you don’t have a good camera angle or just want to add to the flow. Keep it moving and find a rhythm.
You generally don’t want to be sitting on a single shot for more than 5-10 seconds unless you have a reason to, because it looks visually boring and you’ll lose people. Don’t worry about cutting with some corny transitions or crossfades. Hard cuts are best unless you have some really good transition material and want to nerd out with blending modes.
That said, a lot of my sauce for the videos I’ve done in the Jungle rely on a hard drive full of footage I’ve accumulated over the years. Lots of graphics, film grain overlays, cool filmy transitions. If you want to hit some asset stores and start your own library, go for it.
Mix your audio! You’re not trying to win a Grammy here, but at the least use an EQ to filter out everything below 80Hz in the vocals and lightly compress them. A vocal preset is probably fine. If you want to get fancy, use a de-esser. It helps smooth things out. If you have no idea what that means, look up “how to mix voice for podcast” or something similar. Or try presets until you’re close, then tweak from there.
Audio wise, your goal should be to prevent any distortion or background noise at the shoot, then make it loud enough in post. If you drop in music tracks, don’t make your intro music dramatically louder than the section where you’re explaining the product.
Doing some color correction helps tighten things up as well. If you’re using 2-3 cameras, you want these to match as much as possible. This can mean brightening up or darkening shots, adjusting color temperature, or changing the color balance if you want to get your hands dirty. Spending a weekend learning the Color Tab in Resolve will add a lot of polish to your videos. You’ll need to do this anyway if you plan on filming in front of a green screen.
Before you ask…
How do I blur my face in videos???
Don’t do this if you actually give a fuck about saying anon and even then, maybe not. De-blurring technology gets better and better. Better off using a physical barrier like an actual mask. But then you might look some kind of weird fringe character, which may or may not vibe with your brand.
If you’re that concerned just hire someone else to be the face of the review, shoot voiceover driven videos, or if possible film things in a way that doesn’t require your face. The last item would work for a watch review, but harder to pull off if you’re reviewing sunglasses.
Is [insert gear item] the best for my thing?
Maybe? I don’t know. Plenty of ways to skin this cat. Most people I work with in this industry constantly buy and sell used gear and research what will be most effective. And if you’re doing SEO anything, I’d hope you know how to do some research online.
There are some ideas here to get you started.
This is a lot, can I hire someone to do this for me?
Good news is yes, of course.
Bad news is you only get to pick two of the following:
Much better to do this in-house even though it definitely takes a lot of work. Once you understand everything and have a process together, hiring a remote editor is very doable.
Or you can hire a local person to help you and train them if necessary. This was how I learned at first. An event vendor hired me to do office gopher work for a summer and they needed help editing, so I offered to learn how and jumped in.
Tying It All Together
If you’re totally new at this, you might be a bit overwhelmed. Just remember this is a learnable thing people do everyday. If you make learning video a priority, you could be doing pretty solid work in a few months.
Your first few will suck and be kind of gritty, but don’t let that deter you! We all start somewhere.
If you have further questions you can leave them in the comments or find me on Twitter.
Neewer Light Kit - This is more than enough to get you started.
Accent Lights - These are two small lights that are dirt cheap and you can power them on USB. Great for adding accents to a larger scene, a mobile setup, or where you need to place lights low to the ground. Having a few colored gels is handy too. Sometimes adding a little accent color to the lighting helps bring things to life.
Canon 90D - Proven DSLR that will be a noticeable step up from phones or even cheaper camcorders.
Davinci Resolve - Free editing software that’s legitimately amazing. Paid version is very reasonable and unlocks some helpful features. Only barrier to entry here is taking the time to learn.
Moment App - DSLR like manual controls for an iPhone. Many similar apps for both iPhone and Android ecosystem.
Teleprompter - Free app that turns an iPad into a teleprompter. Many other options if you look for them.
Manfrotto Fluid Head and Tripod - Don’t drop $2k on a camera and be too cheap to put it on a good tripod. This one is a good value. Weight up to 22 lbs if you want to mount a camera, monitor, mics, and big battery. Goes high enough for most purposes. Fluid head to get smooth pans and locks into place secured for fixed shots.
GorillaPod - If you’re shooting on phones or GoPros, these are awesome. Sometimes superior to more “pro” rigs just because they allows you to mount a small camera in a weird position you could never normally get a full camera to fit into.
Rode Shotgun Mic - Camera mounted mic, which significantly improves the onboard sound. If you’re shooting on a camera with XLR input, you have many many more options! Stick to shotgun mics, small diaphragm condenser mics, and lavaliers. These will usually require a battery or phantom power, so be clear on where that’s coming from.
Zoom Recorder - Audio recorder. Can be used on its own mounted on a mic stand or with your external mics or both.
Storyblocks - Good, affordable stock library with video and music. There are MANY of these, but this is a good place to get your feet wet, then you can branch out from there.
Tetra here. I highly recommend that you follow BowTiedTamarin on Twitter if you want to learn more about video. He’s the most knowledgeable cartoon in the Jungle when it comes to music and video production.
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