How to shoot iPad app promo video

There is a rule: every good iPhone and iPad app needs a video. A short video will inspire and educate your customers and bring traffic to your website. Media agencies typically charge around $3,000-$10,000 for an animated or live action web video. However, it is possible to create a professional web video for your app at much smaller costs if you know some secrets.

Here is a list of things you will need for your video:

    1. Your app. It can be not a final version but should include all feature you’d like to demonstrate. It would be nice if interface won’t change significantly after you publish the video.
    2. Story. Story means not only what will happen on the iPad screen but WHY it will happen. There must be some sort of intrigue that can generate interest.
    3. Camera capable of shooting with different frame rates and all manual settings. You’ll need at least 60 and 30 fps. We’ll cover later why.
    4. A couple of lens, preferably a fast macro lens and a zoom lens.
    5. iPad 2 for medium and long shots. Our experiments showed that iPad 2 has a steady screen refresh rate of 60 Hz, which is very handy.
    6. iPad 3 for close-ups. Thanks to retina display, graphics look better but you can still see individual pixels in macro.
    7. Tripod. Just any good tripod would work.
    8. Person with small nice fingers.
    9. Room with uniform not too bright light. Ideally the room should have no spot lamps that can reflect in the screen.
    10. Video editing software.
    11. Music that accompanies your video and helps to create mood.
    12. Inspiration. You can look for it at www.startup-videos.com

Our setup for shooting Outline video was Canon 7D with Tamron 17-50 f/2.8 and Canon 70-300 f/4-5.6 IS USM, Sony Vegas and Adobe AfterEffects for editing and effects, and our office as a location and studio.

Be ready to face and solve many very specific problems. This is what we have faced and what we have done:

  • When you watch Apple’s videos about iPad at http://www.apple.com/ipad/#video, you will be amazed at how crisp and bright the screen is. Achieving that contrast and brightness outdoors is practically impossible without some special techniques. First technique is HDR video. We did not try that but the concept is recording each frame with different exposure. This way you’ll have one frame too bright and another frame too dark but when you combine them in a special software you will get a properly exposed frame. Another technique is using chroma key screen on iPad first and replacing the green screen with your actual app screens in post-production.
  • If you decide to shoot your actual app on iPad without chroma key, you’ll notice that the iPad screen flickers and there are pink lines that transform depending on angle at which you shoot the screen. It happens because your camera frame rate does not equal to the iPad’s screen refresh rate of the iPad. iPad 2 has a more or less stable refresh rate of 60 Hz, so you’ll need a camera that can do 60 fps. Seems like iPad 3 has a higher refresh rate (although we could not find exact figures). You may need to experiment with 24, 30 and 60 fps for iPad 3 scenes.
  • Immediately when you preview your first shots with a finger touching the screen, you’ll notice that the finger does not look too nice. Even if that is a finger of a beautiful young lady. You will have to setup your lighting in a way that the finger is in a shadow and apply some blurring effects to it in post-production.
  • Be ready that your app may crash while you are shooting. This is more likely to happen if you are using an early not stable version of your app. You may need to come up with a story that avoids crashy actions or remove them in post-production.
  • Although user interaction with your app may seem natural in real life, they look too slow in a video. You will have to speed up all finger movements while leaving all interface changes at their normal speed.
  • When your model goes through different screens of your app, the brightness of the screen may change from very bright (open text pages) to very dark (some images). Your camera may respond to those changes by automatically changing exposure, white balance etc. Make sure to apply all manual settings to each scene. Some parameters like white balance can be corrected in software but exposure should be pre-set to avoid too bright or too dark areas.
  • Humans’ hands shake all the time. While you may not notice that in real life, close up scenes may be very shaky. To avoid that, shoot close ups with iPad resting on table to construct some kind of supporting mechanism for iPad.
  • Keep in mind that it will be very hard to reshoot a scene keeping exactly the same angle and light. Rule of thumb is to shoot your main scene during one day. And yes, it can be very exhausting to repeat it over and over.
  • Color correction should be different for iPad shots and for scenes with people. Your viewers will not notice the change though.
  • If you don’t use chroma key, try different brightness levels on Ipad for different locations. You should find a balance between ambient light and screen.
  • Be very careful with reflections in the iPad screen. You don’t want to see your camera or other undesirable objects there.
  • Not every angle is good for Ipad videos. For example, if you shoot a right-handed person holding an iPad from the right, the hand will cover the screen and your viewers won’t see what’s happening there.
  • Experiment with depth of field and distance from camera to iPad. You may want to have your interest point to be in focus while all the rest blurred. Using blur vignette is a good idea.
  • If you don’t use chroma key, keep in mind that 100% focus and sharpness don’t produce the best quality of screen image. With exact focus, you will see pixels and too many details on the screen. Defocus a bit to get rid of individual pixels and de-noise the image.

The shooting process can be exhaustive. Remember: your viewers do not know what you were unable to shoot so don’t be upset if some scenes can’t be inserted into your video. On the other hand, people can notice some goofs (or mistakes) that were not noticed by you. Don’t worry about that too much either: Star Wars IV has 200 goofs!

Here is our resulting movie. It took 1 day to prepare, 1 day to shoot and 3 days to produce a final version. Can you notice any goofs?

3 thoughts on “How to shoot iPad app promo video

  1. The video looks quite good but there are still lines showing up at some places. Not sure if these fine field lines small boxes appearing up a problem of all camcoders or problem of screen.

  2. Apparently shooting a video of any screen you can't get rid of artifacts like pixels and screen matrix (even on Retina displays). They become even more visible if you zoom in or crop a scene in a video editor. Seems that the only way to make on-screen images look like they are perceived by eye (no lines nor pixels, smooth edges) is to use chroma key. We will try chroma key in our next video and post results here.

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