Written by Roya Ansari, professional photographer + millennial pioneer
Without delving into algorithims, going viral on Tiktok is relatively easy. Tiktok was specifically programmed to push your content out to viewers that aren’t following you. Being a millennial, I am part of the the first group of social media pioneers to figure out how to leverage social media platforms as marketing tools; the in’s and outs of building a brand and turning a passion to profit. It’s safe to say that I know a thing or two about growing a following on a social platform.
Viral Tiktok Content = Marketing 101
The most important thing to grow an organic following on *any* social media account — even before becoming a self-taught rocket-sceintist-algorithim-wiz — you *must* have a strong foundation built with authentic, beautiful, eye-catching, high-quality content. There’s no shortcut to it. It’s as simple as that. When you think about it, it’s basically marketing 101 — if you don’t clean your car, photograph it in good lighting, or write a thought out caption on craigslist, the chances of selling the car are low. The same works on social media. If the product (aka your content) is beautiful and well-presented to look irresistible and attention-commanding, the most customers (aka followers) you’re going to get. It’s pretty straight forward.
Okay, so you get the idea. Now what? “I’m 17 years old, I don’t have access to expensive studio equipment to create high quality stuff”. Well of course you don’t — you’re 17 years old (in theory) and you have real life bills to pay for. That’s why I’m here. I’ve been a professional photographer for 12 years and speaking as someone who literally has all of the equipment, software and resources to create cinema-quality content, I’m confident to declare that you don’t need any of it. In my line of work, there’s always at least one problem that arises on set where I’ll need a piece of equipment that isn’t readily available on hand. Therefore, I’m forced to get creative. Like… really what the f*ck is she doing kind of creative.
As a professional photographer, social media has become a playground. It’s a visual portfolio of sorts; a marketing tool; a giant scientific experiment as I take on new trending topics as creative challenges, a platform to showcase the best work that comes from it. Creating beautiful pictures or video content is nothing short of an art form, and when it comes to creating eye-catching, attention grabbing, high quality content, I know all the in’s and outs, tips and tricks, tools, equipment, software, and so forth.
This was written with Tiktok in mind, because that’s what’s poppin’ right now, but you technically can apply these rules of thumb to growing your following on any social media platform. It always starts with high quality, visually appealing content. I’ve put together a list of the fundamental “must-have’s” that covers advice, tips, DIY hacks, equipment, lighting, props, editing apps and more that will A) give you a strong head start to create binge-worthy, viral content and B) show you that creating high quality short form video doesn’t necessarily mean you need high quality equipment.
Tip #1: Lighting is a Make or Break
Light is the make or break in any kind of photo or video — it doesn’t matter how fancy your equipment is: if the lighting is bad, then the photo or is bad.
I even made a Tiktok video about it. I filmed myself flipping on a ring light with tons of different Instagram selfies. See for yourself how much of a difference it makes.
My Favorite Go-To Gadgets + Gizmos I Use Daily When Shooting Tiktok Videos
- Neewer 18-inch SMD LED Ring Light Dimmable Lighting Kit, $90 — I’ll admit it’s an investment, but hands-down the best ring light I’ve used. I’ve been using the same Neewer ring light *every single day, 12 hours a day* for the last 5 years and it’s still in fantastic shape. It’s super bright and has a dimmer which is great for fine tuning. The light (without filters) is primarily blue and does a really beautiful job of lighting up an ENTIRE workspace, so if you live in an area with dark winters + seasonal depression (ahem, speaking!), this specific ring light surprisingly does a great job at simulating bright, natural daylight.
- Neewer 10-inch USB LED Ring Light with Tripod Stand, $16 — this is a great affordable alternative to the standard Neewer ring light and is the same amazing brand.
- Auxiwa Clip-On Selfie Ring Light, $16 – a great, affordable option to get your lighting on point without breaking the bank OR having to worry about traveling, tripods, cords, etc.
- essence | Pure NUDE Highlighter, $5 – I swear by this stuff. It’s like a filter in a compact container. Swiping a ton of this all over your face gives your skin a gorgeous glow on camera, but it *will* make you look crazy in real life. I don’t recommend dusting generous amounts on your face for anything other than being on camera.
- Gaoye 3-Pack Blue Light Blocking Glasses, $18 – Committing to your new and exciting side-job as a content creator means that your screen time is going to sky rocket. When you’re in post-production mode, protect your eyes and your circadian rhythms from the blue light that’s emitted from electronic screens by wearing a pair of blue light blocking glasses. As a photographer who spends probably 80% of her life behind a computer, I can’t recommend these enough.
DIY Light Hacks if You’re Ballin’ on a Budget…
Money is tight? You’re in luck, there’s something better than any expensive artificial lighting contraption and it’s 100% free: Natural day light! Shoot your video in front of a window or outside in the daytime.
No Windows / Shooting at Night?
- Look for the main light source in the room and stand by it at an angle so that the light is primarily on your face/subject of your video (don’t shoot with the light behind you).
- If the room is still too dark with the lights on, get creative and find alternative light sources. Try using a flashlight, a bedside lamp/reading light, a few candles in a few (safe) corners of the room, an extension cord for a light bulb, a garage floodlight, a strobe light etc.
- If you’re shooting outside in the dark, try your car headlights (turn your car on though, and please…. don’t kill your car) or a flood light with an extension cords. Experiment with different light sources and see what suits you.
Tip #2: Use Props
Props are great and super easy way to elevate the quality of your Tiktok videos and make them more fun to watch. Don’t overthink it! Even something as subtle as changing hair accessories, switching hats, adding a swipe of red lipstick, or using different glasses frames will indicate to your viewers that you’re playing different characters and really add depth to your story line.
Favorite Go-To Props/Accessories for Tiktok Characters
It can get reallyyyyyyy overwhelming when you’re changing outfits between scenes. These are the go-to props I personally use when shooting Tiktok videos that are inexpensive and hassle-free.
- Gildan Unisex Adult Cotton T-Shirt – keeping a handful of different colored T-shirts nearby makes it really easy to switch between characters without any fuss.
- Multi-pack of colorful glasses frames – I love interchanging glasses frames or sunglasses typically if I’m playing a characters that are stereotypically known to have glasses (librarians, nerds, scientists, book worms, smart people, older people, teachers, etc.) *or* simply using glasses/no glasses that establishes that I’m playing more than 1 character.
- MAC Cosmetics Matte Lipstick in “Ruby Woo” – I love using lipstick when I’m recreating my favorite scenes from movies or comedy sketches. Personally, my favorite celeb impersonation has to be Miranda Sings. To find your perfect shade of red, be sure to check out our round up of our favorite red lipsticks.
- 2 Inch Snap Hair Clips – I personally use hair accessories when I’m playing super girly characters, specifically when I’m playing a teenager and I want to look much younger than I really am.
- And of course, we can’t forget my favorite go-to assorted Acrylic Hair Barrettes! They’re chunky and eye-catching.
Tip #3: Know Your Video Editing Apps
Sometimes a video you’re editing requires a bit more work outside of Tiktok. With that being said, if you’re new to the editing world, it is overwhelming to even think about where to start or how to know what app is best. Don’t worry, I’ve done to homework for you: the best, tried and true video editing apps that are worth knowing.
Apps for Video Reconstruction/Clip Adjustments: Cutting, Pasting, Splicing, Audio Trimming, Duplicating, Time Warping, Reframing, etc (1-3).
- Adobe Premiere Rush – a crowd favorite and the main app I use to splice videos together for Tiktok (well, if I’m not using the Premiere Pro Software). I love that Premiere Rush lets you crop & adjust your video right into the frame, which is probably the most underrated thing that makes a huge difference.
- iMovie – this app comes in for to a close second for me. Only because in Prequel you can add text, easier fade ins, etc. I think iMovie is a lot more user friendly if you just need to cut and paste different clips together, and I actually used iMovie for a long time before switching over to Premiere Pro/Rush earlier in my career.
- Splice – if you don’t use Premiere Rush or iMovie, then you’re most likely using Splice. It’s pretty straight forward and to the point, once you get your footing around the app.
Apps for Aesthetic Filters, Color Grading, Special Effects + Color/Lighting Adjustments (4-6)
- Tezza – a fantastic video editing app that achieves the most accurate vintage camera effects + filters. Naturally, it makes sense, since the creator of Tezza is a well-known professional photographer, content creator and an OG Instagram influencer.
- Prequel – I love that Prequel is the one-stop-shop of video editing apps. There’s tons of free filters, a place to fine-tune adjustments, and super trendy effects that people are going crazy over right now: sparkles, glitter, vintage grain/dust, RGB glitches, etc. If you’re looking for a bit of that 90s/y2k aesthetic touch to your videos, Prequel is here for it.
- VSCO – How can we forget the OG editing app for that early first group of content creators? I like to think that VSCO was the first app to popularize the lifting of the curve to create that famous “fade” that we all know and love in photography + video. Despite the tons of cool new editing apps that have rolled out over the last handful of years, VSCO is still one of the best ones out there in when it comes to filter quality, colors and local adjustments — especially for someone who’s just starting off in making videos (or editing photos), VSCO is a great app to start with.
TIP #4: post production: Protect your eyes with blue light-Blocking glasses
I won’t lie, dedicating a lot of time to build your Tiktok portfolio (or anything that requires a lot of screen time) can be so damaging to your eyes. As a photographer, I’ve experienced all of the things when it comes to over-doing the screen time: irritated, dry eyes, burning eyes when I blink, temporary short sided-ness, double vision, sleep disruption/insomnia, headaches, the list literally never ends. The culprit is the blue light that is emitted from electronic screens, which luckily, is a super easy fix. Protect your eyes with blue-blocking glasses when you’re in post-production. If I’m doing anything screen-related at night (after 5pm or so), even if it’s just TV or texting, I automatically wear my blue light glasses so that my sleep schedule isn’t affected.
As mentioned above, my favorite brand from Amazon that’s super affordable and actually works are the Gaoye 3-Pack Blue Light Blocking Glasses where you get 3 for the price of one. If you’re into something a bit trendier that is similar to a Snapchat filter, SOJOS is another great, affordable brand that’s offered on Amazon. Some other great brands outside of Amazon that are probably sturdier quality (and a bit pricier) that are worth looking into are BLUblox, Quay Australia, and PIXEL. You only get 1 set of eyes in this life, and if you have to invest in something, it should be protecting your precious eyesight.