I recently shot some cooking tutorials. They were budget-friendly, easy to follow, and there were 50 of them. Here’s how we did it.
In this article, I hope I can get across the needed luxuries and corners that can be cut to help get your projects across the finish line. I’ll break it down by equipment, location, talent, and production. The brief for this shoot was pretty simple. Here were the criteria:
- The client needed 50 recipe videos to coincide with a TV show.
- The recipes needed to be easy to follow.
- We needed still shots of the finished dishes.
- It needed to look good, but more clinical than moody.
As you can see from my breakdown above, it was a pretty simple setup. The production company provided the lighting, which saved on the budget. Would I have preferred a Briese? Sure, but the Astra panels worked just fine.
The most convenient part was the wireless video setup. I own SmallHD’s FOCUS Bolt 500 kit and Tilta’s Nucleus Nano wireless follow focus. This setup meant that I could monitor the overhead camera and focus it without touching anything. This helped with COVID safety and allowed things to move more quickly onset. The TX monitor was set up above our food stylist, so she could see what was going on. It was also powering a GH5 with a dummy battery.
If I was to do anything different here, I’d get an additional large monitor for our food stylist. This way, they wouldn’t need to look up. An HDMI splitter would have worked here.
Our photography setup was very simple, with just two LED panels being used. We needed to use constant lights in case photos were being taken while we were filming, as flashes would ruin the video. I also used a handheld light with a grid on it so I could highlight certain parts of the dish. The food stylists really made the food shine here.
We also didn’t record audio. This saved us time in production and post and meant that we could listen to music and chat, which is a big help in keeping your crew motivated and awake.
You’ll save so much time and effort if you pick a location based on its ability to help food prep and then work backward from there. In an ideal world, you’d hit up a kitchen studio. However, due to recent restaurant closures, the production company was able to hire out a restaurant.
Whether you’re in a kitchen studio or a restaurant, remember that you’ll need ample space for food prep. Ideally, you won’t have to waste time (and therefore money) doing all the cooking on set when you can cook it off to the side and continue filming other parts of a recipe.
This location also had black-out curtains, which saved us from needing to use duvetyne on every window. You’ll want to be able to control the light for consistency.
If you can afford the luxury, get a food stylist. We had two on set: one for doing the recipes on camera and another for food prep, and, of course, styling. We rented a whole suite of plates, cutlery, backdrops, and more from our stylists.
This did a lot of the legwork to elevate the look. It also saved us a lot of money, since our stylist had expensive backdrops and surfaces. It makes more sense to rent this, along with all the other accessories needed.
Our production team was wonderful, with our lead producer having decades of experience in food programming, cookbook writing, and magazine editing. I’m not suggesting that every set needs somebody as talented, but it helps to know where issues will arise.
As a rough guide, our producers needed to plan:
- The recipes needed for the TV show.
- The grocery order and budget for that.
- The filming schedule.
- The shots we only need to get once (like chopping a pepper).
- Making sure all the recipes actually work.
This is no small feat, especially for 50 recipes. We were able to film up to eight recipes a day, which brought the cost-per-video down dramatically. This cost-saving could only be done with stellar planning. For example, while that fish is in the oven, the crew should already be shooting the next recipe. There’s no need to work in real-time.
I hope I’ve given readers a taste of what’s needed to get a slew of cooking tutorials finished. By creating an efficient set from the beginning, we were able to shoot so much more than ordinarily. While we could have picked up fancier lighting modifiers, had a second camera operator and sound tech, and allowed for more time, I think the benefits of spending the budget on a great team were worth far more.