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How To Create A Top-Down Video

Lewis McGregor

Top-down videos showcase everything from sales to how-to. Learn how to properly set up your own top-down video.

Cover image via The Collection.

Unless you’ve never seen the internet, you more than likely see a dozen videos a week that look a little something like this:

How To Create A Top-Down Video — Facebook Screen Capture

You see these videos from DIY craft pages on how to turn an old soda can into a desktop accessory, or from a Buzzfeed food channel on how to make quality dishes with 60-second tutorial videos. Although it’s not a new concept, the top-down style has grown in popularity with the surge of social media, even making its way to TV commercials.

How To Create A Top-Down Video — TV Commercial
Image via Tesco Mobile (UK).

The Setup

Cinematography Database’s Matt Workman and Greg from Lens Pro To Go break down how to achieve a similar effect in the video below.

Although the video demonstrates how to set up tabletop lighting with a drop shadow, the setup is primarily the same if you’re working with Fresnels. If you want a drop shadow look, the video above is your one-stop guide. The drop shadow works well for gear reviews. It’s a technique I use when reviewing products.

How To Create A Top-Down Video — Drop Shadow

However, for food and craft videos, you want to employ a high-key setup because any shadows will likely become distracting.

Thankfully for us, CBS This Morning sat down with Buzzfeed’s Tasty crew to see how the project came to life, and there were plenty of behind-the-scenes images revealing exactly how they create top-down videos.

The crew uses a Canon 70D with a 100mm f/2.8L Macro lens, a TVLogic 5.6″ monitor, and what looks to be two Kino Flos. Of course, there is also the rigging, c-stands, a tripod, and light stands, but by no means is this equipment list an overly expensive one.

The primary element of pulling off this high-key style is soft diffused lightingIf I were to blast a set of fresnels at the worktop, there would be as many shadows as a musical theater stage. If you’re not too sure what soft lighting is, you can find a rundown in this PremiumBeat article, but simply put, soft lighting comes from a large source. A Fresnel lamp, which has a very small source, will produce hard light.

  • Set up your workspace and attach the camera to the c-stand using a camera mount. Ideally, you need two c-stands for this so you can center-position the camera. Using only one stand centered in the middle of the workspace will make moving difficult.
  • Position the first light (a Kino Flo 4×4 feature would be perfect) directly above, and cover the light with a diffusion sheet or gel. You only want to use a 0.3/1 stop gel.
  • Position the second light behind the worktop in front of you, but dim the intensity slightly. If you don’t have a dimmer on the light source you are using, apply another stop of diffusion gel.

From this setup, you should be left with a soft, shadowless display. The top light will illuminate the surface area, and the light in front will remove any faint shadows that may the top light may cause, and it will push them your way out of view from the camera.

How To Create A Top-Down Video — Shadowless Display
Image via CBS This Morning.

Kino Flos and larger LED lights can seem expensive if you’re on a tight budget. So instead, we can look at achieving this look with a diffusion silk, and fresnel lamps.

Place your silk 4-6 feet above the work area (the distance from the worktop will decrease or increase the intensity of the light), and position a Fresnel on either side and direct them towards the silk so they cover an even area. The light will then bounce down to the worktop creating a nice, soft glow.

How To Create A Top-Down Video — Bouncing Light
Image via Cinematography Database.

If you’re working with an ultra low budget, you could achieve similar results using a white bed sheet instead of a silk, and instead of c-stands, you could use a tripod such as the Manfrotto MT190XPRO3, which supports horizontal filming and photography.

How To Create A Top-Down Video — Tripods

Of course, if you are making these videos to upload to Facebook, you can always follow Buzzfeed’s suit and crop your videos to optimize them for mobile. You can learn more about turning your videos into the 1:1 ratio here.

Do you have tips for lighting top-down videos? Let us know in the comments.

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