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Behind the scenes: Shooting content with authenticity

‘Authenticity’ has been a marketing buzzword for some time now, but what does it take to capture it? And what does ‘authentic’ really mean? It’s easy to confuse it with ‘realistic’, but from an image-making perspective, it is about capturing the true soul of something, rather than merely the exact environmental conditions.

Recently I was lucky enough to be on set with the very talented Gu Shiyin ( and Sean Cheung ( at speciality coffee shop and roasters, Ancoats (, in central Manchester. Gu and Sean carefully lit each shot, not to give a ‘studio’ feel to their imagery, but to evoke the warm and cosy feeling of sitting in the shop, surrounded by red industrial brick and the smell of the coffee beans roasting.

Rather than hiring professional models, Ancoats’ staff were used to ensure every action was real, from the expert creation of ‘latte art’ to the correct way to slurp when ‘cupping’ (the process of tasting or grading different coffee). Direction becomes a dialogue rather than a one-way series of instructions, such as “Show me how you would normally do that” or “We wouldn’t use bowls for that, we’d use these trays.” Tapping into the passion of experts is a wonderful conduit for authentic imagery, as they are likely to be obsessive about the small details. It is these details which will make your content feel genuine.

Some might argue that advances in technology, and to some extent the democratisation of production, has devalued professional photographers and videographers, but has this really happened? Image-makers have had to adapt and by doing so they have actually expanded their expertise rather than limiting it. A video camera operator of former years would have been a specialist in only one type of camera, but today it has become necessary to be skilled across many types, with continual technological advances in kit happening all the time.

Watching Gu and Sean at work was a great example of how much production has changed in the last decade. Not only did they light, shoot and direct every set-up themselves (without a large crew of specialists), but they did it so they could shoot both full-frame stills and 4K video at the same time. From a lighting perspective alone this is highly technical and requires both experience and an artistic eye for getting the balance just right.

The latest smartphones provide everyday users the ability to take video and stills at a higher resolution than broadcast-level kit of ten years ago, as we’ve seen with Apple’s iPhone 6 user-generated OOH campaign. However, creating amazing imagery will still require amazing talent: People who know how to tease out the heart and soul of something. Because at the end of the day, that’s what will make your content believable, relatable and compelling.

The visual part is only a façade, and style never trumps substance in my book.”
Gu Shiyin