Hello hello! Another week, another episode. #stoked!
This week, Bjork interviews husband and wife team Jamie and Saukok Tieampo from New York’s SeeFood Media.
On the last episode of the FBP podcast, Bjork talked with the winner of this year’s Saveur Blog of the Year award, Molly Yeh from My Name is Yeh. It was a really great episode, definitely one worth listening to twice! If you’d like to go have another listen, click here.
The Secret to Making Great Food Videos
Jamie and Saukok didn’t always work in the food industry, but they’ve made quite the splash since they’ve arrived. SeeFood Media has become the go-to food video production studio in New York and beyond – they’ve filmed personalities from Bobby Flay to Kelly Senyei.
Through their work in the food video industry, Jamie and Saukok have really boiled it down to what makes a great cooking video – and they’re here to share their secrets with you!
In this awesome episode, Jamie & Saukok reveal:
- How they found their way into the visual food industry
- Why they didn’t open a restaurant instead
- Why video is taking over the internet
- The big secret to making great videos
- All their knowledge about lighting videos (these work for photos, too!)
- The equipment they would recommend to those new to video
Listen to the Food Blogger Pro Podcast below or check it out on iTunes:
- See Food Media
- Phantom Camera
- C300 camera
- Zoom recorders
- Learn more about the gear you can use to make your own recipe videos
If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for interviews, be sure to email them to [email protected].
Be sure to review us on iTunes!
If you’d like to jump to the comments section, click here.
Bjork Ostrom: Welcome to episode number 14 of the Food Blogger Pro podcast. Hey there. My name is Bjork Ostrom and you’re listening to the Food Blogger Pro podcast. This is a podcast dedicated to two things, food and the Internet. In this podcast we talk to people that are building a business, or a brand, around the love of food, and if you’re listening to this, then my guess is that might be true for you as well, so you’re in the right place. If you’re interested in learning a little bit more about what we do, you can check out foodbloggerpro.com
Today we’re going to be talking to Jamie and Saukok Tiampo, founders of Seefood Media in New York City. Seefood Media is a James Beard award winning video production company that focuses on food, including everything from TV commercials to how-to videos. They have worked with everyone from Rachael Ray, to Bobby Flay, to Mark Bittman, so needless to say, they know what they’re doing.
Selfishly, I’m excited for this interview because I’m really interested in video. I think it’s a really important thing for creators, especially creators online, to understand and to do well. Without further ado, let’s jump in and have a conversation with Jamie and Saukok Tiempo from SeeFood Media.
Jamie, Saukok Tiempo, welcome to the Food Blogger Pro podcast. How are you guys doing?
Jamie Tiampo: Good thanks. How are you?
Saukok Tiampo: Doing great.
Bjork Ostrom: Doing really good. I’m really excited to have you guys on here. We met many moons ago when we were doing an IACP event, International Association of Culinary Professionals. We were out in Seattle, we met you guys, and Lindsay and I, after leaving that event, we were like, “These are the two most incredible individuals ever.” I don’t know if those were the exact words that we used, but we looked at ourselves and we said, “These are people that do really really good work,” and really specific to food stuff, which is why I’m so excited to have you on the podcast today, so thanks for coming on.
Jamie Tiampo: Thanks. The feeling was mutual.
Bjork Ostrom: Oh, well thanks. Yeah. I appreciate that.
What I want to do before we jump into some of the things that you guys are doing now, I want to look back a little bit. We’re going to talk about SeeFood Media, your company; we’re going to talk about video, but before that, I’m interested to know what were you doing? Was it in the food space? Were you guys always focused on food related media? What did that look like pre-2010?
Jamie Tiampo: Sure, so this is really a second career for me. This is Jamie. I started the company. I incorporated in late 2007, early 2008. Before that I was in technology. After finishing college, I moved to San Francisco in the very late ’90s, early 2000s, and was on the .com bubble, and was in technology at various software companies, and rode that way for all it was worth. It was great. At the same time it was a journey from start up to large corporate in that I helped start a company that was eventually acquired by IBM into their enterprise software monitoring management division, Tivoli.
IBM’s a great place to work, and it just wasn’t a great place to work for me. I didn’t really integrate into the large corporate environment that well, personally. Job performance wise was great. I was actually offered executive track, which was what made me quit.
Saukok Tiampo: That’s their training program for becoming a senior manager.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Before that, I’m curious when you were at the start up, you were a founder of that; were there other founders that you were with? It wasn’t just you, is that right?
Jamie Tiampo: Yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay.
Jamie Tiampo: Yes, there were a bunch of people that came over from another .com that died a horrible death, and it was trying to re-sell banner ads basically.
Saukok Tiampo: That start up, just to give a little bit of context, eventually … It started up with already a handful of people, and eventually grew to seventy people. Even as a start up it was quite sizable, as start ups go.
Jamie Tiampo: It eventually ended up being eighty people. This was back in the day of Battleship class start ups, not like today’s unicorns, of course, but …
Bjork Ostrom: What do you mean by that? Can you explain that analogy?
Jamie Tiampo: Unicorns being billion dollar start ups that have obscene valuations.
Bjork Ostrom: Snapchat?
Jamie Tiampo: Yeah, without any particular revenue.
Saukok Tiampo: I think the word start up can mean different things to different people. For some people, start up is just really you in your office, in your home, and creating a business. To some other people, like Jamie back in the day, that start up is also quote, unquote a start up, but that was already five professionals with degrees in technology, and then they eventually, very quickly, scaled up to like twelve, fifteen, twenty engineers, and then they grew from there. That was the kind of start up it was, and eventually that quote, unquote start up was eighty people got bought out by IBM.
Jamie stayed on for a year integrating it, which is what IBM ask, I think, of all of the companies they acquire. There was the pivotal moment that I remember, when James came to me and said, “So, I’ve been offered this partnership track …” What was it called? It’s called leadership track. Something like that.
Bjork Ostrom: Some type of track.
Saukok Tiampo: Right. Some promotion. The fast tracks the E Band. To become an executive, and he said, “Should I take it?” I looked at him because he had been considering leaving the technology industry and going into food for some time, but making a jump is hard, because technology pays well, technology is very stable as a career, and he had all his training in technology. I also knew he has always loved food, has always had a passion for food, but I don’t think that he really had a clear idea what he could do in food, and that jump is scary. That’s when I asked him. I said, “Well, James, it’s really prestigious to be offered this role within IBM. Do you want to become the CEO of IBM one day?”
Jamie Tiampo: I essentially had my next ten, fifteen years mapped out for me, where I would move to the Poughkeepsie, or Austin, and manage a hundred million dollars of revenue, but certainly a hundred, two hundred people headcount, and grow the business, so to speak. It was one of those moments when I was like, “Well, what do I really want to do? Do I want to be on the conference call at 4 AM with Shanghai, in London, and schedule meetings about meetings, get three layers of sing-off on whenever I want to buy a pack of highlighters.”
Bjork Ostrom: I’m judging by your analysis that you didn’t project it to be an enjoyable job. Am I correct in saying that?
Jamie Tiampo: I predicted it to be a very good, stable job; not one that would fulfill my inner lust for enjoyment, so I quit, and ended up going to culinary school at The Institute of Culinary Education. I did restaurant management at ICE, Institute of Culinary Education, I did culinary at French Culinary Institute, the International Culinary center is what they’re called now.
Saukok Tiampo: Culinary degree.
Jamie Tiampo: No.
Saukok Tiampo: ICC.
Jamie Tiampo: The International Culinary Center, is what they’re called now, and my masters in food studies at NYU.
Bjork Ostrom: You went all in on the food stuff.
Jamie Tiampo: Yeah. I basically took the philosophy of, “Let’s dive in with no net and figure out as much as I can about this new space in as little time as possible.”
Bjork Ostrom: When you say, “With no net,” what do you mean?
Jamie Tiampo: I wasn’t going back.
Bjork Ostrom: Yep, for sure.
Saukok Tiampo: I think Jamie didn’t really know what he could do in food, I really meant that he didn’t know. The easiest thing to presume, I think, for people outside the food industry, is, “Oh, well, if you want to do something in food, you open a restaurant.” That was in the option set for him, but I think all the stories of how difficult it is to run a restaurant, and how difficult it is to make money in the restaurant world …
Jamie Tiampo: It is. It’s an enormous pain in the ass.
Saukok Tiampo: … Were not lost on him. He just wanted to really explore, and take it seriously, the switch into the food industry, and not just think the he could sail in because he likes to eat food personally, he could do something.
Jamie Tiampo: I come across people all the time who are like, “I’m a foodie. I like to eat food.” It’s one thing being a consumer, and a very different thing being a producer. Same thing with content. Just because you like to watch movies doesn’t mean you can make them.
Bjork Ostrom: I’m interested to get into that in a little bit, and to talk specifically about what goes into that, because I know you guys have done over six hundred videos with everybody from Rachael Ray to The Food Network, and so you have a tonne of experience with that, and I’m excited to dig into that a little bit.
Jamie, you had gone through this period where you had done the start up thing, you had done the big business thing, and now you were taking a step back, and you’re analyzing the potential to do the food thing.
Saukok, I’m interested for your story, because I know that you also have experience in building a business before, and is that something you’re still working on today? I know that you’ve done some fashion, and some design, if I’m remembering your story right. Is that something you’re still involved with today?
Saukok Tiampo: Yeah. Actually this business, SeeFood Media, and another business that we’re involved in, Top Brown Roast Beef, are so busy that I had to make the decision to cull my portfolio, so to speak, so no, I had to decide, as an entrepreneur, to really focus my time. On the one hand it’s hard because, as you probably can imagine, as an entrepreneur, you love all of your businesses, and you believe in all of them, but at a certain point, I was working on four to five businesses at once, and as an entrepreneur it’s very difficult to make all them go full speed when you can’t put your full time and attention on it. I almost feel like it’s a privilege that I had that re businesses that I loved and believed in, and that some of them were so successful that I was almost pushed to the ghost, spent all of my time, just really dedicate them to the right things.
Bjork Ostrom: Absolutely.
Jamie Tiampo: A lot of it is the philosophy of having many irons in the fire, but knowing which ones are hot and working on them.
Bjork Ostrom: Taking your previous experiences, I’m interested to hear how both of you came together and said, “This is something that we want to do. We want to move towards this goal of creating a production company around food media.” Was it as simple as a coffee shop conversation? You sit down and say, “We’re going to do this.” Did it evolve into that? The question that I would love for you to answer is, how did those previous experiences that you had; Jamie, for you in the start up world, and then working for IBM, and Saukok, for you, building your businesses, doing your fashion work. How did that shape the intentional decision that you made to go into SeeFood Media?
Jamie Tiampo: Actually, just to back on Saukok for a minute, she actually spent ten years in investment banking before the fashion side.
Bjork Ostrom: Included in that as well, I’d be interested to hear.
Jamie Tiampo: No, it didn’t just start from a kernel and grown from day one. What it was, how SeeFood Media started, essentially, was when I was doing my masters, ’05-’06 time frame, I was in Italy studying Italian food culture and taking pictures when I was out there. Mitchell Davis was one of the professors out there, and after getting back from Italy, I got a call from Isabella at the James Beard House, and she said, “Hey, Jimmy, I saw some of your photos from Italy. Want to have an exhibition here at the James Beard House …” I was like, “Okay, sure. Yeah.”
Really, that led to the exhibition at the James Beard House, and I ended up really enjoying the process of putting together all the images, and curating them, and making a show out of it, essentially, and that led to my first cookbook deal, in fact. Elizabeth Carmel was one of the people that came by, and she was my first cookbook.
Saukok Tiampo: She saw the photos, and she said, I want this guy to shoot my cookbook, and the rest is history. From that he got two other cookbooks.
Jamie Tiampo: Yeah. One with Sarah Moulton, and one with Carol Fenster, and so I was shooting books and really growing that, so I incorporated SeeFood Media to professionalize it, in a sense.
Bjork Ostrom: That was 2007, 2008 time range?
Jamie Tiampo: Yeah.
Saukok Tiampo: At that time, just to set the stage, the Internet as still … It definitely wasn’t what it is now. Smartphones were not really out there. It was still the age of the Nokia phone.
Jamie Tiampo: People were carrying around Trios, and …
Saukok Tiampo: Right.
Bjork Ostrom: The old palm pilot.
Saukok Tiampo: Yeah. Blogs were still in the very early stage.
Jamie Tiampo: Not even infants.
Saukok Tiampo: Right. The word, blog, was still not necessarily very established. You could still find people, “What’s a blog?” Then you started doing lot of still photography.
Jamie Tiampo: I was doing a lot of still photography, and the backdrop as well as that. In 2008, the world fell apart.
Saukok Tiampo: Yeah, there was a financial crisis.
Bjork Ostrom: In case anybody forgot.
Jamie Tiampo: Yeah, exactly. A lot of the publishers, which were spending previously a bunch of money on cookbook publishing, were going out of business, or cutting back significantly. At the same time as well, DSLR technology was starting to get better and better, so the cameras were de-skilling, essentially, a lot of the skill of photography, where you need to know about shutter speed, and aperture, and lighting, and …
Saukok Tiampo: It became less technical, maybe, and more aesthetic, is how I might put it, so that someone like Lindsay, who is very talented, I think, on the aesthetic side, then is less held back by some of these technological requirements that photography used to place on the photographer, so that’s something that you saw, Jamie.
Jamie Tiampo: What that translates into essentially, was I was seeing the market for still food photography contracting and transforming, and so back then I was looking at video, because videos really, it’s a higher skill level involved. The barest entry you hire, essentially, is what it boils down to. There’s much more teamwork involved. It’s virtually impossible just to … It’s not virtually impossible. It’s really difficult to be a one-man band with video.
Saukok Tiampo: For a professional quality video, because the elements of lighting and sound are two things that for consumers, it’s not very easy to get to match a professional level, an on top of that, the coordination of the recipes, the talent, the camera …
Jamie Tiampo: All the pre-production.
Saukok Tiampo: Yeah, the pre-production planning, the post production editing, there’s a lot of elements, and on top of that, the facility. Having the right facility where the positioning is correct, and you have enough space for lighting, and enough space for sound. On a typical day, on a typical shoot, we have fifteen people surrounding one talent. It’s not something that is as simple as a still shoot, where you could potentially have someone making beautiful food, and one person shooting photos, maybe with a light, or maybe just with natural light, and it could look really beautiful. That is not something that really happens in video.
Bjork Ostrom: If I was to summarize what you’ve said so far, at this point you are really enjoying photography. It’s not like you weren’t enjoying it, but you started to realize the industry trend shifting towards accessibility, and in that, realized that as things become more accessible, then more people do them, and as more people do them, there’s the classic supply and demand where it becomes … The supply increases, and then it’s able to meet demand, and so the economics of that play out where maybe it’s not as sustainable of a business. Am I accurate in summarizing so far?
Jamie Tiampo: You hit the nail on the head.
Saukok Tiampo: Perfect.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay. This was 2008, and you decided to shift then, or slowly make that shift?
Jamie Tiampo: Yeah, we started doing more video productions, or helping out on video productions, and just hanging around on some sets and seeing …
Saukok Tiampo: To be fair. Sorry, I’m going to say, to be fair, I want to give Jamie credit for really seeing that broadband was going to transform video, because at that time, if you had a video camera, chances were you were shooting a television show, or a commercial for broadcast TV. The concept of digital video, or online video was still very recent, because …
Jamie Tiampo: YouTube was basically just starting.
Saukok Tiampo: Yeah. People thought the concept of YouTube was crazy and stupid.
Jamie Tiampo: Yeah, who’s going to watch …
Saukok Tiampo: Who’d watch a bunch of dumb home videos?
Jamie Tiampo: … Cats jumping of a roof into a pool?
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Me. Lindsay and I, for one.
Saukok Tiampo: I remember Jamie coming to me one night, and telling me, “Oh, there’s a start up called Podcast Go,” because back then, actually, videos online were called podcasts.
Bjork Ostrom: How interesting.
Saukok Tiampo: Yeah.
Jamie Tiampo: Video podcasts.
Saukok Tiampo: There was a start up that was willing … “I’m going to pitch someone letting me star in some videos, and they’re going to give me a crew, and then with a couple of guys we’re going to go shoot a bunch of online content.” I said, “How do you watch this stuff? Where is it going to be?”
Bjork Ostrom: What channel?
Saukok Tiampo: Right, exactly. Jamie then started dabbling in content for online, and then I think he began to see that first of all, that online video was going to become a real force, and then secondly that there’s an opportunity to serve people that didn’t want to shell out one to two million dollars for a broadcast commercial, but that wanted culinary content that they could potentially serve online.
Right, is that good?
Jamie Tiampo: Yeah, absolutely. A lot of this is driven in the last four or five years, by the availability of bandwidth to the end user, so the last mile, bandwidth has always really been the challenge as far as video delivered over the Internet.
Bjork Ostrom: Can you explain what you mean by the last mile?
Jamie Tiampo: The last mile being the connection between a network and the end user. In the past it’s been the telephone companies over a DSL lines, now it’s the cable companies over coax cable.
Bjork Ostrom: Meaning, as far as the Internet is delivered, there’s all these different stages, and from the industry standpoint, the last mile is like from Comcast to the Ostrom’s house, and that’s that last piece that connects one point to another.
Jamie Tiampo: Correct. Yes. Video is a bandwidth monster. It just chews up bandwidth like you wouldn’t believe. It involves ridiculously large files being streamed back and forth, and with DOCSIS 3, which is a new standard for cable connectivity, essentially, you can get … To the consumer, you can have a twenty-five, fifty, hundred megabit down connection.
Bjork Ostrom: Which essentially means streaming video, right?
Jamie Tiampo: Correct. Up until very recently, there hasn’t really been a mechanism to deliver a video to the end user over the Internet.
Saukok Tiampo: Yeah. Going back to my finance days, I remember in the year 2000, there was a big telecom boom.
Jamie Tiampo: Charter.
Saukok Tiampo: Right. Big companies like World Com, were building out these giant networks, and I remember seeing these presentations of these telecommunications companies telling their customers and investors, broadband and smartphones are going to be everywhere. You’re going to be watching videos on your … This was at the time where cellular phones were just starting out. They already saw this, and they pitched it, but they were ten, fifteen years ahead of their time, and so a lot of these telecom companies actually built these networks in the ground, but that never really ended up getting lit up or used, because the ability to get that last mile, as Jamie said … The networks are under the ground, but to actually get from this node in New York City to our house here, or to my phone, that last link was not made. Partly it didn’t need to be made for a long time, because my phone couldn’t handle that.
Jamie Tiampo: There wasn’t a demand for that.
Saukok Tiampo: Right. Online video of today, I think it’s the stat of something like fifty to sixty percent of people watch online mobile video. It’s very commonplace now. You pick up your phone, you’re waiting in line, you’re bored so you turn on Facebook and you watch a couple of funny videos, or you watch a couple of food videos. That didn’t happen until the last couple of years.
Jamie Tiampo: Yeah. Really until the last three years, is when videos really grew.
Saukok Tiampo: Online video progressed from YouTube and watching it on your desktop at work, where you had a fast connection, and that’s the only place where your connection’s fast enough to watch online video. It’s now progressed to the point where last year I read an article from Facebook’s Zuckerberg that said he thinks that in a couple of years, Facebook will be all video.
Bjork Ostrom: Wow.
Saukok Tiampo: Yeah, so the ability of people to watch video, and I have to admit that I never used to watch video. I thought online video was, I don’t know, the playground of fifteen year olds, right? Funny videos on your phone. Now I watch them constantly, because they’re really good, and they’re very available.
Jamie Tiampo: Waiting for the subway…
Saukok Tiampo: They’re fun.
Jamie Tiampo: While waiting for the light to change..
Bjork Ostrom: At this point, Jamie, you knew that this was a space that you wanted to go into. You had an understanding of photography, but you knew that the industry was going to shift towards video, continuing to do that today, and undoubtedly will continue to happen. I’m interested to hear in that in between time, what did you learn from the time that you spent with those production companies, helping out in whatever capacity it was?
Jamie Tiampo: Good question. A lot of it is in lighting. If you light something well, you can make an iPhone look gorgeous.
Saukok Tiampo: I even roll back a little bit, and say that the first thing that you learned probably, is how complicated it is to shoot food.
Jamie Tiampo: Yes.
Saukok Tiampo: There are a lot of great production companies out there, who have made their bread and butter shooting beautiful car ads, beautiful models, amazing fashion, or lifestyle, and then you give them a food shoot to do, and things kind of melt, because food is actually even more complicated than people as talents. Food does not wait for you, food might not turn out the way you want it to, food doesn’t listen to you. If you don’t plan things out right, you think you’re going to do a Lasagna shoot, you didn’t really think about the fact that it takes forty minutes for that Lasagna to go in the oven to cook …
Jamie Tiampo: You screwed one up.
Saukok Tiampo: Right. One didn’t go the way you thought it was going to go, and you didn’t prepare the one that needs to be baked, so now everyone’s hanging out waiting for thirty-five minutes.
Jamie Tiampo: Yeah. On a commercial shoot when you have twenty people standing around waiting, that’s a lot of money …
Bjork Ostrom: Thousands of dollars.
Jamie Tiampo: Yeah.
Saukok Tiampo: There’s also a lot of pressure on shoot days too, to maximize the amount of time, or minimize the amount of time, and maximize the amount of content, so people are requesting four videos a day, six videos a day, eight videos a day. That puts even more pressure on planning everything out, really making sure that all the food is already pre-ordered, all the forks, and knives, and plates, and pots, and pans, for every single video shoot have already been prepared, because you don’t have time to be running around for that. That’s maybe the first thing, I think, that you learned, is when you did your first shoot. There was so much stuff that had to be done ahead of time, and so many things that were piled up on set that had to be organized, and people that had to have their ducks in a row.
Jamie Tiampo: Just the paperwork to make sure they all got paid.
Saukok Tiampo: The equipment; to make sure you had the right equipment that for the right budget you were getting the best look and feel, and that’s constantly changing, so Jamie stays on top of the equipment a lot to see what’s the new camera? How much is that? What kind of visuals can I get out of that? How portable is that? How much can I move it? Can I get overhead shots with it? Can I get side shots? Does that look good? What about slow motion?
Jamie Tiampo: We’re constantly trying to think of new ways to present food, and have innovation on the visual side, because we’re in a visual age.
Saukok Tiampo: You switched out our light sets twice since we’ve owned the business, because new technology came out, so Jamie learned about so many facets of sorting the equipment, plus the business side, plus the pre-production, and then the post production is something that we also learned a lot too, in terms of how to be efficient on the post production, but still be able to deliver all the right quality that we always want to have. There’s a lot of pressure to cut really quickly, and some people want us to cut something within two days, and some people are willing to give us a month. There’s a lot of pressure on that front to balance putting out good quality work, but not putting out an astronomical price.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, the balance there.
Jamie Tiampo: Everything is made in post, in the end. The big secret to making great video is to cut out all the bad bits. That’s what happens in post. There it is. I’m out of a job now.
Bjork Ostrom: Everybody knows. What you mean by that is essentially, you are cutting out the stuff that’s bad, so in post production you go in, you make it look really smooth by cutting out the things that don’t work well.
Jamie Tiampo: That don’t work well, but we’re also matching up frames with action, and knowing what, within the music, cutting to a beat, getting the right take. We might shoot a talent saying the same thing four times, and we’ll pick the best take. It might be from three different angles, so we need to review all that footage.
Saukok Tiampo: Then sometimes there are times when you actually have to stitch things together, so the talent said the beginning line real great the first take, but then he flubbed the second line, so then in the fourth take, the second line is real good, so you’ve got to try to stitch them together.
Jamie Tiampo: You don’t have the right angle, so you have to put it in and you have to slop on a shot of a hand picking up a pepper mill, or something like that, to cover up the fact that you didn’t get the right angle of his face.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure. I want to go back a little bit and touch on two things before we get too far away from them. Jamie, you were talking about the importance of lighting, and how important that is. I think that’s a really important takeaway, and the other thing that you mentioned was the importance of the multiple roles that people have, and the different roles that people play into it, and I’m interested to hear … The other thing was the difficulty in a food shoot. How food isn’t like people. It’s not as easy to work with. With each one of those areas, do you have advice for somebody? Maybe a tip or a takeaway from each one of those. Let’s say for lighting, if somebody’s just getting started out, what should they be doing with lighting? Then that same question for if you have any type of tip or takeaway for the food related stuff? How to prepare food for video, and maybe the one role that somebody should have helping them if they’re just getting started? It’s a big question, but do you have thoughts on that?
Jamie Tiampo: Sure. Lighting wise, I would say two things. One is have as large a lighting source as possible, and that means having a large diffused source that you can push out a lot of light from, and give it a nice wrap-py quality, so that it wraps around whatever objects you have, all your props, all you food, all your people. It doesn’t have to be a single light source, of course. Most of the time we use ten, fifteen fixtures on a set. Then the other thing is pick a color temperature and stick with it. You see a lot of lower end productions that have multiple color temperatures. There’ll be some blue lights, some orange light, some in between, some greenish. You really have to commit to a particular lighting technology, and make that the standard all the way across the board, so that everything is lit with the same type of light, and you can white balance to that particular white balance and make everything look even. Otherwise it just gets blotchy.
Saukok Tiampo: If I may, I’ll jump in, Bjork, here, as a non lighting expert I’ve learned … If I were to do this now, having worked on food video productions for three years, I would say go with natural light and just really experiment. Shoot yourself, or shoot the item that you want to shoot in various light, from different angles, and figure out what the angle is for your set up, and what the right time is, and then figure out your little cheats. For example, right now I’ve figured out … I already know things like back-lights don’t work. When we sat here when we were going to do a Skype with you, and we thought video was be on, I could already predict that it wasn’t going to look good, because I knew there was light behind me so my face would be dark. Those are some basic things that you can learn. I would have positioned myself with a wall behind me, but then light from the side, and maybe light from the front, and then I also saw that the light was very harsh, so I probably would have put a sheer up on the side …
Jamie Tiampo: Diffusion.
Saukok Tiampo: … I would have done the same … Exactly. What experts would call diffusion. What I would say is, “Okay, the light is too harsh on me. It’s blowing out, so if I put a white on it, it will be gentler. Then same with the food, right, so how are you going to frame it? When you get closer versus further, there’s little tips and tricks that as a consumer you can do without even using a light, because to me, having lighting will be really honestly quite…
Jamie Tiampo: It complicates things.
Saukok Tiampo: It’s intimidating.
Jamie Tiampo: Yeah, the problem with going with natural light is that first of all … Two problems. One is that your day ends when the sun sets, and if you live in a place like Minnesota, where it sits at rude o’clock in the afternoon…
Bjork Ostrom: You know.
Jamie Tiampo: Yeah. The other thing is editing becomes harder, because light is constantly shifting and changing, minute to minute, the clouds come in and out in front of the sun, and it makes big differences in the light. Hour to hour, the sun traverses across the sky, so where you may have had shadow at 10 AM, at 1 PM it’s blazing hot. You just have to deal with that when you’re dealing with natural light. The reason why I say it’s kind of a pain in edit, is that when you’re trying to cut something that you shot at 10 AM together with something you shot at 1 PM, the light will be totally different, and it will show up as a jump cut.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, then when you go back in time to do some of those cuts that you were talking about before, it’s very obvious. It looks like you said this window was a bright out, and now it’s a dark. Why did that happen?
Jamie Tiampo: Exactly.
Bjork Ostrom: We’ve run into that before. We have a kitchen that has great natural light, and we’ve experimented with some videos and used natural light, but you quickly realize how that changes so quickly. The recommendation that you’d have for people if they want to do video, if they want to do it really well, would be to cover their windows in some way, and use artificial light. Obviously, that’s going to be more involved, like you said, but that’s going to get a consistent look.
Would you recommend LED lights, or what is going to be the most affordable way for people to start off with, with artificial lighting?
Jamie Tiampo: That goes into a whole other conversation. Most LED technology right now is okay, but not that great. There’s one exception that I’m really hot to trot on right now, which is a company called Cineo Lighting, and they make … I’ve converted entirely to Cineos, pretty much. This is not a paid …
Bjork Ostrom: Paid sponsorship.
Saukok Tiampo: We’re not paid by Cineo, unfortunately.
Jamie Tiampo: We’re not. They don’t give us free stuff. The quality of light is the best that I’ve seen out of any non HMI over tungsten fixture, meaning the color rendering index is very high. It’s like a ninety-four CRI. Tungsten light is actually relatively inexpensive, and it’s good CRIs, high color rendering, meaning that colors appear true to what they should be in nature. The only issue is that with tungsten light, everything looks kind of orange, but you can white balance for that.
Referencing what I said earlier where I said pick one color temperature and stick with it, if you go with tungsten, you have to make sure that you black out your windows, because everything will appear orange with little blue highlights in it, and that’s quite disturbing to the eye.
Bjork Ostrom: Not ideal, no.
Jamie Tiampo: The tungsten lights are a great way to start, and get things going relatively inexpensively. The other downside with tungsten is that they throw off a lot of heat, so your kitchen will get very hot, very fast.
Another recommendation is don’t use the overhead cans in your ceiling. A lot of people have recessed overhead lights in kitchens, and a lot of time they’ll be MR16s, which are low voltage with a reflector. Those don’t look very good overhead, because what that does is it gives you really hollowed out eye sockets, and also it throws big hard shadows underneath plates. If you have a leaf sticking up, it will throw a shadow on your food. Things like that. Turn off the overhead lights, put light in front, or behind, or in the sides. Actually, sides and the back are ideal for food, then you can bounce in light from the front.
Another great trick with food in particular, is to have what’s in the industry called a hair light, where you have a light that’s positioned up and behind your subject, and that puts a little bit of a rim right on the back edges, the bits that stick out in a mound, and that really gives a nice glow-y effect as well.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay. That’s simply a light that’s above the food.
Jamie Tiampo: Correct. If you look at your local news tonight, when you’re watching Lester Holt on NBC, as most something should, you’ll see that Lester has got side lights on his profile on his face, and it’s a softer light on the side. In his desk, actually, you’ll see a little sheet of glass, and underneath that sheet of glass there are some little uplights that fill in his eye sockets. On the back, you’ll see the back of his head a little highlight, right on his hair on the back there, and that’s a hair light. Doing the same thing for food essentially you take a light and put it pretty much opposite the lens, off to the left or the right a little bit. It doesn’t have to be very strong, but just give it a little kick in the back there, and it makes food look a lot better pretty much automatically.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s awesome. That’s great advice. I’m curious to hear specifically about working with food itself. Do you have any advice or things that you’ve learned? Maybe it’s now they’re such strong habits that you can’t even pull out what it is exactly that you do, but do you have any advice for people that are looking to video food, or record food, and how they should handle it?
Jamie Tiampo: The biggest thing is know food really really well, and know how it behaves, and the signs behind why things brown, or why if you put acid on parsley it’s going to turn muddy, or if you pan sear something at medium high heat instead of low heat, that will get a nice crust on that versus becoming gray and mushy. Things like that. The big thing is have plenty of back ups, and make way more than you need. Our standard is 6x for a recipe. We prepare recipes six times what we need for everything, and that gives us enough to have mis en place for different stages of the food being built, and swap-outs, and room for screw ups as well, because things always go wrong.
Saukok Tiampo: My input on that would be, I would say think about what you’re going to shoot in excruciating detail, and plan it out, especially if you’re doing it on your own, or with a very small team, when the camera starts rolling, there is so much happening that you really can’t afford to not have thought things out, or not have things prepared. Let’s say you’re going to be baking cookies. Look at your recipe and plan out as much as you can each shot. What am I going to do here? Am I going to drop eggs into the bowl? Am I going to have eggs that are already cracked open? Am I going to crack the eggs open on camera? Did I need the egg yolk already separated from the white, and if I do, is it better for me to have them pre-separated? Will I be struggling with the egg yolk and the white on camera and it doesn’t look that appealing?
Each and every one of those details, if you think through those details, you will have a smoother shoot, and you will make better use of your and everyone else’ time. Then you won’t have potentially, some footage that really doesn’t look that great, and then if you’re even more sophisticated than that, you can think through, do I want to have a close up shot here, because this is actually very important? How do I make sure that I’m able to get the camera into the pot, because if the camera is at a certain angle here, and I’m actually using a tall stockpot, a lot of times when you see people, even professionally produced videos, they just didn’t even think about it, so if she’s making a sauce or soup, and I can’t see into the pot, I’m just looking at the side of the pot while she’s talking the entire time, and the food in the pot is actually changing, and I can’t see it.
Jamie Tiampo: Yeah, it can be full of broken glass for all you care.
Saukok Tiampo: I think the more type A you can be before a shoot … When you’re on the shoot itself, then being relaxed and being yourself is great, but ahead of the shoot, with food the more you can plan it out, then the better it will be, and the better your shoot will be, and the better the food will look.
Bjork Ostrom: That’s great.
Jamie Tiampo: Also be flexible with your plans too, because even though you plan everything to the nth degree, it’s going to go wrong. Something will happen and you have to be able to adapt. I always tell my team that it’s not how good our plans are, it’s how good we are once the plans go awry.
Saukok Tiampo: Your plans need to be good.
Jamie Tiampo: The plans need to be good.
Saukok Tiampo: Yeah, it’s not like you can have poor planning ahead of time, and then things go wrong, and you just catch it. You need to have good plans to begin with, but if things don’t go as planned, which … That’s another good point from Jamie’s side. Food doesn’t always behave as you expect. If you’re supposed to be doing a sunny side up egg, your egg might not turn over right five times in a row, so just be relaxed and it’ll be fine. Figure it out.
Bjork Ostrom: Would you consider that type of work to be pre production, is that what you’d call it in terms of an industry term?
Saukok Tiampo: Yes.
Bjork Ostrom: Be sure. If you’re going to shoot a video, especially if you’re bringing other people in on your team, make sure to do that pre production, which I think is an important takeaway, because a lot of people, especially those that are working on their own, maybe they have a blog or a website, or they’re producing recipe development for other companies. Are you just kind of starting, and they maybe have an idea of what they want to do, but to really sit down and plan out each stage is a bit of a change, I think, for most people, but really important. That’s great.
Jamie Tiampo: Absolutely, and that’s really what separates a professional is the pre and the post. Everyone thinks that the shoot is the most glamorous part, and you go in and lights, action, camera, and everything goes to plan, but it takes way more time and effort to plan it and to edit it, than it does to actually shoot.
Bjork Ostrom: Sure.
Saukok Tiampo: They are just as important components, yeah.
Bjork Ostrom: I think of the analogy of if you want to cut down a tree, you sharpen your ax. You have ten hours, and you sharpen your ax for nine, and then it’s going to be a really easy hour as opposed to just sharpening it for an hour and then hacking away for nine hours.
I’m mentally keeping track of our road map here on the conversation, and those were some takeaways, and then we diverted a little bit, and talked about things people could apply, but I want to go back to what we were talking about before when you were talking about 2008, 2009, the anticipation of video, mobile video, and the importance of that for brands. Do you feel like that projection was on track with what you anticipated? How have you seen major brands start to implement video, whether mobile or desktop, we’ll say online video? How have you seen them start to implement video to grown their brand, and to connect with influences?
Jamie Tiampo: Sure. Absolutely. Video is absolutely on track, and it’s considered an important part of the marketing mix now. The ability for brands to address their consumers directly, and control their own message, is incredible. It’s so powerful for brands to be able to go in and really be an authoritative source for information regarding their product. That has really changed the marketing world, so to speak.
Saukok Tiampo: I think if you think about traditionally brands had, in their arsenal, the ability to place a broadcast ad on TV that you’re not really that excited to watch, but it’s in between the show that you’re trying to watch, so maybe you’re paying a little attention to it, but maybe you’re tuned-out. They really have very little control over that, and they don’t know how engaged you are, they know that they paid for the ad, they know that this many people were watching the television show that it was advertised during, and that’s kind of what they had to work with. Now they can try and figure out, well, these are my consumers, and these are the things that my consumers are searching for. They can actually target content based on what their consumers are searching for, and then they can tell that their consumer’s actually watching this video, and each time they’re paying for an ad, they’re actually paying for a consumer that watched it for a certain amount of time.
I think that that is pretty powerful, and brands have figured that out very very quickly, and secondly I think that brands have also figured out that video actually does lead people to purchase, which is a big part of why, I think, brands are really spending time on online video content, because really there’s a direct tie for them to say that people watched their video and now want to go purchase their product.
Bjork Ostrom: Mm-hmm (affirmative) The influence that it has.
Let’s say that you are talking to us, Lindsay and I, Pinch of Yum, or anybody else that has their own thing, and they’re interested in doing video, what would you tell them? Would you say this is important, you need to be getting on YouTube? This is important, you need to start working with brands? What’s the best way for people to start if they know they want to get into video?
Jamie Tiampo: That’s an interesting question. I would say that the biggest decision that someone has to make is how pure they want to keep their editorial. Brands will always want to essentially … As a publisher, they’ll want to get as much as they can for pretty good … “I use X product because I find that yummy and delicious, and so should you. Why don’t you come try this, and here’s a dollar off coupon.” If you’re fine with doing that as a content producer and publisher, then great, go for it, but understand that once you cross that line, you’ve just got to go with it. You can’t say, “I’m not going to promote Burger King, because I don’t believe in their meat sourcing practices.” Not to bash Burger King but, I just picked that at random. It could be any food brand or company.
Bjork Ostrom: Right.
Jamie Tiampo: It’s a decision that you have to make and stick with once you’ve made that decision.
Bjork Ostrom: In terms of sponsored content, and working with brands, whether video or in written content, if you’re going to do it, you have to commit to it and say, “This is something I’m going to do. I’m going to work with brands. I’m going to work with sponsored content.” Okay. That makes sense.
Jamie Tiampo: I think that’s the key stumbling block for a lot of people. Having said that, there’s good business to be made in producing content for brands, and so in our case, we don’t actually … I stopped doing editorial altogether, because it just wasn’t going to … I made that decision to just go with commercial production, and we provide white label production services for a lot of different food brands and companies, and we’re happy to do that, and it allows us to work with food, and do a job every day that we love doing. We don’t have any sticky ethical situations because of that.
I had a platform called ETV before, and that was a video … James Beard award winning video editorial platform that I had a lot of fun with.
Bjork Ostrom: That was one of the things I was going to bring up. ETV.com, is that right?
Jamie Tiampo: Not anymore. It now points at SeeFood Media, and to a particular page. Before, it was its own food sharing site, with written and video content.
Bjork Ostrom: There’s some awesome videos that really encourage people to go and check those out. Award winner in 2012, James Beard for video and then a nominee in 2014 as well.
Jamie Tiampo: Correct.
Bjork Ostrom: some really, I would say long form, but long form compared to what a usual web video would be, but really inspiring, cool story telling behind those videos, so I’d encourage people to go to that.
I have a couple more questions here for you guys. One specifically about video, and then I actually want to talk about SeeFood Media a little bit, and what you guys are doing with that, and your experiences with that.
Here’s my question to you. The two of you, tomorrow you get a phone call. Bobby Flay says, “I want to come, I want to shoot video at SeeFood Media,” but here’s the catch, there’s nothing in SeeFood Media except the props, the kitchen, and you have a thousand dollar budget. What are you going to spend that one thousand dollars on in order to do a shoot with Bobby Flay? Which I know is going to be hard for you, because you have high quality standards, but if you were forced to only spend a thousand dollars, what would you use?
Jamie Tiampo: Over here, we have all the infrastructure already built, so we have all the cameras, all the lighting in house, and we have props, and we have four, soon to be seven, kitchens already built, with all the food handling equipment, and everything like that. In theory we don’t really need to run out and spend a thousand dollars to execute on this.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay. Hypothetically. If the hypothetical situation was not only Bobby Flay called, but then you also found that somebody had come and robbed SeeFood Media of all of your equipment, and had somehow figured out how to hack into your bank accounts and drained all of those. Then you looked under your couch cushion and you said, “We have a thousand dollars.” Then what? It’s an extremely hypothetical question.
Jamie Tiampo: Sure. In that case, we would end up shooting on our iPhone probably, because that’s … I’m assuming the burglars didn’t take my phone too.
Bjork Ostrom: That was the one thing I forgot to mention. They didn’t take you guys’ phones.
Jamie Tiampo: They didn’t take my phone? Okay. We can at least do that, because if you only have a thousand dollars, the budget just isn’t there to get a Phantom, for instance, which is ungodly expensive. We rent a Phantom once, for a very cool video, for Driscoll’s berries that you can see in our portfolio page, actually. It’s the chocolate covered strawberries. The Phantom, that was like eight thousand dollars a day …
Bjork Ostrom: Oh, my God.
Jamie Tiampo: … Just to rent it, but it shoots two thousand frames per second, and we had all sorts of really cool strawberries flying through the air into water, and stuff like that.
Bjork Ostrom: I think the Phantom is what they use when major league baseball does slow motion on hits, and stuff like that, or different catches. I see a lot of times they say Phantom Cam, so I know what you’re talking about.
Jamie Tiampo: Yeah, absolutely. That’s not something we use every day. Day to day we use a C300, which are only sixteen thousand dollars, not including lenses. Anyway, I digress. If I only had a thousand dollars, I’d shoot it on iPhone. This doesn’t include food cost, does it?
Bjork Ostrom: No.
Jamie Tiampo: Okay. I would spend money on props to go out and get some … We do a lot of our prop shopping at thrift stores like the Salvation Army, or Good Will, and you’re just going to go in there and poke around, and see what you can find. That keeps your costs lower. You don’t have to go to Anthropology, or Kristoff to get everything. Yeah, you don’t have to spend a ton on props, but props make a big difference, and lighting. If I had a thousand dollars, I would go with tungsten lighting. You can get some bare bulbs at Home Depot, and hang a couple of them around, and shoot them through some sheer curtains, just from Death and Beyond, or Ikea, that you can get those white sheers, and just hung up on the ceiling, and that will help spread out the lighting so it’s not so harsh. That’s probably what we do. We probably wouldn’t do it for a thousand dollars for Bobby Flay. That’s just really …
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That was a really hard hypothetical situation.
Jamie Tiampo: We know he has budget.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. The better question maybe would have been, if somebody is listening, they have a thousand dollars to spend on it, where would you spend it? What I heard you say was you don’t need a super expensive camera. You can use your iPhone. You should probably use artificial lighting. You can use tungsten, and shoot that through sheets to diffuse it. The one question that I would have would be the audio. Would you recommend getting a mic, or using the iPhone mic, or what would your recommendation be for that for a budget audio solution for those that are listening?
Jamie Tiampo: For a budget audio solution, either way you should absolutely not use the mic on the iPhone, mainly because you want to have your microphone as close to your sound source as possible, otherwise it will sound echo-y and hollow. There’s a manufacturer called Zoom, and they make a sound recorder, and you can get a Lavalier microphone. The Lavalier is one of those little clip type mics that you can clip onto your shirt and plug it into a Zoom recorder, and record sound separately, essentially.
Bjork Ostrom: Awesome.
Jamie Tiampo: What you can do is just clap your hands like that after you start rolling, and do it on camera, and when you clap your hands, you can sync that up with the point in the video where your two hands touch each other, so you sync that up with the spike in the audio, and that way you can sync your audio to your video.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay. Great.
Jamie Tiampo: A very, very cheap way of doing that.
Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, and that way you don’t have to have that poor audio that’s coming from the iPhone, you can see the little spike in the audio, in the video, and you can say, “Okay, that’s where I know these line up,” and so it doesn’t look like your audio is off from your mouth when you are talking.
Jamie Tiampo: Exactly.
Bjork Ostrom: Okay. Great.
Jamie Tiampo: That’s lip sync where the sound comes out of your mouth at the same time as your lips flap.
Bjork Ostrom: Right. Lip sync. It’s literally syncing your lips to the audio. That’s good.
We’re coming to the end here, but I want to have some time here to talk about SeeFood Media, because you guys do such incredible work, and I think if people are really looking to get inspired, I would encourage them to go to seefoodmedia.com. You’ve worked with everybody from Emerald to Rachael Ray, Sandra Lee, Kelsey Nixon, Giada. We did the podcast interview with Kelly Senyei, and you guys have worked with her before. A lot of really high level stuff that you guys do. Really quality video, and I’m interested to hear what you guys are doing, what you are excited about? There’s some things that are happening, I know you are building out some additional studios, and would love for you to just chat about SeeFood Media for a little bit.
Jamie Tiampo: Yeah, so we’re building out three new studios, as you said, three new kitchen sets as part of our ground floor expansion. About two years ago I was able to get some more space in the building on the ground floor, and we moved our offices down there. We had about fifteen hundred square feet of space where we built a new prop room, and a little make up room, and a bathroom, which we’re now installing a shower in too, because our employees want to run in the morning and shower before work.
In New York City you have to cram as much as you can into as little space as you can, because real estate’s very expensive. We’re building out three new kitchen sets, which is cool. We’ve got three different looks that we’ll be pulling in. One’s more a beach-y, driftwood-y look, one’s like a butter cream, vintage look, and the last one’s a nice big cherry, really beautiful cabinetry actually. Cherry and marble look, so that’s going to be exciting.
In terms of projects, our latest and greatest right now is we did an interactive video for Knorr, and that’s like a choose your own adventure video using annotations technology on YouTube. You can go in, and you can choose what your protein. If you want chicken, or beef, or veggies, or pork, and then that leads you to a second level menu. Do you want to do this pork with tomatoes, or asparagus, or onions? You choose tomatoes, and hey, here’s a great recipe that you’d like for Fajita Pork recipe.
Bjork Ostrom: It is really fun. I played around with that a little bit before Jim began the call, and not only is it really well done, but it’s a really cool, unique way to use YouTube and video annotations, and it’s really cool.
Jamie Tiampo: Yeah, we had a lot of fun putting that together, but getting all the details for that. Wow, it was a lot of work to get everything.
Bjork Ostrom: Cool. That’s seefoodmedia.com. Is there other places that people can find you online, and follow along with what you’re doing?
Jamie Tiampo: SeeFood Media’s pretty much the main place. Honestly, we don’t do such a great job selling ourselves.
Bjork Ostrom: In a lot of ways, I don’t think you need to, because when you go to the homepage, this happened to me just a couple of months ago, but I went to the homepage and pressed play this video, and I found myself just smiling all the way through. It was so well done, and it’s so engaging, and I think it does such a great job of communicating what you guys do, so for those that are listening in, I encourage you to go and check it out, because it’s awesome.
Jamie Tiampo: Great. Thank you.
Bjork Ostrom: Jamie, Saukok, thank you both for coming on the podcast today. Really really appreciate it, and we’ll be sure to include the links to the different things you guys mentioned here in the podcast show notes, and make sure that people follow along, and follow you guys for the incredible work that you do. Thanks for coming on.
Jamie Tiampo: Thank you so much.
Bjork Ostrom: Right. Have a good one.
All right. That’s a wrap for episode number fourteen of the Food Blogger Pro podcast. A big thank you again to Jamie and Saukok Tiampo for coming onto the podcast today, and again, you can check out their work at seefoodmedia.com.
Jamie explained here at the end that Saukok had to grab an important call, so if you noticed that she didn’t say goodbye, it’s not because she’s just being quiet, it’s because she wasn’t there. I just wanted to explain that.
Hey. Before we wrap up, I wanted to say thanks to those of you that have left a review for this podcast in iTunes. At the time of recording this, we’ve had over forty five star reviews, and it just means the world to us, so thank you so much for doing that.
If you’re interested in leaving a review or checking out the ones that have been written, you can search for Food Blogger Pro in iTunes.
That’s it for this week’s podcast. See you next week. Same time, same place.