Visuals: How to Shoot Video on a Budget and Produce a Gorgeous Product



Catherine McCord

Michael Ervin

Weelicious was created 5 years ago when Catherine McCord decided a $99 annual subscription to Apple would be the way she would learn how to edit video. Her instructor, Michael Ervin, was intrigued by her concept of the site and joined the project after 3 sessions.

150 videos later they reminisce fondly about their "chance" start.

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Catherine was quick to tell the BlogHer Food attendees, "My 2 kids are the center of my universe and so is my blog. I knew I wanted to make video an important part of the site because it allows the reader to get to know you and to hear you."

Michael polled the audience, "How many of you already publish video content to your blog?" A little less than half raised their hands.

Then he asked, "Can you imagine a blog that doesn't have a photo on it? I think video is moving in that direction."

It is possible with all of the benefits you can get out of video, like hearing a person's voice and seeing them, to shoot good video on a budget.


According to Michael, “Many of you who shoot photos for your blog already have the proper equipment necessary for shooting video. All the info you hear about photo carries over to video."

He recommends the most important thing to do when starting out is jumping in. Often people are caught up in “What camera should I get?” or “I need this specific camera to be able to do video.” He sees both of these as stumbling blocks.

“Get out there and just start practicing,” he says.

The top question we get asked is ‘What camera should I get?’.

Michael’s answer is: “The camera you have is the one you should be using.”

cheaper & easier to use - Canon VIXIA HF R300
More flexibility high image quality - Canon T31

Keep in mind, gear that is only for shooting video is a little bit easier to use. An HD camera can shoot pretty good video too but will require a learning curve for the novice. DSLR cameras offer much more flexibility & higher image quality, however, it is a little bit trickier to use & the cost can be an issue on a budget.

Michael was recently shown a project that had been done exclusively with an iPhone, “The video you shoot with an iPhone is actually pretty good video!”

Catherine shared, “We use a Lumix for all photo & video on the site”

You'll find higher end video camcorders have better sound, but a DSLR has better image quality.

As for distance from the gear, getting a certain depth away from the camera is going to depend on the lens, the great thing about small lenses, they are almost always an infinite field of focus.

When asked if there was a tethering tool for while you’re recording, Michael couldn’t recall any he was aware of.


Michael feels sound is often overlooked in creating videos. He pointed out, “The one thing that keeps me from buying a camera is whether or not I can connect a mic to it. Sound is 60% of a good video and consumer cameras don't have a mic input.”

Are you wondering what type of mic to use? “We use a LAV mic I run right into the camera,” Michael told the audience. An area mic on the camera and a shotgun mic pick up everything they can, which produces an echo and gives the video an amateur feel.

Catherine feels, if someone has that type of sound and it's funky, you almost want to shut it off right away.

She also advised the ladies in the audience, "Your bra becomes very handy [when hiding a mic]. I prefer to hide the mic, I think it feels more like you’re in that person’s kitchen when you can’t see it.”

There was a collective “that’s what that is” when Catherine mentioned this tip:

“Be sure to power off all iPhones when recording, you can get a buzz in the audio from them.”

A question asked was “My sound isn’t matching when I publish to YouTube, would getting an external mic help with syncing it up?”

Michael suggested it could be the sync when it's uploaded on YouTube or it could be the camera. Try previewing from the camera or computer before uploading to determine which end it is on.

Michael suggested the best way to sync is by recording sound separately but this does add more work in editing. Keep in mind, working with external audio adds another person to the process. If you’re interested in trying before you buy, consider a local camera shop to play around with a rented mic.

“When it comes down to it,” Michael said, “It’s about a work-to-reward ratio. A lot of what we [in video blogging] do is DIY and on a low budget.”

clamp lights
paper lanterns
soft box


Lighting basics 101:

When getting started, Michael recommends searching Google for “3 point lighting.”

First point is to use one main light when lighting your subject.
The second is using fill light coming from the other side so you don't have shadows. The third is using back light to create separation.

Create separation from the background and try to throw light on the subject. Even in photo it helps to place a bounce sheet behind the subject to use fill light.

To understand soft vs. hard light, think of a lamp. Soft, or diffused light, is easier on the eyes. You don't want to look at a lamp without the shade on.

“In the first years of Weelicious, we used paper lanterns from ikea that cost $10 to create the soft light.”

Michael recommends using a paper lantern even if its a little farther away. This puts a big white dot in the subject’s eye which helps the viewer connect with them.

Also consider using clamp lights that you can purchase at Home Depot for as little as $6. They purchased soft boxes on Amazon for $140. {we’re happy to share the link with anyone who asks for it}

Michael also shared that great light is hard to control. Using softboxes is a way to keep a nice consistent lighting for the entire video.

One of the big differences between lighting for photo and video is that things change over time. With video, you’ll need the lighting to stay in place for 8 minutes. With a photo, you can get the shot and the lighting stays the same.

Keep in mind, whenever you're dealing with incandescent lighting it produces heat. CFL lights are good to use because they are less hot.

Sample Clips:

The first video they shared in the presentation was a simple “just walked into the kitchen set the camera on the counter, no mic no lights” filming.

“You’ll notice the sound was very echoey. If you don't have a mic, the closer you can get to the subject the better. And if you need to, throw blankets over any hard surfaces. In this clip you see a common mistake, the camera is way too far away giving too much blank space.” Michael pointed out.

Wide shots in general aren't really exciting to watch. Catherine made the point that the closer you get, the better you see the food and the person, which makes your video much more engaging.

In the second clip, the quality of light suffers, even though the camera is closer and the subject has a lav mic on. The sound alone can make a huge difference but lighting is equally important.

The best thing you can do for the sound and lighting is practice. Michael recommends getting out there and playing with your equipment to see what the mic sounds like.

The team originally made this video as an example for the presentation, but were so happy with it they published it on the site. They then shared the entire clip, with proper lighting sound and editing. The big change in the finished video was the 2 softboxes straight to the right to mimic the natural light from the window. Michael quickly added this could have been done easily with 2 or 3 paper lanterns.

Catherine pointed out she does try to wear a different outfit every video to keep it interesting as well. She says solid colors are best, but be sure to keep your own style.


It is possible to shoot in a tight space. Consider decorating techniques like mirrors to make the space look bigger or texture on the wall instead of just blank white. Catherine added that her kitchen is huge, but they try to work in a very small space, as small as 3 feet.

Using paper lights, putting hooks in ceiling to hang them from can be an easy cost effective way to utilize the space you have. “When we first started, I built a stand out of PVC pipe to hold lighting,” Michael shared. The only way to really know is to play with it.

When asked about the break away shots from the sample clips, Michael responded that they shoot with two cameras. He felt this was especially important when you're a one person set up.

“If you don't shoot with 2 cameras,” Catherine added, “you have to pay close attention to which hand is holding the knife or where exactly the onion is.” Keep in mind where you'll want to get the close up shots so it flows. It is a lot easier with two cameras, one shooting wide and one shooting close up.

It is helpful to have someone there who is not in the video helping. Catherine suggested asking culinary school students “because they live, breathe and die to go work with a food blogger, plus they need experience hours for their course work.”

Michael uses the lower quality camera for the B camera. He says he wouldn't mix by shooting standard definition and HD.

“We shoot 5-8 vids on a Friday in a month, that gives me enough content for 6-8 weeks.” Catherine added.

Having movement to your camera adds a life to the camera & keeps things visually interesting. If you're on sticks, the static image gets boring to the viewer and you need something to cut away that lengthens the amount of time you have until the viewer gets bored.

Michael shared, I don't hand hold the camera, the littlest movement in your hand is huge movement in the video. You want the camera to be heavier to keep yourself steady and the further away your hands are the more effort it will take for movement.

Michael uses something similar to a fig rig so it appears the camera floating on a cloud. He created his own by connecting two L brackets and mounting them onto the bottom of the camera.

You can always crank up the tripod, then pick it up and physically move if you’re really in a pinch.

As for when you’re out and about, Michael has tied a washer to the end of a string [attached to the camera] then step on the washer to move the camera around to help keep it steady.

Editing software:

“Editing software is a tool like any other tool you use” Michael Ervin.

iMovie is a wonderful beginning then you can work your way up to Final Cut Pro or Adobe Premiere if you need to. The more features and power you have, Michael said, the more of a learning curve you’ll need to be prepared for.

Since he’s a Mac he felt he could only really speak to the software he uses, but he did mention the Sony Vegas product for any PC people in attendance. Again, starting with the basic software and determining if you need to upgrade for more features or power.

He felt all editing is kind of the same thing, it doesn't really matter a lot [which software you use] because the basics are all the same.

Sure one software may have more options, but basics can be done really well in just about every offering.

Michael recently saw a movie shot and cut on the iPhone, he felt even that looked pretty good.

He pointed out, if you're using the software as a professional then yes - it's a professional tool.


scripting & planning:

“Knowing your recipe and your talking points are the most important things." Catherine McCord.

Having a full idea of the recipe & what you want to hit [like the title] makes the process more streamlined. Michael was pretty clear he’s not a big fan of cheat notes or things hidden around. Catherine added it can break up the flow if you forget and have to refer to them mid process.

She went on to add, the viewers want to know your stories that’s part of why they watch you -- don’t be afraid to share those.

They both weighed in that practicing helps a lot. Catherine recommended walking around the kitchen talking out loud as you do things so you can get use to hearing your own voice, so when you go to shoot video you're more used to it.

They also felt having enough materials so if you mess up you can do the recipe again was an important piece too.

The question was asked about having a tag line, should you or shouldn’t you? Catherine recommended you do. She explained, having a similarity & call to action is important. She learned things like, "please leave a comment" were good to say. You want to engage your readers.

She did feel it's up to your personal taste if you want to take a bite of the sandwich at the end. Consider if it feels forced, if it does then don’t do it.

“Pretend the camera your best friend and you’re talking to them while shooting video,was the best advice Catherine had received when starting out.

Publishing Channels:


Everyone is chomping at the bit for video. YouTube is clambering to find good quality content.

When asked, “Do you have a sweet spot in length?” the quick answer was two and a half to three minutes. “We tend to try and get under 5 minutes every time.” Michael added, “There is no such thing as too short"

Catherine pointed out you tend to keep or lose your viewer in the first 10-15 seconds of a video. Set the message “I'm gonna show you how to cut an onion in 20 sec” and then get to it.

Once the video starts pushing above 5 minutes there needs to be a good reason (ex: recipe is particularly difficult, there are lots of steps)

Because of the nature of our message, bringing kids into the kitchen to cook, we wanted to shoot as straight as possible Catherine shared. Although when she is shooting segments with just her they do record a few takes.

“We're going for the food porn in the video when we go to breakaway shots” Catherine McCord.

When it comes to SEO, title is incredibly important on YouTube. Catherine went through to see what the top videos were and why.

She’s learned her mistakes over the past 4 months as she has re-cataloged the entire Weelicious library keeping SEO in mind. She makes more money from her videos than anything else on the site.

She recommends to be sure to include your twitter and facebook and make sure everything is branded.

The overall message they both wanted to make clear, “it doesn't require having a $3,000 camera to get started.”