For Freelancers, Food Videos Offer a New Recipe for Success

By Joanna Plucinska March 11th, 2015

Food content, once only found in the pages of glossy magazines and trendy newspapers, has emerged as a perfect fit for the Internet. In the near future, video will dominate digital consumption, and that will mean an influx of colorful, mouth-watering food content for audiences around the world.

Brands like Starbucks, Coca-Cola, and even Taco Bell have excelled on Instagram with short clips showing off their products. And for publishers, the space has been just as lucrative. The New York Times replaced their NYTCooking page with a more visual and interactive platform. After only a few weeks, it managed to draw more one million unique visitors, according to Nieman. Newer food sites such as Food52 are driving a lot of traffic as well—some of their videos have racked up views in the hundreds of thousands.

For freelance videographers, the takeaway is clear: Getting involved in this burgeoning market could have significant long-term benefits.

As Maureen Giannone, a video producer at said, “Everyone wants videos, even corporate offices. Video is how people want to communicate with their audience.”

The increasing investment in digital video has given creatives a chance to take advantage of new opportunities that weren’t around even a decade ago. Freelance writers might earn a few hundred dollars for a reported feature, but freelance videographers often seek higher rates that bring in thousands of dollars per video.

Those higher rates, however, sometimes mean more responsibility for the creator. Due to the costs of video equipment and manpower, editors will often expect freelance videographers to complete all aspects of the production process on their own.

“They produce the physical aspect, and I capture and produce everything else, including filming and editing,” said Kyle Orosz, a freelancer for Food52. “Mostly I am responsible for providing my own equipment, whether rented or owned.”

At places with more money, such as the Times, freelancers may be able to borrow some necessary equipment such as lights. But Jenny Woodward, a freelance videographer for New York Times Food, suggested that videographers should always bring their own gear just in case. “You’re also always more familiar with your own gear and all the settings are just as you like, so it’s easier in the long run,” she said.

Ultimately, if you’re willing to put in the legwork, the rewards can be fruitful. “If you can find a way to do good videos pretty inexpensively and fast, especially if they are part of a series, I think there are a lot of sites that would help you sustain a pretty decent living,” Woodward said.

But to get to that point, freelancers can’t simply churn out a lot of generic content, nor can they assume their personal shooting and editing styles will suit the tastes of future editors. Orosz thinks freelancers should watch the videos their clients produce, so that they can get a sense of the style and narrative structure, before venturing out on a new shoot.

“Often as a videographer, you share an aesthetic with the company you’re working for,” Orosz said. “I look for close-ups of hand positions, the actual actions of the way the knife is doing something, or how you’re forming a meat patty. You’re telling their identity through capturing their aesthetic.”

There are some consistent tricks you can use to make your work aesthetically pleasing. Most importantly, regardless of your client, your model, the food, has to look delicious and beautiful, all without looking fake. This can be surprisingly hard to get right.

“Color saturation [is important] because you don’t want food to look gross. It should look delicious—some plates just aren’t as visually pleasing,” Giannone said. “You want to make sure people want to eat it.”

This often involves some unexpected techniques: Check out this article featuring quick tips like how to use vaseline to make that tomato glisten with beads of water.

Shooting isn’t the only skill that you should bring to the table either. Editing will be the most powerful and effective tool in your arsenal. Specifically, you have to craft a strong hook that resonates with your viewers.

“A priority really is that instant gratification,” Giannone said. “People’s time is precious, and if you can captivate your audience from the get-go, from 15 seconds in, I think that’s something that we really pay attention to.”

Woodward also recommends putting in some element of story—not just pretty shots of food—to keep your viewer hooked for the entire clip. Whether it’s a captivating host, a difficult dish, or an interesting ingredient, you need to have some tension present.

“I’ve noticed with web videos that people lose interest after about three to five minutes, but that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have a beginning, middle and an end,” she said. “They should have nice arc even within limited time.”

Editing and shooting tricks aside, what’s the easiest way to break into the freelance video market? Practice and dedication.

“Rent or buy a good camera and audio recorder, and make a video that you’re excited about. If you can, invest in a good computer and hard drives, buy a subscription to Premiere, and start learning how to edit,” Woodward said. “Then keep doing that for hundreds of hours until you’re good at it.”

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